Do religion and science have separate responsibilities?
Human affairs, directly or indirectly, are affected by science in many ways.
Firstly, by the technological aids enabled by science which have transformed
the way people live all over the world so completely that it is difficult to
imagine any other way of arranging our lives. Secondly, human life has been
affected by the influence of science on the mind of man. We no longer believe
in those superstitions that, from time to time in the long history of mankind,
darkened the world.
What is the goal of science?
The goal of science is to discover rules which explain the relationship between
particular events and aspects of events in the natural world which we usually
refer to as �facts�. More specifically, the goal is to find the simplest rules,
and thereby to understand the mastermind behind the wonderfully subtle design
of our universe. Because understanding those rules enables a degree of predictive
power, science can give us power over the forces of nature operative in the
relationships we study. Unfortunately, science can teach us nothing else beyond
how the facts are related and conditioned by each other. The aspiration towards
such objective knowledge belongs to the highest of which human reason is capable.
Yet it is very clear that knowledge of what �is� does not open the door directly
to what �should be� (Einstein, p.26). We can have the clearest and most complete
knowledge of what �is�, yet we are not able to deduce from that what the goal
of our human aspiration should be. Objective knowledge provides us with very
powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate
goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. No doubt,
our existence and activities acquire meaning only by the setting up of such
a goal and corresponding values. �The knowledge of truth itself is very little
capable of acting as a guide and it cannot prove even the justification and
the value of aspiration towards that very knowledge of truth. Here we face,
therefore, the limit of the purely rational concept of our existence� (ibid.,
Science without religion, religion without science
Throughout history, great scientists have puzzled over questions like�where
the ethics of using science will come from, how we can decide what should be
our goal or what way, ultimately, is the best way for all human beings to be.
Great philosophers as well as great scientific geniuses have been bewildered
by these questions. In the long search to answer them, some great scientists
like Einstein have expressed their understanding memorably: �Science without
religion is lame, religion without science is blind.�
On the basis of his own very rich experience, Einstein claimed that science
can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration towards
truth and understanding. He clearly stated that the source of such feelings
lies within the sphere of religion. He also advocated that kind of faith which
says that the rules valid for the world of existence are rational, that is,
comprehensible to reason. Einstein could never conceive of a true scientist
without this profound belief. On the other hand, in his famous essay Atomic
War or Peace, Einstein captures the helplessness of the scientist to influence
The atomic scientists, I think, have become convinced that they cannot arouse
the American people to the truth of the atomic era by logic alone. There must
be added the deep power of emotion which is the basic ingredient of religion.
For more than three centuries, the world has gradually come to be dominated
by Western culture, lifestyle and modes of thinking. At the present time, the
world is, directly or indirectly, influenced so much by the West that the contribution
of other cultures to the mainstream of world life is relatively negligible.
So, when we talk about the modern approach to science we can, without hesitation,
discuss the Western approach as the sole representative.
Does scientific knowledge need religion?
There is no doubt that scientific knowledge needs religion in order to become
a blessing for mankind. Many times in history a number of scientists came to
realize this but some of them were at a loss when they encountered a serious
conflict between their faith and the results of their scientific investigations.
The universal moral idea of a quest for objective knowledge owed its original
psychological potency to the link with religion. Yet in another sense this close
link was extremely fatal for moral ideas. The enormous growth of natural science
had a great influence on the thought and practical life of man. Looking at what
happened in the Western world, we see that the gradual increase in the cultivation
of science resulted in a gradual decrease in the moral sentiment of people,
in their attachment to religion. As a general phenomenon, this happened uniquely
in the West although there had been a few, comparable individual incidents in
the Islamic civilization also.
When Copernicus and Kepler had to face the moment of truth, they chose a
road which apparently was not that of their religion. They felt that they had
to state what appeared to be the real case, and that, on the whole, it would
be more respectful of the Divine wisdom to act thus. By doing so, they served
the intellectual integrity of mankind. Their standing against religion�at a
time when the modern scientific spirit was still in its infancy in the West�in
order to save the truth was a great blow to the dignity of Western religion.
