“Sitaron se aage jahan aur bhi hai,” these lines written by the very perceptive Urdu poet and philosopher Allama Iqbal, around 100 years ago, translate to “There are distant worlds beyond our stars.” Interestingly, this poetic phrase came to my mind in pure awe the day NASA released their first 5 images from James Webb Telescope in July this year.
Many of us were sharing these images and had thought-provoking discussions on what they meant. They showed us details on how a star is born, to the death of a star in the southern ring, to dancing galaxies. Some of these pictures were familiar from the Hubble space telescope, but the clarity and vividness of colors that the telescope provided were breathtaking and reverential at the same time.
I first learned about the telescope during Austin’s SXSW 2017, when NASA and Northrop Grumman introduced it at the conference. It is an engineering marvel that looks like a divine ship floating through space with its gold reflector as a sail. It is designed to peer deep into space some 13 billion light years away using infrared cameras.
Scientists hope to find more about the origins of the universe by traveling back in time closer to the light sources. Imagine if you held a grain of sand up to the sky at arm’s length, that tiny bacon is the size of the first released image called deep field image. Expanding on that size is truly the unseen world. The knowledge of the unseen is referred to as the Ilm-Al-Ghyab in the Quran (And yes, for all the “Dune” nerds, Al-Ghyab is the same word used to refer to Lisan-Al-Ghyab, translated as the tongue of the unseen).
Bill Nye, the science guy, and several other professionals involved with this project have said there is no business case for the Webb telescope except our search for better understanding. Carl Sagan’s quote, which was used to introduce the telescope by NASA, conveys this appropriately.
“We have uncovered wonders undreamt by our ancestors who first speculated on the nature of those wandering lights in the sky, we’ve crossed the solar system and sent ships to the stars. But we continue to search, we can’t help it. Essential element of human nature lies far beyond the earth.
“If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.”
— Carl Sagan
I am sure we all reflect when we see these developments. As someone who has a strong connection to both faith and science, I certainly do. The Quran appeals several times to reflect upon the creation of the heavens and earth. To seek knowledge is obligatory to all Muslims as per Prophet Muhammad’s sayings. A prayer that I meditate on regularly is “Rabbi Zidni Ilman” translated as “God, grant me knowledge.”
The pursuit of knowledge is equal to worship in all faiths including atheism (yes, I do call it a faith). The Upanishads state that knowledge sought is leading us to the Supreme Truth/Brahma. And Proverbs 18:15 urges everyone to seek knowledge and understanding of the world.
Carl Sagan conveyed that we were all made of stardust ie, elements in our bodies are made of explosions of supernovas that happened millions of years ago.
During my experience at the silent meditation retreats for vipassana, our teacher would emphasize on feeling the vibrations of millions of particles within our bodies. Maybe those stardust particles are still communicating with the distant worlds beyond. And it is the same for all of us, whether we identify as Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Agnostics or Atheists, we are all connected and in this together.
On Oct. 3, let’s celebrate being connected with each other at iACT’s Night Under One Sky event, while being connected to earth with John Dromgoole, the visionary founder of The Natural Gardener.
Shakeel Rashed is on the board of Interfaith Action of Central Texas, Council on American Islamic Relations and the Islamic Center of Lake Travis and is living everyday with curiosity at the intersection of technology, data, human behavior, and faith. Doing Good Together is compiled by IACT, interfaithtexas.org.
Night Under One Sky
Benefitting Interfaith Action of Central Texas
6:30pm Oct. 3
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave.
Tickets and information, interfaithtexas.org.