Koranic Topography

The earth is flat! Who said it first: Allah or Cosmas?

Where did the idea of a flat earth come from?

The idea appears to have originated with a well-travelled 6th century Christian monk by the name of Cosmas who wrote what is recognized today as one of the first, if not the first scientific treatise on geography.

In his Christian Topography Cosmas argued that the earth is flat and stationary, with heaven above and hell below; that pagans such as Aristotle who postulated that the earth was a sphere were wrong.

Pythagoras (c. 580 – 500 B.C.) was the first to identify the earth as a sphere followed by Aristotle and later Hipparchus. Until Cosmas came along “Aristotle’s spherical theory of the globe had been the cornerstone of classical geography … Aristotle determined that the earth must be a sphere; after an eclipse he had pointed out that only an orb could throw a circular shadow on the moon.” William Manchester, A WORLD LIT ONLY BY FIRE, THE MEDIEVAL MIND AND THE RENAISSANCE, Little Brown and Company, 1992

It was not until Magellan’s expedition circled the globe that the flat earth theory was finally wholly discredited – in most of the Christian world at any rate.

Before he became a Prophet at the age of forty, Muhammad accompanied or led trading caravans as far north as Damascus. He was twelve when he accompanied his uncle on a business trip to Syria. On the way there, the caravan passed by a Christian monastery near present day Basra where a Christian monk named Bahira began instructing the future Prophet on Christian theology and belief.

It may have been Bahira who first introduced God's Messenger to Cosmas’ flat earth theory. In Allah's Koran, Cosmas' theory is nothing of the kind, it is a fact.

The biggest difference between what Cosmas advanced, and what Allah revealed in his Koran is that the sun sets in a sea of mud at one end of flat earth and it was this disappearing act which gave rise to the night. Cosmas wrote that it was a somewhat diminutive sun disappearing behind a high mountain it circled which caused darkness to fall.

Cosmas’ travels had taken him to the Kingdom of Axum (or Akxum) in what is now Eritrea and northern Ethiopia. He happened to be in Aksum when the King of Axum was preparing a military excursion into Yemen and asked him to chronicle his expedition.

It was with the Christian King of Axum that many of the early Muslims (but not Muhammad) sought refuge after being driven out of Mecca.

The Prophet may also have heard about Cosmas’ description of a flat earth from the returning exiles after God's Messenger found a safe haven for them with the Jews of Medina where he fled after two attempts on his life by his Meccan kin who did not care for his intolerant new religion which would have their ancestors burning in Hell for having worshipped gods other than Allah, or Allah along with other gods and goddesses.

Bernard Payeur