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Last Updated: 2011/05/22
Summary of question
How can the incoherence between verses 21 of chapter 57 and 133 of chapter 3 be resolved in regards to heaven?
Please elaborate on the following: There is a real paradox in the Quranic description of the width and breadth of Paradise. The holy Quran says in verse 133 of chapter 3 that the width of Paradise equals the width of the whole of the heavens and of the earth whereas according to verse 21 of chapter 57, the width of Paradise is that of the width of the earth and the heaven (singular). It is clear that one heaven or one firmament does not equal many heavens or many firmaments. Hence, the width of Paradise cannot be that of the earth and the heaven and of the earth and the heavens (plural) at the same time. Therefore, we see a clear contradiction between the two verses in the Holy Quran. Verse 133 of chapter 3 says: “And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a Garden the width of which is as the heavens and the earth it is prepared for those who guard (against the evil)”. Else where in chapter 57, verse 21, it says: “Hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and to a garden the width of which is as the width of the heaven and the earth, it is prepared for those who believe in Allah and his messengers, that is the grace of Allah he gives it to whom He pleases, and Allah is the Lord of Mighty Grace”. These two verses are contradictory.
Concise answer

Presumably, the point which caused you to imagine that these two verses are incoherent and contradictory with each other was the translation of the word of “al-Samā” into “one heaven” whereas the real meaning of the word is “heaven” not “one heaven”. Even in the English translation of the word "al-Samā" which literally means "sky", there is no incoherence between the word “sky” and “skies”. For example, when a person says, “I saw cloud in the sky” or “I saw clouds in the skies”, both are conveying the same meaning; neither “cloud” is in contradiction with “clouds” nor is “heaven” with “heavens”. There is no incongruity between the singular and plural forms.

Detailed Answer

In order to reply to your question we should first know that the two sentences are evaluated as being contradictory with each other only when they meet all the conditions of a contradiction. For example if a person says “I offer my prayers in the mosque” and again he says “I attend congregational prayers held in several mosques", we cannot describe the two sentences as being contradictory with each other simply because he has used the singular form of a word in one sentence and the plural form in another.

Likewise, if we look carefully at the usages of the words in Arabic language, especially in the holy Quran, we will come to know that the Arabic word "al-Samā"   which means “heaven”, is not so much different from “al-Samawāt” (heavens), because the word  "al-Samā" does not mean "one heaven" otherwise it would have been in contrast with "al-Samawāt" (heavens). So the word "al-Samā" used in many different verses of the Quran implies the same meaning. For example when God, the Glorified, says in Holy Quran, "Wa maa khalaqna al-Sama wal ardha wa ma bainahoma batila"[1], it means "And We did not create the heaven and the earth and what is between them in vain". According to your translation, the meaning should be: We did not create “one heaven and the earth and what is between them in vain” (which implies that creating the other heavens should have been in vain!!).

Similarly, the verse "ma yakhfa 'alallahi min shay'in fil ardh-e wa la fis-Sama"[2] would be translated as such: “and nothing in the earth nor any thing in one heaven is hidden from Allah" which, by extension, means that He may not know what happens in the other heavens. Obviously, nobody, who is at home in Arabic, will accept such a translation.

Be sure that the word "al-Samā" in verse 21 of Chapter al-Hadid does not mean “one heaven” to be in contradiction with "al-Samawāt" in verse 133 of Chapter Aal-e Imran; they are congruous with each other. On many occasions, when the Holy Quran wants to mention a point in regards to some heavens, not all of them, it does not use the word "al-Samā" alone; rather the terms such as "al-Sama al-dunya[3]  (the lower heaven), or "kollu sama"[4] (every heaven) have been used.

Of course, if it had been said, “Hasten to Paradise whose breadth is that of the lower sky”, it would imply incoherence with other verses which say that the width and breadth of the Paradise is that of the whole of the heavens but there is not any verse like this in the Quran.

All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.

[1] - Sād: 27 و ما خلقنا السماء و الأرض و ما بینهما باطلا

[2] -Ibrahim: 38 ما یخفی علی الله من شیء فی الارض و لا فی السماء

[3] - Safaat: 7; Fussilat: 12: Malak: 5

[4] - Fussilat: 12

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