Thursday, June 4, 2009

Relativity of Time in the Qur'an

Is there any reference in the Qur’an to the relativity of time? If so, how can that be related to the findings of modern science?

The conclusion to which we are led by the findings of modern science is that time is not an absolute fact as supposed by materialists, but only a relative perception. What is most interesting is that this fact, undiscovered until the 20th century by science, was revealed to mankind in the Qur’an fourteen centuries ago. In fact, there are various references in the Qur’an to the relativity of time.

It is possible to see in many verses of the Qur’an the scientifically proven fact that time is a psychological perception dependent on events, the setting, and conditions. For instance, a person’s entire life is a very short time as we are informed in the Qur’an in Surah Israa’:

“On the Day when He will call you, and you will answer [His Call] with [words of] His praise and obedience, and you will think that you have stayed [in this world] but a little while!” [Surah Al-Israa’, 17:52]

Then also in Surah Yunus:

“And on the Day when He shall gather them together, [it will seem to them] as if they had not tarried [on earth] longer than an hour of a day: they will recognize each other.” [Surah Yunus, 10: 45]

Some verses indicate that people perceive time differently and that sometimes people can perceive a very short period as a very lengthy one. The following conversation of people held during their judgment in the Hereafter is a good example of this; Surah Al-Mu’minun:

“He will say: “What number of years did you stay on earth?” They will say: “We stayed a day or part of a day, but ask those who keep account.” He will say: “You stayed not but a little, if you had only known!” [Surah Al-Mu’minun, 23: 112 – 114]

In some other verses Allah states that time may flow at different paces in different settings, as in Surah Al-Hajj:

“Yet, they ask you to hasten on the punishment! But Allah will not fail in His Promise. Verily a day in the sight of your Lord is like a thousand years of your reckoning.” [Surah Al-Hajj, 22: 47]

Also in Surah Al-Ma’arij:

“The angels and the spirit ascend unto Him in a day the measure whereof is [as] fifty thousand years.” [Surah Al-Ma’arij, 70: 4]

Then, in Surah Sajdah:

“He rules [all] affairs from the heavens to the earth: in the end will [all affairs] ascend to Him in a day the measure of which is a thousand years of what you count.” [Surah Sajdah, 32: 5]

These verses are clear expressions of the relativity of time. That this result, which was only recently understood by scientists in the 20th century, was communicated to Man 1,400 years ago in the Qur’an is an indication of the revelation of the Qur’an by Allah, Who encompasses the whole of time and space.

Many other verses of the Qur’an reveal that time are a perception. This is particularly evident in the stories. For instance, Allah has kept the Companions of the Cave, a group of believing people mentioned in the Qur’an, in a deep sleep for more than three centuries. When they awoke, these people thought that they had stayed in that state but a little while, and could not reckon how long they had slept; Surah Kahfi:

“Then We drew [a veil] over their ears, for a number of years, in the cave, [so that they heard not]. Then We raised them up that We might know which of the two parties would best calculate the time that they had tarried.” [Surah Kahfi, 18: 11 – 12]

Again, in the same Surah Kahfi:

Such [being their state], We raised them up [form sleep], that they might question each other. Said one of them: “How long have you stayed [here]?” They said: “We have stayed [perhaps] a day, or part of a day.” [At length] they [all] said: “Allah [alone] knows best how long you have stayed here…” [Surah Kahfi, 18: 19]

The situation told in the verse below – Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 259 - is also evidence that time is in truth a psychological perception:

“Or [take] the similitude of one who passed by a hamlet, all in ruins to its roofs. He said: “How shall Allah bring it [ever] to life, after [this] its death?” But Allah caused him to die for a hundred years, then raised him up [again]. He said: “How long did your tarry [thus]?” He said: “[Perhaps] a day or part of a day.” He said: “Nay, you have tarried thus a hundred years; but look at your food and your drink; they show no signs of age; and look at your donkey. And that We may make of you a sign unto the people. Look further at the bones, how We bring them together and clothe them with flesh.” When this was shown clearly to him, he said: “I know that Allah has power over all things.” [Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: 259]

In fact, the above verse clearly emphasizes that Allah, Who created time, is unbound by it. Man, on the other hand, is bound by time, which is ordained by Allah. As in the verse, Man is even incapable of knowing how long he slept!

Allah Almighty Knows Best.

Excerpted with modifications from Islam Online, Asked about Islam, published on 1 February 2003

©Islam Online

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