What is Time? The Literary World, Einstein and the Quran

Not so long ago, there was a period in history when there were no manmade demarcations for time. People relied on the position of the sun and the moon to understand the passage of time. For them, one day stretched into the other. Hence, they had various traditional ways to categorize different days into months. If there was no demarcation at all, time could have bent and stretched in disorienting ways.

Image courtesy of TedEd

The literary world is filled with many works that dwell on such abstract concepts of time. From time travel to time dilation and alternate universes–the fictional world has sung laurels on time being relative.  

The very first time I read about time being relative was during my early teens. I read a series by Meg Cabot called The Mediator which piqued my interest in the abstract concept of space-time. I read something similar in The Little Light. In her book, Dipa Sanatani portrayed time in the Cosmic Womb as existing outside manmade notions of time. In The Little Light, time is depicted as a multi-faceted concept instead of a linear one–what seemed like many hours in the Cosmic Womb was just a few minutes on the earth.

This made me wonder about the laws of physics and how they interpret time. After reading Albert Einstein’s review paper, A Brief Outline of the Development of the Theory of Relativity, I understood that the concept of ‘time being relative’ is not fiction. This concept is supported with factual data.  

“Time is an illusion.”

Albert Einstein


Einstein’s infamous Theory of Relativity depicts time as an entity unbound by any distinction. We have always believed that time is the only constant in our life- equally distributed during the day and night. According to Einstein’s theory, however, time can appear to move slower or faster in a different dimension of space and time. That is, the time on the clock on my wall and the time on the watch on your wrist will depend on acceleration and the gravity of the place of origin. That is, the stronger the gravity or acceleration, slower the time.

Time is indeed relative. 

Interestingly, I read about something very similar in the Quran:

“The angels and the Spirit ascend to Him in a day, the measure of which is fifty thousand years.” (70:4)

In this verse, the Quran depicts time as relative. 50,000 years for us as humans on earth, equals just a day for the realm of the angels. This could happen if the angels are somewhere near strong gravitational fields–like a black hole or a wormhole. Or this could happen if angels accelerated at very high speed.

Being a believer in a life after death, I always wondered about the apocalypse and how long I will have to wait in my graveyard (or not) before that day. But I did the math. Fourteen billion years on earth will equal to around just 767 years in the heavens. I may have to wait for anything between a few seconds to a few months before getting out.

Perhaps time is indeed relative.


Every time we spend hours with people whom we love, time flashes by in seconds. But the moment we enter heavy traffic, time feels as though it has paused. What may be a few minutes in traffic, may feel like days in the moment. Though in reality, there was never any change in the exact amount of time spent at either of the places. For instance, atomic clocks measure time in accordance with the laws of physics and never show any acceleration in time.

Perhaps this is what Einstein was trying to get at–that time is relative. You and I–we dwell in different notions of time with relation to each other. 

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Author: Mith Books

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One thought

  1. I love the way you smoothly blend science with spirituality as if they were meant to be together!

    We all have this similar experience with time when sometimes we feel time flies and sometimes it feels like time has suddenly stopped. When we walk down the road alone, it seems to take too much time, but while we walk down the same road with someone special, it seems to end too fast.

    Time indeed is relative. And how I wish to control it!

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