Science in the Quran: Concordism

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Adnan Haider, Missionary, France 

Recently, some non-religious people have noticed that the religious, and more particularly Muslims, are systematically trying to reconcile scientific facts with the Quran, and they call this tendency concordism, a term that has a pejorative connotation. 

For them, if the Quran is the Revealed Word of an Almighty and Omniscient God, why should we have to wait for science to discover a new phenomenon before Muslims hasten to concord it with the Quranic text? If the Quran is the Word of God and the Quran does mention a certain scientific phenomenon, why did Muslims not have this idea before it was discovered, or why did they not discover it themselves? 

At the risk of being perceived as concordist, I will answer this objection briefly by saying, first of all, it is a valid objection and has the merit of being raised. It is true some Muslims have developed the habit of trying to fit everything they consider to be scientific into the Quran, even nonsensical things, and they try to demonstrate through this process that the Quran is miraculous. No doubt the Quran is the greatest miracle but, I do not agree with this approach at all; on the contrary, this way of acting only lowers the image of Islam and the prestige of the Quran. 

The Quran does not need such an approach to prove its truthfulness, it is nevertheless true that certain concordances are worth proving. And if one assumes that God’s Word is true and that it truly benefits those who abide by it, it is natural to assume that God would also have presented arguments in favour of His Word for those who do not want to put it into practice until they have seen some consistency in it. 

Therefore, it is important to demonstrate its consistency with creation. The Quran’s purpose is not simply to show how miraculous it is, rather its purpose is that every person may act on its teachings so that their happiness may be guaranteed. 

A point to keep in mind is that the objectors will more often than not read the translations of the Quran and not the Arabic words themselves – which have diverse meanings. 

The error is twofold; on the one hand the objectors themselves consider the language used in the Quran to be similar to languages derived from Latin such as French, and on the other hand, the translators of the Quran probably gave them this impression by simplistically translating the Quran. 

However, all the blame is not on the translation since even if it had been adequate, this problem would still exist. Let us take an example to prove this. Let us suppose that God told us the following: “Man can contain the moon.” It is obvious this sentence is subject to multiple interpretations. We could think, for example, that it is a question of reaching it, or of possessing it, of controlling it or even of interpreting it in an idiomatic way; that man can reach heights in progress. If one were to translate this sentence into a language other than say French, where there was no equivalent to the word “contain” in its various literal and idiomatic meanings, it is natural that one would have to choose its closest equivalent. It is precisely at this point that disagreement arises between those who understand the original language and must decide on a translation and those who do not understand the language and merely read the text to try to understand it.

However, when it comes to studying a poem of a different language, no one is satisfied with a simple translation, everyone knows that a commentary is not only necessary but indispensable to the understanding of the meaning of each translated word. Of course, the simple reading of a translation of a poem already gives us an idea of the text, but no one would pretend, after only reading a translation, that they have understood all the depths and meanings of the poem, especially if they have not mastered the original language of the text and is content with a translation only. If such vigilance is required for works of art, what level of vigilance should be required for the study of a text that is considered the Word of the Omniscient God? 

The problem, then, is first of all the conditioning of the mind. Before analysing it, we start from the view that it is false and that it is appropriate by all means to refute it by arguments as simplistic as a translation. If we had started from an objective and impartial observation, certainly, the procedure would not have been quite the same. We would be as vigilant as we are with the poet’s text. 

Secondly, one of the other factors of vigilance is the acceptance of the text by a large part of the population. For example, Rimbaud’s Vowels is a poem that has been the subject of fascination and interpretation for decades. When a lover of poetry embarks on a study of it, it is clear that they will not only judge it by their reading, but the fascination that the poem arouses in the population will also require them to read the many readings and interpretations of others and to understand the fascination that it arouses in them. On the other hand, we would consider the person who is content with their reading and who considers it banal or uninteresting to be uneducated and gullible. In the same way, how would we consider someone who, despite the fascination that a text arouses in more than a billion people, judged it solely based on simple personal reading, and which, moreover, is a translation? Of course, this judgment may be legitimate, but it cannot be considered credible if it is not made up of other readings and interpretations than their own, especially if it is a translated work.

Let us now return to our example. What makes a work of art so fascinating is precisely the countless depths it contains. A poem means many things, so much so that it speaks differently to everyone, and speaks generally. If therefore, one demands that a sacred text be clear and precise, without being susceptible to various interpretations, then one demands that it be without depth, which also means that a poem should be more fascinating than the Word of God. 

Thus, one cannot reasonably come to terms with the idea that God should, for example, only have said either that man can go to the moon, or that he can possess it, or that he can control it, but not all three in one sentence. Besides, if the Word of God were to contain all truth in it, one cannot imagine that under the work of such an approach, one book would have sufficed, it would have been necessary that thousands, even millions of encyclopaedias be put into effect, and then, the time the search for truth in the panoply of all these books would take would be with a little luck, a whole lifetime. It is precisely for this reason that the Quran claims to be revealed in a language that can meet the depths of the Divine Word: 

‭ ‬اِنَّاۤ‭ ‬اَنۡزَلۡنٰهُ‭ ‬قُرۡءٰنًا‭ ‬عَرَبِيًّا‭ ‬لَّعَلَّكُمۡ‭ ‬تَعۡقِلُوۡنَ‭ ‬

“We have revealed it — the Quran in Arabic — that you may understand.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.3)

Having said that, can we not now admit the aforementioned example would have stood attested by truth if man took his first step on the moon, or, in the near future, was able to  travel there, or if Elon Musk bought it from a government that claimed to own it etc.? So, if all these meanings; reach, possess, control etc. are realised in a sentence one after the other, and at different times, can we still say that it is concordism? If so, then the term need not be seen as a pejorative term, quite the contrary. And if one considers that Muslims could have predicted, for example, that man could reach the moon, or after this fact had come true, that a man would buy it, or after this fact, that minerals would be extracted from it, this does not prove in any way that the word is false, on the contrary, it proves that Muslims no longer pay much attention to it. 

All the more reason for our fellow atheists to study it thoroughly. Perhaps they will be able to carry out scientific studies by prediction as it turned out for the Muslims at a time when they excelled in the fields of science, whereas only a handful of them are still able to do so today.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Nicely written. There is a definite example of the moon being contained by man in the Holy Quran which is mentioned in several verses. E.g. “He has pressed the sun and the moon into service” [Al-Zumar 39:6] – the Arabic word “سَخَّرَ” allows many meanings including the future ability of mankind to colonize it.

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