Since then, there has been an apparently irreconcilable conflict between knowledge
and belief, and most of the advanced minds were increasingly of the opinion
that belief should be replaced by knowledge. Belief that did not itself rest
on knowledge was considered superstitious. This mentality, no doubt, gave birth
to a negative way of thinking about religion. But the problem was older than
the rise of science. The root of Western belief was Judeo-Christianity and,
long before the birth of science in the modern Western world, because of corruptions
and interpolations in its Scriptures, the basic principles of Judeo-Christian
belief had become so far removed from, so irrelevant to, the realities of nature
and human affairs, that the religion lost the right to claim any authority over
Barbarization of political and collective life
As there is, traditionally, a correlation between religion and morals, in
the last few hundred years or so a serious weakening of moral thought and sentiment
occurred. This has been the main cause of the barbarization of political and
collective life in recent times. The barbarization, together with the terrifying
efficiency of new technological means, has posed a fearful threat for human
In the beginning of the seventeenth century when the West started to study
nature independently, religion started to lose its influence on society. There
was some effort to separate off, to secularize, the whole domain of science,
but in the long run, knowingly or unknowingly, science became an enemy of religion
which lost its esteem among enlightened people. In time, great scientific geniuses
arose without any knowledge of religion or moral values. Owing to the great
many contradictions in the religious reasoning in the West, the subtle influence
of religious sentiments started to dry up in the mind of great scientists. Too
many contradictory theories tried to explain the world. This is how science
became (in Einstein�s sense of the term) �blind� in the West: all means prove
but a blunt instrument if they have not behind them a living spirit.
The Western world has for long concentrated its intellectual energies upon
the study of the quantitative aspect of things and thus developed a science
of physical nature. The very obvious fruits of this study in the physical domain
have won the greatest respect for it among people everywhere.
Most Western people identified science with technology and its application.
They acquired the power of technology and used it to make life more comfortable
and secure, to liberate themselves from the forces of nature, but science contributed
hardly anything at all to the moral or spiritual improvement of Western people.
But, as the very success of this science had helped people to dismiss religion
as incapable of guiding rational thought, no authoritative source remained to
guide people towards noble actions or aspirations. Thus, in the West, science
and technology became tools with which to dominate the rest of mankind, to uproot
the people of many lands, to humiliate or destroy local cultures and beliefs,
to altogether replace long-established social and economic structures, with
the result that many indigenous peoples were deprived of dignity, self-confidence
and direction. The effects of these policies are visible everywhere.
Exploitation of humankind by a scientifically well-equipped minority
This century has witnessed the exploitation of the majority of human beings
in the world by a scientifically well-equipped minority who believed that it
is their hereditary right to control the whole world. This powerful minority
was not without discord among its own members whose conflicts have caused unparalleled
sufferings for all of the world�s inhabitants. Two world wars, aided by the
most brilliant technological advances, not only destroyed millions of human
lives, they also deepened cynicism and hastened the disappearance of traditional
moral values in many parts of the world, not only in the West. It cannot be
denied that the power of Western science is (whatever any individual scientist
may think or wish) very definitely on the side of a monstrously uneven distribution
of world assets. Scientists say that three times as many people as are living
today could easily be fed if technology were generously distributed and used
properly everywhere. But the real scene is frustratingly different�millions
die of hunger, malnutrition or very simple diseases; millions remain uneducated
and live in miserable poverty with very little reason to hope for or expect
People thought that boundless material prosperity is sure to bring heavenly
ease on earth, but in fact it caused endless complexities and painful degradation
of human life. Science gave us power to communicate over long distances, to
see the once unseen, to go where no human being could ever go before. But it
took away our ease of mind and heart, serenity, damaged the aesthetic sense,
turning us more or less into trivialized emotionless, mechanized creatures embarrassed
to aspire to more than transient worldly pleasure or glory.
