By Zaghlool El-Naggar:
The cosmos is collectively referred to in the Glorious Qur’an under the term “heavens and earth”, or simply “heavens” and sometimes in the singular form “heaven, firmament or sky”.
Such reference is made in 310 Qur’anic verses (190 in the plural and 120 in the singular form) to describe certain characteristics of the universe, successive stages in its creation, its final destruction and annihilation, as well as its recreation.
These cosmic verses intervene the main message of this divine revelation, as a vivid testimony to the unlimited might, knowledge and wisdom of the Creator (s.w.t). They are not meant to be pieces of scientific information per se, as science is left for man to gain over a long span of time through careful observation and/or experimentation, followed by rational conclusion.
Nevertheless, the Qur’an being the word of the Creator (s.w.t.), and the cosmos being His creation, such cosmic Qur’anic verses must convey the absolute truth about areas that cannot possibly be placed under the direct observation of man, such as the creation, annihilation and recreation of the universe.
Mixtures of Truth and Fallacy
Consequently, early speculations about the origin of the universe in pre-Islamic civilizations, had glimpses of some facts borrowed from the successive divine revelations, but highly mixed with mythological assumptions and illusionary visions. An example for this mixture of truth and fallacies in polytheistic civilizations is the ancient Egyptians’ concept about the creation of the earth.
This concept is symbolized in their legacy by drawing “Chou” (the mythological God of air), son of A’amoun Ra’a (the fictitious God of the Sun) in a position where he is separating his sister “Nutt” (symbolic for the heaven) from his brother “Kepp” (who stands for the earth).
The concept of separating the earth from the rest of the universe is apparently a divinely revealed fact that was completely distorted in the ancient Egyptian mythology under the influence of deviation from monotheism to polytheism.
Similarly, in the ancient Indian civilization, a cosmic nucleus (or Golden Egg) that symbolizes the origin of the universe was believed to have emerged from water.
However, the Noble Qur’an forcefully invites man to observe the universe rationally with discernment, and analyze the data collected from such observation critically with meticulous assessment. It is only through such scientific questioning of the universe that man can discover the laws of creation, and apply them correctly for the proper fulfillment of his vicegerency on earth.
This can be achieved by the successful development of man, his faculties and knowledge, and of life in general, as well as by rational reflection on the supremacy of The Creator, and hence the willful submission to His glory, peacefully and lovingly in worshipping and obedience.
An Ever-Expanding Universe
The discovery of the perfect concordance between the Qur’anic descriptions of the universe and its established facts can be a very convincing proof for the divine nature of the Qur’an and the authentic prophethood of Mohammad (p.b.u.h.).
Not only this, but the Qur’an can be a guiding light in the area of cosmogenic interpretations, because this is an area that can never fall directly under human observation, despite the abundant traces for the successive stages of creation which are still preserved in outer space.
Out of the 310 Qur’anic verses where the cosmos is mentioned, at least 166 carry evident cosmological and cosmogenic implications. One such verse describes the expanding nature of the universe.
The Qur’an reads: “And the firmament We have verily built with might, and verily we are expanding it*” (Surat Adh-Dhariyat 51:47).
Early commentators on the Holy Qur’an saw the significance of this verse in the context of the amazing vastness of the universe, and in the fact that whoever could make it that vast, is definitely capable of making it even much more enormous, extending its limits outwardly much further, and this is very true.
However, after centuries of keen observations, and numerous hypotheses, theorems and interpretations, the American astronomer Vesto M. Slipher noticed in 1912 that, except for a few nearby systems such as the Andromeda galaxy, the spectral lines from the rest of the galaxies were shifted toward longer (red) wavelengths.
This shift in wavelength, caused by the Doppler effect, showed that most galaxies were receding from ours (the Milky Way) at several hundred kilometers per second.
In 1929, another American astronomer, Edwin Powell Hubble, noticed that the more remote the galaxy, the higher was its recession velocity. This important relationship has become known as the law of the red shifts, or Hubble’s law. It states that the recession velocity of a galaxy is proportional to its distance.
The ratio of the recession velocity of a galaxy to its distance (generally known as the Hubble constant) is now estimated to be between 50 and 100 km/sec per megaparsec (1 megaparsec = 1 million parsec, and 1 parsec = 3.258 light years). After discovering this cosmic phenomenon of red shift, there was no other plausible explanation for it except the implication that our universe is indeed steadily expanding.
Because galaxies in all directions seem to recede from our own galaxy, it might be wrongly concluded that the Milky Way is at the center of the universe. This is not true, as one can imagine a balloon with evenly spaced dots painted on its outer surface.
As the balloon is blown up, an observer on each spot would see all the other spots expanding away from it, just as observers from earth see all the galaxies receding from the Milky Way. This analogy provides a simple explanation for Hubble’s law: the universe is expanding like a balloon.
This simple cosmological fact, which was deduced from the red shift phenomenon less than 70 years ago, had already been explicitly mentioned in the Holy Qur’an 14 centuries earlier. This long precedence of the Qur’an to thousands of scientists who spent many centuries of astronomical observations and research using sophisticated equipment and elaborate physical properties and mathematical calculations, is a living testimony to the divine purity of this last revelation and to the authenticity of the prophethood of Mohammad (peace be upon him) who received and passed it in its divine purity.
The established fact that our universe is steadily expanding is so vital for both its physical existence and survival, that it becomes well deserving to be mentioned in the Illustrious Qur’an as one of the great signs of The Creator (S.W.T.). Not only this, but for our universe to be steadily expanding at such fantastic rates without losing its coherence is one of the most striking and most fascinating aspects of our existence.