The Quran’s numerous verses about the creation of our world and everything in it are presented to humankind as Signs of its Creator.
For to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is in between. He creates whatever He so wills. For Allah is powerful over all things. [Surah Al-Mâ’idah, 5:17]
Through measured observation, data analysis, and hypotheses testing, our scientists have been uncovering the secrets of how the world works and how it has come to be as it is, albeit developing in small steps at a time. Directly or indirectly, these findings often converge with what the Qur’an revealed 1,400 years ago.
There is particularly remarkable convergence between
(1) the Qur’an’s depiction of how the universe was created across epochs of time, stage-by-stage —as a multi-referenced tutorial that appeared during the 7th century CE, off the beaten path of academic discovery
(2) the system being worked out by science 14 centuries later.
In this overview, we examine this convergence of the findings of modern science with Qur’anic disclosure. This I do from the standpoint of a person with graduate training in the earth sciences (geology and soil science). Whereas there may not be a perfect one-to-one match between Qur’anic verses and scientific discoveries, at no point, is there disagreement between the Qur’an and science. We may be used to looking to science to test and verify the accuracy of the Qur’an, but in fact, we see that it is the Qur’an that validates science. How so? It is science that changes over the decades and centuries; in so doing, it comes closer to the Qur’an’s portrayal.
Issues Raised by Science regarding “The Heavens, the Earth, and Everything in Between”
- Creation of the universe
Up to the early 1930s it was believed, even by Einstein, that the universe was “static and stable.” Then, in 1932, astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that all galaxies seemed to be “moving away” from each other. The only way they could do so, scientists concluded, would be if the universe was expanding three dimensionally. After much deliberation, scientists could only conclude that the entire universe must have been joined together in a single concentrated mass at one point and then split apart, eons ago, with such great force that this expansion is continuing. That “splitting apart” is referred to in the science community as the “Big Bang.”
The Qur’an validates this scientific conclusion as follows:
The heavens and the earth were joined together before God split them apart. [Surah Al-Anbiyâ’, 21:30]
With power and skill, We constructed the firmament. Verily it is We who are steadily expanding it… [Surah Al-Dhâriyât, 51:47] [i]
Thus, there is a total match-up between what the Qur’an stated about the creation of the universe in the 7th century and what science has been able to verify 14 centuries later. Science has calculated that the “Big Bang” occurred about 13.7 billion years ago.
After this expansionist theory became accepted, the question for scientists which then arose was: From what point did these heavenly bodies start moving away from each other?
- Destruction of the Universe
While some scientists believe the universe will continue expanding indefinitely and meet an icy cold death as all heavenly bodies get progressively further separated from each other, others believe —due to gravitational forces— that the universe will reverse the expansion process and start contracting at some point in time until the whole universe re-coalesces back into a single mass.
The Qur’an’s validation of the contraction concept:
Humans ask: “When is the Day of Resurrection?” (It is) When the sight is dazed; the moon is buried in darkness; and the sun and moon are (again) joined together. [Surah Al-Qiyâmah, 75:6-9]
- Re-creation of the Universe
With our current knowledge, science cannot predict the future on this point.
The Qur’an validates both creation and re-creation:
God begins the process of creation and repeats it. [Surah Yûnûs, 10:4]
Thus, it appears that the universe’s expansions and contractions are continuous cycles, possibly similar to the up and down movements of a yo-yo. The current expansion process may be other than the first cycle; likewise, it may or may not be the last.
- Phases of creation
Scientists tell us that the universe did not “appear” suddenly, that is, it was not in the beginning fully developed in its current form —but that it evolved gradually from its initial fiery appearance in the Big Bang stage to where it is today. Here we echo one informative collection of statements by scientists, compiled by Dutch convert and theologian of Islam, Arnold Yasin Mol, University of Leiden, together with copious verses of the Qur’an to build on the Quranic statement that the universe evolved in six phases:
We created the heavens and the earth and all between them in six ayam. [Surah Qâf, 50:38)
Mol’s online treatise [ii] is a must-read for any reader seriously interested in the topic of this article and wanting to look exhaustively into relevant Quranic verses.
The Qur’an’s affirmation of creation in six ayam [periods of time] raises no objections to the Biblical account (Genesis Chapter 1) of six days of creation; according to this narrative, various categories of our natural world took today’s shape and organization in stages. Various commentators organize the content of the six periods variously.
