‘Do they not look into the dominions of the skies and the land and what Allah has created of things and apprehend that perhaps their due time has come nigh? So upon what news after this will they believe?’ (7:185)
Only the observable universe is 45 billion (45,000,000,000) light years wide, on all sides, looking from the earth, where each light year is more than 9.5 trillion km (95,000,000,000,000 km) long.
Possibly, this observable universe could be one of the seven skies being mentioned in the Quran:
‘Say; Who is the Lord of the skies; the seven, and the Lord of the mighty balance.’ (23:85)
But we, as human, can by no means call it ‘one’. This one sky contains about 80 billion galaxies, each having a range of a million to a billion stars. These stars and galaxies join with each other to make huge clusters, which in turn array with each other to form humongous galactic walls. If someone, like the Creator, would be looking from outside, He would find these innumerable walls joined to each other like filaments making a huge 3D web all over space.
The immensity and vastness of this sky is impossible to be comprehended by human imagination. Man is unable to see clearly for more than a few miles; man’s most powerful telescope, the Hubble, can see only a conical section of space and can focus at a fixed length or layer at one time. That means that the sky is observed only in bits and pieces. However much we try to consolidate these pieces, to try to make a full picture in our mind, the picture cannot be a perfect concurrence. Somehow, an uncertainty principle works here; if we are imagining the galaxies, we are not realizing the true distances; if we try to realize the true distances, we cannot even figure how to reach the sun.
Nevertheless, letting the thought oscillate from the gigantic mountain tops, to the Sun, to Andromeda (our closest galaxy), to local clusters, to more clusters and to the enormous walls and filaments and back and forth, does set the heart pounding at the regimes of the glorious Creator; Who can construct with lengths in the billions and masses in the trillions, yet not miss intricacy in the slightest nor miss balance in the heaviest.
When man looks at the sky with his naked eyes, it seems so placid, so far-fetched and so unchangeable, yet he inevitably inquires to himself; – are the stars ever going to alter their tracks, will this magnanimous system go on forever, what are the odds against it?
There are but many odds; as new technology and the possibility to use enormous data in swift computer programs increases, we are able to see a lot of commotion and change in the cosmological arena. Everyday scientists are claiming newly found events all around the universe. The universe as a whole is expanding at an accelerating rate, which means that whatever speed the universe is expanding today, it will be expanding ~6.3 million km/solar day faster every next day in every million parsec of distance (parsec=3.6light years, where there are 14 billion parsecs in the observable universe); at this acceleration, when we are much faster every day, the heat and the gravity are quickly being disintegrated into thin air as the holding power of the universe is being diminished.
Andromeda, our closest galactic neighbor, is about twice as big as the Milky Way (our own galaxy), and both contain several hundred billion stars. Andromeda is about 2.2 million light years away from us, but the gap is closing at 500,000 km/hour. The two galaxies are on a collision course! In about 3 billion years, the two galaxies are expected to collide.
The Sun, whom men have – in most part of their history – revered as their god, ‘the provider’, seems not quite sustainable by itself; in ~5 billion years, it will become a red-giant, and then explode to be left as a diminishing white-dwarf. But much before that, ~I billion years from now, the sun’s heat would have increased so much (10%) that the ecosystem that maintains life on earth would have failed; perhaps much before this 10% rise.
Closer in, there is news of the moon’s surface and the earth’s surface being on the decrease; though these claims are yet to be confirmed, there is a confirmation of the earth’s atmosphere shrinking. Several other global events are alarming man of nearing devastation like the shrinking of the land surface, the polar meltdown and permafrost thawing, air/sea temperatures increasing, sea levels rising, increased rate of extinctions; not to mention the exploding human population rife with hunger, disease and an extraordinary urge for mass productions in the genus homo, that leaves humanity poorer and the earth more polluted every day. There are also some global catastrophes that are very possible but equally unpredictable, like the pole shift, being struck by a meteor, extraordinary solar flares or solar wind, any of which could come as a death blow to a baffled planet.
So does the Quran tell us how near the end is, and how does it hint its coming?
