<%-- Page Title--%> Theology <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 118 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

August 15, 2003

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A History of Creation

Zeeshan Hasan

The Qur'anic verse, which is typically interpreted as talking about the Big Bang is better dealt with as story; specifically, as a summary of the earlier Biblical creation story. Additionally, the existence of earlier Mesopotamian mythological elements in the Biblical story will be examined to show how the divine revelations of the Qur'an and Bible have changed over time to accommodate specific historical needs. The results will support a view of revelation as dynamic and evolving, which ultimately argues against the possibility of a single set of universally applicable Islamic laws.

First, let us look at the following Qur'anic verse, which has been used to claim that Islam predicts the Big Bang.
Have not the unbelievers then beheld that the heavens and the earth were a mass all sewn up, and then We unstitched them and of water fashioned every living thing? (Qur'an 21:31)

So what are the Qur'anic verses on creation referring to, if not the Big Bang? A simple answer presents itself; since Islam sees itself as a continuation of the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is only natural that the Qur'an contain a retelling of the Biblical creation story. The Qur'anic verses quoted earlier serve as a summary of the Biblical account given below.

When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep (tehom), while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light... and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)

Perhaps the most interesting word in the above account, though, is the word for the primordial sea or “deep” (tehom in Hebrew), which apparently existed before God started creating the heavens and earth. The presence of “tehom” tells us that the Bible assumes that God did not create the world out of nothing; but rather that there was already something there. This serves as a clue to the existence of a much older tradition than the Biblical one underlying this account, which we will come to later. The account starts with the world “a formless void”, and earth, sky and sea were not fully formed until the third day. Hence the Qur'anic description of the heavens and earth as a “mass all sewn up”.
And God said, "Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome... God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. (Genesis 1:6-8)

The Biblical account above is obviously not scientific by modern standards; it reflects the view of the ancient world that the blue sky is really like made of water like the sea, only prevented by crashing down by the “dome” of the firmament. At the same time, this decidedly unscientific account is apparently the source for the Qur'anic “unstitching” of the heavens and the earth.

And God said, "Let the waters under the sky be gathered together in one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas... Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation...”. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.(Genesis 1:9-13)

The water referred to in the Qur'an as the source of all life could either be this mysterious pre-existent “deep” (tehom) mentioned earlier, or the waters mentioned below as the source of marine life;

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights the greater light to rule the day and the lesser to rule the night and the stars... And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky...” and there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. (Genesis 1:14-23)

From a scientific perspective it is impossible to think of a “day” or a “night”occurring before the creation of the sun or moon; but in the Biblical account above, there were three such days. The story continues with the creation of the animals of the earth's surface, including man, on the sixth day (Genesis 1:24-31). Then finally we get to the conclusion of the creation story told thus far, which is a justification of the sabbath as the Jewish weekly day of rest.

And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)

All of the above Biblical passages were from the Old Testament source that modern Biblical scholars refer to as P, or the “priestly” source, due to P's role in contributing much of the legal and ritualistic material found in the first few books of the Bible. One of P's characteristic concerns is justifying Israelite religious practices through his historical narrative. This shows us the apparent reason for the creation narrative spanning seven days. P uses this to establish the seventh day as the shabbat, the Jewish weekly day of rest, from the example of God himself. The shabbat law is made explicit in a later passage in P, which contains most of the laws and commandments which Judaism traditionally attributed to Moses:

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days shall you labour and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work... for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested on the seventh day; therefore Yahweh blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it (Exodus 20:8-11)

P's account thus contains all the elements of the Qur'anic account, but with much greater detail. The Qur'anic verse with which we started thus seems to be a summarised retelling of the P's creation story. The Qur'anic retelling is continued in the following passage:
Surely your Lord is God, who created the heavens and the earth in six days, then sat Himself upon the Throne, directing the affair... It is He who made the sun a radiance, and the moon a light, and determined it by stations, that you might know the number of the years and the reckoning. (Qur'an 10:3 and 5)

So P's week-long creation story of heavens, earth, sun and moon is retained in the Qur'an, but the detailed breakdown of each day is eliminated. This makes sense, as there is no ritual day of rest in the Muslim week; Fridays are marked for congregational prayers, but there is no religious law against working on that day. The sabbath-establishing rationale of P's week-long story no longer exists in a Muslim framework. An additional point worth noting is that the fact that the Qur'an accepts P's six days of creation is the strongest evidence that the Qur'anic creation story can not be talking about the Big Bang or any other physical cosmological theory, as none of these could possibly have taken place in six days.






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