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Islam on secular science
By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

In the scheme of Islam, the secular sciences enjoy the position of an independent branch of learning. While the principles of salvation in the hereafter are, according to Islam, to be derived only from revealed knowledge, it is scientific research, which gives us the laws of material existence. Each clearly has a sphere, which is distinctly separate from the other.

The Qur'an tells us repeatedly to give serious thought to the phenomena of the earth and the heavens: "In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of day and night, there are signs for men of sense." (3:190) So far as success or failure in the hereafter is concerned, we are to rely for guidance on the revelations (2:120) received by the prophets. But on the question of physical realities, we are urged to make use of our own senses; we are expected to do our own thinking. Whereas regular recourse to revealed knowledge will lead to spiritual progress, it is only the proper understanding and use of natural science, which can lead to material advancement.

This point has been made abundantly clear in the Hadith, which gives us an example of how the spiritual and material spheres of influence must remain separate. Fifty out of the sixty-three years of the Prophet's life were spent in Mecca, a desert city where there was no agriculture. That meant that he had little or no experience of farming. He later migrated to Medina where both agriculture and horticulture were practiced, the land being given over mainly to date palm orchards. One day the Prophet went out to a settlement where there were date palms. He saw that a number of people had climbed up the trees and were engaged in some activity. On enquiring what they were doing, he was told that they were fertilizing the trees. The Prophet suggested that this was not really necessary. Hearing this, they left their work and climbed back down. They had been in the habit of fertilizing the date flowers by artificial pollination, which ensured a good yield, but the year that they gave up this practice, the yield was very low. When the Prophet asked why this was so, it was explained to him that a good crop was dependent upon the pollination which they had been doing regularly until he had asked them to desist. On hearing this, the Prophet replied: "Continue doing as you used to, since you know the matters of the world better than I do."

This incident clearly illustrates how the Prophet separated religious knowledge from scientific knowledge, in this instance from horticulture. But this is not simply concerned with horticulture, or any other area of practical knowledge.

It is, in fact, a matter of principle. All things pertaining to the natural world are deemed to be regulated by the laws of nature. This same principle applies to all branches of science-horticulture, agriculture, geology, astronomy, engineering, etc. None of these are the subject matter of religion. They are matters of scientific investigation, and all knowledge based on research and experiment is acceptable to Islam. Mere claims, unsupported by scientific evidence, are dismissed out of hand.

For instance, if an experiment with water shows that its boiling point is 100 degrees celsius, this will be accepted as a fact. No effort is made to dispute this, or to substitute for the number 100 some other number which might have some religious significance, such as one, symbolizing the oneness of God, or five, to remind us of the five pillars of Islam. This is not what is meant by the Islamization of knowledge. A campaign aimed at the Islamization of knowledge at the international level has been launched in Washington, but it seeks not to discard or ignore the scientific establishment, but rather to imbue scientific research and the application of its findings with the unassailable moral strength, which is central to Islam. It is aimed at a re-orientation of the day-to-day working and goals of science, which, concerned primarily with the greater and greater sophistication of technology, have hitherto remained uninspired by ethical considerations.

The Islamic policy of placing knowledge in the separate realms of science and religion is extremely important for the progress of mankind. For the first time in human history, the doors to scientific advancement have been thrown open. Prior to Islam this policy could not be followed because scientific findings were considered to undermine the very bases of religion and to have a de-stabilizing effect upon the vested interests of monarchies, the state and the established priesthood.

Secular science was even considered to be dependent upon and subservient to religion, and had become a prey to the same kind of dogmatism that marred the pre-Islamic religions.

Independent progress was not possible. The division made by Islam set secular science free from the grip of religion. This Opened up limitless possibilities to conduct research and experiment freely without any interference. This process took place over a period of a ]thousand years until the dawn of that era which came to be known as the scientific revolution of modern times.
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