The verse of the Qur’an in Surah al-Talaq reads:
“Allah is the One who created the seven skies, and the earth the like of them. The Command [ie. Revelation] is made to descend between them, so that you may know that Allah is All-Powerful over all things, and that Allah has certainly encompassed all things through [His] knowledge.” [Qur’an 65:12]
Imam al-Suyuti, in his tafsir [exegesis] of the Qur’an, notes that this verse is indicating that there are seven “earths” [or “lands”], just as there are seven skies. [Tafsir al-Jalalayn, al-Suyuti]
This is where it gets interesting: what is the nature of these “seven earths”? Since the works of tafsir discuss the possibilities at quite some length, I will relate the most relevant positions mentioned in the tafsir of Imam al-Alusi:
1) Imam al-Alusi says that the interpretation of the majority of classical scholars is that there are seven “earths”. Each earth has its own inhabitants that are the creation of Allah Most High for that specific land. The reality of them is known only to their Creator.
2) Based on a narration found in the hadith compilation of al-Hakim, it is plausible that the inhabitants of these earths even received their own prophets from Allah, but this is not something confirmed nor rigorously authenticated.
3) He also mentions the interpretation that the seven layers are the layers of our earth and part of its atmosphere: a layer of metals and minerals, then clay, then soil, then the crust of the earth, then a layer of clouds (lit. smoke), then an extremely cold layer, and finally, a layer where the air is extremely thin.
4) He lists the opinion that the “seven earths” are seven major continents separated by the oceans, and explicitly cites continental America and Asia as examples.
5) He reports that some scholars also felt that “seven earths” meant seven types of unique climate-regions.
6) He also lists various opinions regarding whether the seven earths are under the same one sky, or their own sky out of the seven skies, and whether they share celestial bodies or not, and so on. [Ruh al-Ma’ani, al-Alusi]
As you can see, there are many differences of opinion on the interpretation of this verse. As Muslims, we say: we believe in everything that has come from Allah Most High, on the meaning that He intended, and we consign the final knowledge of these matters to Allah, the All-Knowing.
A Beautiful Reminder
The medieval Andalusian scholar Imam al-Qurtubi, while commenting on this verse in his tafsir, brings relevance to the discussion. While considering the number and nature of the various lands or earths, Imam al-Qurtubi speculates whether it would be incumbent on the Muslims to take the message of Islam to people of these other locations. He says:
“…If it wasn’t possible for the people of this land to reach another land, then the message of Islam would be specifically conveyed to the people of this land only…
However, if even a group from amongst [the people of this land] could reach that other land, it is most likely that the conveying of the message of Islam would be a duty upon them once it was possible to reach them. This is because the separation [caused by] the seas, once it would possible to traverse cross them [to another land], does not stop the obligation of that which was generally commanded [ie. the invitation to Islam].”
[Jami’ Ahkam al-Quran, al-Qurtubi]
This visionary statement was said by Imam al-Qurtubi who lived in Muslim Spain during the 13th century (AD), much before most of the people of Europe and Asia knew that there was in fact a land that existed beyond the Atlantic ocean, with its own thriving cultures and civilizations: the Americas.
It is a reminder for us as Muslims to be constantly concerned about reaching out to the farthest corners of the globe with the saving message of the Deen, and to think with vision and insight in achieving that goal.
Returning to the Point
Rather than getting bogged down into the interpretative details, what we should focus on is the point of the verse itself: that Allah Most High created a magnificent universe that leaves us in awe when we examine its perfection.
He then sent us the Quran so that all mankind might realize that Allah is the All-Powerful Creator, and that His Knowledge encompasses everything. It is a message to use the signs in this amazing creation to go beyond the material universe, and back to our Creator.