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Jochen Katz writes:
And He has made subject to you the sun and the moon, both diligently persuing their courses; and the night and the day has He (also) made subject to you.
-- Sura 14:33
They were never subject to me. They take their turn and persue their courses whether they want or not. Rather mankind is subject to them.
The correct understanding becomes clear when the verse is presented in the context of the passage it is situated in.
Arberry translates this verse, and the verses preceding and following it, as:
It is God who created the heavens and the earth,
and sent down out of heaven water
wherewith He brought forth fruits to be your sustenance.
And He subjected to you the ships
to run upon the sea at His commandment;
and He subjected to you the rivers
and He subjected to you the sun and moon
constant upon their courses,
and He subjected to you the night and day,
and gave you of all you asked Him.
If you count God's blessing, you will never number it;
surely man is sinful, unthankful!
[From Arberry's translation -- I've used his translation because it is usually quite literal.]
First we note that the verse does not say that the courses of the sun and moon are subservient to any human's whim; rather, the verse actually says (in Arberry's translation) that the sun and moon are constant upon their courses, which is what Jochen himself essentially says.
The correct understanding of the passage is given in the final verse above -- by the term "He subjected to you.... " the Qur'an means that they are a source of blessing for humankind, one of the uncountable blessings from God. Thus, from the final verse translated above, this term can be understood to mean: "He subjected to your (welfare] the sun and the moon...." etc.
Muhammad Asad, in his translation/commentary to the Qur'an, makes the following comment on Qur'an 14:33 :
Almost all classical commentators agree that God's having made the natural phenomena "subservient" to man is a metaphor (majaz) for His having enabled man to derive lasting benefit from them [...].
Therefore, the essence of what Asad says is what I have said above. The view of most of the classical commentators can be derived from the context of the verses, when looked at in conjunction with the final verse translated above, which makes clear that this passage is speaking about these natural phenomena as blessings from God for humankind. There is no contradiction between these verses and science.
An interesting related topic is the idea (argued in favour of by several scientists) of the "anthropic cosmological principle." This is the idea that, if only a small part of nature was changed (eg. a small change in the physical laws, for gravity, quantum mechanics, or nuclear physics, etc.), life would be impossible. If this idea is correct, then it is true that the laws of nature, and many natural phenomena, can be considered to be a blessing for us, because without them our own existence would be impossible.
The most exhaustive book on this topic is "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle" by J. Barrow and F. Tipler (Oxford University Press, 1986). Another book on the topic is "The Accidental Universe" by Paul Davies (1982).
For more detailed reading on anthropic cosmological principle (some of it taken from Barrow and Tipler, Davies, and other books), including many amazing "coincidences" of nature that make life possible, check out the following web pages:
Ian's Cosmic Matters Page
Also, here is a good online article by Prof. Paul Davies on the subject.... Go to Paul Davies' web page:
Paul Davies' home page
Choose the link (under articles from the Guardian) :
Absurd arguments on a cosmic scale
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