Archive for August, 2010

BBC Radio 4 today: Big Bang & God

August 30, 2010

Bismillah. I will be on BBC Radio 4’s “Beyond Belief” programme today, 4.30-5.00pm (BST), God-willing. Topic: The Big Bang, Cosmology & whether these affect faith in God. Chaired by Ernie Rae. The other panellists are an agnostic physicist and an Anglican theologian-physicist. I’m the Islamic mystic-physicist on the panel. 😉

The programme is available online here.


August 29, 2010

Bismillah. We returned to the UK last night from Afghanistan, praise God: a day in Kabul + a week in Helmand (Lashkar Gah & Nad Ali). FCO PBM delegation. Over 30 years of war have blighted the country: the fighting needs to end. Neither ISAF / GIROA nor the Taliban can win militarily. National reconciliation + reintegration of insurgents + shura/democracy + elimination of corruption would seem to be the only solution. God help ’em!

It was great to return to Afghan, 20 years after our 3-man JIMAS delegation with the Arab mujahedin in Kunar, 1990.

I hope to blog more about both visits in due course, God-willing.

Changemakers competition – vote for FC UNITY!

August 17, 2010

Bismillah. This is a request from the founder of FC UNITY.

You may wish to vote for “Team Iraq” by FC UNITY in the Changemakers “Changing Lives Through Football” competition. They have made it through to the top 10 finalists out of 293 entries. Voting closes on 18th August 2010.

Team Iraq by FC UNITY: Finalists:

Team Iraq: Summary

Iraq is living through a period of violent ethnic and religious conflict. Many of its young population (60% of Iraqis are under 25) lack positive
opportunities. Yet research and experience shows that to prevent future violence and extremism, young minds need to be nurtured towards a positive role in civil society.

One of the few activities capable of unifying the whole population is football. This was shown when the Iraqi national team made up of dedicated professionals from all parts of Iraq won the AFC Asian Championship in the summer of 2007. Yet, the conflict has seen the complete destruction of grass-roots sports facilities and a widespread lack of youth football opportunities.

Team Iraq has begun to turn this situation around. It uses the power of football to bring together young people from all ethnic, religious and social backgrounds, through a number of football-related initiatives with emphasis on creating local youth led programmes to help develop and empower and ultimately employ young people.

The Origins & Shape of the Universe

August 16, 2010

Bismillah. More from Sabbir Rahman below.

Last Thurs (1st Ramadan), BBC R4’s Beyond Belief recorded a discussion on “The Origins of the Universe,” about the Big Bang theory & questions about God, etc. especially in relation to the latest LHC experiments at CERN and the search for the Higgs boson (the so-called “God particle”).

Ernie Rae chaired as usual, and I was one of the three panellists. The others were an agnostic 42-year-old physics professor at Manchester (Jeff something), and David Wilkinson, a physicist and Christian theologian at Durham. It was David who had first introduced me to the name of Polkinghorne, 21 years ago at Cambridge. Our paths hadn’t crossed since then, but we eventually remembered each other.

For the radio show, we discussed cosmology, God etc. The final question was: “What do we hope or expect to learn from the new high-energy LHC experiments?” My answer was largely something I’d learnt from Sabbir. 🙂

The show will be broadcast on Mon 23 Aug 2010 God-willing, although the date may change.

Assalamu `alaikum,

It has been just over five years now since I posted the proposal below that our universe was perhaps just one black hole in a hierarchy of black holes.

As you can perhaps imagine, I was a little surprised then to discover just yesterday that a certain Dr Nikodem Paplowski, a physicist at the University of Indiana whose papers I came across while researching into Einstein-Cartan theory and general relativistic torsion, has quite recently (i.e. since April 2010) achieved fairly widespread recognition for making almost precisely the same proposal!

Articles about his proposal appeared in the last couple of months in USA Today, New Scientist, the Daily Telegraph, the National Post and even the MIT Technology Review blog. The university of Indiana appears to have been quite active in promoting their young star through press releases to the media.

I have written to Dr Pawlowski to explain that his ideas are not actually new (in fact, a lot of work on the interpretation of the maximal extension of the Schwarzschild solution has been done by others in the past well before myself), and have asked that he acknowledge this in future.

I have also written the following to the newspapers and magazines above:

“The proposal that the universe may be located in the wormhole of a black hole in an even larger universe is not new. I proposed exactly the same thing five years ago, both on the UK_Islamic_Astronomy Yahoo! group (of which I am a moderator) and also in a technical paper submitted to the electronic archives: particularly sections 4.1 and 5.5 of the paper).

