By T.O. Shanavas, New Age Islam
25 January 2021
An electronically transmitted video from an Indian madrasas propelled me to compose my thoughts here. The spokesperson in this video pleads for the Islamic education while belittling the parents for expending resources for college education outside Madrasas. His definition of Islamic education includes only the 6 article of faith, 5 pillars of Islam, and its related topic.
Such a definition of Islamic knowledge is not limited to teachers of Madrasas.. Unfortunately, the same disposition exists even among highly educated American Muslims. These American Muslims, many with doctorate degrees in different fields of expertise, have a truth tell in the mosques and another in their external professional lives. The old Latin expressions, “contra evidential credo (I believe despite the evidence)” and “credo quia evidentia ( I believe because of evidence)” most accurately differentiate their dual lives.
Moreover, these scientifically educated Muslims play a pivotal role in making all mosques and Islamic centers into impervious fortresses against any fresh ideas including new approaches to the interpretations of the Qur’an. Under the watch of the educated Muslim class and totalitarian Muslim rulers globally, the religious body of ulama and fuqaha marginalized scientists and philosophers in society and led Muslims at large to a terrain of subordination beneath the feet of the scientifically advanced nations.
Despite the fact that there are so many Muslims in the world, in many places there is a lack of understanding about Muslim people and Islam Photo Courtesy ADL
The dialogue between God and Prophet Abraham in the verse 2:260 lays out an important article of faith that Muslims ignore, or the Islamic scholar decry and suppress. The verse reads: And when Abraham said, 'My Lord, show me how Thou wilt give life to the dead,' He said, 'Why, dost thou not believe?' 'Yes,' he said, 'but that my heart may be at rest.' Said He, 'Take four birds, and twist them to thee, then set a part of them on every hill, then summon them, and they will come to thee running. And do thou know that God is All-mighty, All-wise.'” ( وَإِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ رَبِّ أَرِنِي كَيْفَ تُحْيِي الْمَوْتَىٰ ۖ قَالَ أَوَلَمْ تُؤْمِنْ ۖ قَالَ بَلَىٰ وَلَٰكِنْ لِيَطْمَئِنَّ قَلْبِي ۖ قَالَ فَخُذْ أَرْبَعَةً مِنَ الطَّيْرِ فَصُرْهُنَّ إِلَيْكَ ثُمَّ اجْعَلْ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ جَبَلٍ مِنْهُنَّ جُزْءًا ثُمَّ ادْعُهُنَّ يَأْتِينَكَ سَعْيًا ۚ وَاعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ ). This verse is revealed not to discredit or project Prophet Abraham as a weak and shaky believer, but as an important message to the Muslims. This verse grants Muslims the freedom to confront and/or cross-examine even the most knowledgeable and/or to demand evidence supporting an opinion. Here the prophet and the Kalil (friend) of God demands evidence to satisfy his rational mind. So, the verse demands critical thinking in all matters from Muslims.
Unfortunately, critical thinking Muslim children are told in mosques by Imams, and teachers that science is based on theories not on fact. Parents echo same language at home to suppress inquisitiveness when children notice conflict between what is taught in mosques and schools. As these children grow up as adults they recreate and perpetuate a similar Muslim community as happens today, i.e., a Muslim community subservient to a shrewd scientifically advanced external world.
I hold the view that education in medicine, engineering, astronomy, and all basic sciences are also fundamental to Islamic education. Why?
1. Quran 3:191: “Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], "Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.”
الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللَّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَٰذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ
The Quran (3:191) demands from Muslims to reflect on God’s creations and to make a dua:
“رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَٰذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ” (“Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.”). God here warns Muslims of retribution ( عَذَابَ النَّارِ ) for ignoring His command.
2. Quran 42:29: “And of His verses ( آيَاتِهِ ) is the creation of the heavens and earth and what He has dispersed throughout them of creatures. And He, for gathering them when He wills, is competent.”
