Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Online Science & Math Education

Online Science Education

 

ONLINE SCIENCE EDUCATION

WELCOME TO RANKSTUDENTS.COM, A FREE LEARNING MANGEMENT SYSTEM FOR

HIGH SCHOOL AND PRE-UNIVERSITY STUDENTS AROUND THE WORLD

 More than 70,000 Questions & Answers for Math & Science, Advanced Tests; Scores & Descriptions are Explained in this site fo the benefit of students.

URL: https://rankstudents.com

 RANKSTUDENTS.COM is a free Learning Management System (LMS) to encourage children around the world to take up the study of Science and Mathematics. It was developed by a NASA Scientist, Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, BE (Mysore), MS (Caltech), AeE (Caltech), PhD (Cornell), MBA (Rider), PE (CA).

Students learn through practice. This LMS offers more than 70,000 questions, answers and answer explanations in Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology. The questions are taken from the highly competitive JEE, JEE advanced, NEET, high school and pre-university examinations in India. The material is applicable to Science and Math studies, including pre-medical and pre-engineering, anywhere in the world.

Actual tests from exams are provided. When a student takes and completes a test, the software provides him/her with a score, pinpoints the errors and provides guidance for the right answers.

We recommend that this software be used in combination with good textbooks. A good teacher is a blessing to students who want to learn. However, there is a shortage of good teachers around the globe. In such cases, Rankstudent.com serves as a study aide to level the playing field for students from all walks of life.

It has been found that repeated practice with these tests and a mastery of the material can improve a student’s score by as much as 35% and give him/her a good chance to get into  university of his choice.

Knowledge is a gift from God. We hope that this service will help students around the world learn and prosper.

Tags: Science Education, Math Education, Medical Tests, Engineering Tests, NEET, JEE, Pre-University Science, Free NEET coaching, Free JEE coaching, Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

History, Science and Faith in Islamic Education

Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Note: This presentation was made at the Diaspora Forum in Washington, DC on April 2, 2022, and is available on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mji67cvgsmk&t=2438s

We live in extraordinary times. These are times when human progress is limited only by the speed of light and the human capacity to absorb change. Humankind has conquered space and searches for life on other planets. Giant telescopes seek to unlock the very origin of the known universe. Terms such as Space Travel, the Theory of Relativity and the Big Bang have entered into common discourse. Machine learning and robotics drive cutting edge technologies and seek to replace human reasoning with artificial intelligence. Indeed, we are now headed into a post-human world in which the very essence of being human is challenged.


Yes, these are extraordinary times. Economic centration, driven by the inexorable forces of globalization produces billionaires by the day while millions go to bed with a hungry stomach. Within this global context, the story of India is a special case. While Indian rockets reach out to Mars, hundreds of millions cannot afford a meal a day. In this matrix of poverty, the Muslims in India are a marginalized minority hemmed in not only by the global forces of economic centration but also by the well-financed global Islamophobia industry and the incessant hammering from Hindutva forces. Similar is the case with the Dalits and other marginalized groups. It is with this background that we approach the topic under discussion today, namely, History, Science and Faith in Islamic Education. The subject is deep and the terrain is vast. All we can do in the next 40 minutes is to survey this vast terrain, whet our appetite, anchor our observations on historical benchmarks, connect the dots, ask questions and learn from them as we go.

The epistemology of knowledge

Knowledge is a gift from God. It is one and indivisible. It is not denied to anyone. Its ultimate purpose is to find the Truth. There is no such thing as Western knowledge, Eastern Knowledge, Christian Knowledge, Jewish Knowledge, Hindu Knowledge, Muslim Knowledge, Secular Knowledge and Religious Knowledge. These are all specific wavelengths in the composite spectrum that constitutes the totality of Knowledge. Each wavelength brings out a different color of the ultimate truth. As such, each one is valid within its own context and its own assumptions. A man of Truth is one who is open to the vistas that are offered at different wavelengths.
Education embraces the means, methods and processes for acquiring knowledge. What is knowledge? What is its purpose? How does the human learn? These are profound philosophical questions that have challenged the sages through the ages. They relate to the most basic question:

What makes us human?

This presentation focuses on Islamic education. As such it brings with it its own doctrinal, historical, philosophical and cultural assumptions. It is offered here only as a means to further intercultural understandings. I hope that in future forums we will have the privilege of learning about other faith-based or non-faith-based approaches to knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge.
In the Islamic paradigm, God is the source, the origin, the locus, and ultimate object of all knowledge. Its essence is embodied in the Divine Name, al Haq, which at once means the Truth, Justice, Balance, Rights and Responsibilities. As a Hadees e Qudsi declares: “I was a hidden treasure. I willed that I be known. Therefore, I created a creation that would know Me”. Incidentally, Justice is the first pillar in the preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of India.

How does one encompass this ocean of knowledge?

Some fifty years ago when I wrote my first book, What Makes Us Human? I constructed a possible approach to the epistemology of knowledge. It is illustrated in the diagram shown. The tree of knowledge has its roots in the heavens and its seed is Al Haqq, the Truth. The knowledge that is imparted to the Prophets and the sages is called Ilm al Ladduni. Its mode of transmission is infusion. It is involuntarily. It speaks the timeless, spaceless language of the spirit. It is light that illuminates the soul. It seeks to answer the basic questions that every human asks at one stage or the other: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of my existence?
When heavenly knowledge is applied to the mundane world, it splits into two major branches. The first is knowledge that can be expressed and taught. In the Urdu language it is called Ilm ul Ibarat. Ibarat comes from the Arabic root word a-b-r, namely to wade from one shore of a stream to another. It includes the inductive, empirical knowledge of the sciences, and the deductive knowledge of reason and philosophy. It embraces the sciences, history, economics, medicine, engineering, mathematics, politics and governance. This is the knowledge that we send our children and grandchildren to Harvard and MIT, Stanford and Caltech, and yes, Aligarh and the IITs to acquire. It is knowledge that commands a price in the global marketplace.
The other branch Ilm ul Ishara is knowledge that can be alluded to but cannot be expressed through language. It includes the language of the heart and the language of the soul. Examples are: love, compassion, mercy, empathy, forgiveness, generosity. In all of God’s creation, there is nothing as sublime, as noble as the heart because it alone is the seat of unfettered love. Nay, it is wide enough to contain the very Name of God Almighty. It is not Hindu or Muslim, Christian or Jewish, Sikh or Zoroastrian, American or Russian. This is the knowledge taught by the saints and the Sufis of the past, the language of love, of unconditional service, of rapture and surrender. This is the language that is expressed by Amir Khusroe when he sings out in ecstasy:
Nameedanam che Manzil bood shab jaye ke man boodam…

The Seven epochs in Islamic History

Human history is like a mighty river that flows with discernible bends. Some bends are sharp ; others are slow, like a sine wave with a long wavelength.
Islamic history offers at least seven major discernible bends. Each of these bends marks the onset of a certain mode of learning and the emergence of a corresponding cultural archetype:

  1. The Age of the Prophet (622-632 CE)
  2. The Age of the Companions (632-760 CE)
  3. The Age of Reason (760-846 CE)
  4. The Age of the Scientists (846-1219 CE)
  5. The Age of the “Sufis” (1219-1683 CE)
  6. Colonialism and the Age of Discontinuity (1683-1870 CE)
  7. The Modern Technological Age (1870-Present)

One way to study each epoch is to examine the archetypes that personify the age. Summarily, the archetype at the time of the Prophet was the Prophet himself; during the age of the Companions it was the visionaries; in the age of reason it was the Mu’tazilites, in the age of the Scientists, it was the empiricists; in the age of the Sufis it was the Awliyah. Colonialism gave birth to revivalists while the modern technological age is shaping the post-human, post-scientific monad.

The Age of the Prophet.

Islam burst upon the global scene in the 7th century and transformed a nomadic people into prime movers of a world civilization. Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) was the architect of that transformation. Few are the personages in history who occupied a position in relation to their people as did Prophet Muhammed with respect to his. He was the focus for all social, spiritual, political, economic and juridical activities. He was the teacher, the exemplar, the Prophet and the Messenger of God.
Four attributes of the Prophet stand out when we seek to understand his legacy on education:
First the Qur’an. The Prophet was the personification of the Qur’an. If the Qur’an was the Book, he was the Light. The first word of the Qur’an was “Iqra” (read) and the Prophet was an embodiment of knowledge. After Badar, when a large number of prisoners were taken, he offered to set them free if each of them taught two people how to read and write. His saying, “Seek knowledge even onto China” is well known. China was a distant land, known for its learning but it was not Islamic. Alas, if only the ulema in later centuries had kept the Prophet’s example before them and not rejected learning from other traditions, be it Western or Eastern. I offer, as an example, the tribulations that Sir Syed had to face from the Mullahs when he founded the Anglo-Mohammedan college, later to become Aligarh University.
• The Hadith
• The Sunnah
• The Seerah
What the Prophet said became the Hadith. What he did became the Sunnah. The Seerah was his path, his methodology, his way which exuded the wisdom in his approach. Once again, examine how later Muslims, especially those in the subcontinent, took the broad highways of the Prophet’s approach to knowledge and turned them into narrow, sinewy alleys. The Ahle Hadith and the Ahle Sunnah are at each other’s throats while neither of them ponders over his Seerah or the wisdom of his approach in tackling contemporary issues. The tensions between the Deobandi and Barailwi schools are well known.

The Age of the Companions, Tabeyeen and Tabe Tabeyeen

Civilizations are tested with crises just as individuals are tried with adversity. It is these critical moments that bring out the character of a civilization. Great civilizations measure up to their challenges and grow more resilient with each crisis, turning adversity into opportunity. It is much the same way with individuals. Critical moments in history test the mettle of humans. Great men and women bend history to their will, whereas weaker ones are swallowed up in the convulsions of time.
The death of Prophet Muhammed (p) was the first historical crisis faced by the Islamic community. The Muslims met this challenge by establishing the institution of the Khilafat and affirming the continuity of historical Islam. The price paid for this process was the Shia-Sunni split that continues to rock the Islamic world even after 1400 years. There emerged the towering personalities of Abu Bakr as Siddiq (r), Omar ibn al Khattab (r), Uthman bin Affan (r) and Ali ibn Abu Talib (r). What these Companions did and did not do has influenced the course of Islamic history in the subsequent 1,400 years. We see in this period an increasing emphasis on documentation as it was with Sehaf e Siddiqui. Omar (r) in particular paid attention to education. He appointed teachers paid by the state treasury and established schools in the far flung corners of the Khilafat. There was an explosion of intellectual activity in the period that followed. Jurisprudence, philosophy and science flourished. The Halaqa, or a study circle centered around a Shaikh became the institutional framework for knowledge transmission. As the Khilafat expanded to include vast regions stretching from the Indus river to the Pyrenees mountains in France, it embraced Greeks and Turks, Iranians and Egyptians, Berbers and Spaniards, Africans and Europeans, Chinese and Indians. The new entrants brought with them not only their ancient heritage and culture but methods of looking at the sublime questions of life in ways fundamentally different from that of the Arabs. Fiqh was the doctrinal response of the Islamic civilization to these challenges. The codification of Fiqh solidified the foundation of Islamic civilization and was the cement for its stability through the turmoil of centuries. As long as the process of Fiqh was dynamic, creativity and ideas flowed from Islam to other civilizations. When this process became static and stagnant, historical Islam increasingly turned inwards and became marginalized in the global struggle of humankind, as is too obvious in India today. 


Some definitions of the terms Shariah and Fiqh are in order here as the two terms are sometimes erroneously interchanged. Shariah derives its legitimacy from Divine sovereignty. It defines not just the relationship of man to man but also the relationship of man to God and of man to nature. As such, it is all embracing and its dimensions are infinite. The sun rises from the East, that is Shariah. The galaxies rotate, that is Shariah. Fiqh is the application of the Shariah in space-time. As such it is dynamic and changing. Those who wish to understand the Hijab controversy in India today need to keep this in mind. We will offer the life and times of Imam Abu Haneefa as an archetype of the age. It is most appropriate to choose him as our model as his school of jurisprudence is the one that is most commonly used in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Turkey and Central Asia. Indeed, a great majority of the 1.8 billion Muslims in the world today (circa 2010 CE) follow the school of Fiqh named after him.   That Imam Abu Haneefa was one of the greatest of the jurists is well known. What is not commonly known is that he was also a mathematician of the first magnitude. He was aware of the concepts of specific density and specific volume and implemented them in practice. As a philosopher, his work anticipated the Hegelian dialectic by more than a thousand years. The Hegelian dialectic (named after Hegel the German philosopher of the 17th century) is one of the basic principles of Western philosophy. Its premise is that a higher collective truth emerges when multiple individual truths compete. Looked at it another way, it also means that the state is more important than the individual. To cap it all, Abu Haneefa was no hermit, or a pure academician, cloistering himself in a monastery or a mosque or a university. He was a rich man, a successful merchant, a wonderful human being who lived among common folk with the zest and enthusiasm of a believer; he contributed to the life of the community that he was a part of.
The story of Imam Abu Haneefa is the story of the famed city of Baghdad. With the Abbasid Revolution of 750 CE, the center of gravity of political power shifted from the Arab heartland to Persia, Khorasan and Central Asia. Acknowledging this shift in power, the Caliph al Mansur wished to relocate his capital from Damascus in Syria.
Imam Abu Haneefa was commissioned by the Caliph to locate and plan a site for the new capital. Abu Haneefa chose the current location, around a bend of the River Tigris, paying careful attention to defense and communications. There were no computers or computer aided design in those days. To obtain the concurrence of the Caliph, Abu Haneefa marked out the geometrical layout of the planned capital on the ground, showing in detail the location of the palace, the mosque, the marketplace, the residential areas and the fort. Then he sprinkled cotton seeds over the marked outlines. Selecting a moonless night when there was little background radiation, Imam Abu Haneefa set fire to the cotton seeds. One of the characteristics of cotton seeds is that they radiate a brilliant light when they are burned. Using the burning cotton seeds as his guide, Imam Abu Haneefa showed the outline of the planned city to the Caliph from a tower specially constructed for observation on the occasion. The Caliph was pleased and authorized the construction.
Imam Abu Haneefa studied in the Halaqa of Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq and benefited from the spiritual knowledge transmitted through the Ahle Bait. The school of jurisprudence named after him offers the greatest latitude to a jurist to formulate legal opinions to meet the requirements of changing times. The usool ul fiqh or principles of the Hanafi fiqh include the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet, the Ijma or collective opinion of some, not necessarily all the companions, Qiyas or analogy and Estehsan or creative juridical opinion based on sound principles. The principles of Qiyas and Estehsan are available to the large number of Muslims who live as minorities in India, China, Europe and America to apply the Shari’ah and deduce legal opinions that meet the requirements of their social, political and economic context.

The Mu’tazilites and the Age of Reason

Of all the sciences that the Muslims came in contact with, it was Greek rational thought that caught their fancy and they fell in love with its rigor and its precision. Aristotle became their hero and reason their guide. The Caliph al Mansur adopted and promoted Greek philosophy (the philosophy of the ancients as it was called) as court dogma. Muslim scholars set out to apply rational methods to physical phenomenon as well as social, cultural and religious issues with excitement and enthusiasm. These scholars were called the Mu’tazilites.

Al Mansur established an academy called Baitul Hikmah (the House of Wisdom) where scholarly books from around the world were translated into Arabic. From India came the Siddhanta of Aryabhatta, from Greece came the works of Aristotle, Plato and Hippocrates, from China came the technology for manufacturing porcelain and papermaking and from Iran the art of constructing windmills. Baitul Hikmah was a cosmopolitan academy. Among the scholars who worked there were Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and Zoroastrians.
The application of classical Greek rational thought in an Islamic paradigm was not without its challenge.  The Greeks assumed that time was “eternal”. A second issue was “cause and effect” in nature. There were other issues of disagreement as well, namely, human free will (ikhtiar) and man’s responsibility for his actions.  These assumptions when applied to theological issues presented profound and fundamental doctrinal challenges to Muslim scholars. Resistance set in and it was led by the usuli ulema, spearheaded by Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal. Faced with mounting public pressure, the later Abbasid Caliphs relented. In 846 CE, the Caliph al Mutawakkil disavowed the Mutazilites and banished them from his court.

The Scientists

The aftermath of the Mutazilite convulsions influenced the development of the natural sciences in the Islamic world in a profound way.
The classical Islamic civilization that emerged in the post-Mutazilite period was scientific-empirical. Indeed, the Muslims were arguably the originators of the empirical method. For more than five hundred years (700-1258 CE), Muslim scientists were the torchbearers of knowledge, advancing human civilization with their discoveries and inventions. It was this light that awakened Europe from its slumber in the Dark Ages (600-1200 CE). Some of the noted scientists of the era include al Khwarizmi (d. 840) after whom the word Algorithm is named; the physician al Razi who was the first to identify smallpox and communicable diseases; al Masudi the first empirical historian; al Baruni whose book Kitabul Hind was a masterpiece about medieval India; the physician ibn Sina whose book Cannons of Medicine was the standard textbook in Europe until the sixteenth century; the mathematician Omar Khayyam who compiled the precise Jalalian calendar; al Idrisi the geographer; Ibn Rushd the philosopher and the inventor al Jazari, one of whose inventions, the camshaft that converts linear motion into rotary motion, was one of the greatest inventions of humankind similar in its import to the plough and the stirrup.  This momentum towards a scientific culture was setback by the advent of Al Ghazzali towards the end of the twelfth century.  Basing his powerful dialectic on the earlier works of al Ash’ari, Al Gazzali argued that there was no cause and effect in nature, and that all natural events happen by the Will of God.
Al Ghazzali’s writings were carried far and wide through a chain of madrassas established by the powerful Seljuk dynasty and had a chilling effect on the pursuit of science in the Islamic world. His impact is to be felt in the thinking of the mullahs and the maulanas even to this day. ↓

The Sufis

The word Sufi literally means a practitioner of tasawwuf, a term that derives from the Arabic root s-w-f, meaning purity. In the context of tasawwuf, it means purity of the heart or purity of the soul.
Tasawwuf grew its roots and had solidified its position in the Islamic world when the Mongol cataclysm descended upon it in the thirteenth century. Genghiz Khan and his successors destroyed a civilization. Centers of learning and culture like Samarqand, Bukhara, Nishapur, Herat and Baghdad were obliterated.  India was a beneficiary of the Mongol invasions. This is where the story of Islam in northern India begins. As the centers of learning burned in Central Asia, many of the Sufi shaikhs and scholars found refuge with the Sultanate of Delhi.  If there is one word that captures the essence of how Islam captured the hearts of one third of South Asia, it is love. The key to the success of the Sufis lay in the spiritual bent of the Indian mind. Every culture produces an archetype that personifies the ethos of that culture. For instance, in contemporary America, it is the successful entrepreneur like Bill Gates. During the Dark Ages in Europe, it was the monk. In medieval Japan it was the Samurai. In the Muslim Middle East, it was the traditionalist. In India, it was the sadhu and the rishi. The Sufi could intuitively and immediately relate to the Indian culture in a manner that the learned doctors of law could not. Thus, it was that the great Sufis not only succeeded in introducing millions of Indians to Islam but also contributed to the evolution of a unique Hindustani language, culture, poetry and music which amalgamated the ancient inheritance of India with the vibrancy of Islam. If the center of gravity of the Muslim world today is closer to Kuala Lumpur, Lucknow and Lahore than to Cairo and Damascus, it is due not so much to the power of the Sultans or the preaching of the mullahs, but to the spiritual approach of the Sufi shaykhs.  Zawiyas, Tekkes and Khanqas spread out throughout the subcontinent offering the seekers of spiritual knowledge instruction not just in the Qur’an and the sunnah but also fiqh, tasawwuf, history, languages and mathematics. Well known zawiyas existed in Multan, Lahore, Delhi, Agra, Jaunpur, Patna, Murshidabad and Sylhet. The training was individualized and personal, from a shaikh to the mureed. The archetype of the age was a man of the spirit like Shaikh Moinuddin Chisti of Ajmer, Baba Farid of Lahore, Shaikh Shamsuddin Yahya of Kashmir, Shaikh Jalal of Sylhet, and Gaysu Daraz of the Deccan. Together, these men transformed a continent, molded it in a spiritual crucible, lit the candle of faith in the hearts of millions and laid the spiritual foundation for one of the richest and most powerful dynasties the world has ever known, namely the great Moghuls of India.


The emergence of tasawwuf as a powerful force in the Indian milieu did not go unchallenged by competing ideas.  The historian Barani describes an interesting confrontation between the Sufis and kadis in the magnificent Tughlaq courts in old Delhi. The kadis and the ulema sought a ban on sama’a (music), declaring it to be against the injunctions of the Shariah. To sort out these controversies, Gayasuddin Tughlaq, Sultan of Delhi, convened a conference of the leading ulema, kadis and philosophers in Delhi at his court in 1320. Nizamuddin Awliya was also invited. What started as a conference turned into a court martial of the Chishtiya Sufis. Kadi Jalaluddin, chief kadi of Delhi and Shaykhzada Jam argued against sama’a. Nizamuddin Awliya defended the practice basing his arguments on certain Ahadith. The discussion became heated, so the Sultan turned to Shaykh Ilmuddin who was a philosopher (Mu’tazilite) and had traveled extensively through Persia, Iraq, Syria and Egypt. Shaykh Ilmuddin answered that sama’a was halal for those who listened to it with their hearts and was haram for those who heard it with their nafs. The Emperor deliberated and, not to be drawn into a religious controversy, gave a split decision permitting sama’a gatherings for the Chishtiya Order but forbidding it to the followers of the Qalandariya and Haidari Orders.
Such antipathy towards music and other scientific disciplines persists in the religious circles of the subcontinent even to this day. As a result, the graduates of Islamic seminaries have no clue about electromagnetic theory, earthquakes, electron motion, Newtonian mechanics or windshear that brings down aircraft, all of which are based on harmonic or biharmonic equations.

The Rockets of Tipu Sultan

Science and Technology did not die out with the Mongol invasions; they shifted from the core Arab domains to the Indian, Turkish and Maghreb periphery. The Ottoman, Safavid and Mogul empires rose in Eurasia while Africa saw the advent of the great Songhay and Mali empires. Great center of learning spring up as far away as Timbuktu, Gao and Kano in Africa and Aceh in Indonesia. Isfahan, Istanbul, Delhi and Agra replaced Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad as centers of art and culture. The world renowned Ibn Batuta, the historian Ibn Khaldun, astronomers such as Ulugh Bey, master-builders like Muammar Sinan of the Ottoman empire, and Ustad Ahmed, the architect of the Taj Mahal, were all products of this age. But perhaps the most convincing evidence of this position is offered by the rockets of Tipu Sultan.  It comes as a surprise to many people that the American National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, was inspired by the rockets invented by an Indian Muslim king, Tipu Sultan of Mysore.  It was the year 1814. The Anglo-American war which started in 1812 was in full swing. The British forces, after burning down Washington and conducting a raid on Alexandria, proceeded up the Chesapeake Bay to capture Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Caught in the cross fire were two American lawyers, Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner, who had gone over to negotiate a truce and prisoner exchange with the British. Key and Skinner were allowed to board the British flagship HMS Tonant and present their proposals to Major General Robert Ross.
Since they had overheard the detailed war plans, Key and Skinner were held back by the British and were witness to the bombardment of Baltimore on September 13, 1814. Orange and red flashes of rocket fire illuminated the skies over Fort McHenry. The bombardment went on all night and it was not clear as to which side would prevail in this clash of arms. At daybreak, as the first rays of the sun hit the fort and the fog lifted over the Bay, the American flag was still aloft over Fort McHenry, fluttering in the morning breeze. This was the moving sight that inspired Francis Scott Key to compose the Star Spangled Banner.  The rockets used in the War of 1812 were a takeoff on the rockets captured by the British from Tipu Sultan of Mysore after the fourth Anglo-Mysore war of 1799.  


