Philosophy of Science in the Quranic Perspective

Philosophy of Science in the Quranic Perspective

An Abstract by Dr. Muhammad Jamil Qalander

Presented at First International Conference


Scientific miracles of Quran & Sunnah

to be held on Safar 23-26, 1408 A.H October 17-20, 1987

The completed paper was sent to OSMQS,

Mekka-al-Mukarrama on 16 April, 1987

Contrary to an old and popular Indo-Greek conception of the world as Maya and shadow of the unseen, the Quran in its peculiar anti-classical tone has proclaimed that the physical universe and human self are both reservoirs of the divine Signs indicative of the Real immanent therein. This truth has been phrased in the following axiomatic propositions of the Quran:

1.   The heavens and the earth and what is between them were not created as batil, i.e., devoid of truth, reality and wisdom. That is the belief of those who conceal Divine Truths and Human Rights.

2.   The Cosmos did not come into being as a by-product of God’s sportive activity, (21: 16).

3.   Per-contra, the Cosmos was created bil-Haq, i.e. replete with truth, reality, and wisdom (44: 38).

4.   The creation of the heavens and the earth is a feat greater than that of the creation of mankind, but the majority of humans do not know this fact (40: 57).

5.   In the earth (man’s immediate environment) as well as in the human psyche there are Signs for those who possess insight and knowledge of certainty (51:20-21).

6.   It is through continuous dhikr (remembrance of the Divine) and fikr (reflection on Creation) that we are led to exclaim: Our Rub! you have not created all this as batil, i.e. devoid of truth, reality, and wisdom (3:191).

The Quran thus impresses on our minds and hearts the objective reality and significance of the cosmos to the resultant refutation of subjective idealism/solipsism and naïve realism/materialism, which respectively deny the objective reality and significance of the outer realm of ‘afaq’ and the inner realm of ‘anfus’.

Being replete with truth, reality, and wisdom, the realms of ‘anfus’ and ‘afaq’ are destined to endure to partake of identity despite a series of changes unceasingly taking place within and without. The phenomenon of this cosmic-psychic endurance amidst change is accounted for by the fact that what embodies al-Haq endures, and what is batil passes away like a scum.

It is in the nature of batil to meet its annihilation due to the emergence of its contrary, that is, al-Haq. Pointing to this truth the Quran says: بل نقذف با لحق علی الباطل فید مغہ فا ذا ھو زا ھـق

“We smite batil with al-Haq so that it (the latter) brains it, and Lo! It starts perishing “ ( 21:18 ) This process of Zuhuq (annihilation) occurs within the realm of ayat, i.e., phenomenal signs, which together with kalimat (Divine precepts and propositions) and Sunan (the uniform operational modes of kalimat) constitute the cosmos of ‘becoming’ in the direction of ‘being’. Let us look into the trio of kalimat, Sunan, and ayat in a little detail.

1.   Kalimat: They may be comprehended in terms of axiomatic propositions, Principia theoretical, categorical imperatives, precepts, and laws flowing from Divine will operative at the level of ‘Amr’, i.e. the divine Management of Cosmic Plan.

2.   Sunan: they refer to Divine ‘Kalimat’ in operation at various levels and degrees of creation. In other words, they are the operational modes of ‘Kalimat’ in relation to cosmologic-sociological realms, ‘Kalimat’ belong to the highest order of abstraction, while ‘Sunan’ fall into a lower order thereof.

3.   Ayat: They are what we refer to as ‘phenomenal signs. Every aya provides a cue to something other than itself. For example, a monument, a minaret, a tomb, a mosque, a church, a temple, a synagogue, a monastery, a banner, an anthem, a throe, a crown, etc. are various instances of aya in the sense that these point to things other than themselves.

            The fact that the Quran has selected the term آیتہ “ayat” for cosmic phenomena instead of ‘matter’ enshrines a deepest scientific truth. The concept of matter is subject to change and has undergone radical change so that it is now quite different from what it has been before the present scientific era. What we gather from the study of the contemporary sciences is that we cannot express the what-isness of matter except in terms of symbols or signs. Most of the current sciences are, therefore, replete with symbolism so that the bulk of scientific propositions are cast into the form of abstract formulae. The fact that matter has been defined as a series of mental states ( Berkeley ), or a condensed thought (Ouspensky), or an aggregate of inter-related events (Whitehead), or bottles-up waves (James jeans), or a logical construction (Russell) indicates that the concept of matter has undergone a radical change, and is still undergoing change.  The Quran has, therefore, wisely avoided using any contemporary notion of matter, and instead, has preferred to allude thereto in terms of signs. Moreover, it has abstained from giving a temporary or transitory definition of matter and has left the matte to curiosity, research and discovery with its dictum to the effect: قل انظروا ما ذا فی السموات والارض “Say: observe what is in the heavens and the earth” (10:101).

