The teaching of the Qur'an that life is a process of progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but unhampered by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems.

(The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam)


“I believe our future depends on how much will we know this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.” (Carl Sagon)

“The causality-bound aspect of Nature is not the whole truth. Ultimate Reality is invading our consciousness from some other directions as well, and the purely intellectual method of overcoming Nature is not the only way.” (Iqbal)


Aristotle, the Greek philosopher (384-322 BC) was the first person to write a book in 340 BC named On the Heavens. This was a step forward of man toward knowing the structure of the universe. For example before Aristotle the earth was considered as a flat disk. Aristotle proved that our earth was a round sphere and not a flat disk. Prior to that cosmological order was not clear in the minds of Greeks. Aristotle said that the earth was a round sphere and stationery at one point. He maintained that the sun, the moon, the stars and planets were moving around the earth, also that the eclipses of the moon occur when the earth was in between the moon and the sun. Since the shape of the shadow of the earth on the moon was always round, therefore it was clear that the earth was round. The Greeks also came to know that the roundness of the earth was not like the roundness of a plate but it was somewhat a round sphere. For that they argued, besides eclipses of the moon, that the sail of a remote ship is always seen much before appearance of its body on the surface of the sea. Their findings about the eclipses of the moon as well as the earth being a round sphere still hold good and we do not find a contradiction of this idea anywhere.

    In the second century A.D Ptolemy developed a cosmological model showing the earth in the centre and the sun, the moon, the planets Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, Jupiter and the stars surrounding the earth. However today the study on Cosmos has gone a long way beyond the imagination of forefathers of philosophy and cosmology. The earth is no more stationary, it is moving on its axis and also circling around the Sun like other planets that are moving about the earth as well as moving among themselves and about one each other. The model developed by Ptolemy and also the Greeks concepts of the Universe as well as their notion of the Time and Space remained under review in the later centuries by Ikhwan al-Safa (The Brethren of Purity) during 10th. and 11th. Centuries AD They were the group of scholars from Basra whose work on philosophy and all sort of sciences including mathematics, medicine, cosmology, astrology, physics and their achievements in these fields provided a guideline to the future world of philosophy and science. Their deliberations and result of researches were available to the coming generations in the shape of their Rasa’ils (magazines).[1]


     The Ikhwan reject the Aristotelian notion of time as being nothing but a measure of movement. They do relate the time to the motion of heavenly bodies in the physical world; but from metaphysical point of view they maintain that ‘the time is a pure form, an abstract notion, simple and intelligible, elaborated in the sole by the faculties of the spirit. It is born there through the meditation upon the regular repetition of the nights and days around the earth and resembles the generation of numbers by the repetition of One.’[2] They intuited that the time was intimately connected with creation. As for the space, to them, it has no reality independent of this world but it is one of the conditions of physical existence. According to them there is no space outside the cosmos and the Universe cannot be said to be in the space, and that all which is in space is by nature dependent upon the Universe. Physically the space or place is the boundary of bodies, which was also the view expressed by Aristotle. Metaphysically intuited, to them, the space is an abstract, simple and intelligible idea, ’a form abstracted from matter and existing only in consciousness’. It is not void and not like the surface of a substance. They agree to the Aristotelians that a void must be in a place or the so called space. But place is a quality of bodies and cannot be found except where there are bodies. As such where are no bodies there is no place or no space.[3]   In other words there is no empty space. In fact the entire space is full with bodies observable as well as bodies unobservable.

