Seven Floating Letters: Meaning in the Quran’s Details

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Here is an aya/verse in the Quran regarding “celestial objects” orbiting around a center:

وَهُوَ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ ٱلَّيۡلَ وَٱلنَّهَارَ وَٱلشَّمۡسَ وَٱلۡقَمَرَۖ كُلٌّ فِى فَلَكٍ يَسۡبَحُونَ

And it is He who created the night and the day and the sun and the moon; all [heavenly bodies] are swimming in an orbit. (Al-Anbiya 21:33) 

The Arabic original letters in bold above (both the Arabic and English) form a mirror pattern that graphically illustrates the verse itself as shown in this screenshot from the TikTok video below the image regarding how this fits a general scientific observation about how celestial objects orbit around other celestial objects in specific orbits. 

7 letters form orbital system graphic in words describing same meaning

This image shows how the letters graphically illustrate the concept being conveyed, very much a “signature” Quranic detail. Allah the Exalted is far more communicative on many levels than we realize. 

https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTR6HeWT2/?k=1

And as we shall show, these are not any ordinary or randomly-chosen letters, and this same 3-word, 4-unique-letter phrase (7 letters total) phrase also appears (in bold) in one other aya below. 

لَا ٱلشَّمۡسُ يَنۢبَغِى لَهَآ أَن تُدۡرِكَ ٱلۡقَمَرَ وَلَا ٱلَّيۡلُ سَابِقُ ٱلنَّهَارِۚ وَكُلٌّ فِى فَلَكٍ يَسۡبَحُونَ

It is not allowable for the sun to reach the moon, nor does the night overtake the day, but (each) all (is) are swimming in an orbit. (Ya Seen 36:40) 

The words “floating” and “gliding” have also been used (instead of “swimming”) to translate the Arabic يَسۡبَحُونَ yasbahoon (not included in the graphic but relevant to its understanding). The two phrases in Arabic are entirely identical; only the translation varies. None of the letters/words preceding or following this specific phrase form any sort of graphic or participate in this one; rather it forms a small graphic within them. The final word is actually the verb (“swimming”), not included in the graphic. 

The Seven Letters

And these 7 letters are significant ones: the first is fa ف which means “so/thus/then” and is used in the “creation statement” kun fayakoon (“Be! And it is/becomes”) mentioned in the Quran as how Allah creates or brings something into being. In fact, 3 of the 4 unique letters in the graphic above are used in this “creation statement”, the exception being lam. It’s enough for lam ل  to be the 2nd and 3rd letter in the center of  Allah’s name!  But it’s also a prepositional letter meaning “to/with/for.” These 4 unique letters, all but one of which — the central letter ya — are repeated twice, can be described as follows:

  1. Fa ف – second letter in “creation statement”; prepositional letter meaning “so/thus/then”
  2. Lam ل  – central 2 letters in Allah’s name; prepositional letter meaning “to/with/for”
  3. Kaf ك  – first and 5th letter in “creation statement”; prepositional letter meaning “like/as”
  4. Ya ي – fourth letter in “creation statement”; grammatical prefix letter giving a verb the present tense; first letter in the word for calling someone ya (“O”) يا  where the alif is often dropped and the ya letter attached to the addressee name/word as in “O my Lord”

If we then interpret the graphic using the characteristics of the separate letters, we can see the following:

ك   ل   ف     ي     ف   ل   ك

The kaf ك  on the right begins with the same letter as does the creation statement. Indeed it also concludes the 7-letter graphic phrase, thus completing the “circle” — in mirror fashion, the same essential way as ring composition, used on this site as well to enhance interpretation. So it provides the frame surrounding the rest, with the single ya in the center. What is unique about ya, distinguishing it from the other letters, is that it is a vowel letter, one of arguably 4 in Arabic, the other three being alif ا and waw و and ‘ain ع which is a guttural vowel.

And what’s so significant about being a vowel letter in the center? That it is an “open” sound, one could think of as “unconfined” and radiant, hence “holding” the surrounding letters in its “orbit,” a word commonly used in English to also convey “those which stay around someone/something.” Also there’s something to be said for its use as conveying “present tense” to verbs; here in effect the center “keeps” what orbits around it in its “present tense” or “radius.”

The lam’s connecting function (with/for/to) is as if it keeps all three “followers” with it. And the fa with its meaning “then/thus/so” — in other words “what follows” — keeps such following “one after another” as a virtual continuum. In terms of the words these letters form, the first fa forms a word with the center ya, the word meaning “in,” significant here because it “connects” to “where” this continuum is following: the “in” power of the center to which its word connects it. Just as the first word connects kaf with lam to mean “all” — in concert, as it were. And the final 3 letters both reflect the same letters and “follow” the central point of “radiance” — the word “orbit,” thus completing the image and the phrase. 

The Symbolism of Concentric “Circling”

It’s now common knowledge that planets in the solar system circle the sun in an ellipse, and of course these are dynamic, constantly moving systems; hence I refer to “circling” rather than “circles,” to avoid confusion. And “circling” can refer as an adjective to relatively static systems, such as plant formation, as well. And the Quran’s architecture is a spiral, a bit more dynamic in design (with two alternating “centers”) than a circle. 

But we speak here of “textual” circling. That all known sacred texts have a certain decree of “mirror writing” or chiasmus, also including ring composition, and used as a way of examining portions of the Quran in this blog, certainly indicates that such a method of organizing text has a deeper symbolic meaning. In the Quran, it clearly focuses on a center text surrounded by supporting verses or sections of text surrounding it, which could be called “satellite texts” insofar as they “circle around” the topic of the center. 

