Islam, Quran/Belief
The Universe in the Quran  - Belief

The Universe in the Quran

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

As man opens his eyes to the vast expanse of space that surrounds him from all sides and as the twinkling beacons of light signal to his instinct of quest, his heart throbs in the fascination; will he ever be able to cross the vastness and reach the other great masses of lands; will he ever be able to cross the bounds of space and time and his physical frailty and know the whole universe as his home. As the knowledge of the vastness and the profound phenomenon found in the universe increases, the awe and longing strikes man harder and the scent of mystery pushes his urge for inquiry to deeper and far-fetched horizons.    

Questions like, when and where man came from? Was the universe always there? How did the solar system and earth come into existence? And many like ones, have inevitably been part of human thought, from the first men that paced the face of the Earth to every civilization that has followed? Evidently most of us do not spend much time gazing at the stars in the night sky, yet ‘what the Universe must look like’ is part of our conscience thought and has a qualia associated to it – it is as if we don’t see how vast the Universe is by look at the sky but by contemplating it in our thoughts – we see the Universe in its broader picture in our imagination.

The plain truth is that astronomy and physics are beggarly in term of observable facts about our immense space and the spectacular phenomenon inhibited in it. These sciences use more of thought-experiments, speculations and extrapolation to satiate the coaxing urge of answering queries such as ‘how the Universe came into being’, which as yet science is too young to answer.

But does such speculation as undergo in theoretical physics and mathematics, bear no value then, surely they do, in fact they are most fascinating, and confirm the superiority of ‘conceivability’ over ‘observation’. Indeed human capability to ‘conceive’ beyond observation and then later in time, when further observations have been recorded, find their conceptions to match the newly found reality with mathematical precision points to a greater truth – the ‘greater truth’ of the Universe being made completely on mathematical language and the human mind’s ability to read that language. And this greater truth demands two things, one that ‘someone’ wrote a language and secondly that somehow that same language was ingrained in our conscience. 

Another language which that ‘someone’ has chosen to talk to humanity is the ‘Quran’. For the skeptic it is indeed a corollary how and why would God keep Himself hidden from all of apparent reality, yet choose to boldly talk to them via agency in the very languages they speak in their everyday conversation. If God exists and is as all-knowing and powerful as to make and move this whole Universe, why would He have to concern so much with a tiny creation such as man. The truth is that just like we know somewhere inside us that the Universe must have a beginning and an end, and we strive to prove our theories on this question with science and speculation both and somehow fill our need for a wholesome picture of our Universe – exactly in the same way each one of us knows somewhere inside him/her that God was the One who began and will end the Universe. 

This a priori knowledge is in essence all we have and all we are out to prove. And when we find observations that correspond to our a priori instincts, we feel that we have decisively attained our knowledge. Therefore the Quran, which is observable, readable and touchable, has to be taken as that decisive knowledge that fulfills our a priori instinct of God’s existence. And we should test it to know whether it indeed states the universal truths the inquiry of whom is embed in the frame of our conscience. 

The Quran being the final Book from God, has claim upon wholesome knowledge. It give us a wide worldview that encompasses questions like when and where man came from, was the universe always there, how the solar system formed, the purpose and ethics of life and much more. Yet the claims of the Quran are only for the believers, as the Quran says of itself that it is a ‘…guidance for those who fear Allah, those who believe in the absent…’ (2:2, 3). Perhaps in this the Quran is re-proving the fact that if a person lacks a priori instinct or deliberately shuts it down, there is less hope for him/her.

The intent of this essay is to identify the answers presented in the Quran regarding the creation of the Universe and to align that information with so far known scientific facts. Indeed there must be a mathematical formula by which factual knowledge evolves in human conscience and how it oscillates between the individual and the community – and it would be a parallel truth to say that it is a grace from the Creator of the Universe that is increasing by the day.

The signs of the Creator are ultimate but the humble effort of a humble servant stands open to critical analysis.        

"...and not you encompass, a thing from His knowledge, except with His will..."  (3:255)


The Big Bang

Theoretical physics presents the Big Bang Theory to explain how the Universe came into being. According to this theory the Universe started from an infinitely hot and dense state called Singularity. This theory explains why lighter elements are more abundantly found in the Universe, how large structures were formed in time, the expansion of the Universe and Cosmic Background Radiation. Big Bang theorists often conclude that Singularity came out of ‘nothing’ to assert that an infinitesimal things such as a Singularity does not require a Creator but perhaps just accidently comes into being.

The BB Theory does not however account for a few things, for instance where the energy and pressure to bind so much infinitely dense matter into such a small place come from and how long would be required to achieve this, nor does it say anything about for how long all this density and heat remained enclosed in opposition to the 2cd Law of Thermodynamics. BB theorists also tend to forgo the mathematical precision in all prevailing systems in the Universe, crediting ‘pure chance’ to be the formulator of all seemingly designed things.

