Does the Koran teach a Flat Earth?

Miry Fount Like a Carpet
Level Earth Solid Heavens
Tent-Stakes The Sky is Falling
Hadith Prostration
Bed-Time Astronomy

At its best, the Koran is soaring religious poetry.  At its worst, it can sound like the improvisations of a barbarous outlander out of touch with the civilized world.  People in the seventh century knew that the earth was round; Ptolemaic astronomy was premised on that fact. But it is far from obvious that Mohammed knew what they knew.

Miry Fount

Mohammed is under the impression the sun sets at a particular locale on the earth:

"...And a route he followed, until when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it to set in a miry fount; and hard by he found a people...Then followed he a route until when he reached the rising of the sun he found it to rise on a people to whom we had given no shelter from it." (Koran Sura 18:83-89).

The traveller, 'Dhoulkarnain,' the 'Two-horned,' is probably Alexander the Great. Ancient coins depict Alexander with two ram's horns, reflecting Ammon's paternity. Some Muslim commentators identify him as such: "Moreover, some Muslim traditions give Dhu'l-Qarnain the added name Sakandar (an Arabic derivative of the Greek name Alexander) and identify him as king of Greece and Persia." (Understanding the Koran, Mateen Elass, Kindle location 1367).

The Koranic text implies there is a particular spot on the earth where the sun rises, and another where it sets. One can find similar references in the Iliad, where they seem to be manifest symptoms of flat-earthism:

"Now the sun of a new day struck on the ploughlands, rising out of the quiet water and the deep stream of the ocean to climb the sky." (Iliad, Book 7, 421-423);
"So he spoke, and Hera of the white arms gave him no answer. And now the shining light of the sun was dipped in the Ocean trailing black night across the grain-giving land." (Iliad, Book 8, 484-486);
"Now the lady Hera of the ox eyes drove the unwilling weariless sun god to sink in the depth of the Ocean, and the sun went down, and the brilliant Achaians gave over their strong fighting, and the doubtful collision of battle." (Iliad, Book 18, 239-242).

Any visualization of the sun actually being doused by earthly waters, such as the perception that the sunset as seen from Spain's coast is accompanied by a hissing sound, is diagnostic of flat-earthism:

"It is quite possible that these things are so, and we ought not to disbelieve them. Not so however with regard to the other common and vulgar reports; for Posidonius tells us the common people say that in the countries next the ocean the sun appears larger as he sets, and makes a noise resembling the sound of hot metal in cold water, as though the sea were hissing as the sun was submerged in its depths. (Strabo, Geography, Volume I, Book III, Chapter 1, Section 5, p. 207).

The concept that there is a particular locale upon the face of the earth which is the very place where the sun sets is difficult to reconcile with any other astronomy than flat-earth. The point is reiterated in Abu Dawud's collection of hadith:

"I was sitting behind the Apostle of Allah (pbuh) was was riding a donkey while the sun was setting. He asked: Do you know where it sets? I replied: Allah and his Apostle know best. He said: It sets in a spring of warm water (hamiyah)." (Abu Dawud Book 25, Number 3991, narrated by Abu Dharr).

No doubt the water would be warm, as the sun's smoldering fusion fires make it sizzling hot enough for your tea. But the narrator evidently has none but very primitive notions of the size of the sun relative to the earth.

Like a Carpet

Further eroding confidence is Mohammed's penchant for employing similes for the earth like 'carpets' and 'beds' which don't spring to mind as the most natural analogy for a round earth: "And the Earth -- we have stretched it out like a carpet; and how smoothly have we spread it forth!" (Sura 51:48).  Only with a great many tucks, darts and safety pins is a 'carpet' fitted to a round planet.

"He hath spread the earth as a bed, and hath traced out paths for you therein, and hath sent down rain from Heaven, and by it we bring forth the kinds of various herbs..." (Sura 20:55).
"Who hath made the earth a bed for you, and the heaven a covering, and hath caused water to come down from heaven, and by it hath brought forth fruits for your sustenance!" (Sura 2:20).
"And God hath spread the earth for you like a carpet,
That ye may walk therein along spacious paths." (Sura 71:18-19).

Need a Koran?

Level Earth

Mohammed says the earth is 'level':

"It is He who hath made the earth level for you: traverse then its broad sides, and eat of what He hath provided. -- Unto Him shall be the resurrection." (Sura 67:15).

