Science and the Muslim Ummah

Endeavors for Obtaining Closeness to God

Evidently, there are various dimensions to endeavour for obtaining closeness to God and His good pleasure. These include the obligatory worship, acquaintance with Divine teachings, refinement of one's inner self, recognition and understanding of the signs of God and service of His creatures.29 In this context attention is drawn to the following con­clusions:

  1. When considered in the context of what we have mentioned above, all theological sciences are means for obtaining proximity to God, and the natural Sciences‑since they also reveal truth‑are sacred as long as they play this role. However this sanctity is not intrinsic as Martyr Dr. Beheshti has pointed out: “Any area of knowledge as long as it does not become an instrument in the hands of taghut (non‑God or anti‑God) is a means of enlightenment; otherwise knowledge may also become a means of misguidance.”

  2. Viewed in this perspective, there can be no separation or aliena­tion between various sciences. On the other hand they help us in deci­phering the book of creation, as the great mystic Shaykh Mahmud Shabistari has said:

بنــزد آنـكــه جــانــش در تجــلـى اســت

همــه عالــم كتــاب حق تعالى اسـت

ا زاو هر عالمى چون سواره اى خاص

يكى زان فاتحه و آن ديگر اخـلاص

To him whose spirit is enlightened

The entire universe is a sacred book of the Most High;

Every sphere of universe is a different chapter,

One is the Opening Surah, and another the Surah of Ikhlas.

In the pages of this Divine book, some chapters may have prece­dence and priority over others, but nevertheless, all of them are essen­tial for the appreciation of God's signs in dfdq (horizons) and anfus (souls), that is in the universe without and within.

In the early centuries of Islamic civilization, when it was at its peak, the Muslim intellectuals approached the question of learning with a vision similar to the one discussed above. Different sciences were seen in a single perspective and considered interrelated as branches of the tree' of knowledge. The goal of all sciences was seen as discovery of unity and coherence in the world of nature.

Accordingly, the source of all knowledge was considered as being one. They utilized the experi­mental as well as the intellectual and intuitive approaches for under­standing of various levels and stages of existence. During that period we find numerous examples of scholars who combined authority in religious sciences with encyclopedic knowledge of the natural sciences. Men like Ibn Sina, Umar Khayyam, Khwajah Nasir al‑Din Tusi and Qutb al‑Din Shirazi are some names among many. As long as this vision and perspective ruled Muslim scholarship and science, the Muslims

were at the vanguard of the human civilization in those days and their cities were centers of specialized learning.30

George Sarton admits that during the period between A.D. 750 and 1100, the Muslims were undisputed leaders of the intellectual world and between A.D. 1100 and 1350 the centers of learning in the Muslim world retained their global importance and attraction.

After 1350 the European world began to advance and the Islamic world not only became stagnant but also failed to absorb the progress made out­side it. The theological schools excluded all natural sciences from their curriculum except astronomy and mathematics: This restriction imposed on the religious madrasahs led to grave repercussions on the Islamic world. Here we point out a few of these effects:

  1. Whereas the Europeans were striving to unravel the hidden laws of nature and to discover ways of exploiting its treasures and resources, the Muslims set aside these activities, and left to others what they deserved most to handle. Today they have reached the point where they have to depend on America and Europe to satisfy their elementary needs. They remain largely unable to use their resources, which they continue to leave to foreigners to exploit.

  2. Those Muslims who pursued the experimental sciences were mostly estranged from the religious sciences. Accordingly, they lacked the Islamic world‑outlook which was replaced by the atheistic vision that dominates the Western scientific tradition.

  3. The elimination of the study of the natural sciences from the curricula of the religious madrasahs and the lack of direct touch with the sources of modern science on the part of religious scholars gave rise to the two deviated intellectual currents in the Muslim world:

a) Some Muslims, under the influence of Western scientific and technical progress and without any knowledge of the limitations of empirical sciences, became singularly possessed with them the extent that they even tried to interpret the Qur’an and hadith according to their findings. The Qur’anic exegeses written by Tantawi and Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan belong to this class. Others have gone still further claiming that all the findings of the modern sciences are found in the Qur’an and the texts of Islamic tradition (hadith). The claim, supposedly, was aimed at demonstrating the miraculous and Divine nature of the Qur’an.31

In the introduction to his exegesis of the Qur’an, Shaykh Mahmud Shaltut, the late head of Al‑Azhar University, writes: “God did not send down the Qur’an to inform mankind of scientific theories and technological techniques...If we try to attempt a conciliation between Qur’an and indurable scientific hypotheses, we will thereby subject it to reversals of times to which all scientific theories and hypotheses are prone.

That would result in presenting the Qur’an in an apologetic and defensive perspective. Whatever is mentioned in the Qur’an about the mysteries of creation and natural phenomena is intended to impel man­kind to speculation and inquiry into these matters so that thereby their faith in it is enhanced.”32

b) Some scholars of religion have considered scientific theories as opposed to the doctrines of religion and accordingly set out to attack science. This resulted in the repercussion that many Muslims turned away from religion. Had the natural sciences not been exiled from the religious curricula, this tragedy would not have occurred.

Any fruitful criticism of ideas based on scientific theories requires, in the first place, familiarity with the various experimental disciplines within modern science, so that any unwarranted conclusions derived from scientific findings may be properly exposed and rejected. How is it possible to claim that the natural sciences result in man's estrangement from God, when the Qur’an unambiguously declares:

إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْ‌ضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ‌ لَآيَاتٍ لِّأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ ﴿١٩٠﴾ الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُ‌ونَ اللَّـهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُ‌ونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْ‌ضِ رَ‌بَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَـٰذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ‌ ﴿١٩١﴾

Surely in the creation of the heavens and earth and in the alternation of night and day there are signs for men possessed of minds who remember God, standing and sitting and on their sides, and reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth: Our Lord, Thou hast not created this for vanity. Glory be to Thee! Guard us against the chastisement o f the Fire.' (3:190‑191)

If the line of demarcation between religion and science is made clear, there is no reason for any conflict between these two. In fact they would complement each other. Science is like the lamp of life and religion its guide.