Engineer Syed Mahbub Alam
In several places, the Glorious Qur’an uses inquiring phrases such as ‘do they not think,’ ‘do they not ponder,’ or ‘reflect,’ and asks the Qur’anic reader ‘to enquire about certain statements to those who have knowledge and expertise.’ The approach of the Qur’an is to invite to reason, logic, rationality and intelligence. The more one researches on different verses in the Noble Qur’an, more deeper meaning one gets. Many books and articles have been published as a result of heeding to the Qur’anic Ayat exhorting the Qur’anic readers to think, reflect and ponder over natural phenomena both in the heavens and the earth including the human beings.
The Qur’an inspires man to observe, experience and investigate. It acknowledges sense, perception and experimental as rewarding. In short, the spirit of the Qur’an, unlike some other religions, is scientific.
Allah says in the Qur’an,
“And hath made of service unto you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth; it is all from Him. Lo! herein verily are portents for a people who reflect.” (45:13)
“And of His sign is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colours. Lo! Herein indeed are portents for men of knowledge.” (30:22)
That is why the Qur’an speaks of those who study nature and try to discover the laws that govern it as “men of knowledge and insight”. Furthermore, the Noble Qur’an says: “Lo! In the heavens and the earth are portents for believers” (45:3). In seeking knowledge, the believers are spurred on by their faith (Iman) t.. They know that: The alternation of night and day and the provision that Allah sent down from the sky and thereby quickened the earth after her death, and the ordering of the winds, are portents for a people who have sense (45:5). Our faith in Allah (SWT) does not follow from purely logical arguments; but it springs from the direct experience of order, harmony, and beauty in nature.
Before the time of the last Prophet of Islam, the ancient civilisations such as Greek, Egyptian, Roman and Persian-all were polytheistic (shirk) in their beliefs. That is why they worshipped natural phenomena such as the earth (Goddess Gaiga now in the West), rivers, mountains, sun, moon or stars. Only Islam was able to displace them from the pedestal of worship and created the intellectual frame of mind, which is known as the scientific revolution.
The polytheists believed the river to possess divine attributes. They believed the goddess of river caused the water to move and made it useful or harmful. In Islam the river is a creation of Allah and not a creator and it was a servant of Allah and not the Lord. Thus the Muslims found ways and means to exploit the rivers on a large scale. The history tell us that there is no precedent in any nation to the large-scale irrigation system developed by the Spanish Muslims. The Spanish Muslims developed agriculture and created Departments of Agriculture, Science and Irrigation in the universities. They studied trees and carried out research on the properties of soil. The infertile lands were converted into orchards and lush green fields, in today’s terms-a ‘green revolution’. Before this, people treated rivers, springs and sea as gods. But the Muslims brought the green revolution because of their monotheistic thinking.
Polytheism (shirk) was prevalent until the 7th century. It was replaced with monotheism (Tawhid) by the Islamic Revolution. This in turn opened the doors of research and investigation by abolishing the practice of worshipping the natural phenomena. Modern industrial progress owes its existence to the Arab Muslims due to their Creed of Monotheism, which instilled them a mental and practical revolution. Islam changed the basis of thinking and contributed to the modern scientific revolution. Historians acknowledge that Islam changed the face of the globe. Polytheism and superstition blocked the progress and advancement of human development. Islam encouraged the investigation of nature and destroyed the ‘sanctity’ of nature.
Islam also destroyed the concept of intermediaries between God and man, such as the kings and priests who claimed as God’s representatives on earth or even the incarnations of God on earth. Polytheism (shirk) curbed freedom of thought. Polytheism and superstition were the major obstacles to all kinds of progress. Superstitious beliefs were an obstruction in the path of free enquiry. The search for new truths and discovery of nature’s secrets remained forbidden areas for them for centuries. Before the Islamic revolution, the world had been swept by superstitious belief and idolatry. The revolution based on Monotheism of Islam put an almost complete end to polytheism (shirk). The Greeks excelled in the fields of art and philosophy. Their contribution to the field of science (except Archimedes’ hydrostatics) was actually quite negligible. Plato’s teacher Socrates (may be construed as a Haneef) never worshipped the pagan gods which were worshipped by the Athenians in Greece and instilled free enquiry among the youth of Athens and for that he was forced to drink hemlock as a punishment in 399 BC. Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier in 212 BC failing to recognise him. The atmosphere for scientific progress did not exist in ancient Greece. Similarly, the mighty Roman Empire never produced a single scientist.
