InsightMarch April 2005

Removing the Dichotomy of Sciences: A Necessity for the Growth of Muslims

M. Amir Ali, Ph.D.

Introduction. In the Muslim scholarship, during the last few centuries, a dichotomy of sciences has developed, that is, deeni (“religious”) sciences and dunyawi (worldly) sciences. Muhammad Muhsin Khan[1] in his translation of Sahih Bukhari frequently translates the Arabic word ‘ilm as “religious” knowledge. Muhsin Khan is a very poor translator and his translation of the Qur’an, which is distributed under the title “The Noble Qur’an”, is one of the worst translations of the Qur’an done by a Muslim.  A Muslim activist[2] in Pakistan, now living in U.K., who used to teach the meaning of the Qur’an in public gatherings, emphasizes that ‘ilm means only sciences of the Qur’an, Hadith and fiqh whereas physics, chemistry, medicine, and engineering are not real sciences but funoon (arts). This dichotomy has developed, perhaps, because the Muslims see natural and social sciences coming from Europe, a land of kuffar (non-believers in Islam), therefore, any of their contributions are mundane and not divine in origin. In general, Muslims consider that the only thing divine in origin is what is revealed to prophets and messengers. Since revelations to ancient prophets are not preserved except whatever was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, therefore nothing qualified as ‘ilm except the Qur’an and Sunnah and whatever is derived from them. The consequence of such thinking is that the most honorable learning, in the eyes of Muslims, is to become an ‘alim (scholar) of the Qur’an, Hadith and fiqh – labeled collectively as “’Uloom al-Islamiyah” or Islamic sciences. The learning of natural and social sciences is considered as mundane activity out of greed to make money or gain positions. Such thinking is against the teachings of the Qur’an and reduced Muslims from a Super Power to the world’s most disgraced people due to their backwardness, illiteracy, poverty and weakness in every indicator of modern progress within the Islamic context. And, of course, Muslims are no good in living by the Qur’an and Sunnah either, as shown by their ignoring of Salat, Sawm, Zakat, Hajj and their moral corruptness; an overwhelming majority is guilty of ignoring Islam. Due to the absence of Allah-consciousness (Taqwa) and absence of trust in Allah (Tawakkul ‘al-Allah) they have become merchants of conscience and traitors as recent events have shown (2001-2002), particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

All True Knowledge is from Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an[3]: “(He) taught man what he knew not.”  Al-Iqra 96:5

This short verse conveys the message that all true knowledge was revealed (taught) to humankind by Allah. It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that whatever was revealed by Allah to humankind is just as sacred as Qur’an and Sunnah. Especially when we find that Allah Himself commands mankind to reflect about His creation.

Reflect upon Allah’s creation. We read in the Qur’an:

“Lo! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of night and day, and the ships which run upon the sea with that which is of use to men, and the water Allah sends down from the heaven, thereby reviving the earth after its death, and dispersing all kinds of beasts therein, and (in) the ordinance of the winds, and the clouds obedient between heaven and earth: are signs of Allah’s sovereignty for people who have sense.” Al-Baqarah 2:164

“You (Allah) causes the night to pass into the day, and You causes the day to pass into the night. And You brings forth the living from the dead, and You brings forth the dead from the living. And You gives sustenance to whom You chooses, without measure.” Aale Imran 3:27

“Lo! In the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding. Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and say): Our Lord! You have not created this in vain. Glory be to You! Preserve us from the doom of fire.”  Aale Imran 3:190-191

“He it is Who sends down water from the heaven, whence you have drink, and whence are trees on which you send your beasts to pasture. Therewith He causes crops to grow for you, and the olive and the date-palm and grapes and all kinds of fruit. Lo! Herein is indeed a portent for people who reflect. And He has constrained the night and the day and the sun and the moon to be of service to you, and the stars are made subservient by His command. Lo! herein indeed are portents for people who have sense. And whatsoever He has created for you in the earth of diverse hues, lo! Therein is indeed a portent for people who take heed. And He it is Who has constrained the sea to be of service that you eat fresh meat from thence, and bring forth from thence ornaments which you wear. And you see the ships ploughing it that you (mankind) may seek His bounty, and that haply you may give thanks. And He has cast into the earth firm hills that it quake not with you, and streams and roads that you may find a way. And landmarks (too), and by the star they find a way. Is He then Who created as him creates not? Will you not then reflect? And if you would count the favor of Allah you cannot reckon it. Lo! Allah is indeed forgiving, Merciful. And Allah knows that which you keep hidden and that which you proclaim.”   Al-Nahl  16: 10-19

“Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them, and We made every living thing of water? Will they not believe? And We have placed in the earth firm hills lest it quake with them, and We have placed therein ravines as roads that haply they may find their way. And We have made the heaven a canopy well guarded. Yet they turn away from its portents. And He it is who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. They float, each in an orbit. “ Al-Anbia 21:30-33

“So glory be to Allah when you enter the night and when you enter the morning. Unto Him be praise in the heavens and the earth – and at the sun’s decline and in the noonday! He brings the living from the dead, and He brings the dead from the living, and revives the earth after her death. And even so will you be brought forth. And of His signs is this: He created you from dust, and behold, you human beings scattered (far and wide)! And of His signs is this: He created you mates from yourselves that you find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo, herein indeed are portents for folk who reflect. And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. Lo! Herein indeed are portents for men of knowledge. And of His signs is your slumber by night and by day, and your seeking of His bounty. Lo! Herein indeed are portents for folk who heed. And of His signs is this: He shows you the lightening for a fear and for a hope, and sends down water from the sky, and thereby quickens the earth after her death. Lo! Herein indeed are portents for folk who understand. And of His signs is this: The heavens and the earth stand fast by His command, and afterward, when He calls you, lo! from the earth you will emerge. Unto Him belongs whosoever is in the heavens and in the earth. All are obedient unto Him. He it is Who produces creation, then reproduces it, and it is easier for Him. His is the Sublime Similitude in the heavens and in the earth. He is Mighty, the Wise.”  Al-Rome 30:17-27

“Allah it is Who has made the sea of service unto you that the ships may run thereon by His command, and that you may seek of His bounty, and that haply you may be thankful; and has made of service unto you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth; it is all from Him. Lo! Herein verily are portents for people who reflect.”. Al-Jathiyah 45:12-13

“And He taught Adam all the names, then showed them to the angels, saying: Inform Me of the names of these if you are truthful.”  Al-Baqarah 2:31

The following questions may be raised from the study of the above given verses of the Qur’an:

Why and how night and day alternate?
How were the heavens and the earth created?
What is the purpose of creation?
How does water come from the heavens?
How do trees and the crops grow and what causes their death?
How does the reproduction system of humans, animals and plants work?
How do animal and plant bodies function?
What is the source of colors and what is the purpose of colors?
Why do ships and a few things float and why other things sink in the water?
What is under the ocean?
How do people find ways in the earth?
How large is the earth?
What are the mountains?
How was matter joined together and how did it burst to form the universe?
What constitutes the universe?
What is the role of water in the creation of living things?
What causes earthquakes?
What is the sky and how does it protect the earth by becoming its canopy?
What causes lightening?
What is the meaning of the sun and moon floating in their orbits?
How does the dead come from the living and how does the living come from the dead?
Is there any life after death for mankind?
What does Allah mean when He says that He created man from dust? Is man made of silicon?
How were people scattered in the earth? What is the origin of races, colors, different languages and cultures?
What makes people sleep at night?
What is the meaning of the verse when Allah says He taught Adam names?

Allah challenges mankind to reflect about himself and what surrounds him:

“We (Allah) shall show them Our signs on the horizons and within themselves until it will be manifest unto them that it (Allah’s sovereignty) is the Truth. Does not your Rabb (Lord) suffice, since he is Witness over all things.”  Fussilat 41:53

Efforts made to answer the above questions and many more arising from them would lead to research, experimentation, observation and discovery of the laws of Allah – that is science. Sometimes Allah will help in answering questions through inspiration and other times Satan will help by inspiring false ideas. Only time proves what is true and what is false. True knowledge is from Allah as He has declared it.

Whereas Qur’an is not a book of science, it touches many fields of science as signs of Allah. The above quoted verses touch many fields of science, such as, astronomy, climatology, biology, physics, engineering, geology, geography, cosmology, beginning of life on earth, anthropology, psychology, linguistics and economy.  Allah is calling people (mankind) who have been endowed with wisdom to reflect upon His creation. Allah takes the credit for himself for teaching mankind what he knew not.  Whatever Allah teaches is good and sacred knowledge.

