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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Are we alone in this universe?

“Are we alone in this universe?” is a question that fascinates one-and-all. Aliens, extraterrestrial creatures, UFOs are words that brings about a sense of curiosity to many. For long, people have been reporting their experiences of coming across creatures unfamiliar, with features irregular. So also frequent reports of seeing Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) from different corners of the world are common. Most of the times however, the claims and description sound very much the same, like the description of the unfamiliar creature or the structure and design of claimed spaceship etc.
There are about 200 to 400 billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy and there are probably more than 170 billion such galaxies in the observable universe. Hence the probability of life on other planets in this gigantic universe is very high and search for life beyond the confines of planet earth is on for quite some time now, but with very little or no real success as yet.
Are we alone in this universe? Is there life anywhere else in the universe? Is there another planet like ours somewhere? Is there life-form anywhere in the universe apart from that on earth? These are among the questions which science is still searching answers for. Let us take a voyage through the cosmos of Islam and see what do we have relevant to the topic under discussion.

- Definition
The general meaning of the word “alien” is ‘something unfamiliar or unacceptable’. In reference to a living thing it may mean someone ‘belonging to a foreign country’, ‘a foreigner’ or ‘being from another world’. Of course, we are interested in discussing about ‘being from another world’.

- The search is on
Recently, the famous physicist Stephen Hawking, in a documentary, stated why he is believes in the possibility of the existence of life beyond earth. He is, however, not the first and only scientist to say that. Many scientists believe that we are not alone in this universe. Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved. In his words, “To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational, the real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”
In recent years, the search of extraterrestrial life (Extraterrestrial life may be defined as life that does not originate from Earth. The term comes from the roots of two Latin words:extra’ meaning ‘beyond’ or ‘not of’ andterrestrial’ meaning ‘of or belonging to Earth’), has seen many advances. American space agency, NASA has launched many multi-billion dollar projects in quest of life away from earth. It has sent a number of spacecrafts and rovers in space. NASA sent quite a few orbiters and rovers to Mars viz. Odyssey, Spirit, Opportunity and Reconnaissance and now it is planning manned mission on Mars, of course these are possible and will be true only with the Will of Allaah. As Allaah says:
“O company of jinn and mankind, if you are able to pass beyond the regions of the heavens and the earth, then pass. You will not pass except by authority [from Allaah].”
[al-Qur’an (55:33)]
Similar such attempts are also made by other space agencies around the world, in search of a planet which can sustain life.

- Is there any mention in Qur’an?
Allaah says in the Qur’an:
“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the living creatures that He has scattered through them: and He has power to gather them together when He wills.”
[al-Qur’an (42:29)]
Now, before moving ahead let us understand that the Arabic word translated as “heavens” is “sama”, which also means “sky”. So the verse could also be referring to the creatures of sky i.e. birds. However, in the Qur’an birds are mentioned separately from the creatures of heaven in:
“See you not that it is Allaah Whose praises all beings in the heavens and on earth do celebrate, and the birds (of the air) with wings outspread? Each one knows its own (mode of) prayer and praise. And Allaah knows well all that they do.”
[al-Qur’an (24:41)]
In the Qur’an, the term “as-ssamawati wal-ard” occurs many times (as also in both the above quoted verses), and is generally translated as “the heavens and the earth” denoting the universe in its entirety. Furthermore, the Arabic word translated as “living creatures” is “dabbatin” which denotes ‘living’, ‘crawling creatures’, ‘beasts’ etc.
Abdullah Yusuf Ali commented on this verse as: “Life is not confined to our one little Planet. It is a very old speculation to imagine some life like human life on the planet Mars. Though no scientific demonstration is possible, it is reasonable to suppose that Life in some form or other is scattered through some of the millions of heavenly bodies scattered through space."
Allama Shabbir Ahmad Usmani said about this verse: "From the verse it appears that like on the earth, there are some kinds of animals - living creatures - in the heavens also."
Others like Mir Ahmed Ali said: “Life is not confined to the earth. It is indicated in this verse that life in some form or other is existing in the millions of heavenly bodies scattered through space. The Almighty who created such countless beings has surely the power to bring them together when the trumpet is blown.” Whereas La’l Muhammad Chalwa commented: “This proves existence of life on other planets”.
Indeed Allaah Knows Best, but with our limited understanding, after analyzing the verse of the Qur’an and going through some of the commentaries, we can suggest that the verse is speaking about the ‘aliens’ which scientists are looking out for.

- Will we meet them?
The next obvious question that may pop up if we consider that life exists somewhere else in the universe as well, is: “Will we ever meet them?” Let us analyze. We see both probabilities. In the verse (42:29) discussed above Allaah refers His creation of heavens and earth, and the living creatures that He has scattered through them as a Sign. So, it follows that for us to observe this Sign of Allaah, we may come across them someday. Allaah says also say:
“We will show them Our signs in the universe and within their own beings until it will become manifest to them that it is the truth. Is it not enough about your Lord that He is witness to everything?“
[al-Qur’an (41:53)]
On the other hand, if we are to meet living beings from other planet; that indeed will be something very phenomenal in human history. And if that is to be, then our Beloved Prophet (may peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) might have informed us about this meeting. But, to my knowledge, we do not have any authentic report indicating this.
As for the latter part of the verse, ”…He has power to gather them together when He wills” can either refer to this life or on the Day of Judgment. Allaah says:
“There is none in the heavens and the earth, but bound to come to the All-Merciful as a salve. He has fully encompassed them and precisely calculated their numbers, and each one of them is bound to come to Him on the Day of Judgment, all alone.”
[al-Qur’an (19:93-95)]

Final Words:
I would like to make it very clear, that I am by no means trying to draw any conclusion whatsoever. I am merely trying to expound the possibilities. The verses could also be referring to Jinn, which are the parallel creation of Allaah along with humans which cannot be seen by human under normal circumstances and conditions (we shall see and discuss about Jinn at some latter time, in some other article, InshaAllaah). Hence, readers are also advised, not to make any definite conclusions. Indeed Allaah Knows Best, for He Alone is the Knower of everything – Seen or Unseen; as He says:
Say, ‘No one in the heavens and the earth has the knowledge of Al Ghayb (the Unseen) except Allaah. And they do not know when they will be raised again.
[al-Qur’an (27:65)]
He is the Ultimate Source of Knowledge, the Creator of all that exists and Lord of Aalameen.

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