On 7th August 1996,NASA (1) scientists made an announcement that made front page headlines throughout the world.Within a Martian meteorite,they had found evidence of a microscopic lifeform that may have existed on Mars more than three billion years ago. (2) Although other studies were later published which challenged this conclusion, (3) numerous recent discoveries,for example,the discovery by the Galileo spacecraft, (4) in February 1997,of a possible red-coloured sea under the ice crust of Jupiter's moon,Europa, (5) are raising hopes that we may soon be able to get an answer to one of the oldest and most interesting questions asked by humans-"Is anyone out there,or are we alone in the universe?"
However,it may be that none of us may live to see the day when scientists will give us a definitive answer to this question.For Muslims,that should not be a problem.We already have the answer.Although many Muslims are unaware of the fact,the Quran (6) explicitly mentions the existence of extraterrestrial life.
The existence of creatures of a spiritual nature,such as angels,in the universe,is accepted as a fact by all Muslims,as well as people of other religions, such as Christians.The point that generates excitement among the public,and scientists is the question of whether material lifeforms like ourselves,which can be found by science,do actually exist outside the earth. (7) The objective of this article is to present evidence from the Quran for the existence in the universe,of MATERIAL lifeforms ("Life as we know it").
In Sura 42,Verse 29 (42:29) of the Quran,we are told, "Among His (God's) 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." (8) Before proceeding further,a point or two must be noted.The word "sama",translated "heavens",is also the Arabic for "sky".One may object that the verse refers to creatures in the sky (which would be birds),not in the heavens.However,birds are mentioned seperately from creatures of the heavens in 24:41, "Seest thou not that it is God Whose praise all beings in the heavens and on earth do celebrate,and the birds (of the air) with wings outspread?..." (9) In a note to 42;29,Muhammad Asad states,"In the Quran,the expression "the heavens and earth" invariably denotes the universe in its entireity." (10) The Quran mentions that inanimate objects also worship God:"Do they not look at God's creation, (even) among (inanimate) things- how their (very) shadows turn round,from right to left,prostrating themselves to God..."(16:48). (11) Therefore,may not the creatures spoken of in 42:29 in the heavens,be inanimate creatures of God.No.The next verse,16:49 goes, "And to God doth obeisance all that is in the heavens and earth,whether moving (living) creatures or the angels...". (12) The word translated "living creatures" here is the same as that in 42:29- "Dabbatun".Comments Asad,"The word dabbah denotes any sentient,corporeal being capable of spontaneous movement and is contrasted here with the non-corporeal,spiritual beings designated as "angels" ". (13) In other words,42:29 is referring to precisely the type of lifeforms that science is searching for,not some metaphysical entities.Yusuf Ali says,"Dabbatun:beasts,living,crawling creatures of all kind." (14) This is the same word used in 2:164,"...in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth...are signs for a people that are wise," (15) and in 24:45,"And God has created every animal from water:of them are some that creep on their bellies;some that walk on two legs;and some that walk on four. God creates what he wills..." (16) Commenting on 42:29,Allama Shabbir Ahmad Usmani says,"From the verse it appears that like on the earth,there are some kinds of animals- living creatures- in the heavens also." (17) On the same verse,Yusuf Ali comments, "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...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." (18) From such remarks,the reader will realize that Muslim scholars are well aware of the fact that 42:29 clearly mentions the existence of aliens.
Is there any alien intelligent life ?
Although the discovery of any form of life outside the earth would be dramatic,humankind is especially interested in knowing whether there is any alien intelligent life in the universe.NASA previously had a program on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).Although now scrapped due to budget cuts, private SETI organizations (19) have now been made which continue the search.The Planetary Society, (20) a private organization,in which the film director Steven Speilberg (21)is a member of the Board of Directors,has the largest SETI program in the world.So far, no sign of alien intelligent life has turned up.Can the Quran provide an answer?