Whether Dr Poplawski’s proposal is correct or not, it is NOT original.”

In addition to the above, I have spent much time discussing (and arguing about!) the interpretation of the Schwarzschild solution with other physicists on the sci.physics.research and sci.physics.relativity newsgroups, for example in the following two threads from 2007:

The latter thread makes specific reference to the interior of the black hole being stable and physically separated from the exterior.

This is not to say that I am not very impressed by Dr Poplawski’s recent work, which shows considerable promise, but credit should go where credit is due! I have also made reference to my prior work on his Wikipedia entry to try to set matters straight:

Anyway, enough of this wingeing and whining about who said what first!

One good thing that has arisen from thinking about this again is that when I first made the proposal all those years ago, I had only considered the possibility of a spherically symmetric black hole universe. But of course, if it is indeed the case that our observable universe emerged from the gravitational collapse of matter from an even larger universe, then the matter would of course have been rotating as it collapsed, so that our universe is not in the interior of a Schwarzschild black hole, but in the interior of a (rotating) Kerr black hole. But the ring singularity of the Kerr black hole is that of a Klein bottle-like double torus – and if this hypothesis is correct, then our universe is actually toroidal in shape! This links in quite nicely with speculations I have previously posted about by Dr Vladimir Yershov at UCL regarding how the Klein bottle shape of the universe might determine elementary particle masses. Note that Hoyle-Narlikar electrodynamics also makes similar assertions, so these speculations may be worth revisiting now that we have a more concrete proposal.

Note that although no-one yet actually knows the shape of the universe, there is a very nice book called “The Shape of Space” authored by Jeffrey Weeks which discusses various possibilities. I have only read the 1985 first edition but apparently there is now a second edition out:

It is a fascinating read and not too tough for a layperson to follow.

Anyway, I hope you are all enjoying a blessed Ramadan insha’Allah!


The Orphans of Iraq

August 15, 2010

Bismillah. I received this from UMA (United Muslims of America). The statistics are shocking, and the charitable effort described below is inspiring. May Allah bless their efforts and be with orphans everywhere.

Here are some Islamic teachings about orphans:

Nay! But it is you who do not honour the orphan. (Qur’an: Surah al-Fajr or Chapter, Dawn)

Did He not find you an orphan, and provide shelter? … So, as for the orphan, do not oppress him or her. (Q., al-Duha: Forenoon, nos 6,9)

Have you seen the one who denies the (Day of) Judgment? Such is the one who repels the orphan. (Q., al-Ma’un or Neighbourly Needs, 107:1-2)

The Messenger of God (himself an orphan once, peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The one who takes care of an orphan and I will be like this in the Garden,” and he indicated by putting his forefinger and middle finger together.

For a UK context, our population is about twice that of Iraq. The Iraqi orphan population is already over half of that of London in number. Imagine the proportional situation: a city just bigger than London, composed entirely of orphans!

The Orphans of Iraq

War and ensuing violence in Iraq have taken over a million lives, and left behind an enormous number of orphans. The need is immediate & the numbers are high.

Sunday, 22 August, 2010, 6:00 p.m.

Chandni Restaurant, 5748 Mowry School Rd., Newark, CA 94560


* Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Zaytuna College * Imam Zaid Shakir, Zaytuna College * Dian Alyan, GiveLight Foundation
* Dr. Mohammad Rajabally, NISA

Individual: $20; Couples, $30; Family, $40(No one will be turned away for lack of funds – Come for the iftar.)

There are 5,000,000 orphans in Iraq (Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs Report: February 2, 2010)

16% of the total Iraqi population of about 30 million are orphans.

70% of these 5 million were orphaned since the U.S. invasion in March, 2003.

(i.e. There were about 1.5 million orphans before the invasion. The total now is more than triple that number.)

At least 600,000 children in Iraq are presently homeless, living on the streets.(Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs Report: February 2, 2010)

Consider the numbers in proportion to the US population of 308 million: 5 million orphans would be the equivalent of 49.3 million US orphans. That’s the size of the combined populations, all ages, of our six biggest US cities. Imagine New York, LA, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, and Philadelphia, all comprising of orphans. 600,000 homeless Iraqi children would be like 7.6 million homeless children in the U.S.

