2. ASTRONOMY

CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE: ‘THE BIG BANG’

big_bangThe creation of the universe is explained by astrophysicists as a widely accepted phenomenon, popularly known as ‘The Big Bang’. It is supported by observational and experimental data gathered by astronomers and astrophysicists for decades. According to ‘The Big Bang’, the whole universe was initially one big mass (Primary Nebula). Then there was a ‘Big Bang’ (Secondary Separation) which resulted in the formation of Galaxies. These then divided to form stars, planets, the sun, the moon, etc. The origin of the universe was unique and the probability of it happening by ‘chance’ is nil.

The Qur’an contains the following verse regarding the origin of the universe:

“Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of Creation), before We clove them asunder?” [Al-Qu’ran 21:30]

The striking similarity between the Qur’anic verse and ‘The Big Bang’ is inescapable! How could a book, which first appeared in the deserts of Arabia 1400 years ago, contain this profound scientific truth?

INITIAL GASEOUS MASS BEFORE CREATION OF GALAXIES

Scientists agree that before the galaxies in the universe were formed, celestial matter was initially in the form of gaseous matter. In short, huge gaseous matter or clouds were present before the formation of the galaxies. To describe initial celestial matter, the word ‘smoke’ is more appropriate than gas. The following Qur’anic verse refers to this state of the universe by the word dukhaan which means smoke.

“Moreover, He Comprehended in His design the sky, and it had been (as) smoke: He said to it and to the earth: ‘Come ye together, willingly or unwillingly.’ They said: ‘We do come (together), in willing obedience.” [Al-Qur’an 41:11]

Again, this fact is a corollary to the ‘Big Bang’ and was not known to anyone before the prophetehood of Muhammad (peace be upon him)1. What then, could have been the source of this knowledge?

SHAPE OF THE EARTH IS SPHERICAL

In early times, people believed that the earth was flat. For centuries, men were afraid to venture out too far, for fear of falling off the edge! Sir Francis Drake was the first person who proved that the earth is spherical when he sailed around it in 1597.

Consider the following Qur’anic verse regarding the alternation of day and night:

“Seest thou not that Allah merges Night into Day and He merges Day into Night?” [Al-Qur’an 31:29]

Merging here means that the night slowly and gradually changes to day and vice versa. This phenomenon can only take place if the earth is spherical. If the earth was flat, there would have been a sudden change from night to day and from day to night.

The following verse also alludes to the spherical shape of the earth:

“He created the heavens and the earth in true (proportions): He makes the Night overlap the Day, and the Day overlap the Night.” [Al-Qur’an 39:5]

The Arabic word used here is Kawwara meaning ‘to overlap’ or ‘to coil’— the way a turban is wound around the head. The overlapping or coiling of the day and night can only take place if the earth is spherical.

The earth is not exactly round like a ball, but geo-spherical, i.e. it is flattened at the poles. The following verse contains a description of the earth’s shape:

“And the earth, moreover, hath He made egg shaped.” [Al-Qur’an 79:30]

The Arabic word for egg here is dahaahaa1 which means an ostrich-egg. The shape of an ostrich-egg resembles the geo-spherical shape of the earth.

Thus the Qur’an correctly describes the shape of the earth, though the prevalent notion when the Qur’an was revealed was that the earth was flat.

MOONLIGHT IS REFLECTED LIGHT

nightblackblueIt was believed by earlier civilizations that the moon emanates its own light. Science now tells us that the light of the moon is reflected light. However this fact was mentioned in the Qur’an 1,400 years ago in the following verse:

“Blessed is He Who made Constellations in the skies, and placed therein a Lamp and a Moon giving light.” [Al-Qur’an 25:61]

The Arabic word for the sun in the Qur’an, is shams. It is also referred to as siraaj which means a ‘torch’ or as wahhaaj meaning ‘a blazing lamp’ or as diya which means ‘shining glory’. All three descriptions are appropriate to the sun, since it generates intense heat and light by its internal combustion.

The Arabic word for the moon is qamar and it is described in the Qur’an as muneer which is a body that gives noor i.e. reflected light. Again, the Qur’anic description matches perfectly with the true nature of the moon which does not give off light by itself and is an inactive body that reflects the light of the sun. Not once in the Qur’an, is the moon mentioned as siraaj, wahhaaj or diya nor the sun as noor or muneer. This implies that the Qur’an recognizes the difference between the nature of sunlight and moonlight.

The following verses relate to the nature of light from the sun and the moon:

“It is He who made the sun to be a shining glory and the moon to be a light (of beauty).” [Al-Qur’an 10:5]

“See ye not how Allah has created the seven heavens one above another, And made the moon a light in their midst, and made the sun as a (Glorious) Lamp?” [Al-Qur’an 71:15-16]

The Glorious Qur’an and modern science, are thus in perfect agreement about the differences in the nature of sunlight and moonlight.

THE SUN ROTATES

sunset278For a long time European philosophers and scientists believed that the earth stood still in the centre of the universe and every other body including the sun moved around it. In the West, this geocentric concept of the universe was prevalent right from the time of Ptolemy in the second century B.C. In 1512, Nicholas Copernicus put forward his Heliocentric Theory of Planetary Motion, which asserted that the sun is motionless at the centre of the solar system with the planets revolving around it.