In the following sections we here present what scientists have discovered thus far regarding various phases of creation in comparison with what the Qur’an has to say on the same subjects.
The Evolution Of “The Heavens, The Earth, And Everything In Between”: A Composite of Quranic Verses Converging with Scientific Findings
While the chronology of the universe’s creation suggested by science is more detailed or concrete, that suggested by the Qur’an is broader and more equivocal in relation to modern discovery. How so? Often the understanding of a Quranic verse depends upon how precisely we are able to interpret individual Qur’anic words. As a geologist, I may see something in the Qur’anic wording based on my specialist, technical knowledge, a nuance which would be missed by an astrophysicist or biologist. Likewise, an embryologist or metallurgist might detect something I would not be equipped to detect. Accordingly each interpreter may suggest his or her own Qur’anic verses to support (or contradict) modern findings and evolutionary sequences. Any proposed “matching up” of the phases between the Qur’an and science is subject to ongoing study and research, both in science and in accessing the precise implications of the Qur’an’s word choice.
Ground Zero (The “Big Bang”)
Science: The Creation. As already indicated, the entire universe was joined together in a single mass at one point in “space” and then split apart eons ago, with such great force that this expansion of space is continuing billions of earth years later. This scenario summarizes the “Big Bang” theory.
The Qur’an validates this as follows:
Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before We clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe? And We have set on the earth mountains standing firm, lest it should shake with them, and We have made therein broad highways (between mountains) for them to pass through: that they may receive Guidance. And We have made the heavens as a canopy well-guarded: yet do they turn away from the Signs which these things (point to)! It is He Who created the Night and the Day, and the sun and the moon: all (the celestial bodies) swim along, each in its rounded course. (Surah Al-Anbiyâ’, 21:30-33)
The above Qur’anic characterization, that “the heavens and earth were joined before God clove them asunder,” could not have validated the essentials of the Big Bang in any clearer terms. Science informs us that this “splitting” probably took a billionth of a second to ‘ignite’ it, and that this event is to be “dated” at about 13.7 billon years ago; that the universe is continuing to hurtle along and create space, in ever-expanding circles. The idea that this expanding universe is continually “creating space” may be hard to imagine and absorb. Think of a balloon submerged in water and inflating, thereby creating increasing “space” within, surrounded by a “sea of spirituality.” Perhaps future generations might be able to shed more light on this.
Science: Prevailing darkness: During the first 380,000 years after the Big Bang, the intense heat caused by the universe’s creation and expansion made it too hot and thus outside the visible light spectrum. and thus, beyond light’s ability to ‘shine’ —implying a state of darkness, which Allah “made” before He brought about light.
Praise be to Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth, and made the darkness and the light. [Surah Al-An’âm, 6:1]
Visible Light and its Alternation with Darkness on Earth
Science: Creation of Light: At the end of those first 380,000 years after the ignition of the Big Bang process, matter cooled enough for electrons to combine with nuclei to form neutral atoms. This phase is known as “recombination” and resulted in the universe becoming “visible.”
Relevant Qur’anic verses that validate the coming of visible light, as well as its alternation with darkness for the benefit of mankind on earth:
Praise be to Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth, and made the darkness and the light. [Surah Al-An’âm, 6:1]
Verily, in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, and the succession of night and day: …and in the waters which God sends down from the sky, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless, and causing all manner of living creatures to multiply thereon; and in the change of the winds, and the clouds that run their appointed courses between sky and earth: [in all this] there are messages indeed for people who use their reason. [Surah al-Baqarah, 2:164]
Thou makest the night grow longer by shortening the day, and Thou makest the day grow longer by shortening the night… [Surah Âl-‘Imrân, 3:27]
…seeing that He has created [every one of] you in successive stages. Do you not see how God has created seven heavens in full harmony with one another, and has set up within them the moon as a light [reflected] and set up the sun as a [radiant] lamp? And God has caused you to grow out of the earth in [gradual] growth… [Surah Nûḥ, 71:14-17]
In this phase of creation, the change in the Universe’s temperature resulted in the creation of visible light. Essential for photosynthesis, this visible light would be the precursor to the creation of floral [plant] life, followed by creation of faunal [animal] life. The presence of light alternating with darkness would set up the conditions for the subsequently-created life forms to thrive.
