Imam al-Ghazali on Studying Science


3641607429_dc85a7383d_b A thousand years ago, Imam al-Ghazali wrote in his autobiography Deliverance from Error: “A clumsy and stupid person must be kept away from the seashore, not the proficient swimmer; and a child must be prevented from handling a snake, not the skilled snake-charmer.”

This was his advice in regards to the science of philosophy, particularly the Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle which many Muslims took pride in studying. He was warning them of the dangers that could result from this study. But he didn’t stop there. He even warned people about studying mathematics and other sciences. Why?

So You Thought You Were Safe
“What’s wrong with math?” you might ask. “That has nothing to do with religion.” Here is what al-Ghazali had to say: “The mathematical sciences…nothing in them entails denial or affirmation of religious matters…from them, however, two evils have been caused…”

The First Danger: Blind Conformity
“One of these is that whoever takes up these mathematical sciences marvels at the fine precision of their details and the clarity of their proofs. Because of that, he forms a high opinion of the philosophers [who were the mathematicians at that time] and assumes that all their sciences have the same lucidity and rational solidarity as this science of mathematics. Moreover, he will have heard the talk of the town about their unbelief and their negative attitude. [They say]: ‘If religion were true, this would not have been unknown to these philosophers […]’”

Al-Ghazali then expresses his deep regret over this sad state of affairs: “How many a man have I seen who strayed from the path of truth on this pretext and for no other reason!”

The only thing that has changed in our time is that it is not the philosopher who holds such a position in the eyes of students, but rather the scientist. How many times have I heard a Muslim doubting something about his own religion while saying: “But scientists say…”? One thousand years and not much has changed.

Imam al-Ghazali goes on to say that a man skilled in one field is not necessarily skilled in every field. Also, the internal consistency of one subject does not necessarily relate to another subject. Today, we find that even psychiatrists need a shrink or some family counseling sometimes. Just because someone may have the ability to process mathematical equations quickly in their mind or to figure out how certain chemicals react with one another doesn’t mean they have all the answers to life.

The Second Danger: Rejecting the Good
There is another problem. When some well-meaning believers realize the first danger, they begin to form a hatred for the sciences themselves rather than differentiating between the subject and its adherents. The Imam said, “The second evil likely to follow from the study of the mathematical sciences derives from the case of an ignorant friend of Islam who supposed that our religion must be championed by the rejection of every science ascribed to the philosophers…”
This mentality, the rejection of scientific research, whether it be in the natural or social sciences, is also very dangerous. Islam teaches us to take what is good and leave what is bad.

What to Do
So what should a Muslim do in such circumstances? There is no easy answer to that question. The Muslim perception is that everyone ‘needs’ a good (secular) education nowadays and there will naturally be some risks. If we concede the correctness of that ‘need’, the real solution will have to be a long term one, where practicing Muslims end up teaching the sciences, thus cutting off both evils from the root.

In the meantime, we can follow the words of the son-in-law of the Prophet ﷺ: “Don’t know the truth by men. Rather, know the truth and you will know its adherents.”

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37 Comments

  1. Sami Said says:

    which son-in-law, ali or uthman (may allah be pleased with them both)?

  2. Abû Mûsâ Al-Ḥabashî says:

    SubhânAllâh good points.

  3. Abubakr says:

    Jazakallahu khair for the reminder. My response is long, but this is a topic quite relevant to me as a student in university so I thought I might share some thoughts on this ever-relevant issue as the Imam noted. I have seen a Muslim brother leave Islam as a result of this absurd claim of many scientists being atheists, the logic of which only made sense to him after being in the company of such people. The importance of company is huge, as the human intellect is often times far from rational and consistent. So what appears to make sense to a man at one point in his life may seem absurd at another. Additionally, the simple fact of being born in America in the 21st century automatically makes many haram, unnatural things (such as being intimate before marriage so as to know who is compatible), appear to be “normal” and “make sense” for many of the people at first.

    For the issue of science at hand, there are always those who have been lured by the superficial beauty of the worldly life, whether it is in the outward elegance of a philosophy or an experiment and instead of seeing the power of Allah, they become arrogant and think themselves self-sufficient, as though they do not need Him. May Allah protect us all.

    The Qur’an addresses this issue on countless occasions- see the example of the arrogant man with the garden mentioned in Suratul Kahf (18:32-43), and the owners of the garden mentioned in Suratul-Qalam (68:17-33), and the people of Pharoah for whom neither the heavens nor the earth cried as mentioned in Surah Dukhan (44:17-29). How many people have fallen from greatness and arrogance to utter humiliation and catastrophe? A person may think his intellect is secure, but how many great minds have been unable to produce as a result of disease or brain injury or societal upheaval or any number of other reasons that change one’s life drastically? At every generation, the strong and the arrogant corrupters think none has more power and knowledge than they, but so did every one from past generations, and now they are lost, forgotten, irrelevant. Allah asks us in Surah Maryam, verse 98: “And how many generations have We destroyed before them! Do you find any trace of them, or hear from them a sound?” (a transl. of meaning from A.Zidan and D.Zidan)

    And the story of Qarun provides a clear warning, not only of Qarun, but those who admired him, in Suratul Qasas:

    76. Qarun was doubtless, of the people of Moses; but he acted insolently towards them: such were the treasures We had bestowed on him that their very keys would have been a burden to a body of strong men, behold, his people said to him: “Exult not, for Allah loveth not those who exult (in riches).

    77. “But seek, with the (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on thee, the Home of the Hereafter, nor forget thy portion in this world: but do thou good, as Allah has been good to thee, and seek not (occasions for) mischief in the land: for Allah loves not those who do mischief.”

    78. He said: “This has been given to me because of a certain knowledge which I have.” Did he not know that Allah had destroyed, before him, (whole) generations,- which were superior to him in strength and greater in the amount (of riches) they had collected? but the wicked are not called (immediately) to account for their sins.

    79. So he went forth among his people in the (pride of his wordly) glitter. Said those whose aim is the Life of this World: “Oh! that we had the like of what Qarun has got! for he is truly a lord of mighty good fortune!”

