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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The New or Last Millennium?

The New or Last Millennium

In his celebrated commentary on the Quran, Ibn Kathir told us about an event that took place during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him!). It was when he once saw the sun setting, depicting the reddish-gold color that is its characteristic at the final moments of retreat. He told the companions that what is left for this world is just not more than what is left for the sun to set then.
I can recall the theme of Gangar Wa’azu, way back in the sixties when we were kids, with its terrifying prophecies and elucidation of signs regarding the end of the world. Fifteen years later on an evening, I was confronted with the same terrifying topic as a listener to a debate between the late Babagana Adam and Abdulrazak Mahmoud at the Central Mosque of A. B. U. Main Campus. It centered around a book written by one Ali Akbar that strongly argued along the line of Gangar Wa’azu. Individual readers, Muslims and Christians alike, would each remember such instances when they came across a literature, a sermon or a debate suggesting that the world is about to end.
Students of science with religious inclination usually find themselves in a sort of intellectual and/or psychological crisis regarding the conflict between science and religion on a number of phenomenological issues like this. On the issue of the doomsday however, the two disciplines are in agreement, I would say to a considerable extent.

The Concurrence
First, let’s say that science has affirmed the assertion of the Holy Prophet that fourteen hundred years ago what remained for life on earth was just a bit of what has been spent. In The Changing Universe: The Big Bang and After, Trinh Xuan Thuan gave us an account of what they called “the cosmic calendar” saying
“Human beings represent no more than a mere instant in the evolution of the universe. If the entire lifetime of the cosmos could be squeezed into a single year, the Big Bang occurred on 1 January, the Milky Way took shape on 1 April, and our solar system formed on 9 September. Biological evolution on earth did not begin until second half of December. 19 December: fist fish and vertebrates. 20 December: first plants. 21 December: first insects. 23 December: first reptiles. 24 December: first dinosaurs. 26 December: first mammals. 27 December: first birds. 28 December: dinosaurs become extinct. The entire history of human species has unfolded on the evening of 31 December. 10.30 pm: first humans. 11.59 pm: Stone Age. 11.59.50 pm: Egyptian civilization. 11.59.55 pm: birth of Buddha. 11.59.56 pm: birth of Christ. 11.59.59 pm: Renaissance in Europe. Midnight: theory of relativity, Big Bang cosmology, and the space age.”
So the issue of age is settled, or so it seems. There is also an agreement between religion and science that the world will come to an end. I wish that The Natural History of the Universe from the Big Bang to the End of Time had reached us for we could have had a more vivid account on the perception of science on the matter. However, we will make do with a paragraph from The Brief History of Time of Stephen W. Hawking where he said:
“The old idea of an essentially unchanging universe that could have existed, and could continue to exist, forever was replaced by the notion of a dynamic, expanding universe that might end at a finite time in the future. That revolution forms the subject of the next chapter. And years later, it was also to be the starting point of my work in theoretical physics. Rogers Penrose and I showed that Einstein’s general theory of relativity implied that the universe must have a beginning and, possibly, an end.”

The End According to Religion
Religion on its part has made it clear that the world indeed has a beginning; and that it will definitely end. What remains is the issue of how and when. When the Prophet was once asked, he promptly admitted having no knowledge of when the Hour will take place. However, he gave its signs. I often wonder how many times has the world witnessed a slave girl giving birth to her mistress or when the wretched became wealthy and engrossed in building skyscrapers, especially where the petrodollars are mined. There other signs like the return of Jesus, the emergence of Gog and Magog, Dajjal, the Mahdi, the Beast, the reversal of earth’s direction of revolution, which are all expected at the very tail end of the world. The Quran said:

“They ask thee of the (destined) Hour, when will it come to port. Say: Knowledge thereof is with my Lord only. He alone will manifest it at its proper time. It is heavy in the heavens and the earth. It cometh not to you save unawares. They question thee as if thou couldst be well informed thereof. Say: knowledge thereof is with God only, but most of mankind knows not.” (9:187)

There will be two separate events, both referred to as the Hour: one which will end life on earth and the other which will mark the return of man alive on it, though with a different form, to witness the awful events of the Hereafter. Both events will require only a blow in the Trumpet:

“And the trumpet is blown, and all who are in the heavens and all who are in the earth swoon away, save him whom Allah willeth. Then it is blown a second time, and behold them standing waiting!” (39:68)

