Allah, Man, and Science

And he revealed to His Servant what he revealed Bismillah

                Often times I am confronted by people who come to me regarding their doubts about science and religion. Others preach to me that Islam is a scientific religion fit for the modern temperament, for science has to enlighten us with the secret meanings of the Quran. This discovery they say is the modern miracle of Islam. The condition of the modern Muslim is like a man who visits someone he deems a doctor when he is sick; he tells this “doctor” of his restless thoughts that will not let him sleep at night, so this “doctor” prescribes a medication to the man to calm his mind. When the man takes the medication, he notices his symptoms have disappeared and assumes all is normal. However, what he does not know is that the side effect of the medication is much worse than his symptoms. We can hardly blame the man for his predicament. After all the proper place of a patient is to listen to his doctor, the one who failed him was his doctor. Had the doctor studied where the medication came from and had he researched the impact of the drug by previous users then the man would not be in a worse state than he was.  The doctor in this case is the modern da’ee who in haste looks to find his solution in western philosophy. What he does not realize is that he will also inherit all its problems. The nobility of man lies in his knowledge, for he cannot outrun all the animals, nor can he overpower all them with his brute force. The loss of knowledge implies the loss of his own nobility. We must begin our investigation with the foundations of the two schools of philosophy: western and Islamic, so we may see how it guides the development of their own distinct worldviews and sciences.

                 Let us first start our investigation by discussing the necessities of an Islamic worldview. Islam, as defined by our Prophet ﷺ, is related to the five pillars of shahadah; salat, zakat, sawm, and hajj, but Islam is just one aspect of a much larger and inseparable whole. Faith (Imaan) precedes Islam, not as faith understood in the western sense, but as the recognition and acceptance of the truth and the conviction to live in accordance to this truth. The fruits of Imaan and Islam are Ihsan, which are defined by our Prophet ﷺ as “to worship Allah as if you are seeing him. Deen, therefore, encompasses all three aspects. Since Imaan and Islam are inseparable, the truth is at once both subjective and objective. The Islamic worldview is committed to the thesis of the sacralization of nature; in other words, that nature is merely symbolic form which points to something about God (in other words, manifest something about the divine). The ideal realities that exist in the “mind” of Allah precedes their sensible manifestations and that the higher science is related to the attainment of knowledge of these ideal realities. We must therefore reject any worldview that obliterates all spiritual meanings tied to nature. We must then investigate then the compatibility of the western worldview and its philosophies with its Islamic counterparts.

                Western philosophy has largely shaped the methodology and definition of science while organizing the results of their methods into a worldview. Their interpretation both demarcates science and determines the direction science will take. The western world has always valued the ratio over the intellectus, or the heart, when it came to its methodology regarding philosophy. Ratio is the root of the word rationality, to that extent rationalism, which means to compute in Latin. It which is the aspect of the intellect that provides the foundations to make sensory experience intelligible and interprets sensory experience in an intelligible manner. Knowledge therefore relates only to the phenomena that we see, though they may pertain to things outside of our experience, since the mind’s logical structure precedes any empirical analysis we make and given that logic and language are indispensable, the relationship between words and the world is fundamental. The aim of knowledge is about obtaining true beliefs that depend on their relations to facts, and facts are neither true nor false, they just are. Everything outside of our phenomenal experience is part of the “supernatural” and it is beyond human interaction. Built into this very foundation is a worldview that considers the universe to be a self-subsistent independent entity evolving in accordance to its own laws. Ratio only perceives a dynamic world which is always changing. Certain knowledge is beyond us and that maturity requires us to accept that any belief that we hold today may one day be replaced by another. Built in the western philosophical foundations is the rejection of God and the sacralization of nature, such a worldview is incompatible with the worldview of Islam.