    80. But those who had been granted (true) knowledge said: “Alas for you! The reward of Allah (in the Hereafter) is best for those who believe and work righteousness: but this none shall attain, save those who steadfastly persevere (in good).”

    81. Then We caused the earth to swallow up him and his house; and he had not (the least little) party to help him against Allah, nor could he defend himself.

    82. And those who had envied his position the day before began to say on the morrow: “Ah! it is indeed Allah Who enlarges the provision or restricts it, to any of His servants He pleases! had it not been that Allah was gracious to us, He could have caused the earth to swallow us up! Ah! those who reject Allah will assuredly never prosper.”

    83. That Home of the Hereafter We shall give to those who intend not high- handedness or mischief on earth: and the end is (best) for the righteous.

    (Y.Ali trans. of meaning of Suratul Qasas, 28:76-83, )

    I remember once a modern scientist said that the only reason so many scientists of the past such as Newton believed in God was because whenever they didn’t know what the cause of something was, they attributed it to God. Ignoring for a moment just how this man can claim to know the real reason for the faith of Newton and others, the argument does not hold for a number reasons, as even today, many scientists, including some of the giants such as Einstein, believe in a Creator. In fact, regardless of a person’s belief, the reality remains that the greatest, most respected scientists usually are the first to admit how little they understand of the universe or the human body for example. Arrogance is often seen in the young scientists and those who feel they have something to prove. Generally, the more a person knows, the more humble they become. Additionally, in the default case, the beauties in mathematics and the sciences should take a person to God. I remember reading a couple of articles on these issues
    see “intelligent design”: http://www.conservapedia.com/Intelligent_design
    see “Life is complicated”: http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100331/full/464664a.html
    see also: the famous research paper on intelligent design at: http://www.discovery.org/a/2177.

    One of such scientists who do believe in a creator noted the following: “In his autobiography, Crick says very candidly biologists must remind themselves daily that what they study was not created, it evolved; it was not designed, it evolved. Why do they have to remind themselves of that? Because otherwise, the facts which are staring them in the face and trying to get their attention might break through. What we discovered when I developed a working group of scientists, philosophers, et al., in the United States was that living organisms look as if they were designed and they look that way because that is exactly what they are.”

    We are surrounded by profound questions such as why the laws of the universe are the way they are, and how random arrangements of amino acids formed functional proteins within the lifetime of the universe given the more than astronomical number of possible combinations? The fact that we think we have come close to understanding some topics should not lead to any arrogance. Imagine if a modern car was shown to the 15th century. First off, the scientists would never say this was not designed, it just “happened.” Those who did would appear literally foolish to us in the 21st century. And if over time, those 15th century scientists managed to figure out most of how a car operates, would they then say, now that we know how it works, there is no need for a designer to have made this car. This would also appear literally absurd for the inventors in the 21st century.

    So how can today, we see the world around us, and claim it all came out of nowhere somehow going against basic intuition, even basic thermodynamics and Newton’s laws. Science itself is based on the assumption that things don’t just “happen,” there must be forces, laws, principles guiding action that need to be searched, but the atheist takes science and then for its most profound questions, says the answers to these questions are just chance, random, and there is no need to look further. The man does not doubt the truth of a million things when it comes to his daily life or his experiments because it would be impractical, unsustainable, and unnecessary, but when it comes to the greatest Truth, Al-Haq, Allah, he begins to have incessant doubts. Such is the plot of shaitan and the nafs that realizes the truth but does not want what follows a realization of the truth–submission. The implications for recognizing the greatest Truth are truly great.

    Most people from the scientist to the plumber today chose to ignore the obvious signs and not to think too deeply about such matters, but the reflecting mind realizes quickly that the distractions of power, wealth, and intellect do not last, and do not save. Writers often delve deep into such thoughts, and much of human literature is devoted to the tragedy and search for meaning in life. In Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, one of the greatest short stories in world literature, the famous judge on his deathbed realizes what a waste his life has been, and screams for three days. Man is weak, and without something to hold onto, without Allah’s guidance, there is nothing but darkness.

    “And those who disbelieve, their deeds are as a mirage in a levelled desert, which the thirsty one deems to be water, until he reaches it, he finds nothing, but he finds GOD there, and He pays him his account in full, and GOD is swift in reckoning.

    Or like the depths of darkness in a vast ocean, overwhelmed with billows, topped by billows, topped by clouds, layers of utter darkness, one above another, when he puts out his hand, he can hardly see it, and whoever GOD does not assign a light, no light has he. ”

    Trans. of meaning of Surah Nur 39-40 (Dr. A. Zidan and D. Zidan’s translation)

    • Muhammad Naushervan says:

      JazakAllah brother. A very informative comment! We Muslims need intelligent, informative people like you to combat the ‘seemingly’ intelligent approach of the atheists, who use science to leverage themselves, and make it look as if the science that everybody trusts (the reason for so much progress in the last century) is on their side. This tends to give them the upper hand. Even though science is not with them — as you rightly pointed out, they tend to be arrogant and hasty in their rejection of God.
      So we have to be intelligent/knowledgeable like them in our approach to counteract their arguments. Otherwise we’ll lose our own brothers and sisters to their incessant, intelligent propaganda!

    • Ayman says:

      Assalamulaikum,

      Excellent points brother – it’s great to know that Muslims have begun to equip themselves with the necessary knowledge to combat the faulty presuppositions and arguments from Secular Worldviews.

      As a former Agnostic, I’ve had my fair share of experience dwelling in doubt, and being persuaded by Atheistic arguments. It was only until I started thinking more deeply, scratching the surface, and being exposed to the works of brilliant thinkers such as Imam Ghazali, Said Nursi etc. (may Allah be pleased with them), that I realized that all the Atheistic arguments of today, are just rehashed versions of those from centuries ago.

      These arguments have been killed centuries ago, and the only problem is the ignorance in the world today. This is especially true in the Muslim world. However, we are seeing a profound revival. In the UK you have brilliant thinkers such as Hamza Tzortzis, and Adam Deen who are combating the Secular movement. I encourage everyone to watch their debates against prestigious professors and philosophers representing the Atheistic position. Just watch how easily the Atheist falls apart when he faces a Muslim who knows their stuff! Subhanallah!

