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The relationship between true science and Islam is a matter of extreme controversy. In the Muslim world, many believe that modern science was first developed in the Muslim world rather than in Europe and Western countries, that "all the wealth of knowledge in the world has actually emanated from Muslim civilization," and what people call "the scientific method", is actually "the Islamic method."[1][2] Muslims often cite verse 239 from Surah Al-Baqara —- He has taught you what you did not know. [3] —- in support of their view that the Qur'an promotes the acquisition of new knowledge.

In contrast, some people worry that the contemporary Muslim world suffers from a "profound lack of scientific understanding," and lament that, for example, in countries like Pakistan post-graduate physics students have been known to blame earthquakes on "sinfulness, moral laxity, deviation from the Islamic true path," while "only a couple of muffled voices supported the scientific view that earthquakes are a natural phenomenon unaffected by human activity."[4]

The development of scientific thought and knowledge has caused differing reactions among Muslims. In the Muslim world today, most of the focus on the relation between Islam and science involves scientific interpretations of the Quran (and sometimes the Sunna) that claim to show these sources make prescient statements about the nature of the universe, biological development and other phenomena later confirmed by scientific research, and proof of the divine origin of the Qur'an. This effort has been criticized by some scientists and philosophers as containing logical fallacies,[5] being unscientific, likely to be disproven by evolving scientific theories.[6][7]


The religion Islam has its own worldview system including beliefs about "ultimate reality, epistemology, ontology, ethics, purpose, etc."[8] Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the literal word and the final revelation of God for the guidance of humankind.

Science in the broadest sense refers to any falsifiable system of knowledge attained by verifiable means,[9] and in a narrower sense to a system of acquiring knowledge based on empiricism, experimentation, and methodological naturalism, as well as to the organized body of knowledge humans have gained by such research. Scientists maintain that scientific investigation must adhere to the scientific method, a process for evaluating empirical knowledge that explains observable events in nature as results of natural causes, rejecting supernatural notions.
One of the most important features of Science, notably Physics is the precise quantitative prediction based on its current level understanding of a phenomenon. In this aspect it differs from many religious texts where physical phenomena are depicted in a very qualitative way, often by the use of words carrying several meanings.


Classical Islamic science

In the history of science, Islamic science refers to the science developed under Islamic civilization between the 8th and 16th centuries,[10] during what is known as the Islamic Golden Age.[11] It is also known as Arabic science since the majority of texts during this period were written in Arabic, the lingua franca of Islamic civilization. Despite these terms, not all scientists during this period were Muslim or Arab, as there were a number of notable non-Arab scientists (most notably Persians), as well as some non-Muslim scientists, who contributed to scientific studies in the Islamic world.

A number of modern scholars such as Fielding H. Garrison,[12] Bertrand Russell,[13] Abdus Salam and Hossein Nasr consider modern science and the scientific method to have been greatly influenced by Muslim scientists who introduced a modern empirical, experimental and quantitative approach to scientific inquiry. Some scholars, notably Donald Routledge Hill, Ahmad Y Hassan,[14] Abdus Salam,[15] and George Saliba,[16] have referred to their achievements as a Muslim scientific revolution,[17][18] though this does not contradict the traditional view of the Scientific Revolution which is still supported by most scholars.[19][20][21]

According to many historians, science in Islamic civilization flourished during the Middle Ages, but began declining at some time around the 14th[22] to 16th[10] centuries. At least some scholars blame this on the "rise of a clerical faction which froze this same science and withered its progress."[23] Examples of conflicts with prevailing interpretations of Islam and science - or at least the fruits of science - thereafter include the demolition of Taqi al-Din's great Istanbul observatory of Taqi al-Din in Galata, "comparable in its technical equipment and its specialist personnel with that of his celebrated contemporary, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe." But while Brahe's observatory "opened the way to a vast new development of astronomical science," Taqi al-Din's was demolished by a squad of Janissaries, "by order of the sultan, on the recommendation of the Chief Mufti," sometime after 1577 AD.[24][25]

