Reclaiming Our Knowledge Base (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

It is now known that the old theory of a static Universe is no longer tenable. Modern science has revealed that there is nothing fixed or static in the Universe, and it has been expanding ever since it came into existence.

“AND IT IS We who have built the Universe with [Our creative] power; and, verily, it is We who are steadily expanding it.” (The Quran 51:47, Translation: Mohammad Asad)

Thus, by nature of its creation, our Universe is dynamic and everything in it is perpetually changing.

Our Earth has been changing as well. Scientists say that it has taken millions of years and several eons of adaptation for it to become suitable to support life.

Our mountains, oceans, deserts, and forests have traded places on Earth through the shifting sands of time; so has the life that it supports. Some species have come and gone and others have adapted to change. These natural changes have occurred everywhere on Earth: in its air, on its land, and under its seas. Here also, there is nothing fixed or static.

The Quran supports the above facts of modern science. (For details see Maurice Bucaille’s The Bible, The Quran, and Science.)

Our Earth has existed far longer than human beings. So have all other living species. Therefore, they are well adapted to natural change. The same may not be said of us humans, though. Endowed with the power of rational thinking, we also have the ability and willingness to destroy ourselves. According to Einstein:

“By painful experience we have learnt that rational thinking does not suffice to solve the problems of our social life. Penetrating research and keen scientific work have often had tragic implications for mankind, producing, on the one hand, inventions which liberated man from exhausting physical labor, making his life easier and richer; but on the other hand, introducing a grave restlessness into his life, making him a slave to his technological environment, and—most catastrophic of all—creating the means for his own mass destruction.” [Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, p. 152]

The main motivation of powerful nations pursuing this course is to dominate weaker ones – by hook or by crook. Initially, the self-destructive forces produced by following such a course remain relatively imperceptible, thus producing a false sense that their power will last forever. But as time goes on, these nations meet their eventual destruction despite their power (68:44, 28:58-59, 26:128-135). History is full of such stories: ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Rome and even some parts of the New World are now graveyards of powerful civilizations. The Quran says that this destruction is not a random act of God but is the result of their wrong actions (4:82, 15:4, 18:59), based on the Quranic law of requital (for rise and fall of nations).

Since there is no exception to this law, the Muslim nation (or Ummah) is also subject to the working of this inexorable and immutable law. Whatever events might have been responsible for the downfall of the Muslim nation, it went down, in the final analysis, because it violated this law and ran out of its period of respite. And, now, it is only by patiently following this law that it can ever hope to recover its past dignity and glory. There is no other way.

Actually, there are two aspects of this law i.e., two sides of the same coin. Both are essential according to the Quran, for the rise, growth, and the moral and intellectual advancement of a nation: i) knowledge of the forces of the outer world, and ii) knowledge of the forces of the inner world within human beings. One without the other is bound to lead to ultimate destruction of any civilization. With proper balance between these two forces, human societal advancement will know no bounds, both intellectually and spiritually.

This article will focus on ways to achieve this proper balance and to highlight some steps to reclaiming the lost Islamic glory.

But first of all, let us be clear that a nation cannot hope to recover from its abyss unless it changes its inner self (called Nafs by the Quran). This may be called Allah’s law of change. Stopgap measures or doing patch up work only to treat the symptoms (as many Muslim leaders seem to be advocating) would only prolong suffering and would not cure the disease. A nation needs a fundamental change in its outlook, its psychology, and its attitude if it truly wants to change its destiny. The Quran says:

“Verily, God does not change men’s [nation’s] condition unless they change their inner selves.” (13:11)[Translation: Muhammad Asad]

This is because a people going through a period of downfall suffer from slavish mentality:

“They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle, – nay more misguided: for they are heedless (of warning).” (7:179)[Translation: Yusuf Ali]

A nation suffering from the mental maladies mentioned in the above verse cannot hope to recover its power of original thinking without changing its inner self. And without the power of original thinking, a nation that is down and being pushed around, as we are, cannot acquire power over its own land let alone acquiring power over the forces of the outer world.

Our individual scientific achievements, although worthy of appreciation, are without a central cohesive organization and really do not count much as far as recapturing the Muslim nation’s lost glory is concerned. These individual Muslim achievements are part of the grand scheme of whatever organization (for example, NASA) they may happen to be working for. For Muslim scientific achievements to be effective (like producing their own space shuttle), there needs to be an organizational structure that is organically related to the body of the Muslim Ummah, which possesses unique life of its own.

One way to achieve glory in science is through the philosophy of secularism being practiced by the West. The West achieved its scientific prowess only after giving God and Caesar their separate dues, and by assigning them two separate arenas of human thought: one for scientific thinking – done by people of science, and the other for religious thinking – done by people of religion. One was not allowed to interfere with the other. Religious people took charge of the Church and its hierarchy, and the science people took charge of Science and its hierarchy.

