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Land Loss at the Extremities?

Harun Yahya’s Misinterpretation of the Qur’an

Masud Masihiyyen

As I already stated in my previous article, the Islamic scripture is falsely presented by some Muslim scholars as the predictor of recently discovered scientific facts. Harun Yahya, a prevalent example of such Muslim scholars, does his best to reconcile the verses of the Qur’an with the latest scientific findings even at the expense of the textual integrity of the Islamic scripture. Yahya’s weird reconciliation process necessitates the perversion of the Qur’an through different methods used in the interpretation of certain verses.

While distorting the Islamic scripture for the sake of defending and promoting it, Yahya ironically gets help from the Qur’an text, which is mostly vague and open to alternative interpretations. In most cases Yahya disregards the context of the Qur’an verses in order to validate his new interpretations. However, ignoring the context is not the only weapon Harun Yahya benefits from while hunting for new miracles in the Qur’an. In some cases Yahya’s allegations come into existence because of the haphazard appearance and repetition of a few linguistic structures in the Qur’an. In my first two rebuttals I analyzed two miracles that exemplified this particular strategy of perversion used by Yahya. In addition to these, Harun Yahya’s distortion techniques include the misinterpretation of the peculiar linguistic usage in the Qur’an, which is generally related to the features of the Arabic language. From Harun Yahya’s list of the scientific miracles of the Qur’an I have chosen one particular allegation that perfectly reflects how Yahya invents some of the supposed Qur’an miracles by misrepresenting and/or ignoring the particular way the language of the Qur’an signifies some concepts.

The Arabic word ARD (Earth/land) and Yahya's fallacious argument

A careful reader may easily understand that the language of the Qur’an makes no particular distinction between the general and specific forms of some related notions, referring to them with one single word. For example, in the Qur’an the word land (ARD in Arabic) is used to denote both the whole landmass and a certain part of it (in the sense of a specific country or territory). Accordingly, what determines the real sense of the same word in the verses below is actually their context:

And with Him are the keys of the Invisible. None but He knoweth them. And He knoweth what is in the land and the sea. Not a leaf falleth but He knoweth it, not a grain amid the darkness of the earth, naught of wet or dry but (it is noted) in a clear record. (Surah 6:59)1

The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom. (Surah 5:33)

The occurrence of the word “land” in Surah 6:59 together with the word “sea” makes it clear that the entire world is in view, i.e. “land” here refers to all the dry parts of our planet. On the other hand, the same word undoubtedly refers to a specific piece of the dry land in Surah 5:33 since it is not logical to conclude that the Qur’an asks Muslims to punish certain disbelievers by driving them into the ocean to live under water or out of this world altogether, forcing them to live in the outer space.

The use of the word “land” in both the general sense of the earth and specific sense of a piece of land (country, territory) is frequently employed in the Qur’an. Nevertheless, things start to get complicated when some Islamic commentators like Harun Yahya somehow disregard this distinction and ascribe to the whole earth whatever is stated about a certain territory. One of the alleged scientific miracles of the Qur’an presented by Yahya on his website stems from his inability to get the correct sense of the word “land” in two Qur’an verses. Before introducing his assertion, he quotes the following verses:

Do they not see how We come to the land eroding it at its extremities? … (Qur’an, 13:41)

… Do they not see how We come to the land eroding it from its extremities? … (Qur’an, 21:44)

Under the main section of the Scientific Miracles of the Qur’an, Yahya presents a new miracle and entitles it “Land Loss at the Extremities"2. According to Yahya, these two verses reveal two distinct but relevant facts that can be understood with the help of a detailed lecture on the geological form and development of the earth. After talking of the powerful solar winds affecting the world, Yahya thanks NASA spacecraft for providing hard evidence for the dispersion of some gases into the outer space from our world’s atmosphere:

Thanks to NASA spacecraft, researchers have obtained concrete evidence that energy explosions on the Sun cause oxygen and other gases to disperse into space from the outer layer of the Earth's atmosphere. Scientists first observed that the Earth experiences a loss of matter from its outer layers on September 24-25, 1998.  

The primary fact supposedly revealed by Yahya’s interpretation is that the two quoted Qur’an verses point to the dispersion of certain gases from the world’s atmosphere because they talk of the erosion of the “land” from its extremities3. Being unsatisfied with only this interpretation, Yahya proceeds to the exposition of the second fact these verses refer to, attaching to the same verses another scientific discovery:

However, the above verses may also be referring to the loss of land on Earth in another regard. At the present time, the polar ice caps are melting and the water level in the oceans is rising. The increasing quantity of water is covering ever more land. As coastal areas come under water, the land surface or total amount of land is decreasing. The expression "eroding it from its extremities" in the above verses may well be pointing to coastal areas being covered by water.

Of Harun Yahya’s two assertions, the latter sounds more attractive and reasonable not because it is relevant to the quoted Koran verses, but because it is directly associated with the recent problem of global warming and its inevitable consequences. Above all, the first claim necessitates the re-definition of the word “land” as “air” so that one can then apply these two verses to the loss of small amounts of gas from our world’s atmosphere, an application that is rather far-fetched4.

