Issue 58 / April - June 2007
Apocalypse from the Perspective of Engineering
Dr. Sami Polatoz
The apocalypse is the end of both humanity and the world. Owing to the significance of this event, the Qurâ€™an gives a detailed description of the apocalypse. In various surahs humanity is severely warned against this terrible ending. On this day, when the manifestation of Divine will and power will be more evident than ever, no one will remain alive. Immediately after the apocalypse, all the people who ever lived will be resurrected and called to account. As we can understand from the relevant verses, the events that bring the end of the world and the end of humanity will probably occur within the sphere of physical laws at first, and after the resurrection of the dead, there will be another phase where these laws will not apply anymore.
In the first stage, where the physical laws apply, the verses and hadith related to eschatology can be interpreted through the principles of dynamics. There have already been different views and comments concerning the issue. Interpretations under the light of contemporary scientific knowledge can bring new perspectives. We need to keep in mind that all our interpretations are works of the human mind and there can be error. Before we elaborate on the subject further we would like to acknowledge-like the earlier scholars did-that these are personal comments and state: â€śonly God, the true possessor of absolute knowledge, knows best.â€ť
Surat al-Qariah (The Sudden, Mighty Strike) in the Qurâ€™an is about the dreadful occurrences on the Judgment Day:
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
The sudden, mighty strike!
What is the sudden, mighty strike?
What enables you to perceive what the sudden, mighty strike is?
The day (when it occurs) humans will be like moths scattered about;
And the mountains will be like carded wool...1
The sudden, mighty strike mentioned here may denote the impact of a huge asteroid. People are likened not to other insects, but to moths, flying things. This seems to suggest that people will be scattered in the air. Now letâ€™s try to imagine how a mighty strike would send people scattered about like moths.
According to the science of dynamics, every object which has a mass and which is attracted by the earthâ€™s gravity has a weight. Thus, â€śweightâ€ť can be related to any object (people, houses, cars etc) on earth. It can be a description of objects scattered in the air. If we assume that the law of gravity still applies when the apocalypse starts, can an upsurge be possible?
In figure 1, there is an illustration of a possible impact scenario. An asteroid with a mass of â€śmâ€ť approaches the earth-supposedly along a line tangential to the earthâ€™s orbit around the sun-with a speed of â€śvâ€ť and hits the earth. According to the principle of the conservation of angular momentum, the rotating speed and direction of the earthâ€™s rotation is expected to change. An impact, as shown in figure 1, might reverse the earthâ€™s counter-clockwise rotation to clockwise. For a strong impact to reverse the direction of the earthâ€™s rotation and affect a dramatic increase in the earthâ€™s angular speed, the multiplied value of m, v, and d (mass, velocity, and distance from the spinning axis) must be great enough. The earth normally spins around its axis at a relatively low angular speed and this does not have a recognizable influence. After a violent impact, the boosted angular speed might apply great centrifugal forces on objects.
Figure 2 depicts a probable reversed force of gravity and a centrifugal force emerging along the equator. An impact great enough to send people flying in the air is calculated here as being 17.06 times faster than the usual speed of the earth. Such a violent speed will send the people in the equatorial region flying into the air.
Letâ€™s try to estimate what might happen in other regions. The man in figure 3 is standing at a 45o angle to the equator (The upper regions of North America, Europe, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Argentina, New Zealand, etc). As you approach the Polar Regions, you also approach the spinning axis and the centrifugal force decreases, so it cannot completely annul the weights of objects. The man will weigh 50% less and a force equal to half his normal weight will be applied on him parallel to the ground. This might cause him to fall flat on his face. People who are further to the north probably wonâ€™t fly or fall, but they will also be affected.
The following verses warn us about the last hour:
In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.
O humankind! Keep from disobedience to your Lord in reverence for Him and piety and get under His protection. (Never forget that) the violent convulsion of the Last Hour is an awesome thing.
