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Time and the Quranic Message – 3 Stories

Part 1

It is in view of this that the Quran, as the last divine revelation to mankind, devotes serious efforts to demystifying the notion of time, shattering forever its enduring myth.

For example, it speaks about the Companions of the Cave (ashab al-kahf) who slept in a cave three hundred and nine years without realizing it. Displaying the relativity of time, reinforced by inconsistent human impressions and viewpoints, the cave sleepers thought that their sleep duration was just {a day or part of a day} (18:19). Despite their best goodwill and the most honest enquiry, they arrived at different conclusions as to the duration of their sleep.

However, Almighty Allah used the incident as a sign of His Authority and Divine Providence in the universe as the physical theater of His Will, Power and Control, so that people would:

know that the promise of Allah is true and that there can be no doubt about the Hour of Judgment (18: 21).

The whole incident — with the compelling idea of time — was used as a means for achieving a higher and nobler set of objectives that transcended the stifling confines of time and space.

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The second fascinating example is the incident of a man:

who passed by a township which had fallen into ruin. He said: ‘How will Allah bring this to life after its death?’ So Allah caused him to die for a hundred years; then He revived him. He said: ‘How long have you remained?’ The man said: ‘I have remained a day or part of a day.’ He said: ‘Rather, you have remained one hundred years. Look at your food and your drink; it has not changed with time. And look at your donkey; and We will make you a sign for the people. And look at the bones (of this donkey) — how We raise them and then We cover them with flesh.’ And when it became clear to him, he said: ‘I know that Allah is over all things competent’” (2:259).

In this episode, too, Allah shows that man failed to realize that a period of a hundred years had elapsed since he had been caused to die. To him, it was just “a day or part of a day”. Making things yet more interesting, Allah allowed his food and drink to be exempted from the flow and influence of time, unlike himself and his donkey. Hence, their condition after one hundred years remained perfect.

And again, the whole thing was a small matter for Allah and His Infinite Power. He only wanted to make the man and his episode a sign for subsequent generations, helping the people thereby to get liberated from the blinding and debilitating yoke of time and space dynamics.

Thus freed, the people will be able to rise and view life and its multitiered physical and metaphysical dimensions from different and more rewarding vantage points.

The third example is Isra and Mi’raj. They denote two parts of a miraculous journey which the Prophet Muhammad took during several hours of a single night. Isra was a trip from Makkah to Jerusalem (17: 1) — then a distance of about one month of conventional travel — whence Mi’raj, an ascension to the heavens, took place, a feat that defied reason and a whole of human imagination.

It goes without saying, based on the above Quranic expositions, that discovering the time-related existential realities is one thing, but applying such discoveries in pursuit of humankind’s ultimate genuine civilizational triumphs — encompassing and ensuring primarily the intellectual, spiritual and moral wellbeing of the people — is completely something else.

If the latter is not achieved — or at least authentically aimed for – the former easily becomes inadequate and even faulty.

In the worse scenario, it can contribute to rendering man and his civilization more severely trapped inside the fetters of time and space (matter). Instead of propelling man forward, it could push him backward. Instead of making man a more cultured and more civilized being, it could make him a more savage and more primitive animal.

Simply said, it could make man, more than ever, a stanch worshipper and servant of contemptible matter and of his raging lusts as well as ego. Verily, uncontrolled physical development of human civilization is dangerous and could become a cause of mankind’s ultimate downfall.

Furthermore, an additional message inherent in the above and other similar discourses of the Quran is that on the Day of Judgment when everything will be different, when {the earth will be changed to a different earth, and so will be the heavens} (14: 48), when man will be raised {in a new creation} (13:5), and when the veil will be removed from man, making his vision sharp and strong, as opposed to him being in heedlessness of the truth while in this world (50: 22) – the idea of time will be completely different as well.

While for Allah time does not exist, and He in His Majesty and Sublimity is not bounded by it, man’s perception as well as experience of it will be consistent with the new life (Hereafter) and its new physical and psychological realities in which man will find himself.

Understandably, this world’s notion and interpretations of time will disappear with the total disappearance of this world and its conditions.

Some verses of the Quran, as well as the sayings (Hadiths or Sunnah) of the Prophet Muhammad reveal that the span of a day in the Hereafter will be fifty thousand years (70: 4) of people’s reckoning of time in this world.

Even in this world, there are several distinct versions of time which exist for Allah’s creation and His creatures. The shortest version is the one counted by humans.

Another one that involves angels who carry out the commands of Allah is mentioned as follows:

He (Allah) regulates the affair from the heaven to the earth; then shall it ascend to Him in a day the measure of which is a thousand years of what you count (32: 5).

The version of time mentioned earlier in the context of the Day of Judgment, according to which a day will be equivalent to fifty thousand years (70:4), applies to this world as well and is the world’s fastest and longest version of time.

Many other physical and spiritual occasions and experiences at different planes of existence, whereby time could be tacitly understood to flow at different rates, have been presented by both the Quran and Sunnah.

Read Part 3.

About Dr. Spahic Omer
Dr. Spahic Omer, an award-winning author, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. In the year 2000, he obtained his PhD from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur in the field of Islamic history and civilization. His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and theory of Islamic built environment. He can be reached at: [email protected].