Musing on Hawking
A short speech to my fellow brothers in the event of Stephen Hawking’s death.
Assalamu Alaikum my dear brothers.
Over the course of time Allah has sent to mankind people of heightened intellects who have been equally adept in religious as well as technological knowledge. We have come to know of them as Prophets. However besides these distinguished personalities, Allah has bestowed his mercy upon other individuals also. Individuals who have embarked on journeys of discovery and invention and in their attempts to understand Allah’s creation better, have been assisted by Allah and gained immense knowledge in the process. Irrespective of their cast, creed and conviction, Allah has led their hard work to attain fruition and helped them scale great heights of success.
Stephen Hawking is one such personality who, tried to decode the mysteries of the world and with Allah’s help, was successful in more ways than one.
In my limited pursuit of Stephen Hawking’s work, I have realised that his work is too vast and too involved to be properly appreciated in a short sitting. However, I will try my best to convey to you a summary of my findings and feelings. I apologise in advance for any inadequacy in my presentation.
When I tried to understand the contribution of Stephen Hawking, I was compelled to trace back to Albert Einstein and even further to Sir Isaac Newton.
We all know what Gravitation is, right. The force of attraction between all the bodies present in the universe. When Newton discovered Gravity, he was intrigued as to what was the root cause of the force of Gravity. For example, when it comes to electro magnetic force, we are aware that it is because of electrons leaving an atom and electrons entering another that there happens to be a force called the electromagnetic force. But then, what about gravity. Newton tried hard to find out if there were any particles that got exchanged resulting in the Gravitational attraction. There were even speculations of a particle called Graviton that was used hypothetically to explain Gravitation.
It was not until Albert Einstein, that the secrets behind Gravitation could be satisfactorily explained. Einstein argued that the presence of any mass in space, caused a distortion in the space, which in turn resulted in gravitational attraction.
Now this is hard to understand, so let me give you a basic example to make sense of it. Say four friends are holding a bedsheet at each corner. The bedsheet is taut, steady and very firm. Now a fifth friend comes and puts a two kg heavy disc right at the middle of the sheet. What will happen as a result. The sheet will no longer be so taut and firm. There will be folds here and there and the bedsheet will crumple at places. Next, if a marble is placed at one edge of the bedsheet, the marble will roll off towards the heavy disc. This happened because, the presence of that two kg disc caused a distortion in the bedsheet that caused the marble to roll towards it. This bedsheet here represents the space (in 2 dimensions) and the marble and the weights are heavenly bodies that are floating in space, guided by gravitational forces.
Let’s do one last thing before folding up the bedsheet. With the two kg disc still in place, if we throw a marble across one edge of the bedsheet, we will see that instead of going straight along the edge, the marble will follow a curved path. This also happens because of the distortion in space, sorry, distortion in the bedsheet.
Let us now extrapolate this imagery into space and imagine a very heavy planet and a ray of light passing 2 lakh kilometres away from it. However, due to the experiment that we just did, it is safe to say that due to the presence of the heavy planet and the distortion of space around it, the light, like the marble, instead of following a straight trajectory, will be forced to curve its line of propagation and probably pass the planet at a distance of 1.9 lakh kilometres instead. This is how light is bent in space, as was experimentally proved. And this gave rise to the cases where a star that dies and shrinks, converting its energy into nothing but mass, becoming smaller and getting heaver, so much that a point comes where any light passing near it is forced, due to its gravitational attraction, to disappear into that dead star. These light gobbling, deadly heavenly bodies became famous in fact and fiction as the black hole. The snares that none can escape.
And that is where Stephen Hawking came in. He proved, through the laws of entropy and through a synergy of quantum mechanics and general relativity, that particles do escape from black holes, particles that are called hawking radiation.
But this radiation is so feeble that there are, till now, no instruments powerful enough to detect the feeble radiations reaching earth from black holes millions of light years away and prove Hawking’s theory in practical.
Now that we know that Gravity is the glue that holds the universe together, let us take a look at the Quran and see what Allah has said about the balancing of the heavenly bodies.
