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TIME CHEST:

Particle-Wave Duality: from Time Confinement to Space Transcendence

by Mohamed Haj Yousef



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1.3 Time and Cosmology in Islamic Philosophy


In contrast to modern cosmology, which views the cosmos independently from God or the Creator, Islamic cosmology is theocentric, like the classical Christian and the Jewish. Based on Quran, the Universe in Islam is everything other than God, and it is often referred to in plural form: the Universes, which means that our Universe is one of many Universes that may include Angels, Jinn and other invisible or metaphysical creations. As defined by the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwan al-Safa), the Cosmos is all the spiritual and material beings who populate the immensity of the heavens which constitute the reign of multiplicity that extends to the spheres, the stars, the elements, their products and to human.

In Quran, the Universe, or the Cosmos, is also identified as the creation that comes into existence through the divine creative command: “Be!” (kun), from which the Arabic name for the cosmos is derived: (kawn), which means the engendered existence (or creation), that is inseparable from the Islamic conception of God, the Creator.

Many Muslim astronomers doubted the geocentric model and questioned the Earth’s apparent immobility and centrality within the Universe, and some have clearly stated: “the Earth is in constant circular motion, and what appears to be the motion of the heavens is actually due to the motion of the Earth and not the stars.” Young et al. (2006). Alpetragius also declared the Ptolemaic system as an imaginary model that was successful at predicting planetary positions but not real or physical. His alternative system spread through most of Europe during the 13th century.

Other Muslim astronomers from Maragha observatory which was established in 1259, together with astronomers from the Damascus mosque and Samarkand observatory, attempted to solve the equant problem and produce alternative configurations that were more accurate than the Ptolemaic model in numerically predicting planetary positions, and were in better agreement with empirical observations. The arguments and evidence they used resemble those used by Copernicus to support the Earth’s motion.

In Western astronomy, more than two thirds of star names are Arabic, with a few others from Greek and unknown origin, but only bright stars have names because there were no telescopes to observe faint stars. Most of these Arab names of stars originated before Islam. In his Almagest, Ptolemy listed the celestial position and brightness of 1,025 stars. Muslim astronomers adopted the method Ptolemy used in identifying stars according to their position within constellations, and added names from traditional Arabic star lore, which they recorded in various Zij treatises, such as the Book of Fixed Stars written by Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi (903-986 AD), known as Azophi in the West, who thoroughly illustrated all the stars known to him along with their observations, descriptions, positions, magnitudes, brightness, and color Kunitzsch (2017).

Additionally, many prominent Muslim philosophers developed various views that were partly inspired by the Hermetic, Pythagorean, and Aristotelian-Ptolemaic cosmologies, translated into Arabic from earlier Greek sources, in addition to the Persian and Indian cosmologies, that were all integrated into the Quranic cosmological perspective.

Some distinguished Muslim philosophers, such as Alkindus, Alpharabius and Averroes, developed their cosmology based on a synthesis between Aristotelian philosophy as interpreted mainly by the Neoplatonists and the cosmological teachings of Islam. Alkindus argued for a closed and finite cosmos, and he believed in the doctrine of creation ex-nihilo, while Alpharabius and Averroes maintained the theory of Emanation to explain the existence of the world of multiplicity from the One. Averroes also rejected the eccentric deferents introduced by Ptolemy, and he argued for a strictly concentric model of the Universe.

Various other schools of dialectical theology (known as “kalam” ), such the Asharites and Mutazilites, also developed their own distinctive cosmological and philosophical views. In his Incoherence of the Philosophers, Algazelus defended the doctrine of Asharites that the Universe is temporally and finite, against the Aristotelian doctrine of an eternal Universe, proposing his modal theory of possible worlds, and arguing that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds from among all the alternate timelines and world histories that God could have possibly created. This theory now forms one of the important interpretations of Quantum Mechanics, as it has been discussed in Chapter III of Volume II.

Averroes, on the other hand, was a defender of Aristotelian philosophy, against Asharite theologians, led by Algazelus. These philosophical ideas of Averroes were considered controversial by some Asharite scholars, because he insisted that phenomena follow the natural laws that God created, while Algazelus believed that any individual act of a natural phenomenon occurred only because God willed it to happen. Averroes had a greater impact on Western philosophy, being known as “the Commentator” , as Thomas Aquinas refers to him, for his detailed emendations to Aristotle. Latin translations of his works led the way to the popularization of Aristotle. The 13th century philosophical movement in Latin Christian and Jewish tradition based on his works is called Averroism.

Muslim philosophers were in general greatly influenced by their Hellenistic predecessors, and therefore tried to apply their theories of time in relation to the related issues raised by the Quran and Prophetic Hadith. Many Muslim philosophers prior to Ibn al-Arabi, such as al-Kindi, al-Farabi, al-Razi, al-Ghazali, Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna), analyzed and criticized or adapted the differing conceptions of time in the schools of Greek philosophy represented by Aristotle, Plato as well as nd Plotinus. For example, al-Ghazali, in his famous “Refutation of the Philosophers” (Tahafut al-Falasifa), dealt with most of the standard philosophical and logical arguments regarding time and creation, and his criticism was also thoroughly discussed in Ibn Rushd’s famous philosophical rebuttal, the Tahafut al-Tahafut.

