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Answering Common Misconceptions

34. Is the Qur'an Outdated?

Question:

As-salamu `alaykum.

Scholars say that the Qur’an is for all people and for all times, but there is something unclear to me, there are verses in the Qur’an that are out-dated. For example, mentioning that God has created horses, mules, and donkeys to ride and use for show; and stating that He has created other things “of which mankind has no knowledge.”

These days, no person needs horses or donkeys for transport, today there are cars, planes, trains, etc. There are many other verses in the Qur’an that are out-of-date.
 

Answer:

That Qur'an is a message for as well as fit for all generations and all nations is a fact, verified by the history of Islam, and by sound consideration of the Qur'anic text. Since it is the sealing message of all divine messages, its content is so phrased as to be comprehensible, convincing, motivating and fit for any level of intellect and human knowledge. To this end, Qur'an repeatedly refers to natural phenomena for the dual purpose of:

i)    Drawing the attention to the majesty and enormity of the creation and creatures of Allah.

ii)     Prove that this Book (Qur'an) is far beyond the knowledge of the Messenger or any other human source to formulate.

The verse referred to is:

* And horses and mules and asses for you to ride, and as an adornment; and He creates what you do not. (Meaning of Qur'an 16:8)

Reference here is to the bounties of Allah in creating horses, mules and asses, that were the backbones of transportation, in war and peace since the dawn of civilization. It was natural to explicitly mention those creatures known for "all" generations. It would have been both fruitless and perplexing to mention other creatures or innovations – before their coming into existence - that would carry no meaning to the recipients over ages. Yet, the verse refers collectively to everything else by: "what you do not know." Such statement is to prepare and motivate the minds of future generations to: explore, accept and adapt to all sorts of innovations. Even what you consider now as modern, would become obsolete or out of date one day.

A similar example can be cited in the Qur'an, where weapons and other means of military power and deterrence are referred to collectively, in conjunction with the power of horses, "garrisoned horses," known to the earlier generations:

* And prepare for them whatever power and whatever garrisoned horses you can, to (spread) awe thereby into (the hearts) of the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others, apart from them that you do not know; Allah knows them. And whatever you expend in the way of Allah will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be done an injustice. (Meaning of Qur'an 8:60)

The expression "whatever power" encompasses all sorts of weapons, equipment and means of transportation; as well as the explicit mentioning of "whatever garrisoned horses." Thanks to the latter, the light of Islam has spread and was conveyed to all continents, to remain till the end of time insha`-Allah. The verse urges and encourages Muslims to explore "whatever power", i.e. all possible means and innovations, and to spend as much money and effort, "expend in the way of Allah," to acquire and attain such power.

To some readers, your query could carry the false notion that the Qur'an, revealed 14 centuries ago, mentions the "simpler more primitive" means of transportation, rather than the "modern more advanced" cars, trains, aeroplanes  … etc. Such notion, apart from being a manifestation of self-conceit in our limited human knowledge, a remnant of atheist philosophy and a product of misleading media; reflects a sheer ignorance of the essence and findings of modern science itself. With the parallel advance of technology on the one hand and biology and physics on the other hand, we are in a much better position to compare and evaluate. Close examination of the natural (Allah's) biological and physical systems, compared to technological (man-made) systems, reveals the enormous contrast: the former being much more advanced in structure, functions and origin, much more complex and intricate, and so much so to be "absolutely inimitable." Compare for example: The human brain vs. Computers; the nervous system vs. the most complex communication network; Camels vs. any means of modern transportation.

The latter (camels), which a modern layman can look at haughtily, as something akin to the primitive Bedouins living in the desert wilderness, is a masterpiece demonstration of the majesty of creation:

* Will they not then look at the camels, how they have been created?! (Meaning of Qur'an 88:17)

Some of the exotic features of the camel anatomy and physiology are:

- It can live without food (=fuel) for two consecutive months, and without water supply for two weeks (it can store one third its weight water).

- It has an intricate control system of water storage and distribution to precisely maintain all physiological operations for such long times.

- Its body temperature is controlled in such a way as to keep the blood temperature in a wide range of temperatures (34-42ºC), to adapt to extreme heat or cold.

- It can withstand extreme ground heat (being raised on long thin legs), as well as that of direct sunshine (having massive fatty insulation in the hump).

- Its hard thick skin resists hot dusty winds and stinging insects.

- Lips are so designed to safely eat thorny desert vegetation, and the long neck on top of its tall body enables the camel to eat whatever leaves on rare desert trees.

- The belly is cushioned with a thick flexible layer, and similarly are coated the knees, such as to enable resting on any ground, even if hard, hot or rough.

- It is provided with a wonderful lashes systems to protect: the eyes, the nose and the ears, whenever sandstorms arise.

- The broad feet, cushioned with fatty flexible pads, are fit for walking on soft sand or on hard hot rocks.

Could any man-made desert vehicle match such a splendid natural creation?

Any self-respectful scientist cannot claim or imagine that the most advanced technology could ever be able to create, emulate or even match the creation of a single biological cell, nor a single organ, not to say any of the wonderful biological systems of life: respiratory, circulatory, digestive, excretory, reproductive … etc of a human being, a horse, a mule or a donkey; down to the single protozoa, or further down to create a single gene from its amino acids. Neither could modern technology initiate life in a dead cell or regain life to a dead – otherwise sound - corpse. Advanced knowledge of the structure (e.g. histology and anatomy) and functions (physiology) is something, and the ability to design and create is something totally different.

Allah challenges human knowledge (technology) – past, modern, or post modern to the end of time – to create such a minute creature as a fly:

* O you mankind, a similitude is struck: so listen to it. Surely the ones whom you invoke apart from Allah will never create a fly, even if they gathered together for (the purpose); and in case a fly would rob them of anything, they would not be able to rescue it from him. Weak (indeed) are the seeker and the sought. (Meaning of Qur'an 22:73)

Glory to Him who holds and maintains all such amazingly wonderful systems of creation to function and persist, the Way He wills. Nobody else can interfere to change any of the basic structures, functions or fate of His creation:

* Surely Allah holds the heavens and the earth (so) that they do not cease to exist; and indeed in case they cease to exist, decidedly no one would hold them both after Him. (Meaning of Qur'an 35:41)

Useful Links:

Qur'anic Reflection s on the Spider's Web

Why Do WE Need Islam?

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