It is believed that it was the empirical attitude of the Qur'an and Sunnah which inspired medieval Muslim scientists, in particular Alhazen (965-1037),[26][27] to develop the scientific method.[28][29][30] It is also known that certain advances made by medieval Muslim astronomers, geographers and mathematicians was motivated by problems presented in Islamic scripture, such as Al-Khwarizmi's (c. 780-850) development of algebra in order to solve the Islamic inheritance laws,[31] and developments in astronomy, geography, spherical geometry and spherical trigonometry in order to determine the direction of the Qibla, the times of Salah prayers, and the dates of the Islamic calendar.[32]

Other such examples include Ibn al-Nafis (1213-1288), who discovered the pulmonary circulation in 1242 and used his discovery as evidence for the orthodox Islamic doctrine of bodily resurrection.[33] Ibn al-Nafis also used Islamic scripture as justification for his rejection of wine as self-medication.[34] Ali Kuşçu's (1403-1474) support for the Earth's rotation and his rejection of Aristotelian cosmology (which advocates a stationary Earth) was also motivated by religious opposition to Aristotle by orthodox Islamic theologians such as Al-Ghazali.[35][36] Criticisms against alchemy and astrology were also motivated by religion, such as the views of astrologers conflicting with orthodox Islam.[37]

Arrival of modern science in Islamic world

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, modern science arrived in the Muslim world but it wasn't the science itself that affected Muslim scholars. Rather, it "was the transfer of various philosophical currents entangled with science that had a profound effect on the minds of Muslim scientists and intellectuals. Schools like Positivism and Darwinism penetrated the Muslim world and dominated its academic circles and had a noticeable impact on some Islamic theological doctrines." There were different responses to this among the Muslim scholars:[38] These reactions, in words of Professor Mehdi Golshani, were the following:

  1. Some rejected modern science as corrupt foreign thought, considering it incompatible with Islamic teachings, and in their view, the only remedy for the stagnancy of Islamic societies would be the strict following of Islamic teachings.[39]
  2. Other thinkers in the Muslim world saw science as the only source of real enlightenment and advocated the complete adoption of modern science. In their view, the only remedy for the stagnation of Muslim societies would be the mastery of modern science and the replacement of the religious worldview by the scientific worldview.
  3. The majority of faithful Muslim scientists tried to adapt Islam to the findings of modern science; they can be categorized in the following subgroups: (a) Some Muslim thinkers attempted to justify modern science on religious grounds. Their motivation was to encourage Muslim societies to acquire modern knowledge and to safeguard their societies from the criticism of Orientalists and Muslim intellectuals. (b) Others tried to show that all important scientific discoveries had been predicted in the Qur'an and Islamic tradition and appealed to modern science to explain various aspects of faith. (c) Yet other scholars advocated a re-interpretation of Islam. In their view, one must try to construct a new theology that can establish a viable relation between Islam and modern science. The Indian scholar, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, sought a theology of nature through which one could re-interpret the basic principles of Islam in the light of modern science. (d) Then there were some Muslim scholars who believed that empirical science had reached the same conclusions that prophets had been advocating several thousand years ago. The revelation had only the privilege of prophecy.
  4. Finally, some Muslim philosophers separated the findings of modern science from its philosophical attachments. Thus, while they praised the attempts of Western scientists for the discovery of the secrets of nature, they warned against various empiricist and materialistic interpretations of scientific findings. Scientific knowledge can reveal certain aspects of the physical world, but it should not be identified with the alpha and omega of knowledge. Rather, it has to be integrated into a metaphysical framework—consistent with the Muslim worldview—in which higher levels of knowledge are recognized and the role of science in bringing us closer to God is fulfilled.[8]

Compatibility of Islam and the development of science

Whether Islamic culture has promoted or hindered scientific advancement is disputed. Islamists such as Sayyid Qutb argue that since "Islam appointed" Muslims "as representatives of God and made them responsible for learning all the sciences,"[40] science cannot but prosper in a society of true Muslims. Many "classical and modern [sources] agree that the Qur'an condones, even encourages the acquisition of science and scientific knowledge, and urges humans to reflect on the natural phenomena as signs of God's creation." Some scientific instruments produced in classical times in the Islamic world were inscribed with Qur'anic citations. Many Muslims agree that doing science is an act of religious merit, even a collective duty of the Muslim community.[41]