The End According to Science
While religion is certain at this level, science can only afford dozens of possibilities. One is on the cosmic density that derives principally from the phenomenon of an expansion of the universe. In The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, as quoted by Thuan, Stepehen Weinberg said: “if the cosmic density is greater than the critical value, then the universe is finite and its expansion eventually cease, giving way to an accelerating contraction.. The contraction is just the expansion run backward: after 50,000 million years the universe would have regained its present size, and after another 10,000 million years it would approach a singular state of infinite density.”
The implication of this according to Stephen Hawking is that “conditions in a contacting phase would not be suitable for the existence of intelligent beings who could ask the question: why is disorder increasing in the same direction of time as that in which the universe is expanding?.. In order to survive, human beings have to consume food, which is an ordered form of energy, and convert it into heat, which is a disordered form of energy. Thus intelligent life could not exist in the contracting phase of the universe.”
Does the inquisition in the above passage by Hawking sound similar to the reader as he reads the first three verses of Chapter 99 where man will be terrified by the increasing disorder of the earth and would be ask: what is wrong with it? “When the Earth is shaken with her (final) earthquake. And Earth yieldeth up her burdens. And man saith: What aileth her?”
This may be an event that may take place at about 50 million years in the estimation of scientists based on the present rate of expansion of the Universe. However, as far as the end of the earth is concerned, life on it may come to an end through a number of other means. It could be a natural one coming from our collision with an asteroid for example. In The Changing Universe, we are told that 300 tonnes of cosmic debris rain down on the earth without serious damage. “One exception was the object that gouged out the Barringer meteor crater in Arizona. Measuring about 50m across, it crashed into the earth at a speed of 40,000 km per hour and released energy equivalent to the explosion of a 20-megaton hydrogen bomb.” An asteroid of just a kilometer diameter, which is considered small among millions of bigger ones presently moving in different directions in space, is enough to destroy our dear earth. God said: “Lo! Allah graspeth the heavens and the earth that they deviate not, and if they were to deviate there is not one that could grasp them after Him. Lo! He is ever Clement, Forgiving.”
So valid is the asteroid theory that Americans now have a center dedicated to studying their movements particularly those that they think are moving towards us. We narrowly escaped one sometime ago. Thanks to the Clement, the Forgiving. Scientists are now thinking of how to destroy asteroids by nuclear devices up there in the sky before they eventually reach the earth. Not actually a bad idea in our own little way! I am only afraid that it may be a useless one especially when God said “and if they were (to deviate), there is not one that could grasp them after Him.”
We cannot also rule out also the possibility of ecological hazards, nuclear accidents or war, epidemics and so on. All these have the capacity to wipe out civilization, to destroy life entirely on earth or the planet itself.
In fact religion has for long gone beyond the issue of whether the world will end or not. It turned much of its attention on the return of life in the Hereafter for the second and last time. In fact, it is this issue that preoccupied the people of Jahiliyya, not the end of the world. They have watched it end everyday with the death of individuals. Majority of the verses in the Quran that deals with the subject therefore talks about life after death.
This is a province that science, which using its present atheistic premise, cannot venture into. It is a certainty that arises only from belief.

The Last Millennium?
Now, having proved the possibility of the world coming to an end someday, could humanity expect to stay here for another 1000 years? No one could say so for sure. However, a verse in the Quran makes me feel that our scientific advancement and arrogance are approaching levels close to those of that are expected to immediately precede the end of life on earth. The verse reads:

“The similitude of the life of the world is only as water which We send down from the sky, then the earth’s growth of that which men and cattle eat mingleth with it till, when the earth hath taken on her ornaments and is embellished, and her people deem that they are masters of her, Our commandment cometh by night or by day and We make it as reaped corn as if it had not flourished yesterday.”

This verse gives us the picture of a global world, when humanity will almost together reach a point of consensus of its power over the beautiful environment they have built, when they think that they have control over the entire earth due to their discoveries and technological ability. That arrogance carries them and suddenly the Hour comes at an unexpected time.
Every time I read about one scientific advancement or our ambition in space, followed by our dream of discovering the secrets of the universe, both the possible and the impossible, I just feel that it is another fulfilment of the conditions enumerated in the above verse.
The issue can be seen from a different angle however. There were great civilizations that flourished in the past. They lasted millennia but were promptly brought to an end. God gave us many examples of such instances and archaeology is today unearthing astonishing details regarding them. They were destroyed mainly due to their arrogance, especially when they deny the powers of God or His existence. The devil of such arrogance has always made man its hostage especially when he is allowed to build civilization for thousands of years or advance in discoveries and inventions. The case of A’ad is one worth citing: God said:

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