Monthly Archives: April 2010

Muslim contributions to science

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Imam al-Ghazali on Studying Science

by Imam Musafa `Umar

A thousand years ago, Imam al-Ghazali wrote in his autobiography Deliverance from Error: “A clumsy and stupid person must be kept away from the seashore, not the proficient swimmer; and a child must be prevented from handling a snake, not the skilled snake-charmer.”

This was his advice in regards to the science of philosophy, particularly the Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle which many Muslims took pride in studying. He was warning them of the dangers that could result from this study. But he didn’t stop there. He even warned people about studying mathematics and other sciences. Why?

So You Thought You Were Safe
“What’s wrong with math?” you might ask. “That has nothing to do with religion.” Here is what al-Ghazali had to say:

“The mathematical sciences…nothing in them entails denial or affirmation of religious matters…from them, however, two evils have been caused…”

The First Danger: Blind Conformity
“One of these is that whoever takes up these mathematical sciences marvels at the fine precision of their details and the clarity of their proofs. Because of that, he forms a high opinion of the philosophers [who were the mathematicians at that time] and assumes that all their sciences have the same lucidity and rational solidarity as this science of mathematics. Moreover, he will have heard the talk of the town about their unbelief and their negative attitude. [They say]: ‘If religion were true, this would not have been unknown to these philosophers […]’”

Al-Ghazali then expresses his deep regret over this sad state of affairs: “How many a man have I seen who strayed from the path of truth on this pretext and for no other reason!”

The only thing that has changed in our time is that it is not the philosopher who holds such a position in the eyes of students, but rather the scientist. How many times have I heard a Muslim doubting something about his own religion while saying: “But scientists say…”? One thousand years and not much has changed.

Imam al-Ghazali goes on to say that a man skilled in one field is not necessarily skilled in every field. Also, the internal consistency of one subject does not necessarily relate to another subject. Today, we find that even psychiatrists need a shrink or some family counseling sometimes. Just because someone may have the ability to process mathematical equations quickly in their mind or to figure out how certain chemicals react with one another doesn’t mean they have all the answers to life.

The Second Danger: Rejecting the Good
There is another problem. When some well-meaning believers realize the first danger, they begin to form a hatred for the sciences themselves rather than differentiating between the subject and its adherents. The Imam said, “The second evil likely to follow from the study of the mathematical sciences derives from the case of an ignorant friend of Islam who supposed that our religion must be championed by the rejection of every science ascribed to the philosophers…”

This mentality, the rejection of scientific research, whether it be in the natural or social sciences, is also very dangerous. Islam teaches us to take what is good and leave what is bad.

What to Do
So what should a Muslim do in such circumstances? There is no easy answer to that question. The Muslim perception is that everyone ‘needs’ a good (secular) education nowadays and there will naturally be some risks. If we concede the correctness of that ‘need’, the real solution will have to be a long term one, where practicing Muslims end up teaching the sciences, thus cutting off both evils from the root.

In the meantime, we can follow the words of the son-in-law of the Prophet ﷺ: “Don’t know the truth by men. Rather, know the truth and you will know its adherents.”

From: Suhaib Webb

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World Air Traffic 24 Hour Period

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Subjecting All Aspects of Life to Fatwā

  • Sheikh Salman al-Oadah
  • Mon, 03/15/2010
There is more to Islamic Law – the Sharī`ah – than the issuing of religious verdicts (fatwā). Islamic law embraces the Qur’an in all of its subtleties, the life-example found in the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and the many aspects of the faith that are readily understood by everyone. Moreover, the sphere of what is permissible in Islam is too vast to quantify. The default assumption in Islamic Law is that something is permissible unless there is clear and authentic evidence indicating that it is not permissible.

The issuing of fatwā should not be misconstrued as the governing or regulating factor of all human behavior. I know of no evidence in Islamic Law to give fatwā such a pervasive and overarching role.

Not everything in life needs to have a fatwā issued about it. Islam is much more than fatwā. We have a tendency in this day and age to give fatwā a much larger role than it actually has. It is as if we want to make fatwā to preside over every aspect of our lives. The general public is not expected to seek a religious verdict every time they wish to make a move. There are many things in life which are simple and straightforward.

