How many Muslim Nobel prize winners are there? There are 2 how many Jewish Nobel prize winners are there? About 1/4th of all Nobel prize winners are Jewish. There are 2 billion Muslims in the world, and 15 million Jews. Had Islam’s intellectual standing not collapsed in 1100- they would have every single Nobel prize today! -Prof. Neil deGrasse Tyson (this number has changed although not drastically)
So the question is WHY?
I’m taking a class on the sociology of science, which naturally crosses over into the philosophies involved with science so I’ve been reading and learning a lot lately about science, how it operates, its philosophies and approaches. So naturally, I reflected on it and realized where Islam fits in today…
Muslims don’t like science, even though we are very educated- what we do is we have to aspects of ourselves, the religious self, and the educated self- and neither speaks to each other. What this means is we approach Islam in the same way we approach superstitions (i.e. backwards). This is why you’ll see PhDs forwarding the stupidest most obviously fabricated ‘Islamic’ emails about if you don’t forward this you are going to Hell.
Misapplication of Islamic piety
The reason for the Muslim approach is because we fear the certainty of science and how its certainty can lead us into doubting Islam. This is not new, Imam Ghazali was against Mathematics because he feared (why do we even have fears against shaytanic forces? it teaches powerlessness before evil) it would lead to the student to view the world in a very exact, precise way- through the lens of mathematics and therefore, apply this view of science, to Islam. Now, this is not uncommon- the science of biology (observation) is different from physics or math which are rooted in laws- every science has its own dynamics and they do compete (Richard Feynman, great physicist described psychology as a bunch of “cargo cult science”) so this needs to be noted. Consequently, Imam Ghazali’s fears are among the reasons why Islam’s Golden age of learning collapsed and the so-called Ummah was “revived.” Whether, this is a false dichotomy or not, can be debated, but referring back to my point about the PhDs sending mindless, stupid, emails degrading to Islam leads me to believe this is a fair assumption: When Islamic dogmatism rises, science suffers. But I also believe that, if Islamic understanding rises to a level of yaqeen (certainty and confidence) in the deen where one will not be afraid to dive into the worldly sciences, knowing for a fact, they cannot contradict Islam.
The man who supposedly crippled the Golden age of Islamic learning and discovery, and yet, revived the religion
Yet contrary to these assumptions one must understand one essential truth: science is rooted in doubt. You question the phenomena of this world- whether they be societies and human interaction (sociology) or animals, and you test hypotheses. If they don’t pan out, you note that down- that is your discovery, x doesn’t work as an explanation- and then what do you do? You try again. Conversely, medieval notions of religion are rooted in absolute, all-encompassing certainty to such a degree and in such a way that all doubt is avoided.This is a key distinction.
How do Muslims approach certainty and doubt?
We need to understand Allah’s promise that Islam is universal as enough. We need to stop doubting this truth because everything scientific, whether it be historical, literary, intellectual, psychological spiritual or even biologically oriented- speaks to the truth of Islam. If we can approach that with certainty we can look at science in-depth, and for reasons I will prove, more successfully . But if we keep doubting Islam, we will avoid the sciences and the ummah resembles jahiliyyah.
In the early eras of Islam- doubt was welcomed. But Muslims today are so pitted and shocked into a fear of everything ‘un-Islamic.’ How many know that the notion of evolution was actually first proposed by a Muslim? Surprised? It doesn’t contradict Islam because Islam leaves this chapter of the human story open to many explanations and understandings.
But for Muslim scientists in the golden age, their mentality doesn’t conflict with religion. They see these ideas as tools, theory is a tool to be used. It doesn’t purport absolute certainty- because remember science is rooted in doubt. If science boasted absolute certainty, its not science anymore- doubt, questions, and the prospect of discovery is gone; now its religion. Dogma has no place in science because every successful science has kept his foot grounded in doubt and question, while holding onto a handful of certainties for stability. Understand that even rationality can be questioned in science as the philosophers of the past have said: “Prove the validity of reason, without presupposing it.” That should show us why we should not try to legitimize Islam with science, because if we were to hypothetically achieve that, its not Islam anymore, its not religion anymore, its science- devoid of certainties and full of doubt (much like many of the world’s religions). This amounts in my opinion to abusing the religion of Islam.
