Islam has adopted a positive attitude to science and knowledge. The Holy Qur’aan repeatedly calls on man to reflect on the creations of the heavens and the earth. It says:
“Behold: In the creations of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding, men who celebrate the praises of Allaah, standing, sitting and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth (with the thought): ‘Our Lord! Not for nothing have Thou created (all) this: Glory to you! Protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” (3:190,191).
Man is invited to reflect on his own creation. He is encouraged to learn from nature, from history and from his own self. In the very first revelation given to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Upon Whom Be Peace), there is reference to reading and writing (the pen), two important means for the acquisition of knowledge.
“Read! In the name of your Lord who created - created man out of a mere clot of congealed blood; Read! And your Lord is most Bountiful - He taught (the use of) the pen -- taught man that which he knew not.” (96:1-5, Q).
The “pen” symbolises the means of recording knowledge. By recording his observations, knowledge, experiences, thoughts and ideas, man is able to transmit these from one individual to another and from one generation to another. It is the duty of every Muslim, male and female, to acquire knowledge. The Prophet is advised, in the Holy Qur’aan, to pray,
‘0 My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” (20:114).
The Prophet, himself said
“The ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyr. “
”To the students who go forth in quest of knowledge, God will allot a high place in
the Mansions of Bliss.”
Man’s faith in his Creator can be strengthened as the treasures of nature are revealed to him. The Qur’aan wants man to reflect on the creative powers of Allaah and His control over the universe, the creations of life in its various and limitless forms, each having features characteristic of its own species. We are asked to consider how every organism, animal, insect and vegetable species reproduces and multiplies itself throughout the earth, and we are to consider some of the claims of modern genetics. All these are unique and wonderful events that give evidence of an all-wise Creator, Designer and Sustainer.
The variations of colour and language are also signs of God. The Holy Qur’aan says:
“And among His signs is the Creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours. Surely in that are signs for the men of knowledge.” (30:22 Q).
The Qur’aan invites us to learn from the history of mankind, geography, archeology, anthropology and reflect on the tragic end of all such individuals, communities and nations that disbelieved. It describes the rise and fall of many civilizations, and asks us to remember that all life on earth will one day end and return to God. Great and noble personalities have lived and they have died. Only God is Ever-living and Eternal.
We are exhorted to travel through the earth so that we may increase our knowledge and also see the result of those who disobeyed the laws of God. The Qur’aan says:
“Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts.” (22:46).
Again it says,:
“Do they not travel through the earth and see what was the end of those who were before them?” (12:109).
It makes references to the effects of mountains on the physical environment, its benefits and its influences on the climate of the region. It also refers to the significance of forestry, plantations and the natural environment. It mentions the benefits of the sea by stating:
“It is He who has made the sea subject, that you may eat thereof flesh that is fresh and tender, and that you may extract therefrom ornaments to wear; and you see the ships thereon that plough the waves, that you may seek (thus) of the Bounty of God and that you may be grateful.” (16:14 Q).
It refers to navigation when it says:
“And marks and sign posts, and by the stars men guide themselves.” (16:16 Q).
There are numerous references to the remarkable features of God’s vegetable kingdom. Among God’s sign is the springing to life of a barren and desolate land.
“And among His signs is this: you see the earth barren and desolate; but when We send down rain to it, it is stirred to life and yields increase.” (4:39 Q)
. “And We send down from the sky rain charged with blessing, and We produce therewith gardens and grains for harvests, and tall (and stately) palm trees with shoots of fruit stalks, piled one over another, as sustenance for God’s servants. And We give new life therewith to land that is dead.” (50:11 Q).
The vegetable kingdom of God is not only a rich variety of fruits, flowers, colours and crops, but it also maintains a strict balance and definite pattern.
“And the earth We spread out like a carpet; set therein mountains firm and immovable; and produced therein all kinds of things in the balance.” (15:19 Q).
The Qur’aan also refers to the animal kingdom, and mentions some of the animals and their benefits to mankind. The cattle supply meat and milk. Their hides are tanned into leather and the hair is used to make felt. Horns and hooves are used to make glue. Their glands supply many hormones used in medicine. In many countries they are used as draft animals, pulling plows, carts, and other vehicles; to work treadmills; and as pack animals. In Suurah Al-Nahl, we are told:
“he has created cattle, whence you have clothing and food, and there are other benefits also for you in them; they look pleasant when you drive them to the pasture in the morning and bring them home in the evening. They carry your burden to far-off lands, which you could not reach without discomfort. Indeed your Lord is All-Compassionate and All-Merciful. He has created horses, mules and donkeys so that you may ride on them, and that you may add splendour to your life. And He creates for you many other things, of which you have no knowledge at all. God has taken upon Himself to show the right way, but there exist crooked ways too.” (16:5 - 9 Q).
We are informed by the Qur’aan that there are animal communities, well-developed and highly organised.
“As regards Signs, look around, there is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. (You will see that) We have left out nothing in predetermining the courses of their lives, then to their Lord they will be gathered.”
References to the community of bees is made in the following words:
“And behold! Your Lord has inspired the bee with this:
‘Build your hives in the mountains, trees - and in what man builds; then drink nectar from every kind of fruit, and follow the ways made by your Lord’. From its belly comes out a fluid of different colours wherein is healing for mankind. Verily in this is a sign for those who reflect.” (16:68 - 69 Q).
There is also reference to the community life of ants (27:18 Q). Birds in flight are mentioned in the following verses:
“Do they not look at the birds, held poised in the midst of (the air and) the sky? Nothing holds them up but (the power of) God. Verily in this are signs for those who believe.” (16:79 Q)
“Do they not observe the birds above them, spreading their wings and folding them in? None can uphold them except (God) Most Gracious. Truly it is He that watches over all things.” (67:19 Q).
The Qur’aan devotes considerable attention to man, his stages of development in the womb.
“It is He who created you in diverse stages.” (71:14 Q).
Man is reminded of his humble and lowly origin:
Man! What has seduced you from your Lord Most Beneficent. It is He who created and fashioned you in due proportion and gave you a balanced form.” (82:6-7 Q).
In Suurah Al-Tar’iq, we are told:
“He (Man) is created from a drop of liquid emitted, proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs.” (86:6 -7).
Again, we are told:
“Then We placed him (man) as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest firmly fixed; then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then We fashioned the clot a little lump (foetus); then We made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh, and then We developed out of it another creation. So blessed be God, the Best of Creators.” (23:13 -14 Q).
In Suurah Al-Qiyamah, we again read:
“Was he (man) not a drop of sperm emitted (in lowly form)? Then he became a clot; then God shaped and fashioned him in due proportion. And made of him a pair, the male and female. Is not He (who does so) able to bring the dead to life?” (75:37 -40 Q)
“We created man from a drop of mingled sperm; in order to test him. So We gave him (the gifts) of hearing and sight.” (76:2 Q).
“And We cause whom We please to rest in the womb for an appointed term, then do We bring you out as babes, then (foster you) that you may reach your age of full strength; and some of you are called to die, and some are sent back to the feeblest old age, so that they know nothing after having known (much).” (22:5 Q).
Geographical research was also greatly stimulated by several factors. The annual pilgrimage or Hajj to the Holy City of Makkah required Muslims to find the best routes from their distant towns, cities and villages. The religious law stipulates that all mosques should face the Ka’aba, and that salaat or daily prayers should be offered with the believers facing the direction of the Ka’aba. The need, therefore, for Muslims, in all parts of the rapidly expanding Muslim world, to orientate their mosques and themselves towards the Ka’aba for prayers, led them to devise various means to achieve this purpose. The requirement to offer each of the five daily prayers at the proper time, and to fast for God’s pleasure and to develop themselves during the correct hours of the day in the different parts of the world led Muslims to make greater efforts in calculation and astronomical observations. P.K.Hitti rightly says that:
“The institution of the holy pilgrimage, the orientation of the mosques towards Mecca and the need for determining the direction of the Ka’bah at the time of prayer gave religious impetus to the Muslim study of geography.” (History of the Arabs)
The chief aim of knowledge in Islam is to help us become righteous and obedient servants of God. It helps us to understand our beliefs and principles, and guides us in our activities. When knowledge is based on Imaan (Faith) then its maximum benefit can be attained. All knowledge, in Islam, points to the existence of a Creator and Sustainer, and the believer must be one who seeks knowledge and submits himself to his Lord.