When we want to measure small distances we use a tape measure. We say that the distance between this corner and the other in this room is 5 metres, for example, or we might say that the length of this pillar is 20 metres. If we wanted to know the distance that a car has travelled, then we take the number of revolutions it's wheel had made, and from that we calculate the distance in kilometres. And if we wanted to know how deep the ocean floor was, then we would send a sound wave from the ship on the surface of the water to the bottom of the sea. When the sound waves bounced back to ship, the instruments would determine the distance from the speed and the time it took the sound waves to travel back.

But when we want to know how far stars or galaxies are from earth or from each other, we use a different measurement stick. That unit of measurement is called, "light years." One light year is the measure of distance that light travels in one year, and since light travels at approximately 300,000 kilometres per second, that means that in one second light can cross 300,000 kilometres, in 8 minutes it can travel a distance of 144,000,000 kilometres (that's how far our sun is from us). and in one year it can trek a distance of about 9,460,800,000,000 kilometres. This is an enormous distance, but realise that there are galaxies that are millions of light years away from us.

It is understood that if we desired to measure gigantic distances, then we would use time instead of space (a metre, a kilometre, and so on). That is if we wanted to tell someone about the distance between our galaxy and the closest galaxy to it we would say that that galaxy is 180,000 light years away, and if wanted to say how far the spiral M83 galaxy is from us, then would say that it's 10 million light years away, and so on.

After acknowledging this measurement unit let's make a stop at the verses of the Holy Qur'an. As we know the Qur'an is very precise in every way. Every word is selected with utmost wisdom. Allah says about the Hereafter,

"(remember) the Day (of Judgement) when every soul shall find present whatever it has wrought of good; and whatever it has wrought of evil; it will wish that wide were the interval between it and himself; But God cautions you of Himself; and God is affectionate to His (faithful) servants." (2: 30)

Let's talk about the measurement tool that God Almighty used in this verse. The Arabic word used for this type of measurement was, "Amad." In the Al-Mizan commentary, Al-sayed Tabataba'ee says, "Amad" means a time interval. Al-Raghib Fi Mufradat Al-Quran (Al-Raghib in the meanings of the words of the Quran) says, "Amad" and "Abad" become close to each other, but "Abad" signifies a period of time that does not have an end? and "Amad" is a period of time that has an end but that end is unknown?

And in the commentaries of Al-Sayed Al-Shirazi in Taqreeb Al-Quran, "'wide were the interval means,' means a far away distance." Some commentaries took this distance to be spatial and others took it to be time based. Whether the explanation of the word is space or time, the Qur'an clearly used the word, "Amad" which meant time. As I said before, if we wanted to measure large distances (millions of kilometres) we would use time as the unit of measurement, and that is what was exactly used in the Qur'an.

Not only this, but according to science today, there is no difference between space and time; they are the same. Stephen Reucroft and John Swain, professors of physics at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass explain, "The fact that space and time must get mixed up to keep the speed of light constant implies that, in some sense, space and time must be the same, despite our habit of measuring space in metres and time in seconds. But if time and space are similar to the extent that they can be converted one into the other, then one needs some quantity to convert the units--namely, something measured in metres per second that can be used to multiply seconds of time to get metres of space. That something, the universal conversion factor, is the speed of light. The reason that it is limited is simply the fact that a finite amount of space is equivalent to a finite amount of time." 

Each time I read this verse I used to think, sure that a person desires to be far from his sins in the Hereafter, just as a person would like to stay far away from foul-smelling odours, but it had never occurred to me how much that desire was until I realised the correlation between the physical idea and the words in the verse. Not only did the verse say Amad which by itself meant a long time (distance), but it also said "ba'eeda" which means wide. May God forgive all our sins.

Contributed by Mohamed Qasem -