By His Eminence, the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)
Allah says in His Glorious Book: “It is He Who created for you all that is in the earth, and then He directed Himself to the heaven, so He made them complete seven heavens, and He knows all things.” (02: 29).
This Ayah points out to Allah’s blessings that associate between the greatness of creation and man’s life and needs, which is manifested by the expression “for you” which indicates that Allah has made the earth and all its resources, be they apparent or hidden, available for man. Therefore, when man ponders over the earth when he thinks about the nature of the creation, he would be motivated to strengthen the bond he had established with Allah by feeling his ultimate need for Him, besides feeling His outstanding greatness. Actually, this great Quranic method might attribute a vibrant vitality to the issue of belief in Allah, which keeps it away from frigidity and aridity represented by the methods of research in the doctrine as something abstract, having nothing to do with man’s practical life.
Allah wanted man to dwell in this earth, and He made the various means related to his private and general needs available for him deep down in earth, on its surface and in the outer space, so that man would be able to survive on it [earth] by acquiring the ability to run it as all its resources and whatever it embodies and surrounds it are made subservient to him. Thus, this confirms that Allah has created earth and all what is in it for man’s sake to honor him and confirm his great value that distinguishes him from other creatures.
“And then He directed Himself (Istawa) to the heaven,” meaning that Allah turned finally to creating heaven, and we might deduce from the word “then” - which signifies order of time - that the earth was created first and then came the heaven, yet this order might just be grammatical for what is meant actually is focusing on the nature of the creation and not their order in time.
“So He made them complete seven heavens,” without detailing the nature of these heavens, how they were created, their positions and their role, as well as any questions that might be brought up regarding the matter.
“And He knows all things,” and is aware of everything, which means that the creation is mastered and perfected, not to mention Allah’s ultimate ability and dominion, which suggests to man that appreciating all these blessings and creatures and running everything emanate from Allah’s knowledge of His servants’ interest represented by what He destines for them and imposes on them to feel confident and at ease in all the aspects of life.
As for the word “Istawa”, which could mean sitting down, suggesting that Allah has a body, which should not be attributed to Him, we should understand it metaphorically, signifying that He created earth and the Heavens without willing to create anything in between. As for the seven heavens, we cannot deduce from the several Ayahs that talk about them a profound knowledge of their nature. All what we have is the description of the lower sky that is adorned with stars: “Surely We have adorned the nearest heaven with an adornment, the stars.” (37: 06).
Moreover, some Ayahs reveal that the dwellers of this heaven have some information regarding earth and its situations, which tempts some creatures, such as Jinns and devils, to eavesdrop, but Allah prevents them from doing so by sending a flaming fire at them to burn them or drive them away, for He says: “And We adorned the lower heaven with brilliant stars and (made it) to guard; that is the decree of the Mighty, the Knowing,” (41: 12), and: “And (moreover) We have guarded them from every cursed devil:but any that gains a hearing by stealth, is pursued by a flaming fire, bright (to see).” (15: 17-18). Allah also says: “And that we used to sit in some of the sitting-places thereof to steal a hearing, but he who would (try to) listen now would find a flaming fire lying in wait for him.” (72: 09). Other Ayahs talk about the existence of angels in the heaven and their descent to earth, but they do not mention any details on the matter.
Other Ayahs apparently refuse to consider the sun and the moon as part of these heavens; rather, they consider the heavens as a place for these two planets and others, for Allah says: “Do you not see how Allah has created the seven heavens; one above another,and made the moon therein a light, and made the sun a lamp?” (71: 15-16).
There are several opinions regarding the seven heavens; some say that they stand for the seven planets that revolve around the sun as put down by the ancient astronomers, and they are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon and the Sun, while others say that they stand for the atmospheric layers surrounding the globe. Others refuse to consider that the word “seven” used refers to the number seven and say instead that it is only a method to express multitude, citing the following Ayah: “And were every tree that is in the earth (made into) pens and the sea (to supply it with ink), with seven more seas to increase it, the words of Allah would not come to an end.” (31: 27). It goes without saying that Allah’s knowledge does not end after this number of seas, even if there were thousands of seas, so it must be that the term “seven” here signifies multitude.
Yet, this viewpoint is contradicted by the mentioning of the expression “seven heavens” in several Ayahs, which suggests that the number here has an existential singularity, especially that there is no proof on the viewpoint of the late interpreters, not to mention that recent discoveries have unraveled the existence of other planets, such as Neptune, Pluto and Uranus. Some astronomers say on the basis of the discoveries of the Palmer observatory, especially regarding how far man has gone in unraveling the universe, in the level that can in no way be limited to certain boundaries in the nature of the worlds they are found in… they say: “Before establishing the Palmer observatory, the world, in our view, did not consist of more than five hundred light years, but this telescope broadened our world to reach a thousand million light years. As for how far this distance is, we lay our eyes on a dark horrific and great space in which we see nothing…
Undoubtedly, this dark horrific space contains millions of galaxies that preserve this visible world by their gravity.
This entire great visible world that contains millions of galaxies is but a very tiny part of a much larger world, and we are not sure if there is another world other than this large world.”
We do not encourage going into further details in this matter, for it would lead us to a myriad of conceptions and to believe naively in many weak traditions that attribute nothing to the cognitive or thinking process; but rather, they leave man facing the Quranic cognition with nothing that satiates his real hunger for the right knowledge. Actually, this would make us fall prey to the trap of myth placed by the Hadith fabricators. Let us stop where Allah wants us to stop in what He did not charge us with knowing and the mysteries of which He did not explain to us or provide us with the means to know them. Actually, this is the best path the Islamic knowledge should follow concerning what knowledge to pursue and what knowledge not to pursue. We do not have to know what we are not in need of knowing, what is not included in the Ayahs of the Holy Quran and what is not explained by the noble Sunnah, for we only need to point it out when talking about Allah’s absolute ability and the vastness of His creation. Perhaps, this is what could keep us away from the Israeli traditions (false traditions added by the Jews) that exploited the generalities left as such in the Quran for a good reason and tried to satiate the Muslims’ curious hunger for knowledge or at least stir their curiosity to make them indulge in the atmosphere of stories that drive them away from the essentials of the doctrine and legislation, considering the childish human nature that is normally attracted to stories and their details more than it is into the ambiences of the thought and legislation, and consequently introduce its concepts that have nothing to do with the Islamic conception with regards to history, the universe and life.
[Extracted from “[Interpretations] inspired from the Quran]