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The Quranic Approach To Science
Oct 1, 1996

In order to understand the relationship between Islam and science, the following analogy may be apposite:For an author to write a book, he should first have the knowledge of what he will write. That is the general meaning of the book should exist in the author’s mind. Then, before setting out to write the book, he designs the general meaning: he gives it more definite form in his mind and then starts writing according to this form. To write a book means. by using necessary material things, moulding the meaning or content into letters, words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters. and thus making it known by others. However, if the author does not will to write it he will keep it in his mind. This means that even if he does not write the book, the book will continue to have a kind of existence. That is it will continue to exist in its author’s mind as meaning. After the book is written, people read it understand it and thus the book acquires another kind of existence in their minds and memories. Even if the book is lost or withdrawn, it will continue to exist in both the mind of the author and the memories of the readers.

To cite another example, for a palace to be built, first an architect conceives it and then gives form to his conception. Afterwards, he makes a plan of the palace. according to which the palace will be built. Building means the materialization of the architect’s conception of the palace in floors, rooms doors, windows, and so on by using the necessary material. Even if the palace is destroyed years later, it will continue to exist in the architect’s mind and in the memories of those who saw it.

The universe is like a book written by God or a palace built by Him, to make Himself known by conscious beings primarily including mankind. The universe essentially exists in God’s Knowledge in meaning. Creation means, through His Will, God Almighty’s specifying or giving a distinct character and form to that meaning in His Knowledge as species races families or individuals, and then through His Power, clothing each in matter and making each visible in the material realm contained in time and space. That is, the Divine Will specifies and forms and the Divine Power clothes and makes visible. After a thing ceases to exist, it continues to live both in God’s Knowledge and in memories and through its offspring. if it has any. For example, when a flower dies, it continues to exist in God’s Knowledge. in memories, and in its seeds.

We see that everything has five stages or degrees of existence. Essentially, it exists in the Creator’s Knowledge as meaning. Even if God Almighty did not create it, it would continue to exist in His Knowledge as meaning. Thus, that meaning constitutes the essential existence of everything. The second stage or degree of a thing’s existence is that it exists in the Divine Will as a form or ‘plan’. Then comes the stage of a thing’s material existence in the material realm. This is followed by its existence in memories and, if it has any, through its offspring. The fifth stage is its eternal existence in the other world. God Almighty will ‘use’ the wreck of this world in the construction of the other one, where animals will continue their existence, each species through a representative of its own, while each human being will find an eternal life which will have been designed for him according to his living in this world.

I hope now it is clear what kind of a relationship there is between science and Islam or the Qur’an. First of all, the universe, the subject-matter of the sciences is the realm where God’s Names are manifested and therefore has some sort of sanctity. Everything in it is a letter from God Almighty inviting us to study it to have knowledge of Him. Thus, the universe is the collection of those letters or as Muslim sages call it the Divine Book of Creation, issuing primarily, from the Divine Attributes of Will and Power. As for the Qur’an issuing from the Divine Will of Speech, it is the counterpart of the universe in written form. If we call the universe the Qur’an of Creation (al-Qur’an al-Takwini), we may call the Qur’an the Recorded Qur’an (al-Qur’an a-Tadwini). Just as there can be no conflict between a palace and the paper written to describe it there can also be no conflict between the universe and the Qur’an, which are two expressions of the same truth.

Similarly, man is also a Divine book corresponding to the Qur’an and the universe. It is because of this that the term used to signify the sentences of the Qur’an-ayah-also means events taking place within the souls of men and phenomena in the world of nature. Mans life is so mysteriously interrelated to the natural phenomena and events that, according to Ibn Sina (Avicenna), one who discerns these phenomena can draw hundred-per cent-true conclusions about the future of the world: that is to say, the laws of history can be deduced from what is going on in nature.

It is interesting that the first revelation of the Qur’an was: Read: in and with the name of your Lord Who created. He created man of an embryo suspended. Read: and your Lord is the Most Munificent. Who taught by the Pen, taught man that he knew not (96.1-3).

