One of the more absurd objections lobbed against Islâm and the Qur’ân al-Majîd is that they teach self-evidently unscientific ideas such as that the sun sets in a spring of dark mud, based on the proceeding Ayat:
حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَغْرِبَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَغْرُبُ فِي عَيْنٍ حَمِئَةٍ وَوَجَدَ عِندَهَا قَوْمًا
Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it [as if] setting in a spring of dark mud, and he found near it a people
(Sûra 18: 86)
So the opponents of Islâm, rather maliciously and deceptively, claim that the Qur’ân says that the sun actually sets in a spring of dark mud.
The first answer to this false allegation is that the fact that the sun doesn’t actually set in a spring of dark mud was quite evident at the time the Qur’ân was revealed. Hence it cannot be said that the Qur’ân is a manmade text which confirmed a scientific error that was commonly held to be true at the time. For example, the Bible literalists and Christian fundamentalists believe the Earth is some six thousand years old. In ancient times it was not yet discovered that the Earth is in fact some 4.5 billion years old, and that the oldest anatomically modern humans date back to some two hundred thousand years. However, the Holy Qur’ân, which is a divinely revealed Text kept safe from manmade interpolation, does not replicate the error of the Bible regarding the age of the planet Earth and humanity.
According to the New Testament: “The devil took him (Jesus) to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” (Matthew 4:8) “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.” (Luke 4:5) Now it is known that there isn’t a single mountain in the world which is so high that a person can see, from its peak “all the kingdoms of the world”. Even if a person climbs to the peak of Mt. Everest he will not be able to see “all the kingdoms of the world”. Furthermore, these statements in the New Testament suggest that the author considered the world flat and not spherical. Of course the author can be excused for this error as in his time it was not yet common knowledge that the Earth isn’t flat.
Returning to our discussion of the Ayat wherein it is stated that Dhul-Qarnayn travelled in a particular direction until he reached a place where he saw the sun setting in a spring of dark mud; the very wording of the Ayat makes it explicitly clear that the point of view of Dhul-Qarnayn is being described, and that the sun setting in a spring of dark mud isn’t meant to be an objective statement of fact. Hence the Ayat has the word وَجَدَ ‘He found’. Furthermore, the very context of this passage regarding the story of Dhul-Qarnayn is for the purpose of giving the reader a sense of the geography and extent of Dhul-Qarnayn’s travels. So it is understood that by reaching a place where one will see the sun as though it is setting in a spring of dark water is a geographic reference to the Black Sea and the fact that Dhul-Qarnayn was travelling in the direction of the west. This is why none of the classical Tafâsîr (exegesis) of this Ayat suggest that the sun literally sets in a spring of black water. For example it is stated in Tafsîr al-Jalâlayn: “until when he reached the setting of the sun the place where it sets he found it setting in a muddy spring ‘ayn hami’a a spring containing ham’a which is black clay its setting in a spring is described as seen from the perspective of the eye for otherwise it is far larger in size than this world.” As for our view that the dark muddy spring is the Black Sea: Why the Holy Qur’an has interpreted the water of the ocean as “aineen”? Mufassereen have explained it in this way: The word “aine” has seven meanings and one of them is “more water” and another is “the place where water falls.” Since the water is more in seas and oceans and rivers, canals, streams and big seas generally fall into this and the water of the seas also adjoin with the water of the oceans. Therefore the Holy Qur’an has interpreted it with his word “aine” as plenty of water and delta of water.
Now if the opponents of Islâm, who allege the Qur’ân teaches the sun actually sets in dark water, were consistent they would likewise claim that the Qur’ân teaches that the sun rises out of the heads of a people!
حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَطْلِعَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَطْلُعُ عَلَىٰ قَوْمٍ لَّمْ نَجْعَل لَّهُم مِّن دُونِهَا سِتْرًا
Until, when he came to the rising of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We had not made against it any shield.
(Sûra 18: 90)
And this is sufficient to prove how absurd their objection is, and the fact that it is made out of extreme bias and not actually the spirit of fairness in approaching and understanding a text.