Approximately 3300 years ago, Allah said to Moses:
“surely! the Hour is coming…” (20:15)
To our own prophet Muhammad, He said:
“and lo! the Hour is surely coming…” (15:85)
“… and the matter of the Hour is but as a twinkling of the eye, or it is nearer still…” (16:77)
“And because the Hour is coming…” (22:7)
“…What will make you know, that the hour, has perhaps come near” (33:63)
“…what will make you know, perhaps the Hour is nigh!” (42:17)
“The Hour drew nigh and the moon was slit in two.” (5:41)
The question is: how nigh is nigh? We know that for Allah, time has different, in fact, many different meanings compared to what it means to us, nevertheless, the constant warning of Allah to His prophets, and through them to all mankind, that ‘the end is nigh’, does persuade us to think of it as such. Apparently, Allah is inviting man to expect an uncalled-for catastrophic event, when everything seems to be going well and systematic.
“And they say: When will this promise be fulfilled, if ye are truthful? They await but one Shout, which will surprise them while they are disputing. Then they cannot make a will, nor can they return to their folk.” (36:48-50)
So the Quran is inviting us not to bethink that the universe will slowly evolve to its doom, perhaps in billions of years, but that the equilibrium will come to a point of unsustainability in such a way that the working system will have to be deserted. Perhaps the chemistry of the dark matter will be altered, according to decree, in the set model; perhaps the command that has been laid down in the advance blueprint of the universe is the command we await in time.
And when that time has approached, things will have to be abandoned in a seemingly abrupt manner; there will be huge galactic collisions, the skies will change their color, all matter will be rolled-in together, so that for once, the heat and the density will multiply to extents so large that the whole dimension of reality will change form; man’s senses, if they do not perish, will experience new horizons; hearing and seeing will not be what it is now. In this inter-galactic collusion, when the formation of all matter will be torn-off under immense gravity, unprecedented speeds and enormous heat, how will a fragile creation like man survive to witness it? Is all this possible?
One must appreciate that the universe we are living in may very well be in an extreme state of crisis. As the scientific community is unable to estimate the true extent (size) of the universe and all their theories are based on observations inside the ‘observable universe’, they cannot really say ‘at what speed the universe is actually flying apart’; if the universe is bigger and bigger, the speed at which we are expanding will be bigger and bigger. The more this speed the sooner the entropy of the system will be lost; as all matter becomes farther away, gravity will loosen its pull and the heat of each planet and star will be lost in the vast, haunting space of the skies; so the inability to know the true size of the universe renders us unable to determine its probable point of collapse; perhaps it is nigh!
In addition to this fast tearing-apart, the universe is also filled with a phenomenon called the ‘black holes’; these are regions of space-time where immense gravity prevents anything including light to escape. They are possibly highly compacted masses of dying stars, with such a strong gravity that anything coming in their ‘event horizons’ will fall in them, never to return. In fact, it has been scientifically established that the core of our Milky Way galaxy contains a supermassive black hole of about 4.3 million solar masses. Perhaps gravity-centers like these are responsible for the galaxies to compile and rotate around them. Just imagine if this massive black hole in the middle of our galaxy reaches a point of anti-equilibrium now, when it needs to gobble up more material; imagine if all the black holes around the universe are to be activated at the same time due to some universal deficiency point!
