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Sub-Atomic Particles Mentioned in the Qur'an?

How splitting atoms leads to degrading the Qur'an

Masud Masihiyyen

As the title of my previous article on the stages of the embryonic development suggests, the Qur'an is used by the Islamic scholar Harun Yahya as the miraculous source of the erroneous Islamic science. Yahya is very talented to apply various methods of textual perversion in order to multiply his allegations, all of which contribute to the grand myth of the scientific miracles of the Qur'an. One of such supposed scientific miracles deciphered by Harun Yahya is related to the realm of the structure of matter (*). In the production of this new legend, Yahya focuses on the casual and idiomatic usage of the word "atom" in two Qur'an verses1 and contends that the particular linguistic structure attached to this word reveals a mystery. Before presenting this specific miracle, Yahya deems it necessary to give a brief lecture on atoms and the history of humans’ evolving knowledge of them:

Following the development of the atomic theory of the Greek philosopher Democritus, people used to believe that matter consisted of minute, indivisible and indestructible particles known as atoms. However, advances in the study of atoms have refuted this notion. At the present time, modern science has revealed that the atom, previously regarded as the smallest particle, can actually be split. This fact only emerged in the last century, but was revealed in the Qur'an 1,400 years ago:

… He is the Knower of the Unseen, Whom not an atom's weight eludes, either in the heavens or in the earth; nor is there anything smaller or larger than that which is not in a Clear Book. (Qur'an, 34:3)

… Not even an atom's weight eludes your Lord, either on earth or in heaven. Nor is there anything smaller than that, or larger, which is not in a Clear Book. (Qur'an, 10:61)

Yahya’s argument is that the two verses quoted by him, which are almost identical in form as a result of a repetition, illustrate the Qur’an’s familiarity with the smaller particles of an atom:

This verse refers to "atom" and smaller particles still.

To elaborate on Yahya’s allegation, the quoted verses talk not only of an atom, but also of things that are smaller than an atom. The occurrence of the comparative phrase “smaller or greater than that” in association with the weight of an atom drives Yahya to the conclusion that the Qur’an was aware of the sub-atomic particles (smaller things than an atom) 1400 years ago! In order to understand whether Yahya’s peculiar assertion stems from an inaccurate translation of the Qur’an, it is necessary to have a look at the same two verses in different English translations. Let’s begin with Shakir’s:

And you are not (engaged) in any affair, nor do you recite concerning it any portion of the Qur’an, nor do you do any work but We are witnesses over you when you enter into it, and there does not lie concealed from your Lord the weight of an atom in the earth or in the heaven, nor any thing less than that nor greater, but it is in a clear book. (Surah 10:61)

And those who disbelieve say: The hour shall not come upon us. Say: Yea! by my Lord, the Knower of the unseen, it shall certainly come upon you; not the weight of an atom becomes absent from Him, in the heavens or in the earth, and neither less than that nor greater, but (all) is in a clear book. (Surah 34:3)

Apparently, the comparative phrase in these verses is maintained in Shakir’s translation although the word “less” is preferred to “smaller” occurring in Yahya’s translation. Pickthall’s translation also uses the word “less”:

And thou (Qur’an) art not occupied with any business and thou recitest not a Lecture from this (Scripture), and ye (mankind) perform no act, but We are Witness of you when ye are engaged therein. And not an atom's weight in the earth or in the sky escapeth your Lord, nor what is less than that or greater than that, but it is (written) in a clear Book. (Surah 10:61)

Those who disbelieve say: The Hour will never come unto us. Say: Nay, by my Lord, but it is coming unto you surely. (He is) the Knower of the Unseen. Not an atom's weight, or less than that or greater, escapeth Him in the heavens or in the earth, but it is in a clear Record. (Surah 34:3)

In the light of this comparison, it becomes obvious that Harun Yahya prefers the comparative form of the qualifier “small” in the translation of these verses in order to support his fundamental claim that the existence of sub-atomic particles (“smaller” things than an atom) are foreknown by the Qur’an. Still, it is not possible to dismiss Yahya’s allegation at this point of the analysis solely because of the diction in his translation although deliberate word choices may illustrate an author’s desire to manipulate the scripture and mislead the reader. The real question that should be posed here is whether the writers of the Qur’an had a special purpose for using the word “less” in the same context as an atom (formerly presumed to be the smallest particle). First, it should be noted that there is another Qur’an verse where the same phrase of comparison (less than that) appears to indicate God’s omniscience:

Do you not see that Allah knows whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth? Nowhere is there a secret counsel between three persons but He is the fourth of them, nor (between) five but He is the sixth of them, nor less than that nor more but He is with them wheresoever they are; then He will inform them of what they did on the day of resurrection: surely Allah is Cognizant of all things. (Surah 58:7)

Through the use of the phrase “nor less than that nor more” this verse lays emphasis on the doctrine that nothing can have a positive or negative effect on Allah’s ability to know secrets as Allah’s knowledge is independent of the number of people having a secret counsel. The verses talking of the weight of an atom convey the same idea of Allah’s omniscience through the usage of the same phrase. It is highly probable that the authors of the Qur’an benefited from this phrase three times for the sake of stressing their teaching that Allah’s knowledge had no boundaries. Even though those authors did not directly connect the word “less” to the word “atom”, their casual writing style gave some readers (Harun Yahya is one of them) the wrong impression that the possibility of sub-atomic particles had been attested.

