Qur'anic Pictures of the Universe Book Cover Qur'anic Pictures of the Universe
Osman Bakar
Islamic Book Trust and UBD Press

by Siddiq Husainy Hasbullah

This book is a part of a bigger project from Prof Osman Bakar on the said topic. This book takes five Quranic views of the Universe from the bigger project, namely:

  1. Astronomical
  2. As a World of Lights and Darkness
  3. Architectural
  4. Divine Creation
  5. Human microcosm (small Universe)

Quoting from the author:

“.. this book may be viewed as a work on scientific exegesis (tafsir ‘ilmi) of the Qur’an.”

Hence, there is no surprise that the bulk of the discussions pertains to the nitty gritty of the Arabic language and its wide range of meanings. The first four views of the Qur’an is okay, I believe. Am not really that enthusiastic despite some interesting views here and there. I feel it is due to my lack of prior readings about the universe as a fact that i fail to appreciate deeply enough because the first four views are really based on the physical appearance of the universe.

However, the fifth view, which is the view of human microcosm is one that I do deeply appreciate. Partly, I feel because I did a few readings prior about the topics discussed. The idea of human microcosm is this; that man is a small universe. Its constitution viewed as a whole is essentially identical to the whole of the objective universe external to man.
There are a number of passages in the Qur’an that addresses this theme. The author discussed the passages in an arithmetic and chronological order. By arithmetic order, I meant the order from al-fatihah to an-nas, while chronological order refers to the time of the revelations of the passages. I doubt I can capture the whole idea of the chapter in a short review, but I’ll try to summarise it with reference to one of the passages, as below.
The passage is the last by arithmetic order and in fact the first passage in the chronological order. It is, as you might’ve guessed, the chapter Iqra’ (96:1-5). The idea of a Quranic revelation is to provide knowledge to man(verse 1) and it is fitting that the verses 2-5 talks first and foremost about the fundamental facts about man’s nature, I.e the physical aspect(from clay), the biological component(‘alaq), and the intellect-reason(al-qalam which is interpreted as ‘aql).
What does this constitutes? It is the idea that we, as a man, need to first and foremost equip ourselves with knowledge, particularly to answer the central question of life, “From where do we come? why do we live? And to where will we end up to?”

The summary that I attempted to don’t do justice to the whole discussions on the Qur’anic terms, quoted from various sources. Of course, there are some points that I do not fully agree with. I’ll briefly point them here. First of all, the physical symbol of the seven heavens as pertained by the universe. Second, the problem of evolution. From his microcosm’s chapter, he argued against human evolution using the tafsir ‘ilmi method. Although I find his arguments interesting, I am not fully satisfied with the whole evolution arguments yet.

In the end, truly i feel it is impossible to get the correct picture of the problem of the first man as of now. All in all, it is a “Goodreads”. Though I believe I need to go through the book again and cross read with the Qur’an, Arabic dictionary/language and the exegesis as well as modern discovery of the universe to fully appreciate the writing.