Too many theories about life are around in modern times, many of them so
contradictory that people no longer believe that there can be any stable or
consistent account of what is good and true, upon which to base a code of conduct.
Man questions everything related to life. But he does not know, from within
his own finite abilities, what he can find out about and what he cannot. There
are some questions that arise in the human mind in response to which nothing
absolutely true can be said using only human reasoning. Only religion can tell
us something, give us some guidance, on such questions.
Science can (and should) ascertain only what �is� but not what �should be�
In the West, even those people who think that religion should be given a
very esteemed position in society, are not ready to allow it to dominate all
aspects of life. They think that science can (and should) ascertain only what
�is� but not what �should be�. Religion, on the other hand, can (and should)
deal only with the moral evaluation of human thoughts and action: it cannot
justifiably speak of facts or relationships between facts. They suppose conflict
to arise when a religious community insists on the literal or whole truthfulness
of statements recorded in its Scriptures�in this case, the Bible. This is where
the struggle of the Church against the doctrine of Galileo and Darwin belongs.
On the other hand, representatives of science have often attempted to arrive
at fundamental judgments with respect to values and ends on the basis of scientific
methods and they too made themselves severe opponents of formal religion (Einstein,
Islamic approach to science
We turn now to discuss the Islamic approach to science, to its understanding
of the relationship between natural laws (the truths that modern science believes
itself competent to inquire into) and the truths of religion which, in Islam,
while mediated by Revelation, are nonetheless accessible to reason, intelligible.
In order to understand the essential spirit of Islam, an understanding of
some of its fundamental principles, of its uniqueness, of the strong influence
it has over Muslim hearts and minds, of its vision of the ultimate goals of
human life in this world and the Hereafter, is extremely necessary. However,
it must be admitted at the outset that it is difficult to express these ideas,
strange to readers who are used to another way of thinking, in modern terms.
To grasp the essential spirit of Islam, it is enough to recognize that God is
One and that the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, the recipient and
means of Revelation and a symbol of all creation, was sent by Him.
Islam may be said to have three levels of meaning. All beings in the universe
are Muslim in the broadest sense, that is, they are surrendered (subject) to
the Divine Will. Secondly, all men who will to accept the Revelation of the
Qur�an and follow the teaching and example of the Prophet (Sunna) are Muslim
in the formal sense that they surrender their will to the sacred law (Qur�an
and Sunna). Then, thirdly, there is Islam of the level of pure knowledge and
understanding. This is the contemplative level which has been recognized throughout
Islamic history as the highest, most inclusive level of submission, when a Muslim
completely surrenders to God and �reflects� the Divine Intellect according to
his or her own degree. Thus, it should be clear, in Islam, �knowledge� and �science�
are conceived in a way basically different from the contemporary Western concept
of outward curiosity about the outer world and analytical speculation to satisfy
The arts and sciences in Islam are based on the Unity which is at the heart
of the Revelation
The arts and sciences in Islam are based on the Unity which is at the heart
of the Revelation. Just as the great works of Islamic arts like the Alhambra
or the mosques of Istanbul provide the patterns through which one can contemplate
the Divine Unity manifesting itself in multiplicity, so do all Islamic sciences
reveal the unity of nature (Nasr, 1964, p.35).
The aim of Islamic science as a whole, and more generally speaking of all
the medieval and ancient cosmological sciences, is to show the unity and interrelatedness
of all that exists, so that, in contemplating the unity of the cosmos man may
be led to the Divine principle, of which that unity is the image.
The aim of Islamic science
Unlike Western science, Islamic science seeks ultimately to attain such knowledge
as will contribute towards the spiritual perfection and deliverance of anyone
capable of studying it, so its fruits are inward and hidden, its values are
more difficult to discern. To understand it one is required to place oneself
within its perspective and accept that it has different means from those of
modern science. Although Islamic science did not bring about the degree (or,
happily, the kind) of material prosperity and insatiable desire in society which
modern science has brought about, its contributions in mathematics, physics,
medicine, geology, geography, architecture, irrigation, medicine, or chemistry,
are by no means negligible�more important, all were ultimately aiming to relate
the corporeal world to its basic spiritual principles through knowledge.
