Sun sets in the murky water as per Qur'an?

One of the top-ten questions hurled at Muslims in any debate against Christians is about the following verse of the Holy Qur’an about Zulqarnain;

حَتَّى إِذَا بَلَغَ مَغْرِبَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَغْرُبُ فِي عَيْنٍ حَمِئَةٍ

“Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found (wajada) it set in a spring of murky water: “(Qur’an 18:86)

They say, the verse clearly says that sun sets in the murky water and needless to say it is blunder and proves that Qur’an is not the word of God

What does the Qur’an actually say

Had the Qur'an actually said what they make it say, their conclusion would have been logical only. But they err in understanding the verse in the very first place.

1- The word used by the Qur’an:

I have given the translation of Abdullah Yusuf Ali above. The word he translated as “found” is وجد i.e. ‘wajada.’ This word is used to describe the perception. See the proof from the Edward William Lane’s Lexicon.

And further he writes;

Edward William Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon p. 2924

So the word ‘wajada’ refers to perception through any one of the five senses.

2- Qur’an uses the wording from Zulqarnain’s perspective:

What we find is that Qur’an has used the word from the perspective of Zulqarnain and merely describes his perception and how it appeared in his sight. owH And the description is very much valid for on a shore that is how sunset actually seems. May be the following image helps a bit.

3- Muslims have always understood the verse like this:

Someone may argue, the above explanation is the concoction of modern Muslim apologists and the verse reads as the skeptics say because early Muslims never knew the scientific facts about the cosmos as they are known today.

In Tafsir Jalalayn co-authored by al-Suyuti (d. 911 A.H.) and al-Mahalli (d. 864 A.H.), we find the following words;

وغروبها في العين في رأي العين

“… its setting in a spring is [described as seen] from the perspective of the eye.” (ONLINE SOURCE)

Before them Ibn Kathir (d. 774 A.H.) wrote:

رَأَى الشَّمْسَ فِي مَنْظَرِهِ تَغْرُبُ فِي الْبَحْرِ الْمُحِيطِ، وَهَذَا شَأْنُ كُلِّ مَنِ انْتَهَى إِلَى سَاحِلِهِ، يَرَاهَا كَأَنَّهَا تَغْرُبُ فِيهِ، وَهِيَ لَا تُفَارِقُ الْفَلَكَ الرَّابِعَ الَّذِي هِيَ مُثَبَّتَةٌ فِيهِ لَا تُفَارِقُهُ

“… he saw the sun as if it were setting in the ocean. This is something which everyone who goes to the coast can see: it looks as if the sun is setting into the sea but in fact it never leaves its path in which it is fixed.” (ONLINE SOURCE)

And even before him Nasiruddin al-Baydhawi (d. 691 A.H.) said:

ولعله بلغ ساحل المحيط فرآها كذلك إذ لم يكن في مطمح بصره غير الماء ولذلك قال { وَجَدَهَا تَغْرُبُ } ولم يقل كانت تغرب

“Perhaps he reached shore of an ocean and saw it like that as there was nothing in his sight except water and for this reason it is said, “and he perceived it to set”, and not that it actually sets.” (Anwar al-Tanzil wa Asrar al-Tawil 4/14)

I hope all this detail leaves no ambiguity.


In the Bible we have something interesting on these lines. Talking about the two mountains, Gerizim and Ebal, the Book of Deuteronomy tells us;

“Are they not on the other side Jordan, by the way where the sun goeth down, in the land of the Canaanites, which dwell in the campaign over against Gilgal, beside the plains of Moreh?” (KJV, Deuteronomy 11:30)

Now the question is if the sun actually goes down? Certainly not! There is no doubt the verse simply refers to how humans perceive it and calling it a scientific error is nothing but sheer cunningness.

But the point here is, why adopt double standards? Why do the missionaries divorce with the common sense when they speak about Islamic texts?

Remember the words of Jesus, may Allah bless him?

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (KJV, Matthew 7: 1-2)

Indeed Allah knows the best!

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    1. Sunset and Sunrise are terms used by us humans for our convenience. There is no actual sunset or Sunrise but these terms are widely accepted and are parts our daily discussion, newspapers and books. Those who think that Quran has mentioned something unscientific by mentioning ‘sunset’ have to consider all their discussions and newspapers as unscientific too.

