7 Ağustos 2015 Cuma

Islam and Science

How to consider the concepts in the relationship between religion and science is crucially important. Science has an aim to reach a solution or an understanding of a problem or a phenomenon through experimentation, observation and/or mathematical reasoning based on a well-established methodology. A scientist in this process always tries to evaluate how consistent the obtained knowledge is and open the door to new  discoveries. Science is not static and absolute. On the contrary, it continually changes as its previous mistakes are corrected with the help of critiques. In the sciences of religion, knowledge is obtained through a methodology as well. Unlike the scientific activities, the production of knowledge is mainly based on narrations (riwayah) from the main sources. That is, there is a narration instead of experimentation and observation. Obtained information is processed again with this methodology. Since the scholars of religion, like scientists, have an endeavor to access true knowledge, they discuss information they obtain with other scholars and publish their findings. Other scholars comment on these new ideas, thereby giving feedback to the process of obtaining knowledge. Reasoning plays an important role in obtaining knowledge in both religion and science. If there is a process of obtaining knowledge, it is impossible to realize this without the reasoning.

Islamic sources often define the taxonomy of science this way: “sciences (ulum) are divided into two parts: narrative/transmitted (naqli) sciences and rational (aqli) sciences. The knowledge of religion is obtained from the narrative sciences”. At first glance, it might come to mind that there is no room for reasoning in the narrative science within this taxonomy because “narrative” and “rational” concepts are mentioned separately. Reasoning, however, plays a crucial role in the sciences of religion, such as tafsir (exegesis), hadith, fiqh and kalam, which benefit from both social and  natural sciences. Let us discuss each of these sciences briefly: 

The science of hadith deals with the oral transmission of information over a social network, which is highly widespread with respect to time and space. In this transmission, the transmitters are required to satisfy some predefined conditions. Constructing and controlling such a network is based on rational activity. The science of tafsir tries to explain or comment the holy scripture in terms of riwayah (based on the hadiths and the sayings of sahabah, friends of the prophet, and tabiun, the next generation of sahabah) and  dirayah. Dirayah tafsir is mainly based on linguistics, historical resources and the general goals of Shariah. The science of kalam explains the principles of the faith based on naqli and aqli arguments. The naqli arguments constitute the primary dogmas of the religion, whereas rational sciences, such as logic, astronomy, geometry and mathematics, are used to found the aqli arguments. The science of fiqh arranges the relationship between individual and God, and individual and other individuals. The Islamic science tradition relies on the harmony of these two kinds of sciences: aqli and naqli. Ottoman madrasahs, the last ring of this tradition, introduced both aqli and naqli sciences into their curriculum (Please refer to [1] for further details  about the courses taught in the madrasahs). It is obvious that the aqli sciences are indispensable elements of this tradition. Elmalili Hamdi Efendi, who got education under this tradition and gave lectures in the Ottoman madrasahs, says about aqli and naqli sciences [2]: “There are naqli and aqli parts in every sciences. Neither naqli sciences are free from  reasoning (aql) nor aqli sciences are free from citation (naql). Progress does not mean to ignore the past values, but means to improve the past values by permitting modification and new discoveries. To put it another way,  progress means to add successors' property to predecessors' property”. A similar thought was stated in Newton's letter with the date of 1676 [3]: “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.
One of  the key properties Islamic science tradition has is freedom of thought. Scholars receiving ijazat (diploma) from their teachers in this tradition do not become a repeater of their own teachers; on the contrary, they  state their opinions upon matters they face. Establishing such an environment requires  toleration of different opinions. The students of scholars at highest level in science of fiqh made different ijtihads (juridical interpretations) from their masters. That is to say, they did not hesitate to declare when they drew conclusions that were different from the conclusions their masters came to. Ahmad Faruq al-Sarhandi (d. 1624), a great Indian scholar in kalam and tasawwuf and known as Imam Rabbani, explains this in one of his letters [4]: “After reaching the level of ijtihad, it is not correct that Imam Abu Yusuf follows Imam al-Azam Abu Hanifa. It is correct that Imam Abu Yusuf acts upon his own opinion and does not follow  Imam al-Azam. Imam Abu Yusuf famously said 'I argued with Imam Abu Hanife about whether al-Quran was created or not for six months'. Progress in professions is obtained by adding thoughts together. If it depended only on one thought, there would not be any progress. Since Sibawayh's (d. 796) book, namely al-Kitab, on the Arabic syntax, the amount of knowledge on the syntax has increased a hundredfold because of the new innovations and thoughts added to the knowledge of nahw (Arabic syntax). But, the person who formed the basis of the Arabic syntax is Sibawayh. The superiority therefore belongs to him. While the most superior in a science is its founder, the honor to increase a science belongs to successors”. An Ottoman countryside scholar Imam Birgiwi was able to stringently criticize Ottoman shaykh al-Islam Ebussuud Efendi because he gave a fatwa related to the validity of cash waqfs (charity foundations). This freedom of thought in the religious sciences can be easily observed in other sciences. 

