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Quran and Astronomy

Quran and Astronomy

Muslims of today rejoice in the realization that Quran “predicted” or explained the cosmos before science facts became the respected norm. Even though religion and science have clashed politically and factually in the past, I felt as a Muslim this Ramadan not only to shed some light on a few Quranic verses that science supports today, but make conjectures on what hasn’t been confirmed yet too.

Here are a few verses with my theories:

·         Surah 36, verse 40:

"The sun must not catch up the moon, nor does the night outstrip the day. Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion."

Invisible forces are at work. May it be gravity, magnetism, or angels; there is an intention (of not clashing) or an intelligent design behind our solar system. Our solar system example can be applied to other solar systems as well (unless the star is dying), which confirms the uniformity of our universe. The Quran reminds us several times that "(God) subjected the sun and the moon: each one runs its course to an appointed term." There is a beginning and an end to each star and planetary system. But, does universe have an end? If it does, how will we get to it?

·         Surah 16, verse 12:

"For you (God) subjected the night and the day, the sun and the moon; the stars are in subjection to His Command. Verily in this are signs for people who are wise."

This means that the sun and the moon “listen” to the command of God or follow the physics laws created by God. Both Astrology and Astronomy, seemingly vastly different subjects co-exist and are spearheaded by wise or “smart” people who can understand the workings of His ways.

·         Surah 10, verse 5:

"God is the One Who made the sun a shining glory and the moon a light and for her ordained mansions, so that you might know the number of years and the reckoning (of the time). God created this in truth. He explains the signs in detail for people who know. Blessed is the One Who placed the constellations in heaven and placed therein a lamp and a moon giving light." 

This was one of my favorite to analyze. Sun is shining meaning light (and heat) are coming from within. The moon is the light that gets turned on and off depending on its location to the Earth. It does NOT shine on its own, but like a “light” (aka man-made lamps in Middle Eastern cultures), it serves a purpose to guide you in the dark. The “ordained mansions” can be the waxing and waning of the moon and help you calculate time. What, we will ask is the point of this? That’s when the verse calls the intention and design “blessed” and one day science or philosophy may have an answer. The constellations in heaven are stars (“or have lamps”) and a moon “giving light” meaning there are other solar system planets like ours. Science is confirming that today.

·         Surah 78, verses 12-13:

"We have built above you seven strong (heavens) and placed a blazing lamp."

The number seven has great significance in all religion. There are seven chakras; universe was created in seven days; and in Christianity the term “seventh heaven” is pretty common. I wracked my brain about the “seven heavens” and can only come up with an explanation of the number of dimensions (or the types of atmospheres of planets) or having something to do with measuring time and distances. Maybe there are seven physics laws working in our solar system, galaxy, and universe. To be honest, today, I don’t know. The “blazing lamp” explains the sun or stars very well because it reminds us humans of the word “fire”. It could also be a reference to black holes and their locations also. In the center of each galaxy there is immense heat and light.

·         Surah 5, verse 5:

"The sun and moon (are subjected) to calculations."

This literally means there are math calculations and physics equations in the workings here. Notice how the Quran focuses on our solar system only. I don’t think it means that we ignore the rest of the cosmos or that we are the center of the universe. I think this serves the didactic purpose of teaching man about the working of cosmos by concentrating on our solar system and how we can see similarities and uniformities in the universe at large. I am a bit surprised that there is no mention of asteroids or planets.

·         Surah 50, verse 6.

"Do they not look at the sky above them, how We have built it and adorned it, and there are no rifts in it."

This is one of my favorites. The Quran is encouraging humankind to “look at the sky” and study it by noticing how it built and “adorned”. We can’t fully grasp today what a universe looks like as a whole, but we do know there is uniformity in it. The “rifts” mentioned here can mean there are no physical (the way we can observe) breaks (maybe deep curvatures that create different dimensions?). I have been curious about the shape of the universe. This verse gives me a hint. Did the power of the Big Bang create space for planets and solar systems to eventually fill it? Is space or dimension “flat” and “straight” with matter bending the fabric of space and time? If there is an end to the universe how large is point a (the location of the Big Bang or singularity) to point b (the end) or is there an end? Maybe the shape of the universe is curved? Maybe it curves into the location of the Big Bang? Maybe it curved in a way we haven't discovered that it looks like no curvature at all?

What is confusing is when we discuss a black hole? Scientists today say all established physical laws fail here and even the “no rifts” make little sense here. To me and my wild imagination, a black hole is a portal or a giant rift into other dimensions. So what is God trying to tell us here? Maybe these black holes are so dense and heavy (and make a giant curvature like no other star can) that the ”sheet” of space curves infinitely. But is that a rift? Nope.

·         Surah 14, verse 33

"For you (God) subjected the sun and the moon, both diligently pursuing their courses. And for you He subjected the night and the day." 

I can understand the “we are the center of the universe from this” verse. God is directly talking to humans and why the universe was created. The Quran doesn’t mention aliens, but does mention “jinns” we can’t see and are on a dimension our physical eye can’t observe. According to Wikipedia, “the dimension of a mathematical space is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify any point within it”. It could mean that Earth itself has dimensions if we use the words space and time. The sun shines on Earth at different times and ways (think seasons) and the moon sightings are different in different parts of the world (my Muslims friends can understand this). The word “subjected” can have multiple meanings. It could mean to order or to be varied. I think dimensions are mere curvatures.

·         Surah unknown

"God is the One Who raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see, then He firmly established Himself on the throne and He subjected the sun and moon . . ."

What are the pillars? They are definitely t not physical things or we could “see” or observe them. Could they be interpretation as the forces of push and pull of magnetism and gravity? The pillar laws of physics and mathematics?  This also goes back to the no rifts concept. There are no breaks if we travel through space. Maybe like the sun and the moon workings time is consistent everywhere. But does it mean it is measured the same way as we measure it? According to Einstein time is an illusion. I think that is because we measure it by our “sun and the moon”. But we measure time according the sun and moon pretty much everywhere. Does it mean time is an illusion? I think the answer is more philosophical than mathematical.  

·         Surah unknown

"The heaven, We have built it with power. Verily, We are expanding it."

There is an end to life on the planet and universe according to religious texts. So the universe is not infinite. How will the end of universe occur from a scientific point of view? Will the curvature of the universe that I believe in result in a singularity again and another Big Bang or birth of a new universe? The Quran doesn’t mention anything because maybe the physical laws applied in this universe may not be applicable at that time.  We may all be in heaven by then :)

I hope this gives my readers a glimpse on the vastness of God’s creation and my very limited mind. I hope the scientific world comes with more evidence that supports God’s words in the Quran. Why? Just because it’s Ramadan and I want to be a good Muslim. 

Navigating Starbucks

Navigating Starbucks

Evening in NASA Ames Research Center

Evening in NASA Ames Research Center