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Science as a Medium for the Propagation of Islam
Science and Religion
Muzaffar Hussain

 

In this paper1, I venture to explain the thesis that not only Islam and science are inseparable from each other but also that in the present age, science is the most effective medium for the propagation of Islam.

I invite attention to the very first Kalimah, the faith formula, converting an individual into a Muslim. It is a statement which inculcates a scientific attitude in its believer. According to Iqbal the first part of the formula prevents deification of natural phenomena whereas the second part, by implications of the finality of prophethood, makes it impossible for any person after the Holy Prophet (sws) to claim unquestionable authority on the basis of inner experience.2 In Islam therefore, the very first taste of Imān inculcates a critical spirit which can truly be named as the scientific attitude of mind generating science and promoting its development.

The Holy Qur’ān claims itself to be a book of visions3. The visions that it bestows on man train his mind on such lines that he automatically adopts scientific method in all domains of knowledge. The most distinguishing feature of religious experience in Islam is that it includes the scientific method of inquiry into the natural phenomena as an indispensible means of coming closer to Allah4. No wonder therefore that subject analysis of the Holy Qur’ān reveals that no less then one ninth verses of the entire Holy Book comprises exhortations for the observation of physical phenomenon and contemplate on them in search for Signs of Allah which are essential for His true appreciation. By neglecting science, we deprive ourselves from a sizeable portion of Qur’ānic guidance and distort our vision of the Ultimate Reality. According to the world view of the Holy Qur’ān, this universe in not Māyah, a mirage or a dream but is a reality. As a creation of Allah Almighty, it is a reality which has a purpose behind it. By observing, perceiving and contemplating on the creation of the heavens and the earth, men of faith inevitably come to the conclusion that this creation cannot be without a purpose5. Man has to live in this world for a fixed duration and get his subsistence from it6. This universe is replete with tangible and intangible Bounties and Blessings of Allah which sustain and support man’s life on the planet7. He is the vicegerent of Allah on this earth and all the things of the world have been subdued for him8. He has been vested with powers over them and by their judicious use can reshape this world according to his plans and wishes. The world is capable of melioration and improvement.

This worldview of Islam gave birth to modern science. Muslims in their glorious period of history raised science to great heights. Contribution of the Muslims to modern science has been applauded by historians of science and scholars like Sarton and Briffalt, who paid rich tributes to Islam on this account. I quote here a passage from Encyclopaedia Britannica:

Islamic culture is most relevant to European Science. Not only is the religion itself closely related to Judaism and Christianity, but there was active cultural contact between Arabic speaking lands and Latin Europe at crucial periods. Ironically, the great age of Islam coincided with the low point of culture in Western Europe. Conquests by the prophet’s followers began in the 7th century AD and by the 10th century AD, Arabic was the literate language of nations stretching from Persia to Spain. Arabic conquerors generally brought peace and prosperity to the countries where they settled. For example, the library of Cordova in Spain apparently had more than 50,000 books at a time, when scarcely 5,000 survived north of the Pyrenees. Also, the Muslims were tolerant of the other monotheistic faith so that the Jews rose to high positions in Islamic lands at a time when they were scarcely permitted survival in Europe. Drawing on the traditions of Greek science through Christian scholars of Syria, the early Arabic rulers of Baghdad in the 9th century had the bulk of the corpus of Greek science, translated, and, soon after, their own scholars advanced further, particularly in Mathematics, Astronomy, Optics, Chemistry, and Medicine. The social base of science, however, was thin. Hence no single centre of scientific culture flourished for more than a century, and, although materials were transmitted between them, the loss of continuity prevented a sustained development. Also, the style of scholarship was for a single man to try to encompass the whole world of learning for the achievement of secular wisdom, perhaps as a way towards illumination. The very greatest man could make creative advances, but cooperative scholarship, the necessary prerequisite for making lesser men effective, was rare.9

All great historians of science agree that it was Islam that made the growth of science in Europe possible. The Church had imposed all types of restrictions on the freedom of expression. Stories of prosecution and trial of scientists like Galileo are recorded in the pages of history which depict a painful picture of those times. The long drawn conflict between church and science ultimately resulted in the parting of their ways. Science in the west, therefore, could never assume the role of being the God-revealing source of knowledge. Its sphere of activity was drastically reduced to the study of profane phenomena of a mundane world in a secular manner.

