How are we to understand the Qur’anic verses wherein a day is likened to thousands of years and the events such as those of the Day of Resurrection sound like time-travel? Our physicist author takes a clue from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
THE QURAN CONTAINS the words of Allah which he revealed to His Prophet, Muhammad ﷺ. The three holy books that were revealed to prophets before the revelation of the Quran were the Tawrat (the Hebrew Bible, or, Old Testament), the Injîl (the Gospel, or, New Testament) and the Zabûr (the Psalms of David) as originally revealed to prophets Moses, Jesus and David.
The Quran does not conflict with modern science at all. Interpretation of the Quran’s science-related verses is a function of the basic scientific knowledge of interpreters throughout Islamic history. The basics of scientific facts are there in the Quran, but they are beyond our layman’s imagination and knowledge. With the advancement of science and the propounding of scientific theories that have enlightened our minds and increased our knowledge, we have started to realize that much of this modern scientific understanding is mentioned in the Quran. Moreover, some theories actually interpret Qur’anic verses, or vice versa.
Allah is the source of what is studied by science. The scientific particulars that we use in our daily lives as human beings are just a small part of knowledge, when set next to that of Allah:
And they ask you, (O Muhammad) about the soul. Say: The soul is of the affairs (i.e., concern) of my Lord. And you (i.e., mankind) have not been given of knowledge, except a little. Sûrat Al-Isrâ’, 17:85
Contemporary Interpretation Of Qur’anic ‘Signs’ Vis-à-Vis Science
We live on our relatively small planet, which is a very small entity within the vast universe. Allah has told us about the creation of this universe in the Tawrat, Injîl, as well as in the Quran—in which Almighty Allah specifically speaks about His development of the universe:
Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and We separated them and made from water every living thing? Then will they not believe? Sûrat Al-Anbiyâ’, 21:30
These verses that were revealed to the Prophet ﷺ more than 14 centuries ago are far ahead of the modern theories concerning the creation of the universe. The modern “Big Bang Theory” tells us that the whole universe was once one entity, a single point in space (1) (3), and that later it was separated (burst apart), or inflated. The above-mentioned Verse 30 of Sûrat Al-Anbiyâ’ tells us precisely the same thing; The Quran is telling us about the expansion of the universe:
And the heaven We constructed with strength, and indeed, We are (its) expander. Sûrat Al-Dhâriyât, 51:47
Modern scientists (2), too, are talking about continuous expansion of the universe!
The Quran also talks about the end of the universe: a ‘death’ of the universe, and its ‘re-creation’ again:
The Day when we will fold up the heavens like the folding up of a (written) sheet for the records. As We began the first creation, so will We repeat it. (That is) a promise binding upon Us. Indeed, We will do it. Sûrat Al-Anbiyâ’, 21:104
The modern scientist says exactly the same thing about a ‘death’ of the universe, its collapse, or, as it is called, the ‘Big Crunch’ (3). Accordingly, the beginning of the universe, its death, and then, its re-formation again, are events mentioned in the Quran; modern theories have been set forth to explain what has happened in our physical universe, what is happening and what will happen, based on methodical and systematic physical observation.
The Quran contains words of Allah, as revealed to His Prophet ﷺ, and these do not contradict modern science. It is as if modern science had taken its basics from the Quran!
A Scientist’s Suggestion
Our interpretation of the Qur’anic verses, when related to our physical world, is partly dependent upon the current scientific understanding that we have. An example of that is the interpretation of the verse,
By the sky and the Târiq. And what can make you know what the Târiq is? It is the piercing star. Sûrat Al-Târiq, 86:1-3
All of the old interpretations say that the Târiq is a ‘piercing star.’ However, the best interpretation of the Târiq as mentioned in this verse—when based on current, scientific knowledge that we have today—is the ‘black hole.’ So, the Quran is saying in Arabic (al-najmu al-thâqib) what would mean, “the star that makes a hole.”
The Quran has asked the believer to think about the significance of the creation of the universe, as observed from our earth, as a means to understanding his own existence and responsibility in life:
Indeed in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of the night and the day, are signs for those of understanding, who remember Allah while standing or sitting or (lying) on their sides and [who] give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth (saying), “Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You (above such a thing); then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” ÂlʿImrân, 3:190-191
We as humans try to explain—with the ultimately limited science that we have—what has happened, and what is happening now in the universe. But all of our theories and explanation do not go beyond what the Quran tells us. Concurrent with the Qur’anic “signs” in the heavens is the modern scientific understanding that the whole universe was previously one entity and that then the “big bang,” or the inflation, took place. Has any single one of mankind witnessed what happened? Of course not! So, how then could a scientist expect the end of the universe and its re-formation again, unless he had specifically ‘read’ in the physical world the same as what is mentioned in the revealed Qur’anic verse, quoted above, Sûrat Al-Anbiyâ’, 21:104!
