By M.I.Liyaqath Ali
For those who are not really familiar with Qur’an, the present article is likely to be surprising, if not shocking. Also the scientific discussion slips into philosophy with which most of us are not comfortable. But science and philosophy are really two parts of natural continuum of logical thought. In short, this may be the controversial part of the series.
In the first two parts of this series we saw how exactly modern cosmology agrees with Qur’anic account of origin and development of the universe. We remarked that there is much more to it in Qur’an than science could perceive. Remarkably, they are stated by and large in explicit terms in Qur’an; Authentic (saheeh) ahadith contain their explanatory and supplementary information. The ahadith themselves are explicit. It must, however, be mentioned that a section of Muslims consider such explicit meanings of the Qur’anic verses and ahadith too direct to be true.
We often find that translators and exegetists (mufassireen) contrive forced meanings unrelated to the direct sense of the words of verses. Sometimes they do so because scientific knowledge available at their time was not sufficiently advanced so as to catch the real meanings; they appeared non-sensical. Sometimes the personal knowledge of these people, august as they were, were not broad enough and did not include the wide range of arts and sciences. A good example is the verses quoted in the first of this series in which Allah mentions in clear terms creation of heavens and, in the same breath its expansion. In spite of this, the expansion is invariably misinterpreted as that of risk, which ill-fits the context.
Accept Explicit Sense
Readers may be subjected to a dilemma whether to accept the direct, explicit meaning of Qur’anic verses and ahadith or the contrived meanings, whenever the former overflow the limited human knowledge, experience or comprehensibility. There is of course a third course adopted by most of us; to hastily pass them, not stopping to think, for fear of high risk of heresy. In case of such quotations in this article readers are requested to keep in mind their divine or Prophetic origins and decide for themselves. It is good, in fact essential, to be cautious and cross check word-by-word meanings with Arabic scholars. Readers are requested to do so whenever required.
With this lengthy preamble let us now proceed with discussion on the source of the universe. Qur’an observes.
“The originator of heavens and the earth! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only; ‘Be! And it is!” (Baqara :117)
Two of the Arabic words of this verse require special attention:
(i) Badee’u is used here to denote creating but implies much more than Khalaqu which Qur’an uses widely Badee’u is translated as, ‘originated’, ‘created without a model’,
(ii) Then the preposition lahu meaning to (unto)
The verse offers veritable food for thought. Usage of badee’u indicates that at the outset no physical model was existing after which Allah could create the universe. The verse also says that God directed a commandment to the universe. Does not this require the universe to be present already so as to be addressed? The seeming contradiction gets resolved when we realise that its design or configuration existed in His ‘mind’, as His intention (niyyat). So the model after all did exist albeit in the conception. When He eventually willed, it came out with physical form and ‘got created’!
Blindspot of Science
There is a general implicit agreement in science, especially, in cosmology and evolution of life, that things just happened randomly and reached the present state of development purely by a long, long chain of chance events. It tends to brush aside the questions of purposefulness and goal of achievement. This is because, for these ideas to be admitted, a plan and its planner have to be established with direct observations and instruments. At least an intelligent nature has to be theorized. None of these is within the capability of science, its escapist approach does not permit such an entity to be hypothesised. It suffers from selective myopia.
Qur’an takes the diametrically opposite stand and emphasises on one who plans, executes and maintains. It is full of appeals to reason, focusing upon many natural phenomena. The verses are too numerous to quote. Readers are requested to go through Qur’an leisurely.
From Where? With What?
We now land on the question; with or out of what did He create? What was the raw material? Did anything exist beside Him before His act of creation? Most certainly not! If we deem anything did, then we could do so only by contradicting the following Qur’anic verse at the cost of our Iman.
“Huwal Awwalu.. He is (absolutely) the First..” (Hadeed:3)
So whatsoever He addressed and commanded “Be!” Was not only existing already in what we call His ‘mind’. The raw material for the physical universe could not have been anywhere but in His own self. For, the possibility of anything having been in existence apart from or outside Him is summarily ruled out by the above verse.
It therefore follows that the universe to be had always been existing in Him, integral with Him, as of His own stuff. When He willed and commanded it, it came out of its covert existence and took up an overt existence.
See what else Qur’an says in Surah Hadeed: verse 3.
“Huwal Awwalu wal Akhiru; wadh dahhiru wal batinu ie. He is the first and the last; the outward and the inward.”
Yes, Allah declares himself outward; And He immediately follows this up with verse 4 thus; “He it is who created the skies and earth...”
In these two verses the sequence of the ideas of
- God’s sole existence (before creation),
- His overtness and
- His act of creation, presented in quick succession is extremely significant. The view of mufussireen is no doubt completely true and inward and outward refer to His secret and explicit qualities (as against the nature of His existence that were are discussing)
The idea is strengthened and made lucid by Prophet (Pbuh) as found in many saheeh hadith compilations He had said; “I am (created) from Allah’s light; And creations are from my light.