The late Dr. Abdul Kalam, the architect of India’s rocket programs, called Tipu Sultan the father of modern rocketry.  When Tipu Sultan was martyred during the fourth Anglo-Mysore war of 1799, the British sent some of the captured Mysore rockets to the Royal Laboratory in England. A development team led by Colonel Congreve back-engineered Tipu Sultan’s rockets. The modified Mysore rockets, renamed the Congreve rockets, were used against Napoleon at the Battle of Boulogne in 1806 and against the Americans in the assault on Baltimore in 1814.  A solid propellant rocket is a system. It requires a host of technologies and a large number of subsystems. Tipu Sultan’s achievement was to create an advanced technological eco-system in the Kingdom of Mysore which was a match for any in Europe or America and in some respects was more advanced. This included metallurgy, iron smelting, fine grain casting, precision boring, solid propellant physics and chemistry, packing, loading, use of composite materials, standardization of materials, processes, manufacture, assembly, testing and deployment of rockets. Tipu Sultan not only established the karkhanas or factories for the production of rockets on a mass scale but backed it up by establishing research laboratories in several forts and advanced schools for the training of military engineers.
The advances made by the rocket engineers of Tipu Sultan show that as late as the eighteenth century, technological developments in Asia were not far behind those in Europe. It was only in the nineteenth century that Europe acquired a decisive technological edge over Asia.

What went wrong?

If the land empires of the Ottomans, the Safavids and the Great Moguls were so powerful and prosperous, what went wrong?
Most noticeable was the delay in the introduction of the printing press which was introduced in Germany in 1439 and spread throughout Europe by the end of the fifteenth century. In Italy alone, there were no less than 77 printing presses in the year 1500. The printing press made possible the spread of knowledge. It was one of the main engines for the Renaissance which produced the likes of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. It was only in 1728 that the printing press was introduced into the Ottoman Empire. It was introduced into Mughal India much later, at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In both cases, what held back the introduction of this technology was the opposition of the ulema who held that the Word of God would be defiled by contact with wooden presses. Indeed, the ulema increasingly became hostile to the basic sciences which they did not understand. A case in point is the destruction of the Taqiuddin Observatory in Istanbul which was built in 1570 and destroyed in 1577 CE at the behest of the religious establishment, who suspected that the Ottoman defeat in the Battle of Lepanto (1571 CE) was somehow related to the ungodly pursuits of the astronomers.

The impact of colonialism

Europe used its technological and scientific advantage to colonize much of Asia and Africa. India was the first great Asian civilization to fall to the West (1757-1947).
The European powers dismantled the educational infrastructure of the colonized lands which had grown over many centuries, thereby injecting a discontinuity in the intellectual development of the colonized people. The zawiyas and madrassas which had provided the educational foundation of the Muslim world were either marginalized or disappeared. Their place was taken up by government schools run by the colonial authorities whose purpose was to educate the native population to man the lower echelons of the huge administrative bureaucracies in the colonized lands. Science and technology, which at best were flickering in the old institutions, died out.

The modern age

It was only in the latter half of the nineteenth century that the Islamic world woke up to the need to relearn the natural sciences from the west. In India, the Anglo-Mohammedan College, later to become Aligarh Muslim University was founded by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (d 1898). It was the genius of Sir Syed that he saw for the first time in history, the possibility of cooperation between the West and the ancient civilizations of the East based on science and rational thought. In the Ottoman Empire, a determined effort was made to cultivate science and technology through the Tanzeemat.
However, from a global perspective, the Islamic world continues to lag behind the west in science and technology. Less than one percent of the names that appear in the database of the United States Patents and Trademarks Office are Muslim and a similar trend is observable in the respectable scientific journals of the world. Literacy among Muslims is among the lowest in the world. What is more alarming is that the education gap between Muslim communities and the emerging economies such as those of China is increasing. War, occupation, physical dislocation and government neglect have all taken their toll. Meanwhile, Muslims continue to be bogged down with arguments over halal, haram, bida’, shirk, kufr, length of beards and halal meat. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, women and girls are attacked for going to school. In India girls are harassed for covering their heads. The term a’lim is reserved for one who has studied in a madrasa. Scholarship in the sciences is not valued. Knowledge has been compartmentalized into deeni and dunavi. The ignorant mullahs look down upon the natural sciences as secular, western and debasing. Clearly, a paradigm shift is needed.

The future

Poverty is a curse on humankind. Poverty breeds ignorance and ignorance breeds poverty. Education provides an exit door from this vicious cycle. What drives education today is technology. If the subcontinent is to emerge from the clutches of mass poverty, it must pay attention to its education system.
• Develop a framework to encourage the pursuit of the natural sciences. Instead of engaging in endless disputes about what divides us, would it not be more productive if India, Pakistan and Bangladesh evolved a common science curriculum for K-12 and reinforced each other by sharing the best practices through technological networks? Dhaka and Calcutta, Bangalore and Hyderabad, Mumbai and Karachi, Delhi and Lahore would become the nodes of such a network. Let this be the day when we proposed in this forum,the idea of a South Asian Primary and Secondary Education Network (Let us call it SAPASENET).
• Influence government policy. Primary education is one of first requisites of good governance. The governments of South Asia have washed their hands off of this responsibility. The privatization of primary education was one the worst developments in post-independent India. K-12 education should be free, universal, compulsory and of the highest quality.
• Establish institutions. Encourage bright students to compete and pursue higher education. There are 80 million Muslims in the Gangetic belt stretching from Delhi to Calcutta. While the rich use coaching and training to score high in competitive exams and get into good schools, the poor among the Muslims and the Dalits are left in the lurch. The admissions into IITs and IIMs speak for themselves.


• Introduce ethics into the school curriculum. Tarbiyet is as important as Ta’leem.
• Train the religious establishment, the a’lims and the mullahs, in the basics of science and technology.


Islam is a great civilization. Our hope is that it will once again rise up to the current challenges, renews itself and will march forward with the light of knowledge. The path to that renewal lies in universal, compulsory and free mass education of the highest quality driven by technology, nourished by compassion and love and governed by reason.

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Al-Zahrawi, the father of Surgery

Submitted by Prof. Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed, Clinical Professor and Director of Nuclear Medicine Sciences, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Abstract

Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbas Al-Zahrawi was born near Cordoba, Spain, when it was part of the Islamic Empire. He was a physician, surgeon and chemist. He is best remembered for his encyclopedia of medicine, the Al-Tasrif li man ajaz an-il-talif (An Aid for Those Who Lack the Capacity to Read Big Books), known as the al-Tasrif. This became a standard reference in Islamic and European medicine for over 500 years. In Europe, Al-Zahrawi was known as Albucasis, and was particularly famous for his surgical knowledge.

Al-Zahrawi’s encyclopedia included sections on surgery, medicine, orthopedics, ophthalmology, pharmacology and nutrition. In it he described over 300 diseases and their treatments. He also included detailed descriptions of numerous surgical procedures, and the use of over 200 surgical instruments, many of which he developed. The most famous section of the encyclopedia, on surgery, was translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona in the 1100s. From this time it also became a standard text in Europe, and was still being reprinted in the 1770s. Considered the greatest surgeon of the Middle Ages, he has been described as the father of surgery

While famed for his writing, Al-Zahrawi was also a prominent practitioner and teacher. In recognition of his skills, he was appointed as the court physician to King Al-Hakam II of Spain.[1]

 Early Life

Abū al-Qāsim Khalaf ibn al-‘Abbās al-Zahrāwī al-Ansari (‎ 936–1013), popularly known as Al-Zahrawi (الزهراوي), Latinized as Abulcasis (from Arabic Abū al-Qāsim), was an Arab Muslim physician, surgeon and chemist who lived in Al-Andalus. Considered the greatest surgeon of the Middle Ages, he has been described as the father of surgery.

Al-Zahrawi’s principal work is the Kitab al-Tasrif, a thirty-volume encyclopedia of medical practices. The surgery chapter of this work was later translated into Latin, attaining popularity and becoming the standard textbook in Europe for the next five hundred years. Al-Zahrawi’s pioneering contributions to the field of surgical procedures and instruments had an enormous impact in the East and West well into the modern period, where some of his discoveries are still applied in medicine to this day.

He was the first physician to identify the hereditary nature of hemophilia and to describe an abdominal pregnancy, a subtype of ectopic pregnancy that in those days was a fatal affliction.

Al-Zahrawi was born in the city of Azahara, 8 kilometers northwest of Cordoba, Andalusia. His birth date is not known for sure, however, scholars agree that it was after 936, the year his  birthplace city of Azahara was founded. The nisba (attributive title), Al-Ansari, in his name, suggests origin from the Medinian tribe of Al-Ansar, thus, tracing his ancestry back to Medina in the Arabian Peninsula.

He lived most of his life in Cordoba. It is also where he studied, taught and practiced medicine and surgery until shortly before his death in about 1013(at the age of 77), two years after the sacking of Azahara.

 He was a contemporary of Andalusian chemists such as Ibn al-Wafid, al-Majriti and Artephius. He devoted his entire life and genius to the advancement of medicine as a whole and surgery in particular.

Surgical career

Al-Zahrawi specialized in curing disease by cauterization. He invented several devices used during surgery, for purposes such as inspection of the interior of the urethra and also inspection, applying and removing foreign bodies from the throat, the ear and other body organs. He was also the first to illustrate the various cannulae and the first to treat a wart with an iron tube and caustic metal as a boring instrument.

While al-Zahrawi never performed the surgical procedure of tracheotomy, he did treat a slave girl who had cut her own throat in a suicide attempt. Al-Zahrawi sewed up the wound and the girl recovered, thereby proving that an incision in the larynx could heal. In describing this important case-history he wrote: So, I hurriedly sutured the wound and treated it until healed. No harm was done to the slave-girl except for a hoarseness in the voice, which was not extreme, and after some days she was restored to the best of health. Hence, we may say that laryngotomy is not dangerous.

Al-Zahrawi also pioneered neurosurgery and neurological diagnosis. He is known to have performed surgical treatments of head injuries, skull fractures, spinal injuries, hydrocephalus, subdural effusions and headache. The first clinical description of an operative procedure for hydrocephalus was given by Al-Zahrawi who clearly describes the evacuation of superficial intracranial fluid in hydrocephalic children.

Kitab al-Tasrif

Fig. 1. Title page from the first Latin translation of the Al-Tasrif, here called the Liber theoricae nec non practicae Alsaharavii (Theoretical and practical book by al-Zahrawi). (1599). (Public Domain)  [2]

Al-Zahrawi’s thirty-volume medical encyclopedia, Kitab al-Tasrif, completed in the year 1000 CE, covered a broad range of medical topics, including on surgery, medicine, orthopedics, ophthalmology, pharmacology, nutrition, dentistry, childbirth, and pathology. The first volume in the encyclopedia is concerned with general principles of medicine, the second with pathology, while much of the rest discuss topics regarding pharmacology and drugs. The last treatise and the most celebrated one is about surgery. Al-Zahrawi stated that he chose to discuss surgery in the last volume because surgery is the highest form of medicine, and one must not practice it until he becomes well-acquainted with all other branches of medicine. Al-Tasrif is an illustrated encyclopedia of medicine and surgery in 1500 pages.

The work contained data that had accumulated during a career that spanned almost 50 years of training, teaching and practice. In it he also wrote of the importance of a positive doctor-patient relationship and wrote affectionately of his students, whom he referred to as “my children”. He also emphasized the importance of treating patients irrespective of their social status. He encouraged the close observation of individual cases in order to make the most accurate diagnosis and the best possible treatment.

Not always properly credited, modern evaluation of al-Tasrif manuscript has revealed on early descriptions of some medical procedures that were ascribed to later physicians. For example, Al-Zahrawi’s al-Tasrif described both what would later become known as “Kocher’s method” for treating a dislocated shoulder and “Walcher position” in obstetrics. Moreover, Al-Tasrif described how to ligature blood vessels almost 600 years before Ambroise Paré, and was the first recorded book to explain the hereditary nature of hemophilia. It was also the first to describe a surgical procedure for ligating the temporal artery for migraine, also almost 600 years before Pare recorded that he had ligated his own temporal artery for headache that conforms to current descriptions of migraine. Al-Zahrawi was, therefore, the first to describe the migraine surgery procedure that is enjoying a revival in the 21st century, spearheaded by Elliot Shevel a South African surgeon.

On Surgery and Instruments

On Surgery and Instruments is the 30th and last volume of Kitab al-Tasrif. It is without a doubt his most important work and the one which established his authority in Europe for centuries to come. On Surgery and Instruments is the first illustrated surgical guide ever written. Its contents and descriptions has contributed in many technological innovations in medicine, notably which tools to use in specific surgeries. In his book, al-Zahrawi draws diagrams of each tool used in different procedures to clarify how to carry out the steps of each treatment. The full text consists of three books, intended for medical students looking forward to gaining more knowledge within the field of surgery regarding procedures and the necessary tools.

He divided the surgery section of Al-Tasrif into three parts:                                                                                1. on cauterization (56 sections);                                                                                                                                                2. on surgery (97 sections),                                                                                                                              3. on orthopedics (35 sections).[3]

 Some of the procedures and techniques detailed in these chapters include the following:

  • Surgery of the eye, ear, and throat. He fully described tonsillectomy and tracheostomy.
  • He devised instruments for internal examination of the ear.
  • He devised an instrument used to remove or insert objects into the throat.
  • He described how to use a hook to remove a polyp from the nose.
  • He described the exposure and division of the temporal artery to relieve certain types of headaches.
  • He utilized cauterization, usually to treat skin tumors or open abscesses. He applied cauterization procedure to as many as 50 different operations.
  • Application of ligature for bleeding vessels and internal stitching utilizing catgut. He preceded the famous French military surgeon Ambroise Pare (1510–1590), claimed to be the first European to utilize sutures, by five centuries.
  • Treatment for anal fistulas.
  • Setting dislocated bones and fractures. His method for setting and reducing a dislocated shoulder was centuries before Kocher introduced his similar technique to European medicine.
  • Removal of urinary bladder calculi. He advised that the treating physician has to insert a finger into the rectum of the patient, move the stone down to the neck of the bladder, then make an incision in the rectal wall or the perineum and remove the stone.
  • He devised instruments for inspection of the urethra.
  • He is credited to be the first to describe ectopic pregnancy.
  • He devised several dental devices and artificial teeth made of animal bones.
  • Al Zahrawi is considered the father of operative surgery. He is credited with performance of the first thyroidectomy. The last chapter of his comprehensive book, named “On Surgery”, was dedicated to surgical instruments. He introduced over 200 surgical tools, a staggering number by all standards. He gave detailed descriptions of for using probes, surgical knives, scalpels, and hooks. He also devised and invented surgical scissors, grasping forceps and obstetrical forceps. His illustrations of surgical instruments were the earliest intended for use in teaching and in methods of manufacturing them. [4]

The book was translated into Latin in the 12th century by Gerard of Cremona. It soon found popularity in Europe and became a standard text in all major Medical universities like those of Salerno and Montpellier. It remained the primary source on surgery in Europe for the next 500 years, and as the historian of medicine, Arturo Castiglioni, has put it: al-Zahrawi’s treatise “in surgery held the same authority as did the Canon of Avicenna in medicine”.

In the beginning of his book, al-Zahrawi states that the reason for writing this treatise was the degree of underdevelopment surgery had reached in the Islamic world, and the low status it was held by the physicians at the time. Al-Zahrawi ascribed such decline to a lack of anatomical knowledge and a misunderstanding of the human physiology. He who devoted himself to surgery must be versed in the science of anatomy.

Noting the importance of anatomy, he wrote:

    “Before practicing surgery one should gain knowledge of anatomy and the function of organs so that he will understand their shape, connections and borders. He should become thoroughly familiar with nerves muscles bones arteries and veins. If one does not comprehend the anatomy and physiology one can commit a mistake which will result in the death of the patient. I have seen someone incise into a swelling in the neck thinking it was an abscess, when it was an aneurysm and the patient dying on the spot.”

Al-Zahrawi introduced over 200 surgical instruments, which include, among others, different kinds of scalpels, retractors, curettes, pincers, specula, and also instruments designed for his favored techniques of cauterization and ligature. He also invented hooks with a double tip for use in surgery. Many of these instruments were never used before by any previous surgeons.

His use of catgut for internal stitching is still practised in modern surgery. The catgut appears to be the only natural substance capable of dissolving and is acceptable by the body. An observation Al-Zahrawi discovered after his monkey ate the strings of his oud. Al-Zahrawi also invented the forceps for extracting a dead fetus, as illustrated in the Al-Tasrif. [4]

Fig. 2. Albucasis blistering a patient in the hospital at Cordova. [5]

In addition to sections on medicine and surgery, there were sections on midwifery, pharmacology, therapeutics, dietetics, psychotherapy, weights and measures, and medical chemistry.

Fig. 3. Page from a 1531 Latin translation by Peter Argellata of Al Zahrawi’s treatise on surgical and medical instruments.  [4]

Al Zahrawi is considered the father of operative surgery. He is credited with performance of the first thyroidectomy. [4]

 

Figure. 4. Two pages from a manuscript of Al-Zahrawi’s Al-Tasrif, preserved at the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, Baku [6]

Abdel-Halim et al gave a detailed study of Al Zahrawi’s technique of cystolithotomy.

Al Zahrawi contributed early descriptions of neurosurgical diagnoses and treatment including management of head injuries, skull fractures, spinal injuries and dislocations, hydrocephalus, subdural effusions, headache and many other conditions.

In addition, he made significant contributions to pediatric surgery. In addition to his description of hydrocephalus, he described harelip, adenoids, ranula, imperforated external urinary meatus, perforated anus, hermaphrodites, gynecomastia, supernumerary and webbed fingers.  He was the first to describe in detail the medical aspects of hemophilia.

Finally, he emphasized child education and behavior, school curriculum and academic specialization. He advised that gifted and intelligent students be encouraged to study medicine after completing their primary education in language, grammar, mathematics, astronomy and philosophy.  [4]

CONCLUSION

Thus, in conclusion, Al-Zahrawi was not only one of the greatest surgeons of medieval Islam, but a great educationist and psychiatrist as well. He devoted a substantial section in the Tasrif to child education and behavior, table etiquette, school curriculum, and academic specialization.

The methods of Albucasis eclipsed those of Galen and maintained a dominant position in medieval  Europe for five hundred years, i.e long after it had passed its usefulness. He, however, helped to raise the status of surgery in Christian Europe; in his book on fractures and luxations, he states that ‘this part of surgery has passed into the hands of vulgar and uncultivated minds, for which reason it has fallen into contempt.’ The surgery of Albucasis became firmly grafted on Europe after the time of Guy de Chauliac (d.1368), the 14th century, French surgeon. He quoted al-Tasrif over 200 times. Pietro Argallata (d. 1453) described Al-Zahrawi as “without doubt the chief of all surgeons”. Al-Zahrawi’s influence continued for at least five centuries, extending into the Renaissance, evidenced by al-Tasrif’s frequent reference by French surgeon Jacques Daléchamps (1513–1588). [5]

 We can reasonably assume that Al-Zaharawi knew about Sushruta. In the eight century CE, Sushruta Samhita was translated into Arabic by Caliph Mamun  as “Kitab Shah Shun al –Hindi” and “Kitab – I – Susurud.” Al-Zaharawi lived in the 10th Century. [7]

  Fig. 3 in  in this article appears  similar to the instruments used by Sushruta.  However, I made a comparison and found there is no resemblance. Actually, instruments used by Sushruta look modern.    They are not the same.    Sushruta (Sanskrit: सुश्रुत, lit. “well heard”) was an ancient Indian ayurvedic physician, known as the main author of The Sushruta Samhita (ca. 600 BCE), an important early medical text and the first text to represent the process of rhinoplasty. One of the earliest documented plastic surgeons, he also described procedures for treating hemorrhoids and fistulae, as well as cataract surgery. Sushruta has been called “father of surgery” and “father of plastic surgery”.   Al-Zaharawi (936-1013) wrote Al-Tasrif (The Method of Medicine), a 30-part medical encyclopedia in Arabic wherein  he introduced his collection of over 200 surgical instruments, many of which were never used before. He is  the first to describe and prove the hereditary pattern behind hemophilia, as well as describing ectopic pregnancy and stone babies. He has been called the “father of surgery”.

References 1.http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/people/Albucasis 2. https://www.ancient-origins.net/artifacts-ancient-writings/al-zahrawi-legacy-father-modern-surgery-004693 3. https://muslimheritage.com/abu-al-qasim-al-zahrawi-the-great-surgeon/ 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6077085/ 5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Zahrawi 6. https://hekint.org/2017/01/22/abulcasis-the-pharmacist-surgeon/ 7.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5512402/   
Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Life After Birth

Submitted by Dr. M. Basheer Ahmed, Texas

Transmitted from Ron Little

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover, if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery, there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists, then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her, this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

Perhaps this was one of the best explanations for the concept of GOD.

Comment: The human has lost the capacity to see with the inner eye. Immersed as he is in the ocean of Divine grace, he cannot perceive the presence of the Owner of Grace. The human is like the fish in the ocean which asks, “where is the ocean?”. Or, as Mevlana Rumi said: “You ride your horse from village to village asking everyone: ‘Have you seen my horse?”.

 

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Tanazzulat: (The Descent of Divine Grace) – Insan (The Human)

Book: NOOR UL HAQEEQAT

Author: Shaikh Shah Syed Ismail Qadiri al Multani

Transmitter: Shaikh Badashah Qadiri

Compiled by: Prof. Mevlana Syed Ataulla Hussaini

Translated and condensed from Urdu by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Summary

Allah created the human to manifest His Asma wa Sifat (Names and Attributes). Allah created the human “with two hands”, meaning, with Jalal wa Jamal (beauty as well as majesty). All other creation was created “with one hand”, meaning, they manifest but a single attribute of Allah and they praise Him with that attribute. Allah created Iblis to manifest His attribute of “Al Mudill”.

