I want your comments on the explanation I have given below of the verse ’17’ of Surah 55 (Al-Rahman), i.e.
The Lord of two Easts and two Wests
I think this verse points towards the tilt, the axes of spin of earth have with the axes of spin perpendicular to the line joining the earth with the sun. If we consider two easts as the two different extreme positions, from where the sun arises in the middle of summer and in the middle of winter (same for the two wests) we can explain this as under.
Figure (1) shows the orbit of the earth around the sun with the axes of spin of earth perpendicular to the line joining the sun with earth. Consider the point ‘p’ on the earth, we suppose that we are standing on this point on the earth. It is easy to see that when the earth will cover half of its rotation around the sun, the position from where the sun arises will remain the same with respect to the point ‘p’ as it appeared when the earth was on the other side of the sun. Now we tilt the axis of spin through some degree with the vertical. This is shown in the fig. (2).
Position of point ‘p’ on the two sides of the sun will change with respect to the sun, due to which the position from where the sun arises with respect to the point ‘p’ will change. Thus in the middle of the two seasons the sun appears to arise from two different positions. I have briefly explained this, but I think figures will help to understand it better. This explains this phenomenon.
We know that this tilt is about 23.5 degrees with the vertical also this tilt is very important for the survival of life on earth. Now, with this background of the verse in mind, we can better understand not only the meaning of the verse but also the sequence in which this verse came.
At the end I want to clarify that I am not that kind of person who tries to match the scientific facts mentioned in the Qur’an with the known scientific realities. I do not consider this to be the correct way to understand the Qur’an. I have given this explanation just for the sake of understanding. I think verses of the Qur’an concerning the natural phenomenon do need some scientific explanation (I take ‘scientific explanation’ in wide sense).
Your brief article provides an interesting explanation of the words “two easts” and “two wests” as used by the Qur’an. My opinion, regarding the meaning and implication of these words is, however, a little different.
The Qur’an has used the words “Mashriqain” and “Maghribain” (translated as “two easts” and “two wests”) as dual nouns and has also used these words in plural: “Mashaariq” and “Maghaarib” (translated as “all the easts” and “all the wests”).
It is quite well known that in the Arabic language, a plural noun does not only imply the plurality of the noun but is also used to refer to the vastness of that noun. In my opinion, the literary translation of the phrase “Rubb al-Mashaariq wal-Maghaarib” should be: “[the sole] Lord of the great vastness of the east and the great vastness of the west”. The same is the case, for instance, in” Rubb al-` aalameen” it should be translated as ” [the sole] Lord of the whole vastness of the world”.
The dual nouns (i.e. Tathniyah, normally implying two numbers) are also sometimes used in meanings quite close to those explained above. To fully comprehend the implication of the dual nouns, “Mashriqain” and “Maghribain“, as I understand it, I would like you to consider the usage of the words “Mashriq” (east) and “Maghrib” (west) as we use them in our everyday life. In our everyday usage, in contrast to the geographical or the scientific usage, the words “Mashriq” and “Maghrib” do not refer to a specific directional point only, rather they are generally used for a direction, in general. When I say that “I live in the east”, I use the word “east” in a general rather than a scientific sense1. Thus, in everyday usage, the words “east” and “west” may be used for a direction extending from the right of the particular point of direction, which is scientifically termed as “east” to the left of that point. In this sense, if a person facing east, observing the vastness of the east, moves his head from right to left, he would have [his own] starting and ending points of “east”. In my opinion, “Rubb al-Mashriqain” implies that God is the sole Lord of all the vastness that lies between the starting and ending points in direction referred to as “east” and the sole Lord of the vastness that lies between the starting and ending points in direction referred to as “west”.
I have given my point of view regarding the meaning and implication of these phrases of the Qur’an. A difference of opinion in these spheres is not of any great significance. The important thing, in my opinion, is to arrive at that interpretation of any given verse, which is most appropriate from the linguistic point of view and the one that is in accordance with the literary style of the Qur’an.
9th May 1999
- That is to say that I normally do not use the word ‘east’ to denote a specific point only. On the contrary, I may use the word to refer to a particular direction, with a particular starting point on one side and a finishing point on the other. Thus, the word ‘east’ in our everyday usage, does not only refer to a point of direction, but may also refer to a range of points in that direction. [↩]