As a scientist believing in revealed scripture, then, couldn’t I mention the Quran as a reference in my scientific research paper or theory—as pointing the way for my pioneering exploration?! This does not mean of course, that I am denying the objective efforts of scientists in advancing the sciences. The advancement of science brings us all closer and closer to real-world facts as these are mentioned in Quran.
Qur’anic Interpretation Vis-à-Vis Earthly “Time”
In fact, we do well to look in detail to modern scientific understanding for relevance in interpretation of those Qur’anic verses regarding the physical world. Now what about the period when the human body stays buried in the ground, after its earthly death, until Allah brings its soul back again to life on Resurrection Day? This period is called in the Arabic Language barzakh, and its English equivalent is “barrier.” Allah is saying that, in the eyes of a human being, the barzakh is a very short period of time from his earthly death until he is brought to life again.
In order that we might understand a component of what happens during the barzakh, let us take a clue from Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. According to the “time dilation” concept of Professor Einstein, when an object moves through space at a speed approaching that of light, its onlooker’s perception of time ebbs slower and slower. When the speed of light is reached, the onlooker’s time perception approaches zero and slows down ‘infinitely.’ At this speed, mass increases ‘infinitely’ as well. To explain the time dilation concept of his theory, Einstein offered the following example:
If a 20-year-old man is put in a rocket and propelled into outer space at the speed of light, then the time and mass of that person varies as mentioned above. Assume that he continues traveling at the speed of light for a period of what appears to him—based upon his previous experience on earth—to be 50 years, that is, until his age totals 70 earthly years, all the while he is in that rocket and traveling in space. When this person comes back to earth, he finds that the time elapsed on earth is not 50 years, but many millions of years, as Einstein has figured it mathematically. What would seem to the human space traveler in space as a mere 50 years—due to “time dilation” in space—is now re-calibrated to millions of earth years once he is back on planet earth time.
Key to comprehending this is that Einstein relates all motions to the speed of light. In this vein, note that Almighty Allah, Creator of the universe, describes himself as ‘Light’ (nûr) in the following verse:
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. Sûrat Al-Nûr, 24:35
This Qur’anic verse can be read, in our modern scientific context, to include the sense that all universal affairs are managed by Allah at the speed of light. Time on our planet is a relative thing, and is different from the time calculated by Almighty Allah, as shown in this verse:
Verily, a day—in the sight of thy Lord—is like a thousand years of your reckoning. Sûrat Al-Ḥajj, 22:47
Also, we read in Sûrat Al–Sajdah, 32:5:
He manages and regulates (all) affairs from the heavens to the earth; then it (all) ascends unto Him, on a Day, the measure of which is a thousand years of your reckoning.
When you calculate the outer space journey of 50 years as undertaken by the above-mentioned rocket at the speed of light—on the basis of one day in the sight of Allah as being one thousand years of our planet’s time—then these 50 years in space would be equal to 50 x 1000 x 365 = 18,250,000 years on our planet. So the time that would have elapsed on earth upon the return of the person who traveled in space for 50 years at a speed-of-light time dilation would be more than eighteen million years!