Muslims need to realize everything about our religion is scientific- if not supra-scientific: our hadith, our fiqh, our religious sciences all have validity and reliability in their explanations of the human spirituality; in short, they work but we are always discovering why and how they work. They don’t fit into traditional or Euro-centric conceptions of science, in the same way chiropractry or acupuncture doesn’t fit, but again it works so one can’t out rule them. Furthermore, spiritual states in the science of tasawwuf are very rigorously understood- the different spiritual experiences are accounted for and understood in Islam; but a step further, from different viewpoints (tariqas). Not only this, but many aspects of Islamic belief, canon and religious wisdom have always been ahead of the curve (a few I know for a fact: memory and cognitive science, psychology and forgiveness, washing/hygiene and spiritual wellness, time and dromology, and of course the classic scientific miracles of the Quran). But, here is the catch- you wouldn’t make these discoveries into the Divine wisdom present in Islam, if you did not learn the sciences!
So there are 3 obstacles as to why Muslims lag behind in the sciences:
1) Fear of Sciences as a threat to Islam: It should be a fundamental precedent to not indulge outside scientific inquiry into religion because most Muslims will not be able to overcome this fear. Trying to legitimize Islam with outside science is a pointless pursuit, because we know it will be proved in time- its inevitable, so why rush it now? It will not deal with our problem and no benefit to the rest of humanity, if only to simply placate the inferiority complex of the Muslims (which it won’t ever achieve because it presumes, without justification, science to be greater than Islam).
2) Preoccupation with Islam: Many of the doctors employed by the Muslims in Muslim history were Christians. Scientific advancement requires a great deal of time and devotion and if you are always busy struggling with Islam, you simply don’t have the same opportunity a non-Muslim has in pursuing scientific studies. If you can’t balance yourself, it simply won’t happen- here is a positive side to being in a very religious community where perfecting your Islam isn’t hard. Furthermore, we are coping with so much in the Muslim world- warfare, poverty, disease, globalization and competiting cultural forces, sectarian and religious confusion, apathy and a lack of leadership and vision. Being busy with the turmoil all these issues creates makes it difficult for us to succeed scientifically, let alone put in the time for it.
3) Superficiality: Saudi Arabia is building a new university- KAUST and in speaking to a friend who is learning Arabic in Jeddah, I know for a fact, as many other scholars have verified, the intellectual roof there is very low. Its no secret Islam in Saudi resembles authoritarian, repressive rule, to the point Islamic development is repressed and censored. I doubt any real advancement will happen with this new university- its being built more for show and possibility in hopes it will lead to something in future generations.
4) Why don’t we make prayer for ideas or scientific advancement? This indicates a lack of desire among the pious for any sort of scientific progress. When we think of knowledge, we think of Islamic knowledge- not knowledge of the world (knowledge of the world is actually a commentary on religious wisdom). Now, its important if we want Islam’s glory- that our pious people take up the sciences of the world and learn how to balance both their deen and dunya for God’s sake, not their own.
How the Prophet Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wasalam) Approached the Sciences
Understanding the above will lay fertile ground for scientific advancement in the Muslim world. The hadith delineates science and religion in a very powerful way. The sahabas saw the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam being surprised by how they pollinated the date palms in the Madina (there are male and female parts that one manually has to pollinate). This was strange to him, because he was from Mecca. The sahabas interpreted this surprise as something they shouldn’t do because they felt they upset him (salallahu alayhi wasalam). And so their crops ended up badly and they went to him and told him what happened. Nabi (salallahu alayhi wasalam) said: “Antum adra bi umuri dunyakum- You know your worldly affairs better than I do.” Our Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam didn’t come to guide us in agriculture!
Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.