“And of everything we have created pairs that you may be mindful”
Words fail me when I attempt to describe the impact this verse of the Qur’ān alone has had on my thoughts in the past few months. I have pondered it whilst standing, sitting and laying down and yet the layers of embedded meaning continue to unfurl themselves daily; interlinking, intricate and inexplicable. Yet this is not romance but cold hard science and the signs are there for those who wish to see. So, what could this verse mean – pairs?
“Glory be to him who created pairs of all things, of what the earth grows, and of their kind and of what they do not know”
Well, let us start with the obvious – male and female. Indeed it is clearly apparent that this world contains men and women, similar and yet different. There are male and female animals too and even both genders of insect that breed to create the next generation. The classical scientific explanation for this is the adaptive advantage that genetic variety offers the survival of the species – the idea that if we were all the same, then we would have fewer resources to fight infection and hardship. It is through diversity that we survive. Fascinating in and of itself, but surely the concept of pairs stops there? And indeed, would anymore have been known about it at the time of the Qur’ān’s revelation?
Well what about hermaphrodite species like worms and living organisms that reproduce asexually (i.e. can reproduce by themselves) like spider plants and certain fungi? If you look, you discover that there is still a duality about that process –with hermaphrodites you still need two sets of parts to come together, and with asexual reproduction each cell divides to become two through a process called mitosis. Not only this, but if you look deeper into cells, you discover that at the core of every cell, there is a nucleus and in every nucleus is DNA – double helix.
DNA – the blueprint of life – is the molecule that gives all your cells their instructions for life and is in itself a pair. Initially thought to be a triple helix but was later corrected – had Watson and Crick read the Qur’ān before they made the discovery of DNA’s structure, they would have known better! DNA’s capacity to unzip, peel off into two, and multiply itself is a direct result of its natural duality. A duality held together by opposing forces of attraction – hydrogen bonds.
Even the membrane that surrounds each and every cell in your body is a pair – known as the Phospholipid bilayer. Within this extraordinary structure are molecules that are attracted to water (Hydrophilic) and molecules that avoid water (Hydrophobic) – and it is these opposing paired forces that allow the membrane to organise itself perfectly, with all the water-fearing molecules tucked inside and the water-loving molecules outside. The fact that each of our cells can absorb nutrients and release toxins through this partially permeable membrane is a wonder of design. Indeed the phospholipid bilayer is present in animals too, as well as bacteria.
How do nutrients and toxins move about between cells? Often through a process called ‘diffusion’ in which the pressure of having lots of one type of substance on one side of a membrane and none on the other pushes the substance across – this is known as a concentration gradient and a bit like a see-saw relies on a sort of duality.
The more I have studied cells, the more I realise that every single process that takes place depends on a pairing or gradient, whether it is the cycling of ATP (the fuel of every cell) between ADP and a phosphate and back to ATP again; the way sugar is broken down by splitting into two separate pathways in Glycolysis; or even the Electron Transport Chain, which uses the flow of electrons down a concentration gradient as the power to make lots of ATP.
What else comes in pairs? Well, what about our chromosomes? 46 arranged in 23 pairs, half of which are inherited from each parent. Whether we come out male (XY) or female (XY) in itself depends on a pairing. And of course, mothers have two ovaries and fathers two testes, indeed the whole human body is itself symmetrical.
“Who created you, then made you complete, then made you symmetrical”
If we are symmetrical, then how is it that our stomach is on one side of the body and our liver on the other – surely that breaks the rule? Actually no, because when you study embryology you learn that the conceptus is indeed symmetrical: the gut being one long tube, but it folds itself during development to assume the final adult position. The two sides of the face also form symmetrically and fuse in the midline, which we know because when this fails you get cleft palate – where the gap did not close. If you run your tongue along the roof of your mouth, you find a ridged bit on the top of the roof – this is evidence that the two halves of your mouth fused together during foetal development.
You see, duality seems to be a recurring feature of life. Whether it is the North versus the South pole, forces of attraction like gravity versus forces of repulsion like magnets, or good versus evil, we as humankind live in that constant tension. Indeed, free will itself is a choice between one path and another – again a choice of two.
Even inanimate objects like rocks and water exhibit duality. They are composed of tiny little particles called atoms, and these atoms are composed of positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons and neutral neutrons. If the balance between positive and negative changed, the atom would fall apart. It is in perfect balance, due to its duality.
