How Shaykh Yūsuf al-Baḥrānī Argued for a Flat-Earth

One of the greatest Akhbārī scholars to ever live was the 17th century Shaykh Yūsuf al-Baḥrānī (1695 – 1772). He held a few unique positions in jurisprudence and there are a number of his works that are accessible to us today. One of his major works is his invaluable al-Ḥadāiq al-Nāḍirah, published in 25-volumes. This is a work that most high calibre Uṣūlī scholars will refer to and even cite from in various Uṣūlī or Fiqhī discussions.

Volume 13 of this work deals with fasting in the month of Ramaḍān and while discussing the issue of whether the first day of the month can differ from country to country, al-Baḥrānī critiques the notion of a spherical earth. There is substantial evidence that shows many Muslim polymaths and astronomers as early as the 3rd and 4th century believed the earth was spherical. Al-Baḥrānī, however, is adamant that the earth is flat. While his argument may sound comical to us today, it nevertheless serves as a good case-study for the various hermeneutical theories out there, as his words give us a glimpse of the mindset of one of the prominent Akhbārī scholars of his time and how significantly his presumptions played a role in interpreting traditions or Qurānic verses.

And its summary is that we believe in the obligation of fasting or its qaḍā – when it is missed – whenever the sighting (of the crescent) is established in another country, whether it be near or far. As for that which they claim saying the sun has risen in some parts while not in another, based on their opinion that the earth is spherical, is wrong.

I say: And from that which invalidates the idea of a spherical-earth is that its proponents have had to consider one day as Thursday for one group of people, Friday for another group of people and Saturday for another group of people (all at the same time). This is something that the elaborate traditions in general refute because that which can be utilized from the traditions – without there remaining any room for ambiguity and doubt – is that every day of the week or every month of the year has a specifically known time which exists ontologically. Like the traditions that signify the merits of Friday and what should be done during the day and those that speak about its sanctity, and that it is the chief of all the days, and chief of all the ‘Īds, and that one who dies on Friday is considered a martyr and so on. Furthermore, what has come in the traditions regarding the ‘Īds and what one is to do on those days and their merits, and what has come regarding the day of Ghadīr and other noble days, and as well as the month of Ramaḍān, its merits, actions, sanctity and so on. All of those traditions are apparent in conveying that these times are specific and ontological, and therefore proponents of a spherical-earth have to say (i.e. are forced to interpret these traditions) the days are (mental) constructs of a group of people, but not another.

And like the traditions that speak about the sun at the zenith and what should be done when the sun reaches the meridian. The acts that have been transmitted regarding that, then based on the view of a spherical-earth, the sun will remain at the meridian between sunrise to sunset and it would not have any special significance with a specific time because the meridian would be different for every group of people when compared with another group of people.

All in all, the invalidity of this view (i.e. spherical-earth) after considering the evidence from the narrations and the Prophetic traditions is clearer than what could remain hidden, and as well as due to the consequences of what occurs in this type of an issue (if one were to accept the view of a spherical-earth).

Perhaps I will be given an opportunity to write a clear treatise inclusive of all the authentic and explicit traditions, in criticism of this view (i.e. spherical-earth) – God willing.

Source: al-Ḥadāiq al-Nāḍirah fī Aḥkām al-‘Itrah al-Ṭahirah, vol. 13, pg. 266-267

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