From what perspective is he speaking? Is he contrasting the traversable plains of Arabia to more inaccessible mountainous zones? Or is he describing the earth/sky system from the point of view of an outside observer?

Speaking of the end of days, he talks about the earth being "stretched out as a plain:"

"When the Heaven shall have split asunder and duteously obeyed its Lord; and when Earth shall have been stretched out as a plain, and shall have cast forth what was in her and become empty..." (Sura 84:1-4).
"And call to mind the day when we will cause the mountains to pass away, and thou shalt see the earth a levelled plain, and we will gather mankind together, and not leave of them any one." (Sura 18:45).

None can doubt that God can produce whatever changes He wishes in the earth/sky system. Again, from what perspective is Mohammed speaking? Is he contrasting the level plains with the mountains, or speaking as an outside observer?

Solid Heavens

As will be seen, Mohammed is prone to fretting about the sky falling.  He describes the heaven as 'solid', which would explain his concerns about pieces falling off: "And built above you seven solid heavens, and placed therein a burning lamp..." (Sura 78:12-13). Under this solid structure is a firm foundation:

"It is God who hath given you the earth as a sure foundation, and over it built up the Heaven, and formed you, and made your forms beautiful, and feedeth you with good things." (Sura 40:66).

The 'seven' heavens, familiar from the astronomical musings of the Talmudic Rabbis, correspond to the number of the then-known planets plus the sun and moon: "He it is who created for you all that is on Earth, then proceeded to the Heaven, and into seven Heavens did He fashion it: and He knoweth all things." (Sura 2:27).

"See ye not how God hath created the seven heavens one over the other? And He hath placed therein the moon as a light, and hath placed there the sun as a torch..." (Sura 71:14-15).
"And He made them seven heavens in two days, and in each heaven made known its office: And we furnished the lower heaven with lights and guardian angels." (Sura 41:11).
"And we have created over you seven heavens: -- and we are not careless of the creation." (Sura 23:17).
"SAY: Who is the Lord of the seven heavens, and the Lord of the glorious throne?" (Sura 23:88).
"The seven heavens praise him, and the earth, and all who are therein; neither is there aught which doth not celebrate his praise; but their utterances of praise ye understand not. He is kind, indulgent." (Sura 17:46).
"It is God who hath created seven heavens and as many earths." (Sura 65:12).

Do we encounter the "seven heavens" in the canonical scriptures? Not in the least! No more than three heavens can be counted out from scripture: the aerial heavens where the birds fly and the clouds scud across, the starry heavens, and the 'heaven of heavens,' specifically mentioned as a fit dwelling place for God, who is also however understood to be omnipresent. That's three, count 'em. Where do the "seven" come from, which the Rabbis count? They come from Ptolemaic astronomy. They are enumerated as follows: the then-known planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, plus the Sun and the Moon. When Mohammed says, "and as many earths," (Sura 65:12), we understand these seven heavens are not vacant, but are populated by astronomical actors similar in nature to the earth, as is indeed characteristic of the Ptolemaic system. The seven circles are concentric:

"The Apostle of Allah (pbuh) looked at it and said: What do you call this?. . .He asked: Do you know the distance between Heaven and Earth? They replied: We do not know. He then said: The distance between them is seventy-one, seventy-two, or seventy-three years. The heaven which is above it is at a similar distance (going on till he counted seven heavens). Above the seventh heaven there is a sea, the distance between whose surface and bottom is like that between one heaven and the next. Above that there are eight mountain goats the distance between whose hoofs and haunches is like the distance between one heaven and the next. Then Allalh, the Blessed and the Exalted, is above that."

(Hadith Collection of Abu Dawud, Book 35:4705, Narrated by al-Abbas ibn AbdulMuttalib).

These are consecutive levels stacked atop one another. So consider a 'heavenly journey,' such as are found recounted in gnostic literature, and which Mohammed's followers believe he himself accomplished in the 'Night Journey.' In the version of the story found in the Hadith, Abraham is discovered to be inhabiting the 'seventh heaven.' The 'eighth' and the 'ninth,' sometimes found in gnostic literature, associated with the throne of God, go unmentioned. How are these heavenly peregrinations accomplished? You knock on the door and are admitted to each new level by a porter, after you've given him the watch-word. Look up at the sky, at the planets; do you see any structure which could be identified as a gate, or a multiple concentric levels? No; but look at a model of the Ptolemaic system; there they are! The 'seven heavens' are concentric spheres centered about the earth. In theory, a traveller could make just such a procession, if oxygen deprivation weren't an issue, with a little help from a flying burro like Buraq. There are not any "seven heavens" in the Bible, and from the time of Copernicus's followers, there have not been any in astronomy either. They never were in the Bible; they came over from scientific astronomy. But they aren't there any more. Is that a problem? Is it a problem that, if we are going to count planetary orbits as 'heavens,' we have omitted to count two of 'em, Neptune and Uranus, which were not known to the ancients? Poor little Pluto has been recently demoted, but these two remain.

