A rabbi who made Muhammad smile

When I read in the Los Angeles Times (3/18/14) that scientists had found the first direct evidence of Alan Guth’s theory of early universe inflation, and Albert Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves or pulses, I immediately thought of the Hadith about the Rabbi who made Muhammad smile.

Jews, to this very day, still recite special blessings before they perform Jewish rituals that always begin: “Blessed are you Adonai our God, King/Ruler of the World/Universe….”, and end with a specific reference to what Jewish religious activity they are engaged in.

The rabbis ordained these blessings because even when we do something small like eating the fruit of a tree, or some human baked bread whose grain comes from the earth, we acknowledge that it all ultimately comes from the One who created; humans, the trees, the earth, and the whole universe.

The Hadith I thought of, as found in Sahih Bukhari: (Book 60 #335, and Book 93 #510 and #543) is: “Narrated ‘Abdullah: A Rabbi came to Allah’s Apostle and said, “O Muhammad! We learn that Allah will put all the heavens on one finger, the earths on one finger, the trees on one finger, the water and the sand on one finger, and all the other created things on one finger. Then He will say, ‘I am the King.’

Thereupon the Prophet smiled so (much) that his pre-molar teeth became visible, and that was the Rabbi’s confirmation. Then Allah’s Apostle recited: ‘No just estimate have they (the pagans) made of Allah such as is due to Him.’ (Qur’an 39.67)

What does this Hadith about the Prophet’s approval of the Rabbi’s poetic account of the One God who created heavens, earths and everything else, have to do with the first scientific confirmation of inflation and Einstein’s theory of General Relativity’s prediction of gravity waves?

I quote from the Times article: Scientists staring at the faint afterglow from the universe’s birth 13.8 billion years ago have discovered the first direct evidence for the theory of cosmic inflation — the mysterious and violent expansion after the big bang.

During this period of inflation, which happened just a fraction of a second after the big bang, the universe ballooned from smaller than an atom to 100 trillion trillion times its original size, at a rate faster than the speed of light.

Scientists have long wondered why this faint background light is so uniform across the sky. Stars clump into galaxies, and galaxies cluster together unevenly across the heavens. But no matter where you look, the cosmic microwave background seems to look essentially the same.

Why was the cosmic microwave background so smooth while the universe that came after it looked so lumpy?

In 1980, theoretical physicist Alan Guth came up with an answer: All that stuff from the early universe had originally been in a single extremely tiny spot when it was ripped outward in a violent expansion, popularly called the Big Bang.

Because the universe’s beginning was infinitely compressed and then experienced a single sudden expansion, the characteristics of the background radiation in all directions of space/time would be roughly the same.

This would require a massive spurt of inflation that scientists could barely comprehend. In less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the universe popped into existence, the newborn cosmos expanded more than a billion trillion times, from the size of a tiny subatomic particle to roughly the size of a basketball.

These scientific ideas of events in the creation of our universe are incomprehensible and much more incredible and amazing than traditional poetic religious images such as the one used by the Rabbi who made Muhammad smile.

Indeed it is true that ‘No just estimate have they (humans yet) made of Allah such as is due to Him.’ (Qur’an 39.67)

As the universe continued to expand at a slower rate and then cool, it carried with it the signature of this early amazing expansion. Guth’s inflation theory could become a cornerstone of our understanding of the early universe — but scientists had thought it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove.

The signal from the cosmic background microwave has weakened over time, making it exceedingly difficult to find the signature of this ancient inflation behind all the cosmic “noise.”

The only hints could come from distortion in the fabric of space-time, created by the force of inflation. That could be detected by looking for a particular pattern of polarized light in the cosmic microwave background, known as B-mode polarization.

The theory was that the sudden inflation should, based on Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, cause an onslaught of gravitational waves that ultimately would change the polarity of the background radiation, leaving behind a distinctive swirling pattern.

But, although Einstein’s theory has been validated by many observations of many other predictions, no one until now had ever observed gravitational waves or pulses.

And this is what the scientists have now observed. So what is the religious lesson we learn from all this?

The theory of inflation is rooted in quantum mechanics, which operates on the subatomic scale. The new discoveries show that the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity, which governs very large-scale phenomena, are also quantum phenomena.

For more that eight decades this dualism of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of relativity has bothered almost all theoretical physicists and cosmologists.

They believed that there should be one much greater theory of everything (sometimes called TOE) that would incorporate and harmonize both theories, which have a great amount of evidence to support them.

Hundreds of scientists have spent their professional lives seeking a TOE.

Although there was no logical reason to believe that the overall harmony of a TOE was required; they all believed it was there.

Religious people call it monotheism. We also believe that the dualistic division of worlds of reality into: material and spiritual, objective and subjective, secular and sacred, moral and amoral, will someday be overcome.

Now we have the first scientific evidence that there is indeed a basic connection between the world of microcosms and macrocosms.

Although the TOE itself has not been discovered yet, and might not be discovered for decades or even centuries, we have external objective evidence of its presence, and renewed confidence that it will someday be discovered.

Prophet Muhammad must be smiling again,and every rabbi should feel satisfied by the news, for each new major discovery in astronomy yields new evidence of God’s wisdom and power.

As King David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God. The universe proclaims God’s handiwork.” (Psalms 19:2)

And as the Qur’an says, “Verily in the heavens and on the earth are signs for those who believe.” (45:3)

Thus, now would be a good time for all leaders of monotheistic religions to start working on improving the search for religious unity and harmony.

I do not mean the unity of saying we are all the same, or of seeking detailed agreement between competing religions.

I mean the unity and harmony of a symphony orchestra; playing different notes on different instruments, guided by the style of its own conductor, yet always playing the music of the One invisible composer.

Orchestras should compete through their excellence in playing the composer’s music, and not by claiming that their conductor is the best, or that the composer of their music composed the best music only for them.

Thus, the Qur’an proclaims: “For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way. If God had pleased He would have made you one people, but (He didn’t) that He might test you in what He gave you.

Therefore compete with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; for all return to God, so He will let you know (after Judgment Day) that in which you differed.” (5:48)

This is a wonderful further development of a teaching of the Biblical prophet Micah; that in the end of days.the Messianic Age:

“All people will walk, each in the name of their own God, and we shall walk in the name of the Adonai our God forever.” (4:5)

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.