      Now, Atheists are trying to appeal to Quantum Mechanics and Modern Cosmology to show that things can really ‘come from nothing’. Of course, none of this is true, and you only have to be moderately-versed in science to know this. What they really mean is that the universe emerged from the quantum vacuum, however, this is NOT nothing. It is a rich sea of fluctuating energy that obeys the laws of the universe.

      The universe could NOT have existed for an infinite amount of time. If this were the case, you’d run into the problem of an infinite regress of past events. Further, modern cosmology prefers a finite model of the universe. You’ll notice that physicists such as Hawking or Lawrence Krauss assert that the universe is flat (and by implication infinite), however, remember that they’re:

      1) Translating their understanding of the precise, precise mathematics which describe reality, to colloquial language which is very, very imprecise and carries connotations that have nothing to do with the actual mathematics behind what these physicists are describing.

      2) They’re relaying their interpretation of the data, which may seem consistent, but is just a philosophical presumption. There are OTHER EQUALLY VALID interpretations of the data (ex. the Universe IS FINITE).

      3) The evidence only shows that the universe is NEARLY flat (so it’s not actually infinite). Not only that, the interpretation of the universe being infinite is philosophically unsound (refer to the problem of an infinite regress of events).

      If we can establish that the universe is in fact finite, and did have a beginning, then it rationally follows that it has a Creator. Why? For, something cannot come from nothing (i.e. absolute non-being). Anyways, you guys can read more here: http://actualevidence.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1125:proving-the-existence-of-the-necessary-existent&catid=103:articles&Itemid=74

      • charmedshiva says:

        Your joking right? You think Hamza Tzortzis and Adam Deen make the secular and atheist thinkers fall apart?
        You didn’t do your fair share of doubting, like you claim.

        1. Don’t talk about the science of theoretical physicists until you actually know the physics.

        2. The basis of the problem is (1) religion’s knowledge claims and (2) how religion came about. The way science claims knowledge and the way religion claims “knowledge” are extremely different. And the way science came about and the way religions come about are extremely different.

  4. Ali says:

    I see some serious errors in argument, and a lack of awareness of the scientific method.

    Mathematics and the physical sciences cannot in any way instill blind conformity. In fact, every proof, every hypothesis that is to be verified must be demonstrated with evidence, and must be repeatable by others. Or at least the evidence can be tested by others. Regardless of time. Elementary courses at universities in analysis and logic teach students to examine the proofs. You are invited to challenge the proofs, provided you too can prove based on evidence and logic. The claim that the sciences breed blind conformity is untrue.

    Also, a high opinion of the philosophers and scientists of old does not mean we do not question them. The theory of the natural elements; earth, fire, water, air, was proven wrong, and replaced with the atomic theory. Kepler, Galileo and Copernicus disproved the Christian idea that the Earth was the center of the world. The Maxwellian idea of an ether was proven incorrect, for electromagnetism needed no media. Even today, at CERN and Fermilab, scientists are pushing the limit to see at what limit does Einstein’s theory break down.

    I believe the claim that science breeds blind conformity is incorrect. That may have been the case during Ghazzali’s time, but the philosophy of Francis Bacon and Galileo Galilee is the foundation of modern science. A philosophy based on the premise of skepticism.

    • Abubakr says:

      Salam Ali. You bring up good points, but I think it is important to remember the main thrust of Imam Ghazali’s argument is that many scientists/philosophers have been so impressed by the sophistication of their work that they then reject God and reject the need for any religion. The result has become that it is a predominant trend for scientists to be agnostics/atheists. So many people who enter science, instead of questioning this trend and asking whether in fact the evidence of life and the universe do point to the existence of a Creator, simply follow what is popular and vogue at the time. Today, while there are scientists who do believe in the Creator, their voices and opinions are not put in the spotlight and mostly it is avoided under separation of religion/state/science.

      So the blind conformity we are discussing is not conformity towards the work of other scientists and philosophers that you mention but rather blind conformity towards the notion that there is no need for religion once one has science. AS MUSLIMS, WE ARE SKEPTICAL SCIENTISTS, BUT NOT A SKEPTICAL BELIEVER.

      Also, I think you should note that although science prides itself on its skepticism, it is still a HUMAN field, which means that throughout its history, many have had other factors interfere with their interpretation of experiments, which is exactly why skepticism is needed. In other words, scientists emphasize skepticism PRECISELY because of how biased and limited most experiments and their interpretation can be.

      • Ali says:

        Interesting. I do not think that is the case, as Ghazzali asserts. I think your last paragraph is far more accurate as to why scientists become agnostic/atheistic. The hold to the philosophy of skepticism and see religion as a human field, with its history of interference and interpretation. And considering the clever sophistry in so many of them, how can it be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that one is truer than the other? I think that is what leads many away.

        As far as believing scientists go, their opinions are brought to the spotlight. Annually, the Templeton Foundation gives a HUGE chunk of money to a believing scientist. This year the winner was Francisco Ayala. The reason you probably do not hear of believing scientists is because their opinions (from the point of view of true believers) may as well be agnostic/atheistic. These scientists are mostly deists. They believe in a Creator, but one who just made the universe and doesn’t bother with it beyond that.

        • Ayman says:

          Ali – I would have to say that I agree with some of your points, however, disagree with others. For one, I do not agree with your critique of Imam al-Ghazali’s contention.

          As I’m sure you’ve noticed, in the West the common presupposition even laymen hold is: there is some inherent conflict between science and religion. All religions are grouped together, and a number of generalizations are made. For instance, the problems in Christianity are often extended to Islam, even when no thorough study of Islam has been conducted.

          I’ve engaged many Atheists in conversations, and they attempt to superimpose the problems Europe faced with regards to the church repressing scientific advancement, on Islamic history. I continually have to explain that the Islamic tradition never had this experience. Rather, there was a harmonious blend of scientific inquiry within the context of belief in Allah (i.e. the transcendent).