Sura 27:65 commands,"Say:None in the heavens or on earth, except God,knows what is hidden:nor can they perceive when they shall be raised up (for Judgement)."(22) This shows that,like humans,there are other creatures in the universe that will also be raised from the dead.We are told in 19:93-96,"Not one of the beings in the heavens and the earth but must come to (God) Most Gracious as a servant.He does take an account of them (all),and hath numbered them (all) exactly.And everyone of them will come to Him singly on the Day of Judgement.On those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, will (God) Most Gracious bestow love."(23) From these verses we learn that there are alien lifeforms that,like us,will also be judged according to the works that they do during their lives.Among them are the believers.Therefore,naturally,there will also be those aliens who are unbelievers.The believers will be rewarded.The lifeforms being descibed in the above verses can hardly be expected to be microorganisms.The Quran is referring to creatures of a level of development that makes them morally accountable beings.They must be organisms possessing qualities which we would ascribe to intelligent lifeforms.
In Sura 72:14-15,jinn (a type of spiritual lifeform,which the Quran mention as living on the earth) say,"Amongst us are some that submit their wills (to God),and some that swerve from justice.Now those who submit their wills- they have sought out (the path) of right conduct:But those who swerve- they are (but) fuel for Hell-fire."(24) The Quran mentions that good jinn will be rewarded with Paradise.Summing up from all the above verses,it is clear that Judgement Day is for creatures in the whole universe (Sura 39:68-"The Trumpet will (just) be sounded when all that are in the heavens and on earth will swoon, except such as it will please God (to exempt).Then will a second one be sounded,when,behold,they will be standing and looking on!") (25) and like jinn,aliens will also be sharing Paradise and Hell with humans.In fact,the Quran mentions that Paradise is of a size like that of our present universe- 57:21,"Therefore (vie) with one another for the pardon of your Lord,and for a Paradise as vast as heaven and earh, prepared for those who believe in Allah and His apostles." (26) Therefore, it is not surprising that when we are sharing this universe with aliens,we should share Paradise and Hell with them too.The Quran shows us,therefore,that not only do aliens exist,but among them are also intelligent beings.
Where can aliens be found?
Knowing that aliens,including intelligent lifeforms exist elsewhere, our next question would be,"Where do they live?"Scientists naturally expect them to live on planets.They look for other planets around other stars- planets that have the right conditions to harbour life- in other words,other earths.In October 1995,scientists announced the discovery of the first extrasolar planet around the star 51 Pegasi. (27) Since then,there have been a string of discoveries of other planets.At the time of writing of this article,fifteen planets have been claimed to have been discovered. (28) Although some of these objects have been dismissed as brown dwarfs (including the object around Pegasi 51) by some scientists, (29) at least some of the fifteen objects are agreed upon as being planets.Scientists believe that on potential moons around planets found to be orbiting two stars, the right conditions may exist for life to be present. (30)
In Sura 65:12,we are informed,"God is He Who created seven heavens and of the earth a similar number..." (31) This verse,although usually translated properly,is very commonly misinterpreted by commentators.They give their interpretation that space is divided into seven zones,and likewise,as Yusuf Ali puts it,"the crust of the earth is built up of geological strata one above another". (32) This interpretation arises due to a misunderstanding of what a "heaven" is as mentioned in the Quran.Before continuing further about the topic of aliens,it is necessary to clear up this confusion.The answer can be deduced from verses in the Quran itself and comparing them with our current scientific knowledge about the universe.
From the verses above,we learn this from the Quran:a heaven is a material entity which arose from the same material as the earth originated from.Initially,there was one gaseous mass.A cleavage process occured resulting in the making of the "seven heavens" and "all that lies between them".The sun,moon and earth are constituants of a heaven.Therefore,a heaven must be larger than a star (sun).When the end of the universe is at hand,the heavens,which till then were in an expanding universe (51:47) will come together.Then,the way our present universe came into being,in a similar manner,a new creation will come into being,containing other heavens and another earth.Any astronomer reading these verses can tell you that there is only one entity that fits the description of a heaven in the Quran- a "heaven" in the Quran must be referring to a "galaxy".According to modern science,the universe arose from a singularity,at the Big Bang,and has since,been expanding.From a primordial gas cloud arose hugh fragments from which the galaxies and their clusters arose.Today,the galaxies are moving apart from each other in space.They are seperated by intergalactic space in which may lurk invisible dark matter,making upto 90% of the total mass of the universe.if there is sufficient dark matter,at some time in the future,the universe will stop expanding and enter a contraction phase in which the galaxies will finally come close together in a Big Crunch marking an end to the present universe.The universe would have returned to a singularity state similar to that from which the present universe arose.Then,once again,scientists predict,a new universe may rebound from the singularity of the Big Crunch,as another Big Bang gives rise to a universe with its own galaxies and planets etc.Verses in the Quran agree amazingly with our current ideas about the universe!
