And he has placed firm mountains on earth, lest it sway with you, and rivers and paths, so that you might find your way (16:15)
(Struck by the similarity? This repetition - so common in the Qur'an - is of course not a fault. Rather it is one of the literary devices that makes the Qur'an unique and inimitable. Note also the subtle differences between the two verses. This is not bad recollection on behalf of an author who has forgotten what he said the last time. It is "grammatical shift" or lltifat - the change of pronoun and concomitant possessive adjectives. So he becomes we, you becomes them and your becomes their. This is not confusing but enlightening. If you can't appreciate this it is because you are reading Allah's words in translation. Allah's style doesn't translate well into English.)
And We have set up firm mountains on earth, lest it sway with them, and [that] We have appointed thereon broad paths, so that they might find their way. (21:31)
Back to the roads. Who needs the Romans or even the Highways Commission, when you've got Allah on the job?
There I was, thinking that paths and roads were the product of very human endeavour - at their simplest the result of countless feet treading the same line between two points.
But it was Allah all along who thoughtfully provided them.
I suppose it was easy to assume that the routes taken by traders through the deserts were established by supernatural intervention if you were a 7th century illiterate desert dweller yourself. Such paths must have seemed eerily and presumably supernaturally, wondrous.
It's less easy to countenance the possibility of a cartographically literate divine path-builder from the perspective of the 21st century.
So what is the Qur'an actually saying here? Laying claim to rivers and mountains is one thing, if you're a God - but surely paths, BY THEIR VERY NATURE, are man-made. Isn't it a bit much for Allah to claim responsibility for them as well?
But of course the same can be said about so many of the more outrageous claims contained in the Qur'an.
A simple, unsophisticated 7th century mind might well see mountains, for example, as immovable objects - fixed forever and serving to keep the earth stable (instead of bearing ironic testament to the seismic shifts and upheavals of the Earth's crust.) (Even more ironic is the totally disreputable claim that these verses don't refer to mountains stopping earth-quakes etc.- since not even the most ardent miracle seeker can maintain that lie in the face of modern geological knowledge - but instead refer to the "fact" that mountains' roots prevent the mantle moving)
Mohammad's followers no doubt forgave him the endless repetition, the simplistic beliefs and the outrageous claims. They were, after all, simple folk themselves.
Why modern readers should do the same is beyond me.