Host: Safiyyah Ally, of “Let The Qur’an Speak”
Guest: Dr. Shabir Ally.
Q: Aliens and extraterrestrial life.
What are extraterrestrial life forms?
Are there any verses in the Qur’an that hint at their existence?
If we discover them, what would that mean for human beings and their special relationship with God?
Would these beings have the potential to be Muslims too, and to abide by the Qur’an and the Prophet’s teachings?
With me to discuss is Dr. Shabir Ally, President of the Islamic Information & Dawah Centre, Toronto, Canada.
Dr. Shabir, what would it mean for us if there were extraterrestrial life forms?
Dr. Shabir: Let’s think about what the term itself means first.
When people think about extraterrestrial life forms nowadays, they are often thinking about the Hollywood images. There are people who think that the crash landing of a spaceship in Roswell, New Mexico was carrying alien life forms. And that the US government is somehow suppressing this information lest people be concerned about this, and so on.
With the study of the level of Astrophysics, we can be sure that none of this has actually happened. Because to have life as we know it, a planet would have to be like ours. It has to be distant from its “sun”, but not too distant. Distant enough to not be too hot, and not too far away so that it becomes too cold. It would have to have the right mixture of certain ingredients. It would have to be able to support water, which is essential for life as we know it.
If such intelligent life as human beings emerged in a planet somewhere else, that planet would be very far away. So far, no planet like ours has been discovered within our Solar System, and other systems are very far away.
To give you an idea, light travels at the speed of 186,000 miles per second, or 300,000 kilometers per second. Other systems are some 4.3 billion light years away. So we do have the vastness of our space and the possibility of the hundred billion galaxies that are out there similar to our Milky Way Galaxy and the hundred billion stars within each one. You can have many Earths out there similar to our own and of course intelligent life. But, we don’t have knowledge of them. Also, the distances are so vast that we don’t expect that any of them would have actually arrived on Earth.
Q: Of course there is a fear that if there is extraterrestrial life out there, it’s intelligent life and more intelligent that human beings perhaps.
Dr. Shabir: Yes, and if there were such beings out there and they had the capability of traveling and coming to Earth, they wouldn’t be coming in such isolated incidents that are sometimes reported on these conspiracy sites that we can read on the web. There would be teaming with such extraterrestrial visitors, but this is not the case.
So in short, there is no evidence that any such beings have actually visited Earth at least in our lifetimes. At the same time, we must allow for the possibility that they do exist.
Q: Is there anything in the Qur’an perhaps that suggests there are other beings other than human beings that exist?
Dr. Shabir: The Qur’an actually is quite open to the possibility that many Earths do exist, because the first chapter of the Qur’an says: “Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds”. In fact, it says hereAl-Alamin which is “The Universes” in the plural.
So there could be many universes and many worlds. In traditional commentaries on the Qur’an, it has been explained that it’s given here in the plural because we have many worlds operating even around us and in our own bodies there are many systems.
There is a world of human beings, there is a plant world, the world of Jinns which is another set of creatures, and the world of angels, another sort of creatures. So there could be many other sorts of creatures out there.
In the 74th chapter of the Qur’an we read, “And none knows the soldiers of your Lord except Him.” Also the 29th verse in the Qur’an’s 42nd chapter says: “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and what He has dispersed throughout them of creatures. And He, for gathering them when He wills, is competent.” It would seem from this verse that such animate life is scattered throughout the heavens and the earth.
Q: Would this shake up our understanding of humanity as being sort of special to God? Because, when you look at the Qur’an there is a lot of emphasis on human beings and on Earth, not necessarily on other planets or other beings out there.
Dr. Shabir: If someone had a simplistic understanding, and of course that was the only understanding for generations people could have, because they saw things within the certain narrow confines of the human experience. As our experience grows, now we can understand these ideas in different ways.
So the Qur’an does say that God has created human beings in the best of molds, but it doesn’t mean that only humans have been created in this best form. At one time people may have thought only human beings were as such, because everything else they knew were inferior to human beings. But now, we can see that there is a possibility that other such beings like ourselves exist in other parts of the universe.
Q: But probably they wouldn’t have access to Qur’an! Or to Prophet Muhammad’s teachings!
Dr. Shabir: There are certain basic Qur’anic principles which would help us to think this through. One of the basic principles is that God does not leave His creatures without guidance, so God sends messengers again and again. And God sends to every people messengers of their own kind and people from among their own communities so that they can relate to each other.
So whatever languages are spoken or whatever means of communication available for people to transmit ideas, all of this must be used in all its variety and God is the master of all of this. He speaks all languages.
In the Star Wars films, we have communication through the mind. Well, this is an idea portrayed in a film, but the idea is not ridiculous. It is possible that God’s revelations to His prophets are sort of mental communication. In that case we do not need a specific language in which that communication needs to take place, it is one mind speaking to another. The mind of God could speak to intelligent beings in many different ways throughout the universe.
Q: Thank you for your time Dr. Shabir.
Dr. Shabir: You are welcome.
This article is from Science’s archive and we’ve originally published it on an earlier date.