Qadar: The Quranic Prophecy of Programming
If Qadar is consistent with programming, it should come as no surprise that scientists are concluding that our own universe was programmed.
As technology becomes increasingly integrated into our daily lives, the significance of programming becomes more apparent. Programming enables us to communicate precise instructions to computers, allowing them to complete a variety of objectives. Its impact is widespread, and can be seen across various industries, from social media to bioengineering. In Islam, there is a belief called qadar that states that everything that happens in the world is predetermined by Allah and written in a Preserved Tablet. In this article, we will examine the connection between the Islamic belief of qadar and the contemporary concept of programming.
Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage are credited with creating the first programming language in 1883¹, and Babbage also designed the first mechanical computer. Konrad Zuse’s Z3, developed in 1941, was the first successful implementation of Babbage’s design. Since the inception of the first computer, technological capacity has steadily increased. Artificial Intelligence and our ability to create realistic simulations demonstrate the growing power of programming.
Some scientists and technologists like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Elon Musk have even suggested that our universe itself may be a programmed construct,² similar to how a video game is developed by a game developer. This is a philosophy known as Simulation theory that was proposed by Nick Bostrom in his 2003 paper “Are you living in a computer simulation?” This philosophy represents an interesting paradigm shift from the previous secular world of science, as it now calls for a model of reality that is consistent with intelligent design. A fact noted by philosopher David Chalmers in his book, Reality+:
“It turns out that I’m open to the idea of a creator who is close to all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. I had once thought that this idea is inconsistent with a naturalistic view of the world, but the simulation idea makes it consistent.” — David Chalmers³
While this philosophy has recently gained popularity, it is not entirely new. Both computer pioneers Babbage⁴ and Zuse⁵ believed that the laws of nature were the result of programmed processes. The notion that our reality operates like a computer program can be referred to as the computational universe. It is an idea advocated by many, including Edward Fredkin, Seth Lloyd, Stephen Wolfram, and others.
With our modern understanding of programming and computer technology, it is easy to imagine that our reality has been written in some sort of cosmic hard drive. However, the belief that our universe has been written in a storage device predates Babbage, Zuse and Bostrom by over a millennium, and goes all the way back to 7th century Arabia, where the Prophet Muhammadﷺ taught the belief that our reality had been written in a Perfect Record, a Preserved Tablet.
Allah says in the Qur’an:
We have computed everything in a record. (Qur’an 78:29)
We have certainly created everything with a program. (Qur’an 54:49)
With Him are the keys of the unseen — no one knows them except Him. And He knows what is in the land and sea. Not even a leaf falls without His knowledge, nor a grain in the darkness of the earth or anything — green or dry — but is ˹written˺ in a perfect Record. (Qur’an 6:59)
Linguistically, qadar is derived from the Arabic root word qadara, meaning “measured the thing; computed, or determined, its quantity, measure, size, bulk, proportion, extent, amount, sum, limit or limits, or number.”⁶ From a technical perspective, scholars have divided the tenet of qadar into multiple categories, including Allah’s knowledge, the writing, the willing into existence, and the belief that it is Allah alone who has the power to create. In this article, we are focused mainly on the writing as analogous to programming, and to a lesser extent, the willing of the writing into existence. It is understood that the measures set in writing, or the programming, occurred prior to the execution of the universe.
The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said:
Allah ordained the measures (of quality) of the creation fifty thousand years before He created the heavens and the earth...
Sahih Muslim 2653b
This writing can be understood as a computational process in which Allah sets the initial conditions and programs the universe to unfold accordingly. When Allah issued the command, “Be, and it is” (Qur’an 16:40), the universe was brought into existence. This perspective sheds light on the divine name Al-Muhsi, the One who Computes.
This does not mean that Allah set the universe in motion and then no longer plays a role; rather, it suggests that Allah set up the universe as a computational process through which he continues to interact. The following narration from the companion Ibn ‘Abbaas, highlights how Allah interfaces with our reality through the Preserved Tablet:
From the things that Allah, the Most High, created is al-Lawh al-Mahfooz (the Preserved Tablet). It was created from a white pearl and its covers are red rubies. Its pen is light and its book is light.
Every day He looks at it three hundred and sixty times. In each of those times He creates, provides, gives life, ordains death, gives honor, and degrades, and does as He wishes.
