The Qur’an and Science
Until the eighteenth century, the European and American minds were controlled by Christianity. Its priests knew all, and the Church could explain everything: religious, or non-religious, spiritual or material, physical or metaphysical. Why was a child wicked? Because the parents had been sinners. When did the first man appear on earth? Precisely in the year 4004 BC. Why was the earth the only life-supporting planet and the centre of the universe? Because Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, appeared on it. (If there were other earths, God would need more sons). Why did women have to bear the pains of pregnancy? To expiate for Eve’s sin of tempting Adam. So, the Church and its priests knew all and could explain everything.
But things began to change with the Renaissance when the Church stood against new discoveries and scientific knowledge. It went to the length of persecuting the scientists and men of knowledge. (In contrast, Muslim scholars have opposed only the half-cooked ideas and the philosophy that are passed in the name of science). The struggle that ensued between the Church and science ended with the victory of science. Church’s influence was to wane from thereon. Over time it was relegated to the farthest seats. It was allowed to play a minor role in life: largely in affairs connected with birth, marriage and death. The situation continues to this day. In fact, it is losing even these grounds. It is only in the non-western world now, that the priestly services are required at the time of birth, marriage or death. In the Western world, secular institutions have taken over and Churches are being shut down: hundreds have been purchased by Muslims.
The Church’s defeat ultimately proved to be the defeat of Religion itself. Gradually, and all over the world, science and philosophy pushed Religion out of life’s active arenas, occupying the places vacated by it. Philosophy however, originally a sister of science, turned out to be an empty drum and was gradually shown its way out. University departments are its refuge today. Science remained as the uncontested leader, guide and guarantor of good life. Surreptitiously, science was able, by generating its own philosophy, (theory that went with facts), to gradually assume the role of religion, and scientists became its priests – sans rituals. It reigned supreme for almost a century, reaching the zenith of its power and influence in the sixties of the last century, when man landed on the moon. From then on a decline in its power could be felt. The Internet gave it a new breath. However, the romance cannot last long and, barring something dramatic happening, continuous decline of its influence is on the cards. A renewal in faith is the need of the hour and the scientists are desperately trying to make a fresh breakthrough.
The decline however is only felt and acknowledged in the West. In the Muslim world, as far removed from latest scientific developments as the moon is from the earth, science is still the supreme earth-deity. Victims of their own ignorance and of one of the most carefully constructed and maintained bogey of the modern times, science for them is what Christianity was to the Christians in the past, a body that knows everything, can explain everything and accomplish anything.
Why, for instance, the Africans are black? Because they are nearest to the apes in the tree of evolution. (It does not matter if the majority of apes are brownish rather than black). How do you explain the altruistic behaviour among the animals? The answer: group genes are trying to survive. (It is another thing that chicks of many birds kill off their kin in the nest). How did life originate? Through accidental fortuitous conditions prevailing on the planet five billions ago. Why it doesn’t originate any more? Because, the physical conditions have undergone irreversible transformation on this planet. Why are the conditions suitable for survival and propagation of life, but not for origination? The answer: Look at it this way. If conditions were different, me and you wouldn’t be here. Life exploits the physical conditions on the planet to survive and multiply. If the conditions were changed, life, as we know it, wouldn’t be there. And so on. Science knows all and can explain everything. Further, given the resources, science can solve any problem. This is the belief cultivated by the priests of science and ardently clung to by the poorly educated folks who do not know science at first hand. Many Muslims of our times, whose devotion to this world is of a high order, refuse to believe that their priests won’t be able to deliver all that they promise: in sum Paradise on this earth. They dislike to hear any non-sense about the decline of science.
