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Non Muslims say that 18:86 is in error. How do we refute this?

Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it [as if] setting in a spring of dark mud, and he found near it a people. Allah said, "O Dhul-Qarnayn, either you punish [them] or else adopt among them [a way of] goodness." -- Qur'an 18:86

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  • Maybe you should just read a different translation legacy.quran.com/18/86! – Medi1Saif Dec 5 '16 at 13:14
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    What's the actual problem here? As far as I can see that's how Dhul-Qarnayn perceived how sun set. – ozbek Dec 6 '16 at 2:18
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The verse in question does not say that the sun sets in in a murky pool; rather, it says that Dhul-Qarnayn found it as if it were setting in a murky pool (this is what appeared to his eyes).

حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَغْرِبَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَغْرُبُ فِي عَيْنٍ حَمِئَةٍ وَوَجَدَ عِندَهَا قَوْمًا ۗقُلْنَا يَا ذَا الْقَرْنَيْنِ إِمَّا أَن تُعَذِّبَ وَإِمَّا أَن تَتَّخِذَ فِيهِمْ حُسْنًا

Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it [as if] setting in a spring of dark mud, and he found near it a people. Allah said, "O Dhul-Qarnayn, either you punish [them] or else adopt among them [a way of] goodness."

Al-Kahf 18:86

Had it been setting in a murky pool, then Dhul-Qarnayn should have seen it rise out of the murky pool; rather, he sees it rising on people who were not shielded from it, on the other side of the planet as the verses say he had traveled across:

حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَطْلِعَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَطْلُعُ عَلَىٰ قَوْمٍ لَّمْ نَجْعَل لَّهُم مِّن دُونِهَا سِتْرًا

Until, when he came to the rising of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We had not made against it any shield.

Al-Kahf 18:90

Furthermore, while there are direct verses with no use of literary devices, as in An-Nisa' 4:17: "So believe in Allah and His messengers," one can find the use of literary devices as in As-Saffat 37:65: "Its emerging fruit as if it was heads of the devils."

Qur'an uses multiple literary devices from similes to metaphors to other devices that are commonly employed in the Arabic language (التصوير ـ التمثيل ـ الجدل ـ القصص), as in this example:

وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَعْمَالُهُمْ كَسَرَابٍ بِقِيعَةٍ يَحْسَبُهُ الظَّمْآنُ مَاءً حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَاءَهُ لَمْ يَجِدْهُ شَيْئًا وَوَجَدَ اللَّهَ عِندَهُ فَوَفَّاهُ حِسَابَهُ ۗ وَاللَّهُ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ

But those who disbelieved — their deeds are like a mirage in a lowland which a thirsty one thinks is water until, when he comes to it, he finds it is nothing but finds Allah before Him, and He will pay him in full his due; and Allah is swift in account.

An-Nur 24:39

Obviously this verse is using imagery to describe what happens to disbelievers on the day of judgment about what they perceive to be their good deeds.

Finally, the various tafsirs do not support the view that sun actually sets in a murky water; rather, this is how it was perceived from the view of Dhul-Qarnayn as he saw the sun sink in the lake or pool.


View in tafsirs

Here are quotes from different major tafsirs of this verse by authors over a number of centuries, and they point to the same concept. Translations are mostly my own, so treat with care.

Ibn Kathir

وقوله: وجدها تغرب في عين حمئة أي: رأى الشمس في منظره تغرب في البحر المحيط وهذا شأن كل من انتهى إلى ساحله يراها كأنها تغرب فيه وهي لا تفارق الفلك الرابع الذي هي مثبتة فيه لا تفارقه

And His saying: "he found it setting in a spring of Hami'ah" meaning, he saw the sun as if it were setting in the ocean. This is something which everyone who goes to the coast can see: it looks as if the sun is setting into the sea, but it never leaves its path in the fourth orbit, in which it is fixed.