In 1609, the German scientist Yohannus Keppler published the ‘Astronomia Nova’. In this he concluded that not only do the planets move in elliptical orbits around the sun, they also rotate upon their axes at irregular speeds. With this knowledge it became possible for European scientists to explain correctly many of the mechanisms of the solar system, including the sequence of night and day.

After these discoveries, it was thought that the Sun was stationary and did not rotate about its axis like the Earth. I remember having studied this fallacy from Geography books during my school days.

Consider the following Qur’anic verse:

“It is He Who created the Night and the Day, and the sun and the moon: At! (the cetestiat bodies) swim along, each in its rounded course.” [Al-Qur’an 21:33]

The Arabic word used in the above verse is yasbahoon. This word is derived from the word sabaha. It carries with it the idea of motion that comes from any moving body. If you use this word for a person on the ground, it would not mean that he is rolling but would imply that he is walking or running. If you use this word for a person in water, it would not mean that he is floating but would imply that he is swimming.

sunaxisSimilarly, if you use the word yasbah for a celestial body such as the sun, it would not only mean that it is flying through space but would also mean that it is rotating as it goes through space. Most school textbooks have now incorporated the fact that the sun rotates about its axis. The rotation of the sun about its own axis can be proved with the help of an equipment that projects the image of the sun on the top of a table, so that one can examine the image of the sun without being blinded. It is noticed that the sun has spots which complete a circular motion once every 25 days i.e. the sun takes approximately 25 days to rotate round its axis.

The sun travels through space at roughly 240 km per second, and takes about 200 million years to complete one revolution around the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy.

“It is not permitted to the Sun to catch up the Moon, nor can the Night outstrip the Day: (Each Oust) swims along in (its own) orbit (according to Law).” [Al-Qur’an 36:40]

This verse mentions an essential fact discovered only recently by modern astronomy, i.e. the existence of the individual orbits of the Sun and the Moon, and their journey through space with their own motion.

The ‘fixed place’ towards which the sun travels, carrying with it the solar system, has been located precisely by modern astronomy. It has been given a name, the Solar Apex. The solar system is indeed moving in space towards a point situated in the constellation of Hercules (alpha Lyrae) whose exact location is now firmly established.

The moon rotates around its axis in the same duration that it takes to revolve around the earth. It takes approximately 29½ days to complete one rotation.

One cannot help but be amazed at the scientific accuracy of the Qur’anic verses. Should we not ponder over the question: “What is the source of knowledge contained in the Qur’an?”

THE SUN WILL EXTINGUISH

The light of the sun is due to a chemical process on its surface that has been taking place continuously for the past five billion years. It will come to an end at some point of time in the future, when the sun will be totally extinguished, leading to extinction of all life on earth. Regarding the impermanence of the sun’s existence, the Qur’an says:

“And the Sun runs its course for a period determined for it; that is the decree of (Him) the exalted in Might, the All-Knowing.” [Al-Qur’an 36:38]4

The Arabic word used here is mustaqarr, which means a place or time that is determined. Thus the Qur’an says that the sun runs towards a determined place, and will do so only up to a pre-determined period of time — meaning that it will end or extinguish.

INTERSTELLAR MATTER

electro.plasmaSpace outside organized astronomical systems was earlier assumed to be a vacuum. Astrophysicists later discovered the presence of bridges of matter in this interstellar space. These bridges of matter are called plasma, and consist of completely ionized gas containing equal number of free electrons and positive ions. Plasma is sometimes called the fourth state of matter (besides the three known states viz, solid, liquid and gas). The Qur’an refers to the presence of this interstellar material in the following verse:

“He Who created the heavens and the earth and all that is between.” [Al-Qur’an 25:59]

It would be ridiculous for anyone to even suggest that the presence of interstellar galactic material was known 1400 years ago!

THE EXPANDING UNIVERSE

In 1925, American astronomer Edwin Hubble, provided observational evidence that all galaxies are moving away from one another, which implies that the universe is expanding. The expansion of the universe is now an established scientific fact. This is what the Qur’an says regarding the nature of the universe:

“With power and skill did We construct the Firmament: For it is We Who create the vastness of Space.” [Al-Qur’an 51:47]

The Arabic word musioon is correctly translated as ‘expanding it’, and it refers to the creation of the expanding vastness of the universe.

One of the greatest astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, in his book, ‘A Brief History of Time’, says,

galaxiesmovingaway“The discovery that the universe is expanding was one of the great intellectual revolutions of the 20th century.”

The Qur’an mentioned the expansion of the universe, before man even learnt to build a telescope!

Some may say that the presence of astronomical facts in the Qur’an is not surprising since the Arabs were advanced in the field of astronomy. They are correct in acknowledging the advancement of the Arabs in the field of astronomy. However they fail to realize that the Qur’an was revealed centuries before the Arabs excelled in astronomy. Moreover many of the scientific facts mentioned above, such as the origin of the universe with a Big Bang, were not known to the Arabs even at the peak of their scientific advancement. The scientific facts mentioned in the Qur’an are therefore not due to the Arabs’ advancement in astronomy.

Indeed, the reverse is true: they advanced in astronomy, because astronomy occupies a place in the Qur’an.