When did this concept get started? Philo Judaeus, a first century Jewish author from Alexandria, Egypt, offers a tantalizing window into a pre-Rabbinic Judaism, before the schism with Christianity, and before the destruction of the temple. He does not use the phrase 'seven heavens' that I am aware of. He does however stand with the book of scripture open in one hand and the book of nature in the other, realizing that both books are of the self-same authorship. Unfortunately, the book of nature is not self-published; there's no vanity publishing in the great cosmos, and so what is substituted is the book of science, in this case Ptolemaic astronomy. That substitution can cause trouble, just ask Thomas Aquinas. Speaking of the seven-branched candelabrum in the temple, he explains that this represents the seven planets, with the sun in the middle:

"This much alone we must remind our readers of at this moment, that the sacred candlestick and the seven lights upon it are an imitation of the wandering of the seven planets through the heaven. How so? some one will say. Because, we will reply, in the same manner as the lights, so also does every one of the planets shed its rays. They therefore, being more brilliant, do transmit more brilliant beams to the earth, and brilliant beyond them all is he who is the centre one of the seven, the sun. And I call him the centre, not merely because he has the central position, as some have thought, but also because he has on many other accounts a right to be ministered unto and attended by the others accompanying him as bodyguards on each side, by reason of his dignity and his magnitude, and the great benefits which he pours upon all earthly things. But men, being unable completely to comprehend the arrangement of the planets (and in fact what other of the heavenly bodies can they understand with certainty and clearness?) speak according to their conjectures. And these persons appear to me to form the best conjectures on such subjects, who, having assigned the central position to the sun, say that there is an equal number of planets, namely, those above him and below him. Those above him being Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars; then comes the Sun himself, and next to him Mercury, Venus, and the Moon, which last is close to the air. The Creator, therefore, wishing that there should be a model upon earth among us of the seven-lighted sphere as it exists in heaven, explained this exquisite work to be made, namely, this candlestick."

(Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, Who is the Heir of Divine Things, Chapter XLV. Delphi Complete Works of Philo of Alexandria (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 77) (Kindle Locations 11525-11537). Delphi Classics.)

Heliocentrism was not the dominant view of the day, mostly because of unsolved physical problems with the premise, but Philo would go there if he could, just for reasons of religious typology, to get the sun to be the central branch! He settles, perhaps, on a composite theory similar to Tycho Brahe's. After numerous comparisons, he gives us seven divisions, which are not named as 'heavens,' but seem to cover the same territory: "For in this, also, there is a report that the outermost sphere, which is destitute of motion, is preserved without being divided, but that the inner one is divided into six portions, and thus completes the seven circles of what are called the planets; for I imagine the heaven is in the world the same thing that the soul is in the human being." (Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, Who is the Heir of Divine Things? Chapter XLVIII, Delphi Complete Works of Philo of Alexandria (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 77) (Kindle Locations 11568-11570).) So below the outermost sphere, the sphere of the fixed stars or, by some reckoning, the unmoved mover, we have six divisions. That, dear reader, is where your 'seven heavens' come from: Ptolemaic astronomy! Alas, there ain't  no spheres; this astronomy has been disconfirmed. Mohammed got it from the Rabbis, as he got so much of his material; the Rabbis got it from pagan astronomy, from Ptolemy and his colleagues. How to get from seven divisions to seven heavens? Probably someone said, 'so where is any of this in the Bible?' The answer was, 'well, the word 'heavens' is plural, isn't it?'