    2. Asalamokaykum. I was wondering if you could also refute the polemic allegation:

      "Quran says each is responsible for their own deeds (2:286, 17:15, 42:15). However in Islam, you can fast, give zakah and do Hajj for the deceased, showing each your not responsible for your own deads."

    3. Very nice point made my Muhammad Awais Tahir

    4. MashAllah, Excellent explanation with fantastic references from books of previous centuries. Brilliant image too,

    5. Assalamu 'aleikum wa rahmatullah brother.

      May Allah reward you for you hard work.

      Just wanted to add something small to your argument:

      1).According to Al-Mawardi (d.450 A.H) in his tasir (al-Nukat wa al-'uyun) the verse can be understood in two different ways:

      1. "That it set in the very spring ('ayn)
      2. That He (Dhul Qarnayn) wajadaha (found it, saw it) setting behind the spring ('ayn) AS IF it was setting in the very spring"

      :فيه وجهان

      احدهما انها تغرب في نفس العين
      الثاني انه وجدها تغرب وراء العين حتى كانها تغرب في نفس العين

      (Al-Mawardi, 'Ali bin Muhammad bin Habib, Al-Nukat wa al-'Uyun, Unknown year, Dar al-kutub al-'ilmiyya, vol 3, p. 450)

      Al-Mawardis mentioning of the second way in which the verse can be understood still poses some questions, however it is perfectly clear that He understood that it does not have to mean that it literally sets in it.

      2) According to Al-Qutaybi (Ibn Qutayba , the famous scholar of Arabic language, d. 276 A.H) it is permissible for the verse to mean from the perspective of the eye (في راي العين

      و قال القتيبي: يجوز ان يكون معنى قوله(( في عين حمئة)) اي عندها عين حمئة او في راي العين

      (Al-Baghawi, Al-Hussayn bin Mas'ud, Ma'alim al-tanzil, Dar Ibn Hazm, First print, 2002, p. 795)

      So, yes indeed, the idea that a literal setting is not necessarily understood from the verse, and that it can be understood as referring to Dhul Qarnayns perspective is nothing new. With what you mentioned it should be difficult for missionaries to argue against what you have presented.

      1. It is not some modern Muslim polemic, which was never mentioned in older times.
      2.It is not a view which is only presented by those base a lot of exegesis on opinion. It is the opinion of Ibn Kathir whose tafsir is amongst the most (if not the most) respected ma'thur tafsirs (tafsirs based on reports).

      I hope some of this may be useful brother, and once again may Allah reward you for your work.

    6. Abu Hayyan al-Andalusi (d. 745 A.H) said in his Tafsir al-Bahr al-Muhit:

      "And the meaning of setting in a spring is that it is according what the eye sees, not that it it actually does so, just as we see it (the sun)on the smooth earth (land) as if it as if it goes into the earth. It is also permissible (possible) that this spring a part of the sea"

      و معنى تغرب في عين اي فيما ترى العين لا ان ذلك حقيقة كما نشاهدها في الارض الملساءكانها تدخل في الارض ويجوز ان تكون هذه العين من البحر

      (Abu Hayyan al-Andalusi, Muhammad bin Yusuf,Tafsir al-bahr al-muhit, 1993, First print, Dar al-kutub al-'
      'ilmiyya, vol.6, p. 151)

    7. “Abu Dharr (one of Muhammad’s close companions) was with Muhammad during the sunset. Muhammad asked him: ‘Do you know, O Abu Dharr where this sun sets?’ He answered; ‘God and His apostle know better.’ Muhammad said: ‘It sets in a spring of slimy water’” – al-Zamakhshari, The Kahshaf (3rd Edition, Vol. 2, p. 743, 1987)

      1. The case of this narration is discussed in detail here.

    8. “Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found (wajada) it set in a spring of murky water": Surely, referring to wherever he reached, it was still on earth as we have no records in history anyone has been to space during that time to see where the setting sun was. Therefore, in this context there is nothing wrong with the sentence, except for beauty in how it was describing the moments. Allah is the Greatest!