                The Islamic worldview however is built on the primacy of revelation and provides us with a fertile ground to establish an Islamic science. Allah has revealed, “And We have certainly created for Hell many of the jinn and mankind. They have hearts with which they do not understand, they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear. Those are like livestock; rather, they are more astray. It is they who are the heedless. (7:179).” The primacy of religious truth is known not by the ratio but through the heart, or in its Latin counterpart, intellectus. The ratio is the servant of the heart and the heart provides the ratio the basic principles it needs to do its job while making inferences that are beyond sensible experience. It is because of the heart that Adam was able to know the names (or essences) of things while the angels could not. It is this awareness of a higher-level cognition that separates the methodology of Islamic philosophy from western philosophy. To get a better grasp of the concept of the heart we must first begin with the foundations of our epistemic principles.
                We accept knowledge that comes from both the internal and external senses. The external senses are hearing, taste, smell, sight, and touch. When the senses make contact with the information, it first reaches the common sense which organizes the data in accordance to their corresponding forms (representations of the object by the senses). Then these representations are stored for retention by the retention faculties.  These stored forms are then appraised by the estimative faculties judging something as agreeable, good, evil, or beautiful and projects it onto the object as if it were a real quality of the thing. Finally, you have the imagination, which takes the forms, combines, and separates their accidental qualities, like space, time, and position, to arrive at a representation of the reality of a thing. We accept in our epistemology all the information that comes from the five external and internal senses.

                We do not confine reason to just the ratio, but also incorporate a higher level of cognition called the heart. As was said before the ratio takes the information from the senses and the heart and interprets it in an intelligible, lawlike, logical manner. The heart is the spiritual organ which receives the meanings of things from the unseen, the information it receives from the ratio and synthesizes them into a larger paradigm or worldview. The heart affirms its own existence, its conscious states, the reality of the external world, the reality of God, the authority of the prophet ﷺ, and the reality of existence. To the one who devotes themselves wholeheartedly to Allah, contemplate on his Oneness, with Allah’s grace will lose his current consciousness self and subjective states; entering into a state of a higher self, by that a higher level of cognition, subsisting in God where he perceives reality as whole. The heart at the ordinary level of consciousness, whose perfection of it we find in men of science when they discover new laws of nature or substances, receive the meanings of things from Allah when they train their minds to be able to receive and interpret it. The heart when it receives the meaning then projects it onto his reason and experiences to develop a bigger picture of the world that he perceives in the mind’s eye. The aspect of the heart which relates to ratio and experience relates only to a specific aspect, while the higher level of cognitions to which saints and prophets attain relates to reality as a whole. The prophets and saints instead of training their ratio focus on training and developing their hearts to prepare themselves to receive this higher truth and cognition.  In addition to reason and revelation, we also accept testimony from authoritative men.

                We can divide the testimony of authoritative men into two kinds: consensus and revelation. By consensus we mean muttawatur (widely attested events) hadiths or testimony that is so widespread from multiple difference sources that it is inconceivable to the mind that all these men, in some act of conspiracy, forged these testimonies. This includes the consensus of scientists, tradesmen, scholars, historians, and the scholars of the ummah. The consensus of everything besides the scholars of the ummah is allowed to be challenged by later evidence, but the consensus of the ummah is incapable of being challenged as the ummah is divinely protected from universally agreeing on a falsehood. The other source is through revelation: The Holy Quran and the words and actions of the Prophet ﷺ. The Quran in its reality is not sounds and letter as language is just a channel of communication. The Quran is an attribute of which constitutes truth itself. The heart sees reality in a spatial (hierarchical) order, but the ratio views the world in a temporal order. The heart perceives that human beings are greater than the plants, rocks, animals, and in relation to other human beings perceives that not all humans are equal in knowledge and competency. In relation to human beings ,on the higher order of beings, it must obey those wiser than them. The senses, the intellect, and testimony are the foundations of our world view.