Islam with its foundation of monotheism created an atmosphere and environment and stimulated scientific research that lead to the conquest of natural phenomena. The modern age which is the age of science and industry, of freedom and equality is the direct consequence of the Islamic revolution rooted in the Qur’an.
From the sixth century to the 10th century Europe was in dark ages while the Islamic civilisation attained the pinnacles of science and technology. After the crusades the Europeans came in contact with the Islamic civilisation. They went to Muslim universities in Spain, Sicily, Cairo, and Baghdad. They translated the Arabic works into Latin for over two hundred years. The European renaissance started in the 15th century and culminated in the emergence of the modern industrial civilisation. Islamic revolution is responsible for the emancipation of human thought.
During the Abbasid era, paper was being manufactured on a large scale and so books could be produced without the dearth of paper. There were more than 400,000 books in the library of Cordova (Spain) in the tenth century, whereas in Europe at that time, the library of Canterbury-the top of the list of the Christian libraries-contained only 1800 books in the 13 the century.
In many countries scholars were born with creative minds who could think independently of the their fellow citizens. But due to the unfavourable atmosphere and hostile environment of times, their efforts could not be brought to fruition. Their knowledge withered away before they could flower. On the other hand, Islamic revolution produced favourable atmosphere, it unleashed a mighty flood of knowledge which had been kept pent up for thousands of years by the dam of polytheism (shirk) and superstition. For progress of Science and Technology an atmosphere of free investigation is essential. One may be surprised to know that even today there are some people and societies who believe that the earth is flat. Even today some Hindus with MD and Ph.D, degrees worship the Sun as god and believe that the lunar and solar eclipses are caused when the snakes Rahu and Ketu swallow them. One thousand years ago Abu Rayhan Al-Biruni explained how the solar and lunar eclipses are caused by the shadows of moon and earth falling on the sun and moon respectively. The Hindus believe in many gods and goddesses. The whole life is not enough to recite the names of so many gods and goddesses.
Islam is the religion of truth and it is balanced. The Glorious Qur’an denounces irrational religion as religion evidently false. Again and again the Qur’an urges men to use their reason, to ponder and to reflect. The West thinks there is conflict between religion and science; but for Muslims there is no conflict between Islam and Science. According to Dr. George Sarton, former Professor of History of Science at Harvard University, Islam is responsible for the meteoric rise of sciences during the middle ages while Europeans lived in the dark ages. This is because both the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S) extolled the Muslims to learn, to seek education and knowledge. In Islam there is no distinction between secular education and religious education.
The Noble Qur’an is not a scientific treatise. It is a Book of guidance, a Book of wisdom. However, there are more than 1200 verses (Ayath) which can be interpreted in the light of modern science. The Qur’an gave a great impetus to learning, particularly in the field of natural sciences. The Qur’an Majid may be called the cause of modern scientific and material progress.
Mankind is at the threshold of the 21st century in terms of the common era. This age is rightly called the information age with computers, electronic mail and business and commerce and the Internet with WEB pages. To a section of thinkers religion is alien to science. Science simply means a specialised branch of knowledge. In Arabic it is called ‘Ilm. A scientist in Arabic is called an ‘Alim. The West is wrong in separating Science from Religion. The great universal Muslim scientists about thousand years ago were at the forefront of knowledge particularly in the sciences and technology without ever giving up their religion. In fact Islam in general and the Qur’an in particular inspired the Muslim scientists to seek and advance knowledge. Hence they achieved all these without any conflict with religion. Today many western educated Muslims follow the western path of separation of religion from science. On the other hand, those Muslims trained in Islamic theology have refrained from modern sciences.