Both tenets of creed (itiqad) and religious practices (amal) in Islam have made contributions to natural and applied sciences as well as social sciences. A creedal tenet in Islam, “The future is only known by God”, caused the separation of astronomy and astrology, hence freed astronomy from superstitions. Qadi Abu Bakr al-Baqillani (d. 1013), a theologian belonging to al-Ashari school, made a clear distinction between astronomy and astrology - until his time these two disciplines were interfered with each other - rejected astrology, and opposed astrologers [5]. Similarly Imam al-Ghazali (d. 1111) states in his book, Ihyau Ulum al-Din (the Revivification of the Religious Sciences), that knowledge is not bad per se and it can be discredited only due to one of three reasons. The second among them is that “a science is usually discredited because of its harm to the owner, such as ilm al-nujum (the science of the stars), which cannot completely be discredited per se because it is divided into two separate parts. The non-discredited part pertains to calculation. The Quran says that “the sun and the moon are running on their courses with a reckoning” or “The sun and the moon are made to a reckoning” ('al-shamsu wa al-qamaru bi husban', Rahman/5). The Quran again says that  “And for the moon We have appointed mansions till it becomes an old shriveled palm leaf” ('wa al-qamaru qaddarnahu manazila hatta aada ka al-urjuni al-qadim', Yasin/39). The discredited part of the science of the stars is concerned with judgment from the stars for the future. The religion has criticized it. … The Prophet Muhammad said, “After me, I am afraid for my ummah (the Muslim community) about three things: Cruelty of the rulers,  believing in nujum, rejecting qadar (Allahu taala's Eternal Will for the existing of something or predestination)” (Ibn Abdilberr from Abu Mihjan). [To discuss one of the early misconceptions in the history of science literature, I deliberately chose the above-mentioned scholars from the Ashari school (one of the schools of the theology in Islam). The orientalists, such as Edward Sachau and George Sarton, claimed that the Islamic scholars, especially those from the Ashari school, hindered the scientific progress in the Islamic world. The recent studies in the history of science have been showing that these claims do not reflect the truth.] From the point of view of amal (religious practices), Islam wants the believers to perform the prayer five times a day, fast and sacrifice an animal in a specified time. For instance, taking the prayer (salat) into consideration, determination of qibla (the direction of Kaaba in Makka) and prayer times led to the intensive studies on astronomy, hence mathematics and geometry in the Islamic civilization. Medicine has an important position in both ilm al-hadith (science of the Prophetic sayings) and ilm al-fiqh (science of Islamic law). In ilm al-hadith, the prohpetic sayings related to medicine were gathered together under the title of al-Tibb al-Nabawi (the Medicine of the Prophet). Because the Islamic law manages the every aspect of a human life, this science benefits also from medicine. Imam al-Ghazali complains about Muslims' lack of interest in medicine in some regions. He states in his book Ihya, “There are many regions in which the physicians are zimmi (literally those who are protected / the non-Muslim citizen in a Islamic state)” [7]. The following saying also declares the importance of medicine [8]: “There are two sciences: the science of body and the science of religion – 'al-ilmi ilman: ilmu al-abdan wa ilmu al-adyan'” [9].  