KNOW THAT the sixth descent of Divine Grace (Tanazzul)  is Insan (the human). The meaning of Insan is “a body with sight”. When this body can see everything with its hidden eye but cannot see itself, it is said that it is “the human”.

In the station of Wahdat, Reality was manifest in Unicity and multiplicity was hidden. Then, as Reality was made manifest in its multiplicity, the multiplicity took over and Unicity was concealed.

God willed that He manifest His Essence as an integrated whole in an entity which would at once be a compendium of light as well as darkness, hidden as well as the manifest, visible as well as the invisible. There was no creation that was a corpus of perfections and attributes and was at the same time a reflector of Divine Names. The other creation reflected only specific aspects of divine attributes according to their fixities. Hence, Allah created the human as a compendium of all existence that has come into being since the beginning and will continue to come into being till eternity.  For this reason, the human is also called “Jahan e sagheer” (The small universe).   

The human is the Khalifa (regent) on earth and a Khalifa has a rank higher than the creation over which he exercises his khilafat (regency) and has authority over it. Whatever grace reaches the cosmos does so because of the inherent sanctity of the human. That is why the angels prostrated before the human even though he was created only after the angels were created. The human is the purpose for the creation of the universe. For this reason, he  is also called “Illat e Ghayi” (the real purpose) of the universe.

Allah created the human “with both hands”. In other words, the human was created with both Jalal and Jamal (beauty as well as majesty).  The rest of the universe was created “with one hand”. The angels did not understand this subtlety. Therefore, they said:

“Will you create one
Who will make mischief and shed blood,
While we extol You, praise You, and sanctify You?”

The angels could not understand that they praise Allah only with the one attribute they knew while Allah has many Names and attributes that the angels are not even aware of.

Allah created Adam as “Insan e Kamil” (a perfect human being) and taught him all the names because the perfect man becomes a reflector of the Dhat (Essence) which is the sum total of all the Asma wa Sifat (divine Names and attributes), Therefore, his praise is higher than the praise of the angels. Allah gathered all the angels and asked them to name the names of entities in the cosmos. In other words He called them to name the Names that are manifest in the cosmos and with which the cosmos praises Him. The angels were not haughty; they excused themselves. Adam recited all the Names, thereby demonstrating his superiority over the angels. All the angels bowed before Adam except Iblis. He was haughty and conceited.

And when We commanded the angels
To prostrate before Adam,
They prostrated, except Iblis.
He refused and was arrogant,
And he was of the disbelievers.

Iblis construed Adam as made of clay. He did not know that the Dhat (divine Essence) was made manifest in him with all the Names and attributes. Adam was also a compendium and manifestation of all the appropriate attributes of the cosmos. Iblis showed his haughtiness towards Adam which he should not have and because of it he was repudiated by Allah.

Iblis was a jinn and was a personification of evil. It is impossible that anything but evil emerge from him. He said: “O my Lord! I swear by your honor! I will for sure mislead and deceive the human”. Iblis accepted this task of misleading the human so that the attribute “Al Mudil” (the Abaser) would be made manifest.

The human is a compendium of all the Asma (the divine Names) in his intrinsic self but in the open he is a guide to the divine path. Therefore, Allah made Satan the enemy of the human. The Insan e Kamil (the perfect man or the Wali) does not follow anything but the guidance from Allah. Even when he does something wrong, he asks for forgiveness. This is the result of divine guidance. It is a manifestation of the divine attribute of forgiveness.

When an Insan e Kamil (the perfect man, Wali) dies, immediately, another one takes his place so that the world may continue. When there is no Insan e Kamil and Wilayet (the continuity of Awliyah) disappears, the Day of Judgment will arrive.

The angels bowed before the human but this bow becomes a burden on the hapless human even if he is in great numbers. That is because he becomes a follower of Iblis and follows his commands. The angels are under him but they do not prevent him from doing wrong. Similarly, when the human does good, the angels are happy but Satan is unhappy. The footsteps of Satan lead to disbelief and Shirk. In this state, the human retains only his face; in his deeds he becomes an animal and falls into the abyss of Asfala Safileen (the lowest of the low),

Wa Sallallahu Ta’la A’la Khair e Khalqhe Sayyidina Muhammed Wa Ala Alehi Wa Sahbihe Ajmaeen. Be Rahmitika Ya Arhamar Rahimeen. 

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Tanazzulat: (The Descent of Divine) A’lame Amthal (The Realm of Similes)

Book: NOOR UL HAQEEQAT

Author: Shaikh Shah Syed Ismail Qadiri al Multani

Transmitter: Shaikh Badashah Qadiri

Compiled by: Prof. Mevlana Syed Ataulla Hussaini

Translated and condensed from Urdu by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

The fourth Tanazzul is Alam e Mithal (The domain of similarities). This is a subtle bridge-world between Ajsam (entities) and Arwah (the Spirits/ the angels). It is also called Alam e Barzaq (the bridge-world), Alam e khayal (the world of imagination), Alam e Dil (the world of the heart). This is the world of the Spirit. It is a treasure of Light. It is similar to a material treasure in that it can be felt and measured. And it is similar to the treasure of sanctified thought in that it is Light itself. In other words, despite it being measurable and similarity to materiality it is similar to the Spirit because it cannot be broken up, grown or captured.

The reason Alam e Mithal is named as such is that this world is similar to Alam e Ajsam and everything in Alam e Ajsam has a similarity to an entity in Alam e Mithal. Everything makes its first appearance in divine knowledge in Alam e Mithal and is then created in Alam e Ajsam.

There are two categories of Alam e Mithal:

  1. The first is the category whose appearance is not conditional upon mental exertion. It is called Khayal e Munfasil (Separated thought), Mithal e Munfasil (Separated similarity), Mithal e Mutlaq (Unconstrained or independent similarity), Khayal e Mutlaq (Unconstrained or independent thought).
  2. The second is the category whose appearance is conditional upon mental exertion. It is called Khayal e Mutassil (connected or dependent thought), Mithal e Mutassil (connected similarity), Mithal e Muqayyad (constrained similarity), Khayal e Muqayyad (constrained thought).

Alam e Mufassil (the connected world) is a world of subtle existence in which the Ajsam (bodies) receive the Arwah (the Spirits) and the Arwah (the Spirits) receive the body. It is in this world that Hazrath Jibreel (as) appeared before the Prophet as an honored person transmitting the divine message. It is in this world that Khizar (as), the blessed Prophets and the Awliyah appear. Izrael (as) also appears before a dying person in this world and the Ruh (Spirit) moves into this domain after death. The interrogations of Munkir and Nakir and the joys and punishment of the grave are also done in this domain. For this reason, this domain is also called “the domain of the grave”. On the Judgement Day these are the Ajsam (entities) who will be resurrected individually. These Ajsam (entities) will be very subtle. It is in this world that the people of Jannat will enjoy the fruits of their good deeds even though the deeds, as the primary source are absent, their realities will be manifest as treasures. For instance, in the Manfasal (separated thoughts) the bad deeds will appear as scorpians, serpents and fire. Some bad deeds like fornication, even though they give pleasures in this world, will appear in their reality as “fire that burns”.

In this world, deeds appear in different forms. For instance, the good deeds will be like rides (like horses) and they carry the doer towards Jannat. On the other hand, the bad deeds will ride on the person. The good deeds will stand at the station of intervention (Maqam w Shifa) and speak up for the doer. The bad deeds will haunt the doer. Similarly, the deviant beliefs will become fire and burn the heart.

The constrained similarity surfaces when the constraining power acts. Example: The appearances that are seen in dreams.

  1. Sometimes these appearances are in accordance with realities that are present. Such appearances do not require an interpretation or explanation because what is seen reflects what happens. These are (Ru’a-e-Sadiqa) truthful sights. Hazrath Aisha (r) said that in the early stages of his Prophethood, Prophet Muhammed witnessed such truthful sights. In other words, whatever dreams he had, they appeared as if the light of the dawn and whatever he saw had no defect or doubt in it and it did not require an interpretation or elaboration. The truthful dreams are called “Ru’ya e Saleha” (the virtuous sights) “Ru’ya e Sadiqa” (truthful sights) and “mubasshirat” (the good sights).
  2. Sometimes the dreams, even though they are consistent with present realities, appear as something different. These require an interpretation. Therefore, the reality of the appearance will be its interpretation. Example: The Prophet (pbuh) saw knowledge as milk and faith as a Hazrath Ibrahim (pbuh) saw himself slaughtering his son Hazrath Ismael whose interpretation was to slaughter a lamb. 

Then, there are the dreams that require interpretation. For instance, Hazrath Yusuf saw in his dream that eleven stars and the sun and the moon were prostrating before him. The interpretation of the eleven stars were his brothers. The sun and the moon were his father and mother. This portion of the dream was explained. But the prostration did not happen physically; it was allegorical because his brothers, father and mother became dependent on him.Sometimes the faces in the dreams are entirely different from reality. There is no similarity either in wakeful hours or in the hidden world, for instance, the dreams of mad people, patients with mental disease and ordinary folks. This is because the angelic world is higher than the corporeal world in its existence and rank and the help that the corporeal world receives has been delegated to the angels. Because of their essential differences, the corporeal bodes and the angels cannot be one because the one (the body) is the entity that carries the rider and the other (the angel) is the rider. Therefore, God has made Alam e Amthal (the world of similarities) as a bridge between Alam e Arwah (the angelic world) and Alam e Ajam (the corporeal world) so that they two can interact.

Similarly, Ruh e Inani (the human spirit) and Jism e Insani (the human body) are different and camaraderie between the two is forbidden. Therefore, Allah created the Nafs e Haywani (the animalistic self) as a bridge between the spirit and the body. The power that comes with the ruh e haywani gets into different parts of the body according to their capabilities and acts as the “rider” on them. In this respect the animalistic self is similar to the spirit in as much as both are spread out over the entire body and both control the actions of the body (although in opposite directions). 

It is not a secret that the bridge in which the Arwah (the spirit or the angels) live in the afterlife in different from the bridge between the spirit and the body in this world. The stations of existence are different in descent and ascent. The station that was before an entity came into this world is one from the Tanzzulat (stations of descent) which is called “Awwaliyet” (what was there in the beginning). The station after death is one from the stations of exit and is called “Akhira” (what comes after or afterlife).

In Barzaq e Akhir (the bridge of afterlife), faces are appended to the Arwah (the spirits) in accordance with the deeds of this world. This is opposed to the faces in Barzaq e Awwal (the bridge before this life). In their similarity they are one (they refer to the same human) but in their manifestation they become a reflection one of the other. Barzaq e Awwal is called “Ghaib e Imkan” (The hidden that is possible to witness) because it is possible to witness it. The other Barzaq is called “Ghaib e Mahal” (the hidden that is not possible) because its witness is forbidden. The first bridge is unveiled on a large number of people; the second on only a few.

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

TANAZZULAT- (THE DESCENT OF DIVINE GRACE) – A’lam e Ajsam

Book: NOOR UL HAQEEQAT

Author: Shaikh Shah Syed Ismail Qadiri al Multani

Transmitter: Shaikh Badashah Qadiri

Compiled by: Prof. Mevlana Syed Ataulla Hussaini

Translated and condensed from Urdu by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

The fifth Tanazzul is Alam e Ajsam (The world of structures, entities or bodies). It is also called Alam e Shahadat (The world of witness).

The Ajsam (entities) are of two kinds:

  1. ‘Uluyiyat (the higher structures). Examples: Arsh wa Kursi (the divine station and the Throne), the Seven Heavens, the planets and the stars, thunder and lightning, the wind and the clouds. 
  2. Sifliyat (the lower structures). Examples: Elements and compounds such as metals, flora and fauna, animals and the human body.

Similarly, there are other worlds that are in the category of Ajsam (entities) and have structures such as movement and rest, wisdom and foolishness, subtlety and slyness, light and color, sound and smell.     

Reflect that in the world of “A’ma” (non-space or la-makan), after the Universal Intellect and the Universal Soul, the “Hulay e Kulli” (the Universal Reason) was created which is also called “Hiba’”. This is the essence of entities in which Allah has opened the bodies and appearances of the cosmos. They are also called “Anqa” because it can be felt but cannot be seen. Manifestation is granted only to the appearance not to the essence.

The “sphere” that surrounds all of the worlds of Ajsam is the Sphere of the High Throne (the Divine Throne). In the world of ‘Ama (non-space) it is held up by four Angels. What rides this Throne is not a body but Rahman (the Most Gracious). It means there is His manifestation on the Throne. Thus, His Rahmat (Grace) is reflected on all the cosmos. The Grace of God is available to anyone who asks; it has no constraints. Therefore, it is called “Rahmat e Imtenaniya” (Grace or mercy that is not denied to anyone). It is also called “Rahmat e Mutlaqa” (Grace or mercy that is firmly established). Divine Grace is a part of existence so much so that there is mercy even in divine wrath.

Shrouded in the Exalted Throne, there is a hidden entity. It is the seat of divine blessings (Kursi e Kareem). This seat has on it two “steps” of Rahman (the Most Compassionate). One step is mercy, the other is wrath. On this char are angels who are occupied with transmitting the mercy and the wrath to creatures. 

According to Shaikh Syed Meeran Abul Hasan Qadri (May Allah be pleased with him), the manifestation of existence increases as the Tanazzilat descend from one station to the other. He said:

“The manifestation of existence in Arwah (the domain of the angels) is better than the manifestation of existence in the world of meanings (the descriptive world).

The manifestation of existence in Amthal (the divine conceptual domain) is more complete than the manifestation of existence in the world of angels.

The manifestation of existence in Ajsam (the domain of entities) is better than the manifestation of existence in the world of concepts.”

Thus, the manifestation of existence is most complete in the human.

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Tanazzulat: (The Descent of Divine Grace) – A’lam-e-Arwah (The Dominion of Angels)

Book: NOOR UL HAQEEQAT

Author: Shaikh Shah Syed Ismail Qadiri al Multani

Transmitter: Shaikh Badashah Qadiri

Compiled by: Prof. Mevlana Syed Ataulla Hussaini

Translated and condensed from Urdu by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Summary

The Dominion of the Angels (A’lam e Arwah, A’lam e Anwar)

The angels fall into two categories:

  1. “Karrubiyan” (They have no part in the material world. They are always immersed in divine praise)
  2. “Ruhaniyan” (They are actively engaged in the material world)

Sub-categories of the Karrubiyan

  • Aql e Awwal (The First Intellect)  Nafs e Kul (The Universal Soul)Aqlam (They transmit the divine writ)Alwah(They carry out the divine writ)       Jibrael, Mikael, Israfil, Ezrael (The exalted angels)Malaek e Tabiya (The angels who follow)

Subcategories of the “Ruhaniyan”

  • Ahl e Malakut e A’la (family of the higher angels)Ahl e Malakut e Asfal (family of the lower angels)Ruh e Insani (The human spirit)Ruh e Haiwani(The animalistic spirit)

Meethaq e Risalat is the covenant that all the Arwah made with the Ruh of the Prophet (sas) to obey him and follow him. This happened after Meethaq e Rububiyet (The Covenant with the Creator).

KNOW THAT the third descent of divine Grace (or the third fixity) is the manifestation of the Spirit. The Spirit is the essence of bodies and is free of defects. It does not have a shape or form.

The world of the Angels (Alam e Arwah) is also called A’lam e Af’ali (the world of action), Alam e Anwar (the world of Light), Alam e Mujarridat, (the immaterial world), Alam e Mufariq (the separated world), Alam e Malakut (the world of angels), Alam e U’lwi (the angelic world), Alam e Ghaib (the hidden world), Alam e Amr (the world of command), Alam e Ghair Mahsoos (the imperceptible world), Alam e Rabbani (the world of the Suistainer), Alam e Lateef (the subtle world), Alam e Berang (the colorless world).

The angels in the world of Alam e Arwah (the angelic world) are of two categories:

  1. The first category is one which has no part in the planning and execution of events in the material world. The angles in this category are called Karrubiyan.
  2. The second category is one which takes part in the planning and execution of events in the material world. The angels in this category are called Ruhaniyan.

The Karrubiyan are, in turn, divided into two sub-categories:

  • The angels in the first sub-category are heedless of themselves and of the created world. They are steeped in the majesty and beauty of the Creator ever since they were created. These are called Malaek e Maheemeen.  Allah created them in the first ‘ama (non-space) In the Sharia we call them Mala e A’la or Malaek e A’lia.

Then, He created another angel with the same attributes and bestowed upon that angel the knowledge of all things from the beginning till the end. This angel is called ‘Aql e Kul (the universal Intellect), ‘Aql e Awwal (the first Intellect), and Qalm e A’la (the exalted Pen).

Then, Allah created another angel so that the Exalted Pen may teach him all the detailed knowledge. It is called Nafs e kul (the Universal Soul) and Luh e Mahfooz (the Preserved Tablet). Whatever is in it cannot be changed.

There are other angels to whom some knowledge has been given. These angels are ”in between”. They are scribes or Aqlam(“Pens”); they take information from the higher angels and transmit it to the angels below them.

The angels in the lower realm are called Alwah. They are responsible for construction and destruction. The Aqlam keep writing to these Alwah all the time. The sounds of the Pens that the Prophet (peace be upon him) heard during M’eraj ware the sounds of these pens. The Exalted Pen had already finished writing.

  • The angels in the second sub-category of the Karrubiyan are there as a favor from Rububiyet (a favor from the Sustainer). These are called Hujjabil Wahiyet.

In the ‘Ama (spaceless domain), all the angels are lined up and are engaged in their tasks. They cannot leave or exceed their stations. Next to the Universal Reason and the Universal Soul, the Exalted Angels such as Hazrath Jibreel and Hazrath Mikael are waiting in the Exalted Row for Allah’s commands. They cannot be disobedient since they are created that way and are incapable of wrongdoing.

Next are the Malaek e Tab’iya who are responsible for delegated tasks. Some of them are tasked with the production of species, some for provision of sustenance, some for support for physical bodies and some in the documentation of deeds. They are from the categories of the Aqlam and the Alwah. These Alwah are the station of construction and destruction. The wrongdoings that are documented by them are erased by the Grace of the Creator.

Every angel praises Allah with the attribute that it witnesses and this remembrance is performed with the exalted and pure Divine Names.

The Ruhaniyan can also be divided into two sub-categories:

  • In the first sub-category are the angels that are preoccupied with the heavens. They are called Ahl e Malakut e A’la (Family of the Exalted Angels).
  • The second sub-category are the angels who are preoccupied with the earth. They are called Ahl e Malakut e Asfal (Family of Angels of the lower rank).

Millions of angels oversee humankind and many more oversee the material world and the animal kingdom. Every drop of rain has an angel associated with it. Sufis of Kashf (unveiling) maintain that even a leaf cannot fall unless it is with an angel. There is a mention in the Ahidith of some of the angels: Malik al Jibal (the angels of the mountains), Malik ur Reeh (the angels of the winds), Malik ur Re’ad (the angels of thunder), Malik ul Barq (the angels of lightning) and Malik us Sihab (the angels of clouds).

Attributes of the Human Spirit (Ruh e Insani) and the Animalistic Spirit (Ruh e Haiwani)

The human spirit is from the Ruhaniyan.  It is attached without materiality and is a subtlety from the subtleties of the Creator. It is the equivalent of Luh and Qalam (the Tablet and the Pen) and includes them both because the human spirit is the integrated manifestation of all the material entities in creation and of the divine Names. It knows every entity through its interactions with other entities. It acquires whatever knowledge it seeks from the Universal Intellect and the Universal Soul without hindrance even though these two occupy higher stations.

The human spirit is one but it it is fixed in many fixities and it is manifested in many faces. These faces are called Arwah e Haiwani (the animal spirits).  Every human has an animal spirit. Ruh e Haiwani is a subtle entity that acts as a bridge between the spiritual world and the material world. It transforms and appears in every part of the body so that every aspect of it is ingrained in every part of the body. You do not even feel that the animal spirit is something separate from the body.

From every ray of the Universal Intellect (A’ql e Kul) is derived an animal spirit, which is a power in the collection of powers bestowed upon an individual.  It is this power that provides a distinction between good and evil and benefit and loss.

There is another power that emerges from a ray of the Universal Intellect which is the individual soul. It supplies the higher virtues to a perfect body (a person of higher attainment). At the same time, it holds on to the spirit to stay alive and meet the demands of the animalistic tendencies in the body.

One of the powers of the animalistic spirit (Ruh e Haiwani) is Ruh e Shaitani (The satanic spirit) which nudges the nafs towards what is forbidden and satisfy bodily pleasures. There is another power of Ruh e Haiwani (animalistic spirit) which is Quwwat e Malaki (the angelic power). It demands good deeds for the hereafter, commands such deeds and is serves the spirit.

The relationship of the animalistic spirit to the human spirit is like imprisonment to freedom or the simple to the comprehensive.  The animalistic spirit is the body of the human spirit and it is intermingled with it. Ruh e Haiwani) is with all entities. By itself it is bereft of sorrow and pleasure. However, when it is in a body, it loses it acquires the characteristics of sorrow and pleasure.

Ruh e Haiwani (the animalistic spirit) is also a subtle treasure and it is eternal. It is not annihilated with death. When it is separated from the body, it is said that the body is dead. When the Ruh is separated from the body, it becomes a bridge. In other words, it acquires an appearance from a host of similar appearances and does not maintain a connection with a worldly body. In the grave, it is the animal spirit that is interrogated along with Jism e Barzaqi (the body that is in transition) because it (the Ruh e Haiwani) is indestructible and is “eternal” (timeless).

When the body is asleep, the Ruh e Haiwani (the animalistic spirit) travels around. When it returns, it re-enters into every organ of the body. Even though Ruh e Haiwani is with the body, it is so subtle that it can also be with the Arwah (spirits). Shaikh Syed Meeran Warangee has said that even though Ruh e Haiwani is present is large numbers, its appearance and disappearance from individuals is apparent to the A’rifeen (people of inner knowledge), whereas the common folks are unaware of it and become doubtful about it. Some have called the Ruh e Haiwani, “Shakhs e Insani” (the individual human). It is through this individuality that some humans acquire a higher position than others.

Once it comes into existence, Ruh e Haiwani (the animalistic spirit) is never annihilated. In this world it takes on “Jism e ‘anseri” (the individual material body), in Barzaq (between death and resurrection) it takes on “Jism e Barzaqi: (the body of barzaq or the bridge) and in the Akhira (hereafter) it takes on “Jism e Mahshoor” (the body of the Judgment Day).

Ruh e Haiwani is the companion of Ruh e Insani. The perfect human (Insan e Kamil) protects the Ruh from the pleasures of the Nafs and destroys the Ruh e Haiwani under the gaze of Ruh e Insani and witnesses the freedom of Ruh e Insani .

There are differences in the rank of the Awliya in accordance with their ma’rifat (inner knowledge) of the Ruh. The secret is this: There is one Ruh but in terms of its fixity it is many. Every fixity pridyces its own attributes, specific as well as general. Therefore, some of the fixities get caught up in ignorance and fall into the lowest of the low whereas others befriend ‘Irfan (inner knowledge) and reach the level of ‘Aliyun (an allusion from the Qur’an, meaning, highest of the high). The differences in Ma’rifat arise from the capabilities of these fixities.

