• Issue 95 / September - October 2013

    TIME What Does the Qur’an Say About It?

    Firat Celik

    All things in the universe, with their specific and suitable outfits obtained from the spiritual world, gain an image and flow in the river of time.

    The sun and the moon are by an exact calculation (of the All-Merciful) (55:5).

    He has made the night for repose, and the sun and the moon a means for reckoning (the divisions of time). (6:96)

    He it is Who has made the sun a radiant, illuminating light, and the moon a light reflected, and has determined for it stations, that you might know (how to compute) the number of the years and to measure (time). (10:5)

    The number of the months, in God's sight, is twelve, as determined and decreed by God on the day when He created the heavens and the earth (and set them moving in the present conditions). (9:36)

    They ask you (O Messenger) about the new moons (because of the month of Ramadan). Say: "They are appointed times (markers) for the people (to determine time periods) and for the Pilgrimage." (2:189)

    The concept of time is not mentioned directly in the Qur’an. But there are numerous verses reporting a time period in which many words are repeatedly used to allude to it. “Age” (karn – plural: kurun), “month” (shahr), and “year” (sana, am, hijaj, and havlayn) are mentioned 20, 21, and 30 times respectively [1]. Regarding the concept of time, al-Taftazani says in his book Aqaidu’n Nasafi, “Time is used to describe things that have a beginning. Things that have a beginning depend on certain conditions. God is beyond all measurements and limitations” [2].

    Islamic scholars divide time into two, “earthly-physical” and “spiritual-metaphysical,” and they describe current time as “psychological time,” “expanding time,” or “existential time.” According to Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, time is a mysterious coordinate that is in charge of regulating the material world and events. He describes biologic time as activity, growth, development, and speed: “However unmoving, constant, and static a clock outwardly appears, it is in a state of continuous movement in essence and inwardly. Likewise the world, which is a huge clock of the Divine Power, rolls or revolves unceasingly in continuous change and upheaval. Its two ‘hands’ of night and day show the passage of its seconds, and its ‘hands’ of years and centuries show the passage of its minutes and hours respectively. Time plunges the world into waves of decay and, leaving the past and future to non-existence, allows existence for the present only” (Twenty-Fifth Word, p. 455) [3].

    From this conclusion of Bediuzzaman, we understand that different times are generated through perpetual flow of the heavenly bodies in space (moon, sun, planets and stars.) Bediuzzaman, in his evaluation of the metaphysical time, also states that all the existence in the universe, with their specific and suitable outfits obtained from the spiritual world, gains an image and flow in the river of time. He points to the fact that all beings continuously come from the future, arrive at current time for a rest, and join with the past, therefore allowing the formation of the time river: “What we call time, a mighty river flowing in creation, has a reality like everything else. Its reality is like the ink and pages of the writing of Power on the Tablet of Effacement and Reaffirmation. Only God knows the Unseen” (Tenth Letter, p. 59) [4]. Every moment of the reality of time is a stage of creation under the divine command of “Be, and it is” (Qur’an 2:117).

    The creation of things and events in the present cosmos is initiated in the quantum world by the union of each particle to the existence in a chain of countless contingencies. The state before a matter enters the visible, sensible form (macroscopic state) is described, by Bediuzzaman, as the “sphere of contingency,” i.e. the realm of creation, while modern science names it as the quantum world and reality which is composed by n number of micro states in which contingent realities overlap.

    The tablets (phases) that host the characteristic contingencies of creation via the instant transition of phases and increasing number of microstates are described as “the Tablet of Effacement and Reaffirmation [Lawh Mahw wa Ithbat])” by Bediuzzaman:

    [T]hrough the Manifest Record’s dictates (namely, Divine Destiny’s decree and instruction), Divine Power uses particles to create or write the chain of beings, each link of which is a sign in the creation of things, on the metaphorical page of time (the Tablet of Effacement and Reaffirmation). Thus particles move because of that writing’s vibration and motion, which occurs while beings pass from the Unseen world to the manifest (material) world, from Knowledge to Power. The Tablet of Effacement and Reaffirmation is a slate for writing and erasing, an ever-changing notebook of the fixed and constant Supreme Preserved Tablet, and this latter Tablet’s notebook in the sphere of contingencies, where all things are unceasing manifestations of life and death, existence and ephemerality. This is the reality of time. What we call time, a mighty river flowing in creation, has a reality like everything else. Its reality is like the ink and pages of the writing of Power on the Tablet of Effacement and Reaffirmation. (Tenth Letter, Risale-i Nur Collection, pp. 58-59) [4]

    In the Islamic philosophy of existence, the universe is represented as a book; the space-time union is as the union of pen and ink. The nature of existence and phenomena are explained with these representations.