No doubt the Western scientists also claim that the purpose of science is the pursuit of truth but the kind of truths it discovers are never integrated with or referred to the God of religion as the Absolute Truth. For them the God operating in the realm of nature is quite different from the God of religion giving moral commandments. They even hesitate to designate the ultimate reality of science as God and prefer to name it as Nature, which is impersonal by its characteristics but acts like a Person. Coming to this impasse, the secular scientists are lost in a blind alley of obscure terminology. The Holy Qur’ān coins a similitude for a particular social category of people which is aptly applicable to them:

Their similitude is that of a man who kindled fire. When it lighted all around, Allah took away their light and left them in utter darkness so they could not see.10

This is precisely the state of present day scientific community. The environment is well illuminated with day to day scientific discoveries but all these discoveries fail to bestow that vision on the scientists that could enable them to discern God amidst these illuminations. Some of the top scientists of the West profess to have a firm belief in God and have strong religious feelings too but their scientific notion of God never conforms to their religious notion of God, which is Shirk according to the Qur’ānic teachings of Tawhīd. As a result of this, science gets away from the control of religion. This is why science has shifted its emphasis from the ‘pursuit of ultimate truth’ to ‘the pursuit of power’. But unbridled power quickly turns into a brute force bringing destruction to mankind, be that in the form of deadly weapons in times of war or environmental pollution in times of peace.

This, then, is the most crucial issue of modern civilization which cannot be resolved except through the concept and principle of Tawhīd as enunciated by Qur’ān. According to the Qur’ānic principle of Tawhīd, all scientific notions and religious notions ultimately issue into an all-comprehensive concept of Almighty Allah Who has given to man a complete code of moral values which govern all aspects of his life.

The introduction of this concept will bring science to the fold of religion and morality and protect it from going astray. And this is the only way to save the present day scientific civilization. The call of Qur’ān to the people of Book for coming to common terms is precisely relevant to resolving the crisis of the scientific civilization:

Say: O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you  that we worship none but Allah. That we associate no partners with Him.11

This call of the Holy Qur’ān is in a way an attempt to save scientists from duality which caused Shirk ie, separation between God of science and the God of religion and consequently severed all relationships between moral ideals and scientific achievements. This inherent flaw of modern civilization has placed modern man into a predicament. The pure Tawhīd of Islam not only pulls him out of this hopeless situation but is also an extremely attractive, valuable and important message for the present day society. It should, therefore, be utilized for the propagation of Islam in modern age.

Science has bestowed numerous blessings on man by alleviating his miseries and brought him all sorts of comforts. Above all, its role of bringing all the nations round one platform is highly laudable. Scientists from all over the world belonging to different countries, nations, colours and races gather at the forum of science with a sense of fraternity. Science has thus created a small society of global brotherhood. These are therefore favourable circumstances for the spread of Islam which aims at the unity of mankind. From this platform the message of Islamic Tawhīd can be given to scientists and, through them, to the whole world.

Needless to repeat that the Islamic concept of Tawhīd is not only capable of being translated into scientific language but, in the language of science, it becomes easily intelligible and effectively communicable. Science, as it is said, is the great cleanser of human spirit that makes impossible any religion but the highest. The Holy Qur’ān claims that science will continue revealing the Signs of Allah in the realm of matter and mind to prove the veracity of Qur’ānic statements. According to the Holy Qur’ān Allah’s immutable laws are operative in nature and manifestations of these operations (كلمات الله) are innumerable which are being reflected in the phenomena of nature12. When the scientists observe, study and reflect on the these phenomena, the Signs (آيات الله) of Allah are revealed to them. These Signs of Allah are therefore those findings of the science which are constantly being revalidated and improved.

