Islam is the first and the last religion that laid the foundation of practical and empirical science.
By: Mohammed Shihabuddin Nadvi
The Greek philosophers used to talk eloquently and sagaciously, but they never felt the need of experimentation to prove their theories. Actually they did not view experimental observations as necessary. Contrary to this, the holy Quran not only recommends experimentation and observation, but insists on a deep study of each and every object and phenomenon of the nature. Some of the verses indicate this very clearly i) It demands the human beings to ponder on all that there is in the heavens and on the earth. (Surah Yunus:101) ii) It emphasises the study of the constellations in the heaven. (Surah Hajr:16) iii) It seeks to reflect upon the bearing of fruits in trees and plants and the ripening of the crops and fruits. ( Surah Anam:99) iv)It invites man to study the elevation of the skies, the fixation of the mountains, the extension of the earth and the peculiar built of the camel. (Surah Ghashia:17-20) v) It forcefully proclaims that there are signs for the thoughtful in the creation of the heavens and the earth, the alternation of the day and the night, the sailing of the ships through the oceans, the water which is sent down from the sky, the various plant specimens sprouting out of the earth, the animal kingdom spread all over the surface of the earth and the vast atmosphere covering the world. (Surah Baqara:164)
So it can be concluded that the physical laws and rules that govern the functioning of all these things constitute Science, which is the result of contemplating and reflecting on processes, as the holy Quran calls upon. It must be clear that the systematic study of material objects alone is the definition of Science .
Influenced by the assertion of reflecting, the Muslims reflected upon every material object and every phenomenon of nature and made new discoveries and formulated new concepts thereby giving rise to modern science which was entirely different from the previous one. In fact, it had its own virtue as not being comparable to even later eras when science developed in the West. Actually, the West had to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of human lives because of the conflict between the Church and Science. Islam does not envisage any such conflict .
Many historians are also impressed by the incomparable progress Muslims made in this field. For example, Prof. Phillip K. Hitti has attributed this unique attachment to science, and progress therein to the keen sense of intellectual curiosity, voracious appetite for learning and many latent faculties possessed by the Arabs of the desert. (History of the Arabs, London, 1977, P. 306.) .
But the question is from where did the Arabs imbibe these characteristics and who awakened these latent faculties? And moreover, how could these qualities suddenly arise in the minds of a nation that was devoid of any culture and civilisation? Is there any motivation other than the holy Quran which, with its innumerable forceful and effective verses, awoke the sleepy nation to conquer nature. From this point of view, the holy Quran occupies a unique status in the realm of world literature. It was due to the Quran that the Bedouins of Arabia who were engaged in rearing camels and goats could control the whole civilised world in such a short time and become the heirs to the Roman, Persian, Syriac, Indian and Greek knowledge. According to Hitti, the Arab scholars assimilated only in a few decades, what had taken the Greeks, centuries to develop .
In fact, the Muslims borrowed the raw material from various nations, thought about them in the light of Quranic guidance and applying it, developed these concepts through continuous reflection, experimentations and observations and laid the basis of modern science .
Conclusively, it can be said that Islam is the first and the last religion that stressed the need to reflect upon the world phenomena and laid the foundation of practical and empirical science. It was this positive and revolutionary invitation to experimental sciences that helped them to make their own, as a matter of right, that which had been initiated earlier to them. The new techniques and theories that constitute the content of sciences like chemistry, physics, astronomy, geology, medicine, botany and mathematics are nothing, but the contribution of the Arab researchers alone. Volumes are required to describe the achievements even in a single field .
Islam, thus, is an eternal and universal religion which by being a complete philosophy of life has potential strength and energy to initiate the study of nature and natural phenomena. It is not merely a collection of few worshipping rites. In fact, the essence of vicegerency of earth demands progress in science and technology. And any nation which lacks in this field is victimised and becomes subservient to the whims of the more powerful nations. While all this pioneering work was done in the early period of the Caliphate, suddenly an impasse took over the Muslim world. This period has extended for quite long. Now the renaissance of Islam can take place only if the Muslims return to the progressive practices of their forefathers. The glorious Quran is a living and revolutionary scripture. It could stir up great revolutions in the lives provided it is treated as a Living Book and followed with utmost faith and belief .
The author is Chairman of Bangalore based Furqania Academy.Top