According to contemporary scientists, it is thought that the universe came into being around 13.7 billion years ago. The basic characteristics of the very early universe have been described in the big bang theory, but scientists are still only able to make educated guesses about the details. High energy physics has been used to describe the evolution of the universe in the period that followed, explaining how the first protons, electrons and neutrons formed. They talk of the formation of the first nuclei, then the formation of atoms and of neutral hydrogen. A third period describes the formation of structure: matter coming together to form stars, quasars, galaxies, galaxy clusters and super clusters. I find this structural period fascinating.
Some of the most beautiful images I know are those showing deep space as generated by the Hubble Space Telescope. Those images always warm my soul, reminding me of the grandeur of our Creator, putting everything into perspective. One of the most exciting developments of recent times was the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image, which was derived from data accumulated between September 2003 and January 2004. Although this has been described as covering a small region of space, it is estimated to contain ten thousand galaxies. As the deepest image of the universe ever taken using the visible spectrum, it takes us back in time more than 13 billion years, showing us how the universe looked in the early Stelliferous age.
While the images of deep space in themselves are always heartwarming, their significance is also profoundly felt when one considers the words of the Qur’an about Allah’s creation. Sura 41, ayat 11, fails to provide us with a wooly, open description that the post-enlightenment age has taught us to expect from scripture. Far from it: the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image could be used to illustrate this verse. The non-Muslim, Arthur J. Arberry, translated it as follows in 1964:
Then He lifted Himself to heaven when it was smoke, and said to it and to the earth, “Come willingly, or unwillingly!” They said, “We come willingly.” *
This need not comes as a surprise for the Muslim who believes that the Qur’an is the Word of God. Of course the Creator can describe His creation in truthful terms. From His Throne, He is witness to all things. For the disbeliever who considers the Qur’an to be the fourteen hundred year old work of man, however, it could be nothing but a miracle: it would even have been so had it originated in 1964, twenty-nine years before Hubble was operational. Allah is magnificent.
One of my favorite websites is http://hubblesite.org. For me it is a reminder of what we really mean when we say ‘Allahu Akbar’ – God is Great. In these days of conflict, it is wonderful to remind ourselves of these things. If we set our short lives beside the fourteen billion years of Allah’s creation, it helps put everything into perspective. It reminds us of our place. It reminds us of why we are here and our part in this great scheme of things. It is right that we reflect upon these things, because it is what Allah asked of those us who were not brought up as Muslims. This is how that same Arabist translated sura 21, ayat 30:
Have not the unbelievers then beheld that the heavens and the earth were a mass all sewn up, then We unstitched them and of water fashioned every living thing? Will they not believe?
For my part, I have beheld and thus I am one who witnesses that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah alone without partner and that Muhammad is his Messenger. Allah is magnificent. Visit that site and reflect. It is well worth it. Notice how it strengthens your du’a.
* A. J. Arberry (1964), The Koran Interpreted, Oxford University Press, p.491