Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog


Surah 30:41 – Allah and Ecology

Masud Masihiyyen

Present day’s finest Islamic humor owes its existence to a bunch of scholars who recklessly twist a Qur’an verse in order to invent a pseudo-miracle or scientific prediction and ascribe it to the supposed divine origin of the Islamic scripture. As we demonstrated in our rebuttal of two of Harun Yahya’s pseudo-scientific predictions (*), such Muslim scholars’ struggle to bring the Islamic scripture in line with the latest scientific discoveries necessitates the use of faulty and misleading methods (for instance, detaching a verse from its context) and causes an abrupt leap from theology to science-fiction. Consequently, a simple verse reiterating the biblical idea that men cannot escape divine punishment is ridiculously linked to the exploration of space by mankind in the form of a prediction.

An examination of various Islamic websites that promote so-called scientific miracles of the Qur’an illustrates the power of Muslim scholars’ imagination. For example, the teaching that Allah is the light of the heavens and earth is regarded as a predictor of electricity (*) whilst a Jewish fable about Solomon is asserted to contain a cryptic reference to the communication between birds (*). In the light of these absurdities it is a matter of wonder why Adam’s banishment from Heaven and his descent to the world in the Qur’an are not recognized as miraculous predictions in association with the production of the film Superman, which is based on the story of an extraterrestrial being’s coming to our world from a distant planet. In this hypothetical case the Cube in Mecca would be stripped of its theological content and seen as the space shuttle that Adam, that is, Superman, rode on his way to our planet.

While checking Caner Taslaman’s website dedicated to the propagation of pseudo-miracles (*), I discovered an interesting claim that binds a Qur’an verse to the significance of ecological awareness (*). According to the inventor of this miracle, Allah taught and foretold in Surah 30:41 that mankind would cause the death of nature through pollution:

Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of people have earned, He thus lets them taste the consequences of their works that they may return. 30-The Romans, 41

Before analyzing this verse and refuting another supposed miracle of the Qur’an, it must be noted that translations of this verse show variation since some scholars do not necessarily translate the Arabic word “fasad”, which is the subject of this sentence, as corruption. To compare and contrast:

Mischief has appeared on land and sea because of (the meed) that the hands of men have earned, that (God) may give them a taste of some of their deeds: in order that they may turn back (from Evil). (Yusuf Ali)

Evil (sins and disobedience of Allah, etc.) has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned (by oppression and evil deeds, etc.), that Allah may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return (by repenting to Allah, and begging His Pardon). (Hilali-Khan)

Disasters have spread throughout the land and sea, because of what the people have committed. He thus lets them taste the consequences of some of their works, that they may return (to the right works). (Khalifa)

Trouble hath appeared in the land and the sea, for what men's hands have gained! to make them taste a part of that which they have done,- haply they may return! (Palmer)

Destruction hath appeared by land and by sea on account of what men's hands have wrought, that it might make them taste somewhat of the fruit of their doings, that haply they might turn to God. (Rodwell)

We have so many words above that correspond to the Arabic word “fasad”, but the website of pseudo-miracles, of course, preferred the word “corruption” in English because that particular word goes better with the miracle claim in that it does not dismiss it as trivial and may literally pertain to decay or deformation of some material.

After quoting Surah 30:41, the inventor of the miracle explains the alleged scientific content of this particular Qur’an verse by thematically associating it with the relation between mankind and nature:

Man has been paying the cost of damages he has inflicted on his surroundings and nature throughout centuries. Passion for more money, sloth and irresponsibility have made man blind to the fact that he is part of his natural environment and that the damage he causes it will unavoidably affect him.

Actually, Surah 30:41 has nothing to do with this sermon, for it binds the appearance of the corruption in the land and sea to mankind’s wrongdoings, that is, to the sins that men commit. Thus, the reference is based on a theological lesson rather than ecology. This is further supported by the fact that right after verse 41 comes a verse that points at the destruction of the former sinful communities:

Say: "Travel through the earth and see what was the end of those before (you): Most of them worshipped others besides God." (Surah 30:42 Yusuf Ali)

If we construe Surah 30:42 in a scientific context in association with the miracle-hunters’ interpretation of verse 41, we shall have to claim that some of the former communities perished not because of their sins, but because of the damage they gave to their surroundings. This hypothetical interpretation brings to mind the science-fiction movie called “Planet of the Apes”. Interestingly, in another verse the Qur’an claims that Allah transformed some Jews into apes:

And ye know of those of you who broke the Sabbath, how We said unto them: Be ye apes, despised and hated! (2:65 Pickthall)

The combination of the verse above with the modern interpretation of Surah 30:41 may reveal another Qur’an miracle: Allah knew and predicted that a science-fiction movie about men turned into apes would be produced in 1968, approximately 1300 years before its fulfillment.

