From the Muslim Sunrise: Truth and Science

Source: Muslim Sunrise Fall 2015 volume; which is the oldest quarterly Muslim publication of Americas

By Khaula Rehman MD, Binghamton NY

Over one half of young Americans, 63% to be precise, of 18-29 years old now believe in the notion that invisible, non-corporeal entities called “demons” can take partial or total control of human beings, revealed an October 2012 Public Policy Polling survey that also showed this belief isn’t declining among the American population generally; it’s growing.i

The scientific community, be they biologists, physicists or psychologists, have found no evidence for demons in our world.  Why such a large population in the most advanced country of the world, believes in something, for which there is no clear evidence?  It is due to a culture that has evolved over the last two millennia and has inherited many of its strengths and weaknesses from the Bible.  The Bible contains several verses about demons and many of them refer to Jesus, may peace be on him, performing exorcism or talking to his disciples about such matters.

This is discussed in detail in an article, in the Muslim Times: Exorcism: Is the Bible to Blame?ii

Despite mounting evidence for common ancestry of all life forms or evolution, in molecular biology and biogeography, approximately 45% of US population denies these scientific findings, banking on overzealous reading of the Bible.  Several other examples of distorted ideas can be cited from both the Christian and the Muslim traditions, contemporary and past.

So, what is the truth and what is falsehood?  Are demons for real or not?  Did Charles Darwin have any genuine contributions to our understanding of the world?

How do we know the truth? How can we defeat superstition?  Where does our knowledge come from?

Many of the religiously inclined get their information from their scripture, be it the Bible or the Quran.  Revelation is surely one of the sources of human knowledge.

God has not only guided mankind through the prophets, He also revealed various aspects of secular knowledge.  Thomas Edison the famous American inventor, who, singly or jointly, held a world record of 1,093 patents, did most of his creative work at night subconsciously. The great French writer, Voltaire, known for his courageous crusader against tyranny, bigotry, and cruelty, frequently spent as much as fifteen to sixteen hours in bed, calling his secretary when there was anything to be committed to writing.  There are numerous examples of creative work accomplished by men who moved through their activities with leisure and balance. Alfred Russell Wallace became a public figure during the second half of the 19th century, known for his courageous views on scientific, social, and spiritualist subjects. His formulation of the theory of evolution by natural selection, which predated Charles Darwin’s published contributions, is his most outstanding legacy.  He would go for days and weeks feeling no desire or interest in work. During these periods he occupied himself with his garden or simply by reading a novel. Then, a sudden impulse would come bringing him an explanation, a theory, a discovery, the plan of a book, and this impulse usually came to him like a flash of light. Subconscious activity generally brought with it not only plans but the material, the arguments and the needed illustrations.  Zia H Shah MD has examined the contributions of revelation in scientific and secular arena, in a detailed article, Al Aleem: The Bestower of true Dreams.iii

The concept of knowledge through revelation and prophethood was defined in the very first revelation to the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him.  Gabriel revealed to him, in the year 610:

Convey thou in the name of thy Lord Who created,

Created man from a clot of blood.

Convey! And thy Lord is Most Generous,

Who taught manby the pen,

Taught man what he knew not. (Al Quran 96:2-6)

The second source of human knowledge is human observation of the mundane world around him and reason and logic.

“I think, therefore I am”, or better “I am thinking, therefore I exist” is a philosophical proposition by René Descartes, which he wrote in his book Principles of Philosophy, in 1644. He expressed this in Latin by saying: Cogito ergo sum. The simple meaning of the Latin phrase is that thinking proves a thinker exists.

This proposition became a fundamental element of Western philosophy and science, as it was perceived to form a foundation for all knowledge. While other knowledge could be a figment of imagination, deception or mistake, the very act of doubting one’s own existence arguably serves as proof of the reality of one’s own existence, or at least of one’s thought.

Science developed in this Cartesian paradigm, created by Rene Descartes and other pioneers of European renaissance and scientific revolution happened over the next four centuries and the rest is history.

This is how we know the scientific truths that have led to our cell phones, computers and cars and have landed man on moon and may soon land humanity on mars and other planets or other moons.

