The concept of Time in the Qur'an
Henri Poincare, a famous French mathematician, developed his theory
of relativity in 1904. One year later, Albert Einstein published his paper
on special relativity. Both scientists postulated that time, far from being
absolute, actually varies for different objects moving at different velocities
in the universe. This hypothesis was demonstrated by Einstein and others
over the following years. His statement that "God is not playing at dice" shows
his belief that the world was not created by chance. However, under the apparent
piety of the remark there is a great arrogance, for Einstein believed that
God is bound by the laws of His own creation and unable to alter them. Neils
Bohr's reply, "It is not for me to tell God how to run His universe", showed
his deeper intellectual humility.
Poetically we can say that a concept of relativity is asserted by
Allah. The Qur'an was revealed with a full explanation of another aspect of
the variable nature of time and place. Allah(swt) says that neither of these
dimensions is, in fact, absolute. Time is shown as a variable in several
ayat of the Qur'an, e.g.:
"He directs the affair from heaven to earth. Then it will again
ascend to Him in a day whose length is a thousand years in the way you measure."
This statement makes it clear that time is variable; it is not the fixed
ticking of the clock as envisoned in Newton's view of the universe. In
another ayat, Allah(swt) states:
"They ask you to bring the punishment quickly. Allah will not fail
His promise. Truly, one day with your Lord is as thousand years of your counting."
This ayat was revealed in answer to people who were asking the Prophet
Muhammad(saas) when the Day of Judgement would come. Allah says that such
an event appears near to Him although people think it will never come. This
demonstrates that the value of time is relative to Allah and humanity. However,
it must be emphasised that the "with your Lord" indicates that the thousand
years is in no way the time "of" Allah, but in fact only a time "with" Him.
It could simply mean that this is the time of our observations in the universe, and
Allah knows best.
There is evidence that time is changeable. Not only can one day with
Allah be equal to a thousand years of our counting, but on another occasion
it can be equal to fifty thousand years.
"The angels and the spirit ascend to Him during a day which is as
fifty thousand years."
It is now accepted that mathematical time is variable according to
the velocity at which different observers are moving. With the general acceptance
among the scientific community of the concept that the universe is expanding,
it is now thought that the velocity at which objects in the cosmos, such
as the galaxies, are moving away from each other increases the further apart
they are, so that the most remote objects are moving away from each other
at unbelievable speeds. These are all matters which are worked out on the
basis of extremely delicate observation and complex mathematics.