The Holy Prophet's Contribution to Knowledge
By Maulana Dr. Muhammed Fazl-ur-Rahman Al-Ansari, Al-Qaderi (R.A.)
(Being an extempore lecture delivered at St. Patrick’s College on the occasion of Id-e-Milad-un-Nabi, 1972)
Dear friends, those who are students of the history of religion and philosophy they are very well aware of the fact that there has been a perpetual war, if I can use this word, between the demands of faith and the demands of reason. People have generally felt that there is a dichotomy – there is a contradiction, there is an opposition – between these two concepts and between these two aspects or dimensions of human consciousness, i.e., faith on the one hand and reason on the other. I need not go into the details of this history but I mention it just to emphasise this fact that even today, even among the Muslims, because of lack of proper knowledge of Islam there is a tendency to think that the realm of faith is the realm of faith and the realm of knowledge is the realm of knowledge and they probably exist in water-tight compartments and they never coalesce with one another. Consequently there has arisen a tendency either to give more importance to faith or to give more importance to reason and whenever there is a conflict between the findings of reason and demands of faith then the human personality becomes the battlefield of confusion.
May I tell, at the very start, that if you study Islam in depth, and not superficially, you will find that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) made unique contributions in almost every field which pertains to human life, and his contribution in this particular field is also unique. In Islam, what is called emotive conviction and what is called cognitive conviction, they are not considered to be separate, in spite of the fact that they belong to two particular dimensions. The emotive conviction is the cognition which is based on the dimension of consciousness which is called feeling, while the cognitive cognition is based on the dimension of human consciousness which is called reason. But as you might have read in psychology, the human mind has three aspects: cognition, conation and volition. That does not mean that the human mind is divided into three chambers. The human mind is a unity and in this unity you will find these three dimensions which are harmonised with one another in the human unity and in the human personality and in the human consciousness. If they are not, in the case of any individual, if the feeling aspect of the psyche is divergent from the knowledge aspect of the psyche then that human being must suffer from, what is called in psychology, the ‘split personality’, and unfortunately, this split personality is now in abundance under the impact of modern civilization and under the impact of modern unchannelised knowledge.
What is the contribution of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) in this realm? His contribution is that he resolved, first of all, the conflict between faith and reason. He laid down the law – and I don’t know of anyone else who laid down this law – he laid down the law that faith without reason is superstition. Faith is something subjective primarily and basically. Knowledge is something which is objective and if faith is unaided by reason, if matters of faith are not accepted on the basis of reason then they are actually superstitions, nothing beyond that, because I may feel one way – I may have a faith in a particular thing, subjectively, X may have a particular faith, subjectively, in another manner. What is the criterion by which you are going to judge that the faith of one person, and the faith of another person, and the faith of a third person, when they are divergent in their concepts, when they are divergent in their consequences as to which one of them is correct? Or, can it be possible that three views which are diametrically opposed to each other, that one view says that a particular thing is white, another view says that a particular thing is yellow – can they be at one and the same time correct? The human consciousness says they cannot be.
So, the first Law which he laid down was that faith should be acquired on the basis of reason. Of course, faith is a vital part of the human personality and human life, even an atheist has got a certain faith, even a person who does not believe in God or in the Higher Values, as they are called and who is a pure materialist in his outlook and his actions, has got a certain faith. For instance, if you ask a certain communist, whose Marxist philosophy tells him that there is no God, and there is no life after death; if you ask him why he is undertaking all the risks in life and carrying on the struggle on behalf of the proletariat or on behalf of Social justice, when there is a danger that he might be hanged or he might be killed before that target is achieved, he will answer you that I have got a faith, I have got a faith that social justice must be established, if not for me, for other human beings, and even though I may die in this struggle I am going to pursue it to the bitter end in order that the faith that I have may be realised. So, the faith is there; no human being can be without faith. He must have faith. He must have faith in something, because no human being can be a stone, and only stones have no feelings, human beings have feelings.