If you are concerned and willing to help, please contact:

Alalusi Foundation Iraq Orphans Project, 1975 National Ave., Hayward CA 94545 510-887-2374

Alalusi Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Tax ID # 91-2158518

Astronomical clock at Buckingham Palace

August 13, 2010

Bismillah. I visited Buckingham Palace (open to the public until October 1st this year) last week and enquired about the magnificent astronomical clock in the Lower Corridor, after the Ambassadors’ entrance and at the beginning of the public tour. Here is the curator’s reply:

I hope you enjoyed your recent visit to Buckingham Palace. My colleagues in the Visitor Office in the Palace have informed me that you wanted to know a little more about the astronomical clock in the Lower Corridor of the Palace.

The clock is dated to around 1820, but it is unsigned, so it is not immediately clear who made it. We know from a label affixed to its back that it was purchased by Queen Mary, so it did not come into the Royal Collection until the 20th Century. It has occupied the position it has today since it was purchased, as it is mentioned in H. Clifford-Smith’s 1931 seminal publication Buckingham Palace as being in the Lower Corridor of the palace. He describes the clock as:

“A very uncommon and interesting astronomical clock dating from about 1820 – a remarkable feature of which is the central dial showing sidereal time , with the procession of the stars around the north pole driven by the clock above it. The case, of beautifully figured mahogany, is inlaid with bands of rosewood.”

Although similar clocks have appeared on the London market since, they too are unsigned. However I am told by my colleagues from our clock conservation workshop that many of its internal workings are very much in the style of a maker called Henry Jenkins. One of his confirmed productions is now in the British Museum and the internal workings are similar to the Royal Collection clock. Jenkins published a book entitled “A Description of Several Astronomical and Geographical Clocks with an Account of their Motions and Uses” in 1778, which reflects many of the techniques used in the movement of the clock in the Lower Corridor.

I’m told the bar across the face showing sidereal time is intended to represent the horizon, so it is possible to see the movement of the stars both above and below it.

I hope this information is of interest to you, please do not hesitate in contacting me if I can help further.

Kind regards,

David Oakey
Assitant to the Deputy Surveyor of The Queen’s Works of Art
The Royal Collection
St James’s Palace

Dawn / Suhur / Sehri timings during Ramadan

August 12, 2010

Bismillah. I blogged about this last year. A number of people have asked me about these again, so here goes:

There are variations in UK mosque timetables for dawn and end of Suhur (Sehri) timings. The variation can be over one hour.

This is due to different methods of calculating the time of the first appearance of dawn, usually based on the sun’s angle below the horizon. Some jurists recommend 15 degrees, others use 18 or 17.5 degrees.

I use the visual observation of dawn, as per the original Prophetic practice. I don’t follow clocks rigidly to the minute – that is not the spirit of Islam. I don’t wear a watch any more, to reduce our over-obsession with telling time via clocks as opposed to our bodily rhythms and other cycles of nature. (I recommend “Pip Pip” by Jay Griffiths for a wonderful exploration of time, clocks, nature & humanity. The world’s biggest four-faced clock tower, currently being built opposite the outwardly light-polluted, but inwardly light-bathed, House of God and Symbol of the Heart in Mecca, really is a sign of the times!) But of course, in modern, clocks-dominated societies, calculated timetables are inevitable.

Visual observation of the dawn usually tallies with a 15 degree angle in urban or light-polluted areas and 18 degrees in very rural, dark-sky locations.

In high latitudes in the summer, the “dawn” is there all night, and the jurists use various rules such as: nearest valid time; most recent valid time; last fifth, sixth or seventh of the night, etc.

As with the Ramadan start date, these are all valid interpretations / ijtihads. Individuals and communities should follow what is most sensible for them.

Allah knows best!


August 10, 2010

Bismillah. Saudi Arabia has announced the start of Ramadan tonight, but it is not clear what the basis is for this, since the new crescent moon (hilal) was simply not visible there today.

Whether you begin Ramadan on Wed 10 Aug or Thurs 11 Aug, have a blessed month!

A message is appended below from a leading astronomer in Pakistan:

My respected teachers and friends are this time in Madinah (Saudi Arabia). They tried to sight the moon by naked eyes but not sighted as it was expected astronomically. Sky was clear.

Visibility report for Tuesday 10 August 2010 (28 Shaban 1431 in Pakistan): Not seen at 60 places

Today (Tuesday, 10 August 2010) was 28th Shaban 1431 in Pakistan and the moon was so defective in whole Asia that there was no solid proof in the history of astronomy to sight such a moon even by a telescope, hence there was no need to try to sight the moon in Pakistan but in spite of this fact, just to increase the trust of common people in the Science of Moon-sighting and because the people were confused due to the 29th Shaban in Saudi Arab, I requested the people to sight the moon today. Resultantly, On my request, nearly 300 persons (members of the moon-sighting committees of our institute “JAMIA-TUR-RASHEED” + my friends + their companions) tried to sight the moon at nearly 60 places all over Pakistan but the moon could not be sighted, as it was astronomically expected tonight. It was almost cloudy today countrywide, due to monsoon season. There is worst flood of history in Pakistan. Nearly 14 million persons are directly affected. Pray and help your Pakistani brothers.