The Qur’an orders man to read at a time when there was nothing yet to read, this means he is commanded to read-study-the universe itself as the book of creation of which the Qur’an is the counterpart in letters or words. Man has to observe the universe and perceive its meaning and content, and as he perceives it he comes to know more deeply the beauty and splendour of the Creator’s system and the infinitude of His Might. Thus, it is incumbent upon man to penetrate into the manifold meanings of the universe, discover the Divine laws of nature and found a world where science and faith complement each other so that man will be able to perform his function as God’s vicegerent on earth and attain true bliss in both worlds.

Thus, as S. Hussain Nasr points out, revelation to man is inseparable from the cosmic revelation which is also a book of God. Islam. by refusing to separate man from nature and the study of nature from gnosis or its metaphysical dimension. has preserved an integral view of the universe and sees in the arteries of the cosmic and natural order the flow of Divine grace. From the bosom of nature man seeks to transcend nature and nature can be an aid in this process provided man learns to contemplate it as a mirror reflecting a higher reality. This is the reason why one finds in Islam an elaborate hierarchy of knowledge integrated by the principle of Divine Unity- juridical, social and theological sciences and also gnostic and metaphysical ones-and why so many Muslitn scientists like lbn Sina. Nasir al-Din al-Tusi. and Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum were either practising Sufis or were intellectually affiliated to the gnostic schools of Islam. A man like Ibn Sina could he a physician and Peripathetic philosopher and yet expound his Oriental philosophy which sought knowledge through illumination. Nasr al-Din al-Tusi was the leading mathematician and astronomer of his day and the author of an outstanding treatise on the metaphysical dimension of Islam. Ibn Jarir al-Tabari who is one of the most outstanding figures in Islamic jurisprudence, history and Qur’anic interpretation, wrote eleven centuries ago about how the winds fertilize clouds so that rain falls. The examples could be multiplied but these suffice to demonstrate that in Islam observation of nature and contemplation of it has always represented a very important aspect of the spiritual journey of a Muslim. Furthermore, there has been in Islam an intimate connection between sciences and other fields of Islamic studies. This connection is to be found in the Qur’an itself, which, as the Divine Scripture of Islam. corresponds to the macrocosmic revelation which is the universe.

Does the Qur’an allude to scientific developments?

Before answering this question. we should point out that however great a mistake it is to consider sciences as conflicting with religion and to consider scientific study as separate from and independent of the Qur’an. it is also a mistake of the same degree to reduce the Qur’an to being a book of sciences and try to show every new scientific theory or fact as compatible with it.

Scientific theories are usually like clothes which, after being put on for some time, are worn out and discarded. Trying to show that every new scientific fact or theory was predicted by the Qur’an is a display of inferiority complex and means giving priority to sciences over the Qur’an. Each verse and expression of the Qur’an has a universal content addressing each learning level of mankind at all times: any interpretation put forward during history points to only one aspect of that universal content. Every interpreter or every scientist and man of gnosis depending either on his spiritual discovery or intuition, or the evidence he obtains, or his natural disposition prefers one of those aspects. Besides, as was pointed out earlier, we accept both the physics of Newton and the physics of Einstein as ‘science and true. Although. in absolute terms, both may be false, there must certainly be some truth in both. Causality is a veil God Almighty has spread over the rapid flux of existence so that we could plan our lives to some degree, and therefore both the physics of Newton and the physics of Einstein are relatively true. In short, while pondering the Qur’anic verses, we should take into consideration the relative truths in existence and our lives, which are much more numerous than the unchanging absolute truths.

By way of an example of the multiple meanings of the Qur’anic expressions. consider the verses He let forth the two seas that meet together, between them a barrier they do not overpass (55.19-20). which are ardently repeated by saintly people in their daily recitations. There is an indication to all of the pairs of ‘seas’ or realms, spiritual and material. figurative and actual. from the realms of Lordship and servanthood to the spheres of necessity and contingency, from this world to the Hereafter, including the visible corporeal world and the World of the Unseen, the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Mediterranean and Red Sea, salt water and sweet water in the seas and under the earth, and the big rivers such as the Euphrates and Tigris carrying sweet water and salty seas to which they flow. All of these, together with many others I do not deem necessary to mention here, are included in the content of the aforementioned Qur’anic verses, whether in a literal or figurative sense. Because of this, even if we see that a Qur’anic verse or expression exactly points to an established scientific fact, we should not restrict its meaning to that fact, rather, we should take all other possible meanings and interpretations into consideration.