     As stated earlier Ptolemy’s model showed the earth in the centre and the sun, planets and stars around the earth. But in Ikhwan’s cosmology the Sun is placed in the centre of the universe and below it stand Venus, Mercury, Moon, the sphere of the air, and the earth,  and above it there are another five spheres. These are the spheres of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the fixed stars, and then the Muhit (outer sphere). Hellenistic and Greeks philosophy and sciences grew in the coming centuries particularly after the huge volumes of their writings were translated to Arabic. The translation of the ancient thought from Arabic to the Latin and then to other European languages resulted in spreading the knowledge of Greeks and Muslim philosophers over the entire world of intellect. The voluminous commentaries and fresh  ideas from Muslim thinkers and scientists added to the ancient thought provided considerable guidelines to the coming generation of philosophers and scientists of the world. For instance al-Kindi, Ya’qub ibn Ishaq (died after 866 A.D), known as the father of Islamic philosophy. A collection of his twenty-four main works were compiled and edited by M.A.H. Abu Ridah in Rasa’il al-Kindi al-Falsafiyyah (Philosophical Treaties of al-Kindi) – 1950-53. He played a major role in the spread of Greek thought by his use, development, and even inventions of new terms. His eclectic work contained both Aristotelian and Neoplatonic elements, which were developed by Abu Nasr al-Farabi, known in the medieval West as Abunasir or Alfarabius (870-970).[4] He was the leading logician of his time, and his marvellous work include a number of his commentaries on Aristotle’s Organum andPorphyry’s Introduction (Isagoge).  Like Plato he believed that the rule of philosophy is absolutely essential for a perfect state and that without it the state would perish.  

     Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni (973-1051) further developed the scientific work of al-Farabi. Al-Biruni was one of the most learned scholars and scientists. He wrote one of the masterpieces of medieval science kitab al-Tafhim. Another of his books on natural philosophy Kitab al-Jamahir fi ma’rifat al-Jawahir, which is the most complete Islamic text on mineralogy. It includes the works of other Muslim scientists also like al-Kindi, al-Jahiz, Muhammad ibn Zakariyya al-Razi and Jabir Ibn Hayyan.[5] Another prominent role, which cannot possibly be overlooked, is Averroes’ (Ibn Rushd 1126-1198). He was born in Spain; ‘His great commentaries on Aristotle won him international fame’, as per the author of A Dictionary of Philosophy. He further writes that the passing (i.e. death) of Averroes  marked the end of Islamic Aristotelianism. Yet the translation of his Arabic commentaries in Europe ensured that Averroes thought would live on and that his brand of Aristotelianism would rise, phoenix-like, in the West within a few years to disturb, perplex, and challenge another orthodoxy.”[6]   This is a great tribute of the West to a Muslim Philosopher. Ptolemy’s work on cosmology and Aristotelianism as well as Neoplatonic thought reached the West duly filtered and  improved by addition of rich commentaries by the Muslim philosophers.

     Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) was born at Torun in Poland. He was a mathematician and astronomer. He produced a model of universe more simple and modified to that of Ptolemy, in which he showed that the sun was stationary at the centre and that the earth and planets moved in circular orbits around the sun. He was a Polish priest and also had studied medicine. He proved mathematically that the earth is spherical and is in uniform motion around the sun. He had to face a violent opposition from the Church at his discovery that “the earth, and hence the mankind, is not at the physical centre of the universe”.[7] In the beginning of seventeenth century Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), the Italian born philosopher, a mathematician, astronomer and physicist started observing the sky during night with a telescope for the first time. The result of his observation together with his mathematical application brought a shock to the world of cosmology. In the words of Hawking, “The death blow to the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic theory came in 1609. In that year , Galileo started observing the night sky with a telescope, which had just been invented. When he looked at the planet Jupiter, Galileo found that it was accompanied by several small satellites or moons that orbited around it. This implied that everything did not have to orbit around the earth, as Aristotle and Ptolemy had thought.”[8] 

     Igor D. Novekov writes in his famous book The River of Time that ‘Galileo developed a new understanding of physics, and formulated the first truly substantiated foundations of the science of time, which were later beautifully developed in the work of Isaac Newton.’ Einstein praised the works of Galileo by saying that “the science relating the theory and experiment was actually born in Galileo’s work’. Galileo discovered the law of motion by inertia. This law sets the principle of mechanical relativity: for example if you are sitting in ship, irrespective whether it is in motion or at rest on the bed of waters, ‘all processes in the cabin proceed identically’. You can walk and can feel no difference, you can drop an object
which will fall on the floor in normal way, you can see flies flying freely in the air, and the motion of the ship will make no effect. ‘No mechanical experiment inside the stateroom can determine whether the ship is moving or is at rest’.[9] 

     Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a contemporary of Galileo, was a German mathematician and astronomer. He modified the theory of Copernicus.Kepler formulated three laws of planetary motion. He maintained that the planets did not move in round circles but in ellipses, i.e. in elongated circles. This was Kepler’s first law of planetary motion and one of his three great discoveries of the law of motion. His second law of planetary motion was that ‘planets sweep out equal areas in equal times.’ The third and his last law was also about planetary motion, ‘which related to motion of various planets to one another, that lays out correctly the clockwork of the solar system. He described it in a book called The harmoniesof the World.’[10]  The aesthetic aspect of harmony in the musical sense as well as the order and beauty of planetary motion conceived by kepler makes him unique among the family of mathematicians and astronomers. 