Al-Qurtubi

قال القفال قال بعض العلماء: ليس المراد أنه انتهى إلى الشمس مغربا ومشرقا وصل إلى جرمها ومسها ـ لأنها تدور مع السماء حول الأرض من غير أن تلتصق بالأرض، وهي أعظم من أن تدخل في عين من عيون الأرض، بل هي أكبر من الأرض أضعافا مضاعفة ـ بل المراد أنه انتهى إلى آخر العمارة من جهة المغرب ومن جهة المشرق، فوجدها في رأي العين تغرب في عين حمئة، كما أنا نشاهدها في الأرض الملساء كأنها تدخل في الأرض

Al-Qaffal said: "What is intended is not that he stopped when reaching the actual setting point and eastwards where it actually rises, and he reached its orbit and touched it — for the sun orbits around the earth without touching it, and it is larger in size to get into a well on Earth. It is way larger. What is intended that he reach the end of urban area to the west and east. He then found it in his own eyes as if it were setting in a murky pool, as we see on flat smooth land as if the sun is setting into Earth.

Al-Sa'adi

فأعطاه الله ما بلغ به مغرب الشمس حتى رأى الشمس في مرأى العين كأنها تغرب في عين حمئة أي: سوداء ـ وهذا هو المعتاد لمن كان بينه وبين أفق الشمس الغربي ماء، رآها تغرب في نفس الماء وإن كانت في غاية الارتفاع

Then Allah gave him the means to reach the sunset point, where he saw the sun in his eyes as if it were setting in a murky pool; murky being black. This is common for anyone who can see the sun set in the horizon; one sees set into the water, albeit it is very high up.

Al-Muyassar

حتى إذا وصل ذو القرنين إلى مغرب الشمس وجدها في مرأى العين كأنها تغرب في عين حارة ذات طين أسود

Until Dhul-Qarnayn arrived at the point of sunset, and he found it in his eyes as if it is setting in murky pool with black mud.

Al-Jalalayn

حتى إذا بلغ مغرب الشمس موضع غروبها وجدها تغرب في عين حمئة ذات حمأة وهي الطين الأسود وغروبها في العين في رأي العين وإلا فهي أعظم من الدنيا

Until he reach the place of sunset where he found it setting in a murky pool, which is black mud, and it setting in a pool is in the eyes of the beholder, but it is greater in size than Earth.

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The Quran isn't a Textbook. The purpose of the Quran is to guide the spiritual and moral life of the people, not to provide technical documentation on the working of the world. Non-muslims who expect every single sentence of the Quran to be literal and scientifically accurate, even when taken out of context are being unreasonable ... muslims who expect that are misguided and delusional.

Large parts of the Quran are narratives. Like any good narrative and poem (Quran is a Rhyme in original Arabic), language is used to create atmosphere, words are used creatively to have desired effects, vocabulary is used to evoke and maintain a certain tone and rhythm. Common expressions, phrases and idioms are used and convoluted sentences are avoided. It would sound totally absurd if every sentence was literally scientifically accurate.

At 18:86 the Quran is telling us a story of a man named "Dhul-Qarnayn" ( a conqueror, similar to and sometimes disputably linked with Alexander the Great), who once traveled west until sunset, until he saw the sun setting in a body of water:

enter image description here

Quote from Tafsir Ibn Kathir:

Until, when he reached the setting place of the sun, means, he followed a route until he reached the furthest point that could be reached in the direction of the sun's setting, which is the west of the earth. As for the idea of his reaching the place in the sky where the sun sets, this is something impossible, and the tales told by storytellers that he traveled so far to the west that the sun set behind him are not true at all. Most of these stories come from the myths of the People of the Book and the fabrications and lies of their heretics. "he found it setting in a spring of Hami'ah,"meaning, he saw the sun as if it were setting in the ocean. This is something which everyone who goes to the coast can see: it looks as if the sun is setting into the sea but in fact it never leaves its path in which it is fixed.

