The Rationale behind the Scientific Study of the Quran
Conflict between Religion and Science
The relationship between science and
religion has often been a turbulent one. Historically, scientists have scorned
the advent of religious ideas seeing them as in conflict with rational thinking.
Much of this prejudice has stemmed from opposition by religious authorities to
new scientific discoveries in the past. Christendom in particular displays a
history of confrontations between the Church and scientists. This conflicting
situation made the Bible subject to adulterations. The European Bishops
mutilated its teachings, changed its concepts and beliefs and added philosophy
to it. Scientific errors were also assorted in it. The Christian followers
adopted that belief as their own, which in fact was not theirs but was an
outcome of the wrong concepts added by the priests. When the scientists, after
having researched, raised voice against such wrong concepts, the priests started
thinking that the scientists were negating religion as against science. So they
started giving the verdict of infidelity against such scientists. Scientists
were tortured and tormented. Countless scientists were buried alive as a result
of their prejudiced laws.
In the Sixteenth century the Polish
philosopher Copernicus came to know of the Heliocentric Hypothesis, that the
earth and other planets revolved around the sun, but was frightened to publish
his findings for fear of Papal disapproval. However, it was Copernicus’s
successor Galileo who suffered the full force of the Church’s disapproval.
When he published his work “The Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World
Systems”, a masterful piece agreeing with the Copernican theory, Galileo was
brought to trial by the Inquisition in Rome in 1632. He died in prison. These
actions laid the foundations of a continuous struggle between scientific
discoveries and church authorities. During the Renaissance period scientists
inevitably took their revenge, which is still evident today.
Qur’ān and Invitation to Scientific Study
The case with Islam differs. In the midst
of ignorance and benightedness where scientific knowledge was scorned, the
Qur’ān eloquently pointed out many new found facts with such remarkable
accuracy that only the Creator of man could do. It has only been in the last
three centuries with specific regard being given to the present century that
scientific research has unfolded and clarified the workings of the universe.
This has ranged from the development and function of our own bodies to the
environment that we live in. Yet the Qur’ān has already described these
natural phenomena to focus man’s attention on the wisdom, benevolence and
authority of the Creator. Such liberal and advanced thinking led the way to an
entire host of Islamic academics and scientists between the 8th and 12th
At a time when Christianity laid down heavy
penalties on scientific development, Muslim scholars flocked to the University
of Cordoba, the cultural center of Islam, making new discoveries. There is a
long list of scientists and scholars who made remarkable contributions in
different fields of science. Abul Qāsim az-Zahrawī was a renowned
Muslim surgeon and physician. His fame rests in his book “al-Tasrīf”.
This was an amazing work on medical science which laid the foundation of the
development of surgery in Europe. Abu Ishāq was a great philosopher and
translator. He translated and wrote commentaries on the philosophical works of
Aristotle. He was also a famous mathematician, astronomer, optician, physicist
and pharmacologist. Abū Raihān al-Bayrūni was the first to
discover that light travels faster than sound. He was also a learned
philosopher, geographer and a physicist. Abul Wafā al-Buzajānī
was a notable mathematician. His contributions to the development of
Trigonometry are remarkable. Ibn al-Haytham was a prominent Muslim physicist who
made the first significant contributions to the optical theory. Ibn Sinā, a
renowned Muslim scientist, produced a book “Kitab-ush-Shifā’”. It
discusses the natural sciences including Metaphysics, Astronomy, Geometry and
Psychology. Muhammad bin Mūsa al-Khawarzimī was a famous mathematician
and astronomer. He accomplished the oldest works on Arithmetic and Algebra. He
was the first person to use Zero. Al-Fārābī was a great Islamic
thinker who transmitted the doctrines of Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle
to the Arab world. And last but not the least Jābir bin Hayyān is
recognised as the father of modern Chemistry. He introduced experimental
research in chemical sciences.
In the eleventh and the succeeding centuries the Arabic knowledge gained
popularity in the West. Since the twelfth century knowledge seekers from all
over Europe traveled to the East and the Islamic West. The books of the Arab
scientists were translated on a large scale in that era. The Christian rulers of
Spain followed the footsteps of the Muslim sovereigns, opened the doors of their
courts to scientists and scholars and patronized dissemination of intellectual
and scientific learning. Al-Fanso VI occupied Teetlah (renowned cultural city of
Islamic Spain) in 1085. This conquest opened the way for the promotion of Arabic
culture in Europe. A centre named “Madrasa-tul-Mutarajjimīn” (centre of
translators) was established in Teetlah to introduce Arabic science to Europe.
Here, Jewish scholars were appointed to translate the Muslim authors’ books on
Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Philosophy, Logic and
Politics. Educational centres were also set up on Islamic style in the twelfth
and the subsequent centuries.
In fact the more, the modern science
unfolds the reality of these phenomena, the more the truth of the Qur’ān
becomes evident to us. At a time when scientific research did not even exist,
let alone different fields of science, such precise knowledge could not come
from any source but from the knowledge and wisdom of Allāh the Highest. For
many this is a paradox, as religion has always been seen the bane of science,
its antithesis. The legacy of Galileo has prejudiced the scientific community
against religion, including the ambit of Islam. The following pages, therefore,
present these scientific facts scattered through the verses of the Qur’ān
for the benefit of Muslims and non- Muslims alike. These verses of the Qur’ān
not only proclaim the truth of the book itself but also beautifully demonstrate
that attribute of Allāh, the Blessed, the source of sustenance for
everything in the universe.
Here I would like to clearly state my position that I do not justify
changing the meaning of the Qur’ānic verses to bring them in line with
scientific discoveries, nor do I regard the scientific interpretation of the
Qur’ān as final, because scientific knowledge itself constantly changes
and evolves. Science has very little in it, which can be called final and
absolute. On the other hand the word of the Creator of the universe is not
subject to any change; it is final and absolute. With these words of caution,
however, I feel there are two important reasons to study the Qur’ān in
the light of modern sciences.
The Qur’ān – a Supreme source of Knowledge
Firstly, the Qur’ān is a supreme
source of knowledge which is multidimensional, all-comprehensive and
all-embracing. None of the revealed books has this unique characteristic of the
Qur’ān. Science is nothing but an empirical interpretation of the Holy
Qur’ān. Since the development of science is at its zenith in our times,
when we correlate the Qur’ānic studies with man’s own scientific
discoveries and experiments, this opens up new avenues to strengthen the faith.
Furthermore, this kind of rational thinking to enable better understanding of
its verses, is also stressed by the Qur’ān itself.
Biological and Physical facts of the Universe and the Qur’ān
Secondly, biological and physical facts of
the universe, as described by the Qur’ān, could not be known before
modern technological advancements. If these descriptions of the Qur’ān
are proved beyond any doubt, then an unbiased person should not have any
hesitation to accept the rest of the teachings of the Qur’ān, especially
so when the clarity, simplicity and practical application of these teachings is
superior to anything existing in the world.
These reasons necessitate the study of the
Qur’ān in the light of science, of course keeping in mind the factor of
probability and variant interpretations of scientific observations. Such
differences are similar to those which arise in application of logic, grammar
and other linguistic criteria.
With this introduction let us proceed to study the subject in question.