     We have briefly stated above the main contributions of Ptolemy, Galileo and Johannes Kepler in respect of cosmology. It will be worthwhile if we learn something about the views and contributions of other prominent scientists and philosophers before proceeding to understand the works of the scientists of our age who are struggling to uncover the secrets of Nature that still remain unveiled.

     Pythagorists believed the universe as mathematical. Similarly Galileo observed that the book of nature was written in the language of mathematics. About three centuries before Einstein, Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was born in La Haye, France. He was a great philosopher of his time as well as a great mathematician. He conceived the mission to reconstruct the whole of philosophy in a new way. In a short span of his life time of only 54 years he brought revolution in philosophical thought and mathematics. His first book Regulae ad Directionem Ingenil (Rules for the Direction of the Understanding) composed in 1620s but published after his death in 1701. In this book Descartes ‘makes it clear that mathematical reasoning was to be the paradigm for his new system of knowledge: “those who are seeking the strict way of truth should not trouble themselves about any object concerning which they cannot have a certainty equal to arithmetical or geometrical demonstration.’”  Descartes believes that the mathematical reasoning is applicable to the whole of science. Such knowledge, for him, is a united system. To him “all the sciences are interconnected and dependent on one another.” His contribution to mathematics is remarkable particularly in the reform of algebraic notation and in the development of co-ordinate  geometry. His famous treatise, Law Monde, contained a complete theory of the origin and working of the solar system.[11]   About space he believes that there is no empty space.

     Issac Newton (1642-1727) agrees that there is no empty space. To him ‘Nature hates empty space’. One year after Galileo died Newton was born. He was British mathematician and a physicist He postulated the Law of Universal Gravitation and contributed richly to the theory of light. The story of falling an apple on his head is more or less concocted. Hawking writes that what Newton himself ever said was that the idea of gravity came to him as he sat “in a contemplative mood” and “was occasioned by the fall of an apple.”  His Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687)provides comprehensive system of mechanics which accounts for the motion of bodies on or near the surface of the earth and also for all the motion throughout the Universe, including that of the moon around the earth and the other planets around the sun. This book as Hawking says ‘is probably the most important single work ever published in the physical sciences. Newton not only put forward a theory of how bodies move in space and time, but he also developed the complicated mathematics needed to analyse those motions.’ The Principia is a difficult and so complicated treatise of Newton that it can only be understood and used by mathematicians at the highest level. But the other book of Newton, The Optics (1704), is accessible even to non-mathematicians.Newton said that his discovery of universal law of gravitation was supporting evidence for belief in a deity (God).[12] 

     Newton regards space and time both as ‘absolute’. To Newton every event in the universe occurs in empty space – empty not in the sense being a vacuum – but the space which holds in itself all bodies and all processes. In his Principia he writes: ‘Absolute space of its own nature, without regard to anything external, remains always similar and immovable’.

     Each and every object in the universe is moving including from a tiny particle of dust that we observe in the morning rays of the Sun up to the mighty bodies in the skies. As stated earlier Kepler postulated three laws of motion that provide us a complete understanding of the movement of the objects in the universe. Besides, life itself is movement, and the movement generates life. Just like a river the life is a constant flow. It is Reality and according to Henry Bergson the Reality or necessary Being is a perpetual Becoming. Ibn Sina (Avicenna 980-1037)  is considered as a philosopher of Being. He describes “Being” in a beautiful phrase, in which he says, ‘the anatomy of Being forms the basis of all the hierarchies which exist in the Universe since the cosmos is nothing but the manifestation and effusion of Being. Any particular being increases in its degree of reality, beauty and goodness according to how closely it approaches the Necessary Being.’[13]   

