I was hoping some Muslims could educate us about these passages.
“(God is) the one Who created the night, the day, the sun and the moon. Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion” (Sura 21: 33).
I find it rather obvious from what this passage depicts that the day and night depends upon the orbit of the sun and moon. In other words, contrary to what Muslim apologists exclaim about the sun's galactic orbit, the passage appears rather to describe the sun and the moon in parallel orbits.
It is not permitted to the Sun to catch up the Moon, nor can the Night outstrip the Day: Each (just) swims along in (its own) orbit (according to Law)(Sura 36: 40).
That the Qur'an refers to parallel orbits is further clarified in this passage, which states that the sun and the moon do not catch up each other.
Think of it: what sense does this make if the Qur'an described a galatic orbit since the moon is already attached to such an orbit, and since the orbit relates not to the galaxy but the day and night? Furthermore, notice that this passage states the impossible task of the sun to catch up the moon.
Yet why can't the sun catch up the moon, is due to its inability to do so? Not really! The passage makes it perfectly clear that the sun is not permitted to do so. We might deduce from this that the sun has indeed the ability to catch the moon, hence the switch from day to night, since both travel in parallel orbits; yet their abilities to catch up is simply not permitted.
I might here agree with some that the passages are metaphorical, much like Sura 91: 1-2:
By the Sun and his (glorious) splendour; By the Moon as she follows him…(Sura 91: 1-2)
I must say I have no real problem with the metaphorical language of this passage, and I am inclined to believe that this simply describes what is observable from the earth.
Yet there are two following problems here:
The first, which I will refrain from looking at at this point (I intend to do so later), is the very language utilized by the Qur'an in describing the orbits, which appear to be in a close similtude with the pre-Islamic thinkers and hence in line with the observation of people who due to their lack of tools also lacked sufficient insight into our solar system.
The second problem derives from the interpretation of Muhammad himself:
Sahih Al-Bukbari clearly confirms some of these as scientific facts (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 421: Narrated Abu Dharr):
The Prophet asked me at sunset, "Do you know where the sun goes (at the time of sunset)?" I replied, "Allah and His Apostle know better." He said, "It goes (i.e. travels) till it prostrates Itself underneath the Throne and takes the permission to rise again, and it is permitted and then (a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate itself but its prostration will not be accepted, and it will ask permission to go on its course but it will not be permitted, but it will be ordered to return whence it has come and so it will rise in the west.
And that is the interpretation of the Statement of Allah: ‘And the sun Runs its fixed course for a term (decreed). That is The Decree of (Allah) The Exalted in Might, The All-Knowing.’" (36.38)