          It was in fact the desire to Know Allah that led many Muslim theologians and philosophers to also study science. Ibn Al-Haytham comes to mind.

          One can most certainly demonstrate which religions propose faulty arguments for their validity. As you said – many rely on sophistry, which although masquerades faulty reasoning under the guise of sophistication, is still faulty.

          Many laymen blindly hold to the position of scientists who make absurd metaphysical claims, as if their expertise in the natural sciences gives them any authority to do this. Brilliant physicists such as Hawking and Lawrence Krauss make completely inaccurate statements to the general public.

          In his latest book, Hawking asserts that the ‘universe will and can come from nothing!’ This absurd statement is not only dishonest as it does not indicate that by nothing, he refers to the quantum vacuum, but it is also a metaphysical claim. Yet, you have Atheists who hold on to these statements, when they have no scientific education in which case they’d realize that a physicist would never make such a bold assertion (as fact) when discussing with another physicist who holds an opposing view.

          The reason being, as I’ve stated elsewhere, laymen don’t understand that the mathematics behind these statements is very, very precise. When these physicists translate the mathematics into imprecise colloquial language, you can’t take the statements seriously. Not only does it leave out important information about the limitations of our certainty when measuring phenomena in the universe (particularly at the quantum level), it also fails to admit that these statements are just interpretations of the data which are thus, far consistent.

          Yet, many laymen who are Atheists hold to this statements as incontrovertible proof. This is the sort of blind conformity Imam Al-Ghazali was referring to. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve heard non-believers say: “if religion was true [again generalizing all religions] why wouldn’t the majority of scientists be believers?”

          Apart from being a faulty argument from authority, it assumes that science holds a monopoly on truth, and the culture that surrounds the study of science in the West – is free from biases or taboos (ex. studying precognition is seen as “preposterous”, yet few studies have been done considering the number of alleged cases).

          In a debate between Dr. William Lane Craig (philosopher) and Dr. Lawrence Krauss (physicist) – you had Atheists make the most absurd comments on the comments section. Krauss stated that the universe wasn’t logical, and so we had to rely on empirical data to understand it. What was most remarkable was not that Krauss attempted to invalidate logic WITH logic, but rather how blindly his ‘followers’ accepted his rantings.

          Let me elaborate on the contention that people seem to think science holds a monopoly on truth. For one, physics deals with transitions from one physical state to another. It does NOT and CANNOT deal with transitions from non-being into being (refer to Hawking’s statement). Further, science presupposes philosophical and mathematical truths and so is entirely dependent upon them.

          Yet, few understand these things. Even scientists such as Hawking make outrageous claims on how philosophy is dead, and now science has taken over.

          So, you are right in that scientists seriously critique each others work or proposed theories, and debate the results of new data consistently. However, how we approach science today is riddled with biases and taboos. Laypeople DO blindly accept the statements of scientists who speak about matters they have NO background in (ex. philosophy).

          Take care!

    • SKhan says:

      Salaam Alaykum, akhi.

      Of course there is no reason to reject science/philosophy/mathematics. While Imam al-Ghazali was justified in being cautious, I prefer Ibn Rushd’s approach: science/philosophy/mathematics can’t explain everything. Believing that they can is like looking through a red colored lens and then concluding that the entire world is red. For example, science can’t explain beauty, as it is something subjective, and not objective. An Islamic revivalist blogger named Asadullah Ali, who is taking a philosophy course at his university, elaborates on this in a post “Against Atheist Aesthetics”. Similarly, it is important to draw a line between learning about the natural world and learning about higher concepts such as Allah. The Mutazilah of Imam al-Ghazali’s time failed to do so, and in their attempt to use Greek philsophy and logic to explain and reason everything, arrived at some very confusing, contradictory conclusions.

  5. Najm addeen says:

    The son-in-law whose word is mentioned is Ali (may Allah be pleased with him).

  6. Saifa says:

    Wow, contemporary scholars and philosophers got nothing on Ghazali. He is a ‘Renaissance Man’ in every sense of the word, except better being an Islamic savant.

  7. Dawud Israel says:

    Imam Ghazali is getting at the differences in epistemology and how if one is too involved in maths, they may come to expect all science/knowledge/religion must carry that same precision- when in fact, we know, biology does not have the same laws as physics does. His fear was misguidance due to this, which I don’t personally agree with- I think worldliness is a greater source of misguidance. A study came out recently showing how studying certain sciences (biology, physics, social sciences, education) increases/decreases a person’s religiosity- how some became atheist and others more pious based on what they majored in.

    Imam Ghazali is blamed for being the reason for the collapse of the intellectual achievements of the Muslim world. I don’t know how true that thesis is (and there are other theories) but one needs to find a balance between taqwa and inquiry. So I wrote up on this topic a while back based on what I learned, and the role of doubt/certainty in religion/science and I mentioned an interesting hadith worth considering in this discussion: http://muslimology.wordpress.com/2009/11/28/science-and-islam-on-the-nature-of-epistemology/

    I personally think Muslims should only invest their scientific efforts in one area: pure invention.

    • Abubakr says:

      Salam Dawud,
      Many will attribute the collapse of the intellectual, military, economic achievements of the Muslims to this and that, but as Muslims, we must be firm in understanding that it is NOT the revival of the deen that led to the decline of the Muslims. That is exactly what the enemies of Islam want Muslims to think. In fact, the only source of real honor and strength in any field comes from Allah. See the story of Qarun mentioned in my first comment above.

      And also:

      “Whosoever desires honour, power and glory then to Allaah belong all honour, power and glory [and one can get honour, power and glory only by obeying and worshipping Allaah (Alone)]. To Him ascend (all) the goodly words, and the righteous deeds exalt it (i.e. the goodly words are not accepted by Allaah unless and until they are followed by good deeds)”

      [Faatir 35:10]

      And the story with Umar radiallahu anhu:

      During his Caliphate, �Umar radi Allahu anhu set out for Ash-Shaam with Abu Ubaydah. On this journey, they came upon a deep creek, which they needed to cross. So �Umar took off his sandals and carried them on his shoulders. Then he took the reign of the camel and began plowing through the water. Seeing the khalifah of the Muslims in this state, Abu Ubaydah felt saddened and said, “I fear that the people of the village will think you without honor.”

