A scientific reading of the Quran


 A scientific reading of the Quran

 Fouzia Madani, Doctor of history and philosophy of science


Farid Gabteni’s study dedicated to the Quran, The Sun Rises in the West[1], is undeniably a landmark event, for more than one reason. Firstly, because it shines a spotlight on a multitude of strange and disconcerting coincidences which punctuate the Quranic text. The author’s unprecedented approach consists in highlighting the singular character of the Quran through verifiable results. Such demonstrations prove a flawless balance, within which the categorisation of chapters, the number of each verse and their total number, as well as the word and letter count, all play their part. The results thus obtained intersect resulting in a sequencing whose precision of the organisation and degree of development enable Farid Gabteni to draw conclusions of a scientific[2] nature, which involve the transcendent origin of the Quran.
Secondly, this study seeks to analyse the varying aspects of this sacred text. In order to do so, it avoids the use of rhetoric or apologetics and all observations are expressed in a descriptive language calling on mathematical tools such as statistics and arithmetic, which are seemingly far removed from the field of religious texts.
One of the significant merits of this research is that it sets itself apart through its characteristic method and scope. It offers a perspective which is much more precise, systematic, and complete than those of previous attempts. Furthermore, this new edition will deeply alter the perception which is held of this field of study.
We must recognise that this field of research, termed “numerical miracle of the Quran,” remains relatively unknown and is sometimes mired by controversy. The term “numerical” is in truth an inaccurate way of defining the nature of Farid Gabteni’s works. His approach could be described as “scientific reading.” In fact, the researcher proposes the deciphering of an underlying numerical structure within the Quran, without overlooking the intellectual and spiritual dimension characterising this text.
In this respect, we should emphasise the ambition of this research, to reconcile quantitative approaches with semantic and argumentative analyses. To this end, we believe we have discerned two complementary approaches that rely on interaction between form and content.
The first focuses on the numerical data present in the Quranic corpus, identifying occurrences, but also the specificities of figures, letters and words. The second, relying on argumentative analyses, explores the meanings of passages of the Quranic discourse in greater depth.
One of the major strengths of this study is precisely the quest for meaning and the effort made by Farid Gabteni to distance himself from the exegetical literature and understand the full complexity which lies behind the framework of formal data, without limiting himself to mere reading of quantities, measurements and equations.
The first volume is the perfect illustration, as while drawing the reader’s attention to the numerical connections between different verses and chapters, the ta’wîl, or search for original meaning, focuses a wide range of resources, such as etymology and linguistic analysis, shedding light on the text and, in other words, strengthens, or even fits with the formal structure of verses and chapters.
To gain a better perspective of the thoroughness and scope of this study, we must bear in mind the didactic method employed. It is illustrated by tables and processes of verification, as well as by introductions to the revelation of the Quran, notions of codicology and above all a summary of the Quranic Readings, all of which offers non-specialists access to the very heart of the field of study. To that, we must add that the researcher took the different Readings and the numerous countings of the Quran into consideration, which was not the case in the previous efforts of his predecessors, as they were thought to be the sole domain of specialists.
It is also worth pointing out that, in accordance with what he states in his introduction, Farid Gabteni unquestionably alters and corrects the preceding efforts in this field that remained incomplete. He thereby opens up new perspectives on later research. Throughout his works, the researcher continually demonstrates that the counts and numerical links exposed in this book gain meaning whereby they highlight the enunciative and argumentative guidelines of a revealed text, which transcends time.
For an even more comprehensive understanding of the scope of this work, it is also useful to discuss the background at work and two prevailing ideas within Islam. On the one hand, the relationship between Revelation and Science, and on the other, the phenomenon of the inimitability of the Quran.
The relationship between Revelation and Science in Islam continues to point in the direction of a total adequacy, despite the sometimes tense relations between theologians and philosophers. By Science, we must consider science in the broad meaning of the word and any knowledge which yields facts.
In Islam, the knowledge of God is achieved by means of Revelation and Science. The idea of the unity of knowledge arises from it, along with the notion that all knowledge must by definition lead to knowledge of the Divine. The commands within the Quran to explore nature and phenomena have the essential motivation of discovering the mark of the Creator therein. The famous 12th century Andalusian philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes) summarises the harmony between Revelation and Science in the following axiom: “As given that this Revelation is truth, and it calls for the practice of rational examination which ensures knowledge of the truth, then we, Muslims, know from proven science that the examination (of beings) through demonstration will not lead to any form of contradiction with the teachings provided by the revealed Text: as truth cannot contradict the truth, but can instead only align with it and bear witness to it”[3].
There is, in The Sun Rises in the West, this idea which is interesting to behold, to see, in the incitation of the Quran to Science, further evidence of the harmony between Revelation and Science in Islam. The Quran contains nothing which serves to contradict Science and a fortiori modern science. A useful example of this approach is given in the chapters The Origin and The Arranging[4], where emphasis is placed on the finality of science and the importance of instruction and the acquisition of knowledge.
Farid Gabteni reiterates this stance and takes it one step further. In our opinion, the initial intention of his research is to assert, by means of a number of demonstrations, that, as it is the case for the Universe, everything leads to proof that the Quran follows a highly intricate sequence, which itself obeys strict mathematical rules. On the basis of these axioms, there is no form of contradiction between scientific revelation and Quranic revelation. It is no longer solely Revelation (in the Quran) which testifies to the relevance of sciences and the warm welcome offered to them, but instead science, and more precisely mathematics, a particular branch of science[5], which enable demonstration and verification of the statements at the heart of this material object which is Writing.
On the basis of this logic, in this study, the mathematical tool is used to provide access to data and operations in order to decrypt the mechanisms at work within this communication deemed as divine. Furthermore, there is no interference within this scientific approach caused by opinion or prejudice as only reason is sought.
Let us extrapolate reason to its fullest extent, the Universe is structured and regulated because it is the work of God. By the same token, the Quran, the word of God, proceeds from the same order, and therefore, the order of these two facts can only translate a single Truth.
For Galileo, nature, written in mathematical language, was also a revelation[6], as the man of science eventually achieves it, being capable of using reason and experience to identify universal laws.
Starting from the principle that science does not invent, but rather discovers, then why not logically consider that Revelation, as a Word of God, would be governed by an order or regularities that the man of science would eventually come to describe and experience?
Besides, through the work of Farid Gabteni, the traditional theme of the inimitability of the Quran (‘iΣjâz al-Qur’ân) is updated and extended through a figure of scientific, or even mathematical, inimitability (‘iΣjâz Σilmî) of the sacred text. A new theme which is proving its legitimacy to many researchers, through several verses of the Quran which portray the “unattainable” challenge set by God to man to provide a comparable book, whether that be in form or content.
Let us remember that throughout the history of Islamic thought, this concept covers a variety of aspects, whether they be linked to the content or the style of the Quran. Therefore, the emphasis is placed on the originality of the Quranic message and its timelessness. The Quran is scrutinised in order to discover linguistic and stylistic elements that could demonstrate the inimitable character of its style and sequencing. Studies, such as Naẓm al-Qur’ân, of Al-Jâḥiẓ[7] and that of Al-Bâqillânî[8], are representative of this trend.
Nowadays, the inimitability of the Quran (‘iΣjâz al-Qur’ân), from a scientific and mathematical point of view, is presented as a guarantee of the divine essence of this sacred text dating back to the 7th century of our era. Furthermore, The Sun Rises in the West, particularly in its second volume, points out the numerous coding systems at work within the Quran, a framework of sorts onto which the Quranic discourse is attached, which highlights a proven, transcendent intention.
To conclude, let us point out another unprecedented element of scope of this study which brings together different fields of investigation, and emphasises the interest of bridges between the different fields of science and the different domains of expertise, the boundaries of which are no longer so set in stone.
In addition to epistemologists, this study will be of interest to specialists in disciplines that have so far gone overlooked, such as mathematics and its different branches of logic, algebra, probabilities and statistics. These researchers are now able to address the degree of relevance within this field of study as well as the nature of the links and coherence of the results of this work, opening up unimaginable perspectives that we have only just begun to perceive.