The current scientific consensus among most cosmologists is that the ultimate fate of the universe depends on its overall shape, the amount of dark matter in it and how the dark energy density responds to the expansion of the universe. So it would be worthwhile to see if the Quran gives any hint upon this issue. Among the three possibilities of the overall shape of the universe, the consensus is upon its flat shape, for which the density of matter in the universe is fairly equal to the critical density, a model in which the universe is ever expanding; whereas the spherical shape and the hyperbolic sheet shape do not confirm all observations. The Quran confirms the flat shape of the universe when it says:
“The Day when We roll up the heavens like rolling up a scroll for writings…” (21:104)
The Quran is telling us that when the ultimate fate of the universe has arrived, the whole system is going to be rolled up like a scroll, meaning that the shape of the universe resembles a flat sheet of paper. If this is true, then the size of the universe has to be much, much larger than the observable universe, as for man, the extent of the observable universe around him is the same in every direction. But the Quran does not reject the hyperbolic model completely, as when the scroll was rolled out at the beginning of creation it could have maintained some curves like the paper scroll would have, ; but rejects the infinity of space in this model as an infinitely lengthy universe would take an infinite time to roll-in. The Quran does not totally reject the spherical model either, as it accepts its property of being an enclosed, finite and possibly elliptical in shape universe at the larger scale. The Quran says:
“Do they not look at the sky above them! How We have made it and decorated it, and not for it is opening/cleave/gap” (50:6)
This statement not only indicates that all material is in a continuous flow, connected in sequence, with no gap in between, but also points to the fact that the universe is confined and thus finite; it rejects the possibility of an infinite universe, as for an infinite universe, it is not possible to define the boundary as ‘opened’ or ‘closed’, as the boundaries cannot be defined at all. Therefore it can be concluded that the Quran may be hinting us of at least three specific stages in the life of the Universe; its birth, its infancy and now its almost full grown age.
In fact, the Quran gives more hints upon the shape of the universe in the following ayahs:
‘And We have made, above you, seven tracks ‘taraiq’; and not are We unaware of Our creation.’ (23:17)
Interestingly, the word ‘Taraq’ (tua-ra-qaf) means ‘to beat the wool with a rod in order to mix it or loosen it’; perhaps that is where it connotes the meaning of a track, as the very act of beating the wool stirs the rod in an elliptical motion. Thus Allah is hinting to us that at the universal scale, the skies are made up of seven gigantic whirlpools of dust, where each particle of dust holds galaxies inside it. Let’s observe another ayah:
‘He Who created the seven skies one above another ‘tibaaqan’ do you see in the creation of the Rehman (the Gracious) escape ‘tafaawut’. Return your sight; is there any rift ‘futoor’?’ (67:3)
The word Tabbaq (tua-ba-qaf) means ‘to stretch, overwhelm and to cover a thing completely like a lid’, whereas the word Fuat (fa-wa-ta) means ‘to miss, slip or lack proportion’, and the word Fatar (fa-tua-ra) means ‘to cleave, slit, break into pieces and create out of nothing’. The majestic Quran is therefore telling us that the skies that surround us from everywhere, though they are seven, but we would have no means of knowing more than one as each one would cover the other in such a way that the parallel others would be completely hidden and obscured by the immediate one. And being stretched to a certain degree and having no escape would mean that the Quran talks of an enclosed and finite universe, moreover, these skies are layered in such a way that they do not break or cleave each other, and each one maintains its design while sewed together as one. Let’s observe another set of ayahs:
‘and it is He that has created you in succession Atwaaran?
‘See ye not how Allah has created the seven heavens one above another Tibaaqan’
‘And made the moon in them, a light and made the sun as a Lamp?’ (71:14- 16)
The first ayah is illuminating in many ways – the word Tawwar (tua-wa-ra) means circular motion approaching a point or succession of events, therefore, when Allah says that He created us in successive stages that occurred in smooth circular pattern, He might be implying that to the creation and evolution of the universe as a whole, which would eventually circumvent in the creation of Adam or He may be hinting towards the creation and evolution of the earth or of life itself on the planet. This, however, would not imply in any way that the Quran is confirming the Darwinian concept of evolution, but only that Allah gave allowance and existence to life in a progressive manner on earth, sending man down only when all was ready and settled.
However, in the universal scenario, it would imply that as the universe evolved in stages, it might have started with a circular shape, slowly opening up into a hyperbolic shape and eventuating into plains of sheets, sewed into each other in complex manner. The Quran might also be hinting to us that as the universe unfolds to a complete spread of a sheet-like structure, it has reached its final evolutionary state, the next step of which is not growth but the exact reversal of that; perhaps the universe is at its tipping point and any moment, when the sheet of the universe has been stretched to its maximum, will be the moment it will start rolling back, annihilating itself into altogether new dimensions, opposite to the ones that make possible its existence as such. And as the present shape of the universe has been acclaimed as a flat one, by the scientific community, it is not a surprise that we are at the climax of events, and the Hour is perhaps at our doors.
