Internal waves in the Qur’an debunked

Some Islamic apologists like to claim that the Qur’an talks about waves beneath the surface of the ocean, in accordance with the scientifically known phenomenon of internal waves.

Let’s look at the verse in question:

“Or [they are] like darknesses within an unfathomable sea which is covered by waves, upon which are waves, over which are clouds – darknesses, some of them upon others. When one puts out his hand [therein], he can hardly see it. And he to whom Allah has not granted light – for him there is no light.”

Qur’an 24:40 (Sahih International)

Word for word translation with annotated grammar:

Notice that it does not say the waves are in the sea. It only says that the darknesses are in the sea. The sea itself is covered by waves upon waves.

The bolded words are a translation of the verb yaghshahu (“it covers it”). Let’s look at that word. It has the masculine suffix “hu”, so the object of the verb is a masculine word. The sea is masculine in Arabic, but not the darkness. So the sea is the thing covered by the wave (wave is in the nominative case). The miracle seekers would need to interpret the verb, which describes what the wave is doing, to mean “be within”. Is that a recognised meaning for the verb ghashawa? Nope.

It means to conceal or cover, not be concealed or within. So using the recognised meaning of the words, supported by evidence, it says the waves are concealing/covering the sea (indeed, cover is the most common translation of the word). The only other way of translating it is to say that the hu suffix to yaghshahu refers to the unbeliever, so that the unbeliever is covered by waves. Even if that is the intended meaning, it still doesn’t indicate that any of these waves are internal to the sea.

The verse sounds like it is describing billowing waves upon a stormy sea. Indeed, the word describing the sea in this verse, lujjiyyin, while often translated as deep or fathomless, can also mean tumultuous in the context of the sea. That is how that word is often translated in this verse.

The word translated waves, mawjun, has the same root as a verb used for tumultuous seas with waves dashing together.

Posted on February 13, 2012, in Science in the Qur'an. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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