The other issue with the BB Theory is that it is not actually a scientific theory beyond the Plank’s Epoch, a time beyond which the heat and density become so high that the physical laws upon which the theory rests do not hold. Thus to go from this Plank Epoch to t= 0, scientist have to ‘assume’ that the same laws will hold, using a non-scientific tool called extrapolation. And when they finally reach this assumed singularity, some of them like to take a second jump from there to ‘nothing’.

Interestingly the Quran agrees with the term ‘nothing’ and repeatedly asserts Allah’s power to ‘create’ out of ‘nothing’. But the Quran does not talk of an extrapolation of the same laws backwards in time, rather it talk of an agency that has unimaginable powers and would not need a cause for its own existence for the simple reason that He exist in an existence that does not work under the rules of this Universe nor is He bound to simpleton human logics. The Quran says:

"The primal Originator (Badeeh) of the skies and the land, when He decrees a matter, He just says ‘Be’ and ‘it becomes". (2:117)

This ayah indicates that the Universe started with ‘nothing’, and ‘nothing’ would mean zero mass (the word Badeeh used in the ayah means creating out of nothing, afresh), but a near zero volume with a maximum mass and energy are not indicated as a starting point, as the BB Theory purports. Rather, origination would mean the creation of something like a single particle, out of pure knowledge – from non-existence into existence. This ‘singularity’ might have started self-replicating, like from a zygote in an embryo, which will now divide and multiply in its own placenta to form a substantial amount of mass that is ready to come out or burst out of the embryo, to now grow into a full-fledged Universe. Perhaps that second stage of the bursting-out of the placenta is the starting point identified in the Big Bang Theory.

"Do not the disbelievers see that the skies and the land (al Arad) were sewed (Rattaqan) together and We slit (fattaqan) them asunder ..." (21:30)

Literally the word al Arad not only means the Earth, it means land in general, so the ayah (2:117) and other ayahs with cosmological implications must be referring to all the skies and all the land masses in them. The skies and land sewed together making patches of a single whole, just like an embryo; all parts of the body, structure and design sewed-in in coded form, so that it divides and multiplies within itself and becomes swollen (the word fattaq also means slitting open after being swollen) until it is ready to burst out into limbs and head and body.

The big bang presented by the Quran, may be big but it is not an un-programmed, abrupt bang. Every particle that had burst out was still a part of the whole, still connected, counted and measured into precise destination.

"...not is hidden from Him an equal of a particle in the skies and not in the land and not anything smaller than that nor bigger, except (that it is) in a clear book." (34:3) 


The Firmament

The Quran addresses physical cosmology comprising of Galaxy Filaments, Galaxy Walls and Sheets alongside with its theory of the creation of the Universe. Observe the following ayahs where the Quran hints us how the Universe started from a central point and expanded therefrom:

"Your Lord is Allah, who created the land and the skies in six days, then leveled (istawa allal Arsh) towards the roof." (7:54)

"Verily He, your Lord is Allah, who created the skies and land in six days, then leveled towards the lining of the building (al Arsh), He controls all matters, there is no intercessor (between Him and you), except that He wills…" (10:3)

"He is the one who created the land and the skies and everything between them in six days, then balanced (istawa) onto the building (alArsh)." (25:59)

"Allah is He who created the skies and land and what is between them in six days, there is none save Him, a friend or an intercessor, why don't you pay heed." (32:4)

In the first three ayahs the words used are 'summa astawa allal Arsh' which are traditionally translated as 'then He sat on His throne’, but the word 'istswa' also means to balance or to level and the word Arsh, a verb, means to line the wall of a building, roof a building or settle in a tent/building. This would mean that in the time span of Allah’s six days the Universe that had started from a point-existence, was spreading outwards, along with the act of balancing, until the roof was reached. So the design or structure of the Universe was wholly constructed or laid out in the six days, which means that the Universe had been stretched out to its maximum. This fact is substantiated by the results of the Planck mission released in 2015, which show the cosmological curvature parameter, ΩK, to be 0.000±0.005, coincident with a flat universe. A flat Universe as opposed to a spherical or a hyperbolic one presents a fully stretched Universe tending to an expansion at a continually decelerating rate, which could be close to zero by now. Now observe this set of ayahs:

"Allah is the one who has elevated the skies without supports that you see them…”  (13:2)

"and the sky; the possessor of the web." (51:7)

"and the mass-less spread." (52:3)

"...and holds back the sky from falling upon the earth, except with His will…"  (22:65)

Cosmological science has recently discovered gigantic superstructures called wall in the Universe. These walls are formations made by the clustering of numerous galaxies each of which may have tens of millions to trillions of stars. Walls present a picture of a Universe that is a cosmic void with thin walls of matter. If observed in a larger scale these walls will be seen lining up with each other in massive thread like formations called filaments. The CfA2 Great Wall, discovered in 1989, is about 200 million light years in width and about 16 million light years in thickness. In 2013, Hercules–Corona Borealis Great Wall filament was discovered, measuring more than 10bilion light years across. The filaments join together to form a web-like structure, of lines crisscrossing in immense voids. So what would the Universe look like to somebody who is looking at it from the outside – a web, going through a mass-less spread!

