The Incident of the Moon Splitting In Half [Shaqq al-Qamar]
By: Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn at-Tabataba'i
How can the story of the moon splitting in half at the request of the Prophet, recounted in both the Qur’an and the Sunnah, be rationally explained, especially considering the fantastic details related in some hadiths?
That such a miracle was performed by the Prophet is beyond doubt as it is attested by both the Qur’an and the Sunnah. As to the details, however, the hadiths disagree. Since the hadiths that recount the incident are not ascertainable when taken individually, the details provided therein are dubious. What can be said with certainty is that the Prophet pointed to the moon, which caused it to split in half. This much of the story is verified by the Qur’an— “The hour has drawn near and the moon is split.”12
—and is thus indubitable. The Prophet executed this miracle in reply to those who rejected his ministry on the pretext that they needed to see him perform a miracle. As this miracle is confirmed by the Qur’an it is beyond doubt. This is as far as this story is concerned.
As to the general topic of miracle, it cannot be refuted by rational reasoning, though one may be reluctant to accept the possibility of such phenomena. Miracles are executed through the interference of higher agents—of which most of us are utterly ignorant—in the normal function of natural agents.
Some have claimed that the moon’s splitting in half was not a miracle performed by the Prophet. They claim that the verse refers to an apocalyptic incident that will occur on the Day of Judgment when God will destroy the material world. This reading, however, is disproved by the context. The next verse (Surah al-Qamar 54:2) clearly indicates that the splitting of the moon referred to in the first verse is a miracle that actually took place during the life of the Prophet: “If they see a sign, they turn away and say, ‘An incessant magic!’”
Clearly enough, if the splitting of the moon referred to in the first verse were to take place on the Day of Judgment, the unbelievers could not reject it as magic.
Still others contend that the verse in question refers to the scientifically confirmed phenomenon of the separation of the moon from the main body of Earth during the primitive stages of its development. They cite this as proof of Qur’an’s veracity as it, in their view, told of this phenomenon many centuries before science. This contention, however, is refuted by a lexical consideration of the verse at issue. To signify the separation of one object from another—whether by way of reproduction or detachment—in the Arabic language, the words ishtiqaq and infisal are employed, not inshiqaq, which signifies specifically the splitting in half of a single object.
Another objection that has been made against the miracle account is that if such an extraordinary incident had occurred, non-Muslims would have also recorded it. This objection neglects the fact that those who record history do so in accordance with the interests of the powers who patronize them.
Any incident or event that is against the interests of the powers would go unrecorded and thus doomed to oblivion. It for this reason that we find no sign of the story of Abraham, Moses, or Jesus in the conventional annals of history, although from the religious point of view there is no doubt in their miracles and accomplishments: Abraham was catapulted at the behest of Nimrod in an enormous fire without being harmed; Moses exhibited his miraculous staff and white hand; Jesus brought the dead back to life. Furthermore, it should be noted that there is a considerable time difference between Mecca, where the miracle occurred, and the Western hemisphere. As such, one cannot expect that this extraordinary lunar event, which appeared for only a very brief time, should have been descried in such Western countries as Rome and Athens.