The Originator of the heavens and the earth Allah the Almighty created the natural laws during the creation process. Establishing these natural principles He activated the heavens and the earth to function in the way what we observe and feel today.
The gravitational force, electromagnetic force, nuclear force and every natural phenomenon came into play as soon as the creation is complete. The celestial bodies in the heaven interact among themselves exhibiting a number of motions under the influence of these forces. The various motions caused by the various interacting forces have created a dynamic equilibrium among the heavenly bodies.
As a result of this equilibrium state the heavenly bodies are held high in the space above. This is a manifestation of the mighty power of creation and wisdom of the Great Creator Allah which He reminds us in the Quran.
Ancient beliefs about the Heaven
Our daily experience on earth is that to keep anything high above the ground we need to put a support so that it does not fall. How is then the sky held high above? Perhaps, since the dawn of human habitation on earth people have been looking for the answer to this question. Down the history of human civilization, different communities of people believed in different kinds of myths about the sky.
Even 1400 years ago, at the time of revelation of the Quran people mostly bore in their minds superstitious and groundless beliefs where scientific issues were concerned. Their knowledge of astronomy, physics and any other branches of science were poor and even in many subjects they had no knowledge at all.
The people of the then Arabian society believed in various legends and myths inherited from their predecessors. Lacking in scientific and technological knowledge they believed that the earth was flat and there were very high raised mountains at its edges. They thought that the sky was supported by these mountains.
The Great Creator of the heavens and the earth Allah SWT (Subhanahu Wa Ta'ala) declared in the Quran, “----- اللّهُ الَّذِي رَفَعَ السَّمَاوَاتِ بِغَيْرِ عَمَدٍ تَرَوْنَهَا - It is Allah who erected the heavens without pillars that you [can] see; ----” - (Quran 13:2). This divine message in the Quran invalidated the superstitious belief that the sky rested on mountains.
The Seven Heavens in the Quran
For the sky or heaven Allah SWT has used in the Quran the Arabic word ‘samaa’ (السَّمَاء). In the Quran He has also used the word ‘samawaat’ (السَّمَاوَاتِ) which is the plural of ‘samaa’ (السَّمَاء). Allah SWT has said in the Quran, “الَّذِي خَلَقَ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ طِبَاقًا--- - He Who created the seven heavens one above another;---” - Quran (67:3).
In this verse He has used the plural form ‘samawaat’ (السَّمَاوَاتِ) to disclose the truth that He has created seven heavens one above the other. In some of the verses in the Quran Allah SWT has used the singular form ‘samaa’ (السَّمَاء) to mean the lowest heaven where He has set up the celestial objects.
However, in some other verses in the Quran He has also used the singular form of heaven ‘samaa’ (السَّمَاء) to mean the atmosphere where birds fly and clouds move. But mostly ‘samaa’ (السَّمَاء) has been used to mean the innermost or lowest heaven in the Quran.
In scientific term ‘samaa’ (السَّمَاء) or the innermost heaven is the ‘space’ which comprises of all the stars, planets, satellites, asteroids, nebula, comets, meteors, galaxies, galaxy clusters and everything we observe now and will observe in the future. This innermost heaven is the smallest heaven and it is our universe. On top of this heaven (السَّمَاء) are stacked six more heavens (السَّمَاوَاتِ) with vast spaces in-between.
The second heaven surrounds our universe and is very large. The third heaven surrounds the second heaven and is even larger and so on. The outermost heaven is the seventh heaven. No number exists to describe the size of this outermost heaven! The vastness of these seven heavens comprising our universe is incomprehensible.
The Heaven We Observe
We the human being can only observe a portion of the lowest heaven where some celestial bodies appear to shine. We do not have any kind of knowledge of the top six heavens that surround the innermost heaven, our universe. We also do not know what are inside the top six heavens. Allah SWT has not mentioned anything about these top heavens in the Quran.
Even we also do not have any idea of the roofs or partitions of the seven heavens and the kind of matters of which they are made up. It may be thought that Allah SWT has not mentioned it because human beings are not capable of perceiving it.
The earth on which we live is located at an infinitesimally small corner of the observable universe. With sophisticated space technology from such a small corner of the vast space we can observe a very small portion of the heavenly bodies only within the innermost heaven. As mentioned before we do not have any knowledge of either of the upper six heavens or of the roofs or partitions of the seven heavens.