Where did Mohammed go, on his pony ride? Through the solar system! Not the solar system as it actually exists, but the Ptolemaic approximation thereto, as best he understood it. Since Kepler and Newton, we model things a little bit differently now. In what solid structures are you going to cut your doors and gates? Should somebody go back through these old ascensions, which were a popular literary genre among the gnostics, and 'correct' them to conform to current conceptions? Does the fact that these itineraries conform to a cosmology popular at the time, indeed for more than a millenium, but which is not a valid description of reality, prove that these works are compositions of the human imagination rather than revelation from God? It's not a problem for the Bible, which contains none of this information. As for the Rabbis and their seven heavens, nobody really thinks they were inspired. That leaves Mohammed, their student. Must his peregrinations be transferred to some never-never land no one has ever seen, when that is not their native territory? A flying horse could take you where you needed to go, back in those days; why can no one chart such a course today?

Mohammed refers to heaven as a solid structure, a "roof:"

"And we made the heaven a roof strongly upholden; yet turn they away from its signs." (Sura 21:33).

What was the predominant scientific astronomy in Mohammed's day?:

It would actually be nice if Mohammed could be shown to have been an adherent of Ptolemaic astronomy with its seven heavens, because that is a respectable scientific system. I wonder if, instead, he just copied the idea without really understanding it, as he copied so much else in a 'monkey-see-monkey-do' unthinking mode. Looking at the 'miry fount,' it is hard to believe he was anything but a flat-earther at heart. Probably he tried to take in what he was being taught, perhaps by preceptors who did not really understand it themselves, but simply failed.


Mohammed seems stuck on the idea of the earth being...stuck, weighted down by all those mountains:

"Without pillars that can be seen hath He created the heavens, and on the earth hath thrown mountains lest it should move with you; and He hath scattered over it animals of every sort..." (Sura 31:9);
"And He hath thrown firm mountains on the earth, lest it move with you; and rivers and paths for your guidance..." (Sura 16:15).
"Have we not made the Earth a couch? And the mountains its tent-stakes?" (Sura 78:6-7).
"And we set mountains on the earth lest it should move with them, and we made on it broad passages between them as routes for their guidance..." (Sura 21:32).

Somebody better get a crow-bar and pry off all those mountains so it can orbit...

The Sky is Falling

  • "And should they see a fragment of the heaven falling down, they would say, 'It is only a dense cloud.'" (Sura 52:44)
  • "Seest thou not that God hath put under you whatever is in the earth...And He holdeth back the heaven that it fall not on the earth, unless He permit it! for God is right Gracious to mankind, Merciful." (Sura 22:64)
  • "And they will say, 'By no means will we believe on thee till thou cause a fountain to gush forth for us from the earth...Or thou make the heaven to fall on us, as thou hast given out, in pieces; or thou bring God and the angels to vouch for thee...'" (Sura 17:92-94)
  • "'Make now a part of the heaven to fall down upon us, if thou art a man of truth.'" (Sura 26:187)
  • "What! have they never contemplated that which is before them and behind them, the Heaven and the Earth? If such were our pleasure, we could sink them into that Earth, or cause a portion of that Heaven to fall upon them! herein truly is a sign for our every returning servant." (Sura 34:9).

Mohammed's fretting about the sky falling does not sound as if intended as irony. The Kaabah, the sacred structure about which Muslim pilgrims circumambulate, contains, it is said, a black stone which appears to be a meteorite. Evidently this stone had long been held in reverence; the Christian author Clement of Alexandria, writing in the early third century, mentions it: "In ancient times, then, the Scythians used to worship the dagger, the Arabians their sacred stone, the Persians their river." (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, Chapter III, p. 101 Loeb edition). Pagan theologian Maximus of Tyre was aware of it, whether this is the same rock or a similar one: "The Arabians, indeed, venerate a god whom I do not know; but the statue of him which I have seen is a quadrangular stone." (Maximus of Tyre, The Dissertations, Volume II, Dissertation XXVIII, p. 194). These authors wrote centuries before Mohammed. Muslim sources confirm that the pre-Islamic Arabs worshipped stones:

"Narrated Abu Raja Al-Utaridi: We used to worship stones, and when we found a better stone than the first one, we would throw the first one and take the latter, but if we could not get a stone then we would collect some earth (i.e. soil) and then bring a sheep and milk that sheep over it, and perform the Tawaf around it." (Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 59, Number 661).

