Prophet Noah (A) is quoted in the Quran as saying to his people:
He said, "My Lord, l have called my people by night and by day, but my calling has only increased them in flight...and I said, Ask you forgiveness of your Lord; surely He is ever All-forgiving..., that you look not for majesty in God, seeing He created you by stages? Have you not regarded how God created seven heavens one upon another, and set the moon therein for a light and the sun for a lamp? And God cause you to grow out of the earth, then He shall return you into it, and bring you forth. And God has laid the earth for you as a carpet, and thereof you may tread ways, ravines.' " (71:5-20)
Obviously, it is not for everyone to be able to read the "book" of the universe. The Quran considers only men of knowledge to be capable of benefiting from the book of nature as can be seen from the following verse:
Hast thou not seen how that God sends down out of heaven water, and therewith We bring forth fruits of diverse hues? And in the mountains are streaks White and red, of diverse hues, and pitchy black; men too, and beasts and cattle?,diverse are their hues. Even so only those of His servants fear God who have knowledge; surely God is Almighty, All-forgiving. (35:27-8)
The Quran regards only men of knowledge as being capable of discerning the majesty and magnificence of God's creation and as possessing the humility produced by their knowledge of Divine power and greatness. This point is stressed in other verses of the Quran:
And these similitudes?We strike them for the people, but none understands them save those who know. (29:43)
Nay; rather it is signs, clear signs' in the breasts of those who have been given knowledge; and none denies Our signs but the evildoers. (29:49)
Obviously, as implied by the abovementioned verses, understanding of the "signs" of the Creator, is considered possible only for the learned and the men of knowledge who have strived to fathom the secrets of nature and have acquired knowledge in their fields of study. Otherwise, only a superficial acquaintance with the "book of creation" is not very revealing.
A suitable initiation into this book of nature can only be achieved through such sciences as mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, botany, zoology (which we shall refer to as `natural sciences'). It is with the aid of these and the rational sciences that we discover the laws of nature and unravel the wonderful order and scheme of creation that underlies nature. It is in this light that we should read the verses of the Quran as the following:
Thou seest not in the creation of the All-merciful any imperfection. Return thy gaze; seest thou any fissure? Then return thy gaze, and again, and thy gaze comes back to thee dazzled, aweary. (67:3-4)
It means that the further does human knowledge make progress in understanding God's creation, the more His Greatness and Majesty will become obvious to men. Consider the following verse:
We shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in themselves, till it is clear to them that it is the truth. (41:53)
In the above verse God promises revelation of His signs, in the universe -without and the world of spirit within, to mankind in future so as to make them convinced that it (the Quran) is indeed absolutely the Truth.
Another reason for the study of the natural phenomenon and the scheme of creation is that the knowledge of the laws of nature and characteristics of things and organisms can be useful for improvement of conditions of human life. This aspect is emphasized by numerous verses of the Quran of which we quote a few:
And He subjected to you the night and day, and the sun and moon; and the stars are subjected by His command. Surely in that are signs for people who understand. And that which He has multiplied for you in the earth of diverse hues.
Surely in that is a sign for a people who remember. It is He who subjected to you the sea, that you may eat of it fresh flesh, and bring forth out of it ornaments for you to wear; and thou mayest see the ships cleaving through it; and that you may seek of His bounty, and so haply you will be thankful. And He cast on the earth firm mountains, lest it shake with you, and rivers and ways; so haply you will be guided; and waymarks; and by the stars they are guided. (16:12-16)
Have you not seen how that God has subjected to you whatsoever is in the heavens and earth, and He has lavished on you His blessings, outward and inward? And among men there is such a one that disputes concernig God without knowledge orguidance, or an illuminating book. (31:20)
And He has subjected to you what is in the heavens and what is in the earth, all together, from Him. Surely in that are signs for a people who reflect. (45:13)
He who created the pairs, all of them, and appointed for you ships and cattle such as you ride, that you be seated on their backs and then remember your Lord's blessing when you are seated on them, and say, `Glory be to Him, who has subjected this to us, and we ourselves were not equal to it.' (43:12-13)
According to the Quran, the study of the book of nature reveals to man its secrets and manifests its underlying coherence, consistency and order. It allows men to use the agency of knowledge to uncover the riches and resources hidden in nature and to achieve material welfare through his scientific discoveries.
God has appointed man His vicegerent or deputy upon the earth and provided him with unlimited opportunities. It is for him to recognize his own possibilities and benefit from his opportunities and acquire the power and wisdom befitting his role as a `deputy' of God and a `sign' of His wisdom and omnipotence:
It is He who has appointed you viceroys in the earth, and has raised some of you in ranks above others, that He may try you in what He has given you. Indeed your Lord is quite in retribution, and He is Forgiving and. Merciful. (6:165)
In fact, this station of being God's viceroy or deputy upon the earth has been bestowed upon man as a result of his capacity for acquisition of knowledge as borne out by this verse:
He taught Adam all the names then presented them to the angels; then He said: `Tell me the names of those if you are right.' (2:31)
Unfortunately Muslims have since long tended to overlook such verses of the Quran as quoted above, while this matter was appreciated by non?Muslims who afterwards monopolized the scientific tradition.
Heretofore we have tried to establish that the injunction to acquire knowledge as found in the Quran and prophetic traditions is not restricted to the knowledge of the teachings of the Shari `ah, but equally applies to all fields of knowledge that are beneficial for mankind.
We have tried to make the point that every science that serves as a preliminary to the performance of a religious obligation or serves the necessary requirements of an Islamic society, or helps in our understanding of the creation and the knowledge of God, or allows us to benefit from Divine blessings that are provided to man, should necessarily be regarded as useful knowledge by Muslims.
Now in the light of the verses quoted below, we may as well assert that the basic criterion for the utility of a scientific discipline is that it should be an equivalent of worship of God, be instrumental in obtaining His good pleasure and bring man closer to His Creator. Here are the Quranic verses:
I have not created jinn and mankind except to serve Me. (51:56)
They were not commanded but to serve in all sincerity of their religion. (98:5)
Knowledge is useful and beneficial for mankind only if it is seen as an instrument for obtaining knowledge of God, His good pleasure and nearness; otherwise knowledge itself is an iron curtain, a great inscrutable veil (hijab akbar), whether it is linked with the natural sciences or the sciences of the Shari`ah. The great Prophet of Islam (S) has said:
Anyone who seeks knowledge not for the sake of God and uses it not in the way of God, should be certain of his place in hell. [^27]
A scholar who seeks knowledge for the sake of God will receive the reverence of everything; whereas a scholar who seeks knowledge as a means to amass wealth will be awed by everything. [^28]
God, the Most exalted, has said: `Learned discussion between My servants enlivens their hearts if it leads them towards My command.' [^29]