Questioning the Quran #80:24-31

فَلۡيَنظُرِ ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنُ إِلَىٰ طَعَامِهِۦۤ (٢٤) أَنَّا صَبَبۡنَا ٱلۡمَآءَ صَبًّ۬ا (٢٥) ثُمَّ شَقَقۡنَا ٱلۡأَرۡضَ شَقًّ۬ا (٢٦) فَأَنۢبَتۡنَا فِيہَا حَبًّ۬ا (٢٧) وَعِنَبً۬ا وَقَضۡبً۬ا (٢٨) وَزَيۡتُونً۬ا وَنَخۡلاً۬ (٢٩) وَحَدَآٮِٕقَ غُلۡبً۬ا (٣٠) وَفَـٰكِهَةً۬ وَأَبًّ۬ا (٣١) 

Grass Undermines the Qur’an’s Authority

The tafsir set this surah in what is assumed to be Mecca, Saudi Arabia, though that is never actually indicated. The reason why Mecca is assumed is because the tafsir writers apply this surah to an occasion when Islam’s prophet was seeking to convince the nobles of the Quraysh concerning the truth of his message, and it is believed the Quraysh lived in and around Mecca.

Taking these traditions and hadith to be true, which is a big assumption, I am still left with a question regarding the verses indicated above, which in English read:

“Then let mankind look at his food – how We poured down water in torrents, Then We broke open the earth, splitting, and caused grain to grow within it, and grapes, and herbage, and olives, and palm trees, and gardens of dense shrubbery, and fruit, and grass -“

Sahih International

My question is this: why would Islam’s prophet seek to persuade these Meccan nobles by asking them to look at things they cannot see?

What I mean is this: the description used speaks of grapes, herbage, olives, date palms and gardens of dense shrubbery etc – truly a luscious and verdant scene that in no way describes the floral biodiversity of Mecca or the wider Hejaz region. We could research each crop mentioned but it’s easier to ask what one would find in the Hejaz, and turning to the Encyclopaedia Britannica I read: ‘The economy of the region, once dependent on gold mining, is now based on pilgrimage spending, light industries (particularly at Jeddah), commerce, a limited agricultural production of dates and cereals, and the wealth generated from the oil deposits of eastern Arabia.’

So, there is some grain to be found and a limited amount of date palm trees, but no mention of grapes or olives. If you were to research grape and olive production in Saudi Arabia, you find it centred in the northern districts close to the border with Jordan, over 700 miles away. And what about gardens of dense shrubbery? or fruit? or even grass? None of this is to be found around Mecca. Indeed, Ibn Kathir quotes Abu Bakr As-Siddiq stating he “did not have knowledge of” the grass (Arabic: ‘al-abb‘), and backs this up by mentioning that when Umar bin Al-Khattab asked “What is al-abb?”, Muhammad answered “By your life, O Ibn Al-Khattab, this is something over burdensome (i.e., unnecessary to ask about)”.

So why is Muhammad asking the nobles of Mecca to look for proof in things that are not there?

One obvious answer is that the assumption that this records a conversation that happened in Mecca is false. It certainly seems more likely that the context of Surah Abasa is to be found much further north, perhaps near Petra (where the Kabah originally stood), or al-Hira (a centre of Arab power), places that would more readily match the description.

Here we come to a dilemma. Either one must accept that the traditional history of Islam is false – and Mecca is not the birthplace of Islam – or one must accept that the Qur’an is not a geographically accurate source; Surah Abasa is not a reliable testimony; and therefore the Qur’an is not the Word of God.

Grass Authenticates the Bible’s Authority

Turning to the Bible, I want to draw your attention to a detail that the Gospel writer Mark makes as he describes the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.

“And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass.”

Mark 6:39

Here we have a reference, not just to ‘grass’ but to ‘green grass’. Again, we have a luscious, verdant scene described for us, but, what is the setting for this miracle?

Verse 45 tells us that the setting is somewhere on the eastern shore of the Lake of Galilee, in an area that is referred to as ‘a desert place‘ in verses 31,32. Initially, we might consider that ‘green grass’ and ‘desert’ is a contradiction. However, when we examine the Greek word translated ‘desert’ (érēmos), we find that it is not referring to a sandy place, but to ‘an uncultivatedunpopulated place; a desolate (deserted) area; (figuratively) a barren, solitary place that also provides needed quiet (freedom from disturbance)’ [HELPS Word Studies].

Now, while the word ‘desert’ allows for a grassy moor, and the setting is close to a large body of water, and much further north than the Hejaz, the Mediterranean region is still hot and dry for much of the year, meaning that it is less likely to find ‘green grass’.

However, this is not all we know. In John’s Gospel, we find a time stamp attached to the account of the feeding of the 5000. In chapter 6:4, John tells us that ‘the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh’. John is not adding this detail simply to corroborate Mark’s testimony, but because the passover is one of John’s big themes throughout his Gospel, pointing us to Jesus Christ as the Sacrificial Lamb laying down His own life as ‘a ransom for all’ (1 Tim 2:6).

Now, we know that Passover always happens around early April, just the time of year when the landscape would be luscious and green, before the heat of summer has dried it out. This authenticates Mark’s testimony, and shows us that the Gospels are accurate eyewitness testimony, describing events as they happened, with details that fit the time and place. This itself does not prove the Bible to be God’s Word, but it is a necessary starting point.

Conclusion

The Qur’an fails to give accurate details that match the specified place, and the overall setting has to be found in traditions written over 200 years later. This inaccuracy shows that the Qur’an is not the Word of God, and is even unlikely to be reliable eyewitness testimony.

The Bible, on the other hand, gives accurate details that do match the specified time and place, with different accounts corroborating each other. This proves the Bible to be a trustworthy record, and gives you enough reason to study it further. If you don’t have a Bible of your own, you can order a free one here.

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