The Arabic word “zilzal” means “earthquake.” The above verses are quoted from the sura The Earthquake. These verses are believed to refer justifiably to the earthquake expected to occur in the end of the world; however, we should take due notice of its wider sense, depicting earthquakes in general. The fourth verse announces that men will be informed on that day. A terrible disaster like an earthquake associates in one’s mind destruction in the first place causing material damage and bodily injury, leading to a general terror and panic. This announcement must have astounded the public.
To establish a link between earthquakes and knowledge of certain facts seemed inconceivable to people up until the last century. Today we have a great many data in our possession regarding the ground beneath our feet, thanks to earthquakes. The shortest radius we could draw from where we might be to the center of the earth is longer than 6000 km, a distance we can never cover. Yes, an earthquake provides information about that portion of the earth inaccessible to us. (During the earthquake to take place at the end of the world, it is possible that men will be further enlightened on subjects beyond His prediction. We certainly do not assert that the verse’s meaning is limited to our interpretation.)
BURDENS OF THE EARTH
The second verse of the sura Earthquake is interesting in that it refers to the burdens of the earth. Years have gone by and men have failed to understand what those burdens might be. The widely accepted interpretation was that the sura referred to the earthquake that was going to take place at the end of the world when the dead would be resurrected and treasures hidden underground would rise to the surface. No one could have guessed that the ground beneath was formed of dense and heavy matter that would rise to the surface. References to earthquakes in the Quran contribute to our better appreciation of them. Let us not forget that people believed at the time that the earth rested on the horns of an ox or on a fish whose tail, when it moved, produced earthquakes (The commentary of Ibn Kethir is an example). The fact that the Quran made no reference to such false beliefs is another indication of its miraculous character.
The more we know about the contents of the Quran and about the universe, the more we appreciate God’s artistry and the perfection of his religion.
Say: “Are those who know equal to those who do not know? Only men of understanding take heed.” (39:9)