Science and Religion
The Quranic Position
PROF G R MALIK
It is gratifying to note that a recent lecture on the subject of science and religion at the University of Kashmir has excited a lot of interest and given rise to a healthy discussion. In this welcome debate it is very important to bear in mind the principled position of Islam with regard to the subject.
From the Islamic point of view science and religion are not contraries but complementaries, both necessary for human life. As far as the material reality – the universe and all that inheres in it and the physical aspect of man’s day-to-day life – is concerned, Allah has given man the rational faculty and other ancillary powers to deal with it; this is science. But how to use the power that one gains through the exercise of this faculty is beyond the scope of rational faculty and science because it involves certain fundamental metaphysical and spirituo-moral issues for which Revelation alone can provide guidance.
Two examples among so many, one each from the Quran and its practical illustration, the life of the Prophet (SAW), may be cited to illustrate this position. The Quran says:
They ask you (O Muhammad) concerning the waxing and waning of the moon; say they are signs for men to mark periods of time and for pilgrimage. (2:189)
Now the question raised in the beginning of the ayah has too clear answers both equally valid from their respective perspectives. One of them scientific, which has been left to human reason, and the other religious – that lunar waxing and waning constitutes a natural calendar – has been taken up by the Quran. In other words the Quran leaves the ‘how’ of the question to the rational faculty of man and points only to the ‘why’ of the question so that men grasp the all-important spirituo-moral truth that the phenomena in the universe of existence are neither accidental nor purposeless:
Our lord, You did not create this (universe) purposelessly; glorified are You; save us from the doom of Fire (3:191)
When our Prophet (SAW) migrated to Madinah, he found the Ansar (Helpers), whose main profession was agriculture, practising grafting with their date-palm trees. He remarked that the trees could be left alone to their natural growth and fruition. The Ansar, ever ready to carry out every Prophetic wish unquestioningly, took it as a prophetic command and gave up the practice of grafting. This led to a big decrease in produce. When the Prophet was asked about it, he said that it is a technical matter and does not fall within the purview of religion. Explaining the principled position of Islam about such matters, he remarked:
Antum a‘lamu bi-umoor-i dunyakum
You are knowledgeable about your worldly affairs. (That is, as far as their technical side is concerned).
Quite in accord with this principled position, the Prophet accepted the advice of Salman al-Farisi (RA) about the craft of war. During the Battle of the Trenches (Ghazwa al-Ahzab), he had a trench dug around a part of the city of Madinah as a device of defence on his suggestion.
The beloved Prophet (SAW) had trained his holy companions so meticulously in this regard that on several occasions they would ask him whether he was issuing a command as Prophet or just expressing an opinion to be considered. If the Prophet said that it was just an opinion, they would present their views, otherwise they would acquiesce unquestioningly.
A noteworthy point relating to this discussion is that the guidance of Revelation for which word ‘religion’ is used in this discourse, is indispensable for all aspects of human endeavour. Every activity of human life and each aspect of scientific adventure has a moral as well as a technical side to it. For moral guidance one has perforce to turn to religion as nature has not equipped him with powers to legislate infallibly in respect of the spirituo-moral domain. Wherever and whenever he dabbles in it, he makes a mess of his affairs:
Kafir na-tuwani shud nachar musalman shav.
Because of this basic Quranic position Allah (SWT) remarks that He had raised Prophets at all times and places so that,
So that people have no excuse with Allah after such Prophets. (4:165)
The clear implication is that in the absence of this arrangement man will have the valid excuse that it would not have been possible to find the right way without prophetic guidance.
Since religious guidance is required in all aspects of human life and endeavour, scriptures like the Bilble and the Quran have been described in the Quran as tafseelan likulli shai and tibyanan likulli shai (detailed account of everything). One is likely to misconstrue the sense of these descriptions if the right context is not kept in mind.
How does genuine scientific research impinge on religion? Once again we come across a spectacle where religion and genuine scientific research work as complementaries at a deeper and much more significant level. This too can be best understood by concrete exemplification.
