By Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
What was the age of the prophet Noah when he died? Many Muslims over the centuries and even now believe that Noah had an age of 950 years. This misinformation is based on the misreading and literal understanding of the following verse of the Quran, “And We certainly sent Noah to his people, and he dwelt among them a thousand years save fifty years. Then the deluge overtook them, while they were wrongdoers.” (Al Qur’an 29:14/15)
As the understanding of human physiology has increased in the last few centuries, no knowledgeable physician can conceive such long spells of human life now or in the past. So it has become obvious that this verse cannot imply the physical age of the prophet Noah. The ‘Truth’ of the literal word of God, the holy Quran, cannot contradict, the ‘Truth,’ of laws of nature, the God’s creation or vice versa. The subject of Noah’s age I have discussed in some detail in my previous article: Science in the Service of the Scriptures.
The term Truth cannot contradict Truth, has not been coined by me but rather by Pope John Paul II. For the historic background and my proposed debate with him about the Bible versus the Quran please see the article: Pope John Paul II and Me: ‘Truth Cannot Contradict Truth?’
Did the prophet Noah take Kangaroos with him in his ark? The literalist Christian readers of the Bible would answer in the affirmative, based on the literal reading of the some of the verses of Genesis, in the Bible. But I beg to differ, simply based on the geographical understanding of Australia and the fact that Kangaroos only exist in Australia. While Noah was in Middle East and the sea travel was not advanced enough to go to Australia and then come back for demonstration to the local audience. For additional details on this particular theme please go to: Did Noah Take Kangaroos with Him in the Ark?
If my articles are boring to you, it may be that you need to read more of them, as was suggested by John Cage, one of the most influential American composers of the 20th century, “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”
One of the attributes of Allah mentioned in the Quran is Al Haq, the Truth: “And you see the earth lifeless, but when We send down water thereon it stirs and swells and grows every kind of beautiful vegetation. That is because Allah ˹alone˺ is the Truth, He ˹alone˺ gives life to the dead, and He ˹alone˺ is Most Capable of everything. (Al Quran 22:5-6/6-7)
The holy Quran is the truth and nothing but the truth and this is a fundamental belief of every Muslim. However, the truth in the creation or nature may not be so self evident to many. So, let me quote a few verses from the holy Quran to illustrate my point:
He it is Who made the sun radiate a brilliant light and the moon reflect a luster, and ordained for it stages, that you might know the number of years and the reckoning of time. Allah has not created this but in truth. He details the Signs for a people who have knowledge. (Al Quran 10:5/6)
We have not created the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, but with truth, and for an appointed term; but those who disbelieve turn away from that of which they have been warned. (Al Quran 46:3/4)
And He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in accordance with the requirements of wisdom; and the day He says, ‘Be’, it will be. His word is the truth, and His will be the kingdom on the day when the trumpet will be blown. He is the Knower of the unseen and the seen. And He is the Wise, the All-Aware. (Al Quran 6:73/74)
In the following the converse is denied that Allah has not created the universe without truth or in vain:
In the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation of the night and the day there are indeed Signs for men of understanding; Those who remember Allah standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and ponder over the creation of the heavens and the earth: ‘Our Lord, You have not created this in vain; Nay, Holy are You; save us, then, from the punishment of the Fire. (Al Quran 9:190-191/191-192)
The last verse of Sura Luqman reads:
Only God knows the time of the Day of the resurrection. Only God sends down the rain. Only God knows what is taking shape in the womb of the mother. No living being knows what he will earn the next day, nor does anybody know in what land he will die. Only God knows everything and is All-Aware. (Al Quran 31:54/55)
This is from a recent translation by Bijan Moeinian Ph.D. It is possible to know many details of the fetuses in the womb these days. It is possible to know the whole of the genetic make up of the fetuses and if he or she is carrying any genetic diseases. The commentators of earlier centuries could have understood the term, “Only God knows what is taking shape in the womb of the mother,” in ways that would be contrary to the facts, as we understand them today.
As our knowledge of nature and laws governing it increases our knowledge of several different verses of the Quran embellishes over time.
Muhammad Asad, who converted to Islam from Judaism, writes in his introduction to the translation of the holy Quran, regarding how one’s insight into the Quran improves as one’s worldly knowledge increases, which in my opinion also includes our scientific knowledge:
If, on occasion, I have found myself constrained to differ from the interpretations offered by the latter (early commentators), let the reader remember that the very uniqueness of the Qur’an consists in the fact that the more our worldly knowledge and historical experience increase, the more meanings, hitherto unsuspected, reveal themselves in its pages.
The holy Quran, God has sent for every Tom, Dick and Harry, in other words for the common man. Not withstanding this simple fact, many a sect leader and Muslim scholars try to monopolize the understanding of the Quran to the detriment of their followers and marginalize the other students and scholars of Islam, in the eyes of their followers.
If only such leaders were supposed to be the exclusive medium for the transmission of the message of the Quran, Allah could have said that I am sending my message for these leaders so they can pass it to the common man. But this was not to be! The Quran does the very opposite and on dozens of occasions addresses the common man.
One area where one can easily expose the false claims of such claimants of false authority, who try to monopolize the scriptures, the Quran and the Bible, is when their teachings or their interpretations go against the laws of nature. Truth cannot contradict truth! So a teaching attributed to the Divine can never be against the laws of nature.
No matter however many followers a given scholar or the Muslim leader may have or how much humanitarian contributions he or she may have made, the laws of nature are supreme and over riding. The Truth of God’s creation can never contradict His revealed word or any other teaching or vice versa. The laws of nature become a litmus test. A key to judge the authenticity of teachers of Abrahamic faiths, be they Jews, Christians, or Muslims and their understanding of the scriptures.
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