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Layers of atmoshpehere
Recently a friend asked my opinion about the seven heavens or skies, mentioned in monotheistic sacred scriptures compared to ancient astronomical proposals. As I am not a religious scholar, I am trying to answer the question in terms of rational basis.
How, initially the concept of seven heavens or skies, came from, goes back to the ancient astronomers time of 350BC or earlier. One may require to analyse what the ancient astronomers suggested in comparison to the sacred scriptures of monotheistic and other faith groups in order to establish what makes sense rationally.
The question, what came first, the egg or the chicken may be answered in terms of
1. Natural philosophy or astronomical observation or
2. Doctrine of spirituality, through sacred scripts of monotheistic & other faith groups.
Natural Philosophical Approach.
Initially the concept of seven heaven (skies) emerged as philosophical proposal in mid 4th century (340BC) as a result of empirical or natural philosophical observation of the sky by astronomers.
Pre Copernican concept of the universe was geocentric, that is, they believed that the earth is flat. Ancient astrologist were able to identify seven object in the sky and assumed that each one is floating in a separate heaven (Sky or layer).
Greek Philosopher, Aristotle (384BC-322BC) was able to proposed in his book on the heavens, (based on his empirical observation of objects in sky) that earth is round sphere & stationary rather than flat and the visible planets Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are orbiting the earth in circularly making earth as the centre of the universe.
These seven layer of rotation by planets were considered seven skies of heaven, but not the paradise or Junnah.
This idea was elaborated by Ptolemy in 2nd century
Later on this has become part of religious cosmology followed by various faith groups namely Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism
However, this concept of earth being the centre of the universe was challenged by Nicolaus Copernicus (a priest) around 1514. He suggested that the centre of universe is the Sun, not the earth and this is the modern concept.
In today's world it is known that the world's atmosphere consists of different layers that lie on top of each other.
The Earth's atmosphere or the so called skies are thin layer of gases including 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.039% carbon and small amount of other gases, known generally as air that surrounds the Earth due to gravity of the earth, insulating the Earth from extreme temperatures & ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.
The Earth's atmosphere is about 300 miles (480 km) thick, but most of the atmosphere (about 80%) is within 10 miles (16 km) of the surface of the Earth. There is no exact place where the atmosphere ends; it just gets thinner and thinner, until it merges with outer space.
In general air pressure and density decreases with altitude in the atmosphere.
The Layers or Structure of the Atmosphere:
Air around the earth is divided in different layers that include
- Troposphere that extends from 9Km to 17km at the pole to (56,000 ft at the equator. This range is heated by transfer of energy from the surface and hence lowest part of troposphere is warmest and temperature decreases with altitude. Tropopause is the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere.
- Stratosphere: Above troposphere lies the stratosphere where jet air planes fly. it extends from the tropopause at about 12lm to 51 km. Temperature increases with height due to increased absorption of ultraviolet radiation by ozone layer. while the temperature may be -60 deg C at the tropppause, the top of the stratosphere is much warmer and may be near freezing.. The stratopause is the boundary between the stratosphere and mesosphere, typically it is at 50 to 55km.
- Mesosphere: I extends from the stratopause at about 50km to 80-85 km. It is the layer where most meteors burn up entering the atmosphere. Temperature decreases with height.
- Thermosphere: This is the fourth layer. it very thin layer and hence fewer air molecules.
- Exosphere: It is the outermost layer of Earth's atmosphere extending beyond an altitude of about 600 km. It is mainly composed of hydrogen, helium and some heavier molecules such as nitrogen oxygen and carbon dioxide.
As these layers are above the earth they are regarded as skies at different level above the earth. Be it 6,7, 8 or more as we move upward in the sky with thinner and thinner concentration of gaseous particles in it.
The concept put forwarded by Aristotle was also propagated by Muslim scholar Ibn Kathir in his Tafsir that seven heavens are moon, Mercury, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
7 Skies in Doctrine of Faith
From Islamic perspectives, the word "heavens", mentioned in many verses in the Qur'an, is used to refer to the sky above the Earth, as well as the entire universe. Hence it is obvious that the earth's sky or the atmosphere, is made up of seven layers, although it can further be classified.
It represents the seven layered space in the spiritual upper world where angels and other spiritual beings such as Paradise & Hell and the souls of the prophets exist. It is believed to be part of Al-Ghayb (unseen). In Islamic faith it is believed that Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) visited each of the seven heavens on his Miraj, where he met Adam, Christ, Yahya, Yusuf, Idris, Harun, finally he met God, who is stationed above the seventh heaven as per Abrahamic religions.
In Qur'an that was revealed in 7th century, God says that he has created the seven heavens, one above another and made moon a light in their midst and made the Sun a Lamp) 71:15-16
In the Islamic legend of theMiraj,or the 'night journey', Muhammad rode on amagichorse namedBuraqfrom Mecca to the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem,and from there ascended to the seventh heaven on a ladder of light. Jesus and the prophets were visited at the various levels of heaven.
"It is He Who created everything on the earth for you and then directed His attention up to heaven and arranged it into seven regular heavens. He has knowledge of all things."
(The Qur'an, 2:29)
"Then He turned to heaven when it was smoke. In two days He determined them as seven heavens and revealed, in every heaven, its own mandate."
(The Qur'an, 41:12)
In Hinduism, the concept of seven heavens exists. According to the Puranas and Atharveveda there are fourteen world out of that seven are higher ones (the heavens). The God Brahma lives in the seventh heaven.
The concept of skies also exist in Buddhism and it is believed that Buddha is occupying the 6th or 7th layer just as monotheistic faith says that God resides above the 7th sky.
The concept of spiritual heaven is new compared to the ancient man's understanding of physical heaven (sky) and spiritual heaven.
These concepts are not consistent with our modern understanding of the universe, although some Muslim scholars argue the Quran's cosmology is less primitive than that of the Bible. Thecreation of heaven and earth in six days, and numerous other ideas are derived from the Bible.
It is entirely up to the individual to accept spiritual description of 7-skies as outlined in the various sacred scriptures or take a well acknowledged scientific clarification of 7 skies. It is my understanding that many prominent scientist including Stephen Hawking do not agree with the spiritual skies.
Mohammad Ashraf, Winnipeg. Canada