It is a dramatic and surprising fact that, from time to time, a rock falls from the sky. Ancient people often responded with veneration and awe. And what if the whole structure comes down? The fear that a chunk of sky was likely to fall down and clobber the innocent pedestrian, an odd fear to our ears, was in fact expressed by other peoples of antiquity:

"Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, relates that in this campaign the Celts who dwell on the Adriatic came to Alexander for the purpose of making a treaty of friendship and mutual hospitality, and that the king received them n a friendly way, and asked them, while drinking, what might be the chief object of their dread, supposing that they would say it was he; but that they replied, it was no man, only they felt some alarm lest the heavens should on some occasion or other fall on them, but that they valued the friendship of such a man as him above every thing." (Strabo, Geography, Book VII, Chapter III, Section 8, pp. 463-464).

Arrian also tells the story of the fearful Celts: "Of the Celts he enquired what, of mortal things, they most dreaded, hoping that his own great name had reached as far as the Celts and farther, and that they would confess that they dreaded him beyond all else. Their answer, however, proved unexpected to him, for, living as they did in difficult country far from Alexander, and seeing that his invasion was really directed elsewhere, they said that their greatest dread was lest the sky should fall upon them." (Arrian, Anabasis, Book I, Chapter IV). Did they seriously fear this outcome, or was this an ironical sally directed at Alexander's inflated self-estimation?

Evidently the celebrated oracle at Delphi considered this eventually something to plan for:

"Podaleirios came to Delphi and asked the oracle where he should settle. An oracle was given that he should live in a city where nothing would happen to him if the sky above fell, so he settled the place in the Carian Chersonesos that is encircled entirely by mountains." (Apollodorus, Library, Epitome 6.18, p. 87 Hackett).

The Hadith

The recollections of Mohammed's contemporaries are employed in working up Muslim law, because the Koran's scattershot injunctions do not make up a complete law-code. The sects differ as to the authenticity of the material in the traditional collections. These 'hadith' also touch upon astronomy:

"Narrated Abu Dhar: 'The Prophet asked me at sunset, "Do you know where the sun goes (at the time of sunset)?" I replied, "Allah and His Apostle know better." He said, "It goes (i.e. travels) till it prostrates Itself underneath the Throne and takes the permission to rise again, and it is permitted and then (a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate itself but its prostration will not be accepted, and it will ask permission to go on its course but it will not be permitted, but it will be ordered to return whence it has come and so it will rise in the west. And that is the interpretation of the Statement of Allah: "And the sun Runs its fixed course For a term (decreed). that is The Decree of (Allah) The Exalted in Might, The All-Knowing."'" (Hadith, Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 421.)

Tomb of Mohammed
"'May Allah's Curse be on the Jews and the Christians for they build places of worship at the graves of their prophets.' (Hadith Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 660.)


"Have they not seen how everything which God hath created turneth its shadow right and left, prostrating itself before God in all abasement?" (Sura 16:50)

What Mohammed visualizes here is the daily procession of shadows cast by stationary objects as a 'prostration' or act of worship. This makes more sense if God is visualized, not as omnipresent, but as seated upon a throne at the zenith of the sky: "His Throne reacheth over the Heavens and the Earth, and the upholding of both burdeneth Him not; and He is the High, the Great!" (Sura 2:256). There is no verse in the Koran corresponding to John 4:24, "God is a Spirit."

"And unto God doth all in the Heavens and on the Earth bow down in worship, willingly or by constraint: their very shadows also morn and even!" (Sura 15:16).

The Bible shows no special awareness of the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, but the same cannot be said for the Rabbis, some of whom try to fit everything the Bible talks about into that framework. Thus Kimchi assures us that the throne of God is the tenth sphere:

"And he says: I will consider of Thy heavens, although only the nearest is visible to us, because they are concentric up to the eighth, which is the sphere of the Zodiac, and because they are all transparent, as an object in a glass vessel which is visible from outside. And the learned Rabbi Abraham ben Ezra, of blessed memory, has written that the Psalmist says Thy fingers because the fingers are ten in number and the spheres are ten seven firmaments containing the seven planets, the sphere of the Zodiac, the ninth sphere above that of the Zodiac, and the tenth the Throne of Glory." (R. David Kimchi, On the First Book of Psalms, Psalm VIII, p. 51)

People who are counting their spheres can grow confused, because sometimes there are eight, sometimes nine, or ten as here. Alas, there ain't no spheres. When Mohammed ibn Abdallah talks about the throne, he does not seem to be visualizing spheres in any case, but a set object at a particular location. If the Koran embodies Ptolemaic astronomy, that would be a little bit of an embarrassment, as it is for modern day Thomists that Thomas Aquinas set the scene for the actors of Christian theology within the confines of this ancient pagan astronomy. If the Koran does not even embody Ptolemaic astronomy, as I suspect, that is an even worse embarrassment.