Summarily, Ruh e Haiwani (the animalistic spirit) is both complete and incomplete, capable of enjoyment as well as suffering in accordance with the conditionality of its fixity. Qalm e Ala and Luh e Mahfuz (The Exalted Pen and the Preserved Tablet) are inherent in Ruh e Insani (the human spirit).

Meethaq e Risalat (The Covenant of the Arwah with the Prophet)

The exalted Ruh of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) is the sublime Ruh which is always with the attributes of knowledge and perfection. He was the prophet in the Alam e Arwah. All the entities in that domain, whether they were perfect or imperfect, have believed in him and all the Arwah (angels) have made a promise that even when his Ruh comes into its worldly existence, they will obey and follow him.  This covenant with the Prophet (Meethaq e Risalat) took place after the covenant with the Sustainer (Meethaq e Rububiyet).

Sadaq Allahu Azeem wa Sadaqa Rasoolehil Kareem. Wa astaghfirullahu Rabbi.  

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Tanazzulat: (The Decent of Divine Grace) – Wahdat

Book: NOOR UL HAQEEQAT

Author: Shaikh Shah Syed Ismail Qadiri al Multani

Transmitter: Shaikh Badashah Qadiri

Compiled by: Prof. Mevlana Syed Ataulla Hussaini

Translated and condensed from Urdu by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Wahdat, the First Descent

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim (In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful)

Allah swt declares:

“I was a hidden treasure (In other words, all the attributes were hidden under the power of His Essence). I willed that I be known. So I created a creation (that would know Me).”

The manifestation of Reality is found in the Tay’unat (fixities) and is witnessed by the A’rifeen (people of inner knowledge). It is witnessed in two ways:

  1. When the Dhat (Essence) descends into Asma (The Divine Names) or Arwayh (The Spirit), the A’rif (person of inner knowledge) first witnesses it and then looks at the state of its manifestation in the Tay’unat (fixities. Then, the Arif witnesses how it is encapsulated in the Tay’unat (fixities), whether the fixities are named or unnamed. This is the witness of the sages of the highest attainment. It was the witness of Hazrath Abu Bakr Siddique (r), as he said:

             “I did not witness anything unless I first witnessed Allah”.

  • The second witness is the perception of the limitless Essence between Tay’un and Tajalli (between fixity and its manifestation) whether it be with witnessing the Essence of the fixity or after witnessing the fixity. This is the witness of Hazrath Utham (r) who said:

                     “I did not witness anything unless I saw Allah with it”.

The fixities of this Reality are limitless. However, they can be grouped into six categories.

  • Two of these categories are hidden because both the Essence and Non-essence are absent from them. Nothing is manifest in its reality in these two hidden categories and no entity has the privilege of manifestation. The first hidden category attains its hidden Tay’un (fixity) from Ghaib (the Hidden). Similarly, the second hidden category attains its hidden Tay’un (fixity) from Ghaib (the Hidden).
    • The next three categories are “Koni” (derived from the verb ‘kun”, the verb to be, which is the divine command for creation).
    • The sixth category embraces all the categories.

The First Fixity, or the First Manifestation of Reality is that He “found Himself” and declared,“I am” (Ana), and all creation came into His knowledge.

It is apparent that the un-manifested cosmos is not separate from Reality. The universe is not separate from the Essence. The Essence has the power and the capability to manifest the cosmos. 

The Essence (dhat) contains all the Asma wa Sifat (the Names and the Attributes of Allah). For instance, the attribute “All-Hearing” (As Samee’) is not separate from “All-powerful” (Al Qadir). In other words, no single divine Name is separate from the other. Multiplicity, whether real or imaginary, is not manifest at the station of Essence. All the worlds are nonexistent here.   

When the Essence found its own Existence, and said “Ana” (I am), then four entities came into being: Dhat al Wajud, Sifat e Ilm, Ism e Noor and Fa’el e Shuhood.

  1. The Existence of the Essence (dhat e wajud). In other words, He “found Himself: by declaring “Ana” (I am). The Essence is by itself the Exisence.
  2. The attribute of Knowledge (Ilm).
  3. Noor or Light. When His Light manifested upon Himself, He was to manifest to Himself. The manifestation is Noor

Some elders have called “Anaya” (the “I” in I am) as the Noor.

  • The act of Witness (Shuhood). In other words, when He saw Himself, He witnessed Himself. This is called Shuhood.

The First Fixity (Ta’yun e Awwal) is also called Wahdata e Haqeeqi, Martabul Jama’ wal Wajud, Martabaye Jamiya, Ahdiyet Jamiya, Ahdiyet Jama’, Muqam e Jama’, Haqeeqatul Haqaeq, Barzaq ul Baraziq, Barzaq e Kubra, Haqeeqat e Muhammadiya, Aql e Awwal, Halm q A’la, Ruh e A’zam, and Tajalli e Awwal.

The Wahdat (Unicity) is worthy of the Dhat. At the position of Dhat , nasoot is not preferred over malakut (which is a station of the Spirit), malakut is not preferred over jabaroot (which is a station of Sifat), and jabroot is not preferred over lahut (which is a station of dhat).

Wahdat has two foundational concepts or ideas (E’tebarat):

  1. Ahdiyet. No concept (idea, thought, notion) is present or absent in this Dhat (Essence).  Looked at from different perspective, the integration (amalgamation) of all concepts (ideas, thoughts, notions, perceptions) is present in this Dhat (Essence). (It should be noted that) all concepts (ideas, thoughts, notions, perceptions) and attributes are associated with one and only one Essence.
  2.  
  3. Wahdiyet.  There are unlimited notions (thoughts, ideas) in this Dhat (Essence). The manifestation of Essence, its existence, its beginning and its presence are related to this idea. This is the Dhat (Essence) that is with all ideas and attributes. Wahed (Unicity) is an evidentiary Name.

There is no “otherness” in these two ideas. The presence or absence of evidence makes no difference to the Essence. 

Wahdat is the Unicity of the Essence which recognizes itself without conditions. It is the first manifestation of Dhat. Ahdat and Wahediyet are its two aspects just as the lover and the beloved are two aspects of love; both would disappear in the absence of love. In the same way, Ahdiyet is above Wahdat and Wahediyet is below Wahdat. Wahdat is like a bridge between the two.

This Wahdat is also called Tajalliye Awwal, Tanazzul e Awwal, Haqeeqatul Haqaeq, Barzaq e Kubra, Asal ul Barasiq, Aw Adna and Alif.

Sadaq Allah u Azeem Wa Sadaqa Rassolehil Kareem.

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

TANAZZULAT – THE DESCENT OF DIVINE GRACE – Wahdiyet

Book: NOOR UL HAQEEQAT

Author: Shaikh Shah Syed Ismail Qadiri al Multani

Transmitter: Shaikh Badashah Qadiri

Compiled by: Prof. Mevlana Syed Ataulla Hussaini

Translated and condensed from Urdu by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

KNOW THAT the third Tanazzul (Wahdiyet) is the third fixity of Reality. In this position, the divine Essence (Dhat) recognized itself with every attribute and capability because the Essence contains in it all the Asma wa Sifat (Names and attributes) whether they are collective or individual. The 99 Names of Allah are revealed at the Tanazzulat of Wahdiyet. At this position, each attribute (Sifat) is different from the other, each Name (Ism) is separated from the other, and multiplicity is exhibited in the created world.

For the sake of clarification, it may be said that the divine Essence (dhat) recognized its own attributes in three ways:

  1. Sifat e dhati: Those attributes that are not dependent on their demonstration. These are called the essential attributes. Examples: life, knowledge, intent, will, hearing, seeing, speech, life, acceptance, self-sufficiency, holiness.
  2. Sifat e Afa’li: Secondly, those attributes that can be demonstrated and whose demonstration depends on their being executed. These are called demonstratable attributes. Examples: procreation, provision of food, taking a life or preserving it.
  3. Sifat e Anfe’ali: Third, those attributes that are accepted as self-evident and are not dependent on their demonstration. For instance, life and death, createdness, sustenance (food and water).

The Sifat e dhati (essential attributes) and Sifat e Afa’li (demonstrable attributes) describe the attributes of the Creator.

The Sifat e Anfe’ali are attributes of the created world. The Sifat e Anfe’ali are also called A’yan e Thabita, Suwwar e Ilmiya, mahiyet, haqaeq e alam, Alam e M’afi, Ummahat e A’lam, Aiyena e haye wajud and A’dem.

The position of Wahdiyet has two relationships:

  1. The relationship “above” it is called “Haqaeq e Ilahiya” (Realities of the divine realm). Their existence is essential.
  2. The relationship “below} it is called “Haqaeq e Kawnia” (Realities of the Created world). Their existence is only possible and contingent.

In between these two relationships is the human.

At the position of Wahdiyet, conceptual multiplicity appears. On the surface, the names, attributes and entitites are many but they are not separated from the one Reality. Some Sufis have said that the multiplicity in the Haqeeq e Ilahiya (the divine real) is only relational, whereas the multiplicity in Haqeeq e Kawnia (the created realm) is real.

The divine Names and Attributes (Asma wa Sifat e Ilahiya) are called Khazaen e Ilahiya (the divine treasures) because every Name and Attribute has hidden in it treasures of divine commandments and divine imprints.

The Suwware Ilmiya ( divine thoughts- divine ideas) do not have an external existence (they remain only divine ideas unless they come into existence by divine command).

The Suwware Ilmiya (divine Knowledge –divine Ideas) have two aspects:

  1. One is that the Divine Ideas are the mirrors of the Reality and the Asma wa Sifat (Names and Attributes of Allah) which are embedded in those mirrors.
  2. The second is that the Reality is itself the mirror of the Divine Ideas and the Reality that is the mirror is hidden behind a curtain.

In this divine position (Wahdiyet), there are two Realities that stand out:

  1. One Reality contains the attributes of self-evidence. Examples are: freedom, action, Unicity, existence of the Essence, exaltedness. This is the mandatory Reality and refers to Allah.
  2. The second Reality contins the attributes of created beings. Examples: boundedness, non-existence, contingent existence. This Reality is one of possibilities and refers to the human and the the created world.

To manifest the Suwware Ilmiya (divine thoughts) that were possibilities (Imkani), Allah created the external world in conformance with His detailed knowledge and in accordance with the capabilities of each creation.

It should not be inferred that Wahdat and Ilahiyet are new names for the Creator (Na’woozu Billah) because not even a hint of the rank of Dhat (the divine Essence) is bestowed upon Wahdat and Ilahiyet. These are explanations and elaborations offered only to foster understanding and faith.

La ilaha Il Allah, Muhammad Rasool Allah. Wa Astaghfirullahu Rabbi wa Atoobu Ilayh.

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Noorul Haqeeqat

Author: Shaikh Shah Syed Ismail Qadiri al Multani

Transmitter: Shaikh Badashah Qadiri

Compiled by: Prof. Mevlana Syed Ataulla Hussaini

Translated from Urdu by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Tannazulat (Descent of Divine Grace)

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim (In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful)

The stations of prayer (hamd), all of them, are only for Allah (swt) who exists by His own essence and has bestowed existence on the cosmos. And Salam and Darood be on our Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) whose Reality is the unity of essence and the core of the cosmos, and upon his family and companions (may Allah be pleased with them) who are the guides for both Shariah and Tareeqa and are masters of Reality (Haqeeqat) and Inner Knowledge (Ma’rifat).  

The Pristine State (Martab e Oola)

KNOW THAT, when there was nothing, neither water nor dust, neither air nor fire, neither the earth nor the sky, neither trees nor stones, no animals – then, there was one Reality that was existent on its own. In Arabic it is called “Huwiyet”. In Farsi it is called “Hastee”. In Dakhni it is called “Hai Pan”. Some elders also call it “Love(Ishq).

This Reality was free of any constraints and its attributes and perfections were hidden. Due to its self-perfection, it was not oriented in any direction. It was present to itself. It was not turned towards “the other” of itself because there was no “other”. All of its attributes were contained within itself. Therefore, at this station, none of its names or attributes were manifest. There was no relationship or increase (or decrease) so that it was beyond any hidden or manifest attribute. At this station, one cannot even talk about the Creator or the created. Some elders have called this station “Allah”. Many of the Sufi masters have called it only an allusion to a Name because there is no limit to language; you can give this Reality any name you want. However, there is no benefit in giving it a name because the intent of giving a name is to understand and teach and here the situation is without “fixity” (ta’yun”). One can neither find this Reality nor understand, see or comprehend it. If this is the situation, then, why use language? It (the Reality) cannot be expressed in words no matter how many names you give it.

That Reality transcends creation due to its Unicity because the essence, by its nature, considers existence and non-existence to be the same. It does not desire to exist and it is not inclined towards non-existence. This (level of) transcendence is specific only to the Essence (dhat). No one, not even a wali (sage) or a prophet can comprehend this Reality at this station because this Reality, due to its primal unfettered freedom, desires not to be known or be constrained (by understanding). It is a compulsion of knowledge that seeks to understand the object of knowledge (which is not possible at this station).

It is therefore futile to investigate the nature of “Essence”. To exert oneself in investigating the “Essence” without recourse to fixities (ta’yunat), names (Asma), attributes (Sifat) and manifestations (Mazahir) is a waste of one’s life. It is reaching out for the impossible. Such inner knowledge (ma’rifat) is forbidden to anyone but Himself.

The cosmos is a vehicle for the reflection of the beauty of the transcendent Reality that lies beyond the cosmos.

That Reality, in its own state, is beyond fixity. No single fixity is appropriate for it. In any given state, it takes on a fixity in accordance with that state. It captures and is captured without being altered in any way.  It is collective as well as individual, common as well as specific, alone as well as multiple. Shaikh al Junaid (may Allah be pleased with him) has said: Al Aan Kama Kaan (Allah is as He was in the Beginning).

This station of Essence is also called Ghaib e Huwiyet (the hidden essence of He), Ghaib al Ghuyub (the hidden of the Most Hidden), Ibtan Kul Batin (the womb of all that is hidden), Huwiyet Mutlaqa (the essential aspect of He), La Ta’yun (non-fixity), Ayn ul Kafur (the essence of the musk), Dhaat e Sazid (the Essence of the most complex), Munqata al Isharat (the limit of allusion), Munqat al Wajdan (the limit of inquiry), Ahdiyate Mutlaqa (the essential Unicity), Mujhul ul Naat (devotional praise for the One who is not known), A’nqa (the priceless jewel), Nuqta (the dot) and Ganje Maqfi (the hidden treasure).

Sadaq Allah ul Azeem. Wa Sadaqa Rassolehil Kareem.

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

TANAZZULAT:  THE DESCENT OF DIVINE GRACE

Book: NOOR UL HAQEEQAT

Author: Shaikh Shah Syed Ismail Qadiri al Multani

Transmitter: Shaikh Badashah Qadiri

Compiled by: Prof. Mevlana Syed Ataulla Hussaini

Translated and condensed from Urdu by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Tanazzulat e Sitta – The Six Descents of Divine Grace  (An explanation for Mehfil e A’shiqan – a gathering of lovers of divine presence)

Introduction

How does God interact with His creation? This question has occupied theologians, philosophers and scientists since times immemorial. For instance, the Nobel Laureate Sherrington wrote in his book Mind and Matter: “Mind, for anything perception can compass, goes therefore in our spatial world more ghostly than a ghost. Invisible, intangible, it is a thing not even of outline; it is not a “thing”. It remains without sensual confirmation and remains without it forever”. (Man and His Nature, Sir Charles Sherrington, Cambridge University Press, 1940, page 357). It is a profound question and it requires a deep understanding to theology, philosophy, physics, history and culture. The Sufis have an answer to this question that is at once aesthetically satisfying and rationally acceptable.

We have presented a summary table that captures the essence of Sufi cosmology. It is translated from Urdu and summarized here from the book Noor ul Haqeeqat (The Light of the Truth) by Shaikh Shah Syed Ismail Qadiri al Multani (May God be pleased with him). Those with a taste of Sufism will savor this piece that connects the human to the Grace of God and explains its descent.

Tasawwuf (Sufism) is the spiritual dimension of Islam. It is a deep ocean, suffused with love. We have included a category of Tasawwuf in our Encyclopedia historyofislam.com because we believe that to understand Islamic history we must understand the spirituality tht pervades it.

KNOW THAT in the beginning there was Divine Existence (Wajud). It was timeless, spaceless, without constraints or definitions. It was the Dhat or Essence of Allah.

The Dhat or Essence of Allah is the innermost hidden treasure of all, known only to Himelf.  Language cannot describe it. Thought cannot comprehend it. Definitions cannot circumscribe it because there is nothing like unto Him (Wa lam yakun lahu kufuwan Ahad).

The stations though which Existence descends from the station of spacelessness (La Makan) to the majestic and beautiful cosmos are called Tanazzulat. It is a descriptive process used by the Sufi Shaikhs to teach and to lead the student towards the love, beauty and majesty of the Creator.

There are six stations of Tanazzulat in Sufi discourse: Wahed, Wahediyet, Arwah, Amthal, Ajsam and Insan. The first four stations are spaceless, timeless. The last two stations are of the physical, created world. (Please note that Ahad is not a station of Tanazzulat. It is the station of Dhat or Essence. It exists, in, of, by itself. There is no comparison with the station of Ahad)

Tanazzul is a specific term used in Tasawwuf (Sufism). In its usage it differs from its grammatical meaning. In a dictionary, Tanazzul means leaving a higher station and coming down to a lower station. For instance, an officer is transferred from one level to another, thereby the first office is made vacant and the second office is filled. But this is not the meaning for the blessed Sufis. They say that Wajud (existence) remains as is. In Arabic we say, Al Aan Kama Kaan (It is as it was ). This sentence connotes something different from what we see and what we imagine. When we say that all the Tanazzulat have descended into what can be witnessed, it means that the Tanazzulat are conceptual, not real.  The Wajud is as it was. It is there, at once, at all stations.

The Tanazzulat are sometimes referred to as Ta’yunat (fixities), Tajalliyat (manifestations), Taqayyudat (descriptive containments) and E’tebarat (trusted notions).

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Ishq wa Husn (Love and Beauty) in Sufi language

Translated and condensed from the book: NOOR UL HAQEEQAT

Author: Shaikh Shah Syed Ismail Qadiri al Multani

Transmitter: Shaikh Badashah Qadiri

Compiled by: Prof. Mevlana Syed Ataulla Hussaini

Translated and condensed from Urdu by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim (In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful)

KNOW THAT Ishq is the highest form of love. It has nine stages:

  1. Irada (intent)
  2. Wala’a (intensity of intent, called wal wala in Urdu)
  3. Sababat (Inclination towards the Beloved)
  4. Shagaf (when the thought of the Beloved is established in the heart)
  5. Hawa (when the thought of anyone other than the Beloved leaves the heart)
  6. Ghram (when the signs of longing begin to show in the body)
  7. Hubb (when the signs of illness brought on by the longing for the Beloved disappear)
  8. Wadda (when longing takes over and the lover is drowned in it)
  9. Ishq (when he distinction between the lover and the Beloved disappears)

At the station of Ishq, the lover sees the Beloved but does not recognize the Beloved. He does not become self-conscious when he beholds the Beloved. He becomes deep, bottomless like the ocean. Transience disappears and permanence takes hold.

It is said about Majnun that Laila tried to start a conversation with him as she passed by him. Majnun replied: “Leave me alone. Let me be steeped with the thought of Laila.” Even though it was Laila who was talking to him, he was oblivious of her. This is the highest station of closeness wherein the A’rif (the knower) declines the very object of his desires. There remains no A’rif or Ma’ruf (knower or known), no lover or beloved. What remains is only love which is the summation of Essence. It is no name or tradition, no praise or attribute.

I am neither a name nor a body,

Neither this nor that,

What a hidden secret I am,

What a covering for the secret I am!

(Jigar)

Upon reaching this station, a lover cries out:

Love is that raging fire kindled by Allah,

Which rises and sets In the inner hearts.

(Shaikh Abdul Karim Jaili)

This couplet is a Sufi allusion towards the Ayah in the Qur’an. It is not a tafseer:

Narullahi Mooqadatul Lati Tattaliwoo A’lal Afyida (Quran: 104, 6-7) (The Fire from Allah, furious in its blaze, which rises up to the hearts)

Love is like a magnetic pull that draws one entity to another. To catch a fleeting view of the beauty and virtue of someone and be drawn to it, the turning of the heart towards the beloved, the desire, the longing, the restlessness, living day and night with the beloved’s thoughts, immersing the body, mind and soul in the longing, suffering the pangs of separation, finding solace in companionship, merging one’s thoughts in the beloved’s thoughts, one’s satisfaction in the beloved’s satisfaction, one’s existence with the beloved’s existence, these are all miracles of love.

If I become you, you become me,

If I am body, you become the soul,

Let it not be said later:

I am separate from you, you are separate from me.

(Amir Khusroe)

Sometimes the seclusion of hills and mountains,

Sometimes the longing of companionship and togetherness,

Sometimes the treasures of the niche and the pulpit,

Sometimes the triumph at Khaiber by Maula Ali

That is Ishq.

(Iqbal)

Summarily, Ishq is the name given to this ultimate phase of love. It is incorrect that the term Ishq is used only for Ishq e mijazi (transient or worldly love). The truth is that the term Ishq has been used in every period for Ishq e haqeeqi (divine love) and pure, unblemished love. Especially, for the blessed Sufis, Ishq is the highest ascent of love. That is why they wash their hands off both this world and hereafter and stand before their true Love. Their tradition of Bismillah starts with giving up the duniya (the material world) and the akhira (the hereafter).

Love is dependent on Ma’rifat (inner knowledge) and Ma’rifat is dependent on love. Love has precedence over Ma’rifat and Ma’rifat has precedence over love. On the surface, this seems contradictory. However, in reality, there is no contradiction. Love is the result of Ma’rifat and Ma’rifat is the result of love. In other words, love does not appear without Ma’rifat and without Ma’rifat, love does not advance In stages. Ajmali Ma’rifat (Ma’rifat in its totality) is a requirement for love. After love, the detailed Ma’rifat is granted as a gift which is a requirement for proximity and meeting with Allah.

Since Ishq is the highest form of love, it has been given only to the human which is the highest form of creation so much so that even the angels are bereft of Ishq. Khwaja Fareeduddin Attar writes:

The angels experience Ishq

They do not experience its pangs,

None but the human is worthy of this pain.

The pangs of love refer to the pain and heartache that a lover feels due to the separation from the Beloved and the intense desire to meet the Beloved. This is only a privilege of the human. The angels are mechanical elements of creation. Their love does not have a tension greater than that of the tension of the elements. The only difference is that the elements are not aware of this tension whereas the angels are.  The pain and suffering of love are absent from them. They do not have the longing for closeness nor the desire for meeting. In contrast, the Ishq that was bestowed upon the human has both pain and suffering. The burning is there in the human, so is eagerness. This Ishq is the fire that burns the heart of the Ashiq (lover) all the time.