The question arises about false theories that come and go. Do we accept any theory as God given knowledge? The answer may be no. Allah has not given wisdom to all people at the same level, therefore, some people may be too quick in formulating theories while others may wait, collect more information before proposing their theories. All correct theories are from Allah and false theories are from men themselves or inspired by Satan. It is a theory of this author that for those scientists who believe in One God, irrespective of their religion, Allah rewards them for their sincerity in research, hard work and perseverance by inspiring them with true knowledge which becomes their theories. Their Allah-inspired theories, in time, are accepted as laws of nature. For those scientists who did not believe in One God, they are not inspired by Allah, but are inspired by Satan and, in time, are proven to be false.  The theories which are eventually accepted are called laws of nature becoming a part of true knowledge and should be accepted as a part of divine knowledge. This is the knowledge revealed by Allah to mankind through His chosen human beings. However, every such human being is not labeled as a “prophet” or a “messenger”. Allah’s chosen prophets and messengers receive knowledge from Allah without any experimental work (let us call it revealed knowledge); however, they also reflect upon certain aspects of human existence and seek guidance from higher up before being chosen by Allah. Let us not get into the question whether all prophets and messengers are born to fulfill a chosen role or if Allah chooses them in their adult life due to their unique qualities; an argument can be developed either way.  The knowledge inspired by Allah to scientists may be called experimental knowledge, since their verification is in experimental observations. The application of total knowledge which includes revealed and experimental knowledge are interrelated. The experimental knowledge will be beneficial to the highest degree if it is utilized under the guidance of revealed knowledge, otherwise it may become a source of suffering. For example, an automobile is the product of true knowledge revealed by Allah but if it is used by a drunkard, the car may become a source of suffering. But if a car is used by a God-conscious person it may become a source of benefit and pleasure. Similarly, all products of science have beneficial or harmful effects depending upon the user’s makeup. Theories developed due to observations may remained suspended for a long time as such until proven to hold under all conditions and only when such theories are accepted as laws of nature may they be accepted as a part of divine knowledge. There is another branch, which I call pseudo-knowledge, and these are astrology, magic, false theories and similar concepts.

In summary, the branches of knowledge may defined as follows:

Revealed Knowledge deals with the purpose of human life and it is given to chosen human beings by some special means by God, Allah. The persons who received such knowledge are called prophets and messengers of Allah and this knowledge was perfected during the lifetime of Muhammad, the last messenger.

Experimental Knowledge is the result of observations, research, experiments, surveys and deep thinking then God reveals the truth to his chosen human beings who may be called scientists. This method of revelation will continue until the last day of life on earth. Since such scientists are not the source of knowing the purpose of life, they are not qualified to be called prophets or messengers.

Pseudo-Knowledge is assumed to be knowledge by the ignorant people but it is not knowledge but trickery to fool people and make money, such as astrology, magic and discredited theories such as Darwinism and new-Darwinism.

The interrelationship between various departments of knowledge is shown in Figure1.

Integration of Sciences: Integration of sciences means the recognition that all true knowledge is from Allah and all sciences should be treated with equal respect whether it is scientific or revealed. The definition of a scholar should be developed and applied to all equally. In our times a graduate of an Islamic madrassah may be equivalent to bachelor degree holder but he is instantly called an ‘alim (scholar). On the other hand a bachelor degree holder in chemistry or economics is not considered an ‘alim (scholar). In case of natural and social sciences a person to be recognized as a scholar is expected to have a doctorate degree with research publications and teaching background. It is not the same for a person trained in Qur’an, Hadith and fiqh – why this double standard? Scholars of natural and social sciences are expected to keep up with new developments by taking continuing education courses and some among them have the fear of malpractice suit. Many among natural and social scientists have to take board examination before they can be licensed to practice their profession. Graduates of Islamic sciences have no board exams to pass for the rest of their lives and there is no malpractice suit for them; Islamic “scholars” have total freedom to issue all the fatawa, right or wrong, with impunity. There is no professional board examination to pass for the Islamic “scholars”. There is a need for some deep thinking about application of the term ‘alim. What criteria and qualifications must be met to be called an ‘alim? There is a need to raise the level of an ‘alim when applied to graduates of Islamic madarassahs (madaris in Arabic: Islamic seminaries).

The curriculum for South Asian madarassahs was developed almost a millennium (ten centuries) ago in Baghdad for Madarassah Nizamiah under the Abbasids for the education and training of the bureaucracy of the caliphate and judges. One of the early rectors of Madarassah Nizamiah was Al-Ghazali. This curriculum was never meant to produce Islamic scholars. Islamic scholars were produced through education and training under the great scholars of the time over a period of several years, the way PhDs. are produced in our time at the universities. Some among them go on to become scholars in their own disciplines. Madarassah graduates were trained mainly in fiqh Hanafi and social sciences; they had very little training in the Qur’an and Hadith just the way graduates of madarassahs of our time are produced. Very few among them make a personal effort to become real scholars of Islam. In our time bureaucrats, lawyers and judges are produced in the modern universities. Madarassahs of our time produce neither bureaucrats nor scholars; these schools have become redundant except producing poor imams for our masajid.