He has also explained that he was made of a portion of God’s light (not the whole). This hadith gives an intermediary stage in the process of creation which is creation of Prophet’s (Pbuh) light. Juxtapose this hadith with what Qur’an observes; “Allah is the light of the heaven and the earth.. (Noor:35)
From Light to Matter
‘How can matter be created out of light?’ One may ask. Einstein says matter and energy are one and the same in reality. They are interconvertible by the famous relationship.
E=mc2 where E is the amount of energy released by ‘destroying’ an amount m of matter, c being light’s velocity in vacuum. There are many forms of energy but light was the best known at Prophet’s (Pbuh) age.
Cosmology says that photons (that make up visible light as well as other electromagnetic waves) were present at the next infinitesimal moment of Big Bang along with most fundamental form of matter namely ‘exotic’ particles. By the above-quoted hadith Islam puts light (i.e. energy) before any level of matter could form. And that is the truly logical sequence which science is unable to discern! It does not state that the dimensionless primeval point first issued forth photons and then they burst as they formed the ‘exotic’ particles of matter!
In short, the implication is that the source material for the universe is Allah Himself, in the sense that He partially exists as nature. The Wujudiyya section of Sufis claim that nothing did or do now exist beside God in the true sense of existence. They also say that worship-worthy God can only be the one conceptualised with His outward and inward aspects taken integrally together. The Qur’anic phrase Huwal Awwalu wal Akhiru demands exactly the same out of Believers.
Out of Nothing?
Philosophically, the question with what the universe is created can have an alternative answer; out of nothing. Let us examine this in detail. The usual argument put in support of this view is that Allah is Omnipotent, so it is within His means to create the universe and all that is in it out of absolutely nothing.
Before examining the scriptural evidence, let us see what science says. The Big Bang Theory says that all that exists came from a dimensionless point source that appeared in the scene all of a sudden. It is conveniently silent about from where exactly the point came, but only says that it came from nowhere! That is quite true in a sense. As per Einstein’s Relativity Theory, the space itself came about only on matter being created and so the ‘where from’ question is just irrelevant.
The ancient saying nothing comes from nothing is one of the very foundations of scientific thought. It has been vindicated most convincingly when the principle of conservation of Mass (matter) was arrived at through centuries-long observations, experimentation and bold conceptualisation. It states; Matter can neither be created (anew) nor destroyed (into nothingness); the total mass will remain constantly the same. This is true even after any number of physical or chemical changes both in laboratory scale or the Universe. (The two more principles discovered separately on conservation together complete the picture). So, the two principles about nothing and mass when viewed together will establish that the primeval pre-Bang point did have an origin, even though science is unable to pinpoint which.
The truth is, science is least interested in conceptualising or looking for this ultimate source (at least for the present). The mind of science is at present far too dazzled by the shock of relativity principles and the Big Bang to set out in a search for origin of pre-Bang point. It is a matter of time that science eventually recovers from mental numbness and trains its telescope in search of origin of the point, its own origin in turn.. And so on. In time, we expect, it will make an attempt to locate the ultimate original source. If there has got to be the un-originated first, why not deem that to be God?
We will take up Qur’anic evidence against creation out of nothing in the section after next!
Made from Truth Absolute
Non-originality seemingly connotes falsity. So to distinguish the supreme being from creations Islamic philosophers prefer the term Haqq (truth) to refer to Him in tune with extensive Qur’an’s usage such as “Huwal Haqqu.. He is the (Absolute) truth..” (Hajj:6)
“.... Allah, He is the manifest truth” (Noor:25)
This name is considered best to express His Essence (Dhat) which is beyond description or definition. Qur’an abounds in evidence that the raw material for creations is Haqq itself. Examples; “..Allah created not that (the sun and the moon) save with truth..” (Yunus :5 or 6)
“.. And Allah hath created the heavens and the earth with truth..” (Jathiya :22; Zumar; 5: Ibraheem; 19)
Is it only moon, earth, sun and the heavens to be created in truth?
“..Allah created not the heavens and the earth, and (all) that which is between them, save with truth..” (Room:8, Ah’qaf:3; Hijr:85; Ankabut:44)
God uses the term ‘bil haqqi’ in all these verses to indicate truthfulness. This term of course does not mean ‘from or out of Haqq.’ But reality. It establishes that creations are not an illusion (as pessimistic philosophers claim), but they are all in fact realities - as real as can be. So their raw material is bound to be real. And the only material that existed from which to create was Haqq Himself.
Bil haqqi also admits another translation, ‘with (proper) purpose’ which translators usually prefer. So God if at all could have created only illusory things with nothingness as ‘source’. Were creations purposeless, such a thing ill suits the concept of perfect God. Therefore the very purposefulness of creation uniquely indicates its reality and, in turn, out of the reality.
Piecing together the idea of Qur’an and Hadith we can get the pre-Bang situation which science’s imagination could hardly peer into Fig.1 gives the integrated picture clearly indicating the interface (units of agreement) between Islam and science.