The fundamental principles of Islamic science are also at variance with those
of Western science in many other respects. Islam says that nature itself is
a fabric of symbols which must be read and realized according to their meaning.
The Qur�an is the counterpart of that text (nature) in human language. Both
nature and Qur�an speak about the Power of the Almighty and Divine Unity. Understanding
of His Power is very closely related with the profound understanding of His
Unlike other religious Scriptures, the Qur�an encourages all Muslims to read
and understand nature
Unlike other religious Scriptures, the Qur�an encourages all Muslims to read
and understand nature. The Qur�an provides hints, discusses some basic concepts
of science and claims all its verses to be absolutely true. The well-known writer,
Maurice Bucaille, acknowledged that the Qur�an did not contain a single statement
that was assailable from a modern scientific point of view. He declared: �The
relationship between the Qur�an and science is a priori a surprise, especially
as it turns out to be one of harmony and not of discord� (Bucaille, 1975, p.110).
In fact, this is the reason why no Muslim scientist ever faced, on account of
his science, the kind of �crisis of faith� or �moment of truth� as Copernicus
or Galileo did.
�Believe in order to understand�
Islamic principles also say that science, human knowledge in general, is
to be regarded as legitimate and noble only so long as it is subordinated to
Divine Wisdom. Islamic scientists would agree with Saint Bonaventure�s axiom:
�Believe in order to understand�. Like him, they insisted that science can truly
exist only in conjunction with Divine Wisdom. So an independent and purely rationalist
approach was never able to dominate the mainstream of Islamic scientific opinion.
By contrast, the Western world, under the influence of increasing rationalism,
went through a series of actions and reactions�the Renaissance, the Reformation
and the Counter-Reformation�such as never occurred in the Islamic world. Being
free of any normative or spiritual value and cut off from Divine Wisdom, the
West saw the rise of a new type philosophy and science profoundly different
from their medieval antecedents. Europe in that period began to develop a science
of nature that concerned itself only with the quantitative and material aspects
We discussed the principles and general approach of Islam towards science,
we turn now to the major sources of inspiration for the cultivation of science
in the mind of a Muslim scientist. Dr Muhammad Aijazul Khalid of Damascus University
says that, �In contrast to 250 verses which are legislative, some 750 verses
of Holy Qur�an�almost one-eighth of the whole� exhort the believers to study
nature, to reflect, to make the best use of reason and to make the scientific
enterprise an integral part of the community�s life�. Here is one representative
example of such verses:
You do not see in the creation of the All-Merciful any imperfection; return
your gaze, do you see any flaw? Then return your gaze again and again. Your
gaze comes back to you dazzled and weary. (67.3-4)
This in a sense is the faith of all scientists, the faith which most strongly
inspires them. The deeper a man seeks, the more is his wonder excited, the more
his gaze (perceptive and comprehending faculties) returns to him dazzled. Everywhere
in the Qur�an we feel an obligation towards knowledge and science when we read
verses like these:
Behold! in the creation of the heavens and earth and the alternation of night
and day�there are indeed signs for men of understanding (3.190)
We created not the heavens, the earth and all between them merely in idle
In his book New Researches into Composition and Exegesis of the Qur�an, Dr
Hartwig Hirschfeld says:
We must not be surprised to find the Qur�an the fountainhead of sciences.
Every subject connected with heaven or earth, human life, commerce and various
trades is occasionally touched upon and this gave rise to the production of
numerous monographs forming commentaries on parts of the Holy Book. In this
way the Qur�an was responsible for great discussions, and to it was indirectly
due the marvelous development of all branches of science in the Muslim world.
