VIEW : Science vs Islam — Syed Kamran Hashmi
Muslim scholars from all over the world have attempted to explain Islamic concepts and practices on scientific grounds
For centuries, Islam has fostered the message of equality, peace and patience to humanity. Through its inherent forbearance and magnanimity, it has won over the hearts and minds of Muslims, conquering their souls, and permanently settling in it. Muslims therefore, are always passionate about their religion and are protective of its ideology. Even those Muslims who do not practice it strictly are deeply attached to it. They are mesmerised by the universality of its concepts and impressed by its unique socialistic ideas. They analyse the community benefits of praying together five times a day, discuss Zakat and its economic impact, mull over the significance of pilgrimage in their spiritual lives and appreciate the role of fasting to develop compassion and show solidarity with the impoverished sections of society.
At the same time, like any other world-religion, Muslims also get intimidated by the technological advances and scientific developments of the last few centuries. They realise that this progress has changed the entire meaning of human existence in modern times. They also understand its impact on religion that has suffered tremendously. Having lost its importance in everyday life all over the world, it is essentially absent in the western lifestyle. Furthermore, some of them believe that spirituality and moral values have lost the ultimate battle of conscience in Europe and have been replaced by materialism, greed and narcissism. At the same time, they suspect that many far Eastern societies are breaking away from their old Eastern mystical traditions and falling for temporary comforts and mundane luxuries. In these formidable circumstances, they reckon that the only way to safeguard Islam would be to align both the worlds — the spiritual and the scientific — together and bring them on the same page. Therefore, Muslim scholars from all over the world have attempted to explain Islamic concepts and practices on scientific grounds. Some of them have quoted the importance of fasting as a part of healthy living and others stress on vazu (washing of hands, feet and face) as a part of staying clean and reducing the incidence of infectious diseases among those who pray regularly.
Similarly in the subcontinent, many scholars from Allama Muhammad Iqbal to Professor Ahmed Rafique Akhtar have ventured to attain the same objective: prove the validity of Islamic principles on scientific grounds. On the one hand, they sought to explain or prove the divine revelations in their philosophical theses and on the other hand, they strove to simplify the concept of the big bang and black holes through the interpretations of various Quranic versus. Although their work and effort is commendable, yet it requires specialisation in both religion (Quran, fiqh and Ahadees) and a firm understanding of the scientific method, newest ideas and the latest discoveries.
Accordingly, the scope of their task is remarkably onerous: they not only have to keep up with the advances in Nano technology, Quantum Physics, cadaver and live organ transplants but also have to expound the basic concept of an interest-free economy and Islamic financing. Ordinary people who specialise in their respective fields typically spend decades in research before they develop some command in the areas of their interest, which is usually a very small section of a particular sub-specialty. For that reason, it is unfathomable for religious scholars — as competent and as sincere as they may be — to completely understand the intricacies of all the advanced scientific concepts without making errors. On that account, we can easily surmise that the likelihood for them to make a fatal mistake is directly proportional to their lack of understanding of either the fundamental Islamic concepts or complex scientific theory.
We can also agree that during their pursuit of truth, they must also realise their incapacity to grasp the enormity of scientific literature and at that vantage point, they must make a choice: either to keep the two realities at a distance or to bridge their differences through the dangerous route of interpretations. If they pick the latter option, they invariably have to stretch their imaginations; dependent on their vocabulary, they have to trust their oratory and create more confusion in an attempt to reduce it, through their linguistic skills. In this manner unfortunately, a relatively straightforward verse is turned into the most esoteric and arcane concept like the Jewish Kabbalah.
In addition, because of the ever-changing nature of scientific concepts, sooner or later their argument is negated by the newer research. Even if the purpose of the new study was not to testify to or oppose the Quranic verse, it ends up doing just that. Consequently, scholars have to re-interpret the same verse in an entirely different manner to avoid redundancy and self-contradiction.
Considering these obstacles, maybe it is time for all of us to avoid substantiating the validity of our religion through scientific research because the latter is not divine and is bound to change with more information. On the other hand, the Quran is divine; it is permanent, true and unalterable that should be kept separate from the fluctuating mundane discoveries.
The writer is a US-based freelance columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org