The universe has perfect balance too – the planets rotate around the Sun held by the balance of gravity versus opposing pulls.
This is a world in a constant dance between two poles – hot and cold, fear and hope, wet and dry, pleasure and pain, love and hate, and finally, light and dark. Surely these are all signs for reflection?
“Most surely in the creation of the Heavens and the Earth and the alternation of the night and the day…there are signs for a people who understand.”
Interestingly, these rules even seem to apply to the unseen – as Allāh refers in the Qur’ān to two creations of free will – Mankind and Jinn (unseen spirits). And what of the contrast between complete obedience in the Angels versus the vowed disobedience of Shayṭān? The Qur’ān even refers to not one heaven, but two and the ultimate and final duality of all – Heaven versus Hell.
This duality seems entirely deliberate and even runs its way horizontally throughout the Qur’ān, almost as though Allāh is directing us to spot it. Allāh repeatedly pairs up believing in His oneness with respect for parents:
“And when we made a covenant with the children of Israel: You shall not serve any but Allāh and [you shall do] good to [your] parents.”
Establishing the prayer is joined frequently with giving charity (zakāt):
“Those who…keep up prayer and spend out of what we have given them.”
Sūrah Al Raḥmān in the Qur’ān is the exemplification of duality. Also known as the ‘Bride of the Qur’ān’ for its exquisite beauty, I strongly recommend you go back and read it with a mind to spotting its intrinsic duality and balance which can only be fully appreciated when you recite or hear it in Arabic. You will notice that every manifestation of Allāh’s creation is paired with another in a way that soothes – as though pairings and rhymes naturally soothe the soul like the double beat of the heart. But then suddenly a verse switches to unity and these are often the verses that make you sit up and take notice – as if to say ‘this verse is different, take heed’.
So, why the pairs? Why is the world designed like this? Ultimately that is for Allāh to know and for us to find out, if He so pleases. But it is interesting to note that Allāh stands alone from all these pairs:
“Say: He, Allāh, is One. Allāh is He on whom all depend. He begets not, nor is He begotten. And none is like Him.”
Could the world be dual and interdependent because Allāh is One and Independent? Perhaps this is a sign for us to reflect upon – that whilst the only system we can comprehend depends on two, that Allāh in his greatness works a ‘system of One’? Or perhaps it is necessary that humans know the opposite to appreciate what they have – that they need to feel pain to appreciate pleasure, they need to be hungry to appreciate food. Only Allāh knows – but maybe it is for us to strive and find out.
Finally, it is interesting that one of the most successful human inventions of all time, the personal computer, takes advantage of pairs. Binary, a system of 0s and 1s which when used together can convey coded messages, is the basis of all computers we use today, without which the internet could not have happened. Perhaps there is a lesson in this; that we are to be inspired by the natural world when inventing designs for the future. The clues are all in the Qur’ān; it is now up to us to unlock it.
With this I shall close, as it is my intention to stimulate thought and creativity. It is strange to me that Maurice Bucaille published a book back in 1976 which looked at the remarkable insights that the Qur’ān had 1400 years ago, which science has proven only recently. Many of us still use that book to give da’wah and yet despite non-stop scientific progress, I have heard little further Muslim research on the subject since.
Where is the Muslim scholarship that the world needs? I believe that there are clues to be found within the Qur’ān and Sunnah and it is up to us to find them. Our ancestors used their faith to drive forward tremendous scientific and technological progress – such as Al Jazari’s water pump which delivered running water in pipes throughout the Muslim World, simply because Muslims needed it to do their pre-prayer ablution five times a day. English country gardens and water features exist because Muslims began building beautiful gardens in contemplation of the heavenly descriptions in the Qur’ān. Columbus set sail using Muslim maps, which were designed because Muslims made pilgrimage to Mecca from all over the world, plotting the terrain on their way and making guide books to help others. 
So stop, reflect and consider – what are the lessons the Qur’ān can teach you in your specialism, and can they be used to make the world a better place?
 Al-Qur’ān, 36:36
 Al-Qur’ān, 82:7
 Al-Qur’ān, 2:164
 Al-Qur’ān, 2:83
 Al-Qur’ān, 2:3
 Al-Qur’ān, 112
 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World – Salim Al-Hassani