Fatwā provides specific answers to specific questions that people may be confronted with individually in their religious lives or that society as a whole needs to have addressed. At the same time, life is full of all sorts of concerns. There are political matters that are best resolved through political means. There are questions of trade that are grounded in sound economic thinking. There are questions related to technology, human creativity, and social concerns. In all of these matters, there are many issues which have right or wrong answers that do not depend on religious verdicts and need solutions which religious verdicts are not suitable to address.

Therefore, it is a mistake to assume that every question of life can be addressed by fatwā. Some matters are simple and easy and do not need to be asked about. People can act in their own capacity according to their general religious knowledge. There are other matters that have been clear in Islam from its inception up to the present day wherein there is no dispute. Then there are those problematic issues which have religious dimensions that really do need to be addressed by fatwā. These are matters which have religious implications for which a clarification is needed from a religious standpoint.

We need to be cognizant of the fact that those who ask for religious verdicts are accountable before their Lord just like the scholars are. Each of us is individually accountable for our decisions and our actions. Some people ask questions about everything, dragging fatwā into all sorts of matters, hoping by doing so to absolve themselves of personal responsibility. They feel that getting an answer from a scholar makes them exempt from any liability when they act upon the scholar’s ruling.

This misuse of fatwā to shift personal responsibility onto the scholars can often lead to abuse on the part of the questioner. Many people to try and shape the scholar’s response to suit their own ends. They may pressure the scholar by loading their question with all sorts of contingencies and extraneous factors in hopes that the scholar will be compelled to declare the matter in question to be unlawful. Alternatively, they may phrase the question so that the desired answer is implicit in its wording. This is a clear abuse of the role of fatwā. Then there are those who ask for religious verdicts as a force of habit, without giving any thought to whether doing so in an instance is really necessary or appropriate.

Fatwā has an important and vital role in Islam to clarify matters wherein there are religious implications that need to be clarified. This role needs to be understood, honored and respected. It should not be abused.

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Yaqin – Certainty

Allah Does Not Disappoint

In one of Shaykh Muhammad Mukhtar al-Shanqiti’s tapes on ‘Yaqin’ (certainty), he mentions the story of a scholar who was once afflicted with poverty…

The scholar had just completed writing the tafseer of the Qur’an but due to his poor income, he was unable to publish his work. So he went and sought counsel from his brethren, students and teachers. They directed him to man who possessed much wealth and riches saying ‘Go to so-and-so, he’ll provide you with some money so you can publish your work.’

The scholar went and rented a ship, embarking on his journey and going by sea. However, it was by the Mercy and Divine Plan of Allah `azza wa jall that as he set off, he saw a man walking along the seashore. He ordered the captain of the ship to let this man get on and ride along with them. When the man got on, the scholar asked, ‘Who are you?’ He said, ‘I am so-and-so (mentioning his name).’ The man then asked, ‘Where are you going (i.e. where is the ship destined?).’ The scholar said, ‘I am going to so-and-so in search of his assistance in publishing my book.’ The man said, ‘I hear you have interpreted the Qur’an?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ The man said, ‘Subhan Allah, how did you interpret the statement of Allah `azza wa jall,

إيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وإيَّاكَ نَسْتعِينُ
‘You do we worship and only in You do we seek Help.’
[Surah al-Fatiha]

The scholar provided the man with the tafseer of the verse, but he understood the intent that lay behind the question. So he said to the captain of the ship, ‘Take me back to my house.’

May Allah have mercy upon him; despite his needy state, he returned to his house, but with his heart filled with certainty that Allah `azza wa jall would surely suffice him, take him out of this poverty and ease his affairs.

No more than 3 days had passed by when a man knocked on his door. He opened it and the man said, ‘I’ve come with a message from so-and-so. News has reached him that you have authored a tafseer of the Qur’an which he would like to see.’ Incredibly, this turned out to be the same man whom the scholar had set off to meet and get help from! So he gave the tafseer to the messenger who took it back with him. When the wealthy man read it, he was filled with amazement and admiration, causing him to return a pouch filled with gold and riches to the poor scholar.

We should never forget…

ما أيقن الإنسان بالله عز وجل فخيّبه الله سبحانه وتعالى
‘A person has never held certainty in Allah `azza wa jall only for Allah to disappoint him.’
Never will Allah disappoint those with yaqeen (certainty), tawakkul (reliance) and husn al-dhann (good opinion) of Him.

[Source: Fajr Blog]

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