4) Gravity in the Quran

Gravity in the Quran

Gravity is one of the four forces of nature. A striking feature of gravity is its universal power. Every particle in the universe is under its influence. Nothing can escape gravity. Even if it was possible, the system used to shield space from gravity could not escape its own gravity. Gravity makes the heavens go and has shaped the large scale structure of the universe.

Newton’s concept of gravity

The universal law of gravity was formulated by Newton in the 17th century. The law states that the force of attraction (gravitational force) between two bodies is dependent upon their masses and distance between them. It is this simple but crucial law that underpins the harmony and order of the universe. It governs the motions of stars, planets and galaxies. Newton perceived gravity to be an attractive force. The moon for instance orbits around the Earth due to the Earth gravitational power “pulling” the moon towards it. The moon does not crash into the Earth because of its own motion which constantly tries to push it away from the Earth. Scientists describe the movement of the moon as continuously falling towards the Earth but never reaching it.

The Quran and Newtonian gravity

The Quran refers to gravity in the following passage: ”Have We not made the Earth draw to itself the living and the non-living ?” (77-25). The verse gives us insight into the nature of gravity:

  1. Its attractive character and
  2. Its universal power signified by its influence on all things, living and non-living.

The key Arabic word in the passage describes gravity as a drawing force exerted by matter (Earth). It also means to grip. This conveys the idea that nothing can escape it; everything is held in its “grip”. 55-5 points out the mathematical nature of gravity: “The sun and the moon (and all other celestial bodies) follow (orbital) pathways (exactly) computed”. My insertion of ‘orbital’ is justified by 21-33 quoted below.  The motion of celestial bodies is governed by precise laws. Notice that the sun is not static as believed for centuries, but follows a definite path. This is confirmed in 21-33 which sums up the nature of celestial motion: “Each (celestial body) travels silently and effortlessly in its elliptical orbit with its own kind of motions”. Note the shape of the orbits described. Celestial bodies do not move in perfect circles but follows an elongated path. The “silent” and effortless” motion is based on Einstein’s equivalence principle which explains why we do not sense the motion of the Earth despite the fact that it is hurtling around the sun at a 100 thousand km p/h. The Quran aptly describes the motion as silent and effortless. A related verse on gravity is the following: “It is (His gravitational laws) that hold the celestial bodies (in their orbits) preventing them from falling on the Earth except by His leave” (22-65).  The bracketed words are derived from passages discussed in a previous article, galaxies and planetary systems. It is interesting that the verse alludes to the possibility of space objects striking the Earth, a fact disclosed hundreds of years after the Qur’an was revealed. The “permission” to strike the Earth is not an arbitrary act of God, but is based on His physical laws of gravity.

Einstein’s view of gravity

Newton’s law of gravity was considered a triumph for science until a flaw was exposed in the 1816’s. Newton’s law could only account for 99.5 percent of Mercury’s (the planet closest to the sun) orbital motion around the sun. This may sound like a small discrepancy, but it was significant enough to warrant an adjustment or an entirely new theory. There was another puzzling feature of Newtonian gravity that also troubled Newton himself. He could not understand how one celestial body could reach out across the vastness of space and exert its influence on another. The law made all these wonderful predictions but failed to provide a plausible mechanism as to how gravity actually works. In the early part of the 20th century both mysteries were solved when Einstein introduced his general theory of relativity. In this theory Einstein describes gravity in a radically different manner. The central idea is that gravity is not a force that attracts matter, but is the result of the curvature of space. In this view planets for instance move around the sun, not as a result of some mysterious force acting instantaneously over a large distance, but follow curved paths as a result of the sun curving surrounding space. Gravity is just a manifestation of curved space-time. When discussing space-time in an early article, verses were quoted showing that the Quran does not regard space and time as fundamental concepts, but view them as structural entities. Furthermore, 10-51 describes space and time as interwoven. It is therefore plausible that the Quran views space and time as a combined space-time structure. Since it is difficult to visualise four-dimensional space-time, we may supress two dimensions and imagine space-time to be a two-dimensional flat rubber sheet or trampoline. If a large soccer ball is placed on the sheet, it causes a dip in the sheet. Remove the ball and “space-time” becomes flat once more. If a marble is rolled across the sheet, it will follow a straight path. In the presence of the soccer ball, “space-time” is indented or warped and the marble will follow a curved trajectory in and out of the dip around the bigger ball. Astronomical bodies like the sun and planets do the same to four dimensional space-time of the real universe. They curve or distort it. The sun for instance curves surrounding space which causes a deflection in the motion of the planets from their straight path which they otherwise would have followed if space-time was flat (in the absence of the sun). Similarly, the Earth distorts surrounding space which keeps the moon in orbit. The same principle implies to other celestial bodies.

Einstein’s view of gravity in the Quran

13-2 states: “It is God that raises the celestial bodies with an invisible pillar and is firmly established on the throne of power. He it is who made the sun and the moon (and all other celestial bodies) subservient (to His gravitational laws), each running a cause for a term appointed (in accordance with those laws). He governs everything that exists. Clearly does He spell out these (scientific) messages that you may be certain in the depth of your being that you are destined to meet your creator”. My insertion of gravitational laws is justified by the context and verses quoted above especially 55-5. The ‘invisible pillar’ is the all-pervading gravitational influence which holds the key to the motion and suspension of heavenly bodies in space. It is striking that, whereas 77-25 sited earlier the Quran views gravity as a force (as perceived by Newton), in 13-2 its description as an invisible support structure is more in tune with the modern view of Einstein. To appreciate this scientific prediction, we need to look at a few other verses. 10-51 quoted under the topic space-time connects motion in space with time. Focus now on 13-2; it speaks about the motion of celestial bodies under the influence of gravity. If gravity and motion are linked and the same applies to time and motion as stated in 10-5, it follows that time and gravity must be connected. But remember the Quran as demonstrated earlier, views the universe in terms of a combined space-time structure. It is therefore perfectly reasonable that gravity must be associated with space-time. Now recall verse  86-112 which refers to the curved nature of space. This is supported by 21-1043 which states that space-time will be “rolled-up”, in other words curved around on itself. This will happen in the far distant future. The fact that these verses describe a “closed” universe, points to the curvature of space. So, if gravity and space-time are connected and space (strictly space-time) is curved, then gravity according to the Quran is related to curved space-time. This vision of describing gravity as curved space-time is the basis of Einstein’s theory of relativity. We may therefore infer that the heavenly bodies mentioned in 13-2 follow courses guided by the unseen hand of space-time. These verses embrace the essence of Einstein’s view of gravity. The “religious” conclusion of 13-2 is significant. According to the Quran science is an integral aspect of belief. Contemplating its futuristic knowledge of gravity should convince any unprejudiced mind of its divine origin and hence it metaphysical message (in the context the reality of the hereafter). Life after death on this basis cannot therefore be dismissed as ancient tales. Note once again the characteristic style of the Quran linking science to metaphysical concepts.

Foot notes

  1. “He it is who made the sun a source of light and the moon (a body) that reflects light and ordained that it (the moon) moves in space and measured out phases for her that you may be know how to compute the number of years and how to measure (time)”(10-5).
  2. “By the heavenly space which is expanding and curving back (on itself) to return to its original state” (86-11).
  3. “A long period from now, We shall roll up space-time as written scrolls are rolled up. And as We brought into being the first creation, so We shall bring forth a new creation” (21-104).

 

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