The development of environmental consciousness in man, who has suffered from damages of his own doing, is a recent event. Environmental awareness only received special emphasis in the world after 1970.

Similarly, Muslim scholars’ tendency to fabricate miracles from the distortion of vague Qur’an verses is a comparatively new trend. Awareness of Qur’an verses that can be twisted for the creation of pseudo-miracles only received special emphasis in the Islamic world in the second half of the 20th century. None of the Islamic scholars and commentators who lived several centuries ago discovered a scientific miracle in any of the Qur’an verses or attached to them weird meanings that turned the Islamic scripture into a book of scientific predictions or facts. For example, Ibn Kathir, a significant figure in the transmission of the traditional Islamic comments on the Qur’an, was totally unaware of the ecological theme and/or miracle Surah 30:41 allegedly employed. In sharp contrast to the modern allegations and interpretations, all of the comments reported by Ibn Kathir teach that Surah 30:41 was about the effects of SIN in the world rather than environmental pollution or corruption.

Ibn `Abbas, `Ikrimah, Ad-Dahhak, As-Suddi and others said: "What is meant by Al-Barr here is the empty land or wilderness, and by Al-Bahr is towns and cities." According to a report narrated from Ibn `Abbas and `Ikrimah, Al-Bahr refers to towns and cities which are on the banks of rivers. Others said that what was meant was the usual meaning of the words, i.e., land and sea. Zayd bin Rafi` said: (Evil has appeared) "The rain is withheld from the land and this is followed by famine, and it is withheld from the sea, adversely affecting the animals which live in it." (Source)

Obviously, the reports have a disagreement about what the words “Al-Barr” and “Al-Bahr” in the original language of the Qur’an verse pertain to, but no matter how these words were taken, the appearance of evil in the land and sea was understood to signify the occurrence of disasters (such as, famines) in the world due to mankind’s wrongdoings/sins.

We see that environmental pollution is one of the greatest dangers for humankind. This reference to pollution in the Quran at a time when there was no environmental awareness is remarkably interesting.

What is all the more interesting is that the word “pollution” is missing from Surah 30:41! Actually, it is Muslim scholars who refer to pollution and read their misinterpretations into their scripture.

The Quran was not penned like books that are products of the human mind under the influence of social and sociological realities in due consideration of the current issues. It is sent by God, Lord of all times and beings.

The Qur’an is a book that was penned by Muhammad’s unnamed mentor and scribe who had enough degree of familiarity with the Bible for plagiarism from it. Our comparison of Surah 30:41 with the Book of Prophet Micah proves that the pseudo-miracle about man and pollution arose from the misinterpretation of the following verse:

The earth will become desolate because of what its inhabitants have done. (Micah 7:13 NET Bible1)

The footnotes given by NET Bible says that the Hebrew original of this verse reads:

The earth will be ruined on account of its inhabitants, because of the fruit of their deeds. (Translation in the footnotes 37- 38)

This biblical statement is almost identical in form and content with Surah 30:41. The only major difference is that the sentence in Micah’s book is obviously a prophecy and concerns the things that will befall the nation of Israel in the future, which is rather natural since prophesies are always about the events that will take place in the future. The statement in the Qur’an verse, however, does not contain a prophecy or prediction, but points at the corruption in the land and sea as something that has already appeared.2 Since pollution of nature by mankind and the relevant ecological awareness gained significance after the Industrial Revolution and were not even known in Muhammad’s era, it is only wishful thinking to suggest that Surah 30:41 has a miracle on the theme of ecology. Thus, the fact that the Qur’an makes a statement about the past in Surah 30:41 precludes the modern interpretation, which is derived from some Muslim scholars’ wish to read the verse in a scientific context and in association with the knowledge and concerns of the present day.

