Who sends down rain from the sky in due measure-and We raise to life therewith a dead land; even so will you be raised [from the dead]. (Zukhruf,43.11)
A person living fifty years ago would have found nothing extraordinary in this verse. Yet it is, read in the light of what we know now of atmospheric physics, extraordinarily rich in meaning and significance.
The materialists of the last century regarded rain as the simple precipitation of water vapour and even expected, in their godless arrogance, to be able to produce rain at will. Moreover, they ridiculed those who would pray for rain. It was not realized at that time that the phenomenon of rainfall, i.e. the conversion of a cloud into rain, is not such a simple event after all. An atheistic science was unable to pose, let alone seek to answer, a number of key questions:
1. How can vapour, which is regarded as gaseous water, remain in the same form in atmospheric strata, such as the Siberian skies, where temperatures can drop to forty degrees below zero? Why does it not fall as ice blocks?
2. How does the size of raindrops come about, and in what measure and form do raindrops descend to earth? What are the preconditions for the formation of raindrops of such a convenient size and shape?
3. How does a cloud vaporize, and how and whence does the salt in clouds come to be there, seeing that salt cannot be vaporized at the boiling point of water?
Over the last twenty years, rational-if still only partial-answers have been found to these puzzling questions. Let us now re-read the sacred verse, and identify its relevant points:
a. God regards rain as a physical event of the same order of significance as the resurrection of the dead. That is the meaning of His saying that we will be brought forth from the earth just as He has sent water from the sky in due measure and brought a dead land to life.
b. The Qur’an describes rain as a carefully measured descent of water, the idea of ‘measure’ being conveyed in the phrase bi-qadarin which indicates an ordered and calculated, willed and deliberate, measuring-the definition of a mathematical program.
c. ‘…and We raise to lift therewith a dead land.’ This sentence, the central portion of the verse, is likewise no ordinary statement. It refers directly and specifically to a dead land being raised to life; it does not say ‘plants emerge from it’. We shall examine the implications of this choice of phrasing below.
Let us now briefly review the scientific aspects of the miracle of rain. The results of the latest research have shed light on many previously unknown points relating water, clouds and rain. In doing so, they provide a wonderful exposition of the verse we are considering. We may summarise these points as follows:
1. A study done in the United States by Vincent J. Schaeffer has revealed that particles of water do not freeze down to -40 C when they are very fine and pure. Water has to be impure and formed of large masses in order to freeze at 0 C. A cloud is a special physical structure that is formed of water vapour which is immediately converted into minute water droplets. It therefore does not share the properties of ordinary water. Atmospheric clouds do not freeze and descend even at -30 C.
2. Clouds are formed by the agglomeration of tiny water droplets around particles of salt or cosmic dust. These tiny nuclei constitute the basis for rain. The origin of cosmic dust is unknown; also, the way in which the dust particles become lodged in the cloud is not yet well understood. However, it is believed that the water at the ocean surface participates in the vaporization process by contributing particles of salt.
3. It is conjectured that there are about one billion water particles per cubic millimeter during cloud formation. There are 50-500 cloud droplets per cubic centimeter in clouds. How these droplets are converted into raindrops is a matter of considerable controversy.
4. Up until 1950, the theory of Bergeron-Findeisen was the most widely accepted explanation of cloud droplets. According to Bergeron-Findeisen, the water droplets first form condensation nuclei, and raindrops then coalesce around them.
However, according to more recent studies, the growth of a cloud droplet over time proceeds concomitantly with various circumstances. A drop of water gradually assumes the nuclear state, overcoming conditions even of forty degrees below zero, and produces rain through a very complex equation:
5. As for the production of rain, minute water particles first coalesce around the condensation nucleus. Then, as they grow, the surface area of these water particles increases as they approach the ground. The increase in surface area in turn allows the velocity of the raindrop to be checked by air friction, with the result that rainfall acquires a gentle descent. This balancing process is a miracle of Divine compassion: by the time the raindrop touches ground, it has slowed down to make a soft landing, almost as if by a parachute. The equation for this descent and balanced speed is:
In the light of current scientific knowledge, the sentence Who sends down rain from the sky in due measure can only mean to us that the descent of rain is a matter of the finest, most subtle calculation. Linking it to the latter part of the verse, it is a miracle of Divine science akin to the raising of the dead.
Present day atmospheric physics also regards rain formation and rainfall as a scientific wonder, and many volumes have been devoted to the subject. Interested readers may usefully consult Robert Byes’ Elements of Cloud Physics and Louis J. Nin’s Cloud Physics and Cloud Seeding.
We now come to the implications of the second sentence in the verse: and we raise to life therewith a dead land.
When soil is dry, it is apparently lifeless. In fact the soil is very much alive, needing rain for its life to he activated. What does science have to say about this?
There are a million times a million bacteria in a gram of soil. These bacteria become wholly inactive, dormant, when it does not rain for a long time. It is as if they change into lifeless genetic codes. All these microbes revive when rain falls, and initiate a large production campaign beginning with nitrogen fixation. Their activity gives life in turn to thousands of small organisms. It is as if a dead underground city has come to life. Fertilizers form, the seeds of innumerable small plants revive, opening channels under the ground with their roots, like the roads of a city. Next, small insects and ants, each with their own nests, burrow under the earth, making it comparable to a large city. This is how a ‘dead land’ is revived.
What is the life-giving secret of rain? This part of the verse directs our attention to the connection of rain, and so of water, with life.
The basic chemical substance of living things is a bridge of hydrogen, lending continuity to the life of an organism, which we call the ‘hydrogen bonds’. The hydrogen is changed frequently, forming new bonds and transferring vitality. Since this hydrogen can be replaced only by the hydrogen produced during the ionization of water, water is indispensable for life.
This rule holds for all living things. A dehydrated organism is like a frozen skeleton even if it preserves its DNA and its genetic code: it can neither move nor reproduce. When water arrives and donates hydrogen from its separating H and OH ions, the code of life jumps into action. This is easily seen, particularly in the case of microbes. In more developed organisms, vitality cannot be restored even when water arrives because the tissue layers have been damaged by dehydration. The ‘revival of the dead land’ alludes to such profound biological laws.
We now turn to the last part of the verse: even so will you be raised [from the dead]. Our resurrection, the verse here declares, is a similar activation by Divine command of our codes remaining in the soil. It declares that just as the rain activates the genetic codes in a dead land and suddenly regenerates life, the codes will be processed and revived with the speed of a computer as soon as the Divine Will gives the order: ‘Come to life, arise.’ And finally, the analogy with rain means that God, Who gives life under the ground by sending a hydrogen ion, can doubtless also restore us to life when He wills.
Approximately ten billion human beings have lived on earth since Adam. The size of each individual’s code is about 1 micron; if you collected them all, they would not fill a glass. If God were to pour the genetic codes of all the humans He created from a glass into the soil, including those whose codes have been lost, and were to say ‘Now, Be!’, all human beings would be recreated in the twinkling of an eye
This is the similitude that God provides through this verse, for those possessed of knowledge with understanding. In effect, He is declaring: ‘Just as I have given life to an entirely lifeless land by means of a raindrop, it is no trouble at all for Me to reactivate the hydrogen in your biological genetic codes.’