            The Quranic notions of ‘shai’ شیئ usually translated as ‘thing’ basically mean “to will “. At the level of creative manifestation, the Divine Will delivers its creative energy in terms of a panorama of ayat (signs) which common sense interprets as discrete and solid things. For instance, a mountain appears to be stationary and solid to the naked eye, whereas it is, in the words of the Quran, in a state of the murmur (intrinsic motion)) akin to that of cloud (27:88). Apart from the wave nature of what is called matter, it also exhibits quantum properties. According to the Quran, things, as the monodic modes of the divine Will, partake of nuzul in terms of definite quanta قدر معلوم at the level of Khalq خلق. This has led the early Muslim thinkers to conceive ‘matter’ as a dialectical category of spiritual nature. For instance, the Asharite school of thought in Islam has thought of the world as an interplay of ‘Passing accidents’ unceasingly coming and going. Echoing the same view, Ibn Roshd speaks of the world as an ‘eternal process of becoming—- an idea which, as De Boer says, distinguished him from his predecessors.

            The Quran regards the whole cosmos as a system of signs subject to change in contrast to kalimat and Sunan. Phenomenal signs alternate and succeed one another as (a) khair and (b) mithl.  The ‘Khair’ are phenomenal signs brought forth through the process of Creation and Selection in point of their being better than the preceding ones, which stand abrogated. The mithl المثل are phenomenal signs similar to the preceding ones. Whose merits are retained in the former? It is with reference to the dynamics of cosmic phenomena in this fashion that the Quran says: ما تنسخ آیۃ آوننسہا نآت بخیر منہا آومثلہا “Any sign that we abrogate or subject to abandonment, We bring forth a significantly better than that or similar thereto “(2:106). Allama Tantawi al-Jauhari of Egypt says that this verse refers to cosmic and social phenomena, which abrogate one another in succession. The same Quranological truth is echoed by the well-known poet-philosopher Abu-i-Ala al-Ma’arri (973:1058) when he says الدھر تنسخ آولاء آواخـرہ “The last phases of time abrogate the first ones thereof “. Thus a deepest cosmological-sociological truth is enshrined in the above-quoted verse related to the law of abrogation, which forms one of the basic axioms of the Quranic philosophy of science. It is interlocked with the other Quranic laws related to the process of change and succession going on inexorably in the realms of anfus and afaq.

The knowledge is not merely a stimulus-response relationship is evidenced by the fact that, according to the Quran, the observer’s sensory apparatus, especially that of hearing and sight, interact cooperatively with the objective signs being signaled to ‘fuad’ (mind/brain), where they stimulate the rational processes of tadabbur (deliberation), tafakkur (consideration), taaqqul (ratiocination), tazakkur (recollection) and ibsar (illumination). Taken together, these constitute what the Quran designates as ‘baseera’ (the internal vision). Knowledge may, therefore, be defined as what the fuad comprehends, through sensory apparatus, in terms of ayat, Sunan, and kalimat embedded in the realms of anfus and afaq.

The higher form of knowledge, as the Quran teaches, is certainty which is further categorized into three levels: (1) ilm al-yaqeen علم الیقین (conceptual/rational certainty), (2) ain al-yaqeen عین الیقین (perceptual/empirical certainty), and (3) haq al-yaqeen (real/existential certainty).

            It is through observation that the second level of certainty is attained, as the Quran suggests in its narration of Abraham’s vision of the universe, where it says: وکذلک نری ابراہیم ملکوت السموات والارض ولیکون من الموقنین “In this way we made Abraham see the domain of the heavens and the earth so that he should attain certainty” (6:76).