Without the Ishq, faith is incomplete. Why? It is so, because, without love one cannot attain Ma’rifat (inner knowledge), and without Ma’rifat how can faith and certainty be complete? Prayer is flawed without Ishq, the Imam is not hadhir (he is not present before Allah), the prayers are without delight, the prostrations are flawed and the dua’s become mere formalities. Prayer is useless without Ishq and without prayer Ishq is fruitless. The service that is rendered with love is a thousand times preferable to  the service that is rendered with fear. Without Ishq, prayer is dry piety and there is no greater distress than dehydrated piety.

Ishq frees you from the sorrows of this world and the hereafter. The dependency of suluk (the path of Tasawwuf) is on Ishq. Love is on this side as well as the other. On one side it is Tuhibbun Allah (You love Allah) and on the other Yuhibbunal Allah (They love Allah). The fire is lit equally from both sides. Mevlana Rumi says:

The body of dust reached the heavens with Ishq,

The mountain swayed and stood transfixed.

Ishq is that burning shoal,

That burns down everything except the Beloved.

Not contained in language and banter is Ishq,

Such a bottomless ocean is Ishq.

If I were to write a tafseer on Ishq,

A hundred Judgment Days will pass but incomplete will be the tafseer.

Ishq is born in the wailings of the heart,

No affliction there is like the affliction of the heart.

The community of love is different from all creeds,

The community and creed of the lovers is nothing but the Divine presence.

When Ishq is the highest expression of love and its most perfect condition, then the residence of love should also be high and elevated palace. That cannot be anything other than the Being of Truth (Dhat e Haq or Allah swt). Dhat e Haq (Allah) is the origin, the reality and the essence of whatever there is in the universe and the extensive beauty and goodness that is found in it.

How magnificent is that beauty that all the universe displays that beauty,

What perfection is it that it is both hidden and manifest,

Whatever I see, I see nothing but You,

By Allah! How dare can anything be but You!

When the existence of reality is one and everything in the universe is a reflection of it, then the reality is this:

You displayed your beauty on the faces of the beautiful,

And you witnessed your drama through the sight of the lovers.

When the arrows of self-perception and self-direction are taking off from the same bow, when the witness and the witnessed, the seer and the seen, the seeker and the sought-after have the same reality then the definition of Ishq in Sufi language is this: It is the collective and individual inclination of True Beauty towards its perfection that begins with the love of recognition of the Essence which some Sufis call the essence of non-fixity.

Sadaq Allah ul ‘Azeem wa Sadaqa Rasoolehil Kareem.

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

The Arrow of Time – Part 2

Reconstruction of a Technological Culture in Islam – Part 2

Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

What is Time?

A familiarity with the theories, assumptions and beliefs about the nature of time is a pre-requite to understanding the disputes between the philosophers and the theologians and bringing about a reconciliation between the positions of al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. Accordingly, we survey the insights about time provided in the Qur’an and also examine the modern perspectives on the subject.

Time as revealed in the Qur’an

Time is a mystery within an enigma within a riddle. It is a secret that no one has been able to fathom. Yet, it forms the very basis of knowledge and of changes in the cosmos. Philosophy, logic, science and history are all based on fundamental assumptions about time.

The mystery of time deepens as we study the various contexts in which it is revealed in the Qur’an:

  • Counted time

The days are counted;
Then, whoever among you is ill, or is traveling,
May complete his fasts later, (Quran, 2:184)

  • Relative time

The Angels and the Spirit ascend to Him in a moment,
Whose measure is fifty thousand years. (70: 4)

  • Timeless time

Has there transpired upon humankind a time
From (the oceans of timeless) Time (ad Dha’r)
When he was not even a thing mentioned? (76:1)

  • Time as a moment

There is a term decreed for every spiritual community.
When the decreed time arrives,
they cannot hold it back one moment
or move it forward (one moment). (7:34)

  • Time as a sequence of changes

O humankind! If you are in doubt about resurrection,
Then (consider this): We did indeed create you from the earth,
Then from a sperm,
Then from an impregnated egg,
Then from a piece of flesh—
With features and without features—
So that We may convey to you (Our Message);
And We establish a pregnancy for a period fixed, as We will,
Then We bring you forth as a baby,
Then, (sustain you) so that you reach the fullness of youth. (22:5)

  • The passage of time (al Asr)

By (the passage of) time,

Verily, humankind is indeed at a loss,

Except such as those who have certainty of faith,
And perform righteous deeds,
And enjoin upon one another Justice (Truth),
And enjoin upon one another Patience (Constancy and Perseverance). (103:1-3)

  • Perceived time

And We struck their ears (made them asleep) in the cave for many years.

Then We woke them up to see which of the two groups remembered

long they had stayed (in the cave). (18:11-12)

  • Time after death -Eternal time

Hearken! Of a certainty, the transgressors shall be in eternal punishment! 42:45

  • Indeterminate time

Every Nafs shall have a taste of death
And it is not until the Judgment Day
That you shall reap the full recompense (for your deeds). (3:185)

  • Prayer time

Establish prayer at the sun’s decline till the onset of the night (17:78)

  • Fasting time

And eat and drink
Until the white thread of dawn
Becomes distinguishable against the darkness (of night).
Then keep your fasts until nightfall. (2: 187)

  • Time for Haj and Umrah

And whoever desires to combine the Umrah with the Hajj,
And cannot find (a suitable gift),
Let him fast for three days during Hajj
And seven days after he returns (from Hajj).
This makes it ten altogether. (2:196)

  • Ageing time

He it is who created you from clay,
Then from a seminal fluid,
Then from an embryo,
Then He brings you forth as a baby,
Then (He sustains you) so that you reach the fullness (of youth)
Then (He sustains you) so that you reach old age,
And among you some die before it,
And (He sustains you) so that you attain an age determined,
And learn wisdom. (40:67)

  • The Day of the Sovereign

Sovereign of the Day of Judgment (1:4)

  • The Judgment Day

So, Allah will decide between them on the Judgment Day.  (4: 141)

  • The Day of Gathering

Allah is He, there is no god but He.
Then He will indeed gather you all together on the Judgment Day

About it there is no doubt. (4: 87)


There can be no doubt that Allah will gather you all together

On the Judgment Day. (6:12)

  • The Day of Self Evaluation

And make us not be ashamed on the Judgment Day.
Indeed, You do not compromise on Your promise.” (3:194)

  • The uncertainty of time

And what conjecture do they have –
They who ascribe a falsehood to Allah –
About the Day of Judgment? (10:60)

  • Time in Hadith e Qudsi

“O son of Adam! Do not abase Time. I am Time (ad Dhahr)”

Modern Concepts of time

What are the modern concepts of time? Do they help us resolve the disputes between medieval Islamic philosophers and theologians?

  • Clock time

Whereas the ancients measured time by sunrise, sunset and the sundial, modern man uses digital clocks and atomic clocks that are accurate to 10-22 seconds. However, the idea is the same: time is an entity that is measured by the relative movement between two other entities: the earth around the sun; the moon around the earth; the earth around its own axis; electrons around a nucleus, and so on. The old yardsticks were days, months and years. In modern astronomy, the distances between stars and galaxies are measured in light years, namely, the time light takes to travel from one entity to another.

  • Relativistic time

Thanks to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and its popularization in fiction and movies such as Star Wars, even a child today is familiar with the idea of relative time. Time compresses as you approach the velocity of light. An astronaut who is travelling at very high speeds would experience time-compression and sense time very differently from someone left behind on earth. Travelling near the speed of time, our astronaut may visit several distant worlds and return to earth in a year (by his reckoning) only to find that all the people he knows had passed away centuries ago.  If you travel at the speed of light, time stands still. If you travel at speeds greater than the speed of light, then it is theoretically possible to travel back in space-time.

  • Absolute time or Newtonian time

According to Newton, “time exists independently of any perceiver, progresses at a consistent pace throughout the universe, is measurable but imperceptible, and can only be truly understood mathematically”. It is also called Newtonian time or “empty-space” time. Although the ideas of relativistic time have shadowed the ideas of absolute time, Newtonian time is a good enough approximation for most physical observations on earth.

  • Biological time

Biological clocks regulate the rhythm of body functions in most mammals. In the human, the brain’s circadian clock regulates the rhythm of sleep. Although such rhythms are not precise and deterministic, the jet lag experienced by long-distance travelers confirms the influence of circadian rhythms.                     

  • Time Perception

Time seems to dilate and spread out when you are bored or when you are uncomfortable such as in a hot room. Similarly, time seems to move fast when you are happy such as when you are in the company of someone you love.

  • Time and the Big Bang

The Big Bang theory is a consequence of the observation that the universe is expanding. Mathematically, an expanding universe collapses to a single point (a singularity) at its origin. It is estimated that our known universe is approximately 14 billion years old. The question is this: Is the Big Bang the origin of time? The answer is bound to be unsatisfactory because it fails to answer the follow-on question: What was there before the Big Bang? This line of enquiry fails to answer the question whether time is “endless” and “eternal” or is finite and has itself an origin “in time”.

A Resolution – Modern views

Having taken a brief survey of the classical as well as modern ideas of time, we are in a position to to revisit the dialectic about cause and effect and the nature of time between two of the greatest minds who graced Islamic history, namely, al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. The controversies had a lasting impact on the development of natural sciences in the Islamic world.   

First, it must be observed that the debate took place in the deductive, “if” “then” paradigm of medieval philosophy. This paradigm has its own built-in assumptions and its own inherent limitations.

Second, the position taken by each of these sages is valid within the assumptions that he makes. The positions break down only when they are examined through the lens of modern empirical and inductive science.

Consequently, a critique of the positions taken by al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd and a reconciliation between them must focus on the assumptions that underlie their positions rather than the positions themselves.

Is Time “eternal”? 

Ibn Rushd, following the logic of Aristotle, held time to be eternal. Al Ghazzali held that time was finite and created. Which position is supported by modern science?

Classical mechanics looks only at marginal, linear changes in time. A pursuit of the origin of time leads us to the Big Bang where space-time become a singularity. Modern science does not answer the question: What was there “before” the Big Bang?

The theory of relativity regards time as flexible and malleable that can be bent and stretched.  The position of quantum mechanics is more subtle. While it regards time as universal and absolute, it postulates that the change in an entity from one state to another is due to the shifting of successive positions of atoms (or subatomic entities).

Both al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd quote from the Qur’an to support their positions. The guidance from the Qur’an is that Allah created the cosmos and He will fold it up on the Day of Judgment.  This suggests that time, as we perceive it, is “finite” and is not “eternal”.

The assumption of the “eternity” of time sets up a trap because such an assumption extends the domain of human reason to all domains that are “not God”. This was the trap that the Mu’tazalies fell into. They were staunch Muwahids with an unflinching faith that God is “Ahad” and there is “none like unto Him”. So, they said that the Qur’an cannot be co-extent with God and placed it in “time”, meaning that it was “created” by Allah. This was repugnant to the ulema. As was pointed out earlier, it proved to be the undoing of the Mu’tazalites. The trap was of their own making. They overextended the reach of human reason to heavenly domains that are beyond space-time (la makan). The lesson from history is that reason, noble and sublime as it is, has its limits and breaks down in heavenly domains.  

Cause and effect in nature

Al Ghazzali held that cause and effect were not a necessary consequence of the one from the other. His accepted the Ash’ari view that time moved in discrete, atomistic steps and at each discrete step the will of God intervened as the cause for an effect.  He held that only God was the efficient cause and He caused all events either through direct intervention or through intermediaries (angels).

Al Ghazzali went one step further and advanced his own theory of heat transfer. He postulated when cotton is brought into contact with fire, the application of fire and the change of cotton from fiber to ashes take place “side by side”. This was a masterful philosophical statement; however, it was unsupported by empirical evidence.

According to our current scientific understanding, the heat transfer from the fire (hot gases) to the cotton (cellulose matter) is the cause of the “burning” (a phase change from cellulose matter to ash). Obviously, the philosophers and the theologians of the day were unaware of the concepts of energy and heat transfer. They were unaware that fire was energy that can be transferred to physical bodies forcing a change in their structure. Note that the modern position does not compromise the omnipotence of God since the fire, as the agent of burning, and the cotton, as the object that is burned, are both created to be so by God. God is Musabbib al Asbab (the cause for all causes, or, the ultimate cause).

The cause-and-effect philosophy, as formulated by al Ghazzali, made it impossible to formulate theories of natural phenomenon based on observation and experiment (“habit” as al Ghazzali termed it). The pursuit of natural science suffered. If one were to accept Al Ghazzali’s theory, airplanes cannot fly, automobiles cannot run, carts cannot move, electricity cannot be generated, transistors stop. In other words, it is impossible to acquire any positivistic knowledge which is built on cause and effect, logic and reason.

In contrast, Ibn Rushd held that cause and effect constituted a basic aspect of the natural law and formed the foundation of human reason. He held that events take place in accordance with cause and effect and that the will of God was axiomatic and built into the laws of cause and effect.

Islamic civilization made an error in misunderstanding the teachings of Al Ghazzali. His denial of (the necessity of) causality and his position that events happen according to their taqdeer was misunderstood by Muslims as pre-destination. This interpretation side-lined the principle of natural causality which forms the foundation of modern technological civilization and empirical science.  It was a fatal error.

There is no empirical evidence to support the thesis (as al Ash’ari proposed circa 900 CE which was adopted by al Ghazzali) that time is digital, discontinuous and can be divided into atomistic parcels. It is merely a philosophical pre-supposition, a concept, an idea, a theory.

In classical mechanics, time appears as a measure of change that occurs as a result of an action by an entity. Quantum mechanics becomes fuzzy on ideas of time, or more precisely, on the arrow of time. It admits that time can be measured in quanta, perhaps as small as 10-22 seconds. When a change occurs, the subatomic particles in an ensemble move from one state to another. As to why they move to a new position in a predictable manner is a mystery; statistically, they could have moved to an entirely different configuration (which could result in an entirely different “future”). The quantum model may serve to accommodate the appearance of miracles as events that are nominally a violation of repetitive and predictable outcomes of events but which are statistically possible.

Classical mechanics, which forms the basis of modern technological civilization, is built on assumptions of natural cause and effect. Empirical evidence, reason, algorithms, logic and extrapolation form the accepted chain-links in the advancement of modern science and technology.

Modern science does not insist on mechanical causality. It only affirms that on a statistical basis, a cause produces an effect with a probability so high that it can be considered a near certainty. 

The question of miracles

Miracles are events that contradict the expected outcomes based on cause ad effect.

Al Ghazzali held that the occurrence of miracles can be accommodated only if the necessity of cause and effect is discarded. This position needs to be modified in the light of our advanced knowledge of physics and statistics. Modern approaches of statistical mechanics may offer a possible way to explain miracles. In this approach, an event is an ensemble of zillions upon zillions of mini-events that are happening in the cosmos. It is conceptually possible to admit that the nett outcome of these seemingly unlimited number of concurrent events could be one that is contrary to its expected value, and that would be a miracle. The occurrence of a miracle can be accommodated in classical mechanics by adding “inshallah” to an expected event. Such a position is in accordance with the guidance from the Qur’an.

Classical mechanics deals only with questions of when and how (space-time) of marginal changes in nature; it does not concern itself with questions of who and why, or the primal origins of time. These questions are important.  Indeed, they form the core of our search as human beings as to who we are and why we are here. However, they are beyond the capabilities of reason and are left to other modes of acquiring knowledge and other disciplines such as Tasawwuf, theosophy and faith. As an example, no amount of rational argumentation can explain what love is, whereas the heart can grasp it with immediacy.

The distinctive character of positivistic knowledge is that it opens up avenues for the human to attain his potential through an exercise of reason. It enhances material welfare through innovation, shields the human from debilitating poverty, protects life by enabling effective means of defence, provides a bulwark against disease and hunger through medical research and agricultural advancement. Indeed, it opens up the possibility (just a possibility) of heaven on earth. It is a fulfilment of God’s promise to the human: “And We have subjected to you all that is between the heavens and the earth”. Science is not just a nice appendage to a society; it is essential for the very survival of a society.

Is the human the “Architect” of his/her own “fate”?

The aforesaid discussions enable us to answer the question: Is the human the “architect” of his/her own fortune? The Qur’an asserts: “We have fastened the fate of every human around his own neck”. This Ayah would suggests that indeed, the human is responsible for what he becomes. How can this be accommodated in the overarching omnipotence of God?

The reasoning is complex and involves an interplay between theology, faith, science and mathematics. To make our reasoning understandable, we have illustrated it with a diagram.

Illustration: “Allah has fastened the fate of every human around his own neck”, The Qur’an

Life is a construct of events and choices. Let us consider a moment in the life of an individual. In the diagram, the tip of the arrow A represents a moment. At each moment, the individual is faced with making choice. Each of these choices is offered to the individual by divine decree. In the illustration, the individual concerned has choices B,C,D,E,F,G and H. Each of these choices creates a new future and takes the individual in a different direction.

In this illustration, the individual makes choice F. The tip of the arrow F is his “fate” that he has discovered.

In the new situation, represented by point F, the individual is again offered multiple choices. Each of these choices is a divine decree. Of all these choices, he choose alternative J. The tip of the arrow J determines the second point in the “fate” of the individual.

One can see that the human, through his choices offered to him among an infinite number of choices offered by divine decree, “creates” his own future. However, the outcome of each choice is a moment of divine intercession.

One can, therefore, plot the sequence of operations that result in an action and the sequence of actions that result in the flow of life: intent, choice, will, action, outcome of an action. It does indeed resemble the movement of a fish in the ocean.

“Time is like the movement of a fish in the ocean”, Grand Shaikh Abdullah Daghestani (d 1972, Russia). Chain of Transmission: Grand Shaikh Mohammed Nazim al Haqqani al Qibrisi (Turkey and Cypress, d 2012)

The human is responsible for his/her intent, choice, will and action and he faces divine judgement for the intent in his heart, the will in his mind and his “a’mal” (actions). However, the choices that are offered to him as well as the outcome of actions are not under his control; they are in God’s hands. Man proposes; God disposes. You can sow a seed but whether it grows into a mighty tree or withers out and becomes dust is the will of God. There is cause and effect in nature but it is not deterministic and mechanical; it is statistical and probabilistic. That is why the Qur’an emphasizes that when we assert something relating to the future, we end it with the “inshallah”(if It is the will of God).

This explanation satisfies the criteria for man’s freedom to choose and action, his limited free will as well as God’s omnipresence and omnipotent. Yes, man is the architect of his own fortune but that fortune is one among countless number of fortunes that Allah offered him. The individual chose but one of those fortunes and “discovered” his own destiny that was in the “mansha’” of God.. 

Why did the Islamic civilization choose al Ghazzali over ibn Rushd?

Several reasons may be advanced as to why the Islamic civilization chose al Ghazzali over ibn Rushd.

  • Al Ghazzali was on the winning side of a long debate between theology and philosophy in Islam. The theologians (usuli ulema) had triumphed over the philosophers (the Mu’tazalites) at the Abbasid courts in Baghdad in 846 CE. Thereafter, philosophy had continued as a peripheral intellectual activity to the central core of theology. Great philosophers did emerge but the Muslim body politic continued to look askance at their work and they did not find the same level of acceptance or veneration as the greats of theology. The triumph did not insulate the theologians from the continued challenge of philosophy and they continued to innovate and defend their positions using the same rational methods that the philosophers used. The contribution of al Ash’ari must be looked at from this perspective. He advanced his theory of atomistic time to explain how God’s will interjected itself at every moment to determine the outcome of an event. Al Ghazzali rode on the shoulders of al Ash’ari and delivered a severe blow to the pursuit of philosophy going so far as to accuse the philosophers of blasphemy and kufr for some of their views.  
  • Al Ghazzali wrote the Tahaffuz al Falasafa under the patronage of the mighty Seljuk sultans. He continued to enjoy their goodwill throughout his life. By contrast, ibn Rushd’s relations with the al Mohad Emirs in Cordoba, Spain had a bumpy ride. He was patronized by the Almohad Emir Abu Yaqub (d 1184) but later fell out of favour with the Cordova court.
  • The teachings of Al Ghazzali were spread far and wide through the string of colleges and madrassas established by the Seljuk grand vizier Nizamul Mulk, who was himself an admirer of al’Ash’ari.  A truncated Nizamiya syllabus is taught in some of madrassas of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan even to this day. Ibn Rushd had no such good fortune. Under pressure from the ulema, he was tried in a tribunal for his views, his books were burned and he was banished from the Andalus for a while.
  • The bulk of Spain was lost to the crusaders soon after the death of Ibn Rushd (d 1198). By 1248, Cordoba as well as Seville were under Christian control. By contrast, the vastness of Asia protected much of it from the onslaught of the Crusaders upon Palestine and Syria. Al Ghazzali passed away in 1111 CE. For more than a hundred years, the madrasas in Nishapur, Esfahan, Samarqand, Bukhara, Ghazna and Kabul continued to thrive and spread al Ghazzali’s teachings until the Mongol invasions in 1219.
  • The Islam that emerged after the Mongol devastations (1219-1301) was a Sufi Islam, more inward looking, focused on inner reformation and purification. The teachings of al Ghazzali were more in tune with this esoteric, inward-looking Islam than the exoteric, reason-based teachings of ibn-Rushd. Indeed, al Ghazzali was a master of Tasawwuf and is credited as the scholar who gave a respectable position to Sufism within orthodox Islam.
  • Lastly, it was the sheer power of al-Ghazzali’s dialectic and his scholarship that won the day. He was not only a great scholar, a theologian par excellence, he was also a master of the school of kalam which emerged after the Mu’tazalite period.

In summary, history and geography both favoured al-Ghazzali. When he wrote his Tahaffuz al Falasafa in 1095, the dialectic between theology and philosophy in Islam was already three hundred years old and it had been won by the theologians. Al Ghazzali’s work was the summation of that dialectic and its last chapter.

Why did Europe choose ibn Rushd?

Europe came upon Greek rational philosophy in the thirteenth century through a translation of classical Greek works from Arabic into Latin. There was no convulsive confrontation between theology and philosophy in Europe as there was between the Muta’zalites and the usuli ulema in the Islamic world in the eighth-ninth centuries. The writings of Thomas Aquinas (1274) scuttled the debate by separating church dogma from rational philosophy. The result was that Europe embarked on a secular path. Science, technology, sociology and history were separated from religion. Matters of faith were confined to the walls of the church. This separation continues to this day. As a consequence, modern man, having internalized the assumptions that underlie western civilization, finds himself in a soulless, godless world. God was taken out at the first gambit. Modern man cannot put Him back in the end game.   

Construction of a Technological Culture in the Islamic world

History is like tarnished silver. It needs constant scrubbing to bring out the polish and remind us how beautiful its nascent shine can be.