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ خَلْقُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَمَا بَثَّ فِيهِمَا مِنْ دَابَّةٍ ۚ وَهُوَ عَلَىٰ جَمْعِهِمْ إِذَا يَشَاءُ قَدِيرٌ
Here in this revelation, God reveals that heavens and earth are verses ( آيَاتِهِ) for human to read, reflect, and benefit. In other words, the universe is a Divine Book with messages written in material medium while the Quran is a Divine Book in human vernacular. So, a parallel reading of both Books is crucial to capture the true meaning of the revealed divine messages. The author of both Books is the one and the same, i.e., the Omniscient, and therefore the meaning of the messages cannot conflict. If we detect a conflict in the meanings between the Books, it is our faulty reading, not the fault of the Book, and so we are commanded to reread both Books carefully and repeatedly until the meaning of both Books complement each other as suggested in the verse 67:3.
“who created seven heavens one upon another. Thou seest not in the creation of the All-merciful any imperfection. Return thy gaze ( ۖ فَارْجِعِ الْبَصَر ); seest thou any flaw?”
الَّذِي خَلَقَ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ طِبَاقًا ۖ مَا تَرَىٰ فِي خَلْقِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ مِنْ تَفَاوُتٍ ۖ فَارْجِعِ الْبَصَرَ هَلْ تَرَىٰ مِنْ فُطُورٍ
All scientific knowledge is basically the unravelled mysteries of the created world. We humans, mostly non-Muslims, unravelled a little of the revealed knowledge, and codified into 3 disciplines—Physics, Chemistry, and Biology and its subclasses. For example,
Quran 29:20: “Say [Muhammad to your people]: "Travel through the earth and see how Allah did originate creation; so, will Allah produce a later creation: for Allah has power over all things.”
قُلْ سِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَانْظُرُوا كَيْفَ بَدَأَ الْخَلْقَ ۚ ثُمَّ اللَّهُ يُنْشِئُ النَّشْأَةَ الْآخِرَةَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
In the above verse, there are at least 3 messages for Muslims and humanity at large:
(a) God gave us the potentialities and faculties to unravel and understand God’s process of creation. Otherwise, God would not have commanded us “فَانْظُرُوا كَيْفَ (see how I create.”
(b) The verse commands, سِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَانْظُرُوا كَيْفَ (“Travel through the earth see how”). It signals that God has given His vicegerent (Khalifa) all the necessary tools in the earth to decode the Divine process of creation.
(c) It is a God assigned chore for Muslims to explore and learn the process of creation because the verse asks Prophet(s) to قُلْ “Say” [Muhammad to your people] “Travel through the earth see how I create…” Unfortunately, contemporary Muslims with few exceptions ignore the assigned task.
While non-Muslim world ceaselessly probes the Divine process of creation refining their understanding of the physics, chemistry, and biology from the verses ( آيَاتِهِ) in the Book, the universe, we Muslims reject science claiming that scientific theories contradict our traditionally held meaning of the time-unbound Divine revelation.
Non-Muslim world resurrected a millennium old Muslim the theory of evolution of life and out of it they developed genetic engineering, cheaper food, created plants with better yield, medicines to cure the sick, and vaccine to prevent diseases. Out of the physics and chemistry of the Divine process of creation came the computers, drones, supersonic planes, bomb showering missile, atomic and other weapons.
Muslims claim to be the followers of Prophet Muhammad (s), “the mercy to mankind” (Qur’an 21:107), who instructed his true followers: “O people, spread peace, feed the hungry, and pray at night when people are sleeping, and you will enter Paradise in peace.” (Sunan Ibn Majah). Nevertheless, Muslims on daily basis mercilessly annihilate each other in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and other part of Muslim world using outdated weapons coming from non-Muslim world. Muslims world groans and cries foul blaming others for their subordination under foreign powers.
Sorry Muslims, current state of Muslim life controlled by external powers is Muslims’ own creation or choice. We are in the current unenviable cubbyhole because of divine decree: “...Say, Are those who know equal to those who do not know...?" (Quran 39:19). Yes, most of Muslim population (36% illiterate) is least educated in the world, and they live in an echo chamber listening to Imams who are illiterate in science or know science but ignore it to comply their words with outdated meaning of Divine Messages from earlier generations. Let me remind Muslim world, “...surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition...” (Qur’an 13:11).