This again not only affected the Arabs, but also induced Jewish philosophers
to treat metaphysical and religious questions after Arab methods. (Hirschfeld,
Spiritual activity once aroused within Islamic bounds was not confined to
theological speculations alone. Acquaintance with the philosophical, astronomical
and medical writings of the Greeks led to the pursuance of these studies. In
the descriptive revelations Muhammad [salla-llahu �alayhi wa sallam] repeatedly
calls attention to the movement of the heavenly bodies, as parts of the miracle
of God forced into the service of man and therefore not to be worshipped. (ibid.)
Muslim minds tried to find the physical principles that govern the universe
because to do so is a part of their obligatory worship. This is so clearly stated
in the Holy Book that when Islam was in its golden age the practice of science
was very common in the society. Brian Stock has remarked in his perceptive review
Science and Technology and Economic Progress in the Early Middle Ages: �The
most remarkable feature is . . . that science in one form or another was the
part-time or full-time occupation of so a large a number of intellectuals�most
of these men were not scientists, they were universalists, physicians, astronomers,
lexicographers, poets and even theologians at the same time.�
In what way did Islam contribute to the Renaissance?
In the West, after the establishment of Christianity, the Christian-dominated
West was sunk in barbarism. Yet two centuries after the Prophet Muhammad, upon
him be peace and blessings, the Islamic world under the Caliph Harun al-Rashid
was far more active culturally than the contemporaneous world of Charlemagne�although
the latter started earlier. At the time when restrictions on scientific development
were in force in the Christian world, a very large number of studies and discoveries
were being made at Islamic universities. George Sarton, a professor in the history
of science at Harvard University, stated in his book The Life of Science that
the foundations of science were laid for us by the Mesopotamian civilization
(present-day Iraq) whose scholars and scientists were their priests. The second
development in science came through the Greeks. The third stage of development,
however, is to be credited to the meteoric rise of Islam. For nearly four hundred
years Islam led the scientific world as, from Spain to India, the great body
of past knowledge was exchanged between Muslim scholars and carried forward
with new discoveries and new ideas. Scholars in Christendom, from about the
eleventh century, were mainly occupied for over two hundred years in translating
from Arabic into Latin. Thus Islam paved the way for the European Renaissance,
which in turn led to science�s fourth great development in the modern world
(Sarton, 1971, pp.146�66).
For the very first time science took on an international character in the
Islamic universities of the Middle Ages. At that time Muslims were more steeped
in the religious spirit than they are today; but that did not inhibit, still
less prevent, the best minds of the age from being both believers and scientists.
Scientific knowledge was the twin of religious knowledge and it should never
have ceased to be so.
In this century, most of the reformers of the Muslim world tried to preach
the full message of the Qur�an, they did not exhort the Muslims to only religious
knowledge. They understood that because of serious neglect of science, the Muslims
had ceased to occupy the intellectual mainstream and thus gradually lost their
ideological, social and political superiority. The great Turkish scholar Bediuzzaman
Said Nursi asserted that the success of the contemporary Muslims in exalting
God�s Word will be proportional to their advances in science, technology and
civilization. He indicated the importance of science by saying: �For the Muslims
it is a great adventure that the West has acquired science and knowledge, and
Islam can therefore appeal to them more easily than at any time before� (Nursi,
1960, p.78). In fact, Bebiuzzaman Said Nursi can be offered as an example of
a true, devout Muslim whose love for science is stated in his beautiful expression:
�There is a tendency in the cosmos towards perfection. Thus the creation of
the cosmos follows the law of perfection� (Nursi, 1977, p.13).
Mentality of world-dominating powers: �What is yours is ours and what is
ours is ours�
Developed countries in the world are now playing a great monopoly game over
the resources and riches of the earth. Newton, Maxwell or other geniuses are
being used as the private intellectual property, the cultural heritage of the
West. �Even though the developing countries need the help of industrialized
countries to overcome the economic and ecological problems they face, the latter
do not intend to share with the third world �their� intellectual resources;
in other words they refuse to transfer technology and know-how, however great
the need for it . . . Their mentality is�what is yours is ours and what is ours
is ours� (Sayar, 1992).