So that is the meaning of His saying, “Every day He is engaged in some matter!” (Qur’an 55: 29)
Saheeh al-Haakim in the Book of Tafseer (3/519)
In this model of the universe, the laws of physics can be understood as the manifestation of qadar in action. In computational terms, they can be compared to algorithms. The programming behind these laws are stored in a protected storage device, referred to in the Qur’an by various names and descriptions, including a Perfect Record, Clear Register, and most notably, the Preserved Tablet. According to Ibn Kathir, it is called Mahfooz, protected, because it is “ guarded from any increase, decrease, distortion, or change.”⁷ In other words, nobody can hack or mod our universe.
According to Islam, the purpose of this dunya, worldly life, is to serve as a temporary test to determine the outcome of our actions and where we will end up in the afterlife. (Qur’an 18:7) This is the objective of our programming. This idea is also mentioned in Bostrom’s original paper on Simulation theory.
“if nobody can be sure that they are at the basement‐level (of reality), then everybody would have to consider the possibility that their actions will be rewarded or punished, based perhaps on moral criteria, by their simulators. An afterlife would be a real possibility.” — Nick Bostrom⁸
The computational model of reality offers a fresh perspective on religious beliefs, providing a new way to understand and appreciate them. For example, miracles can be seen as divine commands that override the natural programming of events. The predetermined aspects of an individual’s life, such as their character, livelihood, lifespan, and destiny, can be understood as being programmed while they are still in the womb.¹⁰ The Night of Decree, Laylat al-Qadr, can be viewed as an annual update that adjusts the trajectory of events on earth according to Allah’s commands. (Qur’an 97) Many other tenets of faith can also be contextualized within this computational model, providing a deeper understanding of their significance and meaning.
Simulation theory may be seen as conflicting with Islam, but when viewed through an Islamic lens, it is possible to see a computational model of reality that aligns with Islamic theology. The idea that reality is a digital construct rather than an analog one changes our understanding of the natural and supernatural. While the concept of the computational universe is not necessarily widely accepted, it is an emerging paradigm within the scientific community.¹⁰ Furthermore, a theory called holography within string theory, which has been advocated by Stephen Hawking¹¹ and others, may provide a physical explanation for how a computational model of reality might work.
In conclusion, the concept of the computational universe offers a unique and thought-provoking perspective on the natural world that aligns with both theological beliefs and emerging scientific thought. If we accept the belief of qadar in Islamic scriptures as consistent with the definition of programming, it should come as no surprise that computer technologists and scientists are concluding that our universe itself was programmed. If this idea holds true, it means that the sixth article of faith in Islam has identified the fundamental building block of the universe that scientists are now exploring. This suggests that the concept of programming, as described in the Qur’an, may be seen as a form of prophecy, foretelling the fundamental nature of the universe as we are now discovering.
We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth… Qur’an 41:53
For a more detailed explanation of the topics mentioned above, you can watch the following documentary:
1. DevSkiller. (August 26, 2021) History of programming languages https://devskiller.com/history-of-programming-languages/
2. Khan F (2021) Confirmed! we live in a simulation, Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/confirmed-we-live-in-a-simulation/ (Accessed December 26, 2022).
3. Chalmers D. J (2022) Is God a hacker in the next universe up?, Reality+: Virtual worlds and the problem of philosophy, London: Penguin Books.
4. Babbage C. (1864) Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, pp. 396–402
5. Zuse, K. Calculating Space. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Project MAC, 1970.
6. Edward William Lane, an Arabic-English Lexicon, ق. Edward William Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, ق, قدر, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2002.02.0035%3Aroot%3Dqdr
7. Tafseer Ibn Katheer, https://www.recitequran.com/tafsir/en.ibn-kathir/85:22
8. Bostrom N. Are You Living in a Computer Simulation? https://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation
9. Sahih Muslim 2643a https://sunnah.com/muslim:2643a
10. Jaeger, Gregg (2018). “Clockwork Rebooted: Is the Universe a Computer?”. Quantum Foundations, Probability and Information. STEAM-H: Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, Mathematics & Health: 71–91.
11. Trapnell, O. (2021, May 5). Stephen Hawking’s final theory suggests the universe is a hologram. Express.co.uk. Retrieved December 26, 2022, from https://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/1431840/stephen-hawking-theory-hologram-science-physics-einstein-weird-news-ont