Others say traditional interpretations of Islam are not compatible with the development of science. Author Rodney Stark, explains Islam's lag behind the West in scientific advancement after (roughly) 1500 AD to opposition by traditional ulema to efforts to formulate systematic explanation of natural phenomenon with "natural laws." They believed such laws were blasphemous because they limit "Allah's freedom to act" as He wishes. This principle was enshired in aya 14:4: "Allah sendeth whom He will astray, and guideth whom He will," which (they believed) applied to all of creation not just humanity.[42]


In the early twentieth century ulema forbade the learning of foreign languages and dissection of human bodies in the medical school in Iran.[43] The ulama at the Islamic university of Al-Azhar in Cairo taught the Ptolemaic astronomical system (in which the sun circles the earth) until compelled to adopt the Copernican system by the Egyptian government in 1961.[44]

In recent years, the lagging of the Muslim world in science is manifest in the disproportionately small amount of scientific output as measured by citations of articles published in internationally circulating science journals, annual expenditures on research and development, and numbers of research scientists and engineers.[45] Skepticism of science among some Muslims is reflected in issues such as resistance in Muslim northern Nigeria to polio inoculation, which some believe is "an imaginary thing created in the West or it is a ploy to get us to submit to this evil agenda."[46]

Qur'an and Science

The belief that Qur'an had prophesied scientific theories and discoveries has become a strong and widespread belief in the contemporary Islamic world; these prophecies are often provided as a proof of the divine origin of the Qur'an.[47]

The scientific facts claimed to be in the Qur'an exist in different subjects, including creation, astronomy, the animal and vegetables kingdom, and human reproduction.

"a time is fixed for every prophecy; you will come to know in time" ([Qur'an 6:67]). Islamic scholar Zaghloul El-Naggar thinks that this verse refers to the scientific facts in the Qur'an that would be discovered by the world in modern time, centuries after the revelation.[47]

This belief is, however, arguable in the Muslim world, while some support it, other Muslim scholars oppose the belief, claiming that the Qur'an is not a book of science; al-Biruni, one of the most celebrated Muslim scientists of the classical period, assigned to the Qur'an a separate and autonomous realm of its own and held that the Qur'an "does not interfere in the business of science nor does it infringe on the realm of science."[47] These scholars argued for the possibility of multiple scientific explanation of the natural phenomena, and refused to subordinate the Qur'an to an ever-changing science.[47]

Specific science-related issues in the Quran and the Hadith

Fossils of ancient humans

There are three specific verses in the Qur'an concerning human creation:[48] ([Qur'an 3:59], [Qur'an 4:1], [Qur'an 32:7]) According to the first two verses, Adam and Eve were directly created by God from clay that give sound, they did not descend from any other species as proposed by Charles Darwin and the rest of mankind is the progeny of Adam and Eve. The third verse implies that there were three stages in their creation, and can be interpreted as follows:[48]

    • Adam and Eve were created from clay that gives sound
    • They subsequently developed the ability to reproduce at a later age
    • Finally, after an additional period of time, there was a third phase in which they were perfected both physically and spiritually, and received the divine spirit from God

Conception and inherited characteristics

The most prominent of the ancient Greek thinkers who wrote on medicine were Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen. Hippocrates and Galen, in contrast with Aristotle, wrote that the contribution of females to children is equal to that of males, and the vehicle for it is a substance similar to the semen of males.[49] Basim Musallam writes that the ideas of these men were widespread through the pre-modern Middle East: "Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen were as much a part of Middle Eastern Arabic culture as anything else in it."[49] The sayings in the Quran and those attributed to Muhammad in the Hadith influenced generations of Muslim scientists by siding with Galen and Hippocrates. Basim Musallam writes: "... the statements about parental contribution to generation in the hadith paralleled the Hippocratic writings, and the view of fetal development in the Quran agreed in detail with Galen's scientific writings."[49] He reports that the highly influential medieval Hanbali scholar Ibn Qayyim, in his book Kitab al-tibyan fi aqsam al-qur'an, cites the following statement of the prophet from the Sahih Muslim:

The male semen is white and the female semen is yellowish. When the two meet and the male semen overpowers the female semen, it will be male; when the female semen overpowers the male semen, it will be female.[49]

Ibn Qayyim also quotes a different hadith from the same collection, which is quoted by other Muslim authors as well. Having been asked the question "from what is man created," the Prophet replies:

He is created of both, the semen of the man and the semen of the woman. The man's semen is thick and forms the bones and the tendons. The woman's semen is fine and forms the flesh and blood.[49]

See also


  1. Egyptian Muslim geologist Zaghloul El-Naggar quoted in Science and Islam in Conflict Discover magazine 06.21.2007
  2. "Modern Europe's industrial culture did not originate in Europe but in the Islamic universities of Andalusia and of the East. The principle of the experimental method was an offshoot of the Islamic concept and its explanation of the physical world, its phenomena, its forces and its secrets." From: Qutb, Sayyad, Milestones, p.111
  3. "Islam, Knowledge, and Science - USC MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts". 
  4. "Islam and science – unhappy bedfellows", Pervez Hoodbhoy, 2006. Formerly at (dead link can be accessed in the Internet archive)
  5. Secular Web Kiosk and Bookstore
  6. Cook, Michael, The Koran: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, (2000), p.30
  7. see also: Ruthven, Malise, A Fury For God, London ; New York : Granta, (2002), p.126
  8. 8.0 8.1 Mehdi Golshani, Can Science Dispense With Religion?
  9. See, e.g., the entry Science in the Oxford English Dictionary ISBN 0-19-522217-2
  10. 10.0 10.1 Ahmad Y Hassan, Factors Behind the Decline of Islamic Science After the Sixteenth Century
  11. Sabra, A. I. (1996). "Situating Arabic Science: Locality versus Essence". Isis 87 (4): 654–670. doi:10.1086/357651. 
    "Let us begin with a neutral and innocent definition of Arabic, or what also may be called Islamic, science in terms of time and space: the term Arabic (or Islamic) science the scientific activities of individuals who lived in a region that might extended chronologically from the eighth century A.D. to the beginning of the modern era, and geographically from the Iberian Peninsula and north Africa to the Indus valley and from the Southern Arabia to the Caspian Sea—that is, the region covered for most of that period by what we call Islamic Civilization, and in which the results of the activities referred to were for the most part expressed in the Arabic Language. We need not be concerned over the refinements that obviously need to be introduced over this seemingly neutral definition."
  12. Fielding H. Garrison, History of Medicine
  13. Prof. Osman Bakar (Georgetown University), Islam's Contribution to Human Civilization: Science and Culture, CIC's annual Ottawa dinner, October 15, 2001.
  14. Ahmad Y Hassan and Donald Routledge Hill (1986), Islamic Technology: An Illustrated History, p. 282, Cambridge University Press.
  15. Abdus Salam, H. R. Dalafi, Mohamed Hassan (1994). Renaissance of Sciences in Islamic Countries, p. 162. World Scientific, ISBN 9971507137.
  16. George Saliba (1994), A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories During the Golden Age of Islam, p. 245, 250, 256-257. New York University Press, ISBN 0814780237.
  17. Abid Ullah Jan (2006), After Fascism: Muslims and the struggle for self-determination, "Islam, the West, and the Question of Dominance", Pragmatic Publishings, ISBN 978-0-9733687-5-8.
  18. Salah Zaimeche (2003), An Introduction to Muslim Science, FSTC.
  19. Grant, Edward. The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional, and Intellectual Contexts. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1996.
  20. Herbert Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science, 1300-1800.
  21. Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution, (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Pr., 1957), p. 142.
  22. Islam by Alnoor Dhanani in Science and Religion, 2002, p.88