However, Allah SWT has stated in the verse 13:2 that He has erected all the heavens (السَّمَاوَاتِ) without any support and He has reaffirmed this fact by saying ‘that you can see’. From the statement of erection of the heavens without support in the verse 13:2 we can only perceive erection of the heavenly bodies since we lack in any kind of knowledge of the upper heavens and also the roofs of the seven heavens.
Hence we cannot discuss anything about the erection of the bodies within the upper six heavens and the roofs of all the seven heavens. Therefore, in this article our discussions will be focused mainly on how the erection of the heavenly bodies within the innermost heaven called the space could be possible.
Establishment of Natural Laws by Allah
In the Quran Allah SWT states that, “فَقَضَاهُنَّ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ فِي يَوْمَيْنِ وَأَوْحَى فِي كُلِّ سَمَاء أَمْرَهَا --- - Thus, He completed the seven universes in two days, and set up the laws for every universe---” – Quran (41:12). We learn from this verse that during creation of the heavens Allah SWT has decreed His rules for the heavens necessary for their functioning. The rules decreed by Him are nothing but the natural principles which the heavens have to abide by.
Every single bit of matter within the space including trillions of trillion celestial bodies with enormous size and mass therein is subject to these natural laws. These natural laws are associated with the natural forces like the gravitational force, electromagnetic force, nuclear weak and strong force and other forces that control the natural phenomena occurring in the universe.
Allah SWT has not left the universe to survive by miracles or by chance. Also, He has not allowed the universe to be in a state of chaos and instability. Instead He has set up natural laws to establish a high discipline and order in the universe. Whatever the event or phenomenon that occurs in the universe must take place according to the natural principles set up by the Great Creator Allah.
Gravity and Orbital motion
In the vast space within the innermost heaven there are trillions of galaxies. In each of these galaxies there are hundreds of billions celestial bodies like stars, planets, asteroids and many others. We live in the Milky Way galaxy containing a minimum of 100 billion stars of huge size and mass. Out of these huge numbers of stars our sun is one.
The sun has a family called the solar system consisting of at least 8 planets and their few hundred moons, about a million of asteroids and other objects. All the planets in the solar system including our earth move around the sun in specific orbits. The earth’s satellite the moon moves around the earth. A question arises at this point, why does a celestial body move around another celestial body?
Humankind had to wait till 17th century to know the answer to this question. The English mathematician Isaac Newton could provide an answer to this question in 1687.
There is a legend that Newton formulated a law after watching an apple fall from a tree and asking why the apple fell straight down, rather than sideways or even upward. He showed that the force that makes the apple fall is the same that holds us on the earth. Also it is the same force which keeps the planets and the moons in their orbits.
By virtue of this force every object attracts all other objects towards it. This force is known as Gravitational force or simply Gravity. The law that defines gravity is one of the natural laws which Allah SWT decreed on the heavens as mentioned in the verse 41:12. The Great Creator Allah the Almighty created this force during creation of the heavens and by order of Him this force has come into play in the universe. Gravity of a particular body pulls other bodies towards it and causes orbital motions among the trillions of trillion celestial bodies in the universe.
Can the Earth be swallowed by the Sun?
Anything released from a high altitude falls to the ground since the gravity of the earth pulls it towards the earth. In the same way gravity of the sun pulls the planets towards it. The planets also pull the sun towards them. The more massive the body is the stronger is its force of attraction (gravity). The sun is the heaviest body in the solar system.
The mass of the sun is 99.80% of that of the entire solar system. The gravity of the sun is the strongest in the solar system since its mass is the highest. For this reason the sun does not move towards any planet rather a planet moves towards the sun.
Now one may ask, why don’t the planets fall on to the sun which has much stronger gravity than that of the planets? The answer lies in the fact that the planets are not stationary, they are in motion. If they were stationary, they would have fallen into the sun and would have burnt down. Actually, the planets have a sideways motion acting perpendicularly to the direction of the gravitational force between the sun and a planet.
For example, the earth has a sideways velocity of 30 kilometer/sec or 108000 km/hr. Similarly, other planets also have strong sideways motions. But this sideways motion is not strong enough to overcome the gravitational pull of the sun on the planet so as to escape from the solar system.
On the other hand the gravitational pull of the sun on the planet is not so strong that it can draw the planet inside it surpassing the effect of the sideways motion of the planet. However, if the planets did not have the sideways velocity they would have entered into the sun and if the sun did not have gravitational force, the planets would have entered into the deep space leaving the solar system behind.
