More bad science invoked in claims about Mecca
by Salman Hameed
It seems that faith as faith is not enough. There is a huge temptation to “prove” one’s religion based on science. What these individuals don’t realize is that such efforts devalue religion and often makes a mockery of faith (also in the literal sense of the word, faith).
The trend of seeking science in sacred scriptures in not unique to Islam, but it is certainly quite popular in the Muslim world (see this post on: On the futility of finding science in the Quran and other scriptures). Some of this has to do with the loss of intellectual prestige. The argument is that “you” (meaning the West) may have the science, but that very science validates the faith of Muslims. The problem is that these claims are always based on awful understanding of science. But then the point often is not curiosity about how the world works - but rather just to have a confirmation of one’s own faith from a method whose power is recognized the world over.
There are many examples of this matter. Some of these relate to Mecca. Two years ago, there were calls to replace GMT with Mecca Time. One of the reasons provided was a “scientific” claim that Mecca is the center of the Earth. Yes, even apart from the logical problem of the lack of center on a surface of a sphere, there were a number of other problems. I had three posts on the topic and if interested, you can check these out: a) The problem with peddling pseudoscientific claims regarding Mecca Time, b) Move over GMT, here comes a call to adopt Mecca Time, and c) Mecca Clock: Seeking prestige via borrowed science.
Unfortunately, there is more pseudoscience in this matter. I recently came across this website that provides a “scientific” reason of why the Tawaf around Ka’aba in Mecca is done in a counter-clockwise direction. Here are the claims on the website:
Worshipping Allah in one direction. Praising Allah in one direction.
When we revolve around the Ka’aba we are orbiting in the same direction as the whole universe and all the creations of Allah from the tiniest particles, to the largest galaxies, along with the human race unite in praise of Allah.
When we go around the Ka’aba, we are travelling in the land travelled by all the prophets of Allah, from the prophet Adam (alaihis salaam) to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)
The Ka’aba in Makkah is never free from circumbulators.
The Blood inside the human body begins its circulation “Anticlockwise”
The electrons of an atom revolve around its nucleus in the same manner as making Tawaf, in an anti-clockwise direction.
the moon revolves around the earth anti-clockwise.
The earth rotates around its own axis in an anti-clockwise direction
The planets of the Solar system revolve around the sun in an anti-clockwise direction
The Sun along with its whole Solar system orbit in the galaxy in an anti-clockwise direction.
All the galaxies orbit in the space in an anti-clockwise direction
Tawaf around the Ka’aba is “Anticlockwise”
Truly Islam is from Allah
Now - sure one can talk about the sacredness of the Ka’aba and its centrality to Islam. But, as you can imagine, to tie the counter-clockwise direction of Tawaf with physical processes in the universe might be a bit of a problem, especially when the claims are just simply wrong. At worst, these claims are based on gross misunderstandings. What is shocking for me is that this website (and its claims) came up in a positive way in an academic discussion!
So lets take a look at some of the examples. First of all, there is a fundamental problem of logic when ascribing direction of motion in space. This is because there is preferential frame in space. For example, a counter-clockwise motion from the “top” would appear clockwise from the “bottom” (and there is no absolute top or bottom). Astronomers ascribe a direction for the Solar system by using Earth north’s pole is “up”. But as our friends in the southern hemisphere know, that there is nothing absolutely unique about picking Earth’s north as the reference point.
But apart from the logical problem, there are also factual errors on the website:
a) The universe - as far as we know - is not revolving around anything. It is expanding - and the rate of expansion is accelerating. But there is no axis of rotation, as there is no “center” of the universe.
b) There is no preferential rotation directions for particles. The orbit of the electron can only be described in terms of probabilities (because of quantum effects). Textbooks usually simplify diagrams to show an atom like a solar system. But to say that electrons orbit in a plane - let alone in a counter-clockwise direction - would be wrong (see here for the visualization of electron cloud model).
c) The orbits of stars in most galaxies are not systematic (for example, elliptical galaxies are dominated (and supported) by random orbital motions). Even in spiral gales, only the disk stars can be said to have
systematic orbits. The bulge stars and halo stars do not.
d) On the largest scale, there are no generalized orbits around which galaxies are orbiting. As mentioned earlier, there is no preferential plane is space, so it is impossible to come up with a general direction of the motion of galaxies. But all galaxies are moving. But they are moving in the direction of their nearest strong gravitational tug. Here is what we have measured with respect to the Milky Way (remember, Milky way is not at the center of the universe, but since we are making the measurements in all directions, we appear to be at the center):
And there have also been attempts to present galaxies with respect to their distance from us. Here is how the wedge looks like (these are positions of galaxies within 2 billion light years of us):
From the press release of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS): The SDSS is two separate surveys in one: galaxies are identified in 2D images (right), then have their distance determined from their spectrum to create a 2 billion lightyears deep 3D map (left) where each galaxy is shown as a single point, the color representing the luminosity - this shows only those 66,976 out of 205,443 galaxies in the map that lie near the plane of Earth’s equator.
Also see: What does the universe looks like beyond our Galaxy. And if you are interested seeing how it would be like to fly though the universe, here is a 3D simulation of the universe:
As you may have guessed by now, there is no sense of making a connection between the direction of Tawaf and stars or galaxies. But such claims serve as a good warning sign of the folly of using modern science to support one’s faith. Let’s keep faith as a matter of faith alone. But lets also ponder about the workings of the universe from a scientific perspective.
Please visit Salman Hameed’s excellent blog Irtiqa: A science and religion blog.