On the Day when you all see it, every suckling mother will utterly forsake her infant in dread, and every pregnant female will cast off her burden. You will see all people as if gone out of their senses, while, in fact, they are in their senses. This is because Godâ€™s punishment is extremely severe. (Hajj 22:1-2)
The statement as if gone out of their senses is also translated as â€śdrunkenâ€ť in some commentaries. As a result of a violent impact and the earthâ€™s boosted angular speed, people might walk as if they were drunk, or as if they have taken leave of their senses. The high angular speed might influence the inner-ear fluid, and cause people to lose their sense of balance. The following verses may be describing the effects of this violent rotation:
And when the earth is flattened out, and casts forth whatever is in it and becomes empty, obeying its Lord, as is expected indeed, and it always does soâ€¦ (Inshiqaq 84:3-4)
An authenticated saying of Godâ€™s Messenger supports the possibility of a â€śreverseâ€ť: â€śThe end of the world will not come unless the sun rises from where it sets. When it rises from the west, everybody sees and they all accept faith. However, this faith is of no benefit for anyone who did not previously believe or who has no good deeds caused by his faith.â€ť2
As already mentioned above, the impact reverses the direction of rotation, the earth rotates clockwise and the sun rises from the west. The fact that faith after this impact will not benefit anyone implies that life on earth will not last long. The impact will probably render the earth uninhabitable. The great scholar Said Nursi made the following comment on the hadith about the sun rising from the west:
â€¦The sun rising in the west will be a self-evident sign of the end of the world, and because it is self-evident it will be a heavenly event which closes the door of repentance, which is tied to the will and reason. Its meaning is therefore clear, and is in no need of interpretation. One may just say the following:
â€śGod knows best, its apparent cause will be this: with the disappearance of the Qurâ€™an, which is like the intelligence of the world, the earth will go mad. With Divine permission, when another planet collides with it, its rotation will be reversed. Through Divine will, its journeying from west to east will be reversed to that from east to west, and the sun will start to rise in the west.â€ť3
Although this is not directly mentioned in the Qurâ€™an, the dialogue between the Prophet Abraham and Nimrod is noteworthy:
Do you not consider the one who remonstrated with Abraham about his Lord (in defiance of Him) because of the kingdom God had granted him? When Abraham said, â€śMy Lord is He Who gives life and causes to die,â€ť he retorted: â€śI give life and make to die.â€ť Said Abraham: â€śSurely God causes the sun to rise in the east, now you cause it to rise in the west.â€ť Thus was the unbeliever utterly confounded. God does not guide (such) wrongdoing people. (Baqara 2:258)
The Prophet Abraham states that only God has the power to cause the sun to rise in the west, and He will realize this at the end of the world.
There is another authenticated hadith that describes the end of the world: â€śThe end of the world will not come unless time shortens. This shortening is such that, a year will be like a month, a month like a week, and a week will be like a day, a day like an hour, and an hour will be (passing fast) like the striking of a match.â€ť4
Commentators of the earlier periods interpreted â€śthe shortening of time,â€ť and they suggested that people would not be able to make efficient use of time and it would pass quickly. However, a literal understanding of the hadith makes perfect sense under the light of physics. A day being like an hour probably means the earth will spin 24 times faster. It has been mentioned above that a rotation more than 17 times faster than usual or more can cast people upwards. As for a year being like a month, this can be an allusion to the earthâ€™s completing its orbit around the sun faster.
All these are attempts to interpret the eschatological verses and hadith within the principles of physics. God Almighty, â€śMaster of the Day of Judgment,â€ť knows best.
1. Unal, Ali. The Qurâ€™an with Annotated interpretation in Modern English, The Light, Inc., New Jersey: 2006.
2. Bukhari, Riqaq, 39.
3. Nursi, Said. The Rays Collection, â€ś20th matter of the 5th ray,â€ť trans. Sukran Vahide, Sozler Publications, Istanbul: 2002, p.112.
4. Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 24.