And when you analyse the human psyche you will find that the feeling is a part of the psyche. If you analyse your individual actions you will find that when you act, you act on the basis of a feeling – mostly you act on the basis of a feeling. You get a feeling that I must do this and pure reason comes only later on, as a handmaid to justify that the action which you committed was right in your eyes. So feeling is very important and consequently faith is very important and it cannot be set aside, but at the same time what distinguishes the human beings from other animals is reason – creative reason, discursive reason – the other animals don’t have it, while the human beings have it. And if a human being is asked that he should believe in a certain thing without using his reason then the Holy Qur’aan says the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) says that it is an insult to that human being to demand like that and consequently you will read in the 10th part of the Qur’aan, in the first section:
“That he who would perish might perish by clear proof and he who would live might live by clear proof.” (8:42).
i.e., the mission of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (P.b.u.h.) is that those who believe in him on the basis of argument, believe on the basis of logical argument, because the word baiyinnah (used in the verse) in Arabic means ‘logical argument’ or what you may call ‘ratiocination’.
You will read at another place in the Qur’aan that those who oppose the Holy Prophet Muhammad (On whom be peace!), he did not tell them that because I am the true Messenger of God, therefore if you don’t accept what I’m saying you are cursed and you are damned. He did not tell them that – read the Qur’aan. He would tell them:
“(O, Prophet!) proclaim (to these people, tell them) if you have knowledge (by which you can prove that whatever I’m teaching is wrong), bring forth your arguments.” (6: 148)
This was not just by the way. What I have told you is grounded through and through in the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him).
As you all know, Islam is a religion; it is classified as a religion. Those properties which go to make a certain system of thought a religion, it is thought that Islam conforms to those categories of thought and therefore it is a religion. Religion in the general sense of the word deals with the relationship between man and God – man and his Deity, whether he believes in plurality of gods or whether he believes in the Oneness of God. But a person who believes in something which is divine; something which is supra-rational’, something which is supra-sensory, something which is metaphysical, something which is a sort of supreme power – any body who believes in religion. The function of religion is to establish relationship between human beings and that Being or those beings which are considered to be divine. In that sense Islam can be called a religion
But what do you find in connection with the messages which the Holy Prophet (Peace be on him) proclaimed that he had got from God and which have been compiled in the form of the Holy Qur’aan? The first message that he got – what was the first message? What is the content of that first message? Remember, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) had no schooling. He had not gone to any institution. He had not sat at the feet of any teacher. The country in which he lived was a country where illiteracy abounded. Among the Arabs there were few people who had acquired any education. It was a community of mainly illiterate persons; a community which did not believe in the pursuit of knowledge, a community which used to say that our merit is to build up ourselves as soldiers and not as men of knowledge. If you look around him in the world in which he lived, if you look to India which had been the seat of a great civilization before, if you look to China which had been the seat of a great civilization before, if you look to Rome or Greece or to other parts of the world where civilizations had come before the advent of the Holy Prophet (Peace be on him) – you will find that it appears to be an age of perpetual want of pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge was not being pursued anywhere in the world with zest. Of course, there were few people who were connected with it but not in that manner as when civilizations arose in Babylonia, in India or in Sumeria or in Egypt or in Greece or in Rome or in China.
In this age this great man appears; he appears in the arid waste of Arabia, he appears among a community who were illiterate people: who did not acknowledge the merits of the pursuit of knowledge at all. And the first message which he gave was:
“Read! In the Name of thy Lord who createth, createth man from a clot. Read! And thy Lord is the most Bounteous, Who teacheth by the pen, teacheth man that which he knew not.” (96: 1-5).
These are five short verses which form the content of the first message about which the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) said that this is the first message that I have got from God. Analyse this first message – these five verses. What do you find? It is the first message of a religion. In these five verses you will find that it starts with the mention of knowledge and ends with the mention of knowledge and in between you find mention of the Lord of this Universe who brought human beings into existence from absolute non-entity, Who graced them and built them up into what they are. So that portion which you find in the middle of these verses, that portion relates to Imaan or Faith, but that portion is sandwiched between two portions and both of these portions relate to knowledge.
