Academic journal article Islam & Science

Islam, Rationality and Science

Academic journal article Islam & Science

Islam, Rationality and Science

Article excerpt

The debate over the compatibility of Islam and science still continues to invoke responses from basically two opposite camps: those who reject outright the prospect and feasibility of a compromise between religion and science, and those who see a compromise as not only reasonable but necessary if an equilibrium of values were to be kept in perspective. While identifying the basic points of tension between these two positions, this essay attempts to provide a survey and an analysis of basic Qur'anic evidence on relevant issues. An attempt is also made to present a round up of modern opinion in Muslim scholarly circles on the various aspects of the debate. The basic hypothesis maintained here is that the Qur'anic epistemology is inclusive not only of traditional knowledge but also of scientific knowledge.

Keywords: Epistemology; metaphysics; experimentation; reason; secularism; induction; education; philosophy; positivism; revelation; hearing; sight; intuition; imitation; dictatorship; modernity; the West.

Introductory Remarks

The Islamic concept of knowledge encompasses transcendental knowledge as well as knowledge that is based on sense perception and observation. Islam also lays emphasis on beneficial knowledge that advances human welfare and seeks to utilize the resources of the universe for sound and beneficial purposes. The Qur'anic doctrine of vicegerency (khilafah) also places on Man, as a trustee and custodian of the earth, the responsibility to build the earth and utilize its resources with a sense of justice to oneself, one's fellow humans, the environment and other inhabitants of the earth. Scientific observation, experimental knowledge and rationality are the principal tools that can be employed in the proper fulfillment of this mission. Islam's perception of knowledge is thus value-oriented and informed by ethical and theological concerns. Many Muslim commentators have seen this as a basic pattern of harmony, rather than conflict, between Islam and science. But since the greatest achievements in science and technology at the present age are associated with Western civilization, the Islamic proposition of basic harmony is not the accepted framework in that context. The West's perception of religion and science does not recognize any link between the two and does not commit science to any structure of values outside its own perimeters. Western science has no place for religion and it sets the scene therefore for disharmony and discordance with it. Whereas Islam envisages a basic harmony with science, secularity and positivism, which are the principal attributes of Western science, dissociate science from religion. Due to global domination of Western technology and science, and its resolute alienation of religion, the claim is also made, and made increasingly louder, that Islam is no exception. Islam too is a part of the ancient world and the basic picture of conflict between science and religion therefore applies equally to Islam.

In almost all contemporary Muslim societies, there is on the one hand the urge to follow the Islamic tenets and live in accordance with its outlook and values, and on the other hand, the enormous pressure on individuals and societies to learn and adopt science and technology if they were to harness them to their advantage. This has created a dichotomy: they can neither wholeheartedly support the secular and materialistic outlook of science, nor the age-old notions of religion as many would see it to be out of touch with the demands of modernity and science.

It is the theme and purpose of this essay to test the accuracy of these claims, to ascertain the nature of the scientific method, and the extent of harmony and conflict between Islam and science. To do this, I propose to review some of the relevant passages of the Qur'an and then discuss the acceptability or otherwise of some of the tools of science, such as the inductive reason, to the epistemology of the Qur'an. …

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