The Holy Qur'an


26 THE QURAN AND MODERN SCIENCE CONSISTENT OR INCONSISTENT ? (Ijaz Ahmad Qamar, Ph.D.) Throughout the history people in various cultures have reflected on nature, attempted to discover its laws and have sought to subjugate and subdue it. Our Holy Scripture, the Quran, enjoins the twin pursuit of reflection (i.e. Science) and mastery over nature (i.e. technology). It says: “Allah is He Who made it possible for you to acquire mastery over the ocean, thus your craft can go to and from between places with Allah’s command, Allah is He, Who gives you subjection over all that is in heaven and on earth: Herein are Allah’s signs for people who reflect”. It is worth noting at the outset that in contrastjto 250 verses in the Quran which are of legislative character, there are some 750 verses (almost one-eighth of the Book) which exhort people to study nature, to reflect, and to make the best use of reason in search for the ultimate. The Holy Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, emphasized that the quest for knowledge and sciences is obligatory upon every man and woman. He enjoined to seek knowledge even if they had to travel to China in its search. Here clearly he had scientific rather than religious knowledge in mind. Maurice Bucaille, a French surgeon and a writer in his perceptive book, The Bible The Quran And Science, states various premises. At one place he says that there is not a single verse in the Quran where natural phenomena are described and which contradict what we know for certain from our discoveries in sciences of today. To this premise may be added another premise. In the whole of Islamic history there has never been an incident like that of Copernicus, Galileo or Bruno. There has been persecution, denunciation, even ex-communication over doctrinal differences, but never for scientific beliefs. As against this, for example, scientific development was opposed in the Christian world for many centuries by the authorities of the time. It is on record that measures were taken THE QURAN AND MODERN SCIENCE 27 against those who sought to enlarge science. These measures made scientists to go into exile, to avoid being hurt at the stake, unless they recanted, changed their attitude or begged for pardon. There was a time in the pre-Islamic history when most men and their institutions refused to accept Copernicus’s suggestion that earth travelled around the motionless sun and the moon, instead of the other way around. As a result Copernicus’s book remained on the prohibited list for 200 years. A century later the Pope of the time had Galileo’s books burned.and he was sentenced to jail for his scientific assertions. He was threatened to be burnt if he did not recant his theory that the earth revolved around the sun. In the case of Islam, on the other hand, science and scientists were treated differently. How seriously did early Muslims take up the injunctions of the Quran and of the Holy Prophet, one may ask. Barely 100 years after the death of the Holy Prophet in 632 A.D. the Muslims made it their task not only to master the then known sciences, they also acquired an exclusive ascendency in the creation of new vistas of sciences which lasted over the next 350 years. A measure of scientific achievements under Islam is evident in a monumental work entitled History of Science by George Sarton. He divides the story of scientific achievement into ages or periods, each period lasting about half a century. With each half century he associates one central figure. Thus 500-400 B. C. is the age of Plato, followed by the half centuries each of Aristotle, of Euclid, of Archimedes and so on. From 600 to 700 A.D. is the Chinese century, and then from about 750 to 1100 A. D. (i.e. 350 years) is the unbroken succession of the ages of men belonging to the culture and the commonwealth of Islam, i.e. Jabir, Khwarizmi, Razi, Masudi, Abul Wafa, Al Biruni, Avicenna, Ibn Ul Haitham and Omar Khayyam. In these 350 years Arabs, Turks, Afghans, Persians, who were chemists, algebraists, clinicians, geographers, mathematicians, physicists and astronomers, held the world stage of Islam. Only after 1100 A.D. the first Western names like Gerard and Roger Bacon begin to appear. However, for another 250 years they share the honours with men of the Islamic commonwealth like Ibn Rushd, Musa bin Maimoun, Nasiruddin Tusi, Ibn Nafis – the man who anticipated Harvey’s theory of blood circulation. In addition to the emphasis on scientific observations and experimentation in the Islamic scriptures and the sayings of the Holy 28 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS Prophet, an aspect of reverence for the sciences and scientific enterprise in Islam was the official patronage enjoyed in Islamic countries for these activities. Islamic commonwealth of science cut across nations, and colours and other barriers. Early Muslim society was tolerant of people from its outside. Where Muslim society decayed, science lost its vitality and force. So long as the authorities patronized sciences the torch of science was kept burning. We find the 8th to 12th century of the Christian era was the period of height of Islam, During that period a large number of studies and discoveries were made at Islamic universities. The entire corpus of the then known knowledge was translated in the religious language of Arabic. The remarkable cultural resources (i.e. libraries) were well stocked. The Caliph’s library at Cordoba of the then Muslim Spain contained 400,000 volumes of books — a remarkable collection at the time. That is why scholars from all over Europe went to study at Cordoba during that time. It is surprising