Here, the first thing that has been emphasised in these five verses is the psychology of the quest of knowledge. The second thing that has been emphasised here is of the promotion of knowledge through “Pen”. Knowledge can be of two kinds: oral knowledge, which is transmitted from generation to generation orally and the institutionalised or formal knowledge’, which is pursued in an institutionlised form which is of importance – of real importance – on the basis of which human beings and human communities can make progress. Here in these very first verses of the Holy Qur’aan you find that the emphasis is being laid on ‘Institutionalised Pursuit of Knowledge’, not on folklore, not on hearsay, in which barbarians also used to acquire some knowledge and transmit them. Then here the mention is being made that with this message it should be understood by human beings that only those human communities of nations who will cultivate knowledge. Then here again the mention is made that the function of this community which was being brought into existence with the advent of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) is that it should unearth all the treasures of knowledge. It should systematise, classify, refine and thus promote the cause of knowledge. That is the mission which has been laid down in the first message of the Qur’aan. It is the message which the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) gave to the Muslim Community.
Then when you go further into the Qur’aan you find this:
“God exalts in Honour those who cultivate Faith and cultivate Knowledge.” (58: 11).
Here there is a very important problem. The modern youth of the West and in their imitation, the modern youth of the East, is under the spell of unchannellised knowledge: a knowledge where they want to divorce it from the highest apex of human emotion. The emotive conviction, they say, “set it aside, and only the cognitive conviction should be taken into consideration.” I had the opportunity of going to Europe and America several times and working there. I had the opportunity of working among the youth – such youth who had become hippies and beatles and teddies and what and what not. And I’ve asked them, they have asked me – we’ve had friendly conversation. I’ve asked them “what do you want?”.They said ‘we want to escape’. I said, ‘escape from what’? They said, ‘escape from all that we find around us because we don’t feel satisfied’. And in utter confusion they take to heroin and LSD and all those sorts of things which they feel that these things can transport them from the ugly realities to the better realities of this life into a realm where they find that all is well and nothing is bad.
This is happening. Notice this thing. I wish to emphasise this thing that emotive conviction and cognitive conviction must go hand in hand. Man is not an automation. Every human being is a human being and every human being has got a psyche and every psyche has got the emotional aspects. Unless you harmonise emotion with reason, you will not be able to build up a harmonious personality. This is the message of the Holy Qur’aan – this is the message of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him). While he emphasizes the role of reason in human life to the highest, he is conscious of the fact and he makes us conscious of the fact that you have got to develop and evolve as total human beings. If you develop only one side of your consciousness, only one side of your life, then your development will be one sided and finally it will become lop-sided. And then you will be one who lose the balance. It is the problem of balance, the problem of harmony, the problem of equilibrium, that is the most important problem in connection with human physical health, with human political health – I mean to say, in every dimension you will find this that once equilibrium and balance are lost then harmony is lost and once harmony is lost then there is strife, there is discord, there is confusion and there are contradictions and there are conflicts. And human beings and communities suffer from split personality. Of course, split personality is the term which is used by psychologists; the term which is used by Moralists is that a person becomes a hypocrite. A person who has got a split personality, a person who wants to sail in two boats, which are heading in opposite directions – if his feet are tied, one to the one boat and the other to the other boat, then naturally it will split him into two pieces and in the same manner this split which comes into the human consciousness and when this split goes deep into the social life of communities then such communities can never make any definite type of progress. They might make progress but it is a sort of jig-saw going ahead and then moving backwards and then going ahead again and then moving backwards. Remember! Unless you harmonise emotion with reason you will not be able to build up a harmonious personality. That is a very important contribution that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) made.
Because I’ve got to speak to you on the Holy Prophet’s contribution to knowledge, here I may take up another very important point. He laid down the law. He not only said this, that pursuit of knowledge is one of the highest pursuits for a human being, but he laid down the law as to how knowledge should be pursued. In that connection he laid down one law about knowledge and that law is: “Report or logical deduction, are not of the same value as observation.” He said that if you wish to acquire knowledge then whatever knowledge you call knowledge should be based on observation and not merely on logical categories, not merely on abstruse and abstract thinking, although logic has an importance on human life because it tells you what categories are there on which the human mind works. But he said that knowledge is only that which is based on observation and which is verifiable.
