Verses 10.5 And 36.39
These verses were revealed in Mecca. As pointed out earlier, at that time the regulation of the calendar was in the hands of the unbeliever chieftains, and also Muslims were being persecuted there. As a result, these verses were not meant to make or reform the calendar.
The wording of these verses or their context of use makes it clear that they were revealed as divine signs for the revelations Muhammad (PBUH) was reciting to the Meccans — because they carry the information about Moon’s phases that human beings of anywhere in the world did not know then. In Mecca, the greatest problem was the people were not recognizing that the Qur’an was from God. Consequently, God revealed many verses bearing His signs, and these verses were among them.
However, as the contents of these verses reveal the natural reality of lunar phases, their study is very useful for understanding the correct reckoning process with the help of the Moon.
LOOKING AT THE VERSE 10.5
10.5: هُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَ الشَّمْسَ ضِيَاءً وَالْقَمَرَ نُورًا وَقَدَّرَهُ مَنَازِلَ لِتَعْلَمُوا عَدَدَ السِّنِينَ وَالْحِسَابَ ۚ مَا خَلَقَ اللَّـهُ ذَٰلِكَ إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ ۚ يُفَصِّلُ الْآيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ
Translation: It is He who made the Sun essential light and the Moon accidental light (light receiver and transmitter), and He very appropriately scaled منازل (sunlight-struck stages) for the Moon so that you may know the number of years and other reckoning. God made them not but with just wisdom and purpose. He elucidates His signs for the people who [critically] understand.
(i) Where ضيا and نور are contrasted, ضيا means essential (personal) light while نور means received and transmitted light. Furthermore, the Qur’an in other Meccan Surah has called the sun سِرَاجًا = a lamp (25.61, 71.16), even سِرَاجًا وَهَّاجًا = a fiercely burning lamp (78.13). Also, the Qur’an calls stars مَصَا بِيحَ = lamps (41.12, 67.5) and بُرُوجِ = self-manifesting objects (15.16, 25.62, 85.1). But it nowhere calls Moon a lamp or self-manifesting object but نُورًا or مُنِيرًا (an object transmitting its received light) in verses 10.5, 25.61, 71.16. These verses clearly expose that in the eyes of the Qur’an, sun and moon are not the same kind of objects; the sun produces light on its own while the moon receives and transmits it.
(ii) Qur’anic commentators have usually translated منا زل as stations, mansions, or lunar phases which do not appropriately convey the sense what the word is carrying in the verse. The word منازل is plural of منزل which is اسم ظرف (noun of place) on measure مفعل (mʌf-‘il), like are مسجد and مغرب and مشرق; plural مساجد and مغارب and مشارق respectively, from root ن زل meaning to fall, descend, lodge, alight, etc. After the sun has set, if its light falls on a section of Moon’s face and makes it illuminated (shining) and visible to us, that section is منزل = literally in Urdu: Nɑːzil Ho-neɪ Ki Jʌgʌh = the area of falling sunlight.
Now let us concentrate to understand the plain meaning of the verse. The meaning will also exhibit on the side that the disclosure about the lighted lunar phases was entirely astounding in the seventh century. All the astrologists by then were unaware of the fact that the luminous lunar stages are sunlit, so the revelation was/is a clear evidence that it was/is from God and not from a human Muhammad or otherwise.
It says that God made sun and moon such that the sun has essential light while the moon receives and transmits it. This description makes it clear that the moon receives light from the sun. The verse further says that it is the fallen [sun] light on the [face of the] Moon that creates lighted stages of the moon, and God has precisely devised the system to up- and down-grade these sunlit stages (منازل) systematically so as to help human communities to know the count of years and other reckonings — such as dating the days; changing and counting months.
It has ever been human observation that after the first lunar crescent appears, the lighted portion of the Moon keeps enlarging every day until there is full moon. Thereafter, the lighted section keeps diminishing day by day (in size), and the moon eventually goes invisible. Then after a couple of days, a new crescent moon appears again. The Qur’an does not describe the things that are well in human observation. Therefore, this detail is not given in words in the above verse, but is left as implied. However, the verse is underscoring that it is God who has appropriately devised the system to up- and down-scale the light-struck stages (منازل) systematically so as to help humanity to know the number of years and other reckonings — such as dating the days, changing and counting months.
In the seventh century humans did not know that if the moon has a very diminished lighted area, it would not be visible to them. Rather, in those days, lighted and visible were synonymous. Therefore, the verse is not talking of plainly light-struck sections (which the word منازل literally means) but light-struck, visible sections of the moon. This very thing is also evident from the fact that after mentioning the light-struck stages (منازل), the verse is making out that they are for you (humans) to do the reckoning of time. Had these light-struck stages (منازل) been not visible to the Meccans in the seventh century, how could they have used them in the reckoning of time?
Thus God told the Meccans that He made all lunar منا زل — i.e. the first crescent moon, waxing crescents, half moon, waxing gibbous moons, full moon, waning gibbous moons, third-quarter half moon, and waning crescents — sunlit and visible for them so that they could reckon time with them. And He told it as Fact of Nature i.e. it has been, and will be, the same for every human settlement ever. In light of this divine disclosure:
Isn’t claiming the first منزل — first sunlit and visible moon — requires mathematical calculations to appreciate, or requires telescope to observe, or is not seeable in the local land, or is seen only by one/two persons out of hundreds or thousands of moon-watchers at the same place is equivalent to calling God to be untrue or tricky in His detailing on lunar منازل (sunlit visible moons) to the Meccans in the first place, and then to all other human communities?
Similarly, doesn’t claiming the Moon of Mecca for the whole world amounts to saying that God has not founded the Calendar of Islam on Facts in Nature but on a LIE? Is this claim supported by the Work of Nature in Science that the first moon sighted in Mecca is the first moon-crescent for the whole world?
In summary, in respect to its Meccan addressees of the 7th Century, the verse 10.5 is making a clear case that it is the VISIBLE lunar phases — seen locally and with unaided eyes — which God has made for regulating lunar dates. Therefore, it is validating the traditional practice of local unaided moon-sighting for the start of new month in Islam.
LOOKING AT THE VERSE 36.39
36.37…39: وَآيَةٌ لَّهُمُ … ﴿٣٧﴾ … الْقَمَرَ قَدَّرْنَاهُ مَنَازِلَ حَتَّىٰ عَادَ كَالْعُرْجُونِ الْقَدِ يمِ ﴿٣٩﴾ لَا
Translation: And one [divine] sign for them is … the Moon for which He precisely scaled the light-struck stages until the moon returns to [looking] like an old, withered palm-branch.
While the verse 10.5 revealed the reality of lunar منازل (light-struck portions) wrt the sun, this verse revealed the fact and purpose of منازل wrt the invisible stages of the Moon. How?
By saying “until the moon returns to a منزل (light-struck section) looking like an old palm branch”, it is clarifying that the last waning crescent is the last light-struck, visible stage. That is, after it there comes invisible phases of the moon which were/are in peoples’ observation. However, it is underscoring visible phases only because it is referring to a divine sign (of His wisdom and omnipotence), and that sign is connected to the visible phases — with the help of which even unlettered people can reckon times without any difficulty.
Like verse 10.5 the purpose of the verse 36.39 was to refer to a common divine sign, first to the Meccans, and then to all humanity. Therefore, it has just talked of the sign and left the associated guidance (regarding the calendar) as implied.