Yahya makes an enormous mistake when he says, “The findings made towards the end of the 20th century help us to understand the wisdom of Surat ar-Ra'd 41, and Surat al-Anbiya' 44” since his theory is not based on the Qur’an verses, but on his failure to distinguish the notion of the whole landmass from that of a territory. In fact, Yahya simply deleted the parts of these verses that he thought would hamper his interpretation and expose his distortion. Note the three dots appearing in various places indicating the incompleteness of the quotations. Naturally, the full quotation of these verses serves as a key to understanding what the Qur’an means by the “erosion” (or diminishment/reduction/loss) of the land, what the word “land” in these verses pertains to, and why Harun Yahya quotes the verses only in part.

See they not how we aim to the land, reducing it of its outlying parts? (When) Allah doometh there is none that can postpone His doom, and He is swift at reckoning (Surah 13:41).

 Nay, but We gave these and their fathers ease until life grew long for them. See they not how we aim to the land, reducing it of its outlying parts? Can they then be the victors? (Surah 21:44)

These verses evidently address Muhammad’s adversaries and function both as a warning and a defiant statement that was most likely uttered at the time of a heated dispute between Muhammad and Mecca’s pagans as the third person plural pronoun in both verses (they) refer to the party that opposed Muhammad and his teaching. Besides, the identical question in the two verses (“See they not?”) implies that the land loss was something observable that Allah expected Muhammad’s adversaries to take notice of.  Since the identical question is directed in both verses to the idolaters in Mecca rather than to disbelievers in general and at all times, it is more than unlikely that these sentences have any affinity with the loss of some gas from the outer layers of the atmosphere.

Particularly, the last sentence of Surah 21:44 has a rhetoric that construes the diminishment/reduction/loss/erosion of the land as Muslims’ triumph on the pagan tribes of Mecca (“Can they then be the victors?”), which suffices to debunk Yahya’s allegation that the word “land” is used in this sentence as the referent of the landmass as a whole. As a consequence, these verses are blatantly about the political and theological conflict between Muslims and pagans, and the word “land” corresponds to the specific territory of the Muslims’ opponents. Once the true sense of the word “land” is thus inferred with the help of the context, Harun Yahya’s claims are proven false and the verses in question are stripped of their alleged miraculous features.

The occurrence of the clause “WE come to the land” in the two Qur’an verses is another noteworthy factor that invalidates Harun Yahya’s interpretation. Even though Yahya rushes to equate the loss/diminishment of the land with the geological incidents of global warming or solar winds, the Qur’an insists that the act in view is directly carried out by Allah. Oddly, in the two verses there is no reference to winds or other alleged instruments used for the diminishment of the land. If one considers Yahya’s allegations true for a second, the God of the Qur’an inevitably becomes identical with the “things” causing the emission of some gases from the world’s atmosphere and the loss of land. On the other hand, the emphasis laid on the agent in the Qur’an verses is more compatible with the idea of attacking and invading a certain territory. In other words, Allah, as the sole wielder of power and victory, conquers the land of the idolaters and proclaims his dominion.

With these observations, Harun Yahya’s claims are refuted; the case is already closed. It is nevertheless interesting to note that the Qur’an seems to point to the “diminishment of the land” only at regional level when it seeks to challenge Mecca’s pagans during a debate over the real owner of victory. This is apparent in other Qur’an verses that accentuate the unthreatened vastness of the land in the sense of the entire dry parts of our planet:

O my bondmen who believe! Lo! My earth is spacious. Therefore serve Me only (Surah 29:56)

 O My bondmen who believe! Observe your duty to your Lord. For those who do good in this world there is good, and Allah's earth is spacious. Verily the steadfast will be paid their wages without stint (Surah 39:10).

The verses quoted above somehow talk of the vastness of the dry land and thus sound ignorant of the scientific geological movement highlighted by Yahya. The following verse, on the other hand, perfectly explains how the Qur’an conceptualizes a party’s defeat in a war as the loss or reduction of a specific piece of land (territory):

Allah hath given you victory on many fields and on the day of Huneyn, when ye exulted in your multitude but it availed you naught, and the earth, vast as it is, was straitened for you; then ye turned back in flight (Surah 9:25).                         

Finally, another verse in the Qur’an threatens Mecca’s pagans by reminding them of the significance of their territorial safety:

Have they not seen that We have appointed a sanctuary immune (from violence), while mankind are ravaged all around them? Do they then believe in falsehood and disbelieve in the bounty of Allah? (Surah 29:67).

In the light of this verse, it becomes clearer that the expression “We reduce/erode/diminish the land” remarks God’s act of gradually lifting the shield that protects unbelievers’ peaceful territory. This consolidates the fact that “Land Loss at the extremities” is another pseudo-miracle invented by Harun Yahya.


1 Unless otherwise specifically stated, the Qur’an references in this study are taken from Shakir’s English translation (e.g., here).

2 All the quotations from Harun Yahya’s article, including his peculiar citation of the two Koran verses, come from this webpage.

3 Interestingly, Yahya’s claim contradicts another so-called scientific miracle of the Qur’an put forward by Osama Abdallah, who contends that the earth’s gaining weight is taught in the Qur’an (this page).

4 However, over history there were times where the polar ice caps were growing, and times when they were decreasing, resulting in a reduction or increase of water. One wonders if Yahya wants to say that these verses have the second meaning only at certain times, but is actually scientifically wrong at other times because when the ice caps are growing, the land is growing (not diminishing) at the extremities as well. Yahya’s theory only sounds attractive and relevant NOW, but gets in contradiction with the claim that the Qur’an is supposedly eternally valid. Was the supposedly scientific fact about the loss of land even true at Muhammad’s time?

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