Obviously, this is just what is being done with these 7 letters above, and as the video discusses in brief, this pattern also reflects what we find in nature (galaxies, hurricanes, plant designs), in systems (the water, rock, and life cycle), and in ourselves (the various body systems and cycles, societal cycles, our life cycles). A center could be a focal point, such as the heart as the center of the circulatory system or the brain as the center of the nervous system. 

Indeed the very name of Allah forms the shape of a heart, symbolic of His being the “heart” — often used to mean the center or focal point (“the heart of the matter) — of all things, without whom nothing could exist. And it is this metaphor we are given in everything around us, to understand and feel supported by His presence as the Creator and Sustainer of all things, including us. Plus this reality is planted in our intuitive faculties. 

But of course intuition, consciousness, and Allah’s Presence are not “empirically” knowable in the sense of doing experiments and analyzing the results as one does with chemicals, animals, weather systems, or astronomical observations. 

In that sense we are like the ancient Pharaoh who said “O Haman, construct for me a tower that I might reach the ways … into the heavens – so that I may look at the deity of Moses; but indeed, I think he is a liar.” We want empirical evidence for what is beyond our ability to know through our senses, yet we often readily make assumptions not supported by those same senses, clinging to dogmas or ideas for their familiarity, not their actual value or veracity. 

Symbolism is a powerful way to present truth, and what could be more ubiquitous than circling around a center, from atoms to galaxies and beyond?

“And Allah presents metaphors to the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things.” (from ayat al-Nur 24:35)

Science and Islam

These two Quranic descriptions are actually remarkable in their scientific accuracy, yet presented in a way that could be meaningful to people without such knowledge. “Swimming/gliding in an orbit” was something Ptolemy had studied, but science was not at the point to think outside the geocentric universe “box”, yet he did postulate that the sun and moon are spheres. At the time, the heavens were thought to surround the earth in concentric layers like this, each planet carried in a separate “sphere” or channel:

And it was Christian dogma, particularly Catholic religious dogma, that kept Ptolemy’s geocentric universe alive for so long. 

The ecliptic with its zodiac constellations was considered foundational, but the planets were thought to be carried in separate bordered concentric “spheres.” The Quranic description of them “floating” or “swimming” implies more of their own accord than this illustration, and the concept of orbits being bordered could have been thought of these “heavenly spheres” as “containers” in the sense of “ships,” in Arabic fulk, spelled exactly like falak or “orbit” where the language thus connects the two to one root. 

But this conception does not confine its interpretation that way. Think of the letters as being both “contained” in words and yet acting separately as letters forming a graphic. It was Galileo’s observation of Jupiter’s moons, and the discovery that they orbited around it that finally broke open the notion of earth as the center of the universe; here were heavenly bodies revolving around another known heavenly body — not around earth. 

This small Quranic graphic phrase illustrates something similar: “paired” letters (thus being “multiple”) orbiting around another single letter. That they are part of one phrase and 3 words indicates they are interrelated and similar in kind (letters that can form words), thus we had already in the text an example showing heavenly bodies, like letters, can orbit around each other and that by implication what is in the center then is also not of an entirely different substance (as Aristotle had believed as “quintessence”) but similar. This implies that earth is also not of an entirely different substance than the heavenly bodies. But it would take time for people to accept this. 

The Quran is not a scientific treatise. Yet it is no coincidence that the true (and often not recognized) first advocate of the scientific method, ignored in favor of Catholic dogma, was a Muslim — Ibn Haytham, who wrote in Doubts on Ptolemy:

“Truth is sought for its own sake … It is not the person who studies the books of his predecessors and gives a free rein to his natural disposition to regard them favourably, who is the seeker after truth. But rather the person who is thinking about them [and] is filled with doubts .. .who follows proof and demonstration rather than the assertion of a man whose natural disposition is characterised by all kind of defects and shortcoming…. A person who studies scientific books with a view to knowing the truth, ought to turn himself into a hostile critic of everything that he studies … if he takes this course, the truth will be revealed to him and the flaws … in the writings of his predecessors will stand out clearly”.

Although I don’t advise the scientific method for proving what can’t be proven, what Ibn Haytham proposed as a superior method of discerning truth could certainly be applied to guidance in Islam:

It is not the person who studies the books of his predecessors and gives a free rein to his natural disposition to regard them favourably, who is the seeker after truth.

Especially in the case of sources outside the Quran. Do we need to reject entirely such sources as hadiths, tafsir and fatwas of the Islamic scholars? Not any more than scientists should reject everything from prior scientists. But we should look for proof and demonstration regarding their validity and veracity. Such methods as narrative chains have been improved from what was directly passed down from Bukhari and Muslim, who were, after all, human and prone to error. And anyone skeptic of a single clearly absurd hadith is met with hostility by certain scholars and their followers. But we have an excellent and more reliably-sourced criterion against which to ascertain their validity: the Quran. So just as we know that Allah/God is the singular Supreme Almighty All-Merciful Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, shall we not also study the Book He sent to the last actual prophet known to have lived on earth? All sacred texts essentially “revolve” around it. 

Thus far I’ve seen evidence in the Quran of ideas from such disparate places as the Tao, Yi Jing, Vedas, other Indian sources, Buddhism, the Sabians, the Mayan codex, and more. Taking from each the best it has to offer, never compromising the basic principles of tawheed (loyalty to only One God) and taqwa (reverence as our basic attitude), the Quran presents universal truths, not empty rules or rituals. Why would we not study it with more receptivity? And discernment? Afa la t’aqiloon? Will we not use our minds? Who cooperated to produce such marvelous photos from the depth of the universe as were before this unimaginable? Insha’Allah.

Photo of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, known as Webb’s First Deep Field. Webb’s image covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground – and reveals thousands of galaxies in a tiny sliver of vast universe.

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