If such a situation happens with the earth on which we live, either the earth would have flown away from the solar system with us on board towards any unknown location deep into the space with a speed of 108000 km/hr or the sun would have swallowed us along with the earth in the blink of an eye. Therefore, it is the sideways velocity of the earth which prevents it from falling on to the sun and being swallowed by it.
Why does a planet Orbit the Sun?
Fig. The direction of motion of a planet and the direction of the gravitational pull of the sun
The above figure shows the directions of the sideways motion of a planet and the direction of the gravitational pull of the sun on it. They are perpendicular to each other. Therefore, the gravitational force pulls the planet in a direction perpendicular to the direction of its velocity. As a result of these two perpendicular forces, the planet neither moves along the direction of its velocity nor along the direction of the gravitational pull.
Instead it moves in a curved path. This curved path is the orbit of the planet around the sun. In other words the combined effect of the gravitational pull of the sun and the sideways velocity keeps the planet moving in orbits around the sun. It may be mentioned that in the space there is no frictional force and the speed of the planets never diminishes.
The same principle works in the case of the orbital motion of the moon around the earth and also in the case of orbital motions of all other celestial bodies. The artificial satellites are projected into the space with high velocity to keep them orbiting around the earth. The gravity of the earth pulls the satellite in a direction perpendicular to its velocity causing the satellite to move in an orbit around the earth.
Besides the gravitational force of the sun on a particular planet, there are also influences of the gravitational forces of distant planets on it. The gravitational force between two bodies decreases inversely with the square of the distance between them. In most of the cases the distance of a particular planet from other planets are long and, therefore, the influence of the gravitational force of the distant planets is negligible.
Thus we see that in the solar system the planets remain bound to the sun moving in orbits around it as a consequence of the gravity of the sun and sideways velocity of the planets. Again the moons of the planets also remain bound to the respective planets as a result of the gravity of the planets and the velocity of the moons.
Therefore, it can be said that in the solar system the moons, the planets and the sun all together are tied up in an unseen chain as a result of the interactions of the forces acting on them.
Dynamic Equilibrium that Holds the Heaven High Above
In the Milky Way galaxy there are about 100 billion stars. Our sun is one of them. Each of the stars in a galaxy hosts a family called a planetary system comprising of a number of planets, their moons, asteroids and other objects. Our sun being a star has also formed a planetary system known as the solar system. From the previous discussions we have come to know that in the solar system the planets move in orbits around the sun.
Similarly, the moons move in orbits around their respective planets. The moons also move around the sun along with their planets. At the same time, the sun, the planets and moons also rotate on their own axes. Again, the sun along with all of its planets, moons and other objects move around the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
Hundreds of billions of planetary systems in the Milky Way galaxy along with their planets and moons exhibit similar orbital and rotational motions. It is thus obvious that all the heavenly bodies within a galaxy are subject to a number of simultaneous motions.
Apart from this, the motions of some celestial bodies are influenced by another strong force called the electromagnetic force arising from electrical charges and magnetic moments of stars. It is evident that the motions of a body are the effects of the influence of a variety of forces of other bodies. We can understand that there exists a complex network of interactions among the heavenly bodies that results into a variety of motions in them.
Despite the manifold motions of each of these bodies, stability prevails among hundreds of billions of heavenly bodies in a galaxy. Similar stability exists among the celestial bodies in each of the trillions of galaxies in the universe. The combined effect of the variety of interactions and motions of the heavenly bodies gives rise to a strong bond among themselves which keep them in a dynamic equilibrium state.
Due to this dynamic equilibrium state the heavenly bodies remain high up in the sky. This is how the Great Creator Allah SWT has held the heaven high without pillars as declared by Him in the verse (13:2).
In another verse of the Quran Allah SWT has said, “وَالسَّمَاء رَفَعَهَا وَوَضَعَ الْمِيزَانَ - He has raised the heaven on high and created the balance” - Quran (55:7). In this verse the singular form ‘samaa’ (السَّمَاء) has been used. We already know from the previous discussions that the singular ‘samaa’ (السَّمَاء) means the innermost heaven or the space.
Therefore, Allah SWT has mentioned in this verse that He has raised the innermost heaven and also established a balance there. By the statement ‘raised heaven on high’ we understand holding the trillions of heavenly bodies high above in the sky.
He has also mentioned that He has created a balance there. Creating a balance means creating an equilibrium state among all the dynamic objects in the heaven. It is clear that in the verse (55:7) Allah SWT has indicated that He has established a dynamic equilibrium or balance among the trillions of trillion heavenly bodies in the space exhibiting a number of motions simultaneously in an intricate manner.
