Do Muslims Believe in Alien Life?

by / Friday, 02 August 2013 / Published in Faith and Science
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Guest Post by Zohair Rahman

A substantial portion of Quranic discourse deals with describing the attributes of God. In the Islamic worldview, such knowledge is deemed as essential for both spiritual and moral growth. The more we learn of God’s mercy, kindness, and compassion, the more we are inspired to behave in such a way towards others. The more we learn of God’s power and majesty, the more humble we feel before God. Thus, the Quran expounds on many of these names and attributes of God to facilitate growth of the individual.

Of the many manifestations of God’s Power is nature itself and the cosmos. The Quran contains a plethora of descriptions of nature and cosmology to instill in the reader an awareness of God’s creative capacity. “Indeed, in the creation of the universe and the cycles of night and day are signs for people of sound intellect” (Quran, 3: 190). The Quran contains descriptions of both macro and micro natural processes in the context of understanding God’s creative power. Vivid descriptions of embryological development, oceanic wave cycles, the emergence of plant life, the water cycle and celestial orbits are just a few of the many processes that are described. Beyond this, however, there are also seeming references to an intriguing topic that has piqued the curiosity of philosophers and scientists for centuries. This is the question of extra-terrestrial life.

It is mentioned in the Quran, “And of his signs is the creation of the heavens and earth and what He has dispersed throughout them both of creatures…” (42:29).

At first glance,  this verse may seem similar to several other verses of the Quran. However, when we look closer we see an interesting use of the dual pronoun in regards to creatures in both the heavens and the earth. Clearly, we see a plethora of creatures roaming the earth, but what are these creatures in the heavens? The Arabic word that is used for creature is dāba. Mujāhid, an early scholar of tafsīr (exegesis), explains that the creatures in the sky refer to angels (as cited by al-Qurtubi in al-Jāmi’ li-Aḥkām al-Qur’ān).

Many later scholars, however, pointed out that this view is problematic. Al-Alūsi (d. 1270 AH), a more recent scholar, mentions that to interpret dāba as angel is a stretch of the meaning from a linguistic perspective (Ru al-Ma’āni). Tafsīr al-Jalalayn explains that dāba “is what walks on this earth, such as humans and the rest of the animals.” This is clearly not in reference to angelic beings. In fact, some classical scholars of tafsīr have used this verse to ponder on the existence of creatures in the heavens that we are not privy to.

“It is possible that the Most High has created the heavens and spread dāba that we do not know of.” (Ibn Atiyya (d.546 AH) – Al-Muharar al-Wajīz fī Tafsīr al-Kitāb al-Azīz)

“It is possible that there are creatures in the skies that we aren’t aware of” (Ibn Juzayy al-Gharnāti d. 741 AH – Al-Tashīl li-Ulūm al-Tanzīl)

Another verse which garners more support for this opinion is at the end of the 65th chapter: “It is Allah who created seven heavens and of the earth a similar number…” (65:12)

Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597 AH) includes an astonishing narration from Ibn Abbas on the reality of seven earths, “In every earth there is an Adam similar to your Adam, a Noah similar to your Noah, an Abraham similar to your Abraham and a Jesus like your Jesus” (Zād al-Masīr fī Ilm at-Tafsīr). This narration indicates not only the possibility of life on other worlds or planets but intelligent life similar to the human experience.

That the classical Islamic tradition speculated on the possibility of extra-terrestrial life on the basis of sacred texts is as fascinating as it is unexpected. “…And He creates that which you do not know.” (Quran, 16:8) ♦

 

About the Author: Zohair Rahman has a Bachelors of Science with a minor in Psychology from McMaster University, where he graduated with honors. He has also studied the sacred sciences with numerous Islamic scholars, focusing on theology, where he has earned an ijāza in aqīdah. His passion lies in bridging the gap between secular fields of study and Islam. Specifically, he is a regular contributor at SpritualPerception. He is happily married and resides with his wife in Toronto, Canada.

 

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