Then about observation, he says, that when a person pursues knowledge he should set aside all his subjective feeling. In the verse of the Holy Qur’aan, we are told:
“Hast thou not seen him, who gives primary importance to his subjective feelings, and then in spite of the fact that he might store (a vast treasure-house of) knowledge, he cannot see the Truth,.” (45: 23).
He cannot see the Truth! What happens and they want to understand that problem their subjective feelings confront them. A sort of spectacles of subjectivity, they place them on their eyes and then they make their observation. For instance, if Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, had not lived that life which he had led, the life of a debauch, if he had not led that life then he would not have given that theory which is called the theory of Libido or ‘pan-sexuality’. If Karl Marx had not led that life of abject poverty, combined with a very superior type of intelligence, if the conditions in Europe had not been what they were, if the role which was being played by the Church in certain areas of Europe had not been what it was, probably, he would never have thought of the need of giving his theory, the Dialectic Materialism. Because when you analyse his theory of ‘Dialectic Materialism’, you find that it suffers from fallacies and in the ultimate end it leads you where Islam leads you. But it goes through a labyrinth of confusions. And this labyrinth of confusion and those wrong consequences which he emphasizes are his subjective feelings. So the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) emphasizes that knowledge is only that which is based on observation. He is emphasizing that knowledge, in the proper sense of the word, is only that which is pursued in a scientific manner, in the manner in which physical sciences are pursued – in the manner in which even sciences like psychology are pursued – because they are pursued not on the basis of abstract thinking or only on the basis of reflection, but they are pursued on the basis of observations and further verifications of those observations. Here, I’m just trying to give you the point.
What is the mission of the Muslim Community? It can be viewed from different angles. Viewing it from that angle at which we are talking, the mission of the Muslim Community is three-fold; conquest of the Self, conquest of the Social Environment and conquest of Nature. Now, this conquest of nature has been made the distinctive hallmark in the Islamic Ideology and when you read the Qur’aan you will find for instance, if you just try and enumerate those verses in the Qur’aan which emphasise the study of the phenomena of nature you will find that these verses are more than 300, not just one. And this study of the phenomena of nature has been emphasised in such a manner that it has been made the obligation, religious obligation, a sacred obligation – a religious act, actually. For instance, in Surah Fatir, the fourth section of that Surah or that chapter, read that and there you will find that our attention has been drawn to different phenomena of nature which relate to the realms of astronomy, geology, astro-physics, and so on to the different phenomena which relate to physical sciences. It appeals to the study of these phenomena, you will find the verse:
“They alone can have a proper estimate of the Majesty of God, who acquire knowledge of these things (i.e., of the natural phenomena) (35: 28)”.
Islam emphasises Love of God. Islam emphasises the realisation of God. Don’t think that Islam emphasises only the pursuit of knowledge. Realisation of God is the highest goal but Islam has combined even this thing – the pursuit of knowledge in the domain of the physical sciences – with the realisation of God. Because God is Supra – Rational, because God is Metaphysical, therefore to realise the Majesty of God also, the only way open to human beings to realise that Majesty in God’s Creation and it is when we study the exquisite patterns of Law, the exquisite Beauty that is to be found in nature, the exquisite perfection that is to be found in the different natural phenomena, it is only then that we can be capable of realising how Majestic, how Beautiful, how Wise God must be – God, Who created this entire universe and all this Nature.
My dear friends, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (P.b.u.h.) gave us, not only the theory of the pursuit of knowledge and the psychology of the quest of knowledge and the pattern of the pursuit of Knowledge as to how it is to be pursued and in what realms can it be called knowledge, that is, in the realms of physical sciences – he not only gave this idea to the Muslim Community that the entire universe has been subjugated by God for the service of human beings.