to find that there are so many statements in the Quranic text, revealed 14 centuries ago, which refer to diverse subjects and all of them totally in keeping with the modern scientific knowledge. One is wonderstruck when one finds the sheer abundance of the subjects discussed, e.g. the creation, astronomy, the explanation of certain matters concerning earth, the animal and plant kingdoms and human reproduction to name a few. If I had to stop and ask myself: if a man was the author of the Quran, how could he have had written facts in the 7th century A.D. that today are shown to be in keeping with the modern scientific knowledge Says Maurice Bucaille to whom I referred above. “In my opinion, ‘he says, “there is no explanation, there is no special reason why an inhabitant of the Arabian Peninsula should have had scientific knowledge on subjects that were centuries ahead of our own”. Now I come to the specific examples from the Quran which highlight scientific phenomena and are found in concordance with the contemporary knowledge discovered after centuries of research. I will touch upon three areas of scientific endeavours. CREATION OF THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH. The Quran says, “Say, do you really disbelieve in Him who created the earth in two days? And do you set up equals to Him? That is the Lord of the worlds. He placed therein firm mountains rising above its THE QURAN AND MODERN SCIENCE 29 surface, and blessed it with abundance, and provided therein its foods in proper measure in four days — alike for all seekers. Then He turned to the heaven, while it was something like smoke, and said to it and to the earth, come ye, both of you in obedience willingly or unwillingly. They said we come willingly. So He completed them in the form of seven heavens in two days, and He revealed to each heaven its function. And we adorned the lowest heaven with lamps for light and provided it with the means for protection. That is the decree of the Mighty, and the All-Knowing”. (41: 10-13) The six periods (two plus four) referred to here cover the formation of the celestial bodies, the earth and the development of the earth until it became inhabitable by human beings. In the case of the earth the events described in the above Quranic verses happened over four periods. One could see in them the four geological periods described by modern science. If we take the sun and its subproduct the earth as an example, science informs us that their formation occured by a process of condensation of the primary nebula and their separation. This is exactly what the Quran expresses when it refers to the process that produced a fusion and subsequest separation starting from a celestial smoke. So we see the correspondence between the Quran and the facts of science. The plurality of the heavens expressed in the Quran by number is confirmed by modern science due to the observations astrophysicists have made on the galactic system and their very large numbers, (number seven is used 24 times throughout the Quran for various numerical quantities. It often carries the meaning of many. The Greeks and Romans also used the number seven to mean an undefined idea of plurality.) Although not all the questions raised by the Quranic verses have been completely confirmed by the scientific data as yet due to lack of research, there is in any case absolutely no opposition between the information in the Quran on the creation and modern knowledge on the formation of the universe. THE SCIENCE OF ASTRONOMY IN THE QURAN. Apart from the verse I quoted there are about 40 verses in the Quran which provide information on astronomy including the nature of the 30 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS heavenly bodies (i.e. sun, moon, stars, planets), celestial organizations (i.e. the existence of moon, the sun, orbits) the sequence of day and •night, evolution of the heavens and the conquest of space. For the sake of brevity I will just take up the conquest of space which is happening in our day and age of science. The Quran says: “O company of Jinn and men! if you have power to break through the confines of the heavens and the earth, then break through them. But you cannot break through except with authority”.(55:34) This verse has been variously interpreted. My inclination is that this points to the making of rockets, sputniks and spaceships etc. The verse definitely indicates the possibility that men will one day achieve what we today call the conquest of space. The text of the verse predicts not only the penetration through the region of the heavens but also the earth i.e. the exploration of its depths. The other two remarkable verses on this subject read as: “And even if we opened to them a gate in heaven, and they kept ascending through it, they would surely say, ‘Only our eyes are dazed; rather we are a bewitched people”. (15:15,16) These verses express the astonishment at the spectacular appearance of the planets and the stars from above entirely different from any thing we could imagine and experience from the earth below. This is exactly how astronauts have experienced the remarkable adventure during space flights around and above the earth. Here again it is difficult not to be impressed, when comparing the text of the Quran with the data of modern science, by statements that simply cannot be ascribed to the thought of a man (i.e. the Prophet Muhammad) who lived 14 centuries ago. It must be the revelation of the superior Being we call Allah. THE FIELD OF BIOLOGY. There are numerous Quranic verses on the origin of life and other details in the vegetable and animal kingdoms, on human reproduction etc. THE