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The Origin of the Universe
Some Amazing Correspondences between the Qur`an and the Latest Scientific Findings

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(June 2003)


The Qur`an is not a book of science and therefore its purpose is not to teach us science. In fact, in talking about the natural phenomena it often uses very traditional language. But using traditional language it often rises far above the level of scientific knowledge of its own time and brings us very close to the most recent scientific findings. Muslim writers have pointed out several examples of this such as the process by which a human being is formed in the womb.

The big bang

Another well known example concerns the origin of the universe. The following verse has an obvious correspondence1 with the big bang picture of the origin of our universe:

Do not the disbelievers consider that the heavens and the earth were joined together (ratqan) and we ripped (fataqna) them apart and we created from water every living thing. Will they not then believe? (21:30).

The two key Arabic words have been shown in transliteration in the above quotation. Both of them appear in the Qur`an only once, which shows that they are probably being used to describe something very special. The verb rataqa means to join together or sew up or patch up something such as a torn cloth or to repair by such sewing up or patching up; fataqa means to rip open, tear apart, slit open, to unsew. Rataqa is used in the adverbial form ratqan which describes a state while fataqa is used as a verb to describe an action of God. This suggests that being joined or patched up together was the original state of the universe2. If the statement were, “we joined the heavens and the earth together and then slit them apart”, the suggestion would have been that things were originally apart, then joined together, and then slit apart. Thus the verse is telling us that the universe was originally a single, well connected mass that was then split open to form the heavens and the earth as we see them. The correspondence with the current big-bang picture of the origin of the universe is very striking.

The above correspondence between the Qur`an and the latest science has been noted by Muslims for many decades. I now show another amazing correspondence, which has not been so far noted according to the best of my knowledge.

Creation in 300000 years

This concerns the time it took to create the universe. Before looking at this example in detail, let us introduce some clarity into the issue and ask: considering that the universe is changing continuously, how do we define the time required for its creation? If the age of the universe is about 15 billion years, do we say that it took 15 billion years to create it? If so, after another billion years we would need to say that it took 16 billions to create the universe. This is one possible understanding. But this is neither the only one nor the most common. Usually we distinguish between the age of a thing and the time it took to build it, even if it is continuously changing. Thus if a university or a city or a building is 500 years old, we generally would not say that it took 500 years to build it, even if during that time it has been continuously changing. Often the time to build a thing is counted as the time it took to set it on its intended course. This in any case is the conception in the Qur`an, where an event may be said to occur when it starts even if it has not yet finished. For example, the Qur`an was revealed over more than two decades and yet it is said to have been revealed on a particular night called laylah al-qadr (97:1) when its revelation started. This conception allows us to take any significant benchmark in the history of a thing as the time when its creation was accomplished. In the case of the universe, one such benchmark mentioned by the Qur`an is 6 days (7:54 etc) with each day equal to 50000 years (70:3-4), that is, 300000 years.

Now 300,000 years after the big bang mark a point of decisive importance in the history of the universe. Until that time, according to current theory, the universe was so hot that matter and radiation were entangled in a kind of soup. This is because neutral atoms had not yet formed and the universe consisted of charged particles - ions and electrons.

Unlike atoms, electrons readily scatter photons, bouncing them back and forth. As a result the photons were not free to move away from other matter until ions and electrons combined into atoms. The simplest atoms, those of hydrogen, began to form about 300,000 years after the big bang when the universe had cooled to a temperature of about 4000 K. Almost immediately the universe became transparent. The light which also originated in the big bang could from then on propagate throughout the universe with only very tiny bits of it intercepted by matter. This time is called “the time of last scattering”.

Because of the expansion of the universe, the wavelength of the light that separated from matter about 300,000 years after the big bang has by today been shifted into the microwave regime with a wavelength of about one millimeter. Today in a much fainter form this light reaches us as Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), having “cooled” over the age of the universe (about 14 billion years) from about 4,000 K at the “time of last scattering” to about 2.74 K. CMB provides us with the earliest possible picture of the universe. From a time earlier than 300000 years no photons have come to us and therefore we cannot have a photograph of the universe for any earlier period.

The picture of the universe provided by the CMB is that of a “surface” which may be called the “surface of last scattering”. Just as the sun's glowing disk is the "surface of last scattering" for photons emerging from the solar interior, so the CMB is the surface of last scattering for photons emerging from the hot plasma about to condense into the first neutral atoms3.

Thus according to the latest scientific theories, the foundations of the universe of atoms and light that we can see took place during 300000 years (or 6 days of 50000 years) after the big bang. The correspondence of this with the Qur`an is close and striking.

Of course, not everything the Qur`an says about the creation of the universe corresponds to what the latest science tells us, but the two striking correspondences pointed out in this article should make even the non-believers admit the possibility that there is much greater depth of knowledge in the Qur`an than might appear to them at first sight.


Notes

1 I speak of “correspondence” between the Qur`anic statements and the most recent scientific findings and avoid saying that the Qur`an referred to the modern scientific discoveries and theories. This is because in case of the Qur`an there is the question of interpretation and in case of science there is an ever present possibility of its theories undergoing a radical change.

2 But, of course, in the light of the general Qur`anic thought, even the original state of being patched together was the result of a creative act of God.

3 The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News, No. 481 and No. 491.

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