3881 Islamic Views on Extrasolar Life

Sunday, February 20, 2011: 3:00 PM
147A (Washington Convention Center )
Nidhal Guessoum , American University of Sharjah, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Muslim thinkers, both during the classical Islamic era (10th to 14th centuries AD) and in contemporary times, have unfortunately rarely addressed the implications of the discovery of extra-terrestrial life, whether intelligent or primitive. Those who have commented on the issue, mostly interpreters of the Qur’an, have shown little or no objection to the existence of other worlds and other species in the cosmos. Indeed, they find verses to support this viewpoint, particularly with regard to the existence of “other earths”.

The existence and nature of intelligent species is a more complicated subject in the Islamic worldview. Indeed, one finds the Qur’an on the one hand presenting Man as “God’s vice-regent” on Earth and the beneficiary of “all that is in the heavens and on earth”, and on the other hand reminding us that animals constitute other “communities”, that we are only one (small) part of God’s creation, and that “everyone in the heavens and the earth” shall be brought to judgment on the Day of Reckoning. And a number of commentators have remarked that the Qur’an speaks of beasts, animals, or “living crawling creatures of all kinds” scattered in the heavens and the earth.

I must also stress that few have discussed in any detail the implications of a discovery or encounter with extra-terrestrial species, and those who did, haven't realized the enormous spectrum of physiologies and mental structures and capabilities that can potentially be found out there if we are not alone. What kind of worldviews and beliefs would (very) intelligent species hold? What common denominator could we find for meaningful exchanges with them? What impact will that have on our own understanding of life, the world, and existence?

I will discuss all these issues, presenting both the “standard” Islamic viewpoints and my own.