THE CONQUEST OF SPACE
Dr. Maurice Bucaille
From this point of view, three verses of the Qur'an should command
our full attention. One expresses, without any trace of ambiguity, what man should and
will achieve in this field. In the other two, God refers for the sake of the unbelievers
in Makka to the surprise they would have if they were able to raise themselves up to the
Heavens; He alludes to a hypothesis which will not be realized for the latter.
1) The first of these verses is sura 55, verse 33: "O assembly of Jinns and Men,
if you can penetrate regions of the heavens and the earth, then penetrate them! You will
not penetrate them save with a Power."
The translation given here needs some explanatory comment:
a) The word 'if' expresses in English a condition that is dependent upon a possibility and
either an achievable or an unachievable hypothesis. Arabic is a language which is able to
introduce a nuance into the condition which is much more explicit. There is one word to
express the possibility (ida), another for the achievable hypothesis (in)
and a third for the unachievable hypothesis expressed by the word (lau). The verse
in question has it as an achievable hypothesis expressed by the word (in). The
Qur'an therefore suggests the material possibility of a concrete realization. This subtle
linguistic distinction formally rules out the purely mystic interpretation that some
people have (quite wrongly) put on this verse.
b) God is addressing the spirits (jinn) and human beings (ins), and not
essentially allegorical figures.
c) 'To penetrate' is the translation of the verb nafada followed by the
preposition min. According to Kazimirski's dictionary, the phrase means 'to pass
right through and come out on the other side of a body' (e.g. an arrow that comes out on
the other side). It therefore suggests a deep penetration and emergence at the other end
into the regions in question.
d) The Power (sultan) these men will have to achieve this enterprise would seem
to come from the All-Mighty.'
There can be no doubt that this verse indicates the possibility men will one day achieve
what we today call (perhaps rather improperly) 'the conquest of space'. One must note that
the text of the Qur'an predicts not only penetration through the regions of the Heavens,
but also the Earth, i.e. the exploration of its depths.
2) The other two verses are taken from sura 15, (verses 14 and 15). God is speaking of the
unbelievers in Makka, as the context of this passage in the sura shows:
"Even if We opened unto them a gate to Heaven and they were to continue ascending
therein, they would say: our sight is confused as in drunkenness. Nay, we are people
The above expresses astonishment at a remarkable spectacle, different from anything man
The conditional sentence is introduced here by the word lau which expresses a hypothesis
that could never be realized as far as it concerned the people mentioned in these verses.
When talking of the conquest of space therefore, we have two passages in the text of the
Qur'an: one of them refers to what will one day become a reality thanks to the powers of
intelligence and ingenuity God will give to man, and the other describes an event that the
unbelievers in Makka will never witness, hence its character of a condition never to be
realized. The event will however be seen by others, as intimated in the first verse quoted
above. It describes the human reactions to the unexpected spectacle that travelers in
space will see: their confused sight, as in drunkenness, the feeling of being bewitched...
This is exactly how astronauts have experienced this remarkable adventure since the first
human space flight around the world in 1961. It is known in actual fact how once one is
above the Earth's atmosphere, the Heavens no longer have the azure appearance we see from
Earth, which results from phenomena of absorption of the Sun's light into the layers of
the atmosphere. The human observer in space above the Earth's atmosphere sees a black sky
and the Earth seems to be surrounded by a halo of bluish color due to the same phenomena
of absorption of light by the Earth's atmosphere. The Moon has no atmosphere, however, and
therefore appears in its true colors against the black background of the sky. It is a
completely new spectacle therefore that presents itself to men in space, and the
photographs of this spectacle are well known to present-day man.
Here again, it is difficult not to be impressed, when comparing the text of the Qur'an to
the data of modern science, by statements that simply cannot be ascribed to the thought of
a man who lived more than fourteen centuries ago.