For some reason, I had not heard of this couple of “miracles” before. They were described to me by my good friend Aziz, a devout Muslim and certainly not an extremist. Not all devout Muslims advance false theories to advance their beliefs. I daresay not Aziz– an intelligent, smart, modern, broad-minded and fashionable young man.
These are the two alleged events that Aziz so proudly narrated to me (while also making a passing remark that Michael Jackson had converted to Islam before his death):
One, Neil Armstrong, who landed on the moon forty-one years ago, ‘scientifically’ proved that Mecca is the Centre of the Earth.
Two, Sunita Williams has converted to Islam after seeing Mecca and Medina from her perch in space three years ago. The two holy sites shone through the stiff darkness of its surroundings. Williams, convinced it was a miracle, converted to Islam soon after landing back on terra firma.
I said to Aziz: the centre of the earth, which is obviously a sphere, has to lie in its core. Let us say you mean the centre of the surface of the earth. How can a sphere, say a football, have a specific point as its centre? You put a point anywhere on the ball and it would be the centre for you. Greenwich village was arbitrarily selected as the ‘centre’ (timezonewise) for marking a universal standard time; nobody calls it a holy place – not even the British hardcore protestant Christians. Granted, Muslims all over the world –Sunnis, Shias, the discredited Ahmadiyas, all turn towards Mecca to say their prayers. For reasons of their faith, they consider it the central point of their devotion. If they jointly want to set their clocks to the Arabian Standard time displayed by the new huge clock (four faces; each 151 feet in diameter – nearly seven times as large as the faces of Big Ben) set up at 2000 feet height by the Government of Saudi Arabia, fine. Aziz and I will soon learn to calculate my time with respect to each other’s watch, just as my friend Llewelyn in Australia and I do every time when we fix up our chat dates.
I looked up the internet to see what was the “scientific proof” advanced by Neil Armstrong to show that Mecca is at the centre of our world.
Here is that alleged proof:
“Neil Armstrong proved Makkah the center of the earth.
The centrality of Makkah has been proved scientifically.
When the astronauts travelled to outer space and took pictures of the earth they saw that it is dark, hanging sphere. Astonished, Neil Armstrong said: Earth is a dark hanging sphere, who hung it? Armstrong was basically trying to say ALLAH is the one who hung it. “
Now any luminous sphere you see from the dark space would seem suspended. Children from all places and all times have asked the same question: “Papa, who hung that moon up there?” .Our lonely, beautiful blue (not dark) planet is indeed suspended in space by the many gravitational and centrifugal forces that keep it there. If Armstrong, a Christian, was basically trying to say Allah is the one who hung it, he didn’t say it. That presumption far exceeds Zakir Naik’s ‘scientific proofs’.
There was another more forceful internet (and other media) claim on Armstrong’s conversion to Islam. (That he heard the call for prayer while in space). This was answered by the great man himself as recently as 2005 while in a Muslim-dominant Country:
“Neil Armstrong participated in the Global Leadership Forum in Malaysia on 6 September 2005. The Star Malaysia, currently the most widely read English newspaper in Malaysia, took the occasion to interview him on his moon landing mission with Apollo 11. In the article, Armstrong recalls moon landing, published on 7 September 2005, both in print and online, one finds this statement:
“Armstrong, 75, also denied he had heard the Muslim call to prayer on the moon and had converted to Islam.”
Mas’ud Ahmed Khan, certainly no nonbeliever, wrote:
“NO, this keeps popping up time and again, from what I gather Neil Armstrong is not and was never a Muslim, he lives in the US and is a bit of a recluse, he occasionally lectures. Someone told me that he explicitly denied being a Muslim and does not know how the rumour started. It is sad that some Muslims make up stories that have a snowball effect and sooner or later become a “fact” that Muslims boast about can you imagine what impression we give to those who know about Armstrong?
Mas’ud hit the nail on its head. False propagandists do not serve the cause of their faith. They trivialize it.
Now take this:
“During a conference in Qatar, they Muslim scientists argued that Mecca is the true Center of Earth. They claimed that since the longitude of Mecca was in perfect alignment with the Earth, it is time to replace the GMT, so far the Universal Standard Time with Mecca Time.”
