Does the sun set in a murky spring?

Click here to see menu of all Muslim science posts

There are 2 main versions of the Muslim belief of where the sun goes at night.
The oldest version, supported by the hadiths, is that the sun sets in one of the 180 muddy springs (each spring is visited twice a year) at the western end of the Earth, turns off its luminosity, rises through the 7 levels of heaven, and rests under the throne of Allah.
[A depiction of the throne of Allah is at https://muslimscienceblog.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/bec5d-salafigodthrone.jpg ]
In the morning Allah commands the sun to go to a body of water at the eastern end of the Earth, turn its luminosity on, and proceed east to west across the sky.
During the Islamic Golden Age, the Mu’tazilite sect relied more on rational thought rather than revelation or hadiths. A Mu’tazilite named Zamakhshari, in a commentary written in 1134, falsely claimed that a disciple of the prophet Mohammed, during Mohammed’s lifetime, used the “runs to a term appointed for it” meaning, and Zamakhshari likely made a few small changes to the 3rd Arabic word of verse 36:38. At the beginning of the word a subscript of a tiny “/” was added to the letter Lam, replacing the letter Alif (“\” in handwriting, “l” when printed), and at the end of the word the last letter was modified by adding two “/” subscripts under each other. Some Qurans have the handwriting left to right and some right to left. A subscript may overlap the letter to its right, and I assume the (now removed) “\” (Alif) may have intersected what looks like a “j” to form what looks somewhat like a “y”, but with the “j” stroke vertical.
This changed the pronunciation of a set of 3 words from
“lā mustaqarra lahā” to “limus taqarrin lahā”  لِمُسْتَقَرٍّ
[The “n” sound is not an added letter, but a result of a subscript added.]
This changed the meaning from [at sunset the sun] “runs to its resting place” to  [at sunset the sun] “runs to a term appointed for it”. The new meaning implied a round Earth where at all times half of the Earth would be lit and half of the Earth would be in darkness. Both versions imply that the sun moves but the Earth does not rotate.
As the Islamic Golden Age came to an end, sects that relied on revelation and hadiths more than on rational thought came to power. The “limus taqarrin lahā”  became blasphemy that survived only in rare commentaries read only by scholars.
Sometime between 1930 and 1940, Muslim scholars became influenced by European and American science, and revived the “limus’taqarrin lahā” “runs to a term appointed for it” لِمُسْتَقَرٍّ version of the Arabic.

Muhammad Asad in around 1980 published 2 editions of his translation of the Quran, which have a very different footnote 19 for verse 36:38. The more popular edition mentions Zamakhshari, but botches the explanation of the 2 pronunciations of verse 36:38
The “lost” edition makes no mention of Zamakhshari . It instead writes that the conventional [traditional] recitation is “lā mustaqarra lahā” which means “resting place”.
Asad adds that the modern “generally accepted” “li-mustaqarrin lahā” has the meaning of “term appointed”.
Asad also adds that the source of the “lā mustaqarra lahā” “resting place” recitation was the “frequently cited” source “Tafsir al-Kabir” [written around the year 1200 by the Persian theologian al-Razi [not the same person as the medical doctor al-Razi].
The ‘Alī Qulī Qarā”ī  2003 translation of Quran verse 36:38 is one of the few modern translations to prefer the “place of rest” translation. In footnote 3 he correctly explains the meanings of the 2 transliterations (pronunciations).
In his footnote 3, he provides a long list of writings of Quran scholars to support his view that his is the correct recitation of the verse.
His explanation of why most modern translations translate the phrase incorrectly [as continues on its path] and give the incorrect [li-mustaqarrin lahā] transliteration (English letters approximating the Arabic pronunciation) is:
“The reading li-mustaqarrin lahā seems to have been suggested and reinforced by the popular astronomical notions of the [modern] age.”.


Farook Malik translates Quran verse 18:27  as  “no one is authorized to change His Words and if you dare to make any change, you will find no refuge to protect you from Him”.
But Quran verse 15:9 says Allah will preserve the Quran, and not permit the words of the Quran to be changed. “We have surely sent down the Koran; and We will certainly preserve the same from corruption.” [George Sale translation]

Edward Henry Palmer, in his 1880 footnote 1, wrote “there is a various reading here, ‘and has no place of rest’ “.
George Sale’s 1734 translation into English was based on the Baydawi early 1600’s Arabic Quran and commentary, now at the London Metropolitan Archive. https://discovery.princeton.edu/2013/11/03/scholar-locates-source-of-18th-century-quran/
I would guess it has the Arabic spelling with the “lā mustaqarra lahā” pronunciation, but only a few scholars have been given access to it.

Today, most Quran translations into English give the “runs to a term appointed for it” interpretation. Around the year 1940 or 1950, English translations of the Quran (and reprints of old translations) began to include the Arabic. The Arabic included is always the “limus’taqarrin lahā”   لِمُسْتَقَرٍّ version of the Arabic, even if the English translation is the “runs to its resting place” interpretation.

Hadith Tabari I:234 says “… There are 180 springs in the west of black clay-this is why Allah’s word says: “He [Alexander The Great] found the sun setting in a muddy spring.”
Asad’s footnote 84 to his translation of Quran verse 18:86 adds “i.e., the westernmost point of his expedition”.
Rashad Khalifa’s 1978 Quranist (no examining of hadiths) interpretation translates 36:38 as “The sun sets into a specific location” and translates Quran verse 18:86 as “he found the sun setting in a vast ocean”.
Likewise, Edip Yüksel’s 2007 Quranist translation translates 36:38 as “The sun runs to a specific destination”.
Edip Yüksel translates 18:86 as “he reached the setting of the sun”, implying that Alexander the Great did travel to the place where the sun sets.
Nuri & Hoque mistranslated the Arabic word ‘aynin in Quran verse 18:86 as “sea” instead of its actual meaning of “spring”, mistranslating “dark muddy spring” as “black sea”, and in their footnote to verse 18:86 claimed it meant the Black Sea.
According to the Quran Arabic Corpus dictionary, ʿaynin was used 23 times in the Quran with the meaning of spring, but used zero times in the Quran with the meaning of river, lake, swamp, bay, sea or ocean. In addition, Quran verses 37:45 and 56:18 [in describing Paradise] contain the related word maʿīnin which both Rashad Khalifa and Edip Yüksel translate as “pure drinks”, but which many translators translate as spring water. Therefore the “ocean” and “Black Sea” interpretations are wrong because they do not refer to springs.

The “Study Quran” in its footnote to verse 36:38 interprets the hadith that the sun rests under Allah’s throne until Allah gives it permission to move again to refer not to sunset but to Judgement Day.

Image by Jan Kronsell, via Wikimedia Commons.
image credit https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cypresses.jpg#mw-jump-tolicense

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s