The Qurʾānic Cosmology, as an Identity in Itself

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  • 1 Tehran University, Fārābī College
  • 2 Tehran University, Fārābī College

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The main purpose of this article is to depict the cosmos according to the plain text of the Qurʾān, as its contemporary interlocutor would understand it. To reach this goal we relied mostly on the literary meaning of the qurʾānic descriptions of the celestial and terrestrial elements, along with a glance at the other preceding and/or contemporary cosmologies. It is, therefore, a comparative study which ends up in a thorough picture of the cosmos according to the text of the Qurʾān commensurable with other ancient cosmologies, namely the Babylonian and biblical ones. The most significant outcome of this article is to cast doubt on the prevalent supposition that the qurʾānic cosmology is nothing more than a cento of the preceding cultures, civilizations or religions. It would claim that the Qurʾān has rather had an active and dialectic interaction with every major or minor cosmological idea of its time. Especially in a case study on the shape of the qurʾānic firmament, it will be shown how the historical circumstances, linguistic matters, and ideological issues influenced the qurʾānic perception of the world and/or its selective manner in gleaning the preceding ideas.

Le principal objectif de cet article est de dépeindre le cosmos selon le texte du Coran, comme le lectorat de son époque pouvait le comprendre. Pour atteindre ce but, nous nous reposons principalement sur le sens littéral des descriptions coraniques des éléments célestes et terrestres, avec un regard sur les autres cosmologies précédentes ou de la même époque. Il s’agit donc d’une étude comparative qui s’achève avec une description minutieuse du cosmos selon le texte du Coran, comparable à d’autres cosmologies antiques, notament celles de Babylone et de la Bible. Le résultat le plus significatif de cet article est de remettre en cause le présupposé dominant selon lequel la cosmologie coranique n’est rien de plus qu’un composé des précédentes cultures, civilisations ou religions. Ainsi, on pourrait affirmer que le Coran a plutôt eu une interaction active et dialectique avec chaque conception cosmologique majeure ou mineure de son temps. En particulier dans l’étude de l’apparence du firmament coranique, il sera montré comment le contexte historique, des questions linguistiques et des problèmes idéologiques influencèrent la perception coranique du monde et sa manière sélective de puiser dans les idées précédentes.

This article is in French

  • 1

    Damien Janos, “Qurʾānic Cosmography in its Historical Perspective: Some Notes on the Formation of a Religious Worldview,” Religion, 42/2 (2012), p. 215.

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  • 2

    Tommaso Tesei, “Some Cosmological Notions from Late Antiquity in Q 18:60-65: The Quran in Light of Its Cultural Context,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 135/1 (2015), p. 31.

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  • 3

    Angelika Neuwirth, “Cosmology,” Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān.

  • 4

    Kevin van Bladel, “Heavenly Cords and Prophetic Authority in the Qur’an and its Late Antique Context,” Bulletin of School of Oriental and African Studies, 70/2 (2007), p. 223-246.

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  • 5

    Ibid., p. 225.

  • 7

    See Janos, “Qurʾānic Cosmography,” p. 223 ff.

  • 8

    Ibid., p. 224.

  • 13

    Edith Jachimowicz, “Islamic Cosmology” in Ancient Cosmologies, eds Carmen Blacker and Michael Loewe, London, G. Allen and Unwin, 1975, p. 143-172.

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  • 15

    Janos, “Qurʾānic Cosmography,” p. 216-219.

  • 17

    Houtman, Der Himmel, p. 26-28.

  • 20

    Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, p. xxi.

  • 21

    J. Edward Wright, The Early History of Heaven, New York, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 54.

  • 23

    Kirill Dmitriev, “An Early Christian Arabic Account of the Creation of the World,” in The Qurʾān in Context: historical and Literary Investigations into the Qurʾānic Milieu, eds Angelika Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai and Michael Marx, Leiden-Boston, Brill (“Texts and studies on the Qurʾān”, 6), 2010, p. 357.

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  • 24

    See further Janos, “Qurʾānic Cosmography,” p. 221.

  • 25

    Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, p. 216-217.

  • 26

    Ibid., p. 217. We argue that Horowitz was unaware of the “seven earths” (al-arāḍī l-sabʿ), in the post-qurʾānic, Arabic literature. Unless we suppose what he meant by the “later Arabic literature” was only the Qurʾān.

  • 30

    Rabbi Louis Jacobs, “Jewish Cosmology” in Ancient Cosmologies, p. 68-70.

  • 33

    Paul H. Seely, “The Geographical Meaning of ‘Earth’ and ‘Seas’ in Genesis 1:10,” Westminster Theological Journal, 59 (1997), p. 231-232.

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  • 34

    Ibid., p. 238-239.

  • 35

    Janos, “Qurʾānic Cosmography,” p. 217.

  • 40

    Paul H. Seely, “The Firmament and the Water Above,” The Westminster Theological Journal, 53 (1991), p. 228; id., “The Firmament and the Water Above Part ii,” p. 231-236.

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  • 42

    Wilfred George Lambert, “The Cosmology of Sumer and Babylon” in Ancient Cosmologies, p. 47.

  • 43

    See Tesei, “Some Cosmological Notions,” p. 28 and his references on n. 44.

  • 45

    Ibid., p. 29.

  • 46

    Mona M. Zaki, “Barrier,” Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān.

  • 47

    Van Bladel, “Heavenly Cords,” p. 227.

  • 48

    Tesei, “Some Cosmological Notions,” passim.

  • 50

    Lambert, “The Cosmology of Sumer and Babylon,” p. 47-48.