However, one of the most influential Muslim philosophers who had many original views about time is Avicenna, who devoted long chapters in several works to discussing time and related issues according to the Islamic theological views and those of previous philosophical schools. He started by summarizing the metaphysical positions of all previous (Islamic and other) philosophers and then criticizing their different ontological views.

Like Aristotle, he closely relates time and motion, but he stressed that motion is not the amount of time. He based his argument on the fact that different distances can be cut in the same time, or that the same distance can be done in different times, either due to the difference in velocity or due to stops on the way. But ultimately he does define time by motion, though he adds distance to overcome Aristotle’s difficulty regarding periodicity. He says that time is the number of motion when it separates into before and after, not in time but in distance, otherwise it would have to be periodical.

On the other hand, although Avicenna doubted the existence of physical time, arguing that time “exists” only in the mind due to memory and expectation, he also showed that time is also real in the sense that it exists through motion which relates to physical matter; time is real, but it doesn’t have a stand-alone essence, since it only exists through the motion of matter.

On the issue of the structure of time, Avicenna affirms that it is a continuous quantity, since he (like Aristotle) considers time to be the amount of circular motion which is continuous, and thus time is only divided by our mind’s illusion into “moments” or “instants” .

In contrary to that, the proponents of Asharite theology, based on their views of atomism, considered time to be “discrete” , and they also talked about the re-creation of the world in time. Ibn al-Arabi acknowledges these positive insights in their position, but he also criticized their view as being incomplete as we have discussed in Chapter II of Volume I.

Many other schools of Islamic thought have also speculated on the issue of time. It is good to notice, however, that in the Quran itself Allah never makes any direct reference to the usual Arabic word for “time” (zaman or zamaan), although many other time-related terms later explored by Ibn al-Arabi—such as the year, month, day and night, were mentioned very often in the Quran, in addition to some divine Names that are could be related to time such as the First, the Last and the Age. This fact is extremely important, because, in accordance with Ibn al-Arabi, time may exist only as indivisible units which the days that we usually divide into hours and minutes and smaller durations, but he explained that this division is only conventional as we devoted Chapter IV to explain this intricate conception.

Nevertheless, with all the hundreds of books and devoted studies that have been written about time in Islamic philosophy, both in Arabic and in other languages, none have ever focused on Ibn al-Arabi’s eccentric views. Many scholars have studied and compared the different theological, philosophical and physical views of time and existence, so briefly summarized above. However, none of these studies have ever, to the best of our knowledge, treated Ibn al-Arabi’s unique concept of time, although—as we shall discover—it is actually the key to understanding his controversial theory of the oneness of being. The reason for this strange neglect could be not only his difficult and symbolic Sufi language, but also the fact that his concepts are intentionally dispersed throughout his many writings and not plainly stated in one place, as most other authors do. In fact, Ibn al-Arabi mentions in the Futuhat [I.141.13] that he wrote a treatise with the title of “al-zaman” (“time” ) where we would expect to read at least an extensive summary of his view of time. However, apparently this precious work has been lost, but the Meccan Revelations seems to include most of his doctrine regarding time and other related cosmological issues.



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  • ... Extensive Summary =>:

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  • ... of the important interpretations of Quantum Mechanics, as it has been discussed in Chapter III of Volume II. Averroes, on the other hand, was a defender of Aristotelian philosophy, against Asharite theologians, led by Algazelus. These philosophical ideas of Averroes were considered contro ...


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  • ... he West, who thoroughly illustrated all the stars known to him along with their observations, descriptions, positions, magnitudes, brightness, and color Kunitzsch (2017). Additionally, many prominent Muslim philosophers developed various views that were partly inspired by the Hermetic, Pyt ...


  • ... Ptolemaic System =>:

  • ... nt circular motion, and what appears to be the motion of the heavens is actually due to the motion of the Earth and not the stars.” Young et al. (2006). Alpetragius also declared the Ptolemaic system as an imaginary model that was successful at predicting planetary positions but not ...


  • ... Philosophical Views =>:

  • ... ntric model of the Universe. Various other schools of dialectical theology (known as “kalam” ), such the Asharites and Mutazilites, also developed their own distinctive cosmological and PHILOSOPHICAL VIEWS . In his Incoherence of the Philosophers, Algazelus defended the doctrine of Asha ...


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The science of Time is a noble science, that reveals the secret of Eternity. Only the Elites of Sages may ever come to know this secret. It is called the First Age, or the Age of ages, from which time is emerging.
Ibn al-Arabi [The Meccan Revelations: Volume I, page 156. - Trns. Mohamed Haj Yousef]
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