The minor difference is that the verse in the Qur’an talks of the appearance of the corruption or destruction not only in the land, but also in the sea. Our further research displays that Surah 30:41 has actually no peculiar material. The occurrence of the pair of land and sea in this Qur’an verse is bound to Muhammad’s and/or his mentor’s familiarity with another book of prophecy in the Old Testament where the same theme of destruction is repeated in more details and the death of nature’s inhabitants is more explicitly associated with the sins of people (Israelites in this context):

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites! For the Lord has a covenant lawsuit against the people of Israel. For there is neither faithfulness nor loyalty in the land, nor do they acknowledge God. There is only cursing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery. They resort to violence and bloodshed. Therefore the land will mourn, and all its inhabitants will perish. The wild animals, the birds of the sky, and even the fish in the sea will perish. (Hosea 4:1-3)

Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord [has] a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. Cursing, and lying, and murder, and theft, and adultery bound in the land, and they mingle blood with blood. Therefore shall the land mourn, and shall be diminished with all that dwell in it, with the wild beasts of the field, and the reptiles of the earth, and with the birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea shall fail. (Hosea 4:1-3 Septuagint)

Hosea says that when the Israelites fell into wickedness, also the land they lived in would be affected and bear the consequences of their sins. Not only they, but also the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky, and even the fish in the sea would perish. The person who devised Surah 30 most likely knew these prophetic statements and decided to adopt them in the shortest form possible. However, modern Islamic scholars and miracle-hunters are either unaware of or choose to ignore Micah 7:13 and Hosea 4:3, which turn out to be the source of the particular Qur’an verse that supposedly contains a miracle.

What is more interesting is that the Tafsir strengthens the ties between Surah 30:41 and the quoted section in Hosea’s book with regard to the cause of evil or corruption in the land and sea.

This was recorded by Ibn Abi Hatim, who said: "Muhammad bin `Abdullah bin Yazid Al-Muqri' told us, from Sufyan from Humayd bin Qays Al-A`raj from Mujahid: (Evil has appeared on land and sea) "Evil on land means the killing of the son of Adam, and evil on the sea means piracy."

This commentary rebuts the supposed miraculous content of Surah 30:41 as it interprets the Arabic word “fasad” in a drastically different way and equates it with the major atrocities committed in the land and sea, not necessarily binding it to the death of the creatures that live along with mankind in this world. Still, this peculiar interpretation is amazingly harmonious with the presentation of “bloodshed” and “violence” as the examples of the major sins causing the disappearance of life from the face of the earth in Hosea 4:2. The affiliation of the three sins reckoned in Hosea 4:2 (bloodshed, violence, and stealing) with seas takes us to the notion of piracy in the above commentary and answers the question why certain Muslims construed the destruction/corruption in the sea in Surah 30:41 as the atrocities committed by pirates. Thus, even the Islamic comments are in one way or another dependent on the verses of the Hebrew Bible.

Some Muslim commentators and reporters, however, dissent from the interpretation given above by claiming that the appearance of evil in the land and sea pertains to natural disasters, such as famines, droughts, etc.

According to the first opinion, the phrase, (Evil has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned,) means the shortfall in the crops and fruits is because of sins. Abu Al-`Aliyah said: "Whoever disobeys Allah in the earth has corrupted it, because the good condition of the earth and the heavens depends on obedience to Allah." Hence it says in the Hadith which was recorded by Abu Dawud: (Any prescribed punishment which is carried out in the land is better for its people than if it were to rain for forty days.) The reason for that is that if the prescribed punishments are carried out, this will deter the people -- most or many of them -- from violating the prohibitions of Allah. If they give up sin, this will be a cause of blessings in the skies and on the earth.

