Science and Islam
Space Travel in 1999: Allah Sets the Limits
By Karima Burns, MH, ND
Space exploration has historically been attributed to the realm of human achievement. From the time we first realized that the earth rotates around the sun to the time we first landed on the moon, man has taken credit for his achievements in exploring and conquering space.
In fact, until recently, man felt that he was close to conquering space itself as all that he was able to see in the universe appeared to be within his reach. However, this past year, the limits of man's attempts at exploration were revealed when he finally realized just how infinite space truly is.
Whereas man originally thought that the sun and the moon were the limits of heaven, and then more recently, his perception expanded to include all of our solar system and some scattered systems beyond, he is finally coming to terms with the reality that space is indeed limitless and endless. The Qur'an says, "(The heavens) hath seven gates, and each gate hath an appointed portion" (15:44). As humans, we are finally beginning to realize how inaccessible the heavens are and with how much awe we should regard them.
In the Qur'an (36:40), Allah reveals to us that, "It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor doth the night outstrip the day. They float each in an orbit," but the rest of the heavens is largely left a mystery for us. We are simply told, "Oh, jinn and men, if ye have power to penetrate (all) regions of the heavens and the earth, then penetrate (them)! Ye will never penetrate them save with (Our) sanction" (55:33).
Given this promise, it seems that Allah has indeed blessed us this year by allowing us to penetrate "where no man had ever gone before." It follows that our recent achievements in science should finally create in us - rather than a feeling of achievement - awe for the creation of Allah.
The Qur'an says, "(Whereby) the angels and the Spirit ascend unto Him in a Day whereof the span is fifty thousand years" (70:3). Contrast this with the reality of the space probe Galileo that arrived at Jupiter five years ago. Since then, Galileo has traveled more than 2 billion miles and returned more than 25,000 images.
Consider how much more of space would be explored if Allah were to allow it to travel another 45,995 years. Just imagining this brings us to a realization of just how little of space we actually have explored. And when we consider how hard we struggled to obtain this small amount of data about just one planet and its moons, the reality of our achievement is even more reduced.
Popular Science magazine writes about the space probe Galileo as if it were writing an adventure story; "Galileo takes a licking and keeps on ticking ... while taking a closer look at the moon Europa, and then circling dangerously close to the fiery moon Io." The Qur'an (21:30) says, "Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them, and We made every living thing of water? Will they not then believe?"
Astronomers are now discovering that Mars may indeed have water on its surface and that beneath the icy crusts of Europa (one of Jupiter's moons), there may be an ocean many times larger than any ocean found on Earth. Jupiter's moon, Callisto, may also have oceans. Just three years ago, scientists were convinced that Earth was the only planet with water.
And beyond the realm of what we can understand is also the realm of what remains hidden. For many years, scientists have been exploring what they call black holes. To many scientists, a black hole is simply an "absence of matter" or a phenomenon that they cannot completely explain. Unable to see a black hole itself, the researchers search for its "signature," the unique way that it affects nearby matter. They observe how nearby stars swarm around it and they measure how fast the black hole whips them around in order to determine its colossal size and precisely measure its location.
Recently, results have shown that a black hole found right in the middle of our Milky Way Galaxy is as massive as 2.6 million stars all squeezed into a space as wide as the earth's orbit around the sun. However, these calculations themselves create the question as to how such a big black hole could so easily hide within our galaxy, and force researchers to rethink the manner in which black holes interact with other bodies in the universe.
To a Muslim scientist, however, the black hole is an ultimate proof of the existence of Allah. Scientists cannot see a black hole, but they can prove that it is there by the "signs" it leaves within space. How then is that many people believe in black holes, and yet refuse to believe in the "signs" sent by Allah as proof of His existence? The Qur'an says, "Allah speaketh to mankind in allegories, for Allah is knower of all things" (Sura 24:35).
Another discovery this year highlighted the fact that what we are now exploring is only a "drop in the bucket" of existence. Astronomers have long wondered about a faint x-ray mist that covered the universe, but could not find its source. Recent research in 2000 by the Chandra observatory pinpointed the haze to over 70 million galaxies with massive black holes at their cores. These galaxies are the most distant objects that scientists have ever detected.
It is a fact that the more we discover, the more we realize we have not discovered. From the interior of the human DNA to the far outreaches of space, man finds himself in awe of Allah's limitless creation. However, contrary to the belief of many scientists, their discoveries do not bring us closer to "knowing God's secrets"; instead, they actually serve as an illustration of how unattainable they really are.
A hundred years ago, our galaxy was the only space we knew of and aspired to conquer. Now, just a hundred years later, and thanks to our achievements in space exploration during the year 2000, we realize how large the "map" of space really is.
Fi Amani Allah