Islamic vs. Scientific Knowledge- Part 1

21 December, 2016
Q What are the differences between the Islamic and the modern scientific points of view on knowledge? How does the Quran Regard "knowledge"?


Asalamu Alaikum,

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question. Please find part one of the answer to your question below. Find the second and final part at the link here

Genuine knowledge (‘ilm) is a source of infinite light, which leads enlightened people toward the righteous path. Modern science is built and developed upon existing information gained through experimentation and correcting previous errors.

In general, science represents theories and hypotheses that we devise and pursue in order to acquire knowledge. From this point of view, knowledge and science are not the same and must not be considered as synonyms.

For example, sometimes ‘ilm is mistranslated as science, because the translators do not take into consideration the genuine meanings of the word.

This mistake can be excused when it is made by the general population, who might not be aware of the difference; however, we expect scientists and professionals to use these terms correctly, according to their core meanings, so that their different meanings become clear.

Knowledge is born and developed between our hearts and minds. On the contrary, science is totally material, belongs to this world and all physical beings, and depends fully upon Earth’s natural rules.

Science is born through theories, and its continued development always engenders doubt. Initially, science was built on rationalism and developed through positivism. And it continues to sprout in the world of the five senses.

Most of the time, science rejects things that cannot be seen or heard. In fact, its eyes are blind to the concealed meaning of existence, and its ears cannot hear it. Modern science accepts only those objects and events that can be perceived by the five senses.

Scientific developments in the classical Islamic world have had a tremendous influence upon the achievements of modern science.

Several Western scholars and writers–including Maurice Bucaille, Jacques Cousteau, Alex Carrel, Thomas Carlyle, and Roger Garaudy–agree with this fact, and state that the West owes its achievements to the East. Andalusia, a Muslim state in Spain, was a perfect example of this process.

In some cases, Western scientists considered the roots of knowledge derived from the East to be abstract theories, and so they did not consider what Muslim scholars and scientists gave to humanity nor do they consider upon what basics and pillars their own scholarship has been built.

For the most part, The West restricts their analysis only to subjectivity and alienates the roots of discovery from their origins.

Furthermore, religion in the West was confined to the church, and people could learn about their religion only when they came to the church to participate in religious ceremonies.

Thus, religion could not fully enter into the people’s lives. In fact, after Constantine, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, proclaimed Christianity to be the empire’s official religion in 315, the government strictly controlled all its relations with life.

The first three centuries of Christianity was the best time for this religion, despite the severe pressure that it faced, for it was a time of blossoming and purity.

After it became the official religion, Christians no longer faced oppression. However, the religion fell under the control of the government and was corrupted. According to the state, religion belonged in the church. While people occasionally would come to the church to practice their religion, they could not make knowledge of it an intimate part of their lives.

As a result, Christianity was divorced from everyday life, society had to accept that there was life without religion, and that there was religion without life.

Given this reality, scientific research and all its applications and implications had nothing to do with Christianity. It became a moral institution whose only responsibility and activities were the ceremonies connected to birth, communion, confession, marriage, and death.

The West’s scientific roots lie in the classical Greek and Roman civilizations. This knowledge was incorporated into the Islamic civilization, whose scholars and scientists—men and women of deep faith—developed it, made original contributions to it, and passed it on to the West.

Unfortunately, Western scientists developed modern science as an independent enterprise completely separate from religion. Thus, its scientific development was built outside of belief and differs dramatically from the understanding of science and knowledge in the East.

On the other hand, knowledge and science flourished for centuries in the Islamic world. Some of its luminaries are Jabir, Ibn al-Haytham, al-Khawarizmi, al-Zahrawi, Ibn Sina, and al-Farabi.

Ancient Greek scholars claimed that the smallest particle of a being was an atom. However, theologian Ibrahim al-Nazzam (d. 835/845) said that substance could be divided into pieces an infinite number of times. If we compare this theory of particles to today’s understanding, it would be clear that al-Nazzam’s statements are true.

Muslim scholars never rejected or separated their inventions and discoveries from religion. Rather, knowledge and science reinforced their belief and understanding of religion. Muslim scholars explored the universe in the name of The Creator, and every single discovery and invention brought (and still brings) a new passion, a new enthusiasm, and a spirit of new devotion.

That is why they always traveled into the horizons of knowledge with the spirit of discovery and they lived in a state of continual passion for seeking the truth. It is true that Muslim scholars’ understanding of knowledge developed their understanding of religion. Several Quranic verses, such as:

{Behold! In the creation of the heavens and Earth, and the alternation of night and day, are Signs for men of understanding} (Quran 3:190)

This always attracted Muslim scholars.

I hope this helps answer your question. Please continue reading part two at the link here, and keep in touch.  

Walaikum Asalam and please keep in touch.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

The Importance of Seeking Knowledge

The Ultimate Source of Knowledge

How Islam Sees “The Limits” of Science?

History of Islamic Contributions to Science

Muslims Women and the History of Science