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    "Non-muslims who expect every single sentence of the Quran to be literal and scientifically accurate, even when taken out of context are being unreasonable" The scholars I have seen commenting on how to read the Quran agree that the first attempt at understanding a verse has to be a literal one. Reinterpreting verses differently after centuries passed once new discoveries are made that discredit an up-to-then predominant literal reading is intellectually dishonest; it's not the people pointing out that some verses used to be interpreted literally for over a millennium who are unreasonable. – G. Bach Feb 23 '17 at 13:30
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    There's some off-topic discussion about literalism in your comment which I'll ignore for now. My point is that quranic words can't be taken out of context and interpreted literally. Regarding this verse, Ibn Kathir wrote this exact interpretation in his Tafsir. He said that the guy stood on a coast and saw what any other man would see ... he went on to say that the sun is in the (fourth?) heavens and never leaves its path. So this hasn't been the canon interpretation from a "milenium" that was hastily discarded when NASA released video footage of space. Even Gallelio was born after Ibn Kathir. – UmH Mar 4 '17 at 15:01
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    With that said, the Quran isn't a peer reviewed journal of Physics ... nor is there a competition or challenge to document the universe. The Quran never claims to lay bare the secrets of the world ... so there is no dishonesty. Human interpreters, flawed and limited may have interpreted verse X to infer that Y happens. Unless verse X explicitly states that "I God say that verily Y happens" then its just a human inference and can be discarded at any time. – UmH Mar 4 '17 at 15:01
  • they are not unreasonable. quran refers to phenomena of the world as proof of itself. ( for example, 36:33: And a sign for them is the dead earth. We have brought it to life and brought forth from it grain, and from it they eat. ) contrawise, muslims who say like you said, do not believe either in quran, or in science, and are lying. – qdinar May 14 '17 at 12:05
  • quran is not poem and that word does not mean rhyme! it is clearly said in 36:69 and 69:41 that quran is not poem. and "quran" means "recitation"! – qdinar May 14 '17 at 12:28
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In the commentary of the Quran by Yusuf Ali there are two interpretation:

2430 This is the iirst of the three e])isodes here mentioned, his expedition to the west. "Reaching the setting of the sun" this does not mean the extreme west, for there is no such thing. West and East are relative terms. It means a western expedition terminated by a "spring of murky water." This has puzzled Commentators, and they have understood this to mean the dark, tempestuous sea. If Dhu al Qarnayn is Alexander the Great, the reference is easily understood to the Lychnitis (now Ochrida), west of Macedonia . It is fed entirely by underground springs in a limestone region, where the water is never very clear. (See Appendix VI at the end of the Surah).

I have tried to correct the spellings, the website I got this from is riddled with spelling errors:

https://archive.org/stream/English-quran-with-commentariesyusuf-ali/english-quran-with-commentaries(yusuf-ali)_djvu.txt

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i have found a new interpretation to it:

https://twitter.com/qdinar/status/459603464755380225 ( 11:02 - 25 apr. 2014 (msk) )

i have found a new interpretation of 18:86 of #quran : "gaynin hamiatin" is black hole. #islam #arabic #astronomy

and, according to it, ayat 18:90, which translation is

Until, when he came to the rising of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We had not made against it any shield.

, is about time when the sun, and also any star, starts to glow, it glows weakly compared to how it glows later.

i have written these ideas firstly in comment №161 (875142) / 18.04.2014 11:33:10 (msk) in http://matbugat.ru/news/?id=9413 , in tatar language.

i found this interpretation because i have known out that word "ayn" is used here for "spring", and i knew that its main meaning is "eye". you can look here: http://www.almaany.com/ar/dict/ar-en/%D8%B9%D9%8E%D9%8A%D9%92%D9%86 .

as first interpretation i thought that it seemed to him, as it was explained by some people. now (may 30, 2017) i have looked at that word: http://corpus.quran.com/wordbyword.jsp?chapter=18&verse=86 -> http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=wjd -> http://www.almaany.com/ar/dict/ar-en/%D9%88%D9%8E%D8%AC%D9%8E%D8%AF%D9%8E . - first translation given is "detect" which is very close to "seem". so, he only detected it as setting in a spring of dark mud, it does not mean that it really was setting in a spring of dark mud.

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The main problem to overcome is that given all the reasons for taking Quran 18:86 literally, and problems with the counter-arguments, can we claim that the verse and the whole story is perfect or could it have been improved to avoid the confusion or doubts. See:

https://quranspotlight.wordpress.com/articles/dhul-qarnayn-sunset-sunrise/

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    Whilst this may theoretically answer the question, it is strongly suggested that you include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference. – III-AK-III Apr 4 '18 at 2:30
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Non muslims includes a lot of people. If they are jews or christians, then their book includes plenty of nonsense just like this one. It is also probably true for hindus and buddhists, although I never checked. So they do not really have anything to say.

If they are non religious, or religious but do not believe "scientific " aspects of their religion like this one, then I am afraid they are right. The explanations of how the physical world works just do not come from religion. Just say to them no one believes this any more. Why do you have to refute them anyway ?

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