If Muslims what to change their current subservient state, I suggest following suggestions:
1. First and the foremost commitment needed from the Muslim World is establishment of peace within them :“The servants of the All-Merciful who walk humbly upon the earth—and when the ignorant taunt them, they reply, ‘Peace!’” (Qur’an 25:63); and “Spread peace…” (Sunan Ibn Majah)
2. Return hostility with goodwill. “Not equal are the good deed and the evil deed. Repel with that which is fairer and behold, he between whom and thee there is enmity shall be as if he were a loyal friend.” (Qur’an 41:34)
3. Erase current arrogant community mindset of Muslim supremacy.
4. Accept the reality that no group of scholars is the absolute source of all knowledge. The figure here shows the growth of knowledge into subclasses and growing.
5. Accept that it is possible for human cognitive distortions creeping into the meaning of divine messages if the interpreting religious scholars lack the cosmic knowledge from the Divine Book in material medium. To avoid such distortions God revealed in verse 42:38 “...who conduct their affairs with consultation among themselves..” ( وَأَمْرُهُمْ شُورَىٰ بَيْنَهُمْ”) asking us to deliberate all matters within the community at large and consult with those who are knowledgeable in their pertinent field (“...Say, Are those who know equal to those who do not know...?" (Quran 39:19). The prophet (s) accepted the existence of important knowledge outside his Arabian nation and urged his companions to travel away from home to acquire it (“Whoever travels a path in search of knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise…” Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2699).
6. God’s knowledge of the objective reality (cosmos, nature, and society) is infinite and perfect, while human knowledge is finite and deficient. So, Muslims at large must accept the fact that the past scholarly interpretations of the Qur’an are from finite and deficient human beings. And it is contingent, subjective, and mutable. So, instead of hanging on it with blind faith, Muslims of every time-frame must take Islam forward approaching the Quran with a cognitive understanding of reality that is rooted in the most advanced discourse on nature, cosmos, and human society.
7. Encourage critical thinking.
8. Transform mosques and Islamic centres into centres of intellectual discourse where all ideas, propositions and theories are discussed and debated in civil manner.
9. Transform madrasas into institutions where the religious and secular education are comingled and debated.
10. Muslims must constantly remind themselves that God has given the rational faculty, and the idling that divine gift would be a disgrace of and affront to God, the Almighty.
11. Community must be reminded constantly that forgetfulness of the possession of rational faculty, and ritualism taking priority over critical enquiry arrest human worldly progress.
12. Muslims must take fear out of their mind in hearing out the opposing point of view and ideas, and also in re-defining their world-picture.
13. Reject dogmatization of salafi traditionalists and their claim to be in possession of absolute knowledge about the Qur’an because such a claim presupposes that humans can be equal to God in His knowledge and so violates Allah’s oneness.
14. Accept the Qur’an and the universe as the twin manifestations and messages from God as books—one written in human vernacular and other in material medium—to be read and interpreted not in isolation but in parallel to grasp true meaning.
15. Muslim community must orient themselves that science basically is a tafsir (interpretation) of the Divine Book, the universe, and treat it with respect as we do to the Tafsir of the Qur’an.
16. Do not misappropriate the knowledge from the two Divine Books to harm others and the natural world: “...do good as Allah has been good to you and seek not mischief in the land. Verily, Allah likes not the Mufsidun (those who commit great crimes and sins, oppressors, tyrants, mischief-makers, corrupts).” (The Qur’an 28:77)
T.O. Shanavas is the author of book: “The Islamic Theory of Evolution: The Missing Link between Darwin and The Origin of Species.” Co-author of the book with Prof. Howard J Van Till and Rabbi David Kay : And God Said, “Let There Be Evolution”: Reconciling the Book of Genesis, the Qur’an and the Theory of Evolution, by Prof. Charles M. Wynn of Eastern Connecticut University and Prof. Arthur W. Wiggins of Oakland University (Editors)
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