     Countless books and articles have been written on Time and Space as a result of speculative thought by philosophers, scientists, cosmologists, astrologers and religionists from the time of Hellenistic and Greek philosophers till the time we live in. To some of the modern scientists the space has almost lost its existence as a reality following Einstein’s theory of relativity. After his cosmological research in the light of his theory of relativity Einstein declared that the space and time were no more the two modes of speculation and added that these have lost their existence as two separate entities. We will discuss Einstein’s positive contribution to the world of science as well as his negative approach towards real time at a later stage when reviewing the existence of real time. Here we may mention what Henry Bergson says that we get to know a thing either by circling around it or by entering into it. He says that “the second approach alone enables me to reach the reality which does not depend on my position and is, in that sense absolute.”[14]  By entering into a thing means, according to Bergson, to use intelligence, the human way of thinking. This has been given to us as instinct to a bee, to direct our conduct.[15] “And thy Lord revealed the Bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in (men’s) habitations.”[16]  As described earlier al-Ikhwan treat the space as a form metaphysically intuited. To them it is an abstract, simple and intelligible idea, a form abstracted from matter and existing only in consciousness.

     According to German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), “absolute necessity is a necessity that is found in thought alone. This belief must therefore have been due to a certain regulative principle.”[17] This regulative principle, he says directs us to look upon all connection in the world as originated from an all-sufficient necessary cause. Elaborating further the ideal of “all sufficient necessary cause”, Kant says; “We proceed here just as we do in case of space. Space is only a principle of sensibility, but since it is the primary source of shapes, which are only so many limitations of itself, it is taken as something absolutely necessary, existing in its own right, and as an object given a priory in itself. In the same way, since the systematic unity of nature cannot be prescribed as a principle for the empirical employment of our reason, except in so far as we presuppose the idea of an  ens realissimum as the supreme cause, it is quite natural that this latter idea should be represented as an actual object, which, in its character of supreme condition, is also necessary – thus changing a regulative into a constitutive principle. That such a substitution has been made becomes evident, when we consider this supreme being, which relatively to the world is absolutely (unconditionally) necessary, as a thing in and by itself”.[18] 
     To Kant the space and time are both forms of sensible intuition. To prove his contention as against the possibility of the space and time being ‘determinations’ or relations of things he comments firstly on the space as following:

  1. That space is not an empirical concept, which has been derived from outer experiences. To him the representation of space cannot be empirically obtained from the relations of outer experience. On the contrary, this outer experience is itself possible at all only through that representation.
  2. That space is a necessary a priory, which underlies all outer intuitions. He says that we can never represent to ourselves the absence of space, though we can quite well think it as empty of objects. It must therefore be regarded as the condition of the possibility of appearances, and not as determination dependent upon them. It is an a priori representation, which necessarily underlies our appearances.
  3. That space is a pure intuition. He also rules that space is essentially one and that we can represent to ourselves only one space; and if we speak of diverse spaces, we mean thereby only parts of on e and the same unique space.
  4. Consequently, he says, that the original representation of space is an a priory intuition , not a concept.

      Finally after his detailed discussion on the above points Kant concludes; (1) Space is not an empirical concept which has been derived from outer experiences. (2) Space is a necessary a priori representation, which underlies all out intuitions. (3) Space is not discursive or, as we say, general concept of relations of things in general, but a pure intuition. (4) Space is represented as an infinite given magnitude. 
(Immanuel Kant’s Critic of Pure Reason)[19] 

     Commenting on ‘time’ Kant says that we can never know what a thing is in itself. Although the time is not a material object but the rule applies to it as well, as the knowledge obtained through the medium of human senses has always a limit. But there are other sources at the disposal of man to know more about the things. The time is a complex issue. We know only the time formulated by the rotation of day and night. This is also clock time through which we manage and plan our day to day business. This time is physical time and is like a straight line drawn on a sheet of paper; it is divisible as well as it has past, present and future in it. As a matter of fact this time is a finite time and belongs to a finite world. The realm of the real time is infinity; it has no past, no present and no future. Iqbal has gone still further by saying that ‘time is the essence of eternity’ (Haqeetat men rooh-i abad hay zamana). In simple words clock time or serial time is physical time and it is a false time, while true time is pure duration and is really real. Kant offers Metaphysical Exposition of the Concept of Time as under:

  1. Time is not an empirical concept that has been derived from  any experience. … Only on the presupposition of time can we represent to ourselves a number of things as existing at one and the same time (simultaneously) or at different time (successively).
  2. Time is a necessary representation that underlies all intuitions. We cannot, in respect of appearances in general, remove time itself, though we can quite well think time as void of appearances. Time is, therefore, given a priory. In it alone is actuality of appearances possible at all.
  3. Time has only one dimension; different times are not simultaneous but successive. These principles cannot be derived from experience. We should only be able to say that common experience teaches us that it is so; not that it must be so.
  4. Time is not a discursive, or what is called a general concept, but a pure form of sensible intuition. Different times are but parts of the same and one time; and the representation which can be given only through a single object is intuition.
  5. The infinitude of time signifies nothing more than that every determinate magnitude of time is possible only through limitations of one single time that underlies it.  

(Immanuel Kant’s Critic of Pure Reason)[20] 

     After his detailed comments on space and time as given above Kant sums up his contention of time in relations to things or appearances. According to him the time is the form of inner sense, i.e. the intuition of ourselves and of our inner state But to him “space, as the pure form of all outer intuition, is so far limited; it serves as the a priory condition only of outer appearances”. Since all representations belong, as determination of mind, to our inner state; and this inner state stands under the formal condition of inner intuition, and as such belongs to time since according to him time is an a priory condition of all appearance. He further elaborates that time is the immediate condition of inner appearances (of our soul), and thereby the mediate condition of outer appearance. He concludes this paragraph, “I can also say, from the principle of inner sense, that all appearance whatsoever, that is, all objects of the senses, are in time, and necessarily stand in time-relation”.[21]  

(To be continued...)


ABH - A Brief History of Time by Stephen W. Hawking (Reprint 1992)

DOP - A Dictionary of Philosophy (1918) prepared by Lawrence Speake and published Pan Books Ltd. London.

COS - Cosmos by Carl Sagan, first published in Great Britain in 1981 by Macdonald & Co. (reprinted in 1991)

ICD - An introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Published by State University of New York Press, Albany (1993).

Critic of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, translated by Norman Kemp Smith from Original German edition in 1787 and published by Macmillan and Co. ;td., London.

LZB - Leszek Kolakowski – Bergson, New York 1985.

TMG - The Mind of God by Paul Davies, published by the Penguin Group, London 1993.

TRT - The River of Time by Igor D. Novikov (reprint 2004), published by the Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, U.K.


[1]  ICD p. 25-26 The names of authors of Rasa’ils varried from time to time. At one time some of the names as given by Ibn al-Qifti are “Abu Sulaiman Muhammad ibn Mas’ud al-Basti, Abul Hasan Ali ibn Wahrun al-Sabi, Abu Ahmad al-Nahrjuri, Awfi al-Basri and Zaid ibn al-Rifa’l. Abu Hayaan al-Tawhidi claims that the wazir, Abu Abdallah al-Sad’an, who was killed in 985 A.D., had in his service a group of scholars including Ibn Za’rah (942-1007), Miskawaih al-Razi (died 1029), Abu’l Wafa al-Buzjani. Abul Qasim Alahwazi, Abu Sa’id Bahram, Ibn Shahuyah, Ibn Bakr, Ibn Hajjaj al-sha’ir, Shukh Shi’I (died 1000), and Ibn Abid Alkatib.”

[2]  ICD P. 63

[3] Ibid. p. 64

[4] DOP p.10,11,181

5] 5 ICD p.111

[6] DOP p. 24

[7] Ibid. p. 76

[8] ABH p. 4

[9] TRT p. 17-19

[10] COS p. 78-79

[11] DOP p. 89

[12] DOP p. 245

[13] ICD  p. 201

[14] LZB p..24

[15] Ibid. p..30

[16] Qur’an 16:68

[17] IK 1 P..514

[18] IK 1 p..517-18

[19] Ibid. p.68-69

[20] IK 1 p.74-75

[21] Ibid. p. 77

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