      �Umar replied, “Oh Abu Ubaydah, if only someone less knowledgeable then you made such a statement. We were of the most disgraced of people, and Allah granted us honor with this Islam. Now, whenever we seek honor in other than that which Allah honored us with, Allah shall disgrace us (once again).”

      — from http://islamworld.net/resources/cache/610

      One may be impressed by the scientific achievements, but there are a number of reasons to think twice. See my first comment for more info, but just take this one example: look how little their science has been able to benefit humanity. Despite all the technology, and the inventions, and the science, the people who need it most today fail to receive aid, because ultimately, the system was never designed to help the poor.

      So we must understand then that our worldly affairs, especially nowadays, are very much related to the deen. The ONLY way to truly succeed in both this life and the next is with Islam. Malcolm X once said something to the effect that Islam is the solution to America’s race problem. Indeed, the guidance of Allah is the solution to all of humanity’s problems. So although Allah may provide outward success in the dunya to all people, one will find that it can bear much greater blessing, peace, and fruit when it is in the hands of one who has submitted to Al-Haqq.

      And as for the opinion that we should only invest in pure invention, there is no need to limit scientific efforts with such guidelines when Taqwa is in place. In fact, in the Qur’an itself, Allah calls us to look at the heavens and the earth and see the signs of Allah.

      In Suratul Mulk, 67:1-4
      1. Blessed is He in Whose Hand is the dominion, and He is Able to do all things.
      2. Who has created death and life, that He may test you which of you is best in deed. And He is the All-Mighty, the Oft-Forgiving;
      3. Who has created the seven heavens one above another, you can see no fault in the creations of the Most Beneficent. Then look again: “Can you see any rifts?”
      4. Then look again and yet again, your sight will return to you in a state of humiliation and worn out.

      In Surah Al-Imran, 3:191
      191. Those who remember Allah (always, and in prayers) standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying): “Our Lord! You have not created (all) this without purpose, glory to You! (Exalted be You above all that they associate with You as partners). Give us salvation from the torment of the Fire.

      In Surah Yunus, 10:101,
      101. Say: “Behold all that is in the heavens and the earth,” but neither Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) nor warners benefit those who believe not.

      This means at the core basic science research is NOT the problem. The problem is NOT the field of study. The problem is NOT in the dunya. These may contribute to the problem, but that is only because disbelievers have gained prominence and power in these arenas and so many people get deluded. The core of the problem, as Al-Ghazali notes, lies in the HEARTS; so before one dives into the knowledge of the dunya such as philosophy and math and science, one must have a strong grounding in the knowledge of the deen.

      May Allah enlighten all our hearts. Ameen.

      • Dawud Israel says:

        I think you should read the link I posted to my blog to understand what I am getting at:

        ((((SORRY NO LINKS))))

        I think there needs to be an honesty too- if religion lead to the decline of the Muslims, then lets realize it. Let’s not be embarrassed if in reality Islam did lead to the decline of Muslim thought, or think it means a bad thing for Islam. All we can say is the historical trajectory of science now, may not be one Muslims would’ve created but perhaps if we had more control over our communities, we would continue to write our own scientific story. No, sadly Muslims only want to associate with Islam glory and pride- either the big ulema or the big philosophers or the big scientists. Most people are torn between deen and dunya, and confronting that is important. I am wary about simply preserving emaan at the expense of ‘aql…people who I know who prefer ignorance, but religion, are also the most proud and most emotionally sporadic and in the end, deen is destroyed too.

        ‘Imrān ibn Khālid said, “I heard al-Ḥasan saying, ‘A person’s religion is not completed until his intellect is perfected.’” [Al-‘Aql wa Faḍlih / 17]

        • Abubakr says:

          Salaam Dawud, I looked at the blog.

          I think you would appreciate this youtube video of Shaykh Al-Qaradawi on the issue of muslims and the world/economics
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_W2bg0GsrSA

          I agree with your points about how Muslims should be firm in Islam as the truth, and that we do not weight our belief in Islam based on appearances of the visible world. So the man who gives much in wealth for the sake of Allah may appear to be foolish to the one who only adds up the provisions of this life. The disbeliever needs no experiment to show that giving 50% of your wealth for the sake of Allah results in a decrease, but his foolishness will only last for that moment we know as life. Such a man needs no experiment to show him that praying 5 times a day means less time for productivity, but he ignores the hidden, unseen benefits Allah bestows on His servants both in this life and the next.

          In the sight of Allah and the angels and the rest of creation, the poor man whom nobody knows may be heavier than even the mountains. So as Muslims we measure success by how much something pleases Allah and the barakah/blessings bestowed with Allah’s mercy on a person in this life and the next.

          So if observation today says some red wine and pork are incredibly healthy, our faith is not shaken, and in fact, in our patience, our faith grows. The reality of the world that scientific observation misses here is the punishment of the hereafter and possible hidden ramifications that will punish the person in this life as well.

          And if observation confirms the benefits of wudu or the health benefits of fasting, then our faith grows, while we know that even these scientific observations miss the reality that such actions require sincerity in order to attain the even greater benefits of the Hereafter.

          So, regardless of the worldly, outer outcome of following Allah’s commands, we know that true success, lies in obedience and submission. As the Qur’an notes: in 2:216 translation of meaning [.. But you may dislike something which is good for you, and you may like something which is bad for you. GOD knows while you do not know.]

        • Abubakr says:

          However, there are some things that you said that concerned me:
          “The reason for the Muslim approach is because we fear the certainty of science and how its certainty can lead us into doubting Islam. . . . . Consequently, Imam Ghazali’s fears are among the reasons why Islam’s Golden age of learning collapsed and the so-called Ummah was “revived.””
          —- If you read the above piece carefully, I hope you now have realized Muslims and Imam Ghazali do not fear science/philosophy for its certainty. Imam Ghazali was foremost in showing just how flawed, contradictory, and uncertain many of their claims about God were. Scientists makes their greatest mistake when they takes the good of skepticism and apply it to religion, refusing to believe anything that one cannot experimentally observe. If this were limited to not believing in vampires and superstition, there would be no problem, but that is not the case; they reject or cast in doubt the greatest truth of all.