Note 2: After some days, insha’Allah, a detailed report of this observation in Urdu will be available at miaturrasheed‫‫‬‬

Muhammad Sultan Alam
Head of research committee/Astronomy department
Ahsanabad,Karachi, Pakistan moonsighting

Can Muslims be loyal citizens of non-Muslim countries?

August 9, 2010

Bismillah. This is by Rashad Ali (edited by myself), in response to a discussion about whether or not Muslims can be loyal citizens of non-Muslim countries whilst remaining part of the fellowship of the people of God (which is what the Qur’anic term “ummah” means, eg in Surah al-Anbiya’ or The Prophets). It is reproduced here to stimulate discussion of this vital topic.

Ummah is not a simplistic Muslim political bloc in the Qur’an & Hadith. It is used at times to mean the faithful, as in the verse, “You are the best nation” (Al-Imran or the Family of Imran), although even Umar was said to have held the view that this referred primarily to the Companions. Sometimes in the political sense it does not imply folk of one religion only, but rather society as a whole, composed of different religions – as in the Sunnah description of the Jews and Muslims of Madinah as one Ummah (nation), separate from all other nations (ref: the Mithaq or Covenant of Madinah).
It was on this basis that jurists have explained the special tie that nations and people within a country have to each other. Sheikh al-Islam Syed Husain Ahmed al-Madani explains this point of the relationship with the nation in his book Islam aur Qaumiyat Mutahidda (translated into English as “Composite Nationalism & Islam”). This is why in fiqh terms it has always been the case that certain countries and empires can have treaties of peace with others whilst other countries/empires ruled over by Muslims don’t – this is a historic fact and a shar’i reality – see Sheikh Afifi al-Akiti’s fatwa refuting suicide bombing where he mentions this.

In Muslim belief, everyone from the time of the Prophet till the day of judgment is the Ummah of Muhammad (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam). Ibn Hajar explained in the Fath al-Bari that some (the ummah of istijabah) have accepted the Prophet’s invitation to Islam. Others are still being called and hence they are the Ummah of Da’wah. Sheikh Shinqiti also mentions this in his tafsir, the Adwa’ al-Bayan.

In classical fiqh terms, if you lived in a land then your relationship meant that even if that land was at war with the Muslim empires you took no part and it was forbidden to do so; in fact this was the case if you had a treaty with that country and others did not – as alluded to in the Qur’an itself. Sarkhasi elaborated further and explained that any country which gave Muslims safety to live and practice their religion and was attacked, then the Muslim living within that country should join the military ranks and fight to defend such a country, citing the example of Ja’far bin Abi Talib, who according to the Mujtahid Imam, fought alongside and gave support to the Negus of Abyssinia.

There is a further extension of this in fiqh terms related to defining the land as a homeland for Islam. Ibn Hajar al-Haytami gave the fatwa that any land or empire where Muslims could practice their faith belonged to Dar al-Islam (as the Shafi’i madhhab states) and therefore if it was attacked by rebels or foreigners the Muslim majority countries/empires were obliged to fight to defend its integrity.

So, I don’t think the simplistic approach of “We are one Ummah etc.” is quite clear in the text or in fiqh terms. It all depends upon the political and social analysis that is made and then we decide what is the most appropriate form of response. Today, scholars like Mufti Juday and Sheikh Ibn Bayyah have taken the view that we live in an unprecedented situation, where in the western world we are given citizenship rights, not subjects as all were in the past of the king or caliph, but citizens who can all participate in shaping the governance and laws and rules of our society. This is a new reality which allows the practice of faith and political rights and respecting difference and religious rights. This means we interact with it accordingly – we have a social contract in a metaphysical, political and religious sense. Our loyalty is to fulfilling such agreements and respecting these political and social agreements and our faith ensures such fealty and loyalty. As Allah says in the Qur’an, “Awfu bi l-‘Uqud” (5:1) – fulfil your undertakings and obligations.