The purpose of our lengthy divergence from the main topic of this article was to prove that the "seven heavens" are not zones into which the universe is divided,but large astronomical entities, the galaxies.Some people have interpretted a heaven as being a solar system.However,while this view may seem appropriate for some verses,it does not tally with all the verses.
The Quran mentions the creation of seven heavens.Asad explains that,"...as regards the "seven heavens",it is to be borne in mind that in Arabic usage...the number "seven" is often synonymous with "several"." (44) I have shown that the heavens are the galaxies and we can see that millions of them exist.Even if we assume that the heaven are some other astronomical objects that arose from the primary gas cloud,they definitely are not literally seven in number,but in the millions.
The relevance of this to our discussion on aliens is that the Sura 65:12 tells us that,as God has created "seven Heavens",He has created,"of the earth a similar number..." Therefore,as there are millions of galaxies,God has also created millions of earths scattered throughout the universe.Usmani comments on 65:12,"The earths as well,He created seven (Usmani thinks literally seven.We know it actually means "many"),as given in the Tradition of Tirmizi etc.It is possible they are not visible, it is possible they are visible,but people think them to be stars or planets,as the scientists of today have predicted the possibility of life on Mars etc..." (45) An important thing to point out in 65:12 is that God does not use the word "worlds",but specifically,"earth".An 'earth' would be a planet that harbours life.Scientists also often speak of looking for other earths.They mean not just any planet,but one sustaining or capable of sustaining life.In his book,The Bible,The Quran and Science, Maurice Bucaille writes,"...it comes as no small surprise to the reader of the Quran to find that earths such
Sura 21:30 asks,"Do not the unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation),before we clove them asunder?..." (33)Sura 41:11-12 tell us,"Then turned He to the heaven when it was smoke,and said unto it and unto the earth:come both of you,willingly or loth...Then We ordained them seven heavens...and inspired in each heaven its mandate;and We decked the lowest heaven with lamps..." (34) and Sura 71:15-16,"See ye not how Allah hath created seven heavens in harmony,and hath made the moon a light therin,and made the sun a lamp?" (35) Sura 51:47 informs us,"And it is We who have built the universe with (Our creative) power;and,verily,it is We who are steadily expanding it." (36) Asad,comments on the above verses as follows:about 21:30,"...the above unmistakable reference to the unitary origin of the universe- metonymically described in the Quran as "the heavens and the earth"- strikingly anticipates the view of almost all modern astrophysicists that this universe has originated as one entity from one single element,namely,hydrogen,which became subsequently consolidated through gravity and then seperated into individual nebulae,galaxies,and solar systems,with individual parts progressively breaking away to form new entities in the shape of stars,planets and the latter's satellites"; (37) about 41:11,he explains the word "smoke" as,"a gas- evidently hydrogen gas,which physicists regard as the primal element from which all material particles of the universe have evolved and still evolve..." (38) and says about the verse,"explaining this passage,Zamakhshari observes:"The meaning of God's command to the skies (heavens) and the earth to "come"... is this:He willed their coming into being..."";for 41:12,he explains "seven heavens" as,"a multiplicity of cosmic systems"; (39) about 51:47 he says,"the phrase "inna la-musi'un" clearly foreshadows the modern notion of the "expanding universe"- that is,the fact that the cosmos,though finite in extent,is continuously expanding in space." (40) Finally,three more verses need to be referred to- 50:38,"And verily We created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them...and naught of weariness touched us" (41) ,21:104,"The Day when We shall roll up the heavens as a recorder rolleth up a written scroll.As We began the first creation,We shall repeat it.(It is a promise binding) upon Us.Lo!We are to perform it" (42) ,and 14:48, "One day the Earth will be changed to a different Earth,and so will be the heavens..." (43)