The construction of a technological culture in the Islamic world must begin with a deconstruction of historical narratives and a fresh start based on the primal source, namely, the Qur’an.

Present day Muslims stand on the shoulders of giants. Great were the personages who graced Islamic history since that sublime moment when the Light of Muhammed (pbuh) illuminated the world. Their legacy continues to guide us.

However, it must be remembered that those who came before us struggled in the context of their times. Their contributions, great in their impact, were nonetheless limited by their knowledge of the physical and the assumptions they made in developing their cosmology. While they created giant footsteps on the sands of time, they also left behind a good deal of dust that needs clearing up. 

Consider the Shia-Sunni split. It has its basis in history. The Suhaba disagreed on how to carry forward the legacy of the prophet after his death. The result was a wide chasm which continues to divide the global Islamic community even to this day. Does the Shia-Sunni schism have its sanction in the Qur’an? No. It ought to be relegated to the pages of history so that the community can reaffirm the brotherhood established by the Prophet.

Similar is the case with kalam and philosophy. In the eighth-ninth centuries Islamic theology had a broadside encounter with Greek philosophy. It was a brutal confrontation. Theology won the contest and philosophy was sidelined. But the tailwinds of the clash continued to haunt the Islamic intellectual landscape. Empirical science appeared as a sequel to philosophy and made its mark on world history. But its practitioners, giants like al Khwarizmi, ibn Sina, al Razi did not gain the kind of acceptance in the Islamic body politic as did theologians like al Ash’ari and al Ghazali.

It is in this context that we have to examine the dialectic between al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. While their positions were valid within the paradigms they assumed, there are fundamental problems with some of their assumptions.

A Deconstruction

  • The Mu’tazalites assumed that time was eternal. There is no evidence to support this position. Our current knowledge takes us only to the Big Bang and the origin of the known universe, which is about 14 billion years old. The universe has a determined life span; everything in it does.
  • The Ash’arites assumed that time was discrete, digital, discontinuous, atomistic. There is no evidence to support this position. We simply do not know what time is. We can make assumptions about it and each assumption leads to its own world-view.
  • Al Ghazzali postulated that cause and effect take place “side by side”. There is no evidence to support this lofty but vague philosophical assertion. It is contrary to the laws of mechanics and the laws of energy transfer.
  • Al Ghazzali also postulated that fire was a “dead body”. Far from it. Fire is energy and it is energy that propels the universe.

A deconstruction of historical narratives is therefore essential before a construction of an alternate vision of natural science and technology is constructed. The basis for this reconstruction is guidance from the Qur’an. It requires discarding the assumptions of “eternal time”, “atomistic time”, “side by side” as applied to cause and effect, even if such assumptions were held by the giants of Islamic history like al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. History is a teacher. History is not a tyrant. The Islamic psyche must be unshackled from the tyranny of history. 

The Islamic body politic, which is now held in ransom by shackles of history, must be freed to follow the Qur’an and the Seerah of the Prophet. The Qur’an offers a lofty vision of the human who is endowed with a body and a mind to interact with nature, a heart to feel divine presence and a soul to sift through right and wrong.

Reconstruction of a Science and Technology Culture in Muslim Societies

As we undertake a reconstruction of a science and technology culture in Muslim societies, we must be aware of the assumptions we made and enumerate those that we discard.

We discard the following assumptions that were made by the medieval philosophers:

  • Time is eternal
  • Time moves in discrete steps
  • Cause and effect are not necessary. They occur “side by side”
  • The human has no free will and is not responsible for his actions
  • The human has unfettered free will and is autonomous.

Positions we accept, consistent with guidance from the Qur’an:

  • God is the sole Creator. He creates from nothing. He is the First and the Last. His Grace pervades all creation and is not absent from it for a single moment.
  • He has created the vast and majestic cosmos for a purpose and that purpose is to know, serve and worship Him. Serving God connotes serving His creation.
  • The cosmos has a dynamic balance which is reflected in a dynamic balance and justice on earth.
  • Every atom in the universe obeys His laws “willingly”. These are the natural laws.
  • God repeats His creation and establishes patterns therein so that it becomes comprehensible.
  • Every entity in the universe is endowed with attributes (properties) with which it is known and recognized and which determine its behavior.
  • Cause and effect are ubiquitous in nature.
  • The immediate cause and effect we observe in nature do not violate the doctrinal statement that God is musabbib al asbab (the Ultimate Cause of all causes).
  • The cosmos has a beginning and an end.
  • Change is continuous.
  • Time is only a measure of change.

Regarding the human, we accept the following assumptions that are consistent with the guidance from the Qur’an:

  • The human, as the khalifa of God on earth, is endowed with the sublime faculty of reason.
  • Nature opens up its secrets to reason and is subservient to it. 
  • The human is gifted with a heart, a Nafs ( soul) and a Ruh (spirit).
  • The human is a knower and has a propensity to know. He was taught “the names” of all entities at his creation.
  • The human has the freedom (iqtiar) in his intent, choice and action and is responsible for his intent, choice and act.
  • The outcome of an action follows God’s laws and is not necessarily under human control.
  • God has sent divine guidance through His Messengers to guide the human make the right choices.

The following inferences follow from our assumptions:

  • Reason is the key that unlocks the secrets of nature. 
  • The human “discovers” his future through his own choice.
  • His choices mark the limit of his free will.
  • The choices offered to a human at any moment are limitless and are created by God.

Empirical science and technology are based on observation, experimentation and reason.

The laws upon which science and technology are based are the laws of nature which constitute the Sunnah of Allah. Nature obeys divine laws based on God’s wisdom and justice and is amenable to understanding through reason. Divine grace is never absent from these laws. This self-evident truth needs no confirmation by philosophical discourse.

The Qur’an affirms again and again the primacy of reason in the created world, urging the human to witness, reflect and apply reason to understand nature (science), use the knowledge so acquired for human welfare (technology) and discharge his heavenly mandate as khalifa on earth to serve God (theology) and His creation (environment and ecology).

To enable him to discharge this mandate, God has bestowed upon the human faculties in addition to reason, namely, a heart to perceive the unseen world, a soul to sift through right and wrong and a spirit to connect him with Divine presence.  The Qur’an thus offers guidance to the human through the body, the mind, the heart, the soul and the spirit. The knowledge acquired through these means constitute the totality of human knowledge, ilm ul ibara (knowledge that can be taught), ilm ul ishara (knowledge that can be alluded to but cannot be taught) and ilm al ladduni (revealed knowledge that comes down through the Prophets).

Natural science is implicit and explicit in the Qur’an. The human is urged again and again to know God (that is, to know His Names and attributes) through the Signs in His creation.

Let us illustrate how cause and effect unfold in nature and how they form the basis of science.

An Example: The Wonder of Flight

أَوَلَمْ يَرَوْا إِلَى الطَّيْرِ فَوْقَهُمْ صَافَّاتٍ وَيَقْبِضْنَ مَا يُمْسِكُهُنَّ إِلاَّ الرَّحْمَنُ إِنَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ بَصِيرٌ

Do you not observe the birds
With their wings spread above them,
And (birds with wings) folded up?
None can hold them up (in dynamic equilibrium) except the Most Compassionate;
Indeed, He is the Seer of all things.   Surah al-Mulk, (67:19)

The wonder and awe of nature defies description. No matter which direction you turn, there are Signs for the majesty of the Creator. 

An appreciation of the subtleties of this Ayah requires a mastery of several disciplines: aerodynamics; ornithology; structural mechanics; oxygenation; energy transfer; guidance, navigation and control, to name but a few. There are wondrous Signs in nature, if only we knew how to look and how to ask the right questions.

We present the bar-tailed godwit as an illustration for the tafseer of this Ayah. It is a tiny bird that migrates every year from Alaska, northwest of Canada, to New Zealand, deep in the southern Pacific Ocean. It flies about 7000 miles (11000 kilometers) without stopping anywhere. Sometimes, it flies West to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia and then south to New Zealand. At other times it takes an alternate route South to the Pacific Islands and then further South to New Zealand.

How can a small bird fly 7000 miles without stopping anywhere? How does it navigate and find its destination when there are no landmarks? How does it fly at night? Where does it get its in-flight food and sustenance from? How does it keep warm when the outside temperature is close to zero?

We offer three alternative approaches that may be used to develop answers to these questions: (1) by a believing scientist (2) by a secular scientist (3) a fatalist.

A believing scientist would start with Bismillah. He would recognize that an understanding of the flight of a bar-tiled godwit bird requires a mastery of several disciplines: aerodynamics; ornithology; structural mechanics; oxygenation; energy transfer; guidance, navigation and control, to name but a few. There are four known forces in nature: gravitation, electromagnetic, weak atomic and strong atomic. The first two are relevant in this case. The last two are not. The scientist would study in detail the air currents, temperatures, pressures, moisture, electrical storms and other weather conditions along the flight trajectory. He would also study the physical characteristics of the bird: weight, size, shape, flight feathers and control feathers. He would experiment and know something about the neural networks and sensors in the bird and their electromagnetic characteristics. He would write algorithms and equations, with clearly articulated assumptions, for the dynamics of flight of this tiny bird. He would analyze and obtain some insights to the questions raised. For many of the questions, there may be no answers with our limited current knowledge base. The believing scientist would table such questions for continued research. At each stage of his research, he would marvel at God’s creation with awe and wonder and cry out: Subhan Allah! The experience would reinforce his faith and take him closer to God who created this tiny bird that has so much to teach the human.

A secular scientist would go through the same process and arrive at the same conclusions except that he would not start with Bismillah nor would he end with Subhan Allah. His experience would be like a ladder that dangles in the air, neither firmly grounded on earth nor reaching up to heaven, but suspended in doubt and dissatisfaction.

A fatalist would not ask any of these questions. He would simply say: it is the work of God and go to sleep.

Muslim scientists in the classical era of Islam fell into the first category. They were guided by the light of the Qur’an, witnessed God’s creation in all its splendor and learned from the Signs they saw therein. Modern day Muslims fall into the third category. Having lost their way through the labyrinth of history, they turn their backs on science and circle around in orbits of fatalism.

Moving Forward

“Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves”. The development of a scientific and technological culture in Islam, must come from within. Elements of this transformation include:

  • Discard Historical prejudices. Apply the Qur’an.

Discard notions that are a product of history but have no basis in the Qur’an or the Sunnah of the Prophet. A cup must be empty before milk is poured into it. Specifically, assumptions about time, cause and effect which have accrued as a result of the clash between philosophy and theology in medieval times must be discarded.

  • Train the clergy

So pervasive is the influence of the clergy in the Islamic world that no reformation can succeed without their support. The Shaikhs, Mullahs and Molvis have a hold on the masses which can only be the envy of even the most successful political leader.

The historical record of Islamic clergy is less than illustrious on questions relating to science and technology. While the sordid story of Galileo and the Latin church is well known, that of the Islamic religious establishment is glossed over.  At critical moments in Islamic history, it was the religious establishment that put the brakes on scientific and technological progress. Here are a few glaring examples:

  • After the Caliph al Mustansir disowned the Mu’tazalites (746 CE), the usuli ulema applied the whip to ensure that any vestiges of Mu’tazalite influence were wiped out. The pursuit of philosophy continued thereafter but only as a peripheral activity to the religious center.
    • Secondly, it was the ulema who opposed the introduction of the printing press into the Islamic world (1460 CE), a decision that was directly responsible for the educational backwardness of the Islamic world. It was not until 1728 that the printing press was introduced into the Ottoman empire. It was introduced into the Mughal empire even later.
    • Lastly, it was the ulema who forced the Ottoman Caliph Murad III to demolish the newly constructed Taqiuddin Astronomical Observatory (1575) in Istanbul because they suspected that the work of the observatory was against Islamic teachings.

A suspicion of science as a secular pursuit that takes the human away from God persists to this day among a significant section of Muslim religious establishment. The shaikhs, mullahs and molvis simply do not understand science or technology. What they do not understand, they suspect and oppose, unless that technology personally benefits them.

The Islamic world would benefit a great deal if training centers are established to teach the shaikhs and mullahs in the basics of science and technology. The goal is to mitigate the suspicion and opposition of the clergy to science and technology by exposing them to the assumptions, processes and benefits that underlie the natural sciences and show that their pursuit i consistent the guidance from the Qur’an.

  • Impart Mass Education

There exists a vast network of schools and madrassas purporting to teach religion (Deeni Ta’leem as it is called). India alone is estimated to have 30,000 madrasas. Pakistan has half as many. Primary instruction in these institutions is through rote learning. Secondary education includes memorization and hadith. At the advanced grades, the curriculum is a hangover of the Nizamiya syllabus from the twelfth century and includes a study of Fiqh, a history of the early Caliphs and rudiments of medieval philosophy.

With a minimal effort, these institutions can be transformed into agents of change towards a scientific and technological culture. In addition to the sciences of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, a basic exposure to science, math and technology would pay rich dividends. A change in syllabus is long overdue.

  • Develop critical thinking as it applies to questions in natural science and technology.

God created the universe and gave its key to the human. That key is reason. Nature yields what you demand from it. A critical, questioning attitude towards nature is required for this process. The Muslim scientists in the classical era excelled in their questioning and unlocked the secrets of the heavens (astronomy), elements (chemistry), plants (agronomy), cures for diseases (medicine) and natural structures (geometry). Such an attitude is a part of Ijtehad ordained by God. It was only in the later centuries that the clergy limited Ijtehad to personal minutia (such as whether a moustache is halal or haram) or totally abandoned it in favor of taqleed.

  • Experiment

Cultivate a passion for experimentation in science and technology, coupled with an acceptance of results that are consistent even if they refute established and entrenched dogma.

As ibn al Arabi said: “Feehi ma feehi”. A thing is what it is. If a baseball that is hit shatters a brittle glass panel, we must have the integrity to say that the efficient (immediate) cause of the shattered glass is the momentum from the baseball. Cracks propagate because of stress. Earthquakes are caused by movement of geological plates. Airplanes fly because of airfoil design and fall because of wind shear.  These statements in no way compromise the omnipotence of God who is musabbib al asbab. It is understood that man’s innovative capabilities are bestowed by God. The scientist’s quest is a search for the Sunnah of Allah in nature. He asks the questions: How? What? He marvels at his discoveries and he uses them for the benefit of man and to serve God and His crreation.  (wa Saqqara lakum ma fis samawati wal ard- And I have subjected to you whatever is in the heavens and the earth).

  • Political will and commitment

Revolutions require political will and commitment. The influential strata of society, the governments, the clergy, the intelligentsia, the industrialists and bankers need to make a commitment for such a positive transformation. A change in mindset is a pre-requisite. The economies of Muslim countries need to shift from resource base (oil, gas, agriculture, minerals, gems) to knowledge base. Technological and scientific education is the key. A single silicon chip is more valuable than a hundred barrels of oil.

Some Concluding Words

What moves the modern world is technology. It influences the way we do our work, how we relate to each other and to nature. It is the modulator of human behavior, art, philosophy, economics, politics and culture.

As we move forward, the world is increasingly segregated into two segments: those who have access to technology and those who do not. The first group will rule the world. The second group will serve the first group.

Technology is not just a nice thing to have. It is not just to have mobile phones, TV, cars and airplanes. It is not just for national defense although technology has a major impact on defense. Technology is necessary for the very survival of a civilization.

Islamic civilization is at a cross roads. One road leads to security and prosperity based on science and technology. This is the road that the Shariah commands the human to take and for which the Qur’an provides guidance. The other road is one of ignorance, poverty, servitude and ultimately, extinction.

Islamic civilization has locked itself in a self-made prison and has shackled itself in chains of misconceptions about the human and the universe that he lives in. These misconceptions arise from a burden of history.

It is time the Islamic civilization unshackled itself. Ash’arite philosophy, assumptions about mysteries of time, rejection of causation are burdens of the past. A scientific and technological culture unshackles these burdens. The keys to unlock these shackles are in God-given Aql (reason). However, unlike secular man who has left God in the church and assumes that his reason is autonomous, the Muslim scientist exercises his reason as a divine gift to which the God’s creation opens its doors. The keys are in the Qur’an, which beckons the mind towards Signs of Allah, shows the broad, open highways to the physical (seeing, hearing, touching, speaking), ennobles the heart with the Light of Divine Names and guides the soul to avoid the pitfalls of disbelief.  How marvelous a world that is! Subhan Allah!

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

RECONSTRUCTION OF A TECHNOLOGICAL CULTURE IN ISLAM

Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Summary

This article achieves two things: It reconciles taqdeer with tadbir and it reconciles al Ghazzali with Ibn Rushd. This has seldom been attempted before.

History can be a teacher or a tyrant. In 1095 CE, Imam Al Ghazzali, one of the most influential theologians in Islamic history, wrote in his treatise Tahaffuz al Falasafa (Repudiation of the Philosophers): “The connection (iqtirân) between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary (darûrî), according to us…(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Historians have long contended that this apparent refutation of cause and effect served as an effective force field blocking the advancement of science and technology in the Islamic world. Al Ghazzali’s position was challenged by Ibn Rushd (d 1198) who emphasized that cause and effect were the very basis of reason that held together the edifice of human knowledge.

Islamic civilization chose al Ghazzali over Ibn Rushd, while Europe chose Ibn Rushd over al Ghazali. As a result, Europe moved ahead in science and technology. The Islamic world, which at one time led the world in the natural sciences, lost its advantage and became subservient to Europe.

In this essay, we examine the historical context of this epic debate and offer a reconciliation of  the two positions.  Our approach is based on guidance from the Qur’an. Such a reconciliation is essential for creating a scientific and technological culture in the Islamic world.

Nothing less than the survival of Islamic civilization in an increasingly technological world hinges on such a reconciliation.

The discussion involves a confluence of philosophy, theology, kalam, empirical science, quantum physics, statistics and history and at times becomes highly cerebral. We have attempted to simplify the concepts and document our observations for those who come after us.  It will also be available on www.historyofislam.com.

The distinctive character of positivistic knowledge is that it opens up avenues for the human to attain his potential through an exercise of reason. It enhances material welfare through innovation, shields the human from abject and debilitating poverty, protects life by enabling effective means of defense, provides a bulwark against disease through medical research and mitigates hunger and starvation through agricultural advancement. Indeed, it opens up a possibility (just a possibility) of heaven on earth.

Introduction

We live in extraordinary times. These are times when humankind has conquered space and searches for life on other planets. Giant telescopes seek to unlock the very origin of the known universe. Terms such as space travel, the Theory of Relativity and the Big Bang have entered into common discourse. Machine learning and robotics drive the cutting edge of technology and seek to replace human reasoning with artificial intelligence. Nano-technology unlocks the secrets of cellular biology and beckons us to a world of engineered DNA. Indeed, we are now headed into a post-human world in which the very essence of being human is challenged.

While technology drives human civilization, the Islamic world is bogged down with pointless disputes about beards, clothes and coverings. By every yardstick, be it primary education or the number of scientific papers published in respectable journals, the Islamic world lags behind the technologically advanced world. What is more significant is that the gap between Muslim societies and the technologically advanced societies is increasing at an alarming rate. The result is illiteracy, ignorance, abject poverty, cultural bankruptcy, social stagnation, technological marginalization, political and military impotence.

How did this happen? How did a civilization that led the world in science and technology for five hundred years fall so far behind? In my writings, I have highlighted several factors that contributed to this decline: the Mongol deluge (1219-1258), the Crusades (1096-1250), the loss of Spain (1236-1492), the rise of tasawwuf with its emphasis on the esoteric (thirteenth century), the opposition to the printing press (fifteenth century), neglect of naval technology (seventeenth century), loss of international trade (eighteenth century), colonization and dismantling of the traditional education systems (nineteenth century). Underlying these factors was a distancing from rational thought that grew out of the titanic collision between the philosophers and the theologians in the eighth-ninth centuries. The dialectic between al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd was the cutting edge of that debate. Unless the Islamic civilization shakes off the hangover from that debate, it cannot expect to work its way out of technological backwardness.

This article takes a fresh look at that critical moment in history when philosophy collided with theology. More than eight hundred years have elapsed since that great debate. Empirical science, which was in its infancy in the eighth century is now a full-grown adult and it offers fresh perspectives on the issues that divided the two camps. We apply the modern understanding of classical mechanics and quantum physics and attempt to bridge the gap between philosophy, religion and science so that the Islamic civilization can move forward with confidence on the road to a technological renaissance.

The Historical Context

In the seventh century, the Islamic domains expanded and stretched from the Indus River in Pakistan to the Pyrenees mountains in France. This vast empire connected and welded together Asia, Africa and Europe, facilitating the movement of goods and ideas. The early Muslims, impelled by injunctions from the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet were enthusiastic and keen learners. They learned from the east and west, from India and China, Greece and Persia, moulded what they had learned in an Islamic crucible and added their own stamp to the reservoir of human knowledge through new fields of learning. The Abbasid Caliph al Mansur (d 775) invited scholars from around the world to come to the capital city of Baghdad and soon the city became a magnet for men of learning. Al Mansur established an academy called Baitul Hikmah (the House of Wisdom) where scholarly books from around the world were translated into Arabic. From India came the astronomy of Aryabhatta, from Greece came the works of Aristotle, Plato and Hippocrates, from China came the technology for manufacturing porcelain and papermaking and from Iran the art of constructing windmills. Baitul Hikmah was a cosmopolitan academy. Among the scholars who worked there were Muslims, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. The Muslims learned the sciences of other civilizations and made their own contributions inventing the fields of algebra, chemistry, perfecting the methods of empirical science and adding to the fields of medicine, surgery, astronomy, art, music, history, geography, agriculture, engineering and philosophy.

Of all the sciences that the Muslims came in contact with, it was Greek rational thought that caught their fancy and they fell in love with its rigor and its precision. Aristotle became their hero and reason their guide. The Caliph al Mansur adopted and promoted Greek philosophy (the philosophy of the ancients as it was called) as court dogma. Muslim scholars set out to apply rational methods to physical phenomenon as well as social, cultural and religious issues with excitement and enthusiasm. These scholars were called the Mu’tazalites.

It was the heyday for rational sciences in Islam. It was the age of Harun al Rashid and Mamum, of Shehrezad and the Arabian Nights, of al Khwarizmi and al Kindi. The Mu’tazalites amalgamated the rational methods of the Greeks, the mathematics of the Indians and the technology of the Chinese, laid the foundation for empirical sciences, invented new disciplines and became torch bearers for the advancement of human civilization.

The application of classical Greek rational thought in an Islamic paradigm was not without its challenge. Of particular concern were the assumptions that the Greeks made about the nature of time and the questions surrounding cause and effect. These assumptions when applied to theological issues presented profound and fundamental doctrinal challenges to Muslim scholars.