The longitude of Mecca city is 39 degrees, 45 Minutes East. You might give or take a minute or two for the exact site of Holy Kaaba. The city’s latitude is 21 degrees, 29 minutes North. You have got these figures assuming the internationally accepted (for now) but arbitrarily selected Greenwich village to be running through zero longitude and the rather more correctly designated equator as zero latitude. The Holy City lies nowhere near the equator, which is one specific line you can mark as near-absolute (since it lies vertical to North-South magnetic field and slices the globe horizontally in near-equal halves). If the Muslim scientists wish to draw the zero-latitude line through Mecca, that is fine too. But I do not believe that the rest of the world would immediately follow suit and rewrite all their scientific calculations, Geopositioning systems, air-and-shipborne navigation instruments and all such rigmarole that science as we know it has evolved over the past two-hundred years through the efforts of western (largely Christian, if you wish to introduce religion into it) navigators and scientists.
A South Indian Hindu Pundit once told me that Lord Krishna specifically selected Guruvayoor in Kerala to be his permanent abode because that was the centre of earth!. He also claimed scientific proof. (These days every religious claim has a scientific proof that scientists have not heard of). I nodded a cynical nod and the Pundit walked away in disgust at my ignorance of science. Unlike with a lone Pundit in faraway Guruvayoor, you can’t be cynical with a conference of scientists – Muslim scientists in this case. (I haven’t heard much about Christian scientists, Jewish scientists nor of Hindu or Buddhist scientists – does science have a religion? There is a journal named Christian Science Monitor, of course). Now what is the other scientific proof advanced by the Muslim scientists who met in Qatar or Cairo? Mecca is equidistant from the North and South poles and hence it is magnetically the zero point. I do not know how you measure that distance. The magnetic poles shift from time to time (like the Centre of gravity of an airplane shifts as you move to the toilet and back), but let us say the length of the earth’s magnetic field is constant. The real North and South poles, on the other hand, are known to be static (with respect to earth), and as I mentioned earlier, it is the equator that more or less falls equidistant to both. If there is a zero-(earth) magnetism point on Mecca, or any other city for that matter, then all the cities, towns, villages and hamlets that share the same latitude share that privilege. Another argument advanced is that the Holy city aligns with the North pole. The magnetic field of the earth (or any force field for that matter) is not a single line, but a whole field (like the atmosphere around us can be described as a field) surrounding the central line (which evidently runs through the core of the earth). In that sense, every point on earth aligns with the North pole – hold a compass, the magnetised needle aligns along the North-South Poles as existing at that point of time and place. If you manage to hold the compass right on top of the magnetic North Pole, you should expect it to flutter and hunt as would a direction-finding insturment over an electronic beacon.
Then you are told that there is an”infinite” radiation that emanates from the holy city that reaches every point in the universe without attenuation. If that radiation is one of divine blessing for believers, one can’t – and mustn’t – dispute it. There is no way to measure the effect of blessings except through faith and long-term experience. There are , indeed, Christian missionaries that “heal” cancer patients on the spot through prayers; but not even the church takes them seriously. There are Hindu Babas who claim to cure HIV and Aids through Yoga or mumbo-jumbo. That hasn’t stopped India from having the highest number of HIV patients. So if this Islamic radiation is a physical phenomenon as understood by science – you should be able to measure electro-magnetic radiation by an oscilloscope or one of those radio detectors that hunt for extra-terrestrial signals round the clock.
If it is a nuclear radiation, then with a Geiger counter. Since this radiation (say of light energy because that is what Sunita Williams is claimed to have noticed) and of infinite and non-attenuating strength , you should have bright light all over the world day or night. Unless it was focussed towards space and extra-terrestrial objects. I have no argument against the belief that you get healthier by moving around the holy place any more than against someone else’s belief that all one’s sins are washed away by bathing in a pollluted, hearse-carrying Ganges. My disbelief lies in bringing the name of science into it.
Physicists tell us that there is a uniform microwave radiation present on our earth that probably permeates the whole universe. This is measurable; it measures equal strength whether you direct the microwave detector’s directional antenna towards Saudi Arabia or the godless China. Our earth is nowhere in the centre of the universe of a million or more galaxies – it is not even in the centre of our own Milky Way. Imagine a swirling Juhu Beach to be the Universe. Now pick a single sand anywhere on this beach (galaxy). Fantasize a single molecule in that sand (a cluster of stars) and one random atom (solar system) in that molecule. In terms of relative size, our earth could be an electron circling the nucleus (sun) of that atom. (My analogy might not be technically right; I am just referring to the relative sizes). Which part of our chosen electron, or nucleus, or molecule or the particle of sand for that matter, can claim to be the centre of Juhu beach?
It was, indeed, the radiation of light (not microwave) energy that Williams is said to have noticed when flying over Mecca which instantly induced her to convert to Islam. This is what is said on internet, reproduced faithfully and with great conviction on many other websites:
“Sunita Williams accepted “ISLAM” Masha Allah, because when they were on the moon, they saw towards EARTH, the entire EARTH looked dark, but 2 places on the EARTH looked like SPARKS (Roshni). They were shocked to see that and saw them with the help of telescope and came to know that those two places were ” MECCA ” and “MADINA” Masha Allah. Then they decided that after reaching to earth they’ll accept “ISLAM”
Not just Sunita Williams, but “they”. Obviously meaning some other astronauts as well had seen the miracle and converted. We will stick to the case of Williams since other members of the “they” group are not specified.
Now, as far as we know, and I daresay as far as Sunita Williams or NASA knows, the lady has never been, and is most unlikely to ever be on the moon. But never mind that. Perhaps International Space Station, where the lady spent nearly six-and-a-half months, straddling two expeditions without a break, was mistaken for the moon. When she looked towards earth, the entire earth looked dark but for the two places that shone like sparks! ISS, as per NASA, flies 278 kms away from the earth at its lowest point of orbit, and 460 kilometres at its highest point. It takes about 90 minutes to make one revolution around the earth. With that speed, it sees only a fraction of the earth – something like 2 to 5% at any given time. Someone on board the ISS does not see earth like we see the moon (where we see only 50% of it on a full moon night). In none of the pictures produced by NASA or by Sunita Williams in her presentations is the whole earth dark – a physical impossibility). At night Continents shone like a smattering of stars with electric lights -New York, Boston, Paris etc among the brightest. Without any artificial lights Iceland shone the brightest of them all – the huge landmass of ice reflecting the skylights with incredible luminosity.
The two pictures reproduced by the Masha –Allah-Sunita-Williams-converted enthusiasts were never part of the pictures presented by Sunita Williams herself. As a person familiar with computer graphics, they look to me like parts of Google Earth Maps of Mecca and Madina, the contrast between the holy sites and their surrounding enhanced by a photo-editing software (possibly Photoshop).
Perhaps one among the faithfull realized it. A somewhat more restrained Internet claim says:
“Satellite Pictures of Makka and Madina of Saudi Arabia from Satellite by Sunita Williams.
Hey ppl…the scientists of NASA took these two pictures from one of their space satellites. Its clearly evident that while all of the world appears dark and gloomy, the Khanna Kabba looks like a shining star… Isn’t it amazing “
One must admit that, even without a tricky photoshopping, the area around the Holy Kaaba – laid with pure white marble slabs does look bright when a Google Earth map is enlarged to display the city of Mecca. So it is with Medina. But this is also true of Taj Mahal in Agra, Akshar Dham in Gandhi Nagar – any site surrounded by white flooring or even John F Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts in Washington. None of them, however you might try, is any brighter than Iceland which has no claim to divinity! To my naked eyes, that is so with the universally revered sites of Mecca and Madina.
Sunita was interviewed by Ajith Balakrishnan of Rediff.com while still in flight, and by quite a few others, including Dilip Sardesai and school children from Singhania Education Centre when she visited India shortly after her space flight.
When boarding for her historic flight, she said she carried a copy of the Bhagwat Gita , a small statue of Ganesha and some Samosas. Later she ordered some more spicy food from the ground. I am repeating that not with any particular pride – but that is what she is said to have carried. Though not India-born, and only partly of Indian blood, she obviously loved things Indian. She ran a barefoot full Boston Marathon while in the Space Station. She walked three (or four?) times in space and watched a continent’s shoreline (not Saudi Arabia) flit by while outside the spacecraft. She made a presentation of the modules on board the ISS and swam through empty space (as you would in water) to move from one module to the next. She cut her hair while there and brought the clippings to earth. She spoke to ground stations, to media editors and made presentations when back on earth. She wrote extensively on her mission logbook which is available on the ‘Net, but there is no mention of seeing a bright Mecca or Medina and being overwhelmed enough to change her religion.If she produced a shining picture of the Holy City and thereupon converted to Islam, she concealed that fact all too well in her interviews. Nobody since then appears to have asked Sunita Williams directly if she is a Muslim. If she indeed is, there is no reason for her to conceal that fact any more than Barak Hussein Obama didn’t have to hide his middle name before being elected to be the President of his supposedly anti-Muslim country.
Let’s be fair. This is a tolerant world. Cassius Clay made no secret of the fact when he became Muhammad Ali. Fight managers continued to stage his fights and earn him (and themselves) good money. Ali drew crowds of all religious faiths wherever he went. His quotes are considered pearls of black pride. Jermaine Jackson made no secret of the fact that he had converted to Islam over 20 years ago, and even as late as 2007, was persuading his brother Michael to convert. If Michael Jackson didn’t, and died and was buried as a Christian, that was of his own choice. No one, not even Jermaine, claimed to have heard Michael recite the Shahad. We have hundreds of Muslim singers, actors doctors and sportsmen -black, brown or white – not afraid to proclaim their faith. Omar Sheriff was not rejected by Hollywood on grounds of his faith. In the mid-nineteen-forties, a canteen contractor named Muhammad Yusuf Khan assumed the name Dilip Kumar to become a Hindi film actor. His director probably thought a Muslim name might not be acceptable enough for the Hindu audience. He was wrong. We have among us now a Dilip Kumar who converted and changed to be Allah Rakha Rehman. He continues to earn fame and fortune not just in India, but also in London and New York. We have amidst us a Muslim ex-president who vehemently supports India’s nuclear efforts and can quote from Gita and Bible as well as from Qur’an without denouncing any. There is an array of Khans in Hindi film Industry with Hindu wives, sisters-in-law, Christian step mothers. There are Muslim women with Hindu and half-Hindu husbands without changing names and taking up conversion. Pakistani singers make their fortunes in India (though not vice-versa). One of the smartest and most vocal women in our colony is a Muslim married to a handsome Hindu Brahmin. Neither hides their beliefs nor change their names. If Sunita Williams did convert, she would have announced it from the rooftop as did Cassius Clay. So would the fearless recluse named Neil Armstrong. At his advanced age and perhaps not much time to meet his Maker, he would not dare deny Him and his true belief.
Let those who invent scientific theories and imaginary miracles by all means declare: “If you don’t convert to my faith, you would certainly go to Hell. My Scripture says so.”
But let them also remember these words from the same Holy Scripture:
109.002 I worship not that which ye worship,
109.003 Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
109.004 And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship,
109.005 Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
109.006 To you be your Way, and to me mine.
It is those words that persuade the knowledgeable Muslims declare with conviction that theirs is a tolerant, peaceful religion. Can someone, please, read that passage aloud to Mullah Amar (since he can’t read) and recite it to the ocean so Osama Bin Laden may hear it from somewhere at its bottom?
1. The Holy Quran-English Translation: http://www.jannah.org/qurantrans/
4. SWilliams speaks from space : http://ishare.rediff.com/video/entertainment/sunita-williams-speaks-from-space/1161594
5. Photos of earth : http://www.slideshare.net/LawrenceCarson/astronaut-sunita-williams-pics-of-earth
6. Video: (Evidently photos knitted together): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUL112I__Gc
8. Sunita Williams mission logbook: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition15/journal_sunita_williams_8.html
9. Pictures of space by SW : http://www.willowcreeklife.com/space.html
10. Stephen Hawking, “A Brief History of Time”. Space Times Publications, 1988