The Green Factory That Works on Our Behalf
A Mechanism Producing Vital Energy
The energy reaching the Earth from the Sun every day is around 10,000 times greater than all the energy that mankind will require throughout that single day. Developed nations spend large amounts of money on research into how sunlight's free energy can be stored.
From the research performed for this purpose, one astonishing truth has emerged; Plants already possess a perfect system for storing this energy from the Sun, in a procedure known as photosynthesis. Plants perform photosynthesis thanks to the chlorophyll in their tissues. This chlorophyll produces carbohydrate, the basic foodstuff of all life, by converting solar energy into chemical energy.
Carbohydrates are basic food sources that, directly or indirectly, meet the energy needs of all living things. There is no need to eat plants in order to obtain this energy. Since many animals feed on plants, that same energy can reach human beings by way of animal-based foodstuffs. For example, sheep eat grass. Green grass uses solar energy to synthesize carbohydrate molecules by way of photosynthesis and thus stores the carbohydrates inside its tissues. Grass-eating sheep themselves absorb these high-energy molecules into their own bodies. Digested, the carbohydrate molecules later are oxidized as energy and converted into fat in the sheep's bodies. The energy in these molecules is thus transferred to the animal's tissues. Someone who then eats these animals absorbs this energy, which originally reached the grass from the Sun.
As you have seen, all living things use the energy obtained from solar rays by way of photosynthesis, no matter in what form they manage to digest it.
Not only foodstuffs, but also a large number of the substances we use in our daily lives transfer to us the energy originally obtained by way of photosynthesis. For example, burnable fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas contain hydrocarbons in which solar energy was originally stored by means of photosynthesis. The same applies to the firewood we burn. Just by considering these materials the vital importance of photosynthesis can be better appreciated. The discovery of the secrets of photosynthesis and the unearthing of the mechanisms involved in this process is of great importance to scientists. If this process can be fully understood, it will be possible to increase food production, make the most efficient use of nature, obtain the maximum benefit from solar energy, develop new medicines and design very fast and small machines powered by solar energy.
However, what is currently known about photosynthesis is insufficient for us to produce systems that can imitate it in order to store solar energy. Nonetheless, photosynthesis is a simple, natural process for any green plant, though it lacks reason and consciousness. It is astonishing that while human beings possessed of intellect, education and advanced technology cannot duplicate this system, hundreds of trillions of plants—from the one-celled algae to towering redwoods—have all been carrying out the process of photosynthesis for millions of years. They have carried out this chemical process without interruption, ever since the day they were first created.
Any spot on Earth hosting the smallest patch of greenery is actually a factory that manufactures sugar out of carbon dioxide and water, using solar energy.
Without you being aware of it, the spinach you eat, the parsley in your salad, and the ivy growing on the balcony are engaged in constant production on your behalf. This is thanks to the compassion that Allah, Lord of sublime knowledge, has for us. Allah has created plants in such a way as to be of use to humans and all other living things. For millions of years, leaves have been implementing this system which human beings with all their advanced technology are still unable to fully comprehend.
In one verse of the Qur'an, Allah reveals that it is impossible for human beings to produce even a single tree out of nothing:
He Who created the heavens and the earth and sends down water for you from the sky by which We make luxuriant gardens grow—you could never make their trees grow…
(Surat an-Naml: 60)
Allah created the whole universe with His sublime knowledge and artistry. As a result of this matchless creation, all the systems that give rise to life on Earth operate together in complete harmony. Every system and structure, from the stars in outer space to the electrons that revolve around the nucleus of a single atom, are either dependent on some other system or else act to complement it.
In this superior design, photosynthesis occupies a very important place. Using carbon dioxide in the air, and absorbing water and minerals in specific amounts from the soil, and with the help of sunlight, unconscious plant cells create food for all animals. With the energy they receive from solar rays, plants break down these substances down and then recombine them into foodstuffs. A distinct intellect, consciousness and planning can be seen in every detail of this process, summarized briefly here. Clearly this amazing system in plants, with the results it produces, is a source of nourishment specially designed to be of benefit to animals and human beings. The green plants on Earth use solar energy to produce a basic food source that is essential to the survival of all life, and therefore of human beings.
Provisions for all living things are created as the result of a chain process stretching in perfect harmony from the heavens to the Earth. This is also indicated in verses of the Qur'an:
Say: "Who provides for you from the heavens and earth?" Say: "Allah. It is certain that one or the other of us, either we or you, is following guidance or else clearly astray."
(Surah Saba': 24)
He Who originates creation and then regenerates it and provides for you from out of heaven and earth. Is there another Allah besides Allah? Say: "Bring your proof if you are being truthful." (Surat an-Naml: 64)
Every plant is an independent food factory and power station, specially created for human beings, making use of the most abundant free sources such as air, water and solar energy. In this system, leaves are both solar panels that collect energy and also factories producing food. In addition, plants' tastes, scents and colors, are also the aesthetic work of a sublime artistry. Before going on to examine the various stages of photosynthesis, whose every aspect has been created with the greatest knowledge, we need to look at the perfect design behind the general structures of leaves. This way, we can see how the structures and systems that carry out the process of photosynthesis have been created with a deliberate design.
How Does the Factory Work?
If you examine a leaf under a high-resolution microscope, Allah's creative artistry will appear before you once again in all its magnificence. A flawless production system has been installed inside each single leaf. In order to better understand this system, compare the structures operating within the leaf to devices we use in daily life. When we magnify and investigate the details in a leaf, we encounter an automatic food factory, operating non-stop and filled with conduits, chambers built for special processes, valves working like a miniaturized pressure cooker, countless triggers controlling thousands of processes, and worker cells in a constant state of activity. If we look more closely, we can also see time regulators installed at specific points, thermostats, humidity gauges, feedback systems and temperature control mechanisms.
The veins that run like a network of pipelines through every part of the leaf permit water and other raw materials to reach the production units, and also allow the carbohydrates obtained from those units to be distributed to the plant's tissues. In a plant with trunks or stems, a separate system of vertical pipelines also sends sap to the leaves and returns sugars to the plant's interior in order for it to be nourished.
These channels are not limited to carrying essential fluids; they also serve as an internal skeleton to support the tree and its leaves. In artificial structures, a building's load-bearing elements (its columns and beams) and its water pipes are constructed separately. The way that these two functions are served by a single system in plants is a marvel of design, whose details we shall be examining in the next chapter.