However, this does never mean that the Qur’an does not point or allude to any scientific development and fact, Being the Divine Revelation which includes everything of wet or dry (6.59), it should certainly not exclude scientific developments and facts. Indeed. it refers to them directly or indirectly, but not in the manner of science and materialistic or naturalistic philosophy. It is not a book of science that it should speak of the cosmological or scientific matters elaborately. It is the eternal interpretation of the book of the universe and the interpreter of sciences dealing with the phenomena of creation. It comments upon the visible and invisible worlds, and discloses the spiritual treasures of the Divine Beautiful Names in the heavens and the earth. The Qur’an is the key with which the hidden realities behind the events taking place in both nature and human life may be perceived. and is the tongue of the Hidden World in the Manifest World. It is like the sun shining in the spiritual and intellectual sky of Islam. and is the sacred map of the next world. It is the expounder of the Divine attributes. Names and acts, and the educator of mankind guiding them to truths and virtues. It is a book of law and wisdom, a book of worship and prayer, a book of Divine commands and prohibitions, and also a book which contains everything to satisfy man’s spiritual and intellectual needs.

There is actually no problem of a theological, social, economic, political, or even scientific nature that the Qur’an does not deal with briefly or in detail, directly or by allusion or symbolically. However, its method of’ approach and presentation is unique to itself and inimitable by mankind. It expressly says that it has adopted a special manifold method of its own which is termed tasrifi that is the display of varieties of topics and the shifting from one subject to another and then the reverting to the previous one and repeating the same subject with deliberation and purpose thus showing the essentially integral character of existence and displaying unity within multiplicity. It uses unique and rhythmic forms of recitation to facilitate understanding and memorization.

Also the Qur’an considers the creation not for its own sake, but for the sake of knowledge of its Creator. By contrast, science besides considering the creation only for its own sake, addresses particularly those specialized in it. The Quran addresses the whole of mankind, and since it uses creation as evidence and proof to guide mankind, and the majority of’ mankind are common people the evidence should be manifest and obvious in order to be understood by the common people easily, and guidance requires that things of little importance should be touched on only and the subtle points be made understandable by means of parables and comparisons. In order not to mislead people into errors, it should not change things which in their view are obvious in a way which will be of no use or may even be harmful to them.

Essentially like every other thing in existence, sciences have their sources in one of the Beautiful Names of God Almighty. It is the Name the All-Healing that shines on medicine: geometry and engineering depend on the Names the All-Just, the All-Shaping and the All-Harmonizing and philosophy reflects the Name the All-Wise and so forth. As was pointed out above, the Creator has referred in His Book, the holy Qur’an to everything that He has allowed man to learn and a means to his material and spiritual progress. Since the Qur’an’s primary aim is to make God Almighty known to man, to open the way to faith and worship and organize man’s individual and social life, thus guiding man to perfect happiness in both worlds, it makes references to things and events, as well as to scientific facts, to achieve this aim. So it mentions each thing proportionally to its significance with respect to this aim: the more significant a thing is the greater right it has to be mentioned in the Qur’an. Thus, the Qur’an while elaborately explaining the pillars of faith fundamentals of religion, and the foundations of human life and essentials of worship hints at some other things according to their significance for human life, The meaning of a verse may be compared to a rosebud: it is hidden by successive layers of petals. A new meaning is perceived as each petal unfolds, and everyone discovers one of those meanings according to his capacity and is satisfied with it.

Examples of the Qur’an’s references to scientific facts and developments

The Qur’an hints at technological advances and marks their final development, besides many other ways by mentioning the miracles of’ the Prophets. It encourages man to fly in the air and alludes implicitly to the fact that one day man will be able to make spaceships and aircraft, by the verse. ‘And to Solomon (We subjugated) the wind: its morning course was a month’s journey, and its evening course was a month’s journey (34.12). It also invites man to search the remedy of every illness in the verse. (Jesus said): I also heal the blind and the leper and bring to lift the dead, by the leave of God (3.49) and hints that man will one day be able to cure every illness and thus gives the impression as if death would no longer overtake man. By the verse, Said he who possessed knowledge of the Book. ‘I will bring it (the throne of the Queen of the Yemen) to you (to Solomon in Jerusalem) before ever your glance returns to you (27.40) the Qur’an foretells that one day images or even the things themselves will be transmitted in a moment through knowledge of the Divine book of the universe, just as a man who possesses knowledge of the Book of Divine Revelation is able to bring things from a long distance before his glance returns to him. The Qur’an also symbolically informs us that it might be possible to identify the killer of a person by sonic cells taken front his body at the time of death by narrating that the killer of a person was found out in the time of the Prophet Moses upon him be peace, by smiting the slain man with part of a cow the Children of Israel were ordered to slaughter by God Almighty (2.7 1-2). There are many other examples in the Qur’an of allusions to the scientific and technological advances to be made by mankind in the future, but these instances suffice to give an indication of the matter.