And what of the elevation of the skies ‘without supports that you see them’? That is what the Standard Model explains, it says that galaxies form along filament like trials because Dark Matter which constitutes 95.1% of all the mass-energy of the Universe, drives the observable matter along with it, as it is itself running in the form of long filaments in between the voids.  And this Dark Matter is invisible to human senses, it is transparent to electromagnetic radiation and/or is so massless that it fails to absorb or emit enough radiation to be detectable with imaging technology, as if it is the void itself.

Thus the ultimate universal structure that looks like a web to the eye, is the firmament, and the firmament is not haphazard structure of whatever may arrive by chance, rather it is a web of control and command. The Quran exerts very boldly and clearly in the following ayahs, upon the truth of the web:

By the scattering of the tiniest particles when they spread

and by those that are beholders of weight

and by those that glide with ease

and by those that distribute the command/the abundance

surely what you are being promised is true      

and surely the recollection is to befall                                

and by the sky, possessor of the web                    

indeed in opinion you are conflicting        

revert from it who revert  

slain be those who conjecture opinion    

who in their indulgence become heedless  (51: 1-11)     

The context shows that the ayah are about the Universe as a whole. As the so-called dark matter glides along its trails, it moves the weighty matter along with it, with ease, as the mass-energy of the weighty matter is just 4.9% as opposed to the mass-energy of the 95.1% dark matter. And the command that is embed in each particle, unfolds and distributes as the universe passes in time and space from one stage of evolution to the next. And the unfolding of the Universe from it’s spherical to its hyperbolic shape and finally to its flat state will sure be reversed. As the universe approaches to its maximum stretch, it will rebound to fold back into a hyperbola and then into the sphere and then perhaps into the so-called Plank Epoch. And the Quran warns those who like to theorize models of the universe according to their whims – approving of any model that is empty of Allah and His promised Judgment Day.


The Earth

"Your Lord is the One who created the land (including earth) and the skies in six days..." (7:54)

The skies, the land and all things between them were created in six days. The firmament may be changing in size, density and structure, as it runs to its maximum stretch, but all structure to the smallness of our own solar system and our earth was completely made in six days. The earth, at this time, though definable as a planet circling the sun, may still have been in a raw state of fire, molten matter, vapor, smoke and eruption. Now observe this incredible set of ayahs:

"Say, is it that you deny whom created the earth in two days and you make for Him partners; yet that (He) is the sustainer of all kinds." (41:9)

"and made in it, its mountains from above it, and blessed in it and measured in it, its powers (all kinds of sustenance) in four days, equally for all questioners" (41:10)

"then He turned towards the sky and it was smoke, then said to it and to the earth, come you(both) willing or reluctant, they said we come obedient"  (41:11)

"and ordained them seven skies in two days and inspired into each sky its command and decorated the sky of the earth with lamps and protection - that is the measurement of the Mighty, the Knower." (41:12)

The ayah (41:9) uses the word ‘al Arad’, here Al Arad would mean ‘the Earth’, as the setting of the four consecutive ayahs is not cosmological but rather geological. If we accept the widely acknowledged nebular hypothesis according to which the Solar System began 4.6 billion years ago with the gravitational collapse of a giant molecular cloud, the center of which formed the Sun, while the rest of the mass flattened into a protoplanetary disk out of which the planets formed, then the 2days mentioned by the Quran in verse 41:9, would be somewhere less than 4.6bya approximated time.

These 2days must be included in the six days previously mentioned in verse 7:54. These 2days could start with the event of the earth-mass being separated from the sun-mass, forming a ball of gases and lava to the time when the Earth significantly coming out as a separate, identifiable mass, orbiting in its assigned orbit.