By contrast, when, in Cordova the Arab built the first university in Europe,
knowledge spread throughout Europe from Muslim sources. In the prestigious scientific
journal, Nature, of 24th March 1983, Francis Ghiles raised the question: �What
is wrong with Muslim science? . . . At its peak about one thousand years ago
the Muslim world made a remarkable contribution to science, notably mathematics
and medicine. Baghdad in its heyday and southern Spain built universities to
which thousand flocked: rulers surrounded themselves with scientists and artists.
A spirit of freedom allowed Jews, Christians and Muslims to work side by side.�
Scientific enterprise in Islam was of an international character. Muslim
society was very tolerant of men from outside it, and of their ideas. Al-Kindi
wrote: �It is fitting then for us not to be ashamed to acknowledge truth and
to assimilate it from whatever source it comes to us. For him who scales the
truth there is nothing of higher value than truth itself; it never cheapens
or abases him who seeks�. So the goal of Muslim scientists was revealing the
truth, not exploiting mankind by the use of it, as has been done by Western
nations in recent centuries. The Muslims thought it to be a common heritage
In this century, many influential Western scientists understood that the
approach of their civilization towards science is sure to lead the world to
a catastrophe. Many tried to find a solution and, just in trying to do so, came
closer to the Islamic approach. Now many of them think that religion should
be given a chance to make its impact on norms and aspirations, while science
and technology are an evil instrument in the hands of cynical Western commercial-political
In the dark years of the Cold War, Einstein said: �We, scientists, believe
that what we and our fellow-men do or fail to do within the next few years will
determine the fate of our civilisation. And we consider it our task untiringly
to explain this truth, to help people realize all that is at stake, and to work,
not for appeasement, but for understanding and ultimate agreement between peoples
and nations of different views�. In 1990, at the Moscow meeting of a global
forum of spiritual and political leaders, Carl Sagan (1990) urged: �Mindful
of our common responsibility, we scientists, many of us long engaged in combating
the environmental crisis, urgently appeal to the world religious community to
[co-operate] in words and deeds, and as boldly as required, to preserve the
environment of the earth.�
�United Field Theory�
This religion-oriented approach is increasingly referred to in the West.
For example, merely to understand how nature works we do not need to unify the
fundamental forces�gravitational, electromagnetic and strong nuclear. But for
the last thirty years of his life Einstein tried to find a theory that would
do just that, called the �United Field Theory�, though he did not succeed. He
had a deep faith that these forces are different manifestations of one and same
entity. Again what Stephen Hawking has sought for a lifetime is a united and
consistent theory that encompasses all the mysteries of the universe in a single
set of equations. He says: �Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and
just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question
of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that,
it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason�for then we would know the
mind of God� (Hawking, 1988, p.175).
Understanding (or as Hawking puts it, reading) the �mind� of God was one
of the aims of the glorious centuries of Islamic science. That aim was the easier
to pursue as it was supported by the Qur�anic revelation. And in future, God
willing, scientific curiosity will be wholly motivated and guided by the Message
of God and the resulting science truly be a blessing for mankind.
Bucaille, Maurice (1975) The Bible, The Qur�an and Science, North American
Trust Publications, Indianapolis.
Einstein, A. Out of My Later Years, Greenwood Press Publishers, Westport,
Hawking , Stephen W. (1988) A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to
Black Holes, Bantam Press, London.
Nasr, Sayyed Hossein (1964) Science and Civilisation in Islam, Harvard University
Press, Cambridge, Mass.
Nursi, Bediuzzaman Said (1960) Hutbe-i Şamiye, Sinan Matbaasi, Istanbul.
�, (1977) Muhakemat, Sozler Yayinevi, Istanbul.
Sagan, Carl (1990) American Journal of Physics, 58 (7) July, pp.15�19.
Sayar, M.A. (1990) �Is Technology a Common Heritage of Mankind�, The Fountain,
Sarton, G. (1971) The Life of Science: Essays in the History of Civilization,
Books for Libraries Press, Free Port, NY.