"A sign to them also is the Night. We withdraw the day from it, and lo! they are plunged in darkness; and the Sun hasteneth to her place of rest. This, the ordinance of the Mighty, the Knowing!" (Sura 36:37-38).

The idea that the sun, like an exhausted farmer, rests at night, may be poetic diction, an instance of Ruskin's 'pathetic fallacy.' Or it might be intended as a matter-of-fact description of the sun's daily routine. If the latter, it's a flat-earth reference, because in no other system is the sun doing, or not doing, anything different when her rays are not seen from one hemisphere.

Sometimes people seem to expect that flat-earthism, where found, must be a scientific system of astronomy, comparable to the Ptolemaic or Copernican systems. They expect that if you asked a proficient to draw a picture of the system for you, from the standpoint of an observer stationed outside of it, he could readily do so. Personally I think this is naive; most flat-earthers likely would never have asked the questions about the form and relative positions of the constituents of the world-system, much less had they arrived at consistent and defensible answers. These questions seem so obvious to us, precisely because we have good answers to them. This is not to say there haven't been scientific flat-earthers who were at least trying. Such was Xenophanes, a pre-Socratic philosopher who believed in an infinite, flat earth:

"By these considerations some have been led to assert that the earth below us is infinite, saying, with Xenophanes of Colophon, that it has ‘pushed its roots to infinity’,—in order to save the trouble of seeking for the cause. Hence the sharp rebuke of Empedocles, in the words ‘if the deeps of the earth are endless and endless the ample ether—such is the vain tale told by many a tongue, poured from the mouths of those who have seen but little of the whole.’" (Aristotle, On the Heavens, Book 2, Chapter 13.3).

Wait a minute,— if the earth is flat but infinite in extent, how does the sun ever manage to get around it, so that it can rise the next day? It doesn't, each day the sun is renewed; it's glowing vapor, like swamp gas or St. Elmo's Fire. This view did not prove satifactory so it was replaced.


Copernicus Calendrical Reform


The heliocentric Copernican system, not immediately upon its first publication but some time thereafter, met with indignation, not only from the Roman Catholic church, but also from Martin Luther. A rotund earth was not a novelty of this system, the Ptolemaic system already had that. Copernicus' innovation still meets with indignation in some quarters today...such as Saudi Arabia: "When in 1966, for example, he [Sheikh Bin Baz] had condemned what he termed the Copernican 'heresy,' insisting, as the Koran said, that the sun moved, Egyptian journalists, much to President Nasser's delight, had mercilessly mocked the leading cleric as a reflection of Saudi primitiveness." (Judith Miller, God has Ninety-Nine Names, p. 114).

Comments about the sun moving include,

"And He it is who hath created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon, each moving swiftly in its sphere." (Sura 21:34).
"Seest thou not that God causeth the night to come in upon the day, and the day to come in upon the night? and that he hath subjected the sun and the moon to laws by which each speedeth along to an appointed goal? and that God therefore is acquainted with that which ye do?" (Sura 31:28).
"He causeth the night to enter in upon the day, and the day to enter in upon the night; and He hath given laws to the sun and to the moon, so that each journeyeth to its appointed goal: This is God your Lord: All power is His..." (Sura 35:14).
"To the Sun it is not given to overtake the Moon, nor doth the night outstrip the day; but each in its own sphere doth journey on." (Sura 36:40)..
"For truth hath he created the Heavens and the Earth: It is of Him that the night returneth upon the day and that the day returneth upon the night: and He controlleth the sun and the moon so that each speedeth to an appointed goal. Is He not the Mighty, the Gracious?" (Sura 39:7).

To an earth-bound observer the sun does apparently move. Such language might be phenomenological, describing what an observer within the system sees. It might also intend to describe what a privileged observer standing outside the system would see. In the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, such an observer would see the sun move:

A moving sun is of course also consistent with flat-earth astronomy.

"It is God who hath reared the Heavens without pillars thou canst behold; then mounted his throne, and imposed laws on the sun and moon: each travelleth to its appointed goal." (Sura 13:2).