QURAN AND MODERN SCIENCE 31 I will bring out just one verse which is very revealing in dealing with the sources of the constituents of animal milk. It reads as: “And surely in the cattle too there is a lesson for you. We provide for you drink out of that which is in their bellies from between the faeces and the blood — milk pure and pleasant for those who drink it.” (16:67) This verse alludes to some subtle processes taking place inside the bellies of animals. A study of these processess of the conversion of grass and other feed which the animals eat into milk in their bellies could not have possibly been done in Prophet Muhammad’s time. The present understanding of this concept is the result of the discoveries made in the chemistry and physiology of the digestive system. Once again current research has proven the scientific accuracy of the Quranic revelation. I will also take the example from the field of human reproduction which eloquently proves the concordance of the Quran and the scientific facts. Reproduction has always been surrounded by myths and superstitions. How could it be otherwise considering the fact that to understand its complex mechanism one had to possess knowledge of anatomy, embryology, obstetrics, basic sciences had to be founded to nurture physiology and the discovery of the microscope had to-be made. All these were not present at the time of the Quranic revelation. Despite this, human reproduction is referred to in dozens of verses of the Quran in various contexts. Its precise mechanism in clearly defined stages is explained in the Quran in an understandable language in strict accordance with what was to be discovered much later. The Quran says: “He creates you in the wombs of your mothers formation after formation in three veils of darkness”.(39:6) Not long ago I came across a news item in the Toronto Globe and Mail with a headline: Embryo Development Described in Koran, University of Toronto Scientist says, according to this story, Dr. Keith Moore, a leading embryologist of the University of Toronto found an accurate description of the human embryo’s stage by stage 32 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS development in the Quran, which was proposed by western experts in 1940 and later proved in the next 15 years. Dr. Moore is,amazed at the accuracy of the Quranic statements made in the 7th century. He also says that he subsequently examined both the Old and New Testaments but could find no parallel to the Quranic verses. He asserts that the verses along with some sayings of the prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, help to close the gap between science and religion which had existed for many many years. Dr. Moore’s research was done jointly with Dr. T V N Persaud of the University of Manitoba and Dr. Marshal Johnson of the Jefferson Medical Centre in Philadelphia, U, S. A. These scientists see in the verse quoted above three anatomical layers that protect an infant during the gestation period, the abdominal wall, the uterus itself and the surroundings of the foetus (i.e. placenta, embryonic membranes and amniotic fluid). So in a nutshell the Quranic statements express in simple terms the truth of primordial importance which human beings have taken centuries to discover. Lastly I must emphasize that in Islam, religion and science have always been considered twin sisters, and why it should be otherwise when to us, the Ahmadi Muslims, the Quranic religion is the word of God and science is the work of God. How could the word and the work of one true God be inconsistent? If we perceive any inconsistency between the two, it is our faith which guides us what to chose. Here I would like to quote from one of the lectures by Professor Dr. Mohammad Abdus Salam, the only Muslim Noble Laureate in the field of science. He says, “Personally for me, my faith was predicted by the timeless spiritual message of Islam, on matters on which physics is silent. It was given to me by the very first verse of the Holy Quran after the opening chapter: “This is the Book, wherein there is no doubt, a guidance to God-fearing, who believe in the unseen.” The unseen is beyond the reach of the human ken and this is the limitation of science, which can only be surmounted by unfolding His Supreme knowledge through scientific research by human beings. I conclude with a quote from the Holy Quran which speaks volumes of the eternal wonders in science. THE QURAN AND MODERN SCIENCE 33 “To Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth, verily, Allah is self sufficient, praise worthy, and if all the trees on earth were pens, and the sea was ink, seven seas after it to replenish, yet would the words of thy Lord never be exhausted. Surely thy Lord is Mighty and All Wise.” LAWS OF SUCCESS God says in the Holy Quran: Verily he truly prospers who purifies himself. (87:15) 0 ye who believel if you do your duty to Allah, He will grant you a distinction. (8:30) 0 ye who believe! be steadfast and try to excel in steadfastness and be on your guard and fear Allah that you may prosper. (3:201) 0 ye who believe, seek help through perseverence and prayer; surely, Allah is with those who patiently persevere. (2:154) Everyone has a goal to which he turns his whole attention. Then vie with one another in good works. (2:149) Verily the most honourable person in the sight of Allah is he who is most righteous. . (49:14) ‘So fear Allah, 0 men of understanding, that you may prosper. (5:101) Do good that you may prosper. (22:78) Guide us on the right path. The path on which those have walked who have received Thy blessings and favours. (1:5-7) Seek help with patience and prayer. (2:46)