    The Preserved Tablet
    Mentioned several times in the Qur’an, the Preserved Tablet (Imamun Mubin) and Manifest Record (Kitabun Mubin) (these are considered by some to refer to the same thing), encompass the present world with all its details and fineness, and each particle with their original and true forms that circulate within the infinite sphere of contingency. The transmission of registered events and particles in this book of knowledge through the sphere of contingency to the world of particles takes place in the Tablet of Effacement and Reaffirmation, or the quantum world that can be likened to a scratch pad. Phase transformations – the intercrossing of possible scenarios and overlapping representative images – here are not the reality itself but a variable, transitional, possible micro state reflection of it. The transition of the originals in the Supreme Preserved Book from a state of possibility to a present form, as from the spiritual to the material world, from unknown to the known, require particles to transform from one state to another (tahawwulat-i zarrat). These transitions of phases (vibrations) on the edges of the visible, determined world (space) generate the phenomenon of time. In fact, time follows creation in space (kawn). All of the images and the formations that are called existence in the cosmos are determiners of space.

    In other words, space is a cosmos which transforms continuously from non-existence to existence. This way the universe becomes like a scratch pad and always new manifestations occur in the time river that flows through it. “Now is the time, now is the moment” is a mystical expression of this truth, which, for Ibn Arabi, is composed of a constant moment (an-i daim) and the true reality of time corresponds with the moment of manifestations of Divine Names over existence [5]. According to him, with the extreme power of Divine singular oneness over multiple beings, the earth gets terminated via the hand of non-existence every moment, because the existence of a world means that the non-existence of it has become a “moment.” This way, the Manifest One (al-Zahir) imposes His manifestation first on the hidden, then the Immanent One (al-Batin) imposes His immanence on the manifest; therefore the world continuously get terminated and created. At this stage, the Almighty wraps the current moment of things and events under His names the First (al-Awwal) and the Last (al-Akhir) into the past and the future. Later, the Manifest takes the authority, followed by the Immanent, allowing creation renewed until the doomsday.

    Time, within its own relative nature, is thus a complex manifestation of the Divine names the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Immanent through the vibrations and movements of particles. The measurement of time is carried out over the movement and speed of the particles and objects. According to Ibn Arabi again, the continual renewal of similarities determined over time happens in such a way that as one thing gets terminated another similar thing (fractal) begins to get created instantaneously [5]. While, for instance, the color white disappears in the form of continual phase transitions, another white that is similar but not the same gets created. If an opposite black were to be created upon termination of the white color, this would disrupt the nature of the things. Existence and creation get renewed together, within the mysterious flow of time and the formation of space, every instant: “Every (moment of every) day, He is in a new manifestation (with all His Attributes and Names as the Divine Being)” (Qur’an 55:29).

    Behind the fact that images are temporary and truth is eternal, stands the question of what the mysterious works of time and the reality of the matter really are. Every particle being created in the smallest frame of time, and therefore generating time and eventually flowing in this river that it has caused bears a wisdom of a divine law intertwined with a fine secret, a purpose that reads a universal meaning, an integrity among the opposites, existence in non-existence, and purpose in what seems to be without a purpose. There is no absurdity or anything that is against wisdom emerging from these states that rise as a result of deceptive conflict and limited willpower that seem as transforming, deforming, and dispersing formations and visual images in the sphere of contingencies. The expression of Imam Ghazali; “Nothing is better than what comes out of the sphere of contingencies,” is a beautiful declaration of the perfect wisdom and integrity of continual creation of all things in the page of the time.

    1. Canan, Ibrahim. 2009. Islam’da Zaman Tanzimi [Time Management in Islam] Izmir: Akademi Yay. Third edition. p. 38.
    2. Goodman, L. A. 1997. “Time in Islam,” Asian Philosophy, 2:1, 17.
    3. Nursi, Bediuzzaman Said. 2010. The Words: The Reconstruction of Islamic Belief and Thought. NJ: The Light, Inc.
    4. Nursi, Bediuzzaman Said. 2007. The Letters: Epistles on Islamic Thought, Belief, and Life. NJ: The Light, Inc.
    5. Ibn-i Arabi. The Universal Tree and the Four Birds – Treatise on Unification (al-Ittihad al-kawni). Translated by Angela Jaffray. Anqa Publishing in association with Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society.


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