Many of us know about warp drive from either physics or science fiction – but what about what the Quran might say about it?
Theoretical Warp Drive, Teleportation, and the Quran
Many of us know about warp drive from either physics or science fiction – but what about what the Quran might say about it?
This article will show how the theoretical warp drive, first proposed by Alcubierre in 1994 and subsequently developed by many other physicists, matches in mechanism with the explanation given in the canonical hadith literature for how verse 40 of chapter 27 of the Qur’an, in which the vizier of Solomon instantly brings the throne of the Queen of Sheba to him, transpired. This is a phenomenon known in Arabic as Ṭayy al-Ārḍ (folding up of the earth).
As is well known, the speed limit of the Universe is the speed of light. But this is the speed limit of things travelling through space. There is no speed limit for the fabric of space itself.
For example, the observable universe is smaller than the actual universe, because regions far enough from the Earth are expanding away from us at speeds exceeding that of light. Consequently, the light from those regions can never reach us, rendering them forever invisible to our observations.
Special relativity states that nothing can exceed the speed of light when it comes to travel. This principle holds true in general relativity as well, but it is important to note that in this context, the limitation applies specifically to local travel. Thus there is no limit on the relative speeds of two separate areas of spacetime.
The theoretical work done on developing a warp drive exploits the very principle mentioned above, as is evident in this quote from Alcubierre’s ground-breaking 1994 paper:
“It is shown how, within the framework of general relativity and without the introduction of wormholes, it is possible to modify a spacetime in a way that allows a spaceship to travel with an arbitrarily large speed. By a purely local expansion of spacetime behind the spaceship and an opposite contraction in front of it, motion faster than the speed of light as seen by observers outside the disturbed region is possible.” (Alcubierre 1994)
The intention of this article is to compare the general idea behind the various warp drive theories presented and tayy al-ārḍ, thus no one particular warp drive theory will be focused on, rather material will be taken from more than one of them. The aim is to show the remarkable similarity between the theories and the description of tayy al-ārḍ as it has come in the hadith sources.
To this end the mathematical language will be kept to a minimum, not being critical to understanding the article, though it will not be totally omitted, so as to fairly reflect the immense technicality of the subject.
The Warp Drive
Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity, published in 1915, extends the concepts of special relativity and connects gravity to the geometry of spacetime, whereby gravity is no longer a force, as in Newton’s theory, but is the result of depressions in spacetime caused by massive objects.
In this theory, the curvature of spacetime is connected to the energy and momentum of the mass and radiation in it. This correspondence is described by the Einstein field equations.
In special relativity, mass is found to be one component of a broader entity known as the energy-momentum tensor, whereas in Newton’s theory mass alone causes gravity. By employing the equivalence principle, the tensor can be extended to encompass the effects of curved spacetime.
Einstein’s field equations [EFE] represent the most basic and fundamental set of equations:
The equation describes how stress-energy-momentum determines the curvature of spacetime, with the term on the left representing spacetime curvature and the one on the right being the stress-energy-momentum content of spacetime.
However, Alcubierre took a different approach to solving the Einstein field equations. He worked in reverse by first determining the geometry of a warp bubble and then ran it backwards through the equations to ascertain the necessary distribution of matter and energy. Normally the process involves inputting a physically plausible arrangement of mass and energy, which then yields the corresponding spacetime geometry.
The result Alcubierre got was a volume of flat spacetime inside the warp bubble, resulting in a warping of the surrounding space – contracting in front and expanding behind:
“The previous example shows how one can use an expansion of spacetime to move away from some object at an arbitrarily large speed. In the same way, one can use a contraction of spacetime to approach an object at any speed. This is the basis of the model for hyper-fast space travel that I wish to present here: create a local distortion of spacetime that will produce an expansion behind the spaceship, and an opposite contraction ahead of it. In this way, the spaceship will be pushed away from the Earth and pulled towards a distant star by spacetime itself. One can then invert the process to come back to Earth, taking an arbitrarily small time to complete the round trip.” (Alcubierre 1994)
The Alcubierre metric looks like this:
Erik Lentz in his 2020 paper ‘Breaking the Warp Barrier: Hyper-Fast Solitons in Einstein Maxwell-Plasma Theory’ presents a different technology method than Alcubierre for achieving the same result. Lentz claims to have found an actual superluminal warp field solution that does not require impossible negative energy densities.