In this sense we are a part of this society and Ummah and we have responsibilities here and now which are our primary responsibilities. This is so, whilst not forgetting that we are a part of humanity, to whom we have responsibility also, as the Prophet said to the companions in a mass-transmitted authentic hadith as mentioned by Najm al-Din Haythami, “You do not have faith until you have mercy.” The companions responded, “We have mercy for one another.” The Prophet sallallahhu alaihi wasallam, replied, “You do not have faith till you have mercy, and you do not have mercy till you have mercy for mankind, each and every one of them (al-nas jami’an).” And yes, within it we do identify with our fellow Muslims, but not as an exclusivist brotherhood, as the Prophet included all people within the brotherhood of mankind, as indicated in the hadith, “None of you has faith till he loves for his brother (in the narration of Imam Bukhari in his Tarikh: ‘… loves for mankind’) what he loves for himself.” Imam Nawawi explained that “brother” here primarily referred to the non-Muslim brothers of the early converts to Islam, and so the hadith applies to non-Muslims (and Muslims) generally and hence to the whole of mankind.

Update: Some speculations on the topological structure of elementary particles

August 8, 2010

More from Sabbir:

I just wanted to provide a little update on progress on this subject since last time I wrote.

I mentioned in earlier posts that I suspected that the discretised charge of the elementary fermions might be explained in terms of a ‘defect angle’ which is experienced by neutrinos rotating around the Kerr ring-singularity defining the particle. Because the direction of time changes sign every time the neutrinos pass through the ring singularity, they effectively become bounded standing waves ‘trapped’ in time as they wind around a toroidal surface surrounding the singularity an integral number of times.

Now, after a little research, I discovered that the existence of defect angles in classical gravity corresponding to the intrinsic spin of elementary particles is actually nothing new. Indeed there exists a generalisation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity (GTR) which allows for the existence of ‘torsion’ – in particular, the connection coefficients associated with gravitational curvature on Riemannian manifolds, which are usually taken to be symmetric, are allowed to have an asymmetric component which is associated with particle spin. This particle spin, in the current context, would be associated with the speed-of-light rotation of the Kerr singularity.

It happens that torsion results precisely in the kind of ‘spacetime defect’ (namely the defect angle) that I am looking for to explain the charge of electrons and quarks.

This generalised theory of gravity is called the Einstein-Cartan-Kibble-Sciama (ECKS, or simply EC) theory, as the basic ideas were first introduced by Einstein and Cartan in the 1920s and 30s (I think), and then later fleshed out in much greater detail in the 1960s by Kibble (currently still at Imperial College) and Sciama. The theory is a very pleasing one in the sense that it has been proven that is precisely the local gauge theory associated with the full Poincare invariance group of relativistic spacetime, which consists of both Lorentz transformations and spatial translations – something which cannot be said of GTR.

It has been known since its development in the 1960s that there was a very strong link between Einstein-Cartan theory and the usual theory of defects and dislocations in crystals in condensed matter theory which had been beautifully elucidated by Kondo and others in the 1940s, and that they shared an almost identical mathematical structure. More recently, Petti showed more directly the equivalence between the theory of spacetime defects and Einstein-Cartan theory.

All of this is of course very encouraging in the context of my proposed model. The defect angle required by the model becomes a necessary consequence of the rotation of the ring singularity in the presence of torsion, and furthermore, the most elementary scalar particles (which need not be black holes) can be associated with localised conical singularities, which will cause matter in the exterior to be “attracted” to them (think of straight lines trajectories around a cone that actually look circular or elliptical).

I had claimed that the neutrinos themselves were formed by the gravitational collapse of either ‘gravitational waves’ or ‘gravitons’ (or ‘dilatons’ or ‘axions’ or some other proposed massive scalar particle), without being able to specify precisely which or why. If the analogy between Einstein-Cartan theory and the theory of dislocations is actually more than that, and rather reflects the true nature of spactime, then these ‘gravitons’ may in fact be none other than (geometrical) defects in spacetime, i.e. the conical ‘pinches’ referred to above which give them the appearance of having mass. Furthermore, spacetime itself is then simply a (possibly continuous limit of) some kind of Riemannian crystal lattice, the defects in which give rise to the physical universe that we see.

This would be quite fascinating as it would suggest that there is some kind of ‘substructure’ to the fabric of spacetime – that perhaps we are living on some kind of regular crystalline structure formed within the context of an even deeper physical reality, and that GTR and – if my hypotheses are indeed correct – all of the physical laws that we observe in nature, emerge from this more basic and fundamental physical reality. Indeed it has hard to imagine otherwise, as it would be difficult to explain the existence of defects in a perfectly smooth continuum.