Further, it is not always reasonable to look for a scientific miracle in a sentence that implies the probability of an improbable thing, for languages have a figure of speech named hyperbole (*) for the better and more effective expression of certain ideas. In the New Testament St Paul resorts to a hyperbole when he designates himself as “less than the least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8). Someone who is not familiar with literary figures might mistakenly conclude that St Paul hinted at the existence of sub-atomic particles when he said that even the least of something had something lesser or smaller. This would make the Qur’an’s supposed scientific miracle about the sub-atomic particles inferior to the miracles of the Christian scripture. Yahya must be happy that no Christian apologist approaches the New Testament in the way he approaches the Qur’an.

Should we answer the question whether every Qur’an verse talking of an atom attaches to it the phrase “less than that”, we can also answer the question whether this specific usage stemmed from the intentional word choice of the authors of the Qur’an. The occurrence of the following verses in the Islamic scripture means bad news for Yahya and his theories:

Surely Allah does not do injustice to the weight of an atom, and if it is a good deed He multiplies it and gives from Himself a great reward. (Surah 4:40)

Say: Call upon those whom you assert besides Allah; they do not control the weight of an atom in the heavens or in the earth nor have they any partnership in either, nor has He among them any one to back (Him) up. (Surah 34:22)

He who has done an atom's weight of good shall see it. And he who has done an atom's weight of evil shall see it. (Surah 99:7-8)

These verses surprisingly do not refer to something smaller than an atom, marking the weight of an atom as the smallest or least of all the things compared. This suffices to cast some doubt on Yahya’s allegations about the foreknowledge of the sub-atomic particles in the Qur’an. The following verses, however, debunk Yahya’s assertion since they replace an atom with a grain of a mustard seed without referring to its smaller particles:

And We will set up a just balance on the day of resurrection, so no soul shall be dealt with unjustly in the least; and though there be the weight of a grain of mustard seed, (yet) will We bring it, and sufficient are We to take account. (Surah 21:47)

O my son! surely if it is the very weight of the grain of a mustard-seed, even though it is in (the heart of) rock, or (high above) in the heaven or (deep down) in the earth, Allah will bring it (to light); surely Allah is Knower of subtleties, Aware. (Surah 31:16)

A reader interpreting these verses in association with Surah 10:61 and 34:3 may argue that the Qur’an considered a grain of a mustard seed smaller even than sub-atomic particles! What a paradox for the so-called scientific miracles of the Islamic scripture! Above all, the following verse is the closest one to Surah 10:61 and 34:3 in both form and content as it extols Allah’s infinite wisdom and talks of a clear book:

And with Him are the keys of the unseen treasures-- none knows them but He; and He knows what is in the land and the sea, and there falls not a leaf but He knows it, nor a grain in the darkness of the earth, nor anything green nor dry but (it is all) in a clear book. (Surah 6:59)

Despite the similarity, this verse is different from 10:61 and 34:3 in that it replaces a grain with an atom and does not use the phrase “less than that”, which once more supports the supposition that a grain was regarded as something smaller than sub-atomic particles when Yahya’s arguments are taken into consideration. It is clear that Harun Yahya’s theories cause more trouble and degradation for the Qur’an than a benefit and praise. Being unaware of this fact, Yahya works a sub-miracle from his alleged miracle about the Qur’an’s knowledge of the atoms:

Another point worthy of note is that these verses draw particular attention to the weight of the atom. The word "mithqal," in the expression "mithqali tharratin" (an atom's weight) in the above verses, means weight. In fact, it has been discovered that the protons, neutrons and electrons which form the atom are also compounds which give the atom its weight. Therefore, it is yet another scientific miracle of the Qur'an that attention is drawn instead to the weight of the atom and not its size or any other feature.

Yahya’s smaller miracle is based on a casual word choice in the Qur’an again. Nevertheless, he does his best to make that causal usage deliberate and meaningful. His claim that the Qur’an has a special purpose for using the word “mithqal” (weight) whenever referring to an atom is refuted when one checks the bolded words of the following verses:

And We will set up a just balance on the day of resurrection, so no soul shall be dealt with unjustly in the least; and though there be the weight of a grain of mustard seed, (yet) will We bring it, and sufficient are We to take account. (Surah 21:47)

O my son! surely if it is the very weight of the grain of a mustard-seed, even though it is in (the heart of) rock, or (high above) in the heaven or (deep down) in the earth, Allah will bring it (to light); surely Allah is Knower of subtleties, Aware. (Surah 31:16)

The authors of the Qur’an use the same notion of weight (mithqal) even with regard to a grain of mustard seed. Could this be another scientific miracle ignored by Harun Yahya?

Apparently, Yahya’s allegations concerning the supposed foreknowledge of the sub-atomic particles in the Qur’an are condemned to rebuttal since they are derived from the casual writing style peculiar to the authors of the Islamic scripture. The analysis of all the verses making a reference to an atom illustrates how Yahya’s hasty conclusions are fallacious as they are based on a few selected verses deliberately isolated from the rest of the Qur’an. In some cases it is true that the human writers of the Islamic scripture produce puzzling sentence structures not fitting a context, but this does not mean that all such baffling phrases pertain to a hidden scientific mystery. Ironically, the more Yahya focuses on the weird phrases of the Qur’an for the sake of fabricating a miracle, the more the haphazard writing style of the Qur’an’s authors is highlighted.

Further reading: Subatomic Particles Revealed in the Qur'an? tackles the same claim from a different perspective.



1 More precisely: The word "atom" found in certain English translations of these Qur'an verses. The Arabic term "tharrah" did not have this meaning in the time of Muhammad. The article “Does the Qur’an Speak about Atoms?” deals with the origin and historical evolution of the word "atom" in the Arabic language as well as in Islamic documents. Nevertheless, for this present discussion I am going along with this modernistic and anachronistic Muslim translation. Yahya's claims still don't follow.

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