Calendrical Reform

Mohammed legislated a calendrical reform for his people, or rather a calendrical anti-reform or retrogression. Because twelve lunar months add up to less than one solar year, the pagan Arabs used to intercalate an extra month as required. Mohammed would have none of that:

"Twelve months is the number of months with God, according to God's book, since the day when He created the Heaven and the Earth: of these four are sacred: this is the right usage: But wrong not yourselves therein; attack those who join gods with God in all, as they attack you in all: and know that God is with those who fear Him. To carry over a sacred month to another, is only a growth of infidelity. The Infidels are led into error by it. They allow it one year, and forbid it another, that they may make good the number of months which God hath hallowed, and they allow that which God hath prohibited. The evil of their deeds hath been prepared for them by Satan: for God guideth not the people who do not believe." (Sura 9:36-37).

This is progress in a rear-ward direction. It really is a good idea to intercalate an extra month into a lunar calendar, because twelve lunar months do not add up to 365-1/4 days. The people of Arabia used to do that, in the times of ignorance:

"The intercalators are those who used to adjust the months for the Arabs in the time of ignorance. They would make one of the holy months profane, and make one of the profane months holy to balance the calendar. It was about this that God sent down: 'Postponement (of a sacred month) is but added infidelity by which those who disbelieve are misled.' [Sura 9:37]" (Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq, translated by A. Guillaume, pp. 21-22).

In their "times of ignorance" they were wiser than they would later be, because in the uncontrolled lunar calendar now used by Muslims, months gyrate wildly through the seasons. It's ironic that Mohammed ibn Abdallah himself realized that the sun is the luminary that determines the year: "We have made the night and the day for two signs: the sign of the night do we obscure, but the sign of the day cause we to shine forth, that ye may seek plenty from your Lord, and that ye may know the number of the years and the reckoning of time; and we have made everything distinct by distinctiveness." (Koran Sura 17:13). How was this information lost?

The ancient Romans at once time employed a lunar calendar, corrected as needed, but under the auspices of the pagan dictator-for-life Julius Caesar, they ditched it and went to a stable 365-1/4 day calendar, as advised by Cleopatra's astronomer Sosigenes:

"Under the guidance of her astronomer royal, Sosigenes, Rome's unwieldy lunar calendar was discarded in favor of Egypt's more straightforward solar version. It became known as the Julian Calendar and was made up of 365 days, with an extra day added every four years to create what is now known as a leap year. . .In order to introduce their new calendar on 1 January 45 BC, Caesar and Sosigenes added two extra months between November and December in 46 BC as a one-off measure. This made 46 BC the longest year on record at an astonishing 445 days. . ." (Cleopatra the Great, by Joann Fletcher, p. 202).

With slight tweaking by Pope Gregory, this is the calendar now used in the West. Its great advantage is its stability; it keeps pace with the sun, so that the autumn harvest festival is never found to occur, say, in winter. Its great disadvantage is that the months have become abstractions, untethered from the moon's cycle.


Not only a geocentrist, Mohammed, if we adopt the simplest and most plausible explanation for the Miry Fount, was a flat-earther, an idea retrograde even for his own time. Byzantine science incorporated the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, which featured a round earth. The more advanced ideas had not, it seems, penetrated into the semi-civilized desert regions, though they had been around for more than a millenium.

Some people take a 'so's your old man' approach to Christian criticism on this point, claiming that the Bible also teaches a flat earth. Wallace D. Fard, a self-professed Muslim who nevertheless made a heterodox claim to godhood, went further in his criticism on this point, offering geocentricity as proof of the futility of Bible religion: "The very first time I went to a meeting I heard him [Fard] say: 'The Bible tells you that the Sun rises and sets. That is not so. The Sun stands still. All your lives you have been thinking that the Earth never moved. Stand and look toward the Sun and know that it is the Earth that you are standing on which is moving.' Up to that day I always went to the Baptist church. After I heard that sermon from the prophet, I was turned around completely.'" (Manning Marable, Malcolm X, p. 85). In fact the great majority of people who say 'the sun rises' and 'the sun sets' are not geocentrists, nor was Copernicus, who included a table of sunrise and sunset times in his astronomical works. It is oddly true however, that a distressingly large percentage of the populace of the United States, and also Russia, get this question wrong when asked by a pollster.

Some ancient authors took a flat-earth stance as part of a strategy of literary archaism. Writing a thousand years after Homer, Silius Italicus writes of Africa,

"But, where the land in milder mood faces the opposing Bears, it is cut off by the straits of Hercules, and, though parted from them, looks on the lands of Europe from its adjacent heights; the ocean blocks its further extension, and Atlas forbids its name to be carried further — Atlas, who would bring down the sky, if he withdrew his shoulders. His cloud-capt head supports the stars, and his soaring neck for ever holds aloft the firmament of heaven. . .Moreover, the deep seas assail the cliffs on both his flanks, and, when the weary Titan has bathed his panting steeds, hide his flaming car in the steaming ocean." (Silius Italicus, Punica, Book I).