          This problem arose in the trend of scientists rejecting God or questioning God on the principle of “I don’t believe what I can’t see/hear/touch/experiment, etc,” and among philosophers who began attributing whatever kind of attribute they wished to God, without any authority or evidence. In the past and even today, many muslims studying science/philsophy naturally began forming “high opinions” of the undoubtedly sophisticated works, the powers of skepticism and the scientific method, and the people behind them. Unfortunately, when weak Muslims hear of scientists/philosophers’ “unbelief and their negative attitude” to God, many begin to apply skepticism to religion and say “If religion were true, this would not have been unknown to these philosophers […]“.

          This results in blind conformity to disbelief. It is this rejection of the ghaib (the unseen) and of God and of the Prophets and their Books, all driven by skepticism, that is the problem, Dawud. THE PROBLEM IS NOT SCIENCE’S CERTAINTY. The problem is the extreme, skepticism scientists/philosophers show towards God and religion. Of course, they don’t apply such extreme skepticism to their daily life or even to the most profound elements of science; they take the 1st Law of Thermodynamics without proof because it works, it explains the world, it is practical to accept it and move on; they accept the concept of energy even though no one can define it or what it is precisely; they accept history and the news on TV even though it could be all fake as they werent physically there to observe it; they accept intangible concepts of love and hate, simply by its signs and personal experience. All these things they don’t doubt because doubting would make it impossible to live, to progress, even to think. Those philosophers who did doubt such things and lived the doubt to its fullest, ended up literally going insane.

          So to get back to the point, Imam Ghazali was not advocating islamic dogmatism. He said one can study the worldy sciences, but only with deep knowledge and understanding of the deen, just like you later say on the blog:
          “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.”
          —- I agree with this and so does Imam Ghazali as this was how he was able to delve into philosophy and still come out with sound beliefs. As a result, I do not think it is fair at all to say Imam Ghazali and the revival of the deen crippled Islamic learning and discovery because they never advocated for dogmatic, blind shutting off the study of the sciences. In fact, THAT IS PRECISELY ONE OF THE TRAGEDIES HE SAYS AROSE when people rejected the good in science simply because they say how so many muslim philosophers were beginning to hold blasphemous beliefs about God and Islam out of ignorance of Islam and infatuation with the Greeks.

          You also say:
          “I think in order to pursue science for the sake of God, you need to leave the deen outside of the scientific picture. Then you’ll get somewhere otherwise, shaytan will just play with your head.”
          ——This seems to imply that if you really want to get ahead in science, Muslims need to leave the deen. Elsewhere you also note “preoccupation with Islam” as being a problem. I assume you mean dogmatic, blind, narrow-mindedness in the religion, but still, I think there are better ways to explain the problem. The enemies of Islam want the Muslims to think Islam is what pulled us down. They make us think that the golden age of Islam was only in Spain. The truly golden age was during the time of the Prophet peace be upon him. Why? Because we measure success not by the number of Nobels, but by the striving and sacrifice people make for the sake of Allah. This does not mean we avoid scientific achievement. Far from it, the Muslims should be strong in all fields of life, excelling in all that we endeavor. So in fact, the better we are as Muslims, the more hardworking we should become, for this life and the next. But we should not fall into embracing only secular models of achievement and of success.

          People who think Muslims will succeed if they focus less on the deen forget that that is exactly how enemies divided the Muslims time and time again. Once our intentions became for preoccupied with wealth and power instead of the deen, our worldly strength came to no avail. We can be a superpower, but if aren’t preoccupied with Islam, all the wealth and knowledge will fail to help the social ills, fail to unite us, and we will be manipulated by enemies even to turn against fellow Muslims in betrayal. We saw this fitna in the past and see it to this day.

        • AJ says:

          Just wanted to make the point, Abubakr, that your criticism of scientists as being hypocrites, when they take the Laws of Thermodynamics to be true without proof because they work, and then move on, is inherently flawed. While you are correct in that most scientists would tell you that these Laws are true because they hold up empirically, they would also tell you that there are going to be exceptions to these laws in certain states (physical states) that can’t be explained yet. Furthermore, if in a few hundred years, scientific thought advances to the point where it realizes that the laws of thermodynamics are indeed inaccurate, the scientific community will change those laws (after much discourse and debate). I don’t think any scientist takes the laws of nature to be true in the same way that religious people take the existence of God to be true. For the believer, the existence of God is undeniable, irrefutable fact. For a scientist, the laws of nature as they interpret them are at best, the human attempt to understand the mechanisms and causality behind physical and universal processes. It doesn’t mean they take them to be irrefutably true. I just wanted to point out the error in your assumption that scientists take Laws and theories to be true without contending that they might also not be true (however unlikely that might be). A believer by definition cannot even entertain the possibility that God does not exist.

    • 2 says:

      can you please cite this study here so that i may read it? thanks dawud.

  8. numra says:

    i like this so much

  9. Matthew Mengerink says:

    I was similarly struck by Ghazali and similarly, even, Ibn Tamiyya. Then I read Ibn Rushd and I realized that I find beautiful things in the aesthetics of Ghazali and I find humility in his asceticism, but I find my intellect in Ibn Rushd.

    Interesting in his “Incoherence of the Incoherence” he argues that truth is of Allah and that it stands above the source. Study Mathematics and you’ll find Godel’s Incompleteness theorem. It states what is obvious to those who ponder: no system of mathematics is complete. That which is complete is beyond math. Study Aristotle or Plato and you’ll find the “unmoved mover” or the “unmade maker.” They argue for the divine and it’s a forgone conclusion that there exists something beyond this reality. They then prove it.

    Find me with the philosophers and the math and in pursuit of the divine.

    Salaam,
    Matthew

  10. Maryam says:

    subhanAllah ive been studying some Greek Philosophy lately and its no good sometimes. it drives me crasy sometimes. why is there a need even to study such material that makes you secular and that questions the existence of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

    True knowledge is the one gained to please Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, one that benefits the person in remembering his Lord, one that makes him fear the Malik- not one that makes him rebellious.

    Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala knows best

    • Abubakr says:

      Our discussion here only confirms that Imam Al-Ghazali was right. We would never jump into the sea without learning how to swim, nor would we handle a snake without training. The times we are living make it hard for even the learned to maintain strong faith. Like I mentioned before, the simple matter of living in a certain system makes it appear as though that system and its norms make the most sense.

      To Ali, yes, there are those who question, but that is not so common. So many muslims may study economics here and then think an economy without riba is doomed to failure, simply because the teachers and environment only highlight what they want. If you tell such Muslims to be confident, because Islam says no riba, they don’t feel convinced. But when they see the rise in popularity of Islamic banking among the westerners, that is more convincing and makes sense to some minds. Others continue to doubt, and without ever seeking answers and giving time to study Islam, let the doubt grow and grow.

      This is precisely the mindset we don’t want to have. We have to be strong, independent thinkers who base our knowledge on a foundation of Islam, not a foundation of Aristotle or Friedman or Darwin. We do not want to be doubting whether the deen is at fault with Muslims’ downfall; we do not want to be amazed at the beautiful writings of philosophers without reservation; and we do not want to feel that being skeptical of Allah the Almighty is praiseworthy or justifiable.

      Studying worldly knowledge without a a proper framework and grounding can be quite problematic. It’s not even isolated to knowledge of the dunya; even studying Islamic texts at secular institutions causes problems without a good foundation. I am not sure who said this, but I heard that one well-known western-born Islamic scholar said that it took him more than a decade to rid himself of the poisons he picked up from studying “about” Islam/religion at such supposedly prestigious institutions. So what about the countless poisons found in other studies.

      The fact is, one needs to have a firm foundation in Islam. As Maryam notes above, unlike the philosophers whose works are riddled with contradiction and revision and provide no guidance on how to actually LIVE, Islam is the most internally consistent, complete way of life. Humbled by the Qur’an’s greatness in language and preservation, even one of the orientalists, could not help but note that, the greatness of Prophet Muhammed peace be upon him and the Qur’an, make it such that if a person discounts them as false, every single faith that calls to God calls doubt into itself by rejecting what without doubt was the most accomplished of the faiths.

      We have the Qur’an, free of contradictions, doubts, and myths. Why don’t we study it with the same fervor with which we study other matters? One of the names of the Qur’an is al-Furqan, the Criterion. It is the single most self-consistent, best preserved, most studied, text in the world. This is the criterion by which we measure whatever knowledge comes our way. Without this knowledge, we may end up like the countless who read philosophy and then regretted it later.

      The way to avoid regret is to give time to study Islam. Those of us already with a foundation in Aristotle or Darwin need not be shunned. We say come, let us learn about our religion, Islam, and our Prophet sallallahu alayhi wa sallam together. No matter our current doubts, no matter our current questions, we must give at least some small consistent effort for gaining knowledge. Then, when one hears mention of clear verses of the Qur’an, it will enlighten and have an effect. May Allah protect us and help us stand firm on the path of the righteous. Ameen.

  11. Daffodill says:

    To me, science re-enforces the belief and strengthens the faith that I have in my creator, Allah S.W.T.

    First of all, studying something such as science or arts or math or geology is fortifying our knowledge. Keeping in mind that this knowledge is just a tiny speck of the REAL deal which only Allah S.W.T. knows. This is why no man can prove something and it will be right forever. There will always be someone else trying to do some R&D and then kapoof!- the old study is disproved.

    Truth be told, I don’t read that much. But from whatever knowledge that I have, even if it is just about the simple things in life, I always remember that whoever came up with the math theorem or fiziks law, got it from Allah.

    People who are swayed just by studies of the Dunia just are unfortunate because A) maybe they did not have enough Iman? B) Their Iman was being tested? C) They just did not have enough knowledge in their Faith that they turned into disbelieving people.

    I pity this group of people of scientists or inventors, thinking that they are so great and not being able to believe that there is something beyond this World.

    But definitely I firmly believe that as Muslims, we should know that we Submit ourselves to Allah and whatever it is we go through in this temporary place is all from Him. We can study whatever we want. So that we are knowledgeable and able to lead in society.

    Whatever is good comes from Allah and whatever faults is my own. Apologies if my comment has offended anyone.

    Assalamualaikum from a Muslim Sister.

  12. Southern Sunni says:

    I just want to make some general comments. One of the problems for Muslims in university today is their disparity between Religious studies and secular studies. Simply ask a university student: Between the ages of 12 and 18 how many hours were spent on secular studies—how many on Religious studies? Furthermore, many Muslim students are utterly disconnected from the works of traditional Islamic theology. Al-Ghazali’s, “Incoherence of the Philosophers” (or at least a summary of the book), should be standard reading (that is, taking it from a traditionally trained teacher) BEFORE going off to university. But of course, before one could do such a book, it presupposes a rootedness in traditional Islamic `Ilmul-Kalaam (and i am not talking about Mu`tazilah rhetoric).

    The Islamic education in the typical ISNA-type school is utterly substandard. Aside from the Arabic studies (which are usually abysmal) perhaps, one hour a day is spent on Islamic studies—the rest of the day is spent on secular studies. And even that one hour spent is not on advanced theology or Islamic polemics, but on elementary matters of Fiqh, some Seerah, and some history.

    Regarding the physical sciences, many Muslim students can’t explain the Islamic understanding of causation: the entities cannot designate themselves with their properties. Fire (and the constituents of fire) does not give itself the property of burning—nor does paper (or its constituents) give itself the property of flammability. However far along the chain of causation one goes, it all requires a Creator (contrary to the claim of the Deists), and the fact of the matter is that the apparent causes do NOT create the results. Muslims are not mushriks; Muslims know Allah alone creates. Muslims know that each moment is created, sustained, and then transformed by Allah. Allah is the One Who changes (the creations), and Allah does not change. it can’t be the case that each event occuring from moment to moment requires, according to science, an unfathomable—or allegedly infinite—number of causes. If a Muslim student understands that the essential fallaciousness of inductive reasoning and that the cause and its associated result are mere customary patterns Allah has created, then this, in-sha’ Allah will help fortify him against the absurdities of the atheists.

