From Myth to Miracle on the Creation
Evaluation of Four Commentaries regarding a Verse in the Quran
Keywords:Qur'an exegesis, tafsir, science, theology, myth
This essay is a study of four renowned Muslim Qur’an commentators and their exegesis of one particular Qur’anic verse (21:30), on the subject of Creation. The exegetes are al-Ṭabarī (ca. 224-310/839-923) and al-Rāzī (543-606/1149-1209) from the medieval period, and Ṭantāwī, (1862-1940) and Tabātabā’ī (1902-1981) from modern times. Applying the classic hermeneutic method illustrated by Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) and considering the author’s intention, the commentators’ mind, and the context, I evaluated thirty-five verses containing details on the subject of Creation. From these, I selected verse 21:30, in the chapter of the Prophets, due to its content and the nature of the four exegetes’ comments. The verse reads, “Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity (ratq) and We separated (fatq) them and made from water every living thing? Will they then not believe?” The four selected exegetes have given the verse two different interpretations, one of which deals with the subject of the Creation of the universe. By selecting exegetes from both medieval and modern contexts, and who agree that the verse has a bearing on the subject of the Creation, the study has two aims. Firstly, to see how the verse is interpreted at different times and with reference to different cosmologies. Secondly, to show how Muslim commentators of the Scripture deal with a subject that is ‘theological’, but which can also be seen as having scientific implications. As we will see, the commentators favour theological considerations over scientific ones.
This paper is one of a collection that originated in the IAHR Special Conference “Religions, Science and Technology in Cultural Contexts: Dynamics of Change”, held at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology on March 1–2, 2012. For an overall introduction see the article by Ulrika Mårtensson, also published here.
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