                In the western Aristotelian tradition man was defined as the rational animal. By distinguishing human beings as a rational creature, the reality of man, in the Greek tradition, was the psyche. Man was an immortal soul attached to a physical body. In the Islamic tradition man was defined as the speaking animal (al-hayawan al natiq). The act of speaking denotes both an action and a subject that is locus of meanings. The human being in our Islamic tradition is not just the body or soul but is the constitution of both. Man is a unified whole with his body and spirit. The outward (the act of speaking) and the inward (meanings that are in the subject) are essential to his reality. The subject is never the object of it’s own act of perception but it is always directed at other objects other than the self. The reality of the self hence relies on revelation for it to know its own reality. The soul is the locus of meanings to which the ratio signifies as propositions. Meaning is the soul’s recognition of the proper place of a thing in the hierarchical system. Meaning is synonymous with essences. Essences in relation to the mind are quiddities but in relation the external world it is a reality. Essence in the mind answers the question “WHAT is it?” while essences in the external world answer the question “what is THAT thing?”.  Since we have clarified that the heart views the world in a spatial (hierarchical) order, things are either prior or posterior to other things in this hierarchy.  If there was no difference in the world then nothing could ground the fact that somethings are prior to or posterior to other things in this hierarchy. Essences therefore rely on something that distinguishes them from other things (called a species) while at the same time sharing something in common with other groups of things (called a genus) in the hierarchy. For example, emeralds have the genus of minerality, that is to say they have something in common with all rocks, and a species of greenness, that of all rocks it is green, and that this definition of green rock is true of all emeralds. The relation it has with other rocks is essential and must remain as such. If this hierarchy was not a constantly upheld but we would instead live in a random world where knowledge is impossible. Knowledge is then the soul’s arrival of an essence. When the heart recognizes the relations of essences to other essences, ideas, concepts, judgements are formed. Thought is the soul acting on the forms to abstract its meanings. The heart arrives at meaning either through keen judgement or mystical experience. Defining man as the speaking animal sets a clear limit that distinguishes humans from non-humans.  Since knowledge is the very attribute that defines the limit of things, it follows that knowledge itself cannot have a definition and is limitless. The human self relates to multiple levels of existences and each has its own hierarchy. One aspect of reality is the imaginations which relates only to forms and to be able to see the proper relation of imaginary objects like distinguishing illusions, hallucinations, dreams (to be able to distinguish which come from God and which do not come from Him) , and visions.  The social reality is to put the wise in charge of power and to weed out the incompetent frauds to the bottom. The Psychological reality which focuses on controlling one’s emotions with one’s reason. The external reality which recognizes that human beings are the greatest of all the creatures of earth and that the plants and animals are its servants. In addition to these planes of existences we affirm another aspect of supra-rational or transcendental plane of existence called the reality of existence.  At this level of existence things are seen as they really are (prior to our mind’s abstraction of it). Since truth is the soul’s arrival of an essence (meaning), and essence is the proper place of a thing, truth is a property of both the reality and beliefs in accordance to reality.

                Truth, since it relates to both belief and reality, relates to wisdom, justice, rightness, reality, and well-being. So that when something is in its proper place it is wise, just, right, to their benefit and proper for the thing to be in that order in the hierarchy of reality. Since mankind encompasses many different spheres of existence, then man is required to relate not just his beliefs, but his actions feelings, judgments and acts in accordance to this truth. Existence is a primitive concept, so primitive that it is undefinable, that relates to everything in reality. External realities first enter our mind as things that our minds abstract their essences from then predicates the concept of existence onto them. The distinction of essence and existence is therefore conceptual. The mind portions the concept of existence into their corresponding realities. Existence is only mentally added to essence, what is real then are essences. The testimonies of the saints inform of another entity besides essence and existence which is the reality of existence. The reality of existence, unlike the concept of existence, is not something static but is always involved in a dynamic movement of ontological self-expression. It is like light which when it lowers its intensity reveals the multitude of colors that was hidden inside it but could never be perceived in its pure state. Essences are in reality the modes of the reality of existence like how colors are modes of light. Essences therefore are only conceptual entities that our mind use to makes sense of the reality of existence then predicates the concept of existence. This all-encompassing reality of the reality of existence is what is denoted by the divine name Al Haqq, in which Allah as the absolute of all forms of manifestations is called.