The Greeks assumed that time was “eternal”. However, from an Islamic perspective, the acceptance of time as “eternal” would make it co-extent with God who is “wahid”, “self-subsisting” and “eternal”. This was unacceptable to the theologians. In addition, if time is eternal, then everything “other than God” was “created” in time. Specifically, was the Qur’an “created” in time? The Mu’tazalites, who were staunch Muwahids fell into a trap on this issue. They wanted to preserve the transcendence of God. Everything, “other than God”, had to be “created” “in time”. When they applied this logic to the Qur’an, they fell flat on their face. They concluded that the Qur’an was “created” by God “in time”. Needless to say, this position was unacceptable to the theologians. Resistance set in.

A second issue was cause and effect in nature. The Mu’tazalites affirmed that cause and effect were ubiquitous in nature. This position also had theological implications. If cause and effect followed one from the other mechanistically, then, how does the will of God operate in nature? Isn’t God the “doer” of all actions? Here again, the theologians took the Mu’tazalites to task and opposed them.

There were other issues of disagreement as well, namely, human free will (ikhtiar) and man’s responsibility for his actions. However, we will limit our discussion in this essay to only those issues that dealt with the phenomenon of nature and man’s interaction with it.

The position that the Qur’an was “created” “in time” caused great commotion in the Muslim body politic. The resistance to this position was led by the usuli ulema, spearheaded by Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal. The Mu’tazalites were not tolerant of dissent. Imam Ahmed was publicly flogged for his opposition and was imprisoned. However, with each oppressive measure, the voices of protest grew louder. Faced with mounting public pressure, the later Abbasid Caliphs relented. In 846 CE, the Caliph al Mutawakkil disavowed the Mu’tazalites and banished them from his court. In turn, when the anti-Mu’tazalites won the favor of the Caliphs, they instituted a Mehna (inquisition) against the Mu’tazalites; many were punished for their views and their books were burned.

The triumph of the usuli ulema over the Mu’tazalites in 846 marks a benchmark in Islamic history. Four significant aspects of the epic confrontation between philosophy and theology in Islam stand out. First, a critique of the speculative deductions of the philosophers did not come from within; it came from the usuli ulema. Second, when a critique did emerge from the ulema, the Mu’tazalites showed an inability to stomach the critique; they increasingly turned the whip on the protesters. Third, when the tables turned and the theologians triumphed, they in turn conducted an inquisition against the Mu’tazalite and persecuted them. Fourth, in the aftermath of the confrontation, the orthodox vision of Islam came to occupy the center while philosophy was pushed to the periphery. Henceforth, the philosophers would be compelled to be reticent in their work and look over their shoulders for any broadside from the theologians.

Philosophy had lost its official patronage in the courts of Baghdad but even as it had lost, it forced theology to defend itself. A new discipline emerged, combining theology with discursive philosophy with the dual purpose of safeguarding the theological fortress from the onslaught of philosophy while at the same time making theology palatable and accessible to the masses. This new discipline was called “kalam”. The practitioners of kalam were called the “mutakallimun”.

The triumph of theology over philosophy did not relieve the ulema of the burden of justifying their positions in a rational paradigm. For instance, if cause and effect do not follow one from the other as the philosophers maintained, how do actions and reactions follow one another? Fifty years after the Mu’tazalites were discredited in Baghdad, a noted scholar al Ash’ari rose to the challenge. He advanced the theory that “time” was not continuous, that it consisted of a series of digital, discontinuous, “atomistic” increments. At each increment, the will of God intervened in accordance with His predetermined plan to make things happen. Thus, the omnipotence of God was preserved.   This explanation was easy to understand and it found broad acceptance in the Islamic world. Among those who accepted the Ash’arite cosmology were some of the greatest thinkers in Islamic history, including, the Seljuk Grand Vizier Nizam ul Mulk (d 1092) and Imam al Ghazzali (d 1111).

Al Ghazzali and the Geopolitical context of his works

Al Ghazzali (1056 -1111 CE) appeared on the canvas of history when the Islamic world was at the height of its political power but was riven asunder by internal ideological conflicts. In the latter part of the tenth century, the Fatimids stormed out of North Africa, capturing Egypt in 969 CE and extending their sway over Hijaz and Syria. Circa 1000 CE, their influence extended as far as Multan in Pakistan. The loss of Egypt meant that the Sunni Caliphs in Baghdad were cut off from trade routes that connected India with the trading city states of Venice, Milan and Genoa. The Fatimids in Cairo thrived even as the Abbasids in Baghdad struggled with shrinking revenues.

In the eleventh century (1040-1092), the Seljuk Turks descended from the Steppes of Central Asia, conquered most of West and Central Asia and established a vast and powerful empire stretching from Kashgar (China) to Damascus (Syria). 

                                                   The Seljuk Empire circa 1092

As Sunni Muslims, the Turks became champions and protectors of the Abbasid Caliphs in Baghdad. A test of arms between the Fatimids and the Seljuks was inevitable. They fought over control of Syria and Palestine in which the Seljuks were victorious. The response of the Fatimids was a deadly, clandestine war against their foes. The Assassins, a shadowy, disgruntled extremist group broke off from the Fatimids and waged an asymmetrical cloak and dagger war for over a hundred years against the Seljuks and other Sunni powers of Asia.

The intellectual landscape was equally turbulent. The Fatimid challenge to Sunni Islam was not just political-military, it was also doctrinal. The Fatimids believed that their version of Islam with its emphasis on the Imamate was the true Islam. They set upon converting the Sunni world to their faith, establishing schools and colleges to train the daees (proselytizers). The renowned Al Azhar university in Cairo was established in 969  CE by the Fatimid Caliph al Muiz not just as a higher citadel of learning but also as a propaganda center for Fatimid Islam. The well-trained daees spread out throughout the Islamic world, inviting the believers to shift over to the view that the first seven Imams were the true inheritors of the spiritual legacy of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh). Their esoteric ideas, often couched in secretive language, were a source of confusion in the Islamic body politic.

The Seljuks were patrons of art, architecture, poetry, education, astronomy and the mathematical sciences and their capital Esfahan became a magnet for theologians, philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers, poets and architects.  The celebrated mathematician-poet Omar Khayyam, who compiled the precise Jalalian calendar worked at the magnificent court of Seljuk Sultan Malik Shah (d 1092).  The great vizier Nizam ul Mulk (d 1092) was himself a writer and author of Siasat Nama, a masterpiece of political science. He established universities in Esfehan, Baghdad, Nishapur, Merv, Samarqand and Bokhara and built madrasas throughout the empire.

Al Ghazzali, arguably the most influential theologians in Islamic history, was born in Tabaran-Tus (Iran) in 1057. He received his early education in Tus and then proceeded to Nishapur where he studied under the well-known Ash’arite scholar al Juwayni. Upon the death of his teacher, he moved to Baghdad (1089) which was at the time the premier center of learning in the world.  Al Gazzali’s erudition and sharp wit attracted the attention of the grand vizier Nizamul Mulk, who appointed him Professor at the prestigious Nizamiya college in Baghdad.

The Seljuks were under doctrinal pressure from the Fatimids. The Batini Assassins were wreaking havoc on the body-politic. The arguments of the philosophers were causing confusion in the minds of the people. Encouraged by Nizamul Mulk, Al Ghazzali took on the defense of Sunni orthodoxy and turned his powerful dialectic against the esoteric doctrines of the Fatimids as well as the endless argumentations of the philosophers. A theologian by training, he dived deep into the tenets of philosophy and turned its arguments against its practitioners. His Tahaffuz al Falasafa (Repudiation of the Philosophers) was a masterful thrust at the philosophers. While maintaining the importance of reason in the implementation of the Shariah, Al Ghazzali denounced the philosophers for their beliefs in the eternity of time and cause and effect in nature, going so far as to suggest that philosophers like ibn Sina were Takfireen (disbelievers).

Al Ghazzali’s Repudiation of the Philosophers

The string of madrassas and colleges established by Nizamul Mulk in the vast Seljuk empire served as vehicles for dissemination of Al Ghazzali’s ideas. The Nizamiya syllabus that was introduced into these madrassas reflected the Ash’arite positions on philosophy. It was this syllabus, with some modifications, which was used in throughout Islamic world until the nineteenth century. Some madrasas in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh use a stripped-down version of the Nizamiya syllabus even to this day.

Al Ghazzali’s knowledge was encyclopedic covering theology, kalam, philosophy, ethics, Shariah, tasawwuf and his influence was global. He wrote more than 70 books, only one of which, namely, Tahaffuz al Falasafa, is under discussion here. In this book, Al Ghazzali examines twenty of the assumptions and beliefs held by the philosophers of the day. We limit ourselves only to two of the twenty issues Al Ghazzali examines, namely, his views on the nature of time (issue 1 in Tahaffuz al Falasafa) and his position on cause and effect (issue 17 in the book).

Al Ghazzali was an Ash’arite. Like al Ash’ari, Al Ghazzali accepted the atomistic theory of time, namely, that time can be digitized and divided into miniscule, discrete packets. This position led him to claim that there was no cause and effect in nature, only “habits”. It was God who was the efficient, direct, immediate agent for all events; He caused these events either directly or through intermediaries.  Al Ghazali wrote: “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary, according to us. For any two things, it is not necessary that the existence or the nonexistence of one follows necessarily from the existence or the nonexistence of the other. Their connection is due to the prior decision of God, who creates them side by side, not to its being necessary by itself, incapable of separation” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Citing the example of the burning of cotton by fire, he observed: “….We say that the efficient cause of the combustion through the creation of blackness in the cotton and through causing the separation of its parts and turning it into coal or ashes is God—either through the mediation of the angels or without mediation. For fire is a dead body which has no action, and what is the proof that it is the agent?”

Al Ghazzali was concerned that the acceptance of cause and effect would preclude the possibility of miracles. He wrote: “On its negation (of natural causality) depends the possibility of affirming the existence of miracles which interrupt the usual course of nature . . . and those who consider the ordinary course of nature a logical necessity regard all this as impossible.” The philosophers maintained that there was cause and effect in nature. If cause and effect mechanistically and deterministically follow one from the other, where is the need for the intercession of God? This position, argued al Ghazzali, would contradict the omnipotence of God.

Ibn Rushd and his defense of the philosophers

Al Ghazzali’s position did not go unchallenged. The Spanish jurist and philosopher Ibn Rushd (d 1198) rose to the defense of the philosophers.

Ibn Rushd was born into a prominent family of jurists in Cordoba, Spain in 1126. His grandfather was an influential scholar at the Almoravid courts. Ibn Rushd received his early education in Cordoba and Seville and mastered the fields of jurisprudence, philosophy, theology, mathematics and astronomy. The Almohads (1147-1214) seized North Africa and Andalus (southern Spain) from the Almoravids and established their own Caliphate. Ibn Rushd found favor with the Almohad courts and worked for them in various capacities in Marrakesh, Seville and Cordoba. In 1171 he was appointed the chief Kazi of Cordoba, the most prestigious judiciary position in the kingdom. Encouraged by the second Almohad Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf (1163-84), Ibn Rushd wrote his celebrated commentaries on Aristotle, which had a profound impact on the development of philosophy and science in Europe. We would like to point out here that Ibn Rushd was a contemporary of the well-known physician-philosopher Ibn Tufayl (1105-1185) and the Sufi master (honorably referred to as Shaikh al Akbar – the great shaikh),  Ibn al Arabi (1165-1240). Ibn Rushd had a collegial relationship with Ibn Tufayl and worked with him while there are only anecdotal descriptions of his meetings with Ibn al Arabi.

Ibn Rushd wrote more than 100 books covering theology, jurisprudence, philosophy and mathematics. However, it is for his book, Tahaffuz al Tahaffuz, a critique of Al Ghazzali’s Tahaffuz al Falasafa that Ibn Rushd is best known in the Islamic world. His defense of the philosophers was forceful and comprehensive. We will focus here only on two issues from his Tahaffuz al Tahaffuz that are relevant to modern science, namely, his views on the nature of time and cause and effect.

Al Ghazzali questioned the necessity of cause and effect in nature. He held that only God was the efficient cause and that events happened one after the other according to their taqdeer (Divine decree). This was the Ash’arite position based on a discontinuous, atomistic view of time.  This assumption about time was introduced by al Ash’ari to explain the possibility of miracles, namely, phenomenon that do not follow the accepted norms of cause and effect. Al Ghazzali wrote: “On the negation (of natural causality) depends the possibility of affirming the existence of miracles which interrupt the usual course of nature . . . and those who consider the ordinary course of nature a logical necessity regard all this as impossible.”

Ibn Rushd took issues with this position as contrary to reason. He wrote: ““……. Intelligence is nothing but the perception of things with their causes, and in this it distinguishes itself from all the other faculties of apprehension, and he who denies causes must deny the intellect. Logic implies the existence of causes and effects, and knowledge of these effects can only be rendered perfect through knowledge of their causes. Denial of cause implies the denial of knowledge, and denial of knowledge implies that nothing in this world can be really known, and that what is supposed to be known is nothing but opinion, that neither proof nor definition exist, and that the essential attributes which compose definitions are void. The man who denies the necessity of any item of knowledge must admit that even this, his own affirmation, is not necessary knowledge.”

Ibn Rushd was sensitive to the criticism of the theologians and took pains to explain that the philosophers were staunch believers: “The learned among the philosophers do not permit discussion or disputation about the principles of religion, and he who does such a thing, according to them, needs a severe lesson … Of religious principles it must be said that they are divine things which surpass human understanding, but must be acknowledged although their causes are unknown.”. On creation, he wrote: “Creation is an act of God. He created the world providentially, not by chance. The world is well ordered and is in a state of the most perfect regularity, which proves the existence of a wise Creator. Causality is presupposed”

Both Al Ghazzali the theologian, and Ibn Rushd the Jurist-Philosopher, supported their positions with quotes from the Qur’an. To al Ghazzali, the omnipotence of God was paramount. Like al Ash’ari, he postulated a discrete time so that he could conceptually accommodate the intervention of divine will in every action. However, in the process he relegated the truth of observation to “habit” and went on to propose, without evidence, his own theory of cause and effect as events that happened “side by side”.

To Ibn Rushd, time was continuous and eternal. To the theologian’s objection that this would make time co-extent with God, Ibn Rushd would reposit that the infinity of time collapses before the infinity of God, thereby preserving the sanctity of God’s primal creation of nature including time itself. To Ibn Rushd, cause and effect were confirmed by observation. Without a causal relationship, reason itself made no sense and the world would become unintelligible.

Ibn Sina, Necessary Agent and Contingent Agent

Ibn Sina (d 1037), one of the most distinguished scientists in the Islamic golden age, understood the futility of deciphering time and described physical phenomenon in terms of change rather than time. In his cosmology, time becomes a tool for measurement of change, much as it does in the cosmology of modern science. Regarding the issue of cause and effect, Ibn Sina differentiated between a “necessary” agent of change and a “contingent” agent of change. God was the “necessary” agent of change. It was He who is primal origin of all causes. The contingent agents are intermediate or apparent agents. For instance, if a house is destroyed in an earthquake, the earthquake is the “contingent” agent, God is the “necessary” agent. Ibn Sina was thus able to retain the causality in nature while safeguarding the tenet that God is the ultimate cause of all causes.

The Maturidi (d 944) Compromise

Shaikh al Maturidi, in his book Kitab al Tauhid, advanced a position that was a compromise between the Ash’ari and Mu’tazila positions. The Mutazilites had maintained that man had both a free will (Iqtiar) and freedom to choose (iktisab). It was their view that cause and effect were deterministic and necessarily followed one from the other. Shaikh al Ash’ari had taken the opposite view. Postulating that time was discrete, he maintained that only God had the free will and freedom to choose and that events happened at every moment in accordance with His predetermined will, either through angels or through direct intervention.

Shaikh al Maturidi took issues with both the Asharites and the Mu’tazalites. He maintained that a merciful God, in His wisdom and justice, created alternate outcomes for every event. He provided guidance through His revealed books and His messengers as to which of the alternate outcomes were “good” and which were “evil”. The human was endowed with reason (aql) to discern and choose between the alternative courses of action created by God and presented to man. Thus, al Maturdi accepted the free will and choice of the human while maintaining that the creator of those choices and of alternate courses of action was God. In al Maturdi’s cosmology both the free will and choice of the human and the omniscience and omnipotence were preserved.

Similarly, in a natural phenomenon, each event has an infinite number of outcomes, each of which is prescribed by the Will of God. That an event repeats and is predictable is the Sunnah of Allah. As the Qur’an states: “Allah creates and repeats His creation”. This repetition and the predictable patterns they create make it possible to capture natural phenomenon through equations, algorithms, mathematical representations and geometry and build the tree of scientific and technological knowledge.

Al Maturidi’s position is remarkably similar to some of the modern views of space-time. In this view, there is no one single pre-determined future but an infinite number of possible “futures”. The choice of any one course of action in space-time determines “the future” that we experience. The arrow of time is not just “forward” and “backward” as most philosophers argue, but it vectors in infinite number of directions, all of them within the “mansha” or conception of God. This  cosmology opens up the possibility of an infinite number of possible futures depending on a choice that one makes at a given moment. Each further choice, in turn, takes us in a different direction. The creator of all choices is God; The human is the medium that exercises his choice using his limited free will. His omnipotence is thus preserved. The possibilities are illustrated in the diagram above.

In the diagram, action A leads to choices B,C,D,E,F,G all of which are within the “mansha” (will, plan, conception) of God. You choose outcome F. That is your “fate”. The choice of action F leads to further possibilities of which you choose action J. Once again, that is your “fate”. Then onto K,L,M,N,O,P and so on. Thus, “a human is the architect of his own fortune” but this fortune is within the mansha of God. A profound insight indeed that preserves the omnipotence of God and the choice of the human.

Al Maturidi’s compromise cosmology was popular in the eastern Islamic world. The Sunni, Hanafi Ottomans and the great Moguls of India adopted it as court dogma. In the recent past, Allama Iqbal (d 1938) used it in his articulation of human free will.

The Maturidi school was overshadowed by the more fatalistic Ash’ari cosmology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the Ottoman and Mughal empires vaned and Europe increasingly dominated the world putting the Muslims on the defensive.

A Sufi perspective on time

In the spiritual Sufi perspectives, supported by the Qur’an, there are layers of reality separating human perception from the Ultimate Reality. In this perspective, the assumed “eternity” of time in philosophy is only figurative in as much as physical time collapses to nothingness before the eternity of God.

I asked a venerated Sufi Shaikh from Turkey to throw some light on this question. He said: “I heard from my Shaikh that time is like a fish in an ocean”.  The Shaikh made a sinewy motion with his right hand to show the movement of a fish.

Time is like the fish that was lost by the companion of Moses at the junction of the two seas. Al Ghazzali, the theologian, stood at the shores of the sea and saw time as an atom. Ibn Rushd, the jurist and philosopher, rode on the back of the fish and saw time as movement in an endless ocean. The perspectives were different.

In the cosmology of Shihabuddin Suhrawardy (d 1191), there are heavenly domains that separate the human from the earthly domains. There are four identified heavenly domians: Ahad, Wahed, Wahdaniyet, Arwah.  These domains are independent of space-time (la-makan in the Urdu language).The created world (alam e khalq) is separated from the heavenly domains and is the domain of apparent space-time. In this world, reason, logic, mathematics, language, cause and effect apply. The interface between the created world and the heavenly realms defines the limit of human reason.

The Core of the Controversies

At the core of the dialectic between the theologians and the philosophers was the nature of time and cause and effect. To the philosophers, time was continuous and eternal. In a structured, ordered universe, cause and effect were confirmed by observation. This position was unacceptable to the theologians. If cause and effect followed one from the other mechanistically, there is no room for the intervention of God. In that case, how do you explain the occurrence of miracles? Therefore, they advanced a theory of discrete time in which the will of God intervened at each discrete moment and ensured that the outcome of an event is according to God’s decree (taqdeer).

A second issue was the origin of time itself. Was time eternal, or, did it have a finite beginning and an end? The philosophers, following the lead of Aristotle, believed that time was eternal. Controversies emerged when this assumption was applied to the Qur’an. The philosophers were strict monotheists (Mowahhids). The assumption of eternal time led them into a trap of their own making. The Qur’an declares: “God is One. He is Self Sufficient. He does not beget nor is He begotten. And there is none like unto Him”. To preserve the sanctity of Tawhid (“there is none like unto Him), they could not make God’s Word co-extent with His essence. Therefore, they postulated that the Qur’an was “created” (by God) “in time”. This was unacceptable to the theologians and the two positions collided. The debate had a profound impact on developments in Islamic civilization.

RECONSTRUCTION OF A TECHNOLOGICAL CULTURE IN ISLAM – PART 2

Reconstruction of a Technological Culture in Islam – Part 2

Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

What is Time?

A familiarity with the theories, assumptions and beliefs about the nature of time is a pre-requite to understanding the disputes between the philosophers and the theologians and bringing about a reconciliation between the positions of al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. Accordingly, we survey the insights about time provided in the Qur’an and also examine the modern perspectives on the subject.

Time as revealed in the Qur’an

Time is a mystery within an enigma within a riddle. It is a secret that no one has been able to fathom. Yet, it forms the very basis of knowledge and of changes in the cosmos. Philosophy, logic, science and history are all based on fundamental assumptions about time.

The mystery of time deepens as we study the various contexts in which it is revealed in the Qur’an:

The days are counted;
Then, whoever among you is ill, or is traveling,
May complete his fasts later, (Quran, 2:184)

The Angels and the Spirit ascend to Him in a moment,
Whose measure is fifty thousand years. (70: 4)

Has there transpired upon humankind a time
From (the oceans of timeless) Time (ad Dha’r)
When he was not even a thing mentioned? (76:1)

There is a term decreed for every spiritual community.
When the decreed time arrives,
they cannot hold it back one moment
or move it forward (one moment). (7:34)

O humankind! If you are in doubt about resurrection,
Then (consider this): We did indeed create you from the earth,
Then from a sperm,
Then from an impregnated egg,
Then from a piece of flesh—
With features and without features—
So that We may convey to you (Our Message);
And We establish a pregnancy for a period fixed, as We will,
Then We bring you forth as a baby,
Then, (sustain you) so that you reach the fullness of youth. (22:5)

By (the passage of) time,

Verily, humankind is indeed at a loss,

Except such as those who have certainty of faith,
And perform righteous deeds,
And enjoin upon one another Justice (Truth),
And enjoin upon one another Patience (Constancy and Perseverance). (103:1-3)

And We struck their ears (made them asleep) in the cave for many years.