Once the earth is formed, it would take time for it to cool down and for land and water to emerge distinctly. While this was happening, more matter from the sky was bombarded onto it, which consisted of the hard-rocks needed to form the mountains, hence the Quran’s assertion ‘and made in it, its mountains from above it…’ This is in agreement with the Late Heavy Bombardment Theory which says that app. 4.1 to 3.8bya, a disproportionately large number of asteroids collided with Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. This theory is based on the evidence that rock found in both the Earth and the Moon are not older than 4.1bya, and it seems that they relate with impact craters hundreds of kilometers in diameter, found on the lunar surface.  Impact craters from 4.1bya are much less visible on the Earth’s surface because of weathering and erosion – app. 80% of Earth's surface is less than 200 million years old, while over 99% of the Moon's surface is more than 3 billion years old.

So basically the Quran is saying that from the beginning of the Universe to start of the formation of the Solar System were 4days, and in 6days the Solar System was also in its recognizable state. And in the next 4days two things happened, one the Late Heavy Bombardment that delivered the rocks that would later accrete to form the mountains and the other which might have been the direct effect of the LHB, was the change in the Earth’s crustal chemistry that would ensure the sustenance of life and the stable existence of the Earth itself. Thus the Quran’s saying that the needs were answered ‘equally to all questioners’.

This makes a total of six plus four i.e. ten days, so far.

After the mountains and all required sustenance are there, Allah says that He turned to the sky. In these first 10days the chemistry needed was complete but the Earth’s crust was still bubbling with molten lava that belonged to the Core, and the atmosphere was largely smoke, diffused dust and vapors. Now came the 2days when Allah commands both the earth and the sky to come to His command, willing or unwilling. This means a command for the sky to turn into its seven distinct layers each having unique size, material and function, as we know them today. The same was true for the land, as stated elsewhere in the Quran, that the earth was also stratified into seven layers (65:12). Perhaps this was the shared command of both the land and sky which was so heavy on them, to change from a one-ball state of intermingled everything to a state of unique stratification. With this stratification, came the possibility of life, in the variety we know of now, that comes with

Now are complete the 6days, the 4days and the 2days, making a total of 12days.

After these twelve days the earth is ready for the emergence of life in great variety, the boom, perhaps what scientists refer to as the Cambrian Explosion. Although the Universe and every particle in it are alive and connected, they understand the command (language) of their Lord, yet man considers them as lifeless, due to their inert nature. Thus now, after twelve days, started the issuance of sensitive perishable life, experiencing birth and death, woven in specific ecosystems, many times facing mass extinctions, each time emerging more complex and amazing. Until finally, coming to the cycle of fulfillment, of beautiful colours, of exciting sets of hunt and prey, in sets of newly developed ecosystems, bursting here and there. All ready for a splendid welcome for 'man' to come.


 The Universe and Time

Now compare this information provided by the Quran with agreed-upon scientific theory and observation.                      

In different theories linked to scientific observations, the age of the universe has been asserted to be 14.5, 15 to 18 and 20 billion years. but since the Quran has talked about 12days before the Earth was ready for life as we know it, so for the sake of understanding, let’s suppose that the Universe was made some 12.5 billion to 12.75b years ago. In that case each Allah-day would be equal to one billion Earth years. A rough chart to illustrate the facts would look like this:  

According to the Quranic method of comparison the age of the Earth is 6 billion years, not 4.5by as agreed upon by the scientific community. The agreement on the age 4.5by of the Earth is based on the radiometric age dating of meteorite material, but we know that rocks formed after a long process of cooling down of the earth and the bulk of meteorites came in the LHD period. So like most cases in science, the 4.5 figure is a declared estimate but its currency has made it seem like a fact. In fact 4 to 4.5 by should be taken as the date of formation of the earliest rocks and the co-creation of mountains which were being formed by the accretion of these rocks due to the constant movement of the earth's crust. The sedimentary rock mountains were made by the pilling up of one sediment over the other 'from above them', while the so called igneous rocks reached the earth in the late heavy bombardment, confirming the ayah (41:10), '...made in it, its mountains from above it...’

Scientist trace the first signs of oxygen in the sky back to about 2.25 bya, which fits well with the two days taken to stratify the sky. With the stratification of the sky into distinct layers would come a clear sky, making visible the beautiful stars at night, clouds and rain, the water cycle, the ocean currents and thus the possibility of life in colors and forms, in such abundance as we see today. But surely the explosion of life (Cambrian) did not take place until after these two days had completed their task.

Although the twelve days of Allah's mentioning are fixed and factual, and goodly answer to sense and science, they are actually a fixed ratio. How long each Allah’s day would be compared to man's time is an examinable matter, to be pondered upon. We could take each Allah-day equal to 1.166by or 1.25by or1.333by or 1.5by which would make the age of the universe equal to 12by, 15by, 16by and 18by respectively. It is a matter for the scientific and educated community of the Muslim Ummah to put their heads together and come to the right answer to such queries and perhaps make a better judgment of what the Quran is offering.