                The western man in choosing ratio over intellectus has come to the conclusion that change is the fundamental nature of the world we perceive. The aim of science is to make sense of this change and has given this change many different names like energy and force. They ascribe energy as the fundamental reality behind change because they only consider existence as concept and reject the reality of existence. Since essence relate to a thing, essences like tables and chairs are independent and self-subsistent things. Tables in themselves only relate to tables and not some other reality that is both inclusive of it and exclusive of it. The Islamic worldview presents the reality of existence as the fundamental reality, that is the real, actual entity that is always articulating its infinite possibilities into existence and also in man. What is being articulated are in reality the intrinsic nature of the divine names and attributes always articulating its reality in a different but similar guise at every instance. The laws of nature are therefore not the study of the behavior of matter but are the artistic expressions of the ideal realities in the divine being. Miracles are no longer seen as breaking the laws of nature but an aspect of the divine reality that has chosen to articulate itself into the phenomenal world. Miracles act in accordance with science rather than being an enemy to the scientific method.

                As we stated earlier, truth relates to both to beliefs and the reality. Reality corresponds to the reality of existence and it’s many modes. The heart makes sense of the reality of existence by abstracting essences from it and the heart organizes the essences into their proper place and relations regarding the many different spheres of existence. Truth requires both correspondence and coherence of the reality of thing and it’s proper place. Truth must correspond and cohere  both to wisdom and justice. Justice is the condition of things being in the proper place both in the mind and reality. Since human beings are motivated by their beliefs then incorrect beliefs will result in actions of injustice. Ignorance is the root of injustice.  The notion of proper in “proper place” implies that it is what is proper to the thing’s own nature. Since man is the speaking animal, what benefits him is to arrive at the meaning of truth and to act in accordance to this truth so he can testify to this very truth.  Truth then is also the property of conformity to the requirements of wisdom and justice. So, any science which reduces human beings to merely being beasts presupposes a view of man that isn’t in accordance with his essence, which is his own particular mode of existence. So, truth is a property of reality and truth and facts is its coherence to truth. Since existence is what is common to all things and identity is what makes a thing what it is, identity cannot therefore be it being the reality of existence but the limitations of the reality of existence that brings about the multiplicity of objects in the phenomenal mind. It is recognizing this limit that is interpreted by the mind as an essence. Since knowledge is the soul’s arrival of at an essence, and essences are modes of the reality of existence that exists in the interior condition of being that is present in the heart. Knowledge then all comes from Allah and it is all about Al-Haqq’s disclosure. The world in relation to the divine is like the relation to symbolic writing on a paper which indicate a higher meaning. The symbolic writing “triangle” as a writing is meaningless itself unless it points to the concept of triangles in the mind. Nature itself is Allah’s own self disclosure to man and it’s ayat (signs) are the forms present in the conscious mind so it’s meanings are the essences. Like any writing there are apparent verses which are presenting their meaning to the normal person and there are ambiguous verses which require someone with a developed heart to interpret. Of the ambiguous self-disclosures, we can never be certain of them as Allah mentions but what relates to his well being and nature is evident to mankind. One should keep in mind that while the Quran is uncreated the natural world and it’s order is created by Allah. This is what separates the two kinds of revelations.
                Science in the Islamic worldview is just one tool that a Muslim uses to obtain knowledge about Allah. The world which he sees in his mind is not some independent existent thing operating under its own set of laws, rather the world is the artistic expression of the inner perfections of Allah to mankind so that the unknowable becomes known. The one that bears witness to this fact is the heart. The notion of a scientific miracle of the Quran is incoherent, because such a view presupposes a worldview that is contradictory to the world in the lens of the Quran. For the miracle of the Quran is not in the disclosure of facts, which were undiscoverable until now, but the true miracle lies in opening the hearts of men to the truth and reality.

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