The Pursuit of Science in the Islamic Religion

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Scientific knowledge is a very unique kind of knowledge that helped in making stunning investigations on how the whole universe behaves naturally, also the technology used in that learning process (scientific knowledge) was and still is amazing for the whole people, such as mobile phones, computers, and the car roads (Ayala, 1994). Science itself has an innovative part, which concerns the creation of any scientific hypothesis, also it has an analytical part, which considers making hypotheses as subjects to testing and examinations (Ayala, 1994), in other words, they are subjects to the scientific method. The scientific method is initialized with a scientific question, then a hypothesis should be the starting point of that question, because it will instruct the experiments and observations, next the observations are subject to make experiments for hypotheses (Ayala, 1994), and finally Jacob (1988) demonstrated that when the outcome of any tested hypothesis has reached, it is sometimes could be valuable to develop new theses could be subject to experimentation (as found in Ayala, 1994). From an Islamic perspective, the scientific method components were used early in the era of Ibn al-Haytham, an old Muslim scientist (Tbakhi & Amr, 2007). Steffens (2006) and El-Bizri (2006) stated that Ibn al-Haytham approach was to verify and prove any scientific hypothesis using separate checking and duplicate inspections, theses, and experiment testing (as found in Tbakhi & Amr, 2007). A piece of obvious evidence on that is his book “Kitab Al Manazer,” which described an observation that disagrees with modern beliefs about human eye reception of light (Tbakhi & Amr, 2007). It says that the eye must collect the reflected light, not the emitted one (Tbakhi & Amr, 2007). The science concept in Western societies is different from the Islamic view of that concept (Mansur, 2011; Tbakhi & Amr, 2007). That because most Muslims believe that scientific research must be a value-based process, and this is not available in Western methodology (Loo, 1996). One of them is Ziauddin Sardar, a contemporary Muslim scientist (1989), implied that the Islamic science is a learning process “whose processes and methodologies” involve manners of Islam (as found in Loo, 1996). This paper will focus on four Muslim modernists responses on the modern scientific method: Ziauddin Sardar, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and Abdus Salam.

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Ziauddin Sardar and the Responsibility and Halal Concepts in Science

Ziauddin Sardar, a Muslim modernist who is well-known for his “tawhidic” ideology (Loo, 1996). Al-Faruqi (1982) explained that this ideology focuses only on the concept of one God (Allah), then Abusulayman (1989) expanded the definition of the one Allah to four parts: The one truth, the one life, the one humanity, and the one creation (as found in Loo, 1996). Sardar took more concentration on the one life part or “the Unity of Life” (Loo, 1996). This part’s definition had been demonstrated in 1991 by Osman Bakar, as he illustrated that the one life has philosophical, physical, and spiritual cases (as found in Loo, 1996). The world of nature belongs to first two states, and the human beings are with the spiritual one, so by unifying those cases then “the Unity of Life” exists (as found in Loo, 1996). The paradigm of one life is related to divine honesty (“amanah”) (Loo, 1996). This honesty states that the earth belongs to God (Allah) and the humankind is responsible for what he does on the earth (Loo, 1996). That means the human person is wholly responsible for himself environment and his outside environment as well (Loo, 1996). To engage deeply on Sardar’s replies on the modern scientific methodology, there was a conference about the connection between the good manners and science in the Swedish capital Stockholm, sponsored by the International Federation of Institutes of Advanced Study (Loo, 1996). This conference determined core Islamic keywords to identify the quality of Islamic scientific research: “tawhid,” “istislah,” “ilm,” “adl,” “ibadah,” “khilafah,” “zalim,” “dhiya,” “halal,” and “haram” (Loo, 1996), then, in 1988, Sardar derived from those words that every “halal” science, including scientific method, is that can help in making better societies in all life sectors, like the spiritual one, and every “haram” or “zalim” science can do the opposite of what can the “halal” one make (as found in Loo, 1996). The argument before asserts his complaint about the shortage of moral guides in the Western science methodology, with the scientific method (Guessoum, 2008). An example for that assertion is that a scholar named Steven Weinberg (1993) talked that the so-called “particular string theory” stated that there are mathematical processes of quantitative mechanics of strings are not done by hand of human, so he thinks that it could be a nice illustration to contemplate on God, however Weinberg concluded that there is a lack in ethics that could lead to discover the existence of God (as found in Sardar, 1994). In my belief, I stand with the concept of moral responsibility of humankind about his surrounded environment and I ratify that it is a strong reason to make or redefine the ethical science, which Sardar adopts it, furthermore the Holy Qur’an has mentioned that in the below part of the 105th verse of Surat al-Tawba: (وقل اعملوا فسيرى الله عملكم ورسوله والمؤمنون) (Qur’an 9:105) By this verse, the science, from my point of view, is a huge duty and Allah will reward the scientist based on how he behaved to make his knowledge beneficial to his people and the whole nature, as the Sardar’s halal paradigm of science claimed.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr and the Unity of Scientific Truth

