Issue 10 / April - June 1995
The Secret Of Dimensions
Dr. H. Nurbaki
The beginning of the verse proclaims that God is the only Deity of the heavens, the earth, and all in between:
He is the Lord of the heavens and of the earth, and all that lies between them; He is the Lord of the Lasts. (Saffat, 37.5)
The concept of the Lord of everything is defined in this setting and within the limits of our knowledge. Since the earth, the sky and all else in between have been mentioned, a different reality or a different spatial continuum is not in question. The verse does not end there, however. A new concept is added: 'He is the Lord of the Lasts.'
So, in addition to the earth, the sky and all in between, we have the concept of 'Easts'. In Arabic, the plural form is used for three or more things. Therefore, God is the Lord of at least three Fasts, or of many Easts. What kind of scientific concept does this verse introduce? Before seeking an answer to this question, let us call to mind certain facts.
It is a commonplace that we conceive of space in terms of three dimensions. The existence of an object is determined by the space it occupies with respect to the dimensions of length, width and height, in addition to its position.
But is the universe composed of, and space constituted by, these three dimensions alone? Until Einstein's Special and General Theories of Relativity, scientists believed that the universe consisted of three dimensions. The world-famous physicist, however, determined on the basis of mathematical calculations that there are more than three dimensions and that a fourth, fifth or higher number of dimensions would introduce different concepts of space.
According to Einstein, the fourth dimension is time. Time is not simply a matter of reading a clock, but a dimension of the same order as height, width and length. It is coextensive with the other dimensions. Our visual perception, however, can see in only three dimensions and no more. In fact, some organisms cannot even see the dimension of depth:
lizards and snakes see the world in two dimensions, like a photograph or a movie cartoon.
Starting from this milestone of physics, we would have to conceive of spaces other than ours, and in addition to the physical space we observe in the universe at large. In these spaces, velocity is different, time is different, action is different; and so are translation, convergence and regression. This is why the concept of 'worlds' introduced by the Qur'an is an expression of such diverse spaces. The world of angelic beings, Heaven, Hell, and the world of spirits all lie in the domain of such spatial continua. Our difficulty in conceiving of them stems from the perceptual deficiencies of our three-dimensional habits.
Having noted this, let us now recall the final part of the verse: 'He is the Lord of the Easts.
'East' is the expression of a direction, a dimension. This expression occurred for the first time in connection with the sun. The word 'orientation' or finding one's bearings implies the Orient or East as the first or primary dimension. Although the expression Lord of the Easts and of the Wests occurs in many verses in the Qur'an, only the Easts are mentioned in this verse. This is why we are dwelling on this point at such length.
The point is that 'the Easts' are proclaimed as a set of directions, quite apart from the existents we refer to as the earth and sky. With this verse, God draws our attention to other directions and dimensions, indicating the existence of worlds and spaces composed of dimensions other than the physical world we are familiar with. In a sense, He says I am the Lord of the Easts in order to introduce the notion of infinite dimensions, which contemporary physics is just beginning to discover. But why only the Easts? Because in the definition of dimensions, the first dimension is the East, whereas the West is simply an extension of the Eastern dimension in the opposite direction. We can say that this verse clearly heralds the existence of thousands of spaces and worlds embedded in an infinite-dimensional matrix.
Many other meanings derive from the verse besides the meaning discussed above. I would like to mention two of these.
The meaning 'births' can also be derived indirectly from the plural mashariq. In this case the meaning points to a different scientific truth. The East, which is where the sun rises, also symbolizes the direction in which the earth moves around the sun. But, do we have only one East, or only one motion in the universe?
No. While the earth revolves around the sun within the solar system, the sun is also revolving around the Milky Way galaxy together with its family of planets. The Milky Way, in turn, is revolving around the central axis of the supergalaxy or local cluster of galaxies to which we belong. Thus, we may well speak of three different Easts.
This meaning, therefore, is also hidden within the statement 'Lord of the Easts' (rabbul-mashariq). The very fact that magharib (Wests) does not succeed mashariq (Easts) in this verse is a confirmation of this. We shall see while interpreting future verses that there are many statements in the Qur'an pointing to the rotation of the earth. For this reason 'East' in reference to the earth's revolution is in the plural, indicating that these rotations occur at many levels.
If we take the verse from the standpoint of a direction on earth, the concept of the East differs for each location on the globe. The east of Turkey is in the east with respect to its western regions, while our east is actually west from the standpoint of Iran, which lies even further east. Therefore, the East concept is different at every point on earth, and these concepts form an ensemble of Easts. This concept geometrically defines the surface of a sphere.
Let us now reread the verse in order to discover another significant scientific observation: He is the Lord of the heavens and of the earth, and all that lies between them; He is the Lord of the Easts (Saffat, 37.5).
The heavens, as we also see from other Qur'anic verses, are very diverse spheres. So what does the expression 'between the heavens and the earth' mean? It is known that meteors, stars, even angels and various unknown beings, can be encountered at various levels of the sky. What are 'those between earth and the sky'? As far as we can tell, they are invisible rays which form the basic building blocks of matter and energy. These rays, earlier lumped together under the generic term 'cosmic rays', are differentiated in modern physics within the broad categories of nucleons, haryons, leptons and fermions. These are the subatomic constituents of matter and energy.
With the expression 'He is the Lord of the heavens and of the earth, and all that lies between them' God explains that all these energetic particles and rays constitute a vast physical order subject to God's attribute of Lordship. Modern physics has viewed these incomprehensible energy dissipations and rays with unease, almost seeing them as dangers threatening the destruction of the universe. The Qur'anic verse reveals that, on the contrary, they form a gigantic physical balance under the superintendence of God.