“The Hour (of Judgment) is nigh, and the moon is cleft asunder.” (54:1, Yusuf Ali translation)
“The moon was split ( into two pieces ) while we were with the Prophet (ﷺ) in Mina. He said, “Be witnesses.” Then a Piece of the moon went towards the mountain.” (Bukhari 3869)
Like the expression goes “From the mouth of babes,” we have glimpses of insight into life. 20 years ago, still not quite a Sunni Muslim, I was walking with my friend asking him questions about the religion. Eager to learn, I asked him “What miracles did Prophet Muhammad do?” to which he responded, “Prophet Muhammad split the moon.”
My face lit up, and I got excited! This was a fantastic revelation to me. This was concrete, substantial evidence that the religion was true. I eagerly said, “That’s amazing! So there must have been other cultures who saw the moon being split and recorded it, right? This must have been one of the world-changing events of the 7th century, a major event in world history that all of humanity recorded this incredible sight of splitting the moon.” It’s interesting that even back then I felt that evidence was valuable. That’s why I was eventually able to see my way through Islam.
My friend looked confused and said “No, I haven’t heard of anyone else mentioning this moon splitting in history. Maybe it was only visible to his tribe?”
Miracles defeat the test of faith
If the purpose of life is that it is a test to see who will believe in Allah without incontrovertible evidence, why short-circuit this process by giving a miracle?
Why would Allah show them such an overwhelming miracle that would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Islam is true, yet at the same time continue to argue in the Quran that no matter what miracle they ask for, they would not believe? The Quran’s message is that Muhammad’s revelation is sufficient proof for anyone. Showing a miracle of this sort would defeat the entire point of the test of life, and is unfair to those who don’t get to see this sign of Allah.
Nevertheless, let’s assume that Allah is inconsistent in showing evidence to humanity. He sometimes shows miraculous evidence and sometimes doesn’t. So now there are a few possibilities:
- Muhammad split the moon, by the will of Allah.
In this case, we have to make a lot of assumptions to make this work. Maybe it was daytime, and the moon wasn’t visible, and so they couldn’t see it. Maybe in some places, it was cloudy so they couldn’t see it either. Maybe the miracle was only for a second or two. So somehow nobody else noticed this event. So, on the goading of some desert Arabs, the creator of the universe split the moon to show them Muhammad was indeed the prophet of God? But only once. And just to a few people, in a way that couldn’t be verified after the event. And that even 1400 years later, despite going to the moon, we have not seen any evidence of this so-called splitting. That’s a very strange God.
- Muhammad split the moon, but Allah hid it from everyone else.
Why would Allah split the moon and hide it? Does this make any sense? Why would he do such a thing? If the goal was to bring humanity into Islam, why show only a small band of Arabs in the desert the truth while leaving the rest of the world to burn? Again this seems like a strange thing for the creator of the universe to do.
- Muhammad did not split the moon.
He didn’t split the moon. This makes perfect sense and doesn’t require any explanation. If the moon was split, this would alter the tides and affect the entire balance of the earth. The number of assumptions we have to make is very few to make this position work. Could it be either the hadith is false, the Quran verse about splitting the moon can be reinterpreted, or maybe the whole thing is a lie that was passed on from generation to generation? We can believe either of these three positions without any additional assumptions.
The position with the least amount of assumptions is probably the correct one is called Occam’s Razor. If I told you that my grandfather made the sun come close to the Earth 40 years ago and that only he saw it and his family and people there, and nobody else, would you believe it? How many assumptions about the world would you have to make to keep this story parsimonious?
In conclusion, Muhammad did not split the moon. Muslims should find another way to interpret that verse or realize that it’s false.