Science: Birth of stars, galaxies, and solar systems,: Roughly 400 million years after the Big Bang, clumps of gases (“smoke” in some translations[iii]) gradually coalesced over several million years to form the very first stars and galaxies.
The following Qur’anic verse validates metaphorically how clumps of gases coalesced to create our heavenly bodies:
Moreover, He comprehended the sky in His design, and it had been [as] ‘smoke.’ He said to it and to the earth: “Come together, willingly or unwillingly.” They said: “We do come (together), in willing obedience.” [Surah Fuṣṣilat, 41:11]
Our solar system is calculated to have been “born” about 4.8 billion years ago. That would have been nearly nine billion years after the Big Bang. According to current estimates, our sun is one of more than 100 billion suns in our Milky Way galaxy, with our solar system being only a tiny portion of the Milky Way – and an even tinier portion of the universe.
Putting this phase of creation in terminology that we can relate to, the Qur’an validates this phenomenon as follows:
He has created the heavens without any pillars that you can see, and He has placed in the earth firm mountains that it not quake with you, and He has scattered therein all kinds of creatures; and We have sent down water from the clouds and caused to grow therein every noble species. [Surah Luqmân, 31:11]
Observation: The description of creating the “heavens without pillars that you can see” is a fantastic metaphor that no human could have possibly dreamt up. This underscores the difference between the way that human beings construct what they build and how Allah constructed His universe.
Since many stars have planets and moons orbiting around those planets, in the same way as does our sun, it appears that “solar systems” are natural progressions in the celestial evolutionary process. Thus, there is nothing “special” about our solar system, except that it is the one in which we live. Many solar systems predate ours by billions of years; many others might have been formed later. We simply do not know at this stage of our scientific findings.
Peering into the Future
Science: The expanding universe. Science informs us that the universe is continuing to expand.
So does the Qur’an:
Verily we are expanding the Universe. [Surah Al-Dhâriyât, 51:47]
Where will this lead us? Some scientists suggest that after another some two billion years, the universe might start contracting. That is when the previously-mentioned verses might become operative:
Humans ask: “When is the Day of Resurrection?” (It is) when the sight is dazed; the moon is buried in darkness; and the sun and moon are (again) joined together. [Surah Al-Qiyâmah, 75:6-9]
How might the universe end? Here are some graphic and metaphoric Qur’anic statement to consider:
When the sun (with its spacious light) is folded up; when the stars fall, losing their lustre; when the mountains vanish (like a mirage). [Surah Al-Takwîr, 81:1-3]
When the sky is cleft asunder; when the stars are scattered; when the oceans are suffered to burst forth; and when the graves are turned upside down. [Surah Al-Infiṭâr, 82:1-4].
Some verses, such as 81.1 and 82.1, are more metaphoric at this stage in human understanding; others, such as 82.4, suggest actual “happenings” more familiar to our experience as the earth collapses and merges with other heavenly bodies.
Science: Space flight has become part of human science and technological development. Humans may well be on their way to explore other heavenly bodies and to spend time on their very surfaces.
This Qur’anic verse might speak to space exploration:
O you assembly of jinns [iv] and men! Pass, if you can pass, beyond the zones of the heavens and the earth! But you will not be able to pass without authority (from God). [Surah Al-Raḥmân, 55:33]
So, we can assume that space flights have been “authorized” by God since man has already walked on the moon [v] and returned back safely–as well as having lived for extended periods in a man-made space station [vi] circling the earth, and since he has explored Mars with the NASA Rover. [vii]
To be concluded in Part 2…
[i] I am here using Muhammad Asad’s translation of the Qur’an for verse 51:47, as there was no concept of an expanding universe when Abdullah Yusuf Ali translated the Qur’an in the 1920s-30s. Ali translated this verse as “With power and skill did We construct the Firmament; for it is We who create the vastness of space.”
[iii] While “smoke” usually is used to refer to products of combustion (such as the product of “paper burning”), “gas” refers to the third of the three states of matter (solid, liquid, and gas). This verse conveys the sense that these “clumps of gases” were pulled together and consolidated into solid states to form our stars and galaxies.
[iv] Jinns are the only other animate life form which the Qur’an mentions besides what we find on earth. The only two things we know about jinns are: (1) they co-inhabit the universe with us; and (2) God created them “from fire free of smoke” (Surah Al-Rahmân, 55:15). To me, this suggests that laser light is involved in their creation. God knows best.