We all know that the Qur'an, at various places, says that Allah created the heavens and the earth in "six days". On the other hand, the Qur'an also says:
The Originator of the heavens and the earth! When He decrees a thing, He says to it only: "Be!" And it is. (2:117)
Mr. Jochen Katz in one of his articles* writes about the "six days" statement of the Qur'an:
Many Muslims in recent days try to become modern in their interpretation and bring the six days into line with cosmology and its currently proposed 15 billion years as age of the universe. So, they claim that the word for day does not only mean day, but can mean period, or even eon. And they even claim that the Qur'an is on this very much in line with science in this regard. Even though the earlier commentators took it to be literal days.
About the "Be and it is" statement of the Qur'an, Mr. Katz goes on to write:
Does this verse (i.e. 2:117) not say that God creates instantaneously? Does this really leave room for billions of years of development? Six days are still pretty quick and acceptable in the range of "Be! And it is" given the massive size of the universe and the complexity of life ..., but wouldn't it be quite a stretch to translate the verse: "When He decrees a thing, He says to it only: Be! And it finally came to pass after about 10 billion years?" And he said to Adam: "Be! And as evolution went its way, after about 3 billion years, Adam emerged".
In this article, I will try to present my point of view about the apparent contradictions pointed out by Mr. Katz.
Interpretation of Traditional Muslim Scholars
Before presenting my interpretation of the statement: "Be and it is", I would like to give a short comment on Mr. Katz's remarks: "Many Muslims in recent days try to become modern, even though the earlier commentators took it to be literal days."
I have presented adequate evidence from the pre-Islamic authorities on the Arabic language in one of my other responses to another one of Mr. Katz's criticisms that the Arabic word "Yawm" is used to imply a particular period of time (whether specified or not) and also the 24-hour interval of time that we call a "Day".
The traditional Muslim scholars who, obviously were not exposed to the modern day research in the fields of Archeology etc. took the word "Yawm" to mean a 24-hour time interval that we call a day. But as man, on the basis of his study, observation and research estimated that the process of creation could not have involved "days" but "eons", the Muslim scholars were faced with the problem of lack of consistency between the Qur'an and Archeological estimations. Thus, they looked again at the words of the Qur'an and found that it was quite consistent with the words used by the Qur'an to say that the related verses of the Qur'an could be taken to mean "six periods" or "six time intervals". The previous Muslim scholars could have been mistaken, like any other human being, because of their lack of exposure to the scientific and Archeological data that was only made available to man at a very later stage in time. Moreover, in my opinion, they must have also been influenced by the opening passages of the Bible, for it was their principle that if the Qur'an did not contradict the Bible, the Bible in those instances could be presumed to be correct. I think it would not be without interest for readers to have a look at the related portions of the first book of the Bible (Genesis), where the total process of creation has been explained in the following words:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty; darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said: "Let there be light" and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day" and the darkness he called "night". And there was evening, and there was morning -- the first day. And God said: "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse "sky". And there was evening, and there was morning -- the second day. And God said: "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. God called the dry ground "land" and the gathered waters he called "seas". And God saw that it was good. Then God said: "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning -- the third day. And God said: "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. God made two great lights -- the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning -- the fourth day. And God said: Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said: "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." And there was evening, and there was morning -- the fifth day. And God said: "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Then God said: "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them: "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. Then God said: "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground -- everything that has the breath of life in it -- I give every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning --the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day, God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done. This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. (Genesis 1:1-31, 2:1-3)
The reader should especially note the words:
And there was evening, and there was morning -- the first day. (Genesis 1:5)
And there was evening, and there was morning -- the second day. (Genesis 1:9)
And there was evening, and there was morning -- the third day. (Genesis 1:13)
And there was evening, and there was morning -- the fourth day, Genesis 1:19)
And there was evening, and there was morning -- the fifth day. (Genesis 1: 23)
And there was evening, and there was morning -- the sixth day. (Genesis 1: 31)
The especial and repeated emphasis on "And there was evening, and there was morning..." obviously does not allow us (linguistically) to interpret the word "day" in these verses to mean any thing but the 24-hour interval that we call a day. Although the "Expert Commentary" (included in the Compton's Interactive Bible, CD Edition) says: "Some say that the creation days [as mentioned in the above stated verses] were 24-hour days, others that they were indefinite periods", but as we can see that the phrase: "And there was evening, and there was morning..." does not allow us to take the word "day" in any other meaning besides "24-hour days" unless it is linguistically proven otherwise.
Thus when the Qur'an said: "Allah created the heavens and the earth in six days", the traditional Muslim commentators, although they were aware of the fact that the word "Yawm" could be used to imply "a period of time", interpreted it to mean 24-hour days, for, besides other reasons, in my opinion, they were also misguided by the Bible in this respect.