He says that using plasma of extraordinarily high temperature would cause an expansion and contraction of space, resulting in superluminal velocity for the spaceship in that spacetime also. The energy required would be approximately 10 percent of the rest mass energy of the Sun, for carrying a 100 m diameter bubble:
“This paper overcomes this barrier by constructing a class of soliton solutions that are capable of superluminal motion and sourced by purely positive energy densities. The solitons are also shown to be capable of being sourced from the stress-energy of a conducting plasma and classical electromagnetic fields. This is the first example of hyper-fast solitons resulting from known and familiar sources, reopening the discussion of superluminal mechanisms rooted in conventional physics.” (Lentz 2021)
The term ‘Ṭayy al-Ārḍ‘ consists of two words; ‘ṭayy’ and ‘ārḍ‘. ‘Ṭayy‘ means ‘folding or rolling’, ‘Ārḍ‘ means ‘earth or ground’ and ‘al‘ is the definite article (Badwi & Hakeem 2008, 580).
In chapter 27 of the Qur’an, the account of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba is given, during which Solomon addresses his court:
“He said, ‘O Council, which one of you will bring me her throne, before they come to me in surrender?'” (Qur’an 27:38)
At which one of the demons enslaved to work for him replied:
“One audacious among the jinn said: I will bring it to you before you rise up from your place; and most surely I am strong (and) trusty for it.” (Qur’an 27:39)
However, a person in the court, described as having knowledge from the Book, says:
“Said he who possessed knowledge of the Book, ‘I will bring it to thee, before ever thy glance returns to thee.’ Then, when he (Solomon) saw it settled before him, he said, ‘This is of my Lord’s bounty that He may try me, whether I am thankful or ungrateful…'” (Qur’an 27:40)
The Book referred to in this last verse, which this person having partial knowledge of was able to display such power, refers to the celestial Source Book, from which the divine scriptures (such as the Torah and the Qur’an) came down.
Mechanism of Ṭayy al-Ārḍ
In the canonical hadith literature, there are a number of narrations from the Imams , detailing verse 40 of chapter 27 of the Qur’an; that is the mechanism by which Āṣaf ibn Barkhiyā (the name of the person) was able to accomplish such a feat:
1. It is narrated from the 5th Imam (Muḥammad al-Bāqir):
“Verily, the greatest name of God has seventy-three letters, of which one letter was in the possession of Āṣaf (the minister of Solomon). He spoke that one letter and the land between him and the throne of Bilqīs (the queen of Sheba) disappeared such that he could take hold of the throne with his hand, then the land returned to as it was, in the blink of an eye…” (Kulayni 1982, 178)
The Arabic word corresponding to ‘disappeared’ in the above narration is ‘khasf‘, which is the word used for an eclipse. It has also come with the meaning of ‘to sink’. It has also come with the meaning of ‘to disappear’ (Badwi & Hakeem 2008, 264). It would seem that the common factor is that of disappearing, because when the moon eclipses it disappears and when something sinks it disappears.
2. It is narrated from the 10th Imam (ʿAlī al-Naqī):
“The greatest name of God has seventy-three letters. There was only one letter with Āṣaf. He spoke it and the land between him and Sheba was pierced, so that he took hold of the throne of Bilqīs until he gave it to Solomon, then the land expanded in less than the blink of an eye…” (Kulayni 1982, 180)
What is important to note about this narration is that the fact that the land going back to its original state is described as ‘expansion’, indicates that what was meant by piercing was the opposite of expansion, i.e. contraction.
Narrations 3 and 4, which also describe Ṭayy al-Ārḍ, are not in explanation of verse 27:40, except for one of them which deals with it at the end.
3. It is narrated from the 6th Imam (Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq):
“Gabriel came to the Messenger of God while Husayn (his grandson, a son of Fāṭima) was playing in front of him.
Then Gabriel informed him that his nation will kill him (Husayn), at which the Messenger of God became distraught.
So he said: Should I not show you the earth in which he will be killed?
Thus the space between where the Messenger of God was sitting (Madina, Saudi Arabia) and the place where Husayn was killed (Karbala, Iraq) disappeared, until the two places touched each other. Then he took from the earth and then the space expanded in quicker than the twinkling of an eye.
Then he came out while he was saying:
What a blessed earth you are and how blessed are those who will be killed around you.
And such is what the companion of Solomon did, he spoke the greatest name of God then the space between the chair of Solomon and the throne disappeared from the flat parts of the land and the hilly parts, until the two places touched and he grabbed the throne.
Solomon said: It appears to me that it came out from under my chair.