Unfortunately, graduates of natural and social sciences are kept ignorant of the Qur’an and Sunnah and graduates of the madarassahs are kept ignorant of natural and social sciences. This dichotomy of sciences should be ended. It is harming the ummah. Graduates of madarassahs cannot find any work except in a mosque or religious teaching institutions and graduates of natural and social sciences are not able to provide even elementary leadership in religious areas.

In addition, there is some mistrust and disrespect among graduates in each area for the other. Madarassah graduates are more populists and science graduates are more elitists and they, sometimes, look down upon each other. They have no common language with each other, their jargons are very different. Each may have some arrogance yet may be envious of the other for different reasons. There is tension between the two groups which is not beneficial for the Ummah. Political and economic power is in the hands of those who hold college degrees in natural and social sciences whereas the masses are in the grip of religious leaders. There was no such dichotomy during the early period of Islam, particularly during the first five centuries. During this period Islamic scholars were also physicians, philosophers, biologists, physicists, astronomers, etc. This was the period when Muslims were the super power of the world. As the leadership split, partial secularism was introduced in the Muslim society. This partition led the Ummah into weakness until it became slaves of enemies, referring to the colonial period. The remedy is in ending the dichotomy of sciences and the raising of new generations who will see all true sciences as God-given knowledge without any prejudice or sense of superiority of one over the other. Since Pakistan was established to be an Islamic country, it is suggested that Pakistan should begin to integrate the sciences. Some of the steps towards integration of sciences are given below.

Development of New Textbooks and Training of the Teachers. Science textbooks used now give all the credit of invention and discovery to those in whose hands they took place without any credit given to Allah. The matter of fact is that no scientist can discover or invent anything without help from Allah, therefore, textbooks should reflect this fact. Credit should be given to the scientist for his inquisitiveness, hard work, diligence, keen observation and perseverance but it is Allah who inspires in him the knowledge. For example, Newton saw an apple falling, he thought over the matter long and hard until Allah inspired him with the laws of gravity. This is the way Allah gave knowledge to mankind for progress. Conversely, Islamic studies students see no scientific signs (ayat) in the Qur’an and teachings of the Prophet. Many verses of the Qur’an (a few have been quoted above) touch sciences and they should be taught in the light of modern sciences. Maurice Bucaille[4] has collected in his book many verses of the Qur’an dealing with sciences. Due to the ignorance of science on the part of translators and commentators of the Qur’an many errors of translation and interpretation have entered into Translations and tafaseer. For example, the term ‘alaq in the Qur’an (96:2) is frequently translated as clot or blood clot or congealed blood which is a gross error. A man of biological sciences will turn away from Islam if he is told that God created man from congealed blood in the uterus of the mother – it makes no sense to him. Islamic teachings are not dogmatic but rational, unlike the Trinity in Christianity which is an absurdity, rationally speaking, but must be believed to be a Christian. In Islam, text of a Hadith “should not be (accepted if it is) against the dictates of reason, the laws of nature, or common experience.”[5] On the other hand if a Qur’anic verse is not explainable in the light of experimental (scientific) knowledge it simply means that such knowledge has not advanced enough to explain it.

Modification of Required Courses. It should be a requirement for Islamic studies students to take a few courses in natural and social sciences. Conversely, natural and social science students must take some courses in Islamic studies. It is necessary for raising an enlightened generation of good thinkers and leaders in Islam for the Muslim world which will benefit the whole world.

Optional Courses, Majors and Minors. There should be some cross-science majors and minors available for students. Those students majoring in chemistry or economics should be able to take a minor in Qur’an or Hadith studies. Conversely, a student majoring in any of the Islamic studies should be able take chemistry or economics as minor. In addition, all students should be allowed to take optional courses from any other department.

Merger of Institutions. The long term plan should be to do away with the separation of educational institutions. Islam-oriented universities in the Muslim world should take lead into offering a full-fledged curriculum of Islamic studies which should far excel those offered at old style madarassahs and will bring two types of institutions closer together, leading to their merger. A vision for the Ummah is needed.

[1]  Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, THE TRANSLATION OF THE MEANING OF SAHIH Al-BUKHARI, Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, 1987, vol. 1-9,

[2]  Major Muhammad Amin Minhas (retired), audiotapes of tafseer of the Qur’an, Islamabad, Pakistan.

[3]  In this article all Qur’an translations given are slightly modified versions of A. Yusuf Ali or Muhammad Marmaducke Pickthal.

[4]  Maurice Bucaille, THE BIBLE, THE QUR’AN AND THE SCIENCE, American Trust Publications, Indianapolis, IN, 1979.

[5]  Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi, HADITH LITERATURE, It’s Origin, Development & Special Features, The Islamic      Text Society, Cambridge, England, 1993, p. 114.

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