[1] Farid Gabteni, Le Soleil se lève à l’Occident, Albouraq (ed.), 1999, 2000; CIRS (ed.), 2003, 2004, 2008, 2010; SCDOFG (ed.), 2016, 2017, 2018. Arabic edition: Farid Gabteni فريد قبطاني , Tulû al-shams min maghribihâ (طلـوع الشمـس من مغربهـا), Albouraq (ed.), 1999, 2000; SCDOFG (ed.), 2018.

[2] Used in this case as a qualifier to describe the specific characteristics of science, such as rigor and exigency.

[3] Averroès, Traité décisif, Paris, Éditions Sindbad, 1988.

[4] Cf. volume 1.

[5] The word "mathematics" comes from the Greek μάθημα (máthēma), which means ‘science, knowledge’; thereafter, it has taken the meaning we know today.

[6] The word "revelation" comes from the Latin revelare, which means "to unveil, make known what was hidden, secret".

[7] Abû ΣUthmân ΣAmr Ibn Baḥr Al-Jâḥiẓ (died in 869) is a Mu'tazili writer. He addressed this matter in a book on this subject, Naẓm al-Qur’ân, which was never found.

[8] The judge Abû Bakr Al-Bâqillânî (died in 1013) is an Ash'ari theologian. He dedicated a book, ’IΣjâza l-Qur’ân, to explain what distinguishes the Quran from the other texts.