Time In Our Barzakh And Resurrection
Now, when a human dies and is buried, he goes through a ‘barrier’ and enters on the other side into what is called in the Arabic language barzakh. How long is the period we spend in the barzakh? Only Allah knows how long it will be, but after the barzakh, as we are told, Allah will raise up all dead people from their graves on Resurrection Day, apparently in a ‘split second’:
The Trumpet shall be sounded, when behold! From the sepulchers (people) will rush forth to their Lord! … It is a single Saiḥah, when behold! they will all be brought up before Us! Sûrat Yâ Sîn, 36: 51 and 53
On the day of Resurrection, Almighty Allah re-creates all dead and buried people:
And he (man) puts forth for Us a parable, and forgets his own creation. He says: “Who will give life to these bones after they are rotten and have become dust?” Say: (to him, O Muhammad): “He will give life to them, (He) Who created them for the first time! And He is the All-Knower of every creation!” Sûrat Yâ Sîn, 36:78-79
On the Day of Resurrection, Almighty Allah brings back all people alive; He brings back the ruḥ (spirit), instantly, for every re-created person:
The Trumpet will just have been sounded, when all that is in the heavens and on earth will swoon, except him whom Allah wills. Then will a second one be sounded, when, behold, they will be standing and looking on. Sûrat Al-Zumar, 39:68
Regarding the time when Allah raises up people from their graves, the Almighty informs us in the Quran as to what people will say about the length of time they have spent in their graves:
The day when the Trumpet will be sounded: that Day, we shall gather the criminals, blear-eyed (with terror). In whispers will they consult each other: “You stayed no longer than ten (days).” We know best what they will say, when the best of them in judgment will say: “You stayed no longer than a day!” Sûrat Tâ-Hâ, 20:102-104
Also, in Sûrat Al-Isrâ’, 17:52 we read:
It will be on the Day when He will call you, and you will answer (His call) with (words of) His praise, and you will think that you had stayed but a little while
All of us know the story of The Jewish Prophet ʿUzair (Ezra) in the Sacred Quran. ʿUzair passed by the city of Jerusalem after it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. He looked and said, “How shall Allah bring this to life after its death?” Allah wanted to show him that it is easy for Him to bring this city to life:
Allah caused his death for a hundred years, and then brought him up again to life. When Allah asked Prophet ʿUzair after he had raised him up alive again, “How long did you remain dead?” He said, “A day or part of a day.” Allah said: “Nay, you have remained dead for a hundred years.” Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:259
Allah tells us that on the Day when He will raise up people, they will think that they have stayed in their graves for only one hour:
And on the Day when He will gather them together: (It will be) as if they had stayed but an hour of a day. Sûrat Yûnus, 10:45
And be in no haste about the (Unbelievers). On the Day that they see the (Punishment) promised them, (it will be) as if they had not stayed more than an hour in a single day. Sûrat Al-Aḥqâf, 46:35
When the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ asked him about Resurrection Day and the time spent in their graves, Allah revealed His answer:
The Day they see it, (It will be) as if they had stayed but a single evening, or (at most) till the following morn. Sûrat Al-Nâziʿât, 79:46
Time—And Speed— Of The Spirit
Why will people feel on Resurrection Day that they have stayed in their graves a very short time? The explanation of that—and Allah knows best—is that when a person dies, his body will stay in the grave on one time plane, or ‘horizon,’ namely, that of earth time, but that his spirit (ruḥ) goes out to another plane, or ‘horizon,’ of time. Only Allah knows ‘where’ the ruḥ goes to, but wherever that is, Allah gives us the answer as to the speed of the ruḥ when it makes its final ascent to Allah on that Day:
A questioner asked about a Chastisement to befall the unbelievers—a Penalty which none can avert—from Allah, Lord of the Ways of Ascent. The angels and the spirit (rûḥ) ascend unto Him in a Day, the measure whereof is as fifty thousand years. Sûrat Al-Maʿârij, 70:1-4
In this verse we see that the speed of the spirit, when it returns to Allah, is as if 50 times more than the speed of light—according to how it was above tentatively ‘calculated,’ on the basis of wordings in Sûrat Al-Nûr, 24:35, and Sûrat Al-Sajdah, 32:5.
When the spirit travels at an exceedingly high speed outside the body of a sleeping or dead person, and then again with his re-created body travels back to Allah on the Day of Resurrection, the time element would approach zero—when understood according to Einstein’s theory as mentioned herein; accordingly, the re-created person will feel as if he has stayed in his grave a length of time approaching zero: ‘one hour,’ ‘two hours,’ or ‘part of a day.’
The Quran And Science
This article is meant to show the conformity of scientific findings to the Qur’anic language about our natural world, and especially to propose an understanding of time reckoning as presented in the Qur’anic verses bearing on coming events in the barzakh and on Resurrection Day. We suggest that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, in particular the concept of ‘time dilation’—which comes into play for speed-of-light motion—plausibly explains what might otherwise be objected to as a mismatch of earth-experienced time versus time assessments related to the grave and to Last Day events, as meticulously worded in the Quran for us to ponder.
And, Almighty Allah knows best.
(1)NASA Science: Astrophysics
(2) The Hubble Expansion: The Hubble Expansion—UC Berkeley Astronomy Departmentastro.berkeley.edu/ ṭmwhite/darkmatter/hubble.html
(3)The Physics of the Universe: http://www.physicsoftheuniverse.com/topics_bigbang_accelerating.html