The statement in the Quran about seven heavens may be interpreted as seven different strata, seven different dimensions or seven different fields of attraction. A closer analysis of the atmosphere, which, to the naked eye may present uniformity, makes it clear that it is not actually so.
He created the seven heavens (skies) in layers. You do not see any imperfection in the creation by the Gracious. Turn your eyes again. Do you see any flaw? (67: 3)
The different layers of our atmosphere could not have been known at the time of the Prophet. This fact cannot have been established fortuitously. The Quran refers to different layers in the atmosphere in perfect accord with each other. One can also conjecture that such layers can exist in space. The creation of these harmonious layers is a phenomenon visible from the microcosm of the atom to the macrocosm of the universe. Let us remember the layers and orbits of the electron around the nucleus of the atom. The fact that the maximum number of orbits in the atom is seven may also be significant.
The number seven has special connotations in the Quran. As a matter of fact, “seven” in Arabic, also expresses a plurality; the expression “seven heavens,” may either mean the number seven as the actual number of heavens, or a plurality of heavens. This usage of “seven” in the Arabic has been commented upon throughout history by many exegetics. In the sura Luqmaan, 27th verse, the expression “seven seas” is used and in the sura Repentance, verse 80 states that: “Even if you ask forgiveness for them seventy times, God will not forgive them.” So, it is said that both “seven” and “seventy” express a plurality. A similar usage of the number “seven” expressing a plurality may also be seen in ancient Greek and Roman.
LAYERS OF THE ATMOSPHERE AND THE OBJECTIVES THEY SERVE
We know now that atmosphere is made of layers that make life on earth possible. The absence of any one of these layers would be the end of life on earth. God, whose flawless art is conspicuous everywhere, displays once again His design by drawing attention – in the Quran – to atmospheric layers. Each of these layers dutifully performs its function contributing to the perfect performance of the whole. The fact that the lifeless atoms of the atmosphere are in the service of man, as if forming a conscious entity, is a consequence of God’s compassion.
The atmosphere is divided into layers, of which the (1) Troposphere is the lowest layer, closest to the surface of the earth. The Troposphere, which is as low as six km, extends to a height of 12 km at the equator. Atmospheric phenomena take place within the portion of three to four kilometers from the surface. 75% of atmospheric gases are in this layer. Above the Troposphere is the (2) Stratosphere extending about 50 km up. The third is (3) the Ozonosphere, the ozone layer in other words, which is the protector from ultraviolet rays having lethal effects on living beings. Above lies the (4) Mesosphere which in turn, is topped by the (5) Thermosphere followed by the (6) Ionosphere, the upper layer reaching to a height of 500 km from the earth. Radio waves are reflected from this layer, rendering communication possible. Above 500 km lies the fringe region known as the (7) Exosphere, extending up to 10,000 km. The proportion of gases in this layer is very low and divided into ions. We can thus divide the atmosphere into 7 layers. The number 7 may change of course, if researchers prefer examining these layers by different groupings.
However it is interesting to find that the commonly agreed classification of atmospheric layers supports the Quranic information and it is beyond mere interest when we evaluate it together with all other scientific remarks in the Quran. Even if the reader does not find this classification persuasive, then he or she may subscribe to the alternative understanding that the figure seven expresses a plurality, without bringing any change in the miraculous significance of the verse. This double meaning of “seven layers” thus leaves no loopholes. Separating the atmosphere into harmonious layers is a modern discovery. The level of scientific knowledge at the time of the descent of the Quran did not permit making differentiation between the layers of atmosphere. Verse 12 of sura 41 reads: “So He ordained them seven heavens (skies) in two days (periods) and revealed in every heaven its affair…” making it clear that every layer served a different purpose, thanks to which life on earth was possible.