The Function of Mountains
The Qur’an draws attention to a very important geological function of mountains.
“And We have set on the earth mountains standing firm, lest it should shake with them.” [Al-Qur’an 21:31]
As we have noticed, it is stated in the verse that mountains have the function of preventing shocks in the Earth.
This fact was not known by anyone at the time the Qur’an was revealed. It was in fact brought to light only recently as a result of the findings of modern geology.
It used to be thought that mountains were merely protrusions on the face of the earth.
Scientists have now come to realize that mountains are not just surface elevations or protrusions, however, but that they extend 10-15 times their height into the ground, and these extensions are called mountain roots. With these properties, mountains play a similar role to a nail or a stake hammered into the ground. For instance, a peak such as Mount Everest, which rises almost 9 km above the Earth’s surface, has a root that extends downward for more than 125 km.
Besides, mountains emerge as a result of the movements and collisions of massive plates forming the Earth’s crust. When two plates collide, the stronger one slides under the other, the one on the top bends and forms heights and mountains. The layer beneath proceeds under the ground and makes a deep extension downward. That means, as pointed out earlier, that mountains have a portion stretching downwards, as large as their visible parts on the Earth.
MOUNTAINS ARE LIKE TENT PEGS
In geology, the phenomenon of ‘folding’, is a recently discovered fact. Folding is responsible for the formation of mountain ranges. The earth’s crust, on which we live, is like a solid shell, while the deeper layers are hot and fluid, and thus inhospitable to any form of life. It is also known that the stability of the mountains is linked to the phenomenon of folding, for it was the folds that were to provide foundations for the reliefs that constitute the mountains. Geologists tell us that the radius of the Earth is about 6,035 km and the crust on which we live is very thin, ranging between 2 to 35 km. Since the crust is thin, it has a high possibility of shaking. Mountains act like stakes or tent pegs that hold the earth’s crust and give it stability. The Qur’an contains exactly such a description: “Have We not made the earth as a wide expanse, and the mountains as pegs?” [Al-Qur’an 78:6-7] The word awtaad means stakes or pegs (like those used to anchor a tent); they are the deep foundations of geological folds. A book entitled ‘Earth’ is regarded as a basic reference textbook on geology in many universities around the world. One of the authors of this book is Dr. Frank Press, who was the President of the Academy of Sciences in the USA for 12 years and was the Science Advisor to former US President Jimmy Carter. In this book, he illustrates the mountain in a wedge-shape and the mountain itself as a small part of the whole, whose root is deeply entrenched in the ground.1 According to Dr. Press, the mountains play an important role in stabilizing the crust of the earth.
In a scientific text, the structure of mountains is described as follows:
“Where continents are thicker, as in mountain ranges, the crust sinks deeper into the mantle”
[Source: arolyn Sheets, Robert Gardner, Samuel F. Howe, General Science, Allyn and Bacon Inc. Newton, Massachusetts, 1985, p. 305]
Professor Siaveda, a world famous marine geologist, made the following comment in referring to the way mountains are imbedded into the Earth like roots:
The fundamental difference between continental mountains and the oceanic mountains lies in its material… But the common denominator on both mountains are that they have roots to support the mountains. In the case of continental mountains, light-low density material from the mountain is extended down into the earth as a root. In the case of oceanic mountains, there is also light material supporting the mountain as a root… The function of the roots are to support the mountains according to the law of Archimedes.
Moreover, Frank Press, the former President of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, says in his book Earth, still used as a university textbook all over the world, that mountains resemble stakes and are buried into the depths of the earth.
[Source: Frank Press, Raymond Siever, Earth, 3rd Edition, W. H. Freeman and Company, San Francisco, 1982]
In another verse God has revealed that He has “made the mountains firm.” [Surat an-Nazi’at 79:32]
The Arabic word arsaha in this verse means “has made rooted, made fixed, hammered into the ground.” Thanks to these features, mountains extend over and under the ground at the points where the layers of the earth meet, and rivet those layers together. In this way, they stabilize the earth’s crust and thus prevent it from sliding over the magma stratum or among its own strata. In short, we can compare mountains to nails holding pieces of wood together.
Today we know that the rocky outer stratum of the earth is riven by deep faults and split up into plates floating on magma. Given the high speed at which the earth rotates around its own axis, these floating plates would move around were it not for the fixative effect of the mountains. In that event, no soil could form on the face of the Earth, no water could be collected in the soil, no plants could grow, and no roads or buildings could be constructed; in short, life on Earth would be impossible. By the mercy of God, however, mountains to a large extent prevent movement on the surface of the Earth by functioning just like nails.
This vital role of mountains, that was discovered by modern geology and seismic research, was revealed in the Qur’an centuries ago as an example of the supreme wisdom in God’s creation. In another verse, it is again said:
“It is God Who cast firmly embedded mountains on the earth so that it would not move under you…” [Surah Luqman 31:10]
The Movement of Mountains
In one verse, we are informed that mountains are not motionless as they seem, but are in constant motion:
“You will see the mountains you reckoned to be solid going past like clouds” [Surat an-Naml 27: 88]
This motion of the mountains is caused by the movement of the Earth’s crust that they are located on. The Earth’s crust ‘floats’ over the mantle layer, which is denser. It was at the beginning of the 20th century when, for the first time in history, a German scientist by the name of Alfred Wegener proposed that the continents of the earth had been attached together when it first formed, but then drifted in different directions, and thus separated as they moved away from each other.
Geologists understood that that Wegener was right only in the 1980s, 50 years after his death. As Wegener pointed out in an article published in 1915, the land masses of the earth were joined together about 500 million years ago, and this large mass, called Pangaea, was located in the South Pole.
Approximately 180 million years ago, Pangaea divided into two parts, which drifted in different directions. One of these giant continents was Gondwana, which included Africa, Australia, Antarctica and India. The second one was Laurasia, which included Europe, North America and Asia, except for India. Over the next 150 million years following this separation, Gondwana and Laurasia divided into smaller parts.
These continents that emerged after the split of Pangaea have been constantly moving on the Earth’s surface at several centimeters per year, in the meantime changing the sea and land ratios of the Earth.
Discovered as a result of the geological research carried out at the beginning of the 20th century, this movement of the Earth’s crust is explained by scientists as follows:
The crust and the uppermost part of the mantle, with a thickness of about 100 kms., are divided into segments called plates. There are six major plates, and several small ones. According to the theory called plate tectonics, these plates move about on Earth, carrying continents and ocean floor with them… Continental motion has been measured at from 1-5 cm per year. As the plates continue to move about, this will produce a slow change in Earth’s geography. Each year, for instance, the Atlantic Ocean becomes slightly wider
[Source: General Science, Carolyn Sheets, Robert Gardner, Samuel F. Howe; Allyn and Bacon Inc. Newton, Massachusetts, pp. 305-306]
There is a very important point to be stated here: God has referred to the motion of mountains as a drifting action in the verse. Today, modern scientists also use the term “continental drift” for this motion.
[Source: Powers of Nature, National Geographic Society, Washington D.C., 1978, p.12-13]
Continental drift is something which could not be observed at the time of the revelation of the Qur’an, and in the words, “You will see the mountains you reckoned to be solid” God revealed in advance the way in which people were to approach the subject. He then revealed another truth, saying that the mountains went past like clouds. As we have seen, attention is drawn in the verse to the mobility of the stratum in which mountains stand.
Unquestionably, it is one of the miracles of the Qur’an that this scientific fact, which has recently been discovered by science, was announced in the Qur’an.
Allah knows the best
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