Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
CNN reported last week that in February of 2013 a meteor will pass within 14,000 miles of the earth.They contrasted it with the distance of the moon from the earth, which is 238,900 miles.They reassured that the inhabitants of the earth have nothing to fear from this encounter. I hope they are right, but worrying minds or at least some in NASA or satellite industry may have a few sleepless nights.Even if this does not raise any concerns of physical survival, it should raise questions of our spiritual salvation. Why are we here? How do we handle our eventual mortality? What do the scriptures say about these issues? What do the scriptures, more specifically the Bible and the Quran, say about our universe? Do these holy books talk about meteorites?The mention of meteors is ubiquitous in the present day Western society. A week does not pass when we do not hear in a scientific documentary that the dinosaurs became extinct by a meteor strike some 60 million years ago. But, such familiarity with the meteors was not always the case.The Holy Quran mentions meteorites not once or twice, but more than a dozen times, by an expression, ‘that is between the heaven and the earth.’ Here is one example:
And We (Allah) created not the heaven and the earth and all that is between the two in play. If We had wished to find a pastime, We would surely have found it in what is with Us if at all We were to do such a thing. (Al Quran 21:17-18)
By mentioning meteorites in this way the Holy Quran demonstrates to the present day reader that it is not a word of a person, living in the deserts of Arabia, in the seventh century.
The above quoted verses show that in the creation of the universe there is a purpose and a detailed plan. The terms mentioned in these verses and in several other verses of the Holy Quran, ‘all that is between the two’ may imply meteors, comets and the interstellar gas. The Holy Quran is the only scripture, to my knowledge, which mentions ‘all that is between the two’ and no other scripture mentions this with any degree of precision.
The universe is the creation of God and the Quran is the literal word of God and hence there is harmony and equivalence between the two.
This article was originally published in USA Ahmadiyya Gazette.
Epigraph: And We (Allah) created not the heaven and the earth and all that is between the two in play. If We had wished to find a pastime, We would surely have found it in what is with Us if at all We were to do such a thing. (Al Quran 21:17-18)
The above quoted verses show that in the creation of the universe there is a purpose and a detailed plan. The terms mentioned in these verses and in several other verses of the Holy Quran, ‘all that is between the two’ may imply meteors, comets and the interstellar gas. The Holy Quran is the only scripture that mentions ‘all that is between the two’ and no other scripture mentions this. Other scriptures did not contain such detailed description of the universe as they were for a time that was before the scientific revolution.
INTERSTELLAR CLOUD OR GAS
We have not created the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them but with an enduring purpose, and for an appointed term; but those who disbelieve turn away from that of which they have been warned. (Al Quran 46:4)
In this verse the Holy Quran not only claims that there is a purpose in the creation of the earth and heavens (the celestial bodies) but also in what lies between them. In addition to stars, the Galaxy contains interstellar gas and dust. Some of the gas is very cold, but some forms hot clouds, the gaseous nebulae, the chemical composition of which can be studied in some detail. The chemical composition of the gas seems to resemble that of young stars. This is in agreement with the theory that young stars are formed from the interstellar gas.
Paul Davies states, “Historically, the first hint that there may be molecules in space dates from the early 1920s, when an astronomer named H. L. Heger discovered some odd features, called ‘diffuse interstellar bands,’ in the spectra of stars. They were eventually put down to absorption by unknown molecules lying in space along the light path, but the idea didn’t catch on. Decades later, following the unexpected discovery of interstellar ammonia and water, the list of known molecules in space began to grow rapidly. Today, over one hundred chemicals have been identified, mostly using radio and infrared telescopes.”
Many of the interstellar molecules are organic. Commonest is carbon monoxide, but acetylene, formaldehyde, and alcohol are also plentiful. More complex organics have also been detected. It is now clear that not only are the basic life encouraging elements abundant throughout the universe, so are many of the organic molecules actually used by life. With billions of years available for cosmic chemistry to generate these substances, there has been plenty of time for them to build up in the giant molecular clouds from which stars and planetary systems emerge. Talking about the role of these clouds in the beginning of life on our planet, Paul Davies, an English physicist, writer and broadcaster, currently a professor at Arizona State University, writes in the Fifth Miracle:
Astronomers who study the chemistry of interstellar gas clouds are convinced that dust particles play an important role. Chemicals attach to their solid surfaces and react in complicated ways. It isn’t hard to spot dust in space. Glance at the night sky near the constellation of Cygnus and you will notice great black blotches in the Milky Way. These dark areas are created by large clouds of dust that block out the starlight from beyond. The culprits are very tiny grains-typically a thousandth of a millimeter across, but extending down to molecular size. Their composition is the product of many physical and chemical influences-ultraviolet radiation, stellar winds, shock waves, cosmic radiation. They include silicates, ices, and carbonaceous material such as graphite, as well as many organics. Interstellar clouds can be many light-years across, so the total mass of dust in them is enormous; tiny they may be, but interstellar grains could be the unwitting chemists that spawned life.
