THE FUNCTION OF MOUNTAINS
The Qur'an draws attention to a very important geological function
We placed firmly embedded mountains on the earth,
so it would not move under them
The verse states that mountains perform 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 geological research.
Formerly, it was thought that mountains were merely
protrusions rising above the surface of the Earth. However, scientists
realised that this was not actually the case, and that those parts
known as the mountain root extended down as far as 10-15 times their
own height. With these features, mountains play a similar role to
a nail or peg firmly holding down a tent. For example, Mount Everest,
the summit of which stands approximately 9 km above the surface
of the Earth, has a root deeper than 125 km.24
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. Consequently, as
stated earlier, mountains have a portion stretching downwards, as
large as their visible parts on the Earth.
In a scientific text, the structure of mountains is described as
Where continents are thicker, as in mountain
ranges, the crust sinks deeper into the mantle.25
Professor Siaveda, a world-renowned underwater geologist, made
the following comment in reference to the way that mountains have
root-like stalks attaching them to the surface:
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... Therefore,
the function of the roots are to support the mountains according
to the law of Archimedes.26
Furthermore, a book titled Earth, by
Dr. Frank Press, former president of the U.S. National Academy of
Sciences, which is still used as a text book in a great many universities,
states that mountains are like stakes, and are buried deep under
the surface of the Earth.27
In other verses, this role of the mountains is pointed out by a
comparison with "pegs":
Have We not made the earth as a bed and the mountains
its pegs? (Qur'an, 78:6-7)
In another verse it is revealed that Allah "made the mountains
firm." (Qur'an, 79:32) The word "arsaha" in this verse
means "was made rooted, was fixed, was nailed to the earth." Similarly,
mountains extend to the surface layer joining lines on and below
the surface, and nail these together. By fixing the Earth's crust
they prevent any sliding over the magma layer or amongst the layers
themselves. In short, mountains can be compared to nails holding
strips of wood together. The fixing effect of mountains is known
as isostasy in scientific literature. Isostasy is the state of equilibrium
between the upward force created by the mantle layer and the downward
force created by the Earth's crust. As mountains lose mass due to
erosion, soil loss or melting of glaciers, they can gain mass from
the formation of glaciers, volcanic explosions or soil formation.
Therefore, as mountains grow lighter they are pressed upwards by
the raising force implemented by the liquids. Alternatively, as
they grow heavier they are pressed into the mantle by the force
of gravity. Equilibrium between these two forces is established
by isostasy. This balancing property of mountains is described in
these terms in a scientific source:
G.B Airy in 1855 suggested that the crust of
the earth could be likened to rafts of timber floating on water.
Thick pieces of timber float higher above the water surface than
thin pieces and similarly thick sections of the earth's crust
will float on a liquid or plastic substratum of greater density.
Airy was suggesting that mountains have a deep root of lower density
rock which the plains lack. Four years after Airy published his
work, J.H Pratt offered an alternative hypothesis... By this hypothesis
rock columns below mountains must have a lower density, because
of their greater length, than shorter rock columns beneath plains.
Both Airy and Pratt's hypothesis imply that surface irregularities
are balanced by differences in density of rocks below the major
features (mountains and plains) of the crust. This state of BALANCE
is described as the concept of ISOSTASY.28
Today, we know that the rocky external layer of the Earth's surface
is riven by deep faults and split into plates swimming above the
molten lava. Since the Earth revolves very quickly around its own
axis, were it not for the fixing effect of the mountains, these
plaques would shift. In such an event, soil would not collect on
the Earth's surface, water would not accumulate in the soil, no
plants could grow, and no roads or houses could be built. In short,
life on Earth would be impossible. Through the mercy of Allah, however,
mountains act like nails, and to a large extent, prevent movement
in the Earth's surface.
We subjected the mountains to glorify [Allah]
with him in the
evening and at sunrise.
He cast firmly embedded mountains on the earth
so it would not move under you, and rivers and pathways so
you would be guided.
This vital role of mountains, which has been discovered by modern
geological and seismic research, was revealed in the Qur'an centuries
ago as an example of the supreme wisdom in Allah's creation.
[He] cast firmly embedded mountains on the
earth so that it would not move under you
from an address by Prof. Zighloul Raghib El-Naggar.
25. Carolyn Sheets, Robert Gardner, and Samuel F. Howe, General
Science (Newton, MA: Allyn and Bacon Inc.: 1985), 305.
27. Frank Press, and Raymond Siever, Earth, 3rd ed. (San Francisco:
W. H. Freeman & Company: 1982).
28. M. J. Selby, Earth's Changing Surface (Oxford: Clarendon Press: