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Atmosphere As Mentioned in the Holy Qur'an

By: Mahdi La'li
Tehran, Iran

Protective Properties of Atmosphere
The Quran depicts the sky as a roof, which is withheld. Interestingly enough, this is the best description about the atmosphere and its protective properties from the viewpoint of science. In the following verse, two words should command our full attention; “roof and withheld”:
-And We have made the sky a roof withheld, yet they turn away from its portents 1. Chapter21: verse32
What is the general function of roof? It is obvious that the roof is used in order to cover the top of a building, vehicle etc, to protect us against the sun’s severe light and heat, cold weather, wind, rain, hail, thunderstorm, lightening and withhold any thing harmful to our lives.
The Earth is constantly bombarded by meteoroids that disintegrate upon the atmosphere and by lethal rays emitted by the sun. This UV radiation is absorbed by the Ozone layer forming the outer fringe of our atmosphere. Thus, our atmosphere along with its Ozone layer is a protective covering for us. Life possibly could have not existed without it.
How could this precise simile have been presented by a Bedouin illiterate man in the seventh century? The logical answer is that this is no less than a miraculous revelation from Allah to remind us of His portents.
How meticulously, does our Lord sustain and protect us against this atmospheric destruction. Now, the scientific proof for the above description:

Scientific Viewpoint
Our planet's rapid spin and molten nickel-iron core give rise to an extensive magnetic field, which along with the atmosphere shielded us from really all of the harmful radiation coming from the sun and other stars. Earth atmosphere protects us from meteors as well; most of which burn up before they can strike the surface 2.

Ozone Layer
One of the important layers of atmosphere, which anyone may have heard about, is ozone. Ozone (abbreviated O3) is a heavy form of oxygen, having three atoms per molecule instead of the usual two. It has the property of being a good absorber of ultraviolet light. In absorbing the sun's short wave_ length ultraviolet light, the ozone is heated up and warms the parts of the atmosphere where it is present. Incidentally, the protective ozone layer helps to prevent some of the sun's dangerous ultraviolet radiation from penetrating to the earth surface 3.

Formation of the Ozone Layer
One billion years ago, early aquatic organisms called blue-green algae began using energy from the Sun to split molecules of H2O and CO2 and recombine them into organic compounds and molecular oxygen (O2). This solar energy conversion process is known as photosynthesis. Some of the photosynthetically created oxygen combined with organic carbon to recreate CO2 molecules. The remaining oxygen accumulated in the atmosphere, touching off a massive ecological disaster with respect to early existing anaerobic organisms. As oxygen in the atmosphere increased, CO2 decreased.
High in the atmosphere, some oxygen (O2) molecules absorbed energy from the Sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays and split to form single oxygen atoms. These atoms combined (27k JPEG) with remaining oxygen (O2) to form ozone (O3) molecules, which are very effective at absorbing UV rays. The thin layer of ozone that surrounds Earth acts as a shield, protecting the planet from irradiation by UV light. This thin layer of air also blocks out harmful rays from the sun and dust particles from space.
The amount of ozone required to shield Earth from biologically lethal UV radiation, wavelengths from 200 to 300 nanometers (nm) is believed to have been in existence 600 million years ago. At this time, the oxygen level was approximately 10% of its present atmospheric concentration. Prior to this period, life was restricted to the ocean. The presence of ozone enabled organisms to develop and live on the land. Ozone played a significant role in the evolution of life on Earth, and allows life, as we presently know it to exist 4.

Quranic Viewpoint
-And We have made the sky a roof withheld, yet they turn away from its portents. Chapter21: verse32
These are the facts about our planet's atmosphere, which we have discovered in the few past decades. As you may notice the preceding verse, the Quran interestingly describes the sky (atmosphere) as a roof, which withholds and protects us from any kind of previously mentioned dangers. Needless to say, this would be considered as a miracle when being known that it is revealed about fourteen hundreds years ago, when no one knew any of these facts about the atmosphere and its precious protective properties.
Could life have existed without this withheld roof? Is it casually happened to be in the way it is now? Or it is originated from a merciful designer! The right-minded observer conceives the existence of a wonderful designation.
We have to feel compelled to bear witness that it is a great gift from God Almighty, the unique creator of the universe, who ordains us in the Quran not to be ignorant about his portents; the portents, which leads us to the righteousness of God. The signs, which help us to apprehend the authenticity of the Quran and that, it is the everlasting miracle from God, Almighty.
1. Holy Quran translated by Marmaduke Pickthall, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London, Fifth Edition 1969.
2. From “Information Summaries”, National Aerospace and Space Administration (NASA), June 1991.
3. Exploration of the Universe by Saunders Publication.
4. Goddard DAAC, NASA official: Steve Kempler, GDAAC Manager, June28th, 2000.

Drop of Atmospheric Pressure
It has been proven by aeronautics that when man is exposed to high altitude, space; he suffers from some physiological symptoms that would vary between feeling tightness in his chest and getting into a critical stage if he continues being exposed to high altitude and low atmospheric pressure. Is there any relationship between the following verse and recent scientific discoveries?
-Those whom God (in His plan) willeth to guide, He openeth their breast to Islam; [and] those whom He willeth to leave straying, He maketh their breast close and constricted, as if they had to climb up to the skies. Thus doth God (heap) the penalty on those who refuse to believe 1. Chapter6: verse125
The Holy Quran stated, “[and] those whom He willeth to leave straying, He maketh their breast close and constricted” mentions that tightness would occur in the chest when going up in the sky, which has now been proven by modern science.
Ascending to higher altitudes causes the symptoms of Hypoxia and Desparism. This leads to tightness of the chest because of the expansion of gases in the body cavities and their pressure on the lungs. In addition to this, the evolving of the dissolved gases (in the body) in the form of bubbles at high altitude causes severe chest pains.
So the words of Allah “He makes his breast closed” present a brief and precise explanation to the physiological changes occurring in man at these high altitudes.
This scientific fact mentioned in the Quran, was not discovered except after years of research. As for the word "constricted" it refers to what happens to man when he continues to rise in high altitude until he gets to the Critical Height which is 25,000 feet and higher when man loses consciousness due to failure of the nervous system. The pressure and density of the atmosphere decrease with height. At very high altitudes the heavier gases fail to rise until around 50 miles, hydrogen and helium are predominant.

Scientific Viewpoint
The pressure of the amount of oxygen needed to sustain life decreases rapidly with height until around 18000 ft the danger limit for the human pilot is reached and thereafter oxygen must be fed mechanically. Around 100000ft, there is no longer enough oxygen to support combustion in the most advanced turbojet engines now in service. Also mountain climbers ought to take extra oxygen with them while ascending to higher altitudes because of the shortage of oxygen there.
At higher and higher altitudes the air thins out more and more until it disappears into the extremely sparse gases of the magnetosphere at an altitude of several hundred kilometers 2.
Scientific facts concerning the state of man in high altitude
The physiologically tolerated area for survival of human beings is from sea level up to 10,000 feet above sea level. The oxygen in this layer is physiologically sufficient for survival.
The physiologically insufficient area is between 10,000 -50,000 feet. In this area there is a deficiency in oxygen, in addition to low atmospheric pressure. This would result in clear physiological symptoms on the human body, and so symptoms of Hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) and Desparism (low atmospheric pressure) take place.
Near space area (of the earth): from 50,000 feet. From the physiological point of view man can't live in altitudes higher 50,000 feet even if he breathes 100% oxygen. He should then wear a space suit to tolerate the decrease in atmospheric pressure and oxygen deficiency.

Symptoms of the stages of Hypoxia
Hypoxia is divided into four stages depending on the atmospheric pressure, altitude and blood oxygen concentration.
From sea level to 10,000 feet no symptoms of Hypoxia appear.
From 10,000-16,000 feet physiological compensatory systems of the human body prevent symptoms of Hypoxia from appearing except if the period of exposure is too long. Then breathing becomes faster and deeper, pulse and blood pressure also increase.
From 16,000-25,000 feet, physiological systems do not function and cannot provide tissues with sufficient oxygen, and the previously mentioned symptoms appear. At this stage we find a clear explanation of the tightness of the chest one feels at this altitude.
The Critical Stage is from 25,000 feet and higher. At this stage man completely loses consciousness due to the failure of the nervous system. Changes that occur in the chest reach their maxima at this altitude and then there will be complete physiological failure of heart functions and respiration.

Drop in Atmospheric Pressure
When man is exposed to low atmospheric pressure at high altitude (as what happens to air passengers when the pressure adjustment system fails inside the airplane), several symptoms occur as a result of the expansion of gases and their increase in the human body. Gases confined in the body cavities such as the stomach, when expanding press on the lungs, which cause breathing difficulty, disturbances, and tightness of the chest. The same thing would happen in the colon, lungs, teeth, middle ear and sinuses and all this causes severe pain in the body. In addition to this, all gases dissolved in the body cells e.g. nitrogen, would cause suffocation leading to severe chest pain 3.
That is why the astronauts wear spacesuits while they get out of shuttles or space stations. The air pressure inside the spacesuits equals to what is on the ground. So the breathing would be easy. The other reason for wearing the spacesuits in the vacuum environment is to prevent the burst of the body. Since the inner pressure of our bodies is exactly the same as the air pressure out, we do not feel any force on our skins. But the fact of reality is that a terrible weight of 1.03 kg exerts over each square centimeter of our bodies, which is reacted by the inner pressure. Without this pressure, the gases in our blood would bubble out and we would die 4.

Quranic Viewpoint
Therefore, we can conclude that the statement "He makes his breast closed and constricted, as if he is climbing up to the sky" refers to this physical fact that air pressure decreases in high altitudes and makes the breathing hard. This is a scientific matter that we know it now, but 1400 years ago, no one was cognizant of this reality, especially, in the warm desert peninsula of Arabia! This knowledge of Quran could have not had a human source and is absolutely a scientific proof for the divinity of this Holy Revelation.
1. Holy Quran translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Dar Al Arabia Publication, Beirut, Lebanon, 1968.
2. The Anatomy of the Aeroplane, by Darrol Stinton, BSP Professional Books, UK, 1987.
3. By: Dr. Salah El Maghribi.
4. Eyewitness Encyclopedia of Space and the Universe, by Dorling Kindersley Publishers Limited, London, 1990.

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