The Holy Quran not only subtly mentioned the interstellar gases but also suggested that they along with the stars and the earth have an enduring purpose. In the verse 46:4, by also mentioning, “and for an appointed term,” the All Knowing God has also hinted at the eventual destruction of all these. This should direct our attention to our limited time span on the planet and our eventual accountability.
The mention of meteors is ubiquitous in the present day Western society. A week does not pass when we do not hear in a scientific documentary that the dinosaurs became extinct by a meteor strike some 60 million years ago. But, such familiarity with the meteors was not always the case.
The fact that these are implied in a scripture from the seventh century not once but several times, this circumstance alone is sufficient to give the scripture an urgent claim on our attention! Unlike the Holy Quran, when we read Genesis in Bible it gives one an impression that it is written by someone who does not have the inside scoop, on the creation and working of the universe. The contrary is true for the Holy Quran. This limitation of the picture painted by the Genesis has been the root cause of the conflict between Church and science for the last five centuries. The list of scientist at odds with Genesis is endless. First there was Kepler then Galileo followed by James Hutton, Charles Lyell and Darwin. The list is endless! We do not find any such conflict between the Holy Quran and science. In contrast, to the popular Christian experience of conflict between science and religion, the Holy Quran creates an epiphany moment for the Muslims by mentioning what is in between earth and the heavenly bodies no less than ten times. The term used is ‘whatsoever is between earth and heaven’ and it could imply meteors, meteor showers, comets and interstellar masses. This is indeed so much in resonance with what we know about our universe now, compared to the Aristotelian view prevalent prior to Kepler.
The knowledge available at the time of the Prophet Muhammadsaw would have been what Aristotle had to say about the universe. Aristotle believed in an earth centered universe and believed that it was eternal. Even after the intellectual revolutions of the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, Aristotelian concepts remained embedded in Western thinking. Encyclopedia Britannica has the following to say about the Christendom’s views about the universe, as borrowed from Aristotle:
Aristotle’s vision of the cosmos also owes much to Plato’s dialogue Timaeus. As in that work, the Earth is at the centre of the universe, and around it the Moon, the Sun, and the other planets revolve in a succession of concentric crystalline spheres. The heavenly bodies are not compounds of the four terrestrial elements but are made up of a superior fifth element, or “quintessence.” In addition, the heavenly bodies have souls, or supernatural intellects, which guide them in their travels through the cosmos.
The space in Aristotle’s vision is empty and devoid of anything. This was later considered to be filled with ether until we knew better.
Christian Aristotelian cosmos: The earth-centered universe
The Holy Quran appears to be way ahead of Aristotle not on one but several counts, just in the field of cosmology. For details see the books Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth and the Bible, the Quran and science.
In this day and age one does not have to be an astronomer to experience the presence of meteors. Some two hundred kilometers west of the town of Port Augusta in South Australia, lies a large dried-up lake. Approximately circular in shape, Lake Acraman stretches thirty kilometers from side to side. Though it resembles many other salt basins in that part of Australia, Acraman is no ordinary lake bed. About 580 million years ago, a giant meteor plunged from the sky and blasted an enormous hole in what is now the Eyre Peninsula. The original measured at least ninety kilometers across and several kilometers deep. Today’s Lake Acraman is all that remains of this monstrous scar, a mute witness to an ancient cataclysm of impressive proportions.
In the words of Paul Davies, quoting from his book, the Fifth Miracle:
The collision that created Lake Acraman was by no means an isolated event. … It turns out, though, that cosmic impacts have not just altered the path of evolution; they also played a crucial role in the origin of life. Until recently, scientists appealed mainly to chemistry and geology in their attempts to explain biogenesis. Earth was treated as an isolated system. But over the last decade the crucial importance of the astronomical dimension of life has sunk in. To understand how life began, it seems we must look to the stars for answers.
Those who cannot travel to Australia to see Lake Acraman could see a more recent addition to the North American continent in Arizona not too far from the Grand Canyon, named Meteor Crater or Barringer Crater. The meteors and comets also had an important role in bringing water to the planet earth so that it could bear life.
Carl Sagan describes the introduction of life on the planet and possibly its extinction in one line, “Comets gave it and comets taketh it away.” The Holy Quran would use the term ‘all that is between the two,’ to describe comets. It says:
We (Allah) have created the heavens and the earth and all that is between the two in accordance with the requirements of truth and wisdom, and the appointed hour is sure to come; so forbear generously. Indeed, thy Lord is the Great Creator, the All Knowing. (Al Quran 15:86-87)
 “Aristotle.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 24 Nov. 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/34560/Aristotle>.