The Dark Matter
Dr. Gasser Hathout, July 17, 2005

He Who created the heavens and the earth and all that is between, in six days, and is firmly established on the Throne (of Authority): Allah Most Gracious: ask thou, then, about Him of any acquainted (with such things). (Quran 25:59)

In many verses, Quran talks about creating the heavens and the earth in six days. Only in couple of verses, Quran makes it a point to add something else i.e. wama baynahuma, which means "what's between them". My entire fascination and fixation was initially on "six days", whether it was really six days, six years, periods, stages and I never appreciated this word "what's between them". As I grew up and read and started to sort of study, I was really surprised to see that the truly amazing thing in this verse is the word "what's between them".

So I started going back to see what did our scholars say about this word in the tafsir books and most scholars glossed over this word in its entirety and focused mainly on heavens and earth. One or two books of tafsir said "what's between them" means the trees and animals on the surface of the earth must be what Quran is talking about. We can not say this interpretation is wrong but we can definitely say that today there is a better interpretation.

What is that interpretation in my opinion?

It is the notion of what we have come to learn as a product of 20th century science called "Dark Matter".

We know that everything is made of atoms. Atoms are made of electrons, protons and neutrons. Science advances more, then we say even the electrons, protons and neutrons are made of even smaller things like quarks and so forth. Then all of a sudden science discovers that there is another form of matter out there that we are not able to detect with any of our conventional methods at all. Most of the way, we are able to say that matter exists is because it interacts with electromagnetic radiation either it interacts with light or it interacts with X-rays or gamma rays.

Dark matter does not seem to interact with anything that we know about. We are able to deduce its existence simply because it has gravitational force.

Professor John Vacca in his book "The World's 20 Greatest Unsolved Problems" discusses about the mystery of dark matter in its very first chapter because he considers dark matters as the most basic fundamental problem and everything else is less important than that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALE (voice-over): Stars spinning around the center of galaxies were supposed to behave like the planets.

NATARAJAN: With our solar system, you have the sun in the center and you have sort of the planets orbiting around. And since the dominant gravity is that of the sun, the planets that are the outer planets, they are much slower than the planets that are inside. So naturally what people expected to find was similarly in a galaxy, if you measure the speed of the stars away from the center towards the Edge, you expect it to fall off.

And what Vera Rubin found instead, which actually she measured that, for a spiral galaxy was that the speed stayed the same. As she sort of mapped the speed of the stars from the inside out all the way to the Edge, they stayed the same.

Rubin was the first to pose the question that baffled the scientist ever since. If all the stars in a galaxy moved with the same speed regardless of their distance from the center, then the center could not be the only source of gravity, something else should be exerting the powerful force, something that we simply can not see.

Rubin had every reason to believe that her discovery will bring great excitement. Her announcement that there was dark matter associated with every individual galaxy was received with much skepticism because of far reaching implications it had on the percentage of dark matter in the universe. From her work, she inferred that almost 90% of the mass in a spiral galaxy had to be dark matter.

Rubin's finding suggested that the destiny of galaxies is governed by a vast and inscrutable network. Every galaxy is enveloped in dark matter, invisibly locking all the stars in its embrace with the gravity of its exertion.

MALE (voice-over): What was the Dark Matter? Steve Hawking one of the leading scientists of the 21th century says,

STEVE HAWKINGS: By its very nature, (cold) dark matter has to be hard to detect. Finding a way to do so is one of the most difficult tasks in physics today.

There are two possibilities. If there is only a fair small amount of dark matter, the universe will continue to expand forever and on the other hand if there is a lot of dark matter, then the gravity will slow down the expansion of the universe and stop in eventually. Then the universe will begin to contract and will end up in a Big Crunch, like the Big Bang reverse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

As Steve Hawkins indicated, the fate of the universe and Allah knows the best, is ultimately determined based on the amount of dark matter that is contained in this universe. If there is no sufficient dark matter, the universe will keep expanding forever. If there is more than certain critical amount of dark matter, that would be enough for the stars to loose some of the energy and the expansion slows down a little bit, that will be enough for the gravitational force to run this process in reverse, the way it
initially began.

Scientists have sent space probe to try to define and they call it gamma. Gamma is a quotient.On the top half of the quotient is the total amount of mass in the universe (an easy enough idea). On the bottom half is the amount of mass needed to provide enough gravity so that the universe doesn't fly apart forever. If gamma is greater than one then the mass of the universe is greater than the amount needed to hold it together and the universe will contract back on itself. If gamma is less than one then the mass of the universe is less than the amount needed to hold it together and the universe will expand out through space forever. All the measurements they made fell on the line very close to gamma being equal to one. We don't really have a good handle yet at all on what is going to happen. But the time scale when the Big Crunch will happen will be determined based on the how much dark matter there is.

"Do they not reflect in their own minds? Not but for just ends and for a term appointed, did Allah create the heavens and the earth, and all between them: yet are there truly many among men who deny the meeting with their Lord (at the Resurrection)! (Quran 30:8)

When Allah says, "Do they not ponder themselves", it means He is giving us a hint. In one of the very few instances where Allah puts in wama baynahuma, which means "what's between them", He linked "what's between them" to "this is for an appointed period". In my mind what interesting way of looking into this verse is that Allah may be giving us a hint and Allah knows the best that the dark matter is indeed going to determine this "ajal' meaning "how long it would last". Allah further says, despite all of these so many people do not believe that they are going to meet God.

Steve Hawking believes in Big Crunch whereas other scientists believe that the universe will keep expanding.

Allah says in the Quran, "The Day that We roll up the heavens like a scroll rolled up for books (completed),- even as We produced the first creation, so shall We produce a new one: a promise We have undertaken: truly shall We fulfill it.." (Quran 21:104)

In the past, science was not developed as we have today and hence tafsirs could not explain this verse the way we described. Hence based on the Quranic verse it is evident that the Universe will contract and Allah knows the best.


Excerpts from the "Quran & Science" sunday lecture addressed by Dr. Gasser Hathout at the Islamic Center of Southern California, Los Angeles on July 17, 2005.