The Qur’an being the Divine Revelation for every age and every person until the Day of Judgement, has great depths of meaning: it is an infinite ocean in which every person of knowledge and ability can dive deeply, and according to his capacity finds its pearls and coral. Its scientific wisdom is, as it were, rejuvenated with the passage of time. Every generation discovers its wisdom anew, and its secrets continue to be revealed with the passage of time.

In a verse about the creation of the universe, ‘Then He turned to the sky when it was smoke, and said to it and to the earth. ‘Come willingly or unwillingly.’ They said: ‘We come willingly’ (40.1 I), the Qur’an indicates that there is a difficulty in the cooperation between the earth and sky. As is known, the molecules and atoms in the atmosphere try to escape into space while the earth tries to attract and hold them. For the formation of an atmosphere, the motions leading to the force of escaping molecules has to be counterbalanced by the gravitational attraction of the earth. This is an almost impossibly difficult, condition to fulfil. From the standpoint of geophysics, these extremely difficult conditions require the preservation of three important balances: (i) atmospheric temperature. (ii) proportionate gravitational attraction on the part of the earth, and (iii) the non- violation of this balance by various radiant energies arriving from space. The Qur’an expresses all these facts by the phrases. ‘Then He turned to the heaven… and said to the heaven, and the earth. ‘Come willingly o,’ unwillingly’. That the almost impossible conditions are fulfilled only by God’s power is indicated by the phrase. They said: ‘We come willingly’.

Verses 12- 14 of surah al-Mu‘mi-un-Surely ,We created man from a filtered product of wet earth; then placed him as a drop of seed in a safe lodging: then fashioned We the drop a suspended clot, then fashioned We the clot a little lump, then fashioned We the little lump bones, then clothed the bones with flesh, and then produced it us another creation. So blessed be God, the Best of creators!,-explicitly mentions the stages a human embryo undergoes in the womb until it grows into a human being. This information the Qur’an gave fourteen centuries ago has recently been confirmed by the science of embryology, a fact which proves the Divine authorship of the Qur’an and the Prophethood of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.

The verse, ‘Glory to be Him. Who created in pairs all things that the earth produces, as well as their own selves, and many other things of which, they know nothing (36.36), after beginning with the warning that God Himself is beyond being involved in any double or pairing, any likeness or equal, proceeds to tell of the existence of created things in pairs. a condition of opposition simultaneously with similarity. The scientific definition of the creation in pairs implies ‘similar opposites’. The Qur’an gives three examples of existence in pairs: (i) pairs produced by the earth (positron-electron, proton-antiproton, neutron-antineutron; pairs that differ in their physical and chemical characteristics. e.g. metals and nonmetals, biologically composed pairs: male and female sexes of plants and animals, and physically opposed pairs); (ii) pairs of their selves (man and woman, personality traits such as compassionate and cruel, generous and mean, and traits which are similar but subject to opposed value judgements such as true and false. etc.): (iii) pairs we do not know about. The discovery in contemporary physics of ‘parity’ (creation in pairs) has been hailed as a major turning point in the advancement of knowledge, an idea that was mentioned fourteen centuries ago by the Qur’an.

The verse, He is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, and all that lies between them, He is the Lord of the easts (37.15), indicates the spherical shape of planets and their rotations because the concept of the ‘Easts’ introduces infinite dimensions, and differs for each location on the earth. A point on the earth is in the east with respect to its western regions, therefore the ‘East’ concept is different at every point on earth, and these form an ensemble of easts. Besides, there are 180 points of sunrise, that is, the sun rises at one place for only two days in a year so there are 180 ‘easts’. Therefore, this verse is also indicative of meridians as well as of infinite dimensions, and of the relativity of space and the spherical shape of planets as well as the rotation of the earth.

