The Arabic word for diameter is “kutr” of which the plural is “aktar;” this refers to the fact that the heavens and the earth have a plurality of diameters. The Arabic language has a special plural to express “duality;” the word aktar expresses a magnitude superior to one or two. We must be careful in the case of three-dimensional objects; “diameter” exists only in spheroid figures. In the case of a perfect sphere we cannot speak of a plurality of diameters, for, in a perfect sphere, there can be only one diameter. We observe in the verse the use of the plural, which is remarkable.
O society of jinns and men, cross the diameters of the heavens and the earth, if you have the ability, then pass beyond them. But you cannot, unless you acquire an authorization. (55:33)
This verse is particularly important, as it refers to the geoidal structure of the world. Doubts about the spheroid structure of the world were dispelled by the law of gravitation of Newton (1642-1724). Previously it was believed that men, the living beings and the seas beneath the surface of the earth would have fallen down had the world been a sphere. Isaac Newton’s law of gravitation convinced men that their belief was false. Objections to the sphericity of the world were henceforth withdrawn, although many people still adhered to their former convictions. If you spoke of “diameters” of the earth, Newton would have corrected you saying: “the diameter of the earth.” A sphere can have but one diameter but in the geodesic sphere, which is the actual shape of the world, this is possible.
CONFINES OF SPACE
The mention in the verse of “the diameters of the heavens” is also significant. Until man took cognizance of the primeval explosion and the
expanding universe, many scientists believed space to be infinite. Space continuously expands and wherever it expands a new and still larger diameter is formed (this was explained in Ch. 1, 2 & 3). As a matter of fact, scientists have likened space to an inflating balloon in accord with the statement of the verse. Measurements taken at various spots in space would give different diametrical results, while even these measurements taken would change every instant. The use of the plural for the diameter of the heavens is of towering importance, since there is more than just one diameter and because the concept of infinite space is refuted.
The equatorial axes and the diameters in between the equatorial axis will be the longest, while the shortest diameter will be in the polar region. Other diameters will range in between. The diameter measured from the level of the poles to the end point of the atmosphere, the one drawn from the equator to the end point of the atmosphere, and the diameters in between differ also.
We should like to draw your attention to a point. In a good many translations of the Quran there are references to the confines of the earth and the heavens, to its periphery and contours and frontiers, and the word “diameters” is skipped. Indeed, the extremities of the diameter of an area give the contour, the limits and the periphery of that area. We draw the attention of translators to this subtle point.