These, then, are the teachings of the Holy Qur’ān which resolve all contradictions advanced by both scientific and religious circles as arguments for maintaining the dichotomy between science and religion. This guidance of the Holy Qur’ān in the domain of science makes science both a source of power as well as a source of light from Allah and thus helps in keeping science within the bounds of the moral framework of Islam. This is the kind of science which instills reverence, love and fear of Allah in the minds of the scientists13. And such a vital relationship between science and Islam makes science the most effective medium for the propagation of Islam. Blending Islam and science in this manner can change the course of history towards a lasting peaceful and prosperous future for mankind.

Recommendation

So much for the philosophical aspects of Islamic Science but the crux of the problem is how to go about it? How to practice this philosophy and from where to make a start? In this connection, I have a few suggestions to make:

1. Our first need is to document a philosophy of science within the framework of Islam. For this purpose we should encourage and provide incentives to the scholars who can turn out as Muslim philosophers of science.

2. The science policies of the Muslim countries should be formulated within the context of Islamic philosophy of science and priorities fixed accordingly.

3. In all scientific gatherings, seminars and symposia one special session must always be devoted to examine the scientific researches in the light of Islamic philosophy.

4. The philosophy of science should constitute an integral part of the science syllabi for the teaching of science at all levels.

5. All scientific activity ultimately generates some kind of information which is written and published in a standard format. This format has been designed from a purely secular angle which strictly avoids any reference to God in scientific writings. Such a style is different from the style of early Muslim Scientists who invariably started their writing with adorations of Allah Almighty and gratitude for the Holy Prophet (sws).

Words uttered, written or read in the praise and remembrance of Allah are a great power and do have practical consequences if assimilated consciously. Like strong currents of spiritual energy, they are capable of charging the batteries of benumbed souls and sharpening our visions to witness the Signs of Allah during scientific reflections and contemplation over physical phenomena. By introducing such divine words in scientific literature, we will not only de-secularize science but will convert it into a potential source of Islamic spiritualism.

We hope that, in due course of time, this small change in the format will inspire our Muslim scientists to write very apt passages on the adoration of Allah in the beginning of their scientific dissertations by explaining their own experiences of witnessing the Signs of Allah in their special fields of inquiry. This will be, in fact, picking up our own scientific tradition. If this practice is taken up by all the scientists of the Muslim world, it will stamp their work with the mark of Islamic Science and distinguish their identity as Muslim scientists throughout the world. The great Russian scientists like Michurin, Kalifman, never felt shy of calling themselves as Socialist Scientists and acknowledging Marxian Philosophy as their prime source of inspiration. Why as Muslims should we be afraid of bringing the name of Allah in our scientific writings. In doing so, we will be only using science as a very effective medium for the propagation of Islam.

Summary

The argument I have tried to construct is that Muslim scientists should regard the pursuit of science as a genuine source of religious experience and pursue it as a God-appreciating activity. The present dichotomy of science and religion should be abandoned. In its pursuit after Godless truth, science has no doubt bestowed power on man but its potentiality as a God-appreciating source of knowledge has been totally ignored. This has made it amoral, secular and atheistic. Islam can provide the solution by its principle of Tawhīd. By using this principle, we will be only using science as the most effective medium for the propagation of Islam in the present day world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1. Presented at an International Symposium (November 10-12, 1980), Islamabad and being published for the firs time.

2. The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Dr Muhammad Iqbal.

3. Qur’ān, 6:104; 7:203.

4. Qur’ān, 12:105

5. Qur’ān, 3:191.

6. Qur’ān, 2:36.

7. Qur’ān, 31:20

8. Ibid

9. Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed., vol. 16 (Chicago: Encylopedia Britannica Incorporated, 1974), p. 368)

10. Qur’ān, 2:17.

11. Qur’ān, 3:64

12. Qur’ān, 31:27

13. Qur’ān 35:28

   
 
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