            The Quran has pictured Abraham as the embodiment of surprising curiosity, as it is explicit in his bold demand to the effect: “My Rab! Show me how you enliven the dead” (20:260). It is equally surprising to see that God responds positively to his demand; He asks him to do one experiment: فخذ آربعۃ من الطیر سصر ھن الیک ثم اجعل علی کل جبل منہن جزآثم ادعہن یآتینک سعیــا “Take four birds, and tame them to make them inclined toward you: then put a part of them on each mountain; then call them; they would come to you in haste: (2:260). Here we see that the Quran is the first book to have recommended the application of animal psychology to human psychology, especially in the program of raising dead nations into a new lie. Imam Fakhr ad-Din Razi refers to Abu Muslim Asphahani’s interpretation of the Quranic method of ‘sour’ as suggested in the aforementioned verse in terms of imala and tamrin/ tawid-a technique which anticipates the contemporary concept o conditioning in animal psychology. In the same sura as well as in the sura entitled al-Kahf (the Cave) similar pragmatic approach, but of Para-psychological nature, is quite evident. It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss this tremendously deep and meaningful approach here, and I leave its exposition to another occasion.

            It was a popular belief amongst the Arabs of the pre-Islamic days of ignorance to regard Malaika as female deities. Subjecting this view to criticism, the Quran asks them: آشہدو اخلقہم ستکتب شہادتہم وھم یسّـــلون “Have they observed their (Malaika’s) creation? Their observation would be recorded and they would be interrogated (with respect to what they have observed) “(43:19). This verse clearly suggests the following three steps necessary for the verification of an assertion: (1) Observation, (2) the recording of what is observed, and (3) Inquiry into the observed data. This verse entails one further suggestion to the effect that mere information of the nature of hearsay or armchair speculation not supported by observation is not acceptable.

            Although Prof. Gibson describes the aforementioned three steps with reference to the natural method of observation as distinct from the experimental one, yet they do not exclude experimentation. Every scientific experimentation starts and ends with some sort of observation. The Holy Prophet was the first personage to have applied this method, especially in the case of Ibn Sayyad, a young Jewish psychic, whom the Prophet interrogated in the beginning, and, later on, he managed to observe him in his natural state. Prof. Duncan B. Macdonald, who has missed to appreciate the meaning and value of this tremendously significant event, comments: There is humor enough in this picture of one prophet trying to investigate another after the method of the Society for Psychical Research, but for the boy, it was not a humorous situation”. The fact that it is this sort of investigation that the spirit of Quranic signology demands seems to have escaped his notice.

      The Prophet’s attitude towards Ibn Sayyed was demonstrative of the Principle of Tabayyun i.e. investigation, as it is explicit in the verse: “O ye who have iman! If a transgressor comes to you with news, subject it to investigatory verification” (49:6). The Quran asks an assertor for two types of testimony to verify his assertion: (1) Documentary, and (2) in the form of scientific data. The Quran says to this effect: فآتو ا بکتاب من قبل ھذا آو آثارۃ من علم ان  کنتم صادقین فآتو ا بکتاب من قبل ھذا آو آثارۃ من علم ان  کنتم صادقین“ Come with a document prior to this one, or some vestige/trace of knowledge (in support of your assertion)” (46:4). It is thus clear that, from the Quranic point of view, the assertion is not acceptable as long as it is not supported by documentary and scientific data. It was this teaching of the Quran that led the early Muslim thinkers to arrive at correct epistemological notions which Allama Iqbal has very skillfully presented in the following summary form:

            It was, I think, Nazzam who first formulated the principle of ‘double’ as the beginning of all knowledge. Ghazali further amplified it in his revivification of the Sciences of Religion and prepared the way for ‘Descartes’ Method……… It was Ishraqi and Ibn-i-Taymiyyah who undertook a systematic refutation of Greek logic. Abu Bakr Razi was perhaps the first to criticize Aristotle’s first figure, and in our times his objection, conceived in a thoroughly inductive spirit, has been reformulated by John Stuart Mill. Ibn-i-Hazm, in his Scope of Logic, emphasizes sense-perception as a source of knowledge, and Ibn-i-Taymiyyah, in his Refutation of Logic, shows that induction is the only form of reliable argument. Thus arose the method of observation and experiment. It was not merely a theoretical affair. Al-Beruni’s discovery of what we call reaction time and Al-Kindi’s discovery that sensation is proportionate to the stimulus are instances of its application in Psychology. It is a mistake to suppose that the experimental method is a European discovery. (1)

 This method is rather grounded, as the foregoing exposition of Quranic signology explicitly proves, in the all-pervading halo of Quranic inspiration, which finds its exemplary expression in the uswa-i-Hasana of the Prophet, especially in his proverbial saying: لیس الخبر کالمعــا ینـــۃ Information is not like observation”.


(1)  Allama Iqbal, op. cit., p. 129




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