Although this view is obviously different from the former view held in Ibn Kathir’s Tafsir, it is amazingly compatible with biblical teachings expressed in Hosea 4:1-3 and Micah 7:13 and points at further plagiarism from the Hebrew scriptures. This comment, unlike the weird interpretations of the modern scholars, ascribes the appearance of the corruption in the land and sea to the sinful deeds of men rather than to their carefree attitude that results in the pollution of nature. The early Muslim commentators’ tendency to regard natural disasters as a direct means and sign of the divine punishment is also an idea obviously taken from the Hebrew Bible. In several verses of the Old Testament, the shortage of water and food is imposed on the Israelites in the era of their disobedience and sinful life. For instance, when Israel fell into idolatry at the time of King Ahab, Prophet Elijah declared that the country would not get rain or dew for a long period of time:

Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As certainly as the Lord God of Israel lives (whom I serve), there will be no dew or rain in the years ahead unless I give the command.” (1 Kings 17:1)

Prophet Jeremiah’s prediction below employs the same theme:

My people will sow wheat, but will harvest weeds. They will work until they are exhausted, but will get nothing from it. They will be disappointed in their harvests because the Lord will take them away in his fierce anger. (Jeremiah 12:13)

Likewise, prophet Haggai predicted that the sins of the Israelites would have a negative effect on the harvest and result in the shortage of crops and the death of every kind of produce:

You expected a large harvest, but instead there was little, and when you brought it home it disappeared right away. Why?’ asks the Lord who rules over all. ‘Because my temple remains in ruins, thanks to each of you favoring his own house! This is why the sky has held back its dew and the earth its produce. Moreover, I have called for a drought that will affect the fields, the hill country, the grain, new wine, fresh olive oil, and everything that grows from the ground; it also will harm people, animals, and everything they produce.’ (Haggai 1:9-11)

This particular section in Haggai is remarkably similar to the Islamic commentaries that bind “the shortfall in the crops and fruit” to sins.

Finally, the Bible teaches that the establishment of justice and righteousness through sinners’ repentance and conversion will result in bountiful harvest.

People will reside again in his shade; they will plant and harvest grain in abundance. They will blossom like a vine, and his fame will be like the wine from Lebanon. (Hosea 14:7)

“Since, I, the Lord, do not go back on my promises, you, sons of Jacob, have not perished. From the days of your ancestors you have ignored my commandments and have not kept them! Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord who rules over all. “But you say, ‘How should we return?’ Can a person rob God? You indeed are robbing me, but you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and contributions! You are bound for judgment because you are robbing me – this whole nation is guilty. “Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my temple. Test me in this matter,” says the Lord who rules over all, “to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until there is no room for it all. Then I will stop the plague from ruining your crops, and the vine will not lose its fruit before harvest,” says the Lord who rules over all. (Malachi 3:6-11)

The last section of the Tafsir on Surah 30:41 reiterates these Biblical teachings with the addition of a legend:

The more justice is established, the more the blessings and good things will increase. It was reported in the Sahih: (When the evildoer dies, it is a relief for the people, the land, the trees and the animals.) Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal recorded that Abu Qahdham said: "At the time of Ziyad or Ibn Ziyad, a man found a cloth in which were wrapped grains of wheat which were as big as date stones; on it was written: ‘This grew at a time when justice prevailed.’"

This legend symbolizes the increase of divine blessings at a time when people obey God and practice justice. Modern scholars who derive the pseudo-miracle in view from Surah 30:41 are free to apply a similar interpretation to the legend quoted in the Tafsir above and conclude that corruption in the land causes anomaly in the original size and nature of crops. Maybe the gigantic grain of wheat mentioned in the Islamic commentary was meant to predict the negative effects of chemical consumption on organisms and accentuate the threat they pose to our health (!)

To sum up, Surah 30:41 is one of the several Qur’an verses that was plagiarized from the Bible in Muhammad’s time and fell prey to miracle-hunters of our day.3 The idea that God punished sinful people/nations through the destruction of life in the land and sea was detached from its theological context and misinterpreted as a reference to the pollution of nature, particularly after the Industrial Revolution. After reading these pseudo-miracles, we can start thinking that neither Allah nor Islamic commentaries know better than modern Islamic scholars who fabricate miracles.



1 Unless otherwise specifically stated, all the Biblical quotes in this study are taken from the same edition.

2 This is evident by the fact that all the English translations of Surah 30:41 put the verb of the subject “fasad” into past tense rather than present or future.

3 In my rebuttal to Harun Yahya’s claim that the Qur’an contains scientific predictions (*), I showed how a biblical verse hypothetically talking of man’s ascent to heaven (Psalm 139:8) was adopted by Muhammad and then bound by modern scholars to mankind’s space explorations through misinterpretation.

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