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, another Islamic modernist who has as same intellect as Sardar, but he belongs to the one truth school or “the Unity of Truth and Knowledge” part (Loo, 1996). In 1992, Al-Edrus described that this part of doctrine emphasizes on Quranic information with certitude and no doubt (as found in Loo, 1996). Nasr’s core thought about science, covering scientific method, is of treating the Holy Qur’an as a primary source to derive scientific facts (Loo, 1996), and in his book “Islam and Contemporary Society” in 1982, he said that any real Islamic knowledge should not be gotten from “human reason” (as found in Loo, 1996), since the reasoning path might be subject to failure and inaccuracy when the way of getting scientific truth is based on quantitative laws and analyses (Ramchahi et al., 2016). To relate to experimental sciences, it is known that materialism is the leading pattern of the philosophy in the West, but Nasr uses the concept of the one truth to study sciences deeply, considering the human soul (Loo, 1996). The question is: Is the materialism and spiritualism an oxymoron? The answer is on how the concept of the unity of fact exists for both materialism and spiritualism (Loo, 1996), which will be explained in the following stanzas. There is a simple instance of comparison between quantitative and theological methods to solve the metaphysical and physical struggles (Loo, 1996). In 1992, Hoodbhoy brought out a calculating law from one of Dr. M.M. Qureshi’s seminars to find the amount of the good rewards from Allah “sawab” after doing each prayer (as found in Loo, 1996), in a trial to relate quantitative approach with Islamic standards of faith (Loo, 1996). But one of the scholars named Alparslan Acikgenc had disagreed with that because, in his ironic react to a book by Hoodbhoy, he thought that any Muslim scholar could treat some unearthly matter like something on the earth that is easy to determine its quantities, such as “the temperature of hell” (Loo, 1996). On the other hand of comparison, there is a theological methodology to interpret matters (Loo, 1996). Nasr’s follower, Osman Bakar (1991) suggested two parts of theological scientific method: The first one is related to the outside claim of sacred Qur’an (“tafsir”), and the second part is more focused on the spiritual claim of it (“ta’wil”) (as found in Loo, 1996). There was an example of testing the concept of “ta’wil” and proving it scientifically (Loo, 1996). In 1989, Sardar mentioned about how a scientist called Rashad Khalifa disbelieve in some of Quranic verses and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) after he did a failed experiment of testing the concept of “ta’wil” by trying to get a communicating linkage with God as he pretended (as found in Loo, 1996). From my personal view, Western materialism and Islamic spiritualism are non-contradictory thoughts, because the spiritualism, in my belief, can be treated as a guide during testing the quantitative and materialistic premises, in order to help the experts in validating their experiences based on, and the spiritualism can be found in the Qur’anic verses and the Prophetic Hadith, meanwhile I ratify that the theological method of science cannot be subject to the scientific method since Allah answered any questioner on the spiritual and metaphysical issues in the following verse: (ويسألونك عن الروح قل الروح من أمر ربي وما أوتيتم من العلم إلا قليلاً) (Qur’an 17:85) I think that the verse is a solid, enough response to Rashad Khalifa who did an experiment to prove the existence of something spiritual like “ta’wil,” so the spiritual issues, in my opinion, are incapable of debating or testing.

Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and His Reaction to Ernest Renan

Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani was considered as the strongest supporter of Islamic modernism (Kurzman, 2002). He traveled through many countries to get the knowledge he needed, also he learnt some of the contemporary sciences in some of those countries (Kurzman, 2002). Al-Afghani was focusing on Muslims unity and strength (Kurzman, 2002; Tariq, 2011), and he interested in repairing the new science (Kurzman, 2002). He had students that became later famous philosophers and modernists, like Mohammad Abduh and Qasim Amin (Tariq, 2011). Keddie (1983) and Cündioğlu (1996) implied that Jamal al-Din al-Afghani had become prominent after he replied on one of the most famous topics “Islam and Science” for the French expert in the religion affairs Ernest Renan (as found in Ringer & Holly Shissler, 2015), which contained biased opinions against Islamic response on the evolution of technology (Ringer & Holly Shissler, 2015). Renan believed that the Muslim’s civilization had felt down as a result of suspending the rationalism (Ringer & Holly Shissler, 2015), plus he mentioned a lot in some of his past essays and places that the rationalism should not be restricted by religious conditions (as found in Ringer & Holly Shissler, 2015). The whole reaction of al-Afghani to Renan’s arguments on “Islam and Science” had some agreements and more conflictions with them (Ringer & Holly Shissler, 2015). From the similarities between al-Afghani and Renan approaches, they were claiming to make a conjunction between rationalism and religious thought to strengthen science (Ringer & Holly Shissler, 2015), additionally they thought that when the time runs forward, there is a gradual development in the human being comprehension of the notions of the religion (Ringer & Holly Shissler, 2015). On the part of contradictions, al-Afghani rejected the hypothesis stated by Renan (Ringer & Holly Shissler, 2015), which was about the ability of rationalizing Christianity and the difficulty of rationalizing Islam as well, as derived from a book written by Olivier Roy (2007) (as found in Ringer & Holly Shissler, 2015), next al-Afghani was skeptical about what Renan want to mention about the Islamic approach of Science, and he said that each religion has his own restrictions on the scientific method, even the Christian religion (Kurzman, 2002). In a specific example of the obstacles that religions put towards sciences, al-Afghani realized that Islam was to stop the process of scientific method, then the procedure of looking for fact had been finished, in his opinion, the Christian religion had witnessed the fight against the mistake soul by the “leaders of Catholic church” and that what the scientific progress had stopped with them too (Kurzman, 2002). One might think that al-Afghani liked to Islamize the modern science and he gave a good comparison between the situations of Islam and Christianity in the past towards modern science to convince Renan about the possibility of making Islam comfortable with the science.

Abdus Salam and the Full Engagement on Modern Science

The last contemporary Muslim scientist in this paper is Abdus Salam. He famed from his experience on physics of quantum, and he won one of Nobel rewards related to that experience in the 20th century (Loo, 1996). In his life, Salam focused on researching topics related to the field of quantum physics more than the Islamic methodology of science (Loo, 1996). He had disciples such as the philosopher in science Pervez Hoodbhoy (Loo, 1996), who has mentioned several times before in this research, additionally he is one of the supporters of involving high levels of technology to the Muslim world and separating the religion from the scientific knowledge (Loo, 1996). In 1992, Abdus Salam pointed out that the modern Western technology has made a positive impact in any society lifestyle, and he thought that the recent science, including scientific method, has not engaged enough in Islam, so it has a weak position in this religion (as found in Loo, 1996). In comparison with other non-Muslim nations’ opinions on the contemporary science, Salam implied in one of 1984 conferences that the scientific progress in Japan, China, and India did not let them see that their customs are marginal things in their life (as found in Loo, 1996). His follower, Hoodbhoy, stood to his approach on Islamic science in 1992, by saying that the science is useful for interpreting the world’s materials, on the other hand using the religion is focusing on unearthly and spiritual inquires when it comes to science, covering scientific method, so he derived that there should be a boundary between modern science and faithful beliefs (as found in Loo, 1996). Hoodbhoy (1992) did not admire any opinion about the assistance of science in stabilizing good manners by looking at the knowledge everywhere (as found in Loo, 1996). My thought is to disagree with both Abdus Salam response on the Western science and methodology, including the experimental science, and his disciple Hoodbhoy reaction on the same topic, because I think that the Islamic religion cannot have a negative effect on the spirit of scientific knowledge and scientific method, but it organizes them and keeps them in a moral behavior, not to destroy societies, as Ziauddin Sardar said, in addition according to the part of Abdus Salam perspective that the material science could not affect some of the world’s countries, one might say that the modern scientific knowledge, by just its materiality, could be fine with those people, and not fine with me, as a Muslim, because it might remove the God from the equation as in humanism.


The research has demonstrated a rational relationship between Islam and the scientific method. Each of the four contemporary Muslims Ziauddin Sardar, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and Abdus Salam has his own way to respond to the revolution of science. Sardar emphasized on how to be responsible on the earth could interact with the science in order to use it well. Nasr has tried to make modern science more Islamized in order to achieve the approach of the unity of scientific truth. The response of al-Afghani to Ernest Renan was concerned about the limits religions put on modern science and the methods of adapting with it. Salam was not fully eager to Islamize the science. It could be derived that there is a possible Islamic method to adapt and keep in track with the development of modern science, which is to relook every time at the barriers and the traditional beliefs that existed in their old years and not to remove the existence of God during explanation of the natural and metaphysical phenomena.

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