All the features of flat-earthism are here present: the Atlas mountains hold up the sky, keeping it from falling, while the Atlantic Ocean serves as bath-tub for the intrepid horses, lathered with sweat, who draw the sun's chariot across the sky on his daily round. But this first century Latin author was probably well aware, as were most of his compatriots, that Greek science had found and demonstrated the circumference of the earth. First century Romans, however, self-consciously inhabited a decadent era; they looked back to their forbears as empire-builders possessing virtues which they knew they no longer possessed. Their solution to this dilemma was to resurrect antique literary forms like epic poetry and fill these works, like Virgil's Aeneid, with pseudo-archaic flourishes. Is it possible Mohammed ibn Abdallah's flat-earthism is a literary device? It seems unlikely, given that this author is the most naive of all authors, in every sense: he believes almost everything he was told by his informants, even the folk-tale of the Seven Sleepers. His flat-earthism is sincere.

Was Mohammed simply a man of his time and place on these issues, or was he led astray by some of his preceptors? Some Rabbis seem uncertain on these points: "The sages of the Israelites said: 'During the day the sun moves underneath the sky and at night recedes beyond the sky' while the Gentile sages say: 'During the day the sun moves underneath the sky and at night it recedes beneath the earth.'" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume V, Section Moed, Tract Pesachim, Chapter IX, Kindle location 20738). The Gentile sages here considered were geocentrists, which is indeed characteristic the Ptolemaic system. Some of the Jewish sages were on board with the Ptolemaic system; in the middle ages, Moses Maimonides displays great enthusiasm for this system of astronomy, in his zeal rivalling almost the Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas.

But some were not on board. One must wonder whether those Israelite sages who did not believe the sun went round the other side, were on board even with round-earthism. It may be that some of his tutors led him astray, or it may be he came up with this approach himself. Mohammed was very dependent upon his Jewish preceptors:

Mohammed is sometimes accused of promoting an anthropomorphic conception of God as a gigantic man who creates the earth then sits down on a throne above the sky. I'm not convinced. This reading seems more than a little unfair. All human beings who talk about God find themselves saying things that aren't literally true, but are the best approximations a finite creature can fit inside its head. If he did so understand, he didn't necessarily learn it from his Jewish preceptors. The best Jewish thought, like that of Philo Judaeus, is not characterized by low theology. In the middle ages, Moses Maimonides took up the theme of the omnipresent God:

"If, however, you wish to take the words 'And Moses shall draw near' to mean that he shall draw near a certain place in the mountain, whereon the Divine Light shone, or, in the words of the Bible, 'where the glory of the Lord abode,' you may do so, provided you do not lose sight of the truth that there is no difference whether a person stand at the center of the earth or at the highest point of the ninth sphere, if this were possible: he is no further away from God in the one case, or nearer to Him in the other; those only approach Him who obtain a knowledge of Him; while those who remain ignorant of Him recede from Him." (Moses Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, p. 36).

But the worst of Rabbinic theology can be retrograde. There were a few amongst the Rabbis who brought up in the rear guard on these topics: "He said again to me: Come and I will show you where the sky and earth meet. I followed him, took my basket, and put it on the window of the sky. After praying, I searched for it but could not find it. Then I Said to the merchant: Are there, then, thieves here? And he answered: It was the wheel of the sky which took it with it. Wait until to-morrow at this same time and you will find it." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XIII, Tract Baba Bathra, Chapter V, Kindle location 55072). But this is not the dominant view. In fairness to the Rabbis, some of them were certainly round-earthers:

"Abba Issi b. Johanan said in the name of Samuel the Little: This world resembles the eyeball of a man. The white is the ocean that surrounds the whole land; the black is the world; the circle in the black is Jerusalem, and the image (the pupil) in the circle is the Temple, which will be rebuilt in the near future. Amen." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume 9, Tract Derech Eretz-Zuta, Chapter IX, Kindle location 40151).

This concept of the ocean encircling the world was common at the time, but certainly an eye-ball is round. Does the Bible teach either geocentrism or flat-earthism?:

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