  23. Islamic Technology: An Illustrated History by Ahmad Y. al-Hassan and Donald Hill, Cambridge University Press, 1986, p.282
  24. Aydin Sayili, The Observatory in Islam and its place in the General History of the Observatory (Ankara: 1960), pp. 289 ff.
  25. Islamic Technology: An Illustrated History by Ahmad Y. al-Hassan and Donald Hill, Cambridge University Press, 1986, p.282
  26. Bettany, Laurence (1995), "Ibn al-Haytham: an answer to multicultural science teaching?", Physics Education 30: 247-252 [247])
  27. Steffens, Bradley (2006), Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist, Morgan Reynolds Publishing, ISBN 1599350246  (cf. Steffens, Bradley, Who Was the First Scientist?, Ezine Articles )
  28. Ahmad, I. A. (June 3, 2002), The Rise and Fall of Islamic Science: The Calendar as a Case Study, Faith and Reason: Convergence and Complementarity, Al Akhawayn University. Retrieved on 2008-01-31.
  29. C. A. Qadir (1990), Philosophy and Science in the lslumic World, Routledge, London)
  30. Ahmad, I. A. (1995), "The impact of the Qur'anic conception of astronomical phenomena on Islamic civilization", Vistas in Astronomy 39 (4): 395–403, doi:10.1016/0083-6656(95)00033-X 
  31. Gandz, Solomon (1938). "The Algebra of Inheritance: A Rehabilitation of Al-Khuwārizmī". Osiris 5: 319–391. doi:10.1086/368492. ISSN 0369–7827. 
  32. Gingerich, Owen (April 1986), "Islamic astronomy", Scientific American 254 (10): 74, <>. Retrieved on 2008-05-18
  33. Fancy, Nahyan A. G. (2006), "Pulmonary Transit and Bodily Resurrection: The Interaction of Medicine, Philosophy and Religion in the Works of Ibn al-Nafīs (d. 1288)", Electronic Theses and Dissertations (University of Notre Dame): 232-3, <>
  34. Fancy, Nahyan A. G. (2006), "Pulmonary Transit and Bodily Resurrection: The Interaction of Medicine, Philosophy and Religion in the Works of Ibn al-Nafīs (d. 1288)", Electronic Theses and Dissertations (University of Notre Dame): 49-59 & 232-3, <>
  35. Ragep, F. Jamil (2001a), "Tusi and Copernicus: The Earth's Motion in Context", Science in Context (Cambridge University Press) 14 (1-2): 145–163
  36. F. Jamil Ragep (2001), "Freeing Astronomy from Philosophy: An Aspect of Islamic Influence on Science", Osiris, 2nd Series, Vol. 16, Science in Theistic Contexts: Cognitive Dimensions, p. 49-64, 66-71.
  37. Saliba, George (1994), A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories During the Golden Age of Islam, New York University Press, 60 & 67-69, ISBN 0814780237
  38. Mehdi Golshani, Does science offer evidence of a transcendent reality and purpose?, June 2003
  39. Mehdi Golshani, Does science offer evidence of a transcendent reality and purpose?, June 2003
  40. Qutb, Sayyid, Milestones, p.112
  41. Qur'an and Science, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an
  42. Stark, Rodney, The Victory of Reason, Random House, 2005, p.20-1
  43. Mackey, The Iranians : Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation, 1996, p.179
  44. In the Path of God : Islam and Political Power by Daniel Pipes, c1983 p.113
  45. Abdus Salam, Ideals and Realities: Selected Essays of Abdus Salam (Philadelphia: World Scientific, 1987), p. 109.
  46. Nafiu Baba Ahmed, Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria, telling the BBC his opinion of polio and vaccination. In northern Nigeria "more than 50% of the children have never been vaccinated against polio," and as of 2006 and more than half the world's polio victims live. Nigeria's struggle to beat polio, BBC News, 31 March 20
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 47.3 Ahmad Dallal, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, Quran and science
  48. 48.0 48.1 Saleem, Shehzad (May 2000). "The Qur’anic View on Creation". Renaissance 10 (5). ISSN 1606-9382. Retrieved 2006-10-11. 
  49. 49.0 49.1 49.2 49.3 49.4 Basim Musallam, Sex and Society in Islam. Cambridge University Press.

External links

By Professor Mehdi Golshani
By Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr


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