The French scientist Jacques Cousteau has discovered that the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean differ in terms of their chemical and biological constitution. He conducted various undersea investigations at the straits of Gibraltar in order to explain this phenomenon, concluding that unexpected fresh water springs issue from the southern and northern coasts of Gibraltar. These water sprouts gush towards each other at an angle of 45 forming a reciprocal dam like the teeth of a comb. Due to this fact, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean cannot intermingle. Subsequent to this assessment, Cousteau was amazed upon being shown the Qur’anic verse. ‘He has let forth the two seas, that meet together Between them a barrier, they do not overpass’ (55.19-20). These verses, of which some other connotations we pointed out above, further invite our attention to the plankton composition of the seas, and to the flora and fish distributions that change with variations in temperature.

There are many other verses in the Qur’an which shed light upon scientific facts, and invite everyone to study. Certainly, the day will come when God will have shown mankind His signs in the outer world, as well as in their own inner worlds and it will be manifest to them that the Qur’an is the truth: We shall show then? Our signs in the outer world and in their own selves until it will he manifest to them that it (the Qur’an) is the truth (48.53). Humankind will more concentrate on sciences in future and the Qur’an, which is the counterpart in letters of the universe, the realm where God’s Names are manifested, will prove itself to be Gods Revelation.

You may ask why then have Muslims not developed sciences and discovered such Qur’anic truths, and why are they under the dominion of the West?

As we explained earlier, to the extent that the time and the prevalent conditions allowed them to, Muslims did discover the truths of the Qur’an and, obeying its injunctions, founded a magnificent civilization, which lasted for many centuries.

A typical example: while explaining the meaning of the verse, We send the wind fertilizing, and cause water to descend from the sky, and give it you to drink (15.22). Ibn Jarir al-Tabari writes about how the winds fertilize clouds so that rain may form. The verse clearly mentions the winds fertilizing clouds because it is about the formation of rain. As has recently been discovered, clouds are also charged with electricity and it is only when positive and negative poles in clouds form a circuit that rain forms.

Also, in his Tafsir named al-Bahr al-Muhir, Ahu Hayyan al-Andalusi records from Abu Ja’far ibn al-Zuhayr that from the initial verses of surah al-Rum. Alif Lam Mim. The Romans have been defeated in the nearer land, and they, after their defeat will be victorious. Within nine years-God’s is command in the former case and in the latter-and in that day believers will rejoice in God’s help to victory. He helps to victory whom He wills. He is the Mighty, the Merciful, Abu’l Hakem ibn Barrajan deduced many years before the exact date-with its year, month and day-the recapture of Jerusalem by Muslims from the Crusaders in 1187.

Islam ruled two-thirds of the old civilized world for at least eleven centuries. During its whole history of fourteen centuries, it has had to confront continual onslaughts from both the East and West and it was able to retain its superiority until the eighteenth century. However, when moral and spiritual decay and laziness and negligence of what was going on around them were added to the endless attacks from the West and East, the magnificence and supremacy of the Islamic civilization began to decline until its collapse in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Military victories and a sense of superiority had induced the Muslims to become content with what they had achieved and to neglect further researches in sciences. They had abandoned themselves to living their own lives, reciting the Qur’an but without ever studying its deeper meanings. Meanwhile the Western world made had been making great advances in sciences and technology, which they had carried forward from the Islamic civilization. As already mentioned in this book, sciences are in reality the languages of the Divine book of creation and an aspect of religion. Therefore, whoever neglects to study this book and benefit from it is destined to lose in the worldly life, and this negligence was one of the main reasons why Muslims fell under the domination of the West.

It is impossible that the present Western civilization will endure long since it is materialistic and far from satisfying man’s perennial needs. Western sociologists such as Oswald Spengler and others have predicted the collapse of this civilization, which is against basic human nature and values. Either it will abandon itself to its inevitable decay or equip itself with the creeds and moral and spiritual values of Islam, as well as its social and economic principles. In other words, Muslims will re-discover that, in essence, science and religion are two aspects of the same reality and know that to be a Muslim means, first of all, to represent the beauties of Islam in practical life. The luminous world of the future will be founded upon the firm foundations of Islamic morality, spirituality and its socio-economic and political order.