As school children we were made to memorise that the sun is stationary, then, in the light of fresh discoveries, science shifted its ground as it was found that the sun moves along with the whole of its galaxy. This enabled us to grasp the import of the casual Quranic remark,
And the sun moves on its course for a period determined for it. (36:38)
It is a part of an ayah which occurs in a purely religious context. Similarly the Big Bang theory about the creation of the universe became known only in the recent past but the following Quranic verse (again occurring in a purely religious context) was revealed 1400 years ago:
Do the unbelievers not see that the heavens and the earth were joined together, then We tore them asunder and We created every living thing from water (21:30)
Describing the doom of Hell-dwellers, the Quran says:
Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall cast them into the fire and every time their skins are burnt out we shall exchange them for fresh ones so that they keep on tasting the torment. (4:56)
A German dermatologist accepted Islam simply by reading this single verse remarking that the fact that burning causes pain only as long as the skin is intact is a discovery of most recent origin. How could an unlettered Prophet (SAW) know about it nearly one and a half-thousand years ago?
These are just a few of the many instances which prove how genuine scientific research complements genuine religion at a deeper level. We must however remember that these hints are dropped incidentally while the Quran is arguing for tawheed or Allah’s omnipotence or the life here-after. But since the speaker is the Creator (SWT) Himself they are the ultimate statements regardless of the context in which they occur. In this regard a marvellous Quranic verse reads:
Very soon shall we show them our signs in the universe and their own selves until it becomes manifest to them that this (Quran) is the truth from their Lord. (41:53)
This verse apart from making a significant prophecy underscores the importance that Islam attaches to the study of the Universe of existence including the human self as a highly meaningful system of signs. Thus Islam raises to the pedestal all that makes for a robust and dynamic scientific enterprise, be it the use of sense organs or the exercise of the rational faculty. The Quran places repeated emphasis on the study and contemplation of the universe which naturally leads to the development of natural sciences like Physics, Chemistry, Biology etc. As against 250 verses of legislative nature in the Quran, we have 750 verses which exhort the believers on tafakkur (thinking), ta‘aqqul (ratiocination, exercise of reason) and mushahadah (observation) in relation to both nature and history. In this way it lights up the path of scientific enterprise.
The Prophet (SAW) declared the ink of the scholar’s pen holier than the martyr’s blood and remarked:
“Wisdom is the lost property of a believer, wherever he comes by it, he has a prime right over it.” (Tirmidhi)
He also remarked that “the most superior form of worship is the acquisition of knowledge “(Kunuz al- Haqaiq) and that “a moment’s thinking is superior to seventy years of worship” (Kunuz al-Haqaiq).
How much importance did the Prophet attach to the acquisition of knowledge is obvious from what was done to the prisoners of war after the Battle of Badr. They were freed in exchange for ransom but those among them who could not pay the ransom were asked each to teach reading and writing to ten Muslim children. Obviously these non-Muslim prisoners of war did not teach fiqh to these children.
These were the teachings which led to the unprecedented scientific upsurge of early Islam which remained unparalleled until the Renaissance. According to the historians of science it still remains the biggest contribution by scientists hailing from a single community.
In Islam then all knowledge and science is sacred including what is regarded as specifically religious instruction. The only condition that Islam imposes is that the whole process of thinking and contemplation and all forms of knowledge should be made subservient to the control of Divine guidance; fikr should always be subordinate to dhikr. As the Quran says:
Verily in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day there are signs for men of reason: those who remember Allah standing, sitting and on their sides and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth. (3:190-191)
Knowledge in this way turns into a blessing and not a curse as it does if it is freed from Divine guidance and control.
Lastupdate on : Wed, 6 Jun 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 6 Jun 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 7 Jun 2012 00:00:00 IST
- MORE FROM OPINION
Orders Issued For Involvement Of PRIs In 14 Departments
Srinagar, June 6: Panchayats would soon be partners in planning and execution of development programs in Jammu and Kashmir as State Government Wednesday said that it has completed the process for devolution More
- Srinagar City
Feared to be accident prone; Will make Abdullah, Zero bridges redundant
SRINAGAR, JUNE 6: Notwithstanding the government claims that “comprehensive plan was in place for all round development of Srinagar”, the upcoming bridge across Jhelum, scheduled to connect the City centre More
AG asked to assist court
JAMMU, JUNE 6: State High Court today adjourned all the 35 writ petitions, challenging separate orders passed by the State Accountability Commission, for June 8. The petitions were clubbed and taken More
INVOLVE PUBLIC REPRESENTATIVES IN DEVELOPMENT: MINISTER
GK NEWS NETWORK
Bandipora, June 6: The District Development Board Bandipora in its meeting today approved Rs 73.72 crore annual plan for the district. Minister for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD), More