In Sura Ar-Rahman, Allah says, He raised the sky and set the balances. (55:7)
In Sura Al-Fatir, He talks about how the celestial bodies are held up and says, Verily, God is the one who holds the heaven and earth, lest they should fall. (35:41)
In Sura Ar-Rad, He says, Allah is the One who raised the heavens without pillars that you can see them. Then He positioned Himself on the Throne and subjugated the sun and the moon, each one of them running to an appointed time. (13:2)
A detailed study of these Ayahs reveals how Allah speaks about the force of Gravity as the power that holds up things in the universe and keeps everything in a harmonious balance.
Now let us try and imagine another scenario. Say you have a medium sized box, insulated from all the worldly factors like heat, electromagnetic force, gravity etc. And then you are given 10 small balls that are attracted towards each other by the forces of gravitation.
You are then asked to create a replica of the solar system within that box, using those balls. Note that, if you keep the planets(balls) too close to each other, they will fall upon each other and if you keep them too far apart, they will simply drift away. So you have to ensure the perfect distance among the balls, such that the resultant force of Gravitation is neither too weak, nor too strong and just sufficient to keep the planets in orbit around the ball at the centre(Sun).
Imagine the number of trials that you would have to make, the number of times your set up would simply collapse due to a minute error in positioning and the number of equations that you would have to balance to finally get a system up and running. And then if you were asked to add satellites, you might probably give up the endeavour in frustration.
Once again, extrapolate this thought to our Universe as we know of today. Only, instead of having just ten balls, you have an infinite number of cosmic elements with stars dying and being born every moment and all of it, kept in a bewildering balance such that the planets do not collide with one another, the solar systems do not collapse and the galaxies do not crash and burn. There seems to be no doubt when you retrospect deeply, that an intellect, much higher than that fathomable by human comprehension is responsible for this intergalactic stability.
And this thought makes this Ayah sound even more grave and real, where Allah says in Surah Al Qiyamah: When the moon is darkened and the sun and the moon are brought together. (75:8) Implying that there will be a time when the feathers of the universe will be ruffled and the tiniest of disruptions will unhinge the balance of the Universe and things will just fall apart.
When we think about our trials of constructing the ten-ball-solar system, we realize that such a possibility cannot be denied as impossible.
Another theory of Stephen Hawking was on the creation of Universe, propounded by his Singularity theory. He had said that the eruption of the mass of gases in the form of a Big Bang and formulation of the universe was a remarkable co incidence. He further asserted that had there been a deviation of one part of a million in any of the factors before the Big Bang, the Universe might have collapsed before even being formed. In simpler terms, say if the Big Bang happened even one millionth of a second later, the Universe would not have been formed the way we know it.
Glancing at the Quran, we see Allah say in Surah Ha-mim, Then He turned to the heaven, which was only smoke at that time. He said to the heaven and the earth “Come into being, whether you like it or not.”(9:10)
For me, it is hard to believe that an event of such an epic proportions could happen with such staggering precision just out of co incidence. It is difficult to deny the involvement of a superior power that orchestrated the phenomenon.
Finally, I would like to conclude with some salient points for us to keep in mind.
Firstly, one of the best ways to gain the acquaintance of the creator is by gaining more knowledge about His creations. There are so many varieties of His creations, one being the ever expanding universe. Like Stephen Hawking, we can also be curious about the cosmos and through our endeavours to know more about the space, understand its Creator better and embellish our Imaan.
Secondly, imagine being diagnosed with a motor neurone disease and getting gradually paralyzed over the years — starting from the feet up. Most of us would have despaired and given up on our lives. But, Stephen Hawking, in spite of being afflicted with such a disease, not only tried to live life as usual, but managed to live an extra ordinary life. This makes us realize how easily we succumb to our problems and handicaps, and inspires us to believe that if we rise above our shortcomings, Allah’s help is never far away.
Lastly and most importantly to me, it is very painful to realize that the Muslim Ummah was not able to reach out to Stephen Hawking and communicate with him in his language and make him aware of his science in the light of Islam and the Quran. This shows that although we are adept in giving generic Dawah to people, we are still far away from becoming subject matter experts with which we can connect to scholars and scientists at their level. When it comes to contemporary sciences and issues, we are still not literate enough to defend our perspectives or propose alternatives. As Syed Jalaluddin Umri has said, like Islam had come as a challenge to the pagan world in spite of its humble beginnings, we are yet to be such a formidable force. We need to dream big and work towards making ourselves experts in our own fields so that we can present ourselves as an aid to the world and the human race.
May Allah help us in our endeavours and grant us paradise in the hereafter.