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Claiming that the Earth is egg-shaped

Published: 27/08/2011 10:59:00 AM GMT
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My question is about the Arabic word dahâ, which according to the translations I have read means "to spread out" or "a vast expanse". A prominent caller to Islam has recently suggested the meaning "egg" or "ostrich egg" for the same word. He says that the Qur'an teaches us the Earth is egg-shaped and goes further to say that this claim is supported by science. Is there a possibility that this word dahâ could mean "egg" or "shaped like an egg" based on its root? I would very much appreciate a response, as this caller to Islam is someone whom we regularly invite to our country to speak, and many have accepted Islam at his hands. Recently, he has been under attack by for translating the Arabic word dahâ to mean "egg-shaped". Also, please could you explain if there is any possibility that the word dahâ could mean "egg-shaped" or something similar?

Answered by

the Scientific Research Committee -

The word in question is the verb (dahâ). This verb comes from the tri-literal root d-h-w, and it appears in the Qur’ân in relation to the Earth in the following verse: “And the Earth, after that, He spread out (dahâhâ).” [Sûrah al-Nâzi`ât: 30]

This word conveys one concept in the Arabic language: that of “spreading, leveling, flattening, and smoothing out”. Allah mentions this to us in the verse to show us something of his providence to us. He explains what he means by stretching the Earth out and smoothing it out in the following verses: “He brought forth from it its water and its pasturage, and He made the mountains firmly fixed.” [Sûrah al-Nâzi`ât : 31-32]

Therefore, Allah smoothed out the Earth for us by making it a stable and suitable place for habitation, providing its inhabitants with water, pasture, and keeping its mountains firmly-fixed.

With respect to this word’s association with eggs, it is as follows:

Due to the fact that the word conveys the meaning of “spreading, leveling, flattening, and smoothing out”, the Arabs named the place where an ostrich incubates and hatches its egg an "udhiyy". This is a hollow pit in the ground around 30 to 60 centimeters deep. The Arabic word for this shallow depression is derived from the triliteral root d-h-w – the same etymological root as the verb dahâ. The reason for this is that the ostrich spreads out and flattens this area with its legs before laying its egg in it. The ostrich uses neither a nest nor a burrow for its eggs.

From this, we must understand that the word is not used for the egg itself but rather for the flattened depression where the ostrich deposits its egg.

Whoever uses the word to refer to the egg or to the shape of the egg is being inexact in his linguistic usage. However, without doubt we can say that such an error does not detract from the person’s reputation or scholarship as a whole, and it does not warrant a harsh reprimand.

In any case, verse 30 of Sûrah al-Nâzi`ât – that mentions the verb dahâ in reference to the Earth – is not discussing the shape of the Earth at all. It cannot be used as proof that the Earth is flat or round or egg-shaped. The verse is silent on the matter. And Allah knows best.

The exact shape of the Earth is best known from empirical observations, and not from seeking to deduce its exact shape from the Qur’ân.

The Earth is practically a perfect sphere.

Yes, the Earth is ever so slightly flattened at the poles, due to its rotation, technically making it an approximate "oblate spheroid", a rounded shape with a sight bulge at the equator.

However, the difference made by the bulge is extremely minute. The diameter at the equator is only 42.72 kilometers greater than the diameter at the poles. Considering that the average diameter of the Earth is about 12,742 km, the difference is infinitesimal – nothing at all like the shape of an ostrich egg, which is visibly an oval. The average ostrich egg is 15 cm long and 13 cm wide.

Therefore, the claim that the Earth is shaped like an ostrich egg is not only unfounded scripturally, it is scientifically inaccurate.

We should also take this occasion to mention that the Earth is almost perfectly smooth. Its near-perfect smoothness is not compromised by the contours of its crust. The highest mountains and deepest trenches of the crust are insignificant compared to the vastness of the Earth's surface.

To get an idea of how insignificant the mountains and trenches are when compared to the Earth's surface, we can compare the smoothness of the Earth to that of a billiard ball. A billiard ball must be very smooth and regular. The tolerance allowed for a billiard ball is only 0.22%. (Tolerance, in engineering, refers to the permissible limit of variation in a dimension of a manufactured object.) The Earth, by comparison, has a tolerance of about one part in 584, or 0.17%. This means the Earth is much more perfectly smooth than what is allowed for a billiard ball.

And Allah knows best.

Source: Islam Today

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