When we evaluate contributions of these two sources of knowledge, we see two extreme phenomena.  Those who have put undue emphasis on human reason and have not been adequately guided by revelation have become agnostics or atheists in the Western countries.  On the other hand those who have over emphasized revelation and not adequately interpreted it in the light of human reason and observation have become Taliban in the Muslim tradition or Evangelical fundamentalists in the Christian tradition.

There are two incidents from the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, which instruct us in how to create enlightened balance between human reason and revelation. Here I quote from a Turkish Muslim writer Mustafa Akyol’s book’s, Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty, chapter: Freedom from the State:

Among the many episodes from the life of the Prophet Muhammad, two are exceptionally curious.

The first is a short discussion between the Prophet and one of his companions right before the famous Battle of Badr, which took place in 624, between Medinan Muslims and Meccan pagans. The night before the battle, the Muslim army had to camp nearby, and the Prophet, as commander in chief, suggested one location. Yet one of his men, al-Mundhir, felt that staying on higher ground would be preferable. So he walked up to the Prophet and asked, ‘O Messenger of God, is your opinion based on a revelation from God, or is it war tactics?’

‘No revelation,’ the Prophet replied. ‘Just war tactics.’

‘Then this is not the most strategic place to camp,’ al-Mundhir said. He gave advice that the Prophet liked and followed. It was advice, Muslim tradition holds that helped win the battle.

What is interesting about this story is that it illustrates distinction the early Muslim community made between God’s revelation and the Prophet’s personal judgment. The latter, apparently, you could dispute-provided there was a good reason.

The second episode underlines the same principle. Here, reportedly, the Prophet advised his fellow Muslims about date farming, but his suggestions proved unhelpful. So he declined to offer further advice, saying, ‘I am only human. If I ask you to do something concerning religion, then accept it. But if I ask you to do something on the basis of my personal opinion, then, [remember], I am only human.’

From both of these anecdotes, which appear in harmony with the Qur’anic verses that emphasize the humanness of the Prophet, Muslims can derive two important lessons. First, only God is all-knowing and all-wise. All human beings, including the messengers of God, can err. Since they are most righteous and they receive God’s revelation, the messengers still have authority over believers, which is why the Qur’an orders Muslims to ‘obey God and His Messenger.’ Yet even the messenger of God can be disputed, with all due respect, when he acts based on his personal judgment and not from direct communication with God.iv

Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, has described 7 criteria for interpretation of the Holy Quran in his famous book, Blessings of Prayers (Barkat ud Dua):

The first and foremost criterion for an accurate commentary of the Holy Quran is the testimony of the Quran itself.

The second criterion is the interpretation of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him.

The third criterion is the interpretation of the Companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

The fourth criterion is to meditate upon the meanings of the Holy Quran with the purity of one’s own self, because purity of the self has a certain affinity with the Holy Quran.

The fifth criterion is the Arabic lexicon.

The sixth criterion for understanding the spiritual order is the understanding of the physical order, for there is complete harmony between the two.

The Seventh Criterion is the revelation granted to saints.v

The sixth criterion here is most germane to our discussion, it means that the Quran should never be interpreted against the laws of nature and that lays the important responsibility on the students and interpreters of the Holy Quran to have most up to date understanding of the laws of nature and never attribute anything to the Quran, what contradicts known and well established laws of nature.

It is only when we constantly check the revealed truth or the scriptures against the scientific truth and vice versa that we can be led to real enlightenment.  Otherwise we always run the risk of becoming a cynical and overly critical atheist on the one hand or a superstitious fundamentalist or evangelist on the other.

References

i. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-wilson/most-americans-1829-years_b_4163588.html

ii. http://www.themuslimtimes.org/2014/09/science-andtechnology/psychology/exorcism-is-the-bible-to-blame-2

iii. http://islamforwest.org/2011/12/14/al-aleem-the-bestower-of-true-dreams/

iv. http://www.amazon.com/Islam-without-Extremes-Muslim- -Liberty/dp/0393347249/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1437245867&sr=1-1&ke ywords=islam+without+extreme

v. http://www.alislam.org/library/browse/volume/Ruhani_Khazain/book/Barakat_uddua /?l=English#page/-11/mode/1up

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