“It is God Who has made subservient to you, as from Him, whatever is in the Heavenly bodies and on the earth and in this are guidelines for those who use their reason.” (45: 13)
– he not only gave the idea of the conquest of nature and for that, of the pursuit of physical science and he not only said it is an act of worship for his followers but he also chartered the course of science.
In that connection I may tell you and this remark has been made earlier, that if you study the history of science – of course histories of science, you will obtain only those which have been written and compiled by non-Muslims. Read the history of science by Briffault. The title of the book is The Making of Humanity, or read the Conflict of Science and Religion by John William Draper, or read The History of Science by Sarton, read my book on science and you will find that all these historians admit the fact that physical science, before Muhammad (P.b.u.h.) was pre-scientific. Because that method of enquiry on the basis of which alone physical science can make progress, that is the inductive method was known to the Greeks. It was unknown to the Indians, it was unknown to the Chinese. In Greek civilization the deductive method of enquiry was organised, systematised and channellised, but the inductive method of enquiry was unknown. And it was by giving this inductive method of enquiry that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (P.b.u.h.) ushered in this era of modern science as we call it, and when you read the history of science you will find that the founders of modern sciences are the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) and his followers. The promotion and advancement which science has got during the last 300 years in Europe owes it genesis and its creation to the work of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) and his followers, for centuries. And this is a fact which cannot be denied.
Then you have got to consider another important fact – the Holy Qur’aan is not a book of science, - it is not a book of physics, geology or mathematics – it is a book of life, it is a book for a comprehensive guidance in connection with human life. But you will find there passage after passage where the revolutionary theories that came into existence centuries after the advent of the Qur’aan are mentioned in clear terms. For instance, about the Principle of Parity in physics which was discovered in the 20th century, recently, - read the Qur’aan. it is not a book of science, it is not a textbook of science – but read the Qur’aan and there you find, for instance in Surah Yasin:
“Glory to Him Who has created in pairs all things, from what the earth brings forth as well as from their own (human) kind and in those things which they have no knowledge.” (36: 36)
About the first part “Glory to Him! Who has created in Pairs what the earth brings forth” i.e., the vegetation. Now this principle of sexes – the existence of the male and the female sexes – in plant life, those of you who are students of botany perhaps know that in the scientific world this principle was not known until towards the middle of the 19th century, and it was finally put on the anvil and projected properly by an eminent scientist in 1921. But the Qur’aan is making a categorical statement here:
“Glory to Him Who created in Pairs (of male and female) whatever the earth brings forth: and Who has made the human beings into male and female.”
Of course the second part is a very well known fact.
But then after that the final part of this verse:
(And Glory to Him Who has created pairs) in those things (which the human beings, at the time of the advent of the Qur’aan) do not know.”
Here the Holy Qur’aan in one verse, not being a text-book of science, lays down in categorical terms the Principle of Parity which has been established in modern physics. When you study the atom, for instance when you study particles, the international weight particles, the meson and the anti-meson and so on and so forth – you find that Principle of Parity exists everywhere in the world and this statement by the Qur’aan that the principle of Parity is there’ not only in plant life, which was unknown at the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) which was established in 1,300 years after the advent of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) or this principle that the Principle of Parity is to be found in the different phenomena of nature, which were unknown to human beings at that time.
Or, at that time the concept about the universe was, in different nations, even among the Greeks, the established concept was that the earth is flat, that the sky is a canopy, and this canopy is studded with lamps and they are the stars and the planets as we known them. The Qur’aan is not a text book of science, but it says about the stars, the heavens and the earth that everyone of them is a planet, everyone of them is round and everyone of them has movement in the orbit and on its axis just as in the Tasbih (the rosary) the beads are round and they have two movements, one on the axis (on the thread) and one around the thread, that is in the orbit. And consequently you will find that in the history of the world the first people, the first thinkers, the first scientists who measured the diameter of the circumference of the earth, who measured the distance between the moon and the sun, who measured the circumference of the sun and the moon, were the Muslims. And they started on their quest only on the basis of this verse:
“And each (of these) swims along in (its own) orbit.” (36: 40).