But they suffer a strange contradiction. By virtue of first hand exposure to the Qur’an, Muslims receive a few strong evidences that demonstrate that Prophet Muhammad could not have written it. It has to be a Revelation. In consequence, they are unable to abandon their religion altogether as followers of other religions have done. Yet they cannot accept it altogether. For two reasons. First, it asks for things that they don’t like to do: five daily prayers, expending on the poor, veil for women, and so on. Or, some of the things that the Prophet of Islam said, which, if taken seriously, would deprive them of many pleasures of life: the TV, music, etc. A second reason is that science is opposed to all religions, in fact, especially Islam. So, they stand between acceptance and rejection. A sort of struggle takes place between the new Religion of the world, science, and that of the Qur’an and Hadith, Islam. They are desperate to keep their old religion, because of the evidences we spoke of, but the new religion accepts no compromise. It insists on total submission. The struggle normally ends with the defeat of Islam and triumph of the new religion. But the triumph doesn’t mean that Islam can be totally abandoned. What about its own irrefutable evidences? So, since they cannot go on going around in a circle, the solution is, if it cannot be rejected, let it be made subservient to science. Of all that Islam says, only that shall be accepted as true, which is confirmed by science. What Islam maintains, but science rejects, absolutely and unequivocally, shall be rejected. But science does not accept this dualism. It is relentless in its attack on its rival, Islam, demanding that Muslims reconsider their attitude towards itself. That puts them back into the circle. Science or Islam? Hmmm. Let us see. Here are facts of science. (For them every theory is a fact). But here is the Qur’an, supported by such powerful evidences that it couldn’t have been written by Muhammad. Therefore, to retain that little of Islam that they are unable to reject, the Muslims are desperate to get evidences in favour of the Qur’an from science itself. Does the Qur’an confirm with the findings of modern science or does it not? They keep asking. And Muslim preachers keep supplying them the answer, yes, it does. In fact, to some, the Qur’an has become a book of science. They look into it for what confirms with scientific findings. The rest is secondary and can wait.
Now, it might be asked, what’s wrong in seeking evidences that prove the authenticity of the Qur’an? Doesn’t the Qur’an itself says (41: 53), “We will show them Our signs in the Universe, and within themselves, until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth”? And, doesn’t the Qur’an suggest scientific investigation? Doesn’t it often repeat, “In these are signs for those who think”? And, when someone looking into the Qur’an for confirmation of modern findings, discovers that there are verses that say something that the humans discovered as true only in the modern times, then, doesn’t that increase one’s faith in the Qur’an? So, what’s wrong in that?
The answer is, it is perfectly alright to reconcile the Qur’anic truths with scientific facts. This is one of the miraculous aspects of the Qur’an which must be brought to light. In fact, a new phenomenon now in talk, leads one to believe that it seems to have been predicted by the Qur’an. Our allusion is to the Qur’anic verse which says (11: 41), “Have they (the unbelievers) not considered that We have been reducing the earth from its edges?” Now, this verse affords two interpretations. One, which was held by the classical commentators, viz., didn’t the enemies of the Prophet see that they were continuously losing control over lands that were once under their dominion? Not a day went by but the Prophet increased his territory at their expense. As a second interpretation it could be said that the allusion is to the geological situation of the earth, viz., the land area of the earth is decreasing with the passage of time. We do not know since when this is happening. Measurement and records are only too recent. But that the land surface of the earth is presently decreasing due to rise in sea levels is a fact. One of the reasons is the famous Green House effect. Fossil fuel burning gives rise to carbon dioxide emission which increases the temperature of the earth. It is said that during the past decades the temperature has risen by 1 deg. cent. That itself has led to the creation of a huge lake at the North Pole. If it increases its size, its waters will join with the seas and increase its level all over. It is predicted that in the coming decades the temperature of the earth might go up by as much as 3-6 degrees. That will cause millions of tons of ice at the poles to melt. One estimate says that in consequence the sea level will rise up by 10 metres, swallowing millions of km. of low-lying areas at the edges of the continents. There is another, and a strong reason that the sea level has to rise. Millions of tons of extraterrestrial material falls yearly on the planet from space in the form of meteorites. Sea area being larger than the land area, the sea level has to rise. Another source is erosion of the land by the river waters. It drags millions of tons of sand into the sea every year. That again causes the sea level to rise.
The allusion therefore, by the Qur’anic verse cited, might be to this phenomenon. Further, since this and the classical interpretations can be reconciled, there is no reason why it should be rejected. In fact, the words of the verse fit the modern situation amazingly so accurately, that one is tempted to believe that it is a quite reliable interpretation. There is only an outside chance that the earth’s ecology will take a turn and enter into the ice age (as it has happened in the past). Or, something else happens and the sea level recedes. But, such chances are extremely low. Therefore, we can say with confidence that the phenomenon, thought old, but lately discovered, has been mentioned in the Qur’an.