The beginnings of many sciences (astronomy, observation, medicine, arithmetic, physics, chemistry and  arts)  are based on prophets in the books penned in the Ottoman language such as Mirat-i Kainat, Mawduat al-ulum and Durr-i Maknun [10], [11], [12]. Furthermore, narrations, allegedly transmitted from the Prophet Muhammad, are reported that Plato and Socrates, commonly known today as Greek philosophers, were in fact prophets [13], [14]. The fact that the origin of the sciences  is rested upon prophets  in a society where the religion guides the life should be studied well. 

So far the relationship between Islam and science has been examined. The following should not be ignored: science is not a goal but a tool for humanity.  That such a tool brings felicity and serenity to humanity makes  it crucial to make use of this tool judiciously. Since Islam offers felicity in the world and the hereafter, Islam will intervene in how we should use this tool with its orders, prohibitions and ethical rules. Such an intervention  might remind us over a conflict between religion and science. Conceptually a conflict or harmony occurs among equals. If we talk about a conflict or harmony  between religion and science, we have to suppose that religion and science are able to intervene with each other. In this case, we should accept that science has a right to define its own ethical rules (or its boundlessness). In other words, science cannot be taken under control. This kind of thought  cancels the assumption that the science is a tool. If we consider science a tool, we have to accept an (religious or human) authority over science. Either way (a religious or human authority) takes the science under control. Hence, the conflict or harmony between religion and science is void.

Let us look at the issue from a philosophical point of view. The ultimate goal of philosophers is always to establish an ethical system (Ethics is a chart that tells an individual what he/she can and should do). A human-constructed ethical system has something to say to science. Should science be limited or can it do everything without any bound? Even today's Western World puts limits on science. Otherwise, a human can be treated as any kind of living/nonliving creature. For instance, can  those who are sentenced to death be used in experiments? After establishing human fields in which humans are grown  by connecting to a machine, can the organs of those humans be transplanted to other people? Should science not be limited by saying yes to such questions? 

Reference and Notes

[1] Cevat İzgi, Osmanlı Medreselerinde İlim (Science in the Ottoman Madrasahs), vol. I, İstanbul, 1997.

[2] Elmalılı M. Hamdi Yazır, Makaleler I, Compiled by Cüneyd Köksal, Murat Kaya, İstanbul, 1997, p. 247.  The phrase is in the article which is a preamble to his translation named as Tahlil-i Tarih-i Felsefe: Metâlib ve Mezâhib. The translation covers only the parts on theological philosophy and metaphysics  of (Paul Janet, Gabrielles Seailles) Histoire de la philosophie: Les problèmes et les écoles, which was published  in 1887. The original text can be accessed here. The English translation of the book can be also obtained here (vol 1, vol 2).

[3] David Brewster, Memoirs of The Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, vol I, Edinburgh, 1860, p. 125. The book can be accessed here.

[4] Ahmed Farukî Serhendî, Mektûbât Tercümesi, Translated from Persian into Turkish by Hüseyin Hilmi Işık, İstanbul, 2001, 292nd letter, p. 464.

[5] George Saliba, “The Ash'arites and the science of the stars”, Editör Richard G. Hovannisian,Georges Sabagh, Religion and culture in  medieval Islam, Cambridge, 1999, p. 79-92.

[6] Gazâlî, Ihyâu 'ulûm al-dîn, Translated from Arabic into Turkish by Ahmed Serdaroğlu, İstanbul, 1974, vol. I, p. 78-79.

[7] Gazâlî, Ibid., p. 60.

[8] This saying is considered a hadith (prophetic saying) in Riyad al-Nasihin, written in Persian by Muhammad Rabhami in 1432 [Translated into Turkish by A. Faruk Meyan, Istanbul, 1980, p. 584]. However, this saying is also referred to Imam Shafii in Tashkopruluzada Ahmad Effendi's Mawduat al-ulum (Adapted into Modern Turkish by Mumin Cevik, Istanbul, 1966, voll. I, p. 262)  and Buhan al-Din al-Zarnuji's Talim al-Mutaallim (Translated into Turkish by Ali Kara, Istanbul, 2008, p. 37)

[9] After writing these lines, I read  an interview with the science historian Rushtu Rashid. He shared the same opinions as those in my last paraghraph. Rushtu Rashid, Klasik Avrupali  Modernintenin Icadi ve Islam'da Bilim, Editor Bekir S. Gur, Ankara, 2005, p. 316.

[10] Nishancizâde Muhammed bin Ahmad, Mir'at-ı Kâinât, Adapted into Modern Turkish by A Farûk Meyân, İstanbul, 1987, p.117, 124, 394-396. Nishancizada (d. 1031/1571), working as a mudarris (professor) and molla (qadi of the Holy Cities), wrote a history book based on more than 300 books. This book  was widely read in the Ottoman time. The following information is given on page 11 about the pages (suhuf) that were revealed to the first prophet Adam: “There was information about medicine, mathematics, physics,  chemistry and other sciences in  these pages (suhuf)”. On page 124, it is stated about the Prophet Idris (Enoch): “He knew astronomy, arithmetics, medicine, the secrets of plants, how to write, stitch, measure  and more”. It is written on page 394 that “The prophet Sheet (Seth) had 50 pages (suhuf) covering wisdom, mathematics, chemistry, arts, and many other sciences”.

[11] Tashkopruluzada Ahmad Effendi, Mawduat al-Ulum, Translated from Arabic into Ottoman Turkish by Kamaladdin Mahmud Effendi, Istanbul, 1313, p. 338. The original name of this books is Miftah al-Saadah, which was translated into Ottoman Turkish by the author's son. Mawduat al-Ulum was adapted from Ottoman Turkish into Modern Turkish by Mumin Cevik (Suleman Kuku) and was published as two volumes in Istanbul in 1966. Page 251 states that “the prophet Idris (Enoch) was the master of all the sciences. God gave him the prophethood and wisdom  along with the knowledge of stars and mathematics. In his time, 72 different languages were spoken”.

[12] Yazıcıoğlu Ahmed Bîcan, Dürr-i Meknûn (İnceleme, Çeviriyazı, Dizin, Tıpkıbasım), Prepared by. Ahmet Demirtaş, İstanbul, 2009, p. 123: “The prophet Idris established the science of stars and observation”. Another critical edition was prepared by Laban Kaptein in 2007. You can reach the website of this edition here. For a version of the book adapted into Modern Turkish:  Yazıcızâde Ahmed Bîcan, Dürr-i Meknûn (Saklı İnciler), Adapted from Ottoman Turkish into Modern Turkish by Necdet Sakaoğlu, 1999, p. 48.

[13] Nev’î Efendi, Netâyij al-Funûn (The essence of the sciences), Prepared by Ömer Tolgay, İstanbul, 1995, p. 126-127. In this book, a hadith was narrated about the prophethoodness of Aflatun (Plato). It is also stated that some scholars consider Socrates a prophet.

[14] Paul Janet, Gabrielles Seailles, Tahlil-i Tarih-i Felsefe: Metâlib ve Mezâhib, Metafizik ve İlahiyat, Translated from French into Ottoman Turkish by Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır, Haz. Muhtar Yazır ve Ayhan Yalçın, İstanbul, 1978, In the footnote of page 237, Elmalılı Hamdi Efendi says about Socrates: “It is narrated that Socrates has the properties of the prophethood. There is no problem to see him as a prophet. Socrates is a philosopher that benefit from the deductive reasoning, which does not prevent him from receiving ilham (inspiration from God)”. In the trial of Socrates, he was accused of  the crimes of irreligiousness because he rejected the Greek's polytheism.