The Qur'anic Phrase "Be! and it is"
Now let us turn to the real point raised by Mr. Katz which actually relates to the meaning of the phrase "Kun fayakun" of the Arabic language, normally translated as: "Be! and it is" (although, as anyone who knows the Arabic language, even at a basic level will testify that it can also be translated as: "Be! and it happens"). Mr. Katz's real objection is that this phrase implies that God creates instantaneously. While at other places the Qur'an says that God created the heavens and the earth in six "days" or in six "periods" of time. His basic objection as presented earlier is: "Does this verse (i.e. 2: 117) not say that God creates instantaneously? Does this really leave room for billions of years of development?"
Mr. Katz, as the readers can see, has been kind enough to present his objection in the form of a simple question. My answer to Mr. Katz's question is: "NO, this verse does not say that God (ONLY) creates instantaneously, and YES, it does really leave room for six "days" or six "periods of development". If we closely look at the phrase "kun fayakun" (Be! and it happens), as it is been used in the Qur'an, we can easily ascertain that the meaning in which it is used is not always (not even generally) that which is understood by Mr. Katz. I will try to present my view point with particular reference to some of the verses in which the phrase is used.
The Qur'an says:
Bring to mind when the angels said: "Mary! God gives you glad tidings of a "word" from Him; his name shall be the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary; he shall be noble in this world as well as in the Hereafter; and he shall be amongst those who are close [to God]; he shall preach to people, while in his cradle and while in the prime of manhood; and he shall be a righteous man." She said: "Lord! how can I bear a child, when no man has [even] touched me?" He replied: "Even so it shall happen as told. God creates what He wills; when He decides a thing, He needs only to say: "Be", and it happens. (3:45-46)
The reader is requested to note that the phrase "kun fayakun" in the above mentioned verses is clearly used to imply that God does not need any help or assistance from anyone or anything to carry out His plans. It is said in reply to Mary's question: "How can I bear a child, when no man has [even] touched me?". Obviously, if it only meant "instantaneously", it should not have been given as an answer to the question asked by Mary. The relevant question should have been: "How could I have a child so quickly?". The context in which the phrase is used in the above mentioned verses clearly indicates that it can also be (and generally is) used to imply that God, like us humans, is not confined by natural laws while carrying out His plans.
Verse 2:117, in which this phrase also occurs and which is also quoted by Mr. Katz, if considered in its context also does not imply instantaneous creation. Let us have a look at it (in its complete context):
They say that He has taken for Himself a son. [No.] He is clear of all imperfections. Rather, All that is in the heavens and the earth is His. The inventor of the heavens and the earth. When He decides about something, all that He says is "Be", and it happens. (2:116-117)
Once again the reader is requested to closely follow the context in which the phrase is used by the Qur'an. The real topic here is the negation of the belief that God has made for Himself a son. The first thing that is said in reply is: "No, He has not taken any son for Himself, He is clear of all and any imperfections". This, as I understand it, is basically a reference to the imperfections which are inherent in man, due to which he is in need of children. When God is clear of all such imperfections, why should He require a son for Himself? Another point that is given to negate this idea is that why would He make for Himself a son, when the fact of the matter is that every thing that has its existence, whether in the heavens or the earth is His? He is the sole owner of all that exists. Why then would He be in need of a son? The third point given for the negation of this idea is that when God invented the whole structure of all that exists, out of nothing and without the help and assistance of anyone else, why would He now be in need of a son?
As we can see, like 3:45-46, the context in which the phrase "kun fayakun" is used in 2:117 also shows that it does not imply "instantaneous" creation, but creation which is not dependent on any external help.
The same is the case with 3:59. The Qur'an says:
[The creation of] Jesus, in the sight of Allah, is like [that of] Adam. He created him from clay and then said to him: "Be" and he was.
Once again the context in which the phrase is used does not allow us to take it in the meaning of "instantaneous" creation, but creation without dependency on external factors.
The same is the case in 16:40, 19: 35, 36: 82.
In view of the above explanation, it is quite obvious that Mr. Katz has been mistaken by the phrase "kun fayakun" due to which it appeared to him that two statements of the Qur'an are mutually contradictory. Whereas the actual meaning of the phrase from which Mr. Katz has derived that according to the Qur'an God creates "instantaneously", on the contrary, is that neither does God need any material or stuff to create nor is He dependent upon external variables to carry out His plans. He creates whatever he wants to, and the way He wants to, wherever and whenever He wants to. If he wants to create instantaneously, nothing can stop Him, and if He wants to create something through a process covering billions of years, nothing can stop Him. All that He does in either case is to say "Be" and the thing is created.
May the Lord show us all the path that He would like us to follow.
(Courtesy:"Understanding Islam", http://brain.brain.net/~dsera/qosc.htm)