BY EKREM DEMIRLI
JAN 13, 2023 – DAILY SABAH
How can a scientist maintain a balance between his studies and faith or how can he relate his know-how with his religion? This ambiguity is one of the main reasons for the dilemma experienced in Muslim societies by certain groups of people for whom the religion continues to have a relative effect
In a previous article, we mentioned that the pragmatic aspects of a religious life centered around “obligation” would restrict the development of science and thought in Muslim societies and pointed out how it would complicate the emergence of a strong curiosity required to conduct research on existence and nature.
This is not essentially a problem of the past. The chaotic consequences of this problem solidified by the members of the first generations continue to exist with its various dimensions and vitality. We do not know how to establish the relationship between religious and natural sciences, and nor can we reach a consensus about the actual reason why the natural sciences should be studied. In this respect, motives like deciphering the “signs” found in nature or investigating the laws of God, that is, the Sunnah of Allah, were far from being efficacious except for a few anticipated outcomes. And as a result, it led to serious mental and moral dilemmas in Muslim societies.
How would a scientist have a balance between his studies and faith or how would he relate his know-how with his religion? Would he be an expert/master in his field and yet an “unlettered” in his religion? This ambiguity is one of the main reasons for the dilemma experienced in Muslim societies by certain groups of people on whom the religion continues to have a relative effect. Why would anyone who has been raised with the benefits of modern education like a biologist, doctor, mathematician, lawyer, or psychologist study science and afterward how would they connect with their profession and religion? Once when I wanted to discuss with a biologist how he interpreted the verses of the Holy Quran that were about the creation of man, he told me that “science is infidel so how can I talk about a verse with reference to science?” In this conversation, the theologist was the “master” and the biologist was the “unlettered.” It was not the verses that he did not know but the way to connect what he knew with the verses. Some professions seem to have gotten over it.
Especially the fields that achieve acknowledgment as fact, like medicine, seem like they have resolved the issue of legitimacy from the angle of “common benefit.” Besides the problem of the relationship between modern sciences and religion, there has not been found a solution for the problem of finding a strong religious motive about why we should pursue science. As a result, people sometimes find their own solutions and assume that it has been taken care of or they just continue to have that dilemma. But this dilemma has grown.
Because this time, “alienation” is not particular to sciences, societies and modern institutions shaped by these sciences also face this alienation. Solving this problem will be a critical turning point for the relationship between religion and man. A skeptical approach to science or finding a big gap between religion and science is not problematic; in fact, skepticism is the power of science. However, serious moral issues arise when the person maintains that skepticism throughout his career and gets alienated from the profession. As a matter of fact, our connection with existence is through our professions and our professions shape our morality. Ambivalent attitudes here will draw us away from the plane of reality and leave us hanging in “purgatory.”
In the meantime, it is a mistake to assume that it is an accidental problem peculiar to modern science and societies. It was particularly emphasized a few decades ago when “Islamic science” was under discussion as a problem of the modern age. Especially misreading Rene Guenon – specifically in Türkiye – nurtured the misconception and shifted the criticisms of the modern world toward heroism and sentimentality. One of the most critical mistakes in this discussion was to assume that the conflict between religion and science was a “medieval blindness,” particular for Christianity. In the times when religion was taken seriously, the relationship between science and religion was never a problem that could be solved. However, in the history of Islam, especially starting from the earlier periods, religious sciences made way to “secularism.” The distinction between religious sciences and natural sciences was found reasonable and religious groups focused only on religious sciences.
Moreover, certain disciplines and schools of the religion found this distinction so uncompromising that natural sciences were not even acknowledged to be a legitimate science. When religious sciences focused on the holy book, the scientific research in other fields was carried out through “ratification” and was limited to specific goals. So, this problem of the past continues to exist and becomes more and more “visible” today.
Solving the problem
We can follow two basic approaches to solve this problem: First, it is necessary to make a linear connection between the mental and intellectual development of a person and the religion-religiousness. When a person grows mentally and intellectually, he will understand the religion better, build a more authentic and powerful relationship with it and know himself and God better. It is true that this approach has some problems. In this respect, defending the folk religion and glorifying the “unlettered” put an end to this approach. Besides, it is hard to reach an objective judgment about the ways and consequences of the mental and intellectual development of a person.
Nevertheless, this is one of the points that we must attain: Demanding the truth makes human beings closer to existence and God. The second approach to the solution to this problem is to build a relationship between God and the world upon existence. In the tradition of religious thought, this idea found voice in the concept of Wahdat al-Wujud (Oneness of Existence), which was put forward by Sufis. However, the attitude of theology and Fiqh hindered the development of this approach. Modern Muslim thought can explore the ground to reach a holistic mind with new interpretations – we can see the traces of it in the late Islamic scholar Said Nursi – starting from this heritage.
A Persian mystic and one of the most prominent of the early Islamic saints, Junayd al-Baghdadi – also known as Junayd of Baghdad – said: “You must become one with your oneness.”
According to his understanding of Tawhid, a person cannot comprehend oneness unless he breaks into pieces, overcomes it and reaches for unity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Academic at the Department of Sufism, Faculty of Theology, Istanbul University