Risk of Collision among the Heavenly Bodies
The magnitudes of the motions of the celestial objects are far stronger than those with which we are familiar on earth. For example we can consider the case of the earth which is a small celestial object. It rotates on its own axis with a speed of 1670 km/hr.
Again it moves around the sun with a speed of 108000 km/hr. These are the speeds associated with the earth and it is difficult for us to perceive something moving with such tremendous speed. The speed associated with the solar system is much larger and more astonishing and does not have any match on the earth.
The speed of the solar system around the center of our galaxy is 828000 km/hr. The bigger is the system in the space, the larger is its speed. The galaxies with trillions of trillion tons integrated mass of the stars, planets and other objects also move with unbelievable speeds in the space.
There is no doubt that there are possibilities of high risk of collisions for such massive and tremendously fast running systems in the space. In the early universe multiple impacts commonly occurred among the heavenly bodies. There occurred collisions even among the planets and moons of our solar system. It is learnt from research that such collisions ceased about 3.9 billion years ago, making way for the relatively peaceful universe we see today.
Allah SWT did not send the human being to the earth in that early disastrous condition of the solar system and the universe as a whole. Human race on earth began when the solar system attained a complete peaceful state and order.
From the beginning of the human race no such collisions are happening in the solar system and we have been living a safe and comfortable life on earth. The reason behind this is that the whole system has been running according to a very accurate measure and balanced condition established by the Great Sustainer of the universe Allah SWT.
It is a matter of great surprise that trillions of galaxies consisting of hundreds of billions stars, planets, satellites and other celestial objects each being subject to a number of motions are interacting with each other and have established a dynamic equilibrium in the universe.
There is no deviation in the motion of any planetary system from its orbit. Each of them is running very accurately following their specified tracks. Allah SWT has synchronized the motions of the planets in such a way that they never collide even if they approach close to each other in their course.
This manifests the Greatness of Allah SWT Who has made it possible to establish such an unbelievable disciplined motions and a state of dynamic equilibrium in the heaven.
Scientists say that there were collisions between galaxies in the past and there are chances of collisions in the future also.
There is a prediction of collision between Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxies in 5 billion years. It is evident that the time scale is so large that there is a very little chance for the human civilization to experience such a collision. We hope that Allah SWT will save our dwelling place the earth from any disastrous collision as long as He wishes to sustain the human civilization on the earth.
The Roofs of the Heavens
Allah SWT says in the Quran,
“إِذَا السَّمَاء انشَقَّتْ - When the heaven will split asunder” - (Quran 84:1);
“وَإِذَا السَّمَاء فُرِجَتْ – And when the heaven is cleft asunder” - (Quran 77:9);
“إِذَا السَّمَاء انفَطَرَتْ - When the sky splits open” - (Quran 82:1);
“وَيَوْمَ تَشَقَّقُ السَّمَاء بِالْغَمَامِ وَنُزِّلَ الْمَلَائِكَةُ تَنزِيلًا - And the Day when the heaven shall be rent asunder with clouds and angels shall be sent down descending (in ranks)” - (Quran 25:25).
It is mentioned before that Allah SWT has not given us any information about the partition or roof of the heavens. In the verses of the Quran quoted above Allah SWT describes what will happen to the lowest heaven on the Day of Judgment. We note from the translations of these verses that the sky or the lowest heaven will split asunder/cleft asunder/split open/rent asunder on that day.
The phrases ‘split asunder, cleft asunder, split open and rent asunder’ are applicable to something in solid or rigid form. Though Allah SWT has not given us any information of the partition of the heaven, we can guess from the above phrases that the partition or roof of the lowest heaven could be made up of solid substance.
As mentioned before that the vastness of the lowest heaven or the space cannot be comprehended. Therefore, it is further difficult to imagine the vastness of its partition or roof and also how it is being held above trillions of trillion heavenly bodies in the space.
Furthermore, we do not get any clue to the shape and structure of the roofs of the heavens from the Quran. We also do not know whether these roofs are in motion or not; whether they interact gravitationally or not. Has Allah SWT made the roofs of the heavens like solid shells of infinite size one above the other with vast spaces in between?
We find no hints in this regard. Hence, how the roofs of the heavens are made stable over the space is beyond the scope of any explanation. Only the Almighty Allah, the Great Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and the earth knows it. He has said in the Quran, “إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ الْخَلاَّقُ الْعَلِيمُ - Verily your Lord is the All-Knowing Creator” – Quran (15:86).