But has the hour been specified to us or to the Prophet by the Quran? No! Although the Quran repeatedly asserts upon us that we are in for a very close encounter, but it simply discourages those who tried to implore the exact time from the Prophet:
“They ask thee about the Hour – when is its resting? Say, ‘surely its knowledge is with my Lord. None can manifest its time but He. It lays with weight in the skies and the land, it will not come to you except suddenly’. They ask you as if you were endeavoring for it, The knowledge of it is with Allah (alone), but most men know not.” (7:187)
So we are not supposed to be predicting the time for its coming as many are urged to do, rather we are to make it a part of our individual and collective conscience that the end is nigh and definite and mold our lives in this conscience. The hint that the end lies as a burden, or maybe an increasing burden, all around us in the skies, takes us back to the idea of dark matter, which is present all around us but is undetectable to the human senses. Scientists believe that this matter exists because it is required to account for the total mass of the universe, which is ~4 times more than the normal detectable matter. The dark matter does not interact or collide with normal matter, but it weighs over normal matter by ~4 times. The weight and stretch of the universe may reach a point when this property of inertness of the dark matter collapses and it starts colliding with the normal matter; in such a case, all things might face annihilation right at the spot they exist.
“They ask you about the Hour, ‘When will it come to rest? With what are you to mention it? Onto your Lord is its ending.” (79: 42-44)
Apart from all this scientific evidence, there are some very obvious historical evidences that we should lay our eyes upon. The first and foremost is the coming of the ‘last prophet’ and the final infallible ‘word’ of Allah. For those who study world history and the history presented in the Quran, it is not hard to assimilate that the Quran is the most comprehensive and accurate book for human history and the history of the universe. The bold declaration of the Quran that religion is now complete and revelation, humanity was so atoned to, will enter the human sphere no more and Muhammad is the last man to receive such revelation, is a clear indication that we are now witnessing the final episode of the drama of human history on earth. However elongated, this has to be the final chapter of man, and with him, the whole universe will come to the doom that is part and parcel of its design.
The Quran has warned the Arabs several times that the civilizations that had been put to severe punishment and doom before you were more in strength and resources than you are, but for the civilization that was to come after the occurrence of the Quran on earth was to be magnified many a times in the effects of civilization, knowledge, technology, resources and also warfare, conspiracy and the vilest forms of human conduct.
“Soon We will show them our signs in the extremities, and in themselves, until it is manifest upon them that this is ‘the Truth’. Is it not enough that your Lord witnesses all things?” (41: 53)
The Quran has been true to its word so far, for if one compares the technological and the information advancement man has made in the last 1400 years to that experienced by him in its ~60,000 years history (the Out of Africa Theory), one can easily see that there is no comparison at all. Just before Muhammad, the literacy rate among men was negligible; this commodity was confined to the scribes of the monarchs and the priests; barbarism, myth and war were the vogue of the day; man had not come much farther from stone tools but to the simple wheel and barrow; the earth was still flat.
Today, man speculates upon the far un-seeable parts of the universe with proof and accuracy; today we are shown in animation how the tiny factory of the mitochondria within our cells works, with several well defined features. Today, the quantum of our thought is aiming to cross the boundaries of material solidity and sublime truth that connect each particle of the universe with the whole. Today, we know so much in such details that any man who is sensitive enough has to live in constant alarm, surprise and bafflement as to what is going on around him and how ‘truth’ is to be reached. Today is the right time when a man who tries to put all the available data and all the happenings around him into prospect, his thought would automatically circumvent into the idea of an end which is nigh.
“Those who remember Allah standing, sitting, and reclining on their sides and contemplate upon the creation of the heavens and the earth, say, “Our Lord! not have you created all this in falsehood! Purified are You! save us from the anguish of the Fire.” (3:191)