How should we answer those who say the issue "seas not merging with each other" is contrary to science?

Details of the Question

How should we answer those who say the issue "seas not merging with each other" is contrary to science?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

One of the verses regarding the issue is as follows:

“He has let free the two bodies of flowing water, meeting together: Between them is a Barrier which they do not transgress.” (ar-Rahman, 55/19-20)

We should first say that three decrees are always present in every word and verse of the Quran. The criteria for the obligation of accepting those three decrees change and decree in creed is formed accordingly.

The First Decree: There is a postulate: "Are the words and verses in the Quran really Allah’s verses and words?" There is no disagreement and dissidence here. That is, all tafsir scholars agree unanimously that the verses and words in the Quran belong to Allah. This is obligatory: Everybody has to accept that the Quran is Allah’s word. It is not permissible to disagree about this decree; disagreement is unbelief.

The Second Decree: After accepting that the Quran is Allah’s word, the second decree is in question. It is as follows:  "Is the meaning and purpose Allah intends in this word and verse true and right?" That is, God forbid, a question like the following cannot be asked: "May Allah be wrong about this issue?" It is impossible for Allah, who has endless knowledge and who is free from mistakes and faults, to be wrong and to mean something wrong. It is a necessity of belief to say that all of the meanings Allah has intended in this word are true and right. 

The Third Decree: "What meaning does Allah intend in this verse and word?" If He explains this word in another word, it is necessary to accept it. For instance, if the fifth verse of a chapter is explained in the second verse of another chapter, we cannot interpret that verse based on our own view; it becomes fard to accept the decree and meaning in the verse that is explained. Or, if the meaning is clear enough and does not necessitate any explanation, it becomes fard to accept it like that. 

However, if the meaning of the verse is not clear and if it is not explained in another verse or hadith, scholars and mufassirs can make interpretations based on their own understanding and knowledge. The interpretations and comments will be valid only if they are made in accordance with the rules of Arabic language and method of tafsir. That is, nobody can make tafsir arbitrarily. All of the contrary interpretations made based on those rules and that method are regraded permissible. It is not a sin when a tafsir is contrary to another one. Disagreement and difference are permissible here. That there are about three hundred thousand tafsirs in history and that all of them were written by acceptable scholars shed light on the issue. Those are the limits and criteria for the different views of tafsir scholars.

Therefore, the verse above was translated and interpreted in more than one way. The most common meaning "two seas not merging with each other" is only one of them.

Accordingly, different meanings put forward for verses by tafsir scholars are interpretations. If the interpretations are right, they are included in the meaning of the verse. It will be a miracle. If the interpretations have not been verified yet, there are two possibilities:

- Science has not reached that level yet. They will be confirmed as sciences develop.

- Those views belong to those mufassirs. They have no connection with the Quran.

In that case, to oppose a verse by looking at an interpretation by a scholar is not in compliance with scientific research, truth and justice.

As for the question:

This property of the seas which meet each other but whose waters do not mingle with each other has been discovered by oceanographers recently. It has been discovered that the waters of the seas that meet each other do not mingle with each other because of a physical power called "surface tension". The surface tension that originates from the different concentration of the seas prevents waters from mingling with each other like a wall. (Richard A. Davis, Principles of Oceanography, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Don Mills, Ontario, pp. 92-93)

It is very remarkable that this fact was expressed in the Quran in an era when people were unaware of physics, surface tension and oceanography.

However, several different ideas were put forward about what is meant by the phrase "two seas" in the verse above and similar ones:

According to Hasan al-Basri and Qatada, the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf are meant. Imam Tabari narrates this. According to them, the barrier can be a mountain, rock, land or anything. According to Qatada, it means a sea does not overflow and mingle with another one.

According to Said bin Jubayr and Abdullah bin Abbas, they are the sea in the sky and the sea on earth. Imam Tabari prefers this view. It will be explained in short by Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır below.

Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır explains the views we have quoted from some tafsirs as a whole:

Yes, He released two seas. The word marj is transitive here; it means released. It actually means to merge, to mingle but this is a different usage. Various interpretations were made about those two seas.

The first one is in accordance with the verse in the chapter of al-Furqan:

"It is He Who has let free the two bodies of flowing water: One palatable and sweet, and the other salt and bitter; yet has He made a barrier between them, a partition that is forbidden to be passed." (al-Furqan, 25/53)

They were interpreted as two seas, one of which is sweet and the other is salty and bitter. For instance, the Nile flows into the Red Sea and the Tigris flows into the Persian Gulf; although the waters in the deep mingle with each other, they are represented by big bodies of water that cover long distances without mingling. The verb iltiqa (meet) means actually touching one another. Iltiqa can be interpreted as closeness and adjacency close enough to touch each other. It can also be interpreted as water reserves under or near that salty and bitter sea. 

The second one is represented by the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, which were once called the Persian Sea and the Byzantine Sea respectively, both of whose waters are salty and bitter; and the barrier between them is the Arabian Peninsula or the barrier of Suez, which they are about to meet. Accordingly, it can be interpreted as "those two seas will unite", which shows that the Suez Canal will be opened in the future.

"Out of them come Pearls and Coral." (ar-Rahman, 55/22)

This verse has a meaning closer to this second meaning. For, pearls and coral extracted from sweet water is based on some interpretation

The third one is the sea of the sky and the sea of the earth; clouds or a broader meaning might be intended by seas. 

The fourth one is the outer sea that surrounds the earth and the inland sea surrounded by land; those two sees meet each other. The land remains as a barrier between them; thus they cannot overflow and invade one another.

The fifth one is "mashriqayn and maghribayn" (two easts and two wests) (ar-Rahman, 55/17). As it is mentioned in this verse, it may be two seas as sweet and salty, inner and outer, in the sky and on earth and even real and metaphorical, which is the most general meaning. Thus, the material realm and the spiritual realm might be indicated and the barrier between them might be the realm of imagination and shadow. 

The word barzakh essentially means a barrier or a separating border between two things. In geography, it is the name given to the land between two seas. Barzakh in this verse means either this or any border from the power of Allah. Those two seas do not mingle with each other since there is a barrier between them. They cannot go beyond limits, transgress or invade each other by clearing that barrier. (Elmalılı Hamdi, Hak Dini, the interpretation of ar-Rahman 19-20)

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