By moving away from the reading and in-depth study of the Qur’an Muslims have lost the golden opportunity of many a scientific discovery and advancement of knowledge. By moving away from their Scriptures the Western people made many scientific discoveries and inventions. This is because of the suppression and obscurantism practiced by the Church against the scientists and intellectuals in the past. Even the Scriptures themselves were a hurdle to the cause of seeking the truth through observation and experimentation as lucidly pointed by Dr. Maurice Bucaille in his most popular book “The Bible, Qur’an and Science.”
Science is not a divine Revelation but it provides a means for the welfare of man and to better understanding the creation of Allah (SWT), the natural phenomena and their purpose. In simplest terms, science means knowledge and Islam exhorts its followers to relentlessly pursue knowledge. The Noble Qur’an, Allah (SWT) ordained His servants to pray to Him thus:
“O Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” (20:114)
It is reported that the Messenger(SM) of Allah (SWT), to have once said, “Learning comprises treasure houses whose keys are queries.” Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) encouraged the spirit of investigation and analysis of facts. One of the most inspiring Ayats (verses) in the Qur’an is the following:
“And He has subjected to you, as from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth: behold, in that are signs indeed, for those who reflect.” (45:13)
To reflect is really the scientific spirit, which leads to understanding and discoveries about Allah’s (SWT) creation and natural phenomena. Allah (SWT) guides the efforts of the scientists to meaningful purpose.
We are enjoying the fruits of modern science and technology every second, every minute and every day. Examples: Electricity, microphone, AC., Automobiles, Airplanes, Space Travel, Missile Shield or Star Wars, Computers, Cyber Space and Internet, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, GPS-Global Position System, Cellular Phones, Digital Media Entertainment-TV, DVD, MP3, Tele-Medicine and Tele-Surgery, Artificial Organs: Abiocor, Organ Transplants-Hand transplant surgery, stem cells in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimers, Spinal Cord Injury, Diabetes, Heart tissue repairs, or any organ repair, etc. Simply put modern science and technology is improving the quality and longevity of life of a man or woman. One must be very cautious as Science and Technology is a double-edged sword and without Islamic ethics it can destroy every human being.
These fruit yielding trees were grown in Muslim lands such as Afghanistan, Bukhara, Baghdad, Cairo, Cordova, Damascus, Delhi, Granada, Fez, Isfahan, Qairwan, Seville, Sicily, Zeituna and other great cities throughout the Muslim World. These trees were grown from a single seed. What is that seed and who planted the seed and where was it planted? Without the advent of our Nabi Karim Muhammad Mustafa (SAW) and the final establishment of Monotheism or Tawhid on earth, none of what we take for granted in the modern world could possibly have developed. Muhammad Mustafa (SAW) planted the seed of Tawhid (La Ilaaha Illallah) in Hejaz in Arabia about 1400 years ago. La Ilaaha Illallah, literally means “No God Except Allah. It means there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah (SWT). Anyone can become a Muslim by reciting the Kalima or Shahadah La Ilaaha Illallah Muhammadur Rasuulullah”. The greatest achievement of our Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is that he made every Muslim a scientist by firmly instituting the concept Tawhid in body, soul and mind of every Muslim. For Sufis recitation of “La Ilaha Illallah” is the Tariqah (path) to the Haqiqah (Haqiqath) or the Ultimate Reality. Polytheism and superstition looked upon things and creatures as deities, and encouraged their worship. Before the advent of Islam as the complete Code of life polytheism dominated the entire world. Because of the polytheistic view, natural sciences had become forbidden territory and natural phenomena were given sanctity. Tawhid destroyed Polytheism, superstition, nature worship or worship of natural Phenomena. Tawhid created the intellectual frame of mind and opened the doors of research and investigation by displacing nature from its sacred pedestal and abolishing the practice of worshipping the natural phenomena.
Holding the moon to be sacred was a major obstacle to even thinking of conquering it. Sources as diverse as George Sarton, Bertrand Russell and Encyclopaedia Britannica, say. “We reach the conclusion that without monotheism the concepts of experimentation and scientific enquiry, not to mention modern industrialization, would not exist.” Historians acknowledge that Islam changed the face of the globe. Polytheism and superstition blocked the progress and advancement of human development.