And it expanded in quicker than the twinkling of an eye.” (Ibn Qulawayh 1977, 59)
4. It is narrated from the 6th Imam (Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq):
“While Husayn the son of Ali was with the Messenger of God, Gabriel came to him and said: O Muhammad! Do you love him?
He replied: Yes. So Gabriel said: Your nation will kill him.
At which the Messenger of God became intensely grievous.
Gabriel said to him: O Messenger of God, would you like me to show you the earth on which he will be killed?
He replied: Yes. So the space between where the Messenger of God was sitting (Madina, Saudi Arabia) and Karbala disappeared until the two places touched each other like this (he put his two index fingers together), then he gathered with his wing some of the earth and gave it to the Messenger of God. Then the space returned to as it was faster than the twinkling of an eye.
So the Messenger of God said: What a blessed earth you are and blessed is the one who will be killed upon you.” (Ibn Qulawayh 1977, 60)
The possibility that these narrations could have been fabricated to match the warp drive theory is ruled out, as even a cursory investigation will quickly reveal that there are extant manuscripts containing these narrations that pre-date the theory of the warp drive by hundreds of years; such as:
1) Sharḥ uṣūl al-kāfī, Or 8398: 17th century, Oriental Manuscripts, British Library.
2) Kāmil al-ziyārāt, 17th century, Digital Library of Astan Quds Razavi, record no. 14548.
The first implication is that a recently discovered principle of physics, of such complexity, could have been accurately alluded to by the Imams, who lived over 1000 years ago, lends great weight to the credence of the claim of the Prophet Muhammad, (from whom the Imams inherited their knowledge), of being connected to a higher source than this physical world.
Second, that the theoretical mechanism of the warp drive matches what was described by the Imams, gives a strong indication that the physicists involved are indeed barking up the right tree.
Suggestions for Further Research
1) In researching this article, the description of the mechanism given by the Imams was found to be the most detailed. However, other religious/spiritual traditions report the same phenomenon, such as Judaism, in which the term used for it is Kefitzat Haderech. Where ‘kefitzat‘ means ‘contraction’ and ‘haderech‘ means ‘the path’.
2) Given that the crux of making the warp drive work is having access to vast energies, it would seem that such energy is readily available to the mind sufficiently developed. Thus philosophical work needs to be done exploring how such energy exists and how the mind is able to tap into it.
3) The word ‘ṭayy‘ used in the following verse of the Qur’an, seems to be in the same sense as that which has been described in this article, and is worth looking into:
“On the day when We will roll up heaven like the rolling up of the scroll for writings, as We originated the first creation, (so) We shall reproduce it; a promise (binding on Us); surely We will bring it about.” (Qur’an 21:104)
It is seen that the majority of warp drive theories postulate faster-than-light travel by means of a contraction of spacetime in front of and an expansion of spacetime behind, the spaceship.
At the same time, the narrations quoted describe the manner in which Āṣaf got hold of the throne of the Queen of Sheba so quickly, and an instance of the Prophet Muhammad doing so, as being by the folding up of the ground between their places and their destinations, and then its subsequent expansion.
This remarkable similarity counts as a significant finding. Since time immemorial, the religious and spiritual traditions of the world have spoken of the existence of a non-physical realm other than the material one in which we live in. Where non-physical simply denotes that it cannot be perceived by the bodily senses.
The finding in this article reflects the fact that we live in an era in which science has approached the border of the non-physical realm.
 The Imams are twelve in number, whom the Shī’a believe were successors to the Prophet Muhammad; the first being Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, and the last being the 9th descendent of Ali, known as the Mahdi.
Alcubierre M. 1994. “The warp drive: hyper-fast travel within general relativity”, Classical and Quantum Gravity, 11 (5). https://doi.org/10.1088/0264-9381/11/5/001.
Badwi E. & Hakeem M. A. 2008. Arabic-English Dictionary of Quranic Usage. Brill. Ibn Qulawayh, Ja’far bin Muhammad. 1977. Kāmil al-Ziyārāt, vol.1. Dar al-Murtadhawiyyah.
Kulayni, Abu Ja’far. 1982. Al–Kāfī, vol. 1, Al-Uṣūl – Part Two, 4) The Book of Divine Proof (ll). Tehran: WOFIS.
Lentz E. W. 2021. “Breaking the warp barrier: hyper-fast solitons in Einstein–Maxwell plasma theory”, Classical and Quantum Gravity, 38 (7).
The NEW Warp Drive Possibilities, PBS Space Time, Season 7, Episode 15. The Qur’an.