  • 52

    Wayne Horowitz, “Mesopotamian Accounts of Creation,” in Encyclopedia of Cosmology, ed. Norriss S. Hetherington, New York-London, Garland Publishing, 1993 (reprint New York, Routledge, 2014), p. 394.

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  • 53

    Jacobs, “Jewish Cosmology,” p. 67-68.

  • 55

    Seely, “The Geographical,” p. 241.

  • 59

    Van Bladel, “Heavenly Cords,” p. 240.

  • 60

    Ibid., p. 234.

  • 61

    Horowitz, Mesopotamian, p. 353.

  • 65

    Van Bladel, “Heavenly Cords,” p. 233-235.

  • 66

    Janos, “Qurʾānic Cosmography,” p. 216-217.

  • 75

    Janos, “Qurʾānic Cosmography,” p. 216.

  • 76

    For which see Joseph Halévy, “Cosmologie babylonienne d’après M. Jensen,” Revue de l’Histoire des Religions, 22 (1890), p. 188; Nallino, ʿIlm al-falak, p. 105; Speyer, Die Biblischen Erzählungen im Qoran, Hildesheim, G. Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1961, p. 11.

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  • 77

    Seely, “The Geographical,” p. 250.

  • 78

    For further references see van Bladel, “Heavenly Cords,” p. 234, n. 47.

  • 79

    Ute Pietruschka, “Tents and Tent Pegs,” Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān.

  • 81

    See Ernst Axel Knauf, “Nomads,” Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān.

  • 92

    Ute Pietruschka, “Tents and Tent Pegs,” Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. Considering the Qurʾān as a Meccan product, this theory seems ludicrous, for Mecca is surrounded by mountains and it is meaningless to think that the Qurʾān sees the world in such a limited scale as to regard the mountains (around Mecca) as the boundaries of the world, especially taking into consideration the case where it tells stories of Ḏū l-Qarnayn and his journeys to the Far East and the Far West (Kor 18, 83-90).

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  • 98

    Umayya b. Abī l-Ṣalt, Dīwān, p. 52-53. Seidensticker in analysis of this poem holds that it differs the Qurʾān in cosmology (Seidensticker, “The Authenticity,” p. 93). We, however, believe that they differ only on terminology.

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  • 99

    See Umayya b. Abī l-Ṣalt, Dīwān, p. 71.

  • 100

    Ibid., p. 10.

  • 101

    Ibid., p. 179.

  • 102

    Ibid., p. 128.

  • 103

    Seely, “The Firmament,” p. 228.

  • 105

    Ibid., p. 230.

  • 106

    Smith, The Dome, p. 42. It seems to us, one can accept the idea of the “solidity” of the heavens to be an almost completely universal perception by the scientifically naïve people, but when it comes to the structure and shape of the sky/heavens, one cannot say with certainty whether to the understanding of the scientifically naïve people—hence in their mythologies and cosmologies—the firmament was conceived of as being dome-shaped or flat (as the earth was). As for the nature and structure of the firmament in the Bible, Seely claims it to be a “solid dome over the earth.” He provides enough compelling biblical and scientific evidence to support the idea of the solidity of the raqiʿa (firmament), but fails to provide any convincing reason for its domical shape. He claims (without providing any proof): “In the ancient world a virtually universal agreement existed among all people everywhere that the sky (firmament) was a rock-solid dome over earth” (Seely, “The Firmament and the Water Above Part ii,” p. 47).

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  • 107

    See Andrew Rippin, “God,” in The Blackwell Companion to the Qurʾān, ed. Andrew Rippin, Malden, Blackwell Publishing (“Blackwell Companions to religion”), 2006, p. 230.

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  • 109

    See Ernst Axel Knauf, “Nomads,” Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān.

  • 110

    Earl Baldwin Smith, The Dome: A Study in the History of Ideas, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1978, specially see p. 79.

  • 111

    Ibid., p. 79.

  • 114

    Smith, The Dome, p. 47.

  • 115

    Ibid., p. 60.

  • 117

    Ibid., p. 91.

  • 118

    Al-Ǧawharī, al-Ṣiḥāḥ, iii, p. 1010, s.v. ʿ.R.Š: “[. . .] qīla li-buyūt Makka l-ʿuruš, li-annahā ʿīdān tunṣabu wa-yuẓallu ʿalayhā."

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  • 121

    Julian Morgenstern, “The Ark, the Ephod, and the Tent of Meeting,” Hebrew Union College Annual, 17 (1942), p. 216 [64].

  • 124

    Morgenstern, “The Ark,” p. 154 [2].

  • 125

    Herbert G. May, “The Ark, A miniature Temple,” The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, 52/4 (1936), p. 232.

  • 126

    Morgenstern, “The Ark,” p. 154 [2].

  • 127

    Smith, The Dome, p. 85, esp. n. 121.

  • 128

    Morgenstern, “The Ark,” p. 214-215 [62-63].

  • 130

    Smith, The Dome, p. 42-43, 60.

  • 131

    Ibid., p. 42.

  • 133

    Morgenstern, “The Ark,” p. 217 [65].

  • 136

    Janos, “Qurʾānic Cosmography,” p. 222.

  • 138

    Van Bladel, “Heavenly Cords,” p. 241.

  • 139

    Janos, “Qurʾānic Cosmography,” p. 218, n. 4.

  • 140

    Tesei, “Some Cosmological,” p. 31-32.

  • 141

    Janos, “Qurʾānic Cosmography,” p. 228.

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