After Galileo was sentenced to death by the Church for his scientific thinking that was in conflict with the Church, it made perfect sense to the West to create these two mutually exclusive compartments of human thought. This separation has apparently enabled the West to gain mastery over the forces of the outer world as never before.

Since at the present time we are in the grips of this Western approach, we Muslims tend to believe that this is the way to glory in science. But let us see what modern Western thinkers have to say about this approach.

“For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary…. Representatives of science have often made an attempt to arrive at fundamental judgments with respect of values and ends on the basis of scientific methods and in this way have set themselves in opposition to religion. These conflicts have all sprung from fatal errors. . . For the scientist, there is only “being,” but not wishing, no valuing, no good, no evil, no goal.” [Albert Einstein,Out of My Later Years, p. 152]

 “We began our era of scientific efficiency confident that materialistic triumphs would solve life’s problems. We are finding we were wrong. Life is not as simple as that.” [J.W.T. Mason, Creative Freedom, pp 183-4.]

“ Man has created a new world with its own laws and destiny. Looking at his creation, he can say, truly, it is good. But looking at himself what can he say? … While we have created wonderful things we have failed to make of ourselves beings for whom this tremendous effort would seem worthwhile.”  [Erich Fromm, Psychoanalysis & Religion, pages 1-2]

Why does the West fail to deal with the complex problems of humankind? After all, the West came to their current methodology after a long, hard fought battle with the Church resulting in the constitutional separation of the Church and the State. The answer may actually lie in the very principle of the separation of Church and State which essentially created a dualistic self: one private, the other public; one related to the Church, the other related to the State; one subjective, the other objective; one devoted to Sunday, the other devoted to the rest of the days.

Thus, God became associated with the private life of citizens while the State took control of their public life. Forces within the inner world of human beings thus became disassociated with the forces of their outer world. This created tension in people’s inner and outer worlds. All the power the West has mustered through the control and mastery over the outer world seems unable to control the destructive forces of its inner world. One has become bright and shiny while the other has remained dark and gloomy. The fullness of body and emptiness of the soul are the obvious manifestations of practicing this Western approach to life. In the words of Erich Fromm:

“Ours is a life not of brotherliness, happiness, contentment but of spiritual chaos and bewilderment dangerously close to state of madness — not the hysterical kind of madness which existed in the Middle Ages but a madness akin to schizophrenia in which the contact with reality is lost and thought is split from affect.”

“Those who try to find a solution by returning to traditional religion are influenced by a view which is often proposed by religionists, that we have to choose between religion and a way of life which is concerned only with the satisfaction of our instinctual needs and material comfort…Priests and ministers appear to be the only professional groups concerned with the soul, the only spokesmen for the ideals of love, truth, and justice.”  [Psychoanalysis & Religion, pages 1-2.]

Contrary to the approach practiced by the West, the past glory of Muslims in Science was not the result of separation of science and religion. Those revolutionary Muslim scientists were truly devoted to religion while carrying out their scientific studies. There were no contradictions between their scientific thinking and their religious thinking. In fact, the driving force behind their scientific discoveries was the Quranic command to observe the signs of Allah spread throughout the Universe (3:189-191, 16:48, 21-30-32, 23:18, 26:7-8, etc.).

As we have seen in the first part of this article, the achievements of these Muslim scientists were truly astounding—maybe more than the Western scientific achievements—because they were pioneers in creating and advancing so many branches of new knowledge (without the modern facilities enjoyed by later scientists). It may even be fair to say that there would not have been a Western renaissance in such a short time without Muslim achievements in science. Western historians of science generally recognize the fact (as we have also seen in the first part of this article) that the West actually built its scientific superstructure on the giant shoulders of these great Muslim scientists of the past.

So, there we have it: two distinct approaches to science. One may be called the isolationistic approach, the other holistic or integrated approach. These two approaches create their own distinctive social, cultural, and moral environments. This is where the second aspect of the law of the rise and fall of nations comes into play. The inner soul of the Western society is suffering from its isolationist approach even though it has acquired unprecedented power over the forces of nature through science. Allama Iqbal has beautifully captured this dilemma of the West thus:

He, who seeks the path of stars in the outer worldCouldn’t travel the world of his own thoughts He, who has captured the rays of the shining SunCouldn’t find the morning of his life’s own dark night

In other words, human reason can subdue the forces of nature but cannot by itself find a satisfactory solution to the complexity of the problems of humankind. The holistic or integrated approach provided by the Quran is the only way by which we can achieve success in balancing both aspects of human existence: material (the outer world) as well as spiritual (the inner world). How can we achieve that balance? We will discuss it in the next article. Wa maa taufeeqi illa billahil a‘liyil a‘dheem.

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