Yet, despite such newly discovered, Qur’an-predicted phenomena coming to light, we still have objections to this approach to the Qur’an. There are several things wrong in it. Firstly, if one looks into the physical world to discover phenomena that confirm with what is in the Qur’an, with the belief that the findings of the physical world have to confirm with the Qur’anic truths, then, there is no harm in that. In fact, it is desirable. But, if one’s faith and belief in the Qur’an hinges on the findings, then, it is science that rules over the Qur’an. It turns out that Qur’an is not free to receive an audience. Science holds the gate-pass. This is a wrong attitude. Sayyid Qutb wrote (Ch. 11, v. 7):
“To search for concurrences of the Qur’anic truths with scientific statements is betrayal of seriousness in one’s faith in the Qur’an as the Revelation of Allah – something that is beyond any doubt. This kind of attempt is the result of over-rating the scientific achievements and according it a position higher than what it deserves – a position so high that nothing would be accepted or rejected but in its light. The faith that depends on confirmation from science deserves a fresh searching look for its existence. The Qur’an is the true basis. Whether scientific hypothesis and theories agree with it or not is secondary.”
Secondly, over-indulgence in this kind of exercise is dangerous. It leads to hair splitting. For everything that science claims as true, if a quick and easy confirmation can be found, well and good. If not, then, irrelevant verses, that can only by remote connotation said to be referring to the topic under discussion, are cited as those that in fact are truly and unequivocally speaking of them. Applause is won from the half-educated public, but, such efforts draw a smile from the better-educated people. However, applause or sarcastic smiles, equivocal statements cannot be passed on as unequivocal.
Another problem is that theory and conjectures are given the status of facts and Qur’anic confirmations are sought for them. But, first of all, what is stated in the Qur’an are facts. They can only be compared to facts and not theories. Secondly, today’s theory could be replaced by tomorrow’s fact with a very different content. What will happen to those whose faith in the Qur’an came by those doors?
Another problem in this kind of pursuit, taken to an inordinate degree, is that the main content of the Qur’an suffers neglect. True, it is amazing that there are verses that clearly and unequivocally refer to certain modern findings beyond human knowledge a century or two back. They do cause an increase in faith. But they are not the main part of the Qur’an. Its main content is admonition, concepts, broad guidelines for everyday living and dealing, the incomparable set of moral values, the law (Sunnat Allah) that governs the world, and the Law which should govern the life of the people.
The Qur’an is a miracle. It will remain a miracle. But miracles are not everything in religion. The Prophet showed other miracles. But they came late in his mission. The belief in him as the Prophet of Allah hinged primarily on the Qur’an. It was an irrefutable proof by itself that no human could have produced it. There were, of course, other evidences. The Prophet’s person, for instance. Or, the moral transformation that could be seen in the life of those who had embraced the Islamic faith. These were the main evidences for the early converts. No miracles were shown to them, or to those who demanded them as a condition for acceptance. They were told, “Here is the Qur’an. Believe in it or leave it. And give us a good reason why you leave it.” In fact, what was offered was not even the complete Qur’an as in our hands now. The whole had not yet been revealed. Moreover, lacking compilation, only bits and pieces of what was revealed were offered. And that’s all about it. Those who were thus confronted were rebuked for not believing in it. Miracles were in fact, firmly denied. It is only when they had believed, worked in the cause of Islam, bearing hardships, when Islam was firmly established in Madinah that the Prophet was bestowed with a few additional miracles. But those too were not shown to the whole Ummah at a time. Most of the miracles came about in the presence of a few. Why does this generation then seeks after the signs so badly?
Finally, if the renewal of faith thus obtained leads to the study of the Qur’an, and application of its precepts of life, then the objective is fulfilled. Is that happening today, in any part of the world? It is important then, that a serious study of the Qur’an be stressed. Study circles should be promoted. Translation of a verse or two should be read out after every Prayer in the mosques. Memorisation of the text and translation by the adults should be popularised. Tajweed classes should be held. Audio tapes of prominent Qur’anic scholars such as Mawlana Taqi Usmani, Dr. Asrar Ahmed, Mawlana Abdul Karim Parekh, Mawlana Rafeeq Kanpuri (may his soul rest in peace) and the like must be distributed at low price. Arabic language learning should be encouraged. Scholars should be asked to deliver lectures on those Qur’anic themes that are rarely or never discussed. Intellectuals should be invited to form their own study groups for regular study and discussion over the Qur’an. Seminars should be held on Qur’anic topics. And scholarships should be granted to those young men who wish to free themselves for a year or two for the study of the Qur’an. This is the call of the Qur’an: “And the unbelievers said, ‘Do not listen to this Qur’an. And create disturbances during its (recitation), hopefully you will overcome’.” (The Qur’an, Ch. 41, v. 26).