    Another major concern are to social sciences. Many people self-identified as Muslims are quick to adopt the rhetoric of secularism, “freedom,” “equality,” “feminism,” “democracy,” ad nauseum, without for a moment thinking about what is the Islamic hukm is related to such matters. When they find out that Islam does not accept the above (and certainly not in the manner that the secularists promote), these people weakly rooted in the Deen begin to alter and belie what is commonly known and well-established. This is extremely dangerous—for it is kufr.

    Lastly, we need Muslims in the West who are strong in the Islamic sciences and are also learned in the physical/biological sciences, as well as, the social sciences producing works on the fallacious nature of these ideologies as espoused by the West. It certainly can be done, for falsehood is inherently weaker than its opposite; however, we need to have confidence and certitude in the Truthfulness of what our Prophet came with (sallallahu `alayhi wa-sallam).

    • Abubakr says:

      @ above two comments,
      Agreed. Great points. This is not the first time Muslims have entered sciences/philosophy nor will it be the last. We should do well to learn from the mistakes of the past, as there were many both in number and severity. We should study the advices of the great ulamaa of the past as well of the present and heed the lessons. May Allah keep us steadfast on the truth, and in the end, as always, Allah knows best.

  13. Saad Baradan says:

    As a Muslim and a student pursuing philosophy as a career I must first break the misconception that the majority of philosophers are atheists or anti-religion. The fact is that the majority of philosophers throughout history have expressed some sort of spiritual or religious belonging. From the ancient Greeks, to the medieval philosophers, and even many of the modern philosophers such as Rene Descartes, all expressed some sort of belief in a higher being. It is only a recent trend to see more philosophers preaching the atheist manifesto.

    Secondly part of the reason we see so many Muslims leaving or questioning the Islamic doctrine after pursuing secular studies, such as biology or philosophy, is they themselves lack a proper understanding of Islam. Many of the youth these days do not obtain a proper Islamic education which at the basic level includes learning a fundamental text on Aqeedah and all the fard ayn or obligatory knowledge required to practice this faith. If many of the youth had a firm Islamic educational background then whatever they studied, they would always know that Qur’an and Sunnah is the truth no matter what their biology, sociology, or philosophy professors preach.

    Additionally I think we should encourage more Muslims to start pursuing studies in the social sciences such as economics, sociology, psychology, and philosophy. The majority of youth are told that if they wish to be successful then they must become doctors, engineers, pharmacists, and so on. These fields are good but they are saturated and they don’t develop ones reading and writing skills. I deeply enjoy philosophy because it makes me a critical reader, writer, and better at assessing arguments.

    Concluding Allah created us of different colors and nations so that we may get to know one another. By studying the traditions and belief systems of other nations like the Greeks or Confucians we can get to know other people and in the end ultimately more about ourselves. As Muslims the Qur’an and Sunnah is our ultimate guide for wisdom, but that does not mean that everyone else’s beliefs and traditions are void of wisdom. Take what is good from people and leave what is bad.

    • charmedshiva says:

      ” If many of the youth had a firm Islamic educational background then whatever they studied, they would always know that Qur’an and Sunnah is the truth no matter what their biology, sociology, or philosophy professors preach.”

      How it is that a statement like that could get past the skepticism of philosophy… I don’t know. Getting an Islamic education means “knowing” that Islam is “the truth”? How much have you actually studied philosophy?

  14. Our criteria is the Qur’an. Great points from Imam Al ghazzali al huffaz r.a.

  15. Mary says:

    I think we should all keep this in mind: “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.” -Albert Einstein.

  16. Nuraini says:

    Science is a means of knowing the truth. People who understand this, and understand the nature of data and uncertainty, can remain humble and seeking. But once you start to rest your self-identity and life meaning on the fact that you know or ‘do’ science, then just like anything in dunya, it has become your god, and is no longer a tool to you.

  17. Bitt3rsw33t Lif3 says:

    ”Love for the world…Hatred for death” – the reason for Muslims’ decline.

  18. charmedshiva says:

    It’s not that scientists become the patrons for every field, it’s that the science student at some point realizes that no other form of study is as close to provable knowledge as is science. It’s because science is empirically evident. It’s because math is utterly logical. It’s because science is ever self-correcting and self-improving and in opposition to what might be suggested in the OP, science brilliantly challenges blind conformity. It’s because mathematics is as close to absolute as you can get. And when one realizes the drastic difference between how knowledge is attained scientifically, and how “knowledge” is attained religiously, then that’s when the person breaks. And that’s one of the basic reasons so many scientists are either deist, agnostic, or atheist. They realize that all this talk about God(s) and holy scriptures and miracles and ‘signs/proof of God’s work’ is all susceptible to scrutiny and skepticism in such a way as can never hold up like mathematics and its child, science, can. Thus, the grandiose claims that religions make are, in the eyes of science, presumptuous, incautious, fallible, and at best uncertain. To ask someone who realizes this to then gain mental certainty that there is a hellfire awaiting the the dreadful disbelievers and that angels protect people and that religious scholars actually have knowledge of godly inspiration, and to ask them to believe this of a particular religion in the face of the many thousand available and logically not provable, well… that’s asking a little too much.

  19. Irshad says:

    Interesting post! Its good to see/read Muslim’s re-engaging with the science’s and trying to grapple with it and Islam. Arguably, the greatest benefit that came out of the “Scientific revolution” was/is empirical science – which we can thank the like sof Bacon, Galileo, etc. Now the challenege, I think the challenge that Muslims face is how we can take empirical science and disabuse it from Scientism.
    What we need is more Muslims in theoretical science and not just applied science for this – heres Prof. Hoodbhoy, Nobel Prize winning Pakistani scientist:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzn1iwjrj14

  20. Safdar says:

    “Islam teaches us to take what is good and leave what is bad.” Who will decide what is good in science?

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