Then We woke them up to see which of the two groups remembered

long they had stayed (in the cave). (18:11-12)

Hearken! Of a certainty, the transgressors shall be in eternal punishment! 42:45

Every Nafs shall have a taste of death
And it is not until the Judgment Day
That you shall reap the full recompense (for your deeds). (3:185)

Establish prayer at the sun’s decline till the onset of the night (17:78)

And eat and drink
Until the white thread of dawn
Becomes distinguishable against the darkness (of night).
Then keep your fasts until nightfall. (2: 187)

And whoever desires to combine the Umrah with the Hajj,
And cannot find (a suitable gift),
Let him fast for three days during Hajj
And seven days after he returns (from Hajj).
This makes it ten altogether. (2:196)

He it is who created you from clay,
Then from a seminal fluid,
Then from an embryo,
Then He brings you forth as a baby,
Then (He sustains you) so that you reach the fullness (of youth)
Then (He sustains you) so that you reach old age,
And among you some die before it,
And (He sustains you) so that you attain an age determined,
And learn wisdom. (40:67)

Sovereign of the Day of Judgment (1:4)

So, Allah will decide between them on the Judgment Day.  (4: 141)

Allah is He, there is no god but He.
Then He will indeed gather you all together on the Judgment Day

About it there is no doubt. (4: 87)


There can be no doubt that Allah will gather you all together

On the Judgment Day. (6:12)

And make us not be ashamed on the Judgment Day.
Indeed, You do not compromise on Your promise.” (3:194)

And what conjecture do they have –
They who ascribe a falsehood to Allah –
About the Day of Judgment? (10:60)

“O son of Adam! Do not abase time. I am Time (ad Dhahr)”

Modern Concepts of time

What are the modern concepts of time? Do they help us resolve the disputes between medieval Islamic philosophers and theologians?

Whereas the ancients measured time by sunrise, sunset and the sundial, modern man uses digital clocks and atomic clocks that are accurate to 10-22 seconds. However, the idea is the same: time is an entity that is measured by the relative movement between two other entities: the earth around the sun; the moon around the earth; the earth around its own axis; electrons around a nucleus, and so on. The old yardsticks were days, months and years. In modern astronomy, the distances between stars and galaxies are measured in light years, namely, the time light takes to travel from one entity to another.

Thanks to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and its popularization in fiction and movies such as Star Wars, even a child today is familiar with the idea of relative time. Time compresses as you approach the velocity of light. An astronaut who is travelling at very high speeds would experience time-compression and sense time very differently from someone left behind on earth. Travelling near the speed of time, our astronaut may visit several distant worlds and return to earth in a year (by his reckoning) only to find that all the people he knows had passed away centuries ago.  If you travel at the speed of light, time stands still. If you travel at speeds greater than the speed of light, then it is theoretically possible to travel back in space-time.

According to Newton, “time exists independently of any perceiver, progresses at a consistent pace throughout the universe, is measurable but imperceptible, and can only be truly understood mathematically”. It is also called Newtonian time or “empty-space” time. Although the ideas of relativistic time have shadowed the ideas of absolute time, Newtonian time is a good enough approximation for most physical observations on earth.

Biological clocks regulate the rhythm of body functions in most mammals. In the human, the brain’s circadian clock regulates the rhythm of sleep. Although such rhythms are not precise and deterministic, the jet lag experienced by long-distance travelers confirms the influence of circadian rhythms.                     

Time seems to dilate and spread out when you are bored or when you are uncomfortable such as in a hot room. Similarly, time seems to move fast when you are happy such as when you are in the company of someone you love.

The Big Bang theory is a consequence of the observation that the universe is expanding. Mathematically, an expanding universe collapses to a single point (a singularity) at its origin. It is estimated that our known universe is approximately 14 billion years old. The question is this: Is the Big Bang the origin of time? The answer is bound to be unsatisfactory because it fails to answer the follow-on question: What was there before the Big Bang? This line of enquiry fails to answer the question whether time is “endless” and “eternal” or is finite and has itself an origin “in time”.

A Resolution – Modern views

Having taken a brief survey of the classical as well as modern ideas of time, we are in a position to to revisit the dialectic about cause and effect and the nature of time between two of the greatest minds who graced Islamic history, namely, al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. The controversies had a lasting impact on the development of natural sciences in the Islamic world.   

First, it must be observed that the debate took place in the deductive, “if” “then” paradigm of medieval philosophy. This paradigm has its own built-in assumptions and its own inherent limitations.

Second, the position taken by each of these sages is valid within the assumptions that he makes. The positions break down only when they are examined through the lens of modern empirical and inductive science.

Consequently, a critique of the positions taken by al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd and a reconciliation between them must focus on the assumptions that underlie their positions rather than the positions themselves.

Is Time “eternal”? 

Ibn Rushd, following the logic of Aristotle, held time to be eternal. Al Ghazzali held that time was finite and created. Which position is supported by modern science?

Classical mechanics looks only at marginal, linear changes in time. A pursuit of the origin of time leads us to the Big Bang where space-time become a singularity. Modern science does not answer the question: What was there “before” the Big Bang?

The theory of relativity regards time as flexible and malleable that can be bent and stretched.  The position of quantum mechanics is more subtle. While it regards time as universal and absolute, it postulates that the change in an entity from one state to another is due to the shifting of successive positions of atoms (or subatomic entities).

Both al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd quote from the Qur’an to support their positions. The guidance from the Qur’an is that Allah created the cosmos and He will fold it up on the Day of Judgment.  This suggests that time, as we perceive it, is “finite” and is not “eternal”.

The assumption of the “eternity” of time sets up a trap because such an assumption extends the domain of human reason to all domains that are “not God”. This was the trap that the Mu’tazalies fell into. They were staunch Muwahids with an unflinching faith that God is “Ahad” and there is “none like unto Him”. So, they said that the Qur’an cannot be co-extent with God and placed it in “time”, meaning that it was “created” by Allah. This was repugnant to the ulema. As was pointed out earlier, it proved to be the undoing of the Mu’tazalites. The trap was of their own making. They overextended the reach of human reason to heavenly domains that are beyond space-time (la makan). The lesson from history is that reason, noble and sublime as it is, has its limits and breaks down in heavenly domains.   

Cause and effect in nature

Al Ghazzali held that cause and effect were not a necessary consequence of the one from the other. His accepted the Ash’ari view that time moved in discrete, atomistic steps and at each discrete step the will of God intervened as the cause for an effect.  He held that only God was the efficient cause and He caused all events either through direct intervention or through intermediaries (angels).

Al Ghazzali went one step further and advanced his own theory of heat transfer. He postulated when cotton is brought into contact with fire, the application of fire and the change of cotton from fiber to ashes take place “side by side”. This was a masterful philosophical statement; however, it was unsupported by empirical evidence.

According to our current scientific understanding, the heat transfer from the fire (hot gases) to the cotton (cellulose matter) is the cause of the “burning” (a phase change from cellulose matter to ash). Obviously, the philosophers and the theologians of the day were unaware of the concepts of energy and heat transfer. They were unaware that fire was energy that can be transferred to physical bodies forcing a change in their structure. Note that the modern position does not compromise the omnipotence of God since the fire, as the agent of burning, and the cotton, as the object that is burned, are both created to be so by God. God is Musabbib al Asbab (the cause for all causes, or, the ultimate cause).

The cause-and-effect philosophy, as formulated by al Ghazzali, made it impossible to formulate theories of natural phenomenon based on observation and experiment (“habit” as al Ghazzali termed it). The pursuit of natural science suffered. If one were to accept Al Ghazzali’s theory, airplanes cannot fly, automobiles cannot run, carts cannot move, electricity cannot be generated, transistors stop. In other words, it is impossible to acquire any positivistic knowledge which is built on cause and effect, logic and reason.

In contrast, Ibn Rushd held that cause and effect constituted a basic aspect of the natural law and formed the foundation of human reason. He held that events take place in accordance with cause and effect and that the will of God was axiomatic and built into the laws of cause and effect.

Islamic civilization made an error in misunderstanding the teachings of Al Ghazzali. His denial of (the necessity of) causality and his position that events happen according to their taqdeer was misunderstood by Muslims as predestination. This interpretation side-lined the principle of natural causality which forms the foundation of modern technological civilization and empirical science.  It was a fatal error.

There is no empirical evidence to support the thesis (as al Ash’ari proposed circa 900 CE which was adopted by al Ghazzali) that time is digital, discontinuous and can be divided into atomistic parcels. It is merely a philosophical pre-supposition, a concept, an idea, a theory.

In classical mechanics, time appears as a measure of change that occurs as a result of an action by an entity. Quantum mechanics becomes fuzzy on ideas of time, or more precisely, on the arrow of time. It admits that time can be measured in quanta, perhaps as small as 10-22 seconds. When a change occurs, the subatomic particles in an ensemble move from one state to another. As to why they move to a new position in a predictable manner is a mystery; statistically, they could have moved to an entirely different configuration (which could result in an entirely different “future”). The quantum model may serve to accommodate the appearance of miracles as events that are nominally a violation of repetitive and predictable outcomes of events but which are statistically possible.

Classical mechanics, which forms the basis of modern technological civilization, is built on assumptions of natural cause and effect. Empirical evidence, reason, algorithms, logic and extrapolation form the accepted chain-links in the advancement of modern science and technology.

Modern science does not insist on mechanical causality. It only affirms that on a statistical basis, a cause produces an effect with a probability so high that it can be considered a near certainty. 

The question of miracles

Miracles are events that contradict the expected outcomes based on cause ad effect.

Al Ghazzali held that the occurrence of miracles can be accommodated only if the necessity of cause and effect is discarded. This position needs to be modified in the light of our advanced knowledge of physics and statistics. Modern approaches of statistical mechanics may offer a possible way to explain miracles. In this approach, an event is an ensemble of zillions upon zillions of mini-events that are happening in the cosmos. It is conceptually possible to admit that the nett outcome of these seemingly unlimited number of concurrent events could be one that is contrary to its expected value, and that would be a miracle. The occurrence of a miracle can be accommodated in classical mechanics by adding “inshallah” to an expected event. Such a position is in accordance with the guidance from the Qur’an.

Classical mechanics deals only with questions of when and how (space-time) of marginal changes in nature; it does not concern itself with questions of who and why, or the primal origins of time. These questions are important.  Indeed, they form the core of our search as human beings as to who we are and why we are here. However, they are beyond the capabilities of reason and are left to other modes of acquiring knowledge and other disciplines such as Tasawwuf, theosophy and faith. As an example, no amount of rational argumentation can explain what love is, whereas the heart can grasp it with immediacy.

The distinctive character of positivistic knowledge is that it opens up avenues for the human to attain his potential through an exercise of reason. It enhances material welfare through innovation, shields the human from debilitating poverty, protects life by enabling effective means of defence, provides a bulwark against disease and hunger through medical research and agricultural advancement. Indeed, it opens up the possibility (just a possibility) of heaven on earth. It is a fulfilment of God’s promise to the human: “And We have subjected to you all that is between the heavens and the earth”. Science is not just a nice appendage to a society; it is essential for the very survival of a society.

Why did the Islamic civilization choose al Ghazzali over ibn Rushd?

Several reasons may be advanced as to why the Islamic civilization chose al Ghazzali over ibn Rushd.

In summary, history and geography both favoured al-Ghazzali. When he wrote his Tahaffuz al Falasafa in 1095, the dialectic between theology and philosophy in Islam was already three hundred years old and it had been won by the theologians. Al Ghazzali’s work was the summation of that dialectic and its last chapter.

Why did Europe choose ibn Rushd?

Europe came upon Greek rational philosophy in the thirteenth century through a translation of classical Greek works from Arabic into Latin. There was no convulsive confrontation between theology and philosophy in Europe as there was between the Muta’zalites and the usuli ulema in the Islamic world in the eighth-ninth centuries. The writings of Thomas Aquinas (1274) scuttled the debate by separating church dogma from rational philosophy. The result was that Europe embarked on a secular path. Science, technology, sociology and history were separated from religion. Matters of faith were confined to the walls of the church. This separation continues to this day. As a consequence, modern man, having internalized the assumptions that underlie western civilization, finds himself in a soulless, godless world. God was taken out at the first gambit. Modern man cannot put Him back in the end game.    

Construction of a Technological Culture in the Islamic world

History is like tarnished silver. It needs constant scrubbing to bring out the polish and remind us how beautiful its nascent shine can be.

The construction of a technological culture in the Islamic world must begin with a deconstruction of historical narratives and a fresh start based on the primal source, namely, the Qur’an.

Present day Muslims stand on the shoulders of giants. Great were the personages who graced Islamic history since that sublime moment when the Light of Muhammed (pbuh) illuminated the world. Their legacy continues to guide us.

However, it must be remembered that those who came before us struggled in the context of their times. Their contributions, great in their impact, were nonetheless limited by their knowledge of the physical and the assumptions they made in developing their cosmology. While they created giant footsteps on the sands of time, they also left behind a good deal of dust that needs clearing up. 

Consider the Shia-Sunni split. It has its basis in history. The Suhaba disagreed on how to carry forward the legacy of the prophet after his death. The result was a wide chasm which continues to divide the global Islamic community even to this day. Does the Shia-Sunni schism have its sanction in the Qur’an? No. It ought to be relegated to the pages of history so that the community can reaffirm the brotherhood established by the Prophet.

Similar is the case with kalam and philosophy. In the eighth-ninth centuries Islamic theology had a broadside encounter with Greek philosophy. It was a brutal confrontation. Theology won the contest and philosophy was sidelined. But the tailwinds of the clash continued to haunt the Islamic intellectual landscape. Empirical science appeared as a sequel to philosophy and made its mark on world history. But its practitioners, giants like al Khwarizmi, ibn Sina, al Razi did not gain the kind of acceptance in the Islamic body politic as did theologians like al Ash’ari and al Ghazali.

It is in this context that we have to examine the dialectic between al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. While their positions were valid within the paradigms they assumed, there are fundamental problems with some of their assumptions.

A Deconstruction

A deconstruction of historical narratives is therefore essential before a construction of an alternate vision of natural science and technology is constructed. The basis for this reconstruction is guidance from the Qur’an. It requires discarding the assumptions of “eternal time”, “atomistic time”, “side by side” as applied to cause and effect, even if such assumptions were held by the giants of Islamic history like al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. History is a teacher. History is not a tyrant. The Islamic psyche must be unshackled from the tyranny of history. 

The Islamic body politic, which is now held in ransom by shackles of history, must be freed to follow the Qur’an and the Seerah of the Prophet. The Qur’an offers a lofty vision of the human who is endowed with a body and a mind to interact with nature, a heart to feel divine presence and a soul to sift through right and wrong.

Reconstruction of a Science and Technology Culture in Muslim Societies

As we undertake a reconstruction of a science and technology culture in Muslim societies, we must be aware of the assumptions we made and enumerate those that we discard.

We discard the following assumptions that were made by the medieval philosophers:

Positions we accept, consistent with guidance from the Qur’an:

Regarding the human, we accept the following assumptions that are consistent with the guidance from the Qur’an:

The following inferences follow from our assumptions:

Empirical science and technology are based on observation, experimentation and reason.

The laws upon which science and technology are based are the laws of nature which constitute the Sunnah of Allah. Nature obeys divine laws based on God’s wisdom and justice and is amenable to understanding through reason. Divine grace is never absent from these laws. This self-evident truth needs no confirmation by philosophical discourse.

The Qur’an affirms again and again the primacy of reason in the created world, urging the human to witness, reflect and apply reason to understand nature (science), use the knowledge so acquired for human welfare (technology) and discharge his heavenly mandate as khalifa on earth to serve God (theology) and His creation (environment and ecology).

To enable him to discharge this mandate, God has bestowed upon the human faculties in addition to reason, namely, a heart to perceive the unseen world, a soul to sift through right and wrong and a spirit to connect him with Divine presence.  The Qur’an thus offers guidance to the human through the body, the mind, the heart, the soul and the spirit. The knowledge acquired through these means constitute the totality of human knowledge, ilm ul ibara (knowledge that can be taught), ilm ul ishara (knowledge that can be alluded to but cannot be taught) and ilm al ladduni (revealed knowledge that comes down through the Prophets).

Natural science is implicit and explicit in the Qur’an. The human is urged again and again to know God (that is, to know His Names and attributes) through the Signs in His creation.

Let us illustrate how cause and effect unfold in nature and how they form the basis of science.

An Example: The Wonder of Flight

أَوَلَمْ يَرَوْا إِلَى الطَّيْرِ فَوْقَهُمْ صَافَّاتٍ وَيَقْبِضْنَ مَا يُمْسِكُهُنَّ إِلاَّ الرَّحْمَنُ إِنَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ بَصِيرٌ

Do you not observe the birds
With their wings spread above them,
And (birds with wings) folded up?
None can hold them up (in dynamic equilibrium) except the Most Compassionate;
Indeed, He is the Seer of all things.   Surah al-Mulk, (67:19)

The wonder and awe of nature defies description. No matter which direction you turn, there are Signs for the majesty of the Creator. 

An appreciation of the subtleties of this Ayah requires a mastery of several disciplines: aerodynamics; ornithology; structural mechanics; oxygenation; energy transfer; guidance, navigation and control, to name but a few. There are wondrous Signs in nature, if only we knew how to look and how to ask the right questions.

We present the bar-tailed godwit as an illustration for the tafseer of this Ayah. It is a tiny bird that migrates every year from Alaska, northwest of Canada, to New Zealand, deep in the southern Pacific Ocean. It flies about 7000 miles (11000 kilometers) without stopping anywhere. Sometimes, it flies West to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia and then south to New Zealand. At other times it takes an alternate route South to the Pacific Islands and then further South to New Zealand.

How can a small bird fly 7000 miles without stopping anywhere? How does it navigate and find its destination when there are no landmarks? How does it fly at night? Where does it get its in-flight food and sustenance from? How does it keep warm when the outside temperature is close to zero?

We offer three alternative approaches that may be used to develop answers to these questions: (1) by a believing scientist (2) by a secular scientist (3) a fatalist.

A believing scientist would start with Bismillah. He would recognize that an understanding of the flight of a bar-tiled godwit bird requires a mastery of several disciplines: aerodynamics; ornithology; structural mechanics; oxygenation; energy transfer; guidance, navigation and control, to name but a few. There are four known forces in nature: gravitation, electromagnetic, weak atomic and strong atomic. The first two are relevant in this case. The last two are not. The scientist would study in detail the air currents, temperatures, pressures, moisture, electrical storms and other weather conditions along the flight trajectory. He would also study the physical characteristics of the bird: weight, size, shape, flight feathers and control feathers. He would experiment and know something about the neural networks and sensors in the bird and their electromagnetic characteristics. He would write algorithms and equations, with clearly articulated assumptions, for the dynamics of flight of this tiny bird. He would analyze and obtain some insights to the questions raised. For many of the questions, there may be no answers with our limited current knowledge base. The believing scientist would table such questions for continued research. At each stage of his research, he would marvel at God’s creation with awe and wonder and cry out: Subhan Allah! The experience would reinforce his faith and take him closer to God who created this tiny bird that has so much to teach the human.

A secular scientist would go through the same process and arrive at the same conclusions except that he would not start with Bismillah nor would he end with Subhan Allah. His experience would be like a ladder that dangles in the air, neither firmly grounded on earth nor reaching up to heaven, but suspended in doubt and dissatisfaction.

A fatalist would not ask any of these questions. He would simply say: it is the work of God and go to sleep.

Muslim scientists in the classical era of Islam fell into the first category. They were guided by the light of the Qur’an, witnessed God’s creation in all its splendor and learned from the Signs they saw therein. Modern day Muslims fall into the third category. Having lost their way through the labyrinth of history, they turn their backs on science and circle around in orbits of fatalism.

Moving Forward

“Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves”. The development of a scientific and technological culture in Islam, must come from within. Elements of this transformation include:

Discard notions that are a product of history but have no basis in the Qur’an or the Sunnah of the Prophet. A cup must be empty before milk is poured into it. Specifically, assumptions about time, cause and effect which have accrued as a result of the clash between philosophy and theology in medieval times must be discarded.

So pervasive is the influence of the clergy in the Islamic world that no reformation can succeed without their support. The Shaikhs, Mullahs and Molvis have a hold on the masses which can only be the envy of even the most successful political leader.

The historical record of Islamic clergy is less than illustrious on questions relating to science and technology. While the sordid story of Galileo and the Latin church is well known, that of the Islamic religious establishment is glossed over.  At critical moments in Islamic history, it was the religious establishment that put the brakes on scientific and technological progress. Here are a few glaring examples:

A suspicion of science as a secular pursuit that takes the human away from God persists to this day among a significant section of Muslim religious establishment. The shaikhs, mullahs and molvis simply do not understand science or technology. What they do not understand, they suspect and oppose, unless that technology personally benefits them.

The Islamic world would benefit a great deal if training centers are established to teach the shaikhs and mullahs in the basics of science and technology. The goal is to mitigate the suspicion and opposition of the clergy to science and technology by exposing them to the assumptions, processes and benefits that underlie the natural sciences and show that their pursuit i consistent the guidance from the Qur’an.

There exists a vast network of schools and madrassas purporting to teach religion (Deeni Ta’leem as it is called). India alone is estimated to have 30,000 madrasas. Pakistan has half as many. Primary instruction in these institutions is through rote learning. Secondary education includes memorization and hadith. At the advanced grades, the curriculum is a hangover of the Nizamiya syllabus from the twelfth century and includes a study of Fiqh, a history of the early Caliphs and rudiments of medieval philosophy.

With a minimal effort, these institutions can be transformed into agents of change towards a scientific and technological culture. In addition to the sciences of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, a basic exposure to science, math and technology would pay rich dividends. A change in syllabus is long overdue.

God created the universe and gave its key to the human. That key is reason. Nature yields what you demand from it. A critical, questioning attitude towards nature is required for this process. The Muslim scientists in the classical era excelled in their questioning and unlocked the secrets of the heavens (astronomy), elements (chemistry), plants (agronomy), cures for diseases (medicine) and natural structures (geometry). Such an attitude is a part of Ijtehad ordained by God. It was only in the later centuries that the clergy limited Ijtehad to personal minutia (such as whether a moustache is halal or haram) or totally abandoned it in favor of taqleed.

Cultivate a passion for experimentation in science and technology, coupled with an acceptance of results that are consistent even if they refute established and entrenched dogma.

As ibn al Arabi said: “Feehi ma feehi”. A thing is what it is. If a baseball that is hit shatters a brittle glass panel, we must have the integrity to say that the efficient (immediate) cause of the shattered glass is the momentum from the baseball. Cracks propagate because of stress. Earthquakes are caused by movement of geological plates. Airplanes fly because of airfoil design and fall because of wind shear.  These statements in no way compromise the omnipotence of God who is musabbib al asbab. It is understood that man’s innovative capabilities are bestowed by God. The scientist’s quest is a search for the Sunnah of Allah in nature. He asks the questions: How? What? He marvels at his discoveries and he uses them for the benefit of man and to serve God and His crreation.  (wa Saqqara lakum ma fis samawati wal ard- And I have subjected to you whatever is in the heavens and the earth).

Revolutions require political will and commitment. The influential strata of society, the governments, the clergy, the intelligentsia, the industrialists and bankers need to make a commitment for such a positive transformation. A change in mindset is a pre-requisite. The economies of Muslim countries need to shift from resource base (oil, gas, agriculture, minerals, gems) to knowledge base. Technological and scientific education is the key. A single silicon chip is more valuable than a hundred barrels of oil.

Some Concluding Words

What moves the modern world is technology. It influences the way we do our work, how we relate to