1. The Qur’an as a Source of Scientific Knowledge
In our times we see many people who try to interpret some of the Qur’anic verses in the light of our present scientific knowledge. The main aim of these people is to show the miracle of the Qur’an in the scientific domain to convince non-Muslims of the glory and uniqueness of the Qur’an, and to make fellow Muslims feel proud of having such a great scripture.
But the view of considering the Qur’an as a source of all knowledge is not a new one, and we see many great Muslim scholars of the past who are proponents of this view. One is Imam al-Ghazali. In his book Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (The Revival of Religious Sciences), he quotes Ibn Mas’ud as saying: “If one desires to have the knowledge of the sciences of the ancients and the moderns, he should ponder over the Qur’an.” He further adds:
In short, all sciences are included in the works and attributes of Allah, and the Qur’an is the explanation of His essence, attributes, and works. There is no limit to these sciences, and in the Qur’an there is an indication of their confluence.1
And in his other bookJawahir al-Qur’an (The Jewels of the Qur’an), which was written after the Ihya, he has more to say about this matter. In the chapter on “The Stemming of the Sciences of the Ancients and the Moderns from the Qur’an”, he says:
The principle of these sciences, which we have enumerated and of those which we have not specified, are not outside the Qur’an, for all of these sciences are drawn from one of the seas of knowledge of God-may He be exalted-i.e., the sea of His works.
We have already mentioned that the Qur’an is [like] a sea which as no shore, and that “if the ocean became ink for [transcribing] the words of my Lord, surely the ocean would be exhausted before the words of my Lord came to an end.” Among the works of God-may he be exalted-which [for their vastness can be called] the sea of His works are, for instance, recovery and disease, as He-may He be exalted-narrating the words of Abraham, said, “When I fall ill it is He who restores me to health”….
This single work can only be known by him who knows the science of medicine completely, for this science means nothing but the knowledge of all aspects of disease together with their symptoms, and knowledge of their cure and its means. Among the works of God are [also] the determination of [man’s] knowledge of the sun and the moon and of their stages according to a fixed reckoning, as God-may He be exalted-said “The sun and the moon move according to a fixed reckoning.”
“He ordained stages for the moon so that you might learn the method of calculating years and determining time….” The real meaning of the movements of the sun and the moon according to a fixed reckoning and of the eclipses of both, of the merging of the night into day and the manner of wrapping one of them around the other, can only be known by him who knows the manner of the composition of the heavens and the earth, and this itself is a science (i.e., astronomy)….Should we go on narrating the details of Divine works to which the verses of the Qur’an point, it would take a long time.
Only an indication of their confluence is possible [here], and we have done this where we have mentioned that knowledge of Divine works is among the sum total of knowledge of God-may He be exalted. That sum total includes these details. Likewise, every division we have briefly described, will, if further divided, branch off into many details.2
Reflect, then, on the Qur’an and seek its wonderful meanings, so that perchance you may encounter in it the confluence of the sciences of the ancients and the moderns and the sum total of their beginnings. Reflection on the Qur’an is intended only for reaching from the brief description of these sciences to their detailed knowledge and it is [like] an ocean that has no shore.
Al -Suyuti (d. 911/1505) too, has the same view.3 In his book al-Itqan fi ‘ulum al-Qur’an, he tries to argue that the Qur’an contains all sciences. Using verses like:
“…We have not neglected anything in this Book…” (6:38)
“…And We have revealed the Book to you explaining clearly everything.” (16:89)
and also prophetic traditions such as:
The Prophet said, “There shall be evils”. He was asked, “What can save us from them?” He answered, “Allah’s Book; there is in it the news of what happened before you and the news of what shall happen after you….
he argues that the Qur’an contains the sciences of the ancients and of the moderns. Furthermore he says:
Allah’s Book contains everything. There is no basic section or problem of any science for which there is no indication in the Qur’an. In the Qur’an, one finds the wondrous aspects of the creatures, the spiritual dimension of the heavens and the earth, what is in the horizon’s loftiest part and what is beneath the sod, the beginning of creation…4
We find this kind of outlook in Muslim scholars of recent times too. For example, ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Kawabiki (d. 1902), in his book, Tab ‘al-‘Istibad (the Nature of Despotism) says:
In recent centuries, science has revealed many facts and these are attributed to their discoverers who are European or American. But those who examine the Qur’an carefully, find that most of those facts were stated, explicitly or implicitly, in the Qur’an thirteen centuries ago; and these were not left hidden but to show, upon their discovery a miracle of the Qur’an, and to indicate that it is the word of the Lord who only is aware of the hidden.5
And among the recent proponents of this view is Mustafa Sadiq al-Rafi’i. In the Qur’an, he said, one finds many hints for the scientific facts; and modern science helps us to interpret the meanings of some of the Qur’anic verses and to discover their facts.6 Also Shaykh Muhammad Bakit says:
Those who think that the Qur’an is a book for the statement of the (Islamic) laws and for legislation are avoiding the truth. The Qur’an is the source of all sciences and the human civilization…. The Qur’an, with its statements and hints, has evidence for the essence and attributes of all things and their quantitative and qualitative changes and contains all sciences dealing with the external realities, whether they are heavenly or earthly.7
At this point , it is necessary to mention that the early ‘ulama’s motive in considering the Qur’an as the source of all sciences arose out of their conviction in the comprehensiveness of the Qur’an, but the recent scholars, while believing in this, have more emphasis on proving the miraculous state of the Qur’an in the scientific domain. Therefore, they try to adapt the Qur’an to the findings of contemporary science.
Some of them believe that there is nothing in the new findings of science which was not predicted by the Qur’an. For example, al-Tantawi, in his commentary on the Qur’an, tries to extract the results of the physical and natural sciences from the Qur’an, and is afraid that he might not live long enough to locate all of the findings of science and technology in the Qur’an. Yet, he is happy that the discoveries of science up to now are indicative of the prophetic power of the Qur’an.8
He even tries to reconcile unestablished theories of science with the Qur’an. In our time we find a tremendous increase in this kind of activity, and some Muslim scholars want to extract all the findings of contemporary science from the Qur’an, and thereby prove the miraculous nature of the Qur’an and its fitness for survival. For instance, ‘Abd al-Razzaq Nawfal in his book The Qur’an and Modern Science, says:
Thus, when we prove to non-Arabs that the Qur’an contains the principles of modern science and it has already spoken of every new scientific phenomenon, in this kind of miracle of the Qur’an not enough to attract their attention to the Qur’an…. Isn’t the scientific miracle of the Qur’an the way to attract non-Arabs to Islam…? The day that we accomplish the translation, into various languages, of what the Qur’an has predicted and the development of various sciences has confirmed, our mission would be over and our call would be communicated, and the miraculous nature of the Qur’an would be clear for non-Arabs.9
And Maurice Bucaille says:
The Qur’an follows on from the two revelations that preceded it and is not only free from contradictions in its narrations, the sign of various human manipulations to be found in the Gospels, but provide a quality all of its own for those who examine it objectively and in the light of science, i.e., its complete agreement with modern scientific data. What is more, statements are to be found in it (as has been shown) that are connected with science: and yet it is unthinkable that a man of Muhammad’s time could have been the author of them. Modern scientific knowledge therefore allows us to understand certain verses of the Qur’an which, until now, it has been impossible to interpret.10
Some of the authors have tried very hard to extract every important idea of contemporary science from the Qur’an, and in this effort have outstretched the normal usage of the Arabic language. For example, some people claim that the idea of atom and sub-atomic particles is mentioned in the Qur’an: To prove this, they resort to the following verses:11
…There does not lie concealed from your Lord the weight of a small particle in the earth or in the heaven, nor anything less than that nor greater, but it is in a clear Book. (10:61)
…Not the weight of a (small) particle is absent from Him in the heavens or in the earth, and neither less than that nor greater, but (all) is in a clear Book. (34:3)
Here, they identify the Arabic word “dharrah” with atom, whereas the customary meaning of it was “small ant” or “a small dust particle”,12 and there is no convincing reasons to believe that Allah has used a terminology that our prophet’s contemporaries could not understand.
The efforts to reconcile a sacred scripture with contemporary science are not restricted to Muslims. Christians, too, try to extract modern science from the Bible, and Jews have done the same thing with the Old Testament. They, too, consider this to be a sign of validity of their book.