This means that all these are planets, and that they revolve, they rotate and they have got certain movements. It was the Muslims, who because of this verse of the Qur’aan made the first globes: it was they and nobody else. The direction which was given by this one verse in the field of astro-physics was immense.
Then you read about the sun in the Qur’aan – and here I may give you an anecdote also in that connection – the Qur’aan says:
“The sun is moving towards its destination.” (36: 35).
The word which the Qur’aan has used about the movement of the sun refers to horizontal movement. I read at one place that somebody had to talk on the manuscript of a Muslim scientist which had been translated into Latin and which had been studied by Kepler – Kepler who enjoys a very great name in the field of astronomy – and that Kelper did not understand it properly. He said that if there is anything needed to prove that the Qur’aan is not a book from God then this verse alone is enough. Because the Qur’aan says that the sun moves while we have found out that the sun is stationary and the other planets move around the sun. Of course, the Muslim scientists had already proved, before Kepler and before Copernicus. He did not understand it and he said this. But what the Qur’aan is saying is that the sun moves in a horizontal fashion and is constantly moving. Now you read in modern astronomy, galaxies are moving and the entire universe is moving and the sun along with its planets is moving towards the Dog Star. Who gave this clear-cut view to the Qur’aan? Who gave this clear-cut view to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him)?
Or, you talk about space-travel now-a-days. Who could think of space-travel 1,400 years ago? But when you read the Qur’aan you will find there that this space-travel has been mentioned in categorical terms. In Surah Ar-Rahman where in you will find:
“O company of jinn and men! if you are able to penetrate the strata of the heavens and the earth’ then penetrate. But you will not penetrate except with authority (acquired on the basis of knowledge of the secrets of Nature).” (55: 33).
Mankind is being exhorted and is being addressed in these words, ‘if you wish to penetrate into the strata of space, and mind you the word or term Strata of Space has been coined in this age, in the 20th century but in the Qur’aan the exact words are there – the strata of space. If you wish to penetrate the strata of space or the strata of earth, do penetrate. But you will not be able to penetrate the strata of the earth without acquiring authority on the basis of knowledge of the secrets of nature! The style of the Qur’aan, as I told you, is the style of a book of Guidance: it is not the style of a book of science. But here in this one verse the Qur’aan has emphasised the possibility of space-travel and of boring into the earth and reaching those strata which are to be found inside the earth. But it has also guided. It has also given direction that this can be possible only when you probe into the secrets of nature and you find out those laws which are there in nature and then with the authority of knowledge that you gain thereby, it will be possible for you to go into space or go into the strata of the earth.
Dear friends in connection withspace travel, as I have mentioned, there is a problem which is confronting modern scientists, and that problem is whether there are living beings on any other planets also. Among scientists there are some whose idea is that there are living beings. There are others who say that there are no living beings. But because science is based on observation no scientist can make any categorical statement about it until and unless some living beings are found. But read the Qur’aan and there is a challenge for the present and for the future. The Qur’aan said, 1,400 years ago, that there are living beings – there is animal life on the other planets. It made categorical statement that there is animal life here to meet. The verse is:
“And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the living creatures that He scattered through them both and He has power to bring them together when He will.” (42: 29).
My dear friends, it was not possible for me to give you an exhaustive lecture even on this but I think I have placed before you certain ideas whereby you will be able to understand the contribution of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) in the realm of knowledge. Of course, his contributions are numerous. In every field of life he has made unique contributions and I would appeal to my Muslims friends, to my young friends, especially you, the inheritors of a very great heritage! You are now lost in confusion under the impact of different forces. Try to re-discover yourself and your foundations. Otherwise remember, that if you remain for long in this state of confusion, not only will you be lost and ruined, but your community will also be lost and ruined. So, be true to yourself; be hon est to yourself and try to find out as to what is the message of Islam for everyone of you. May God Bless you!
“…So it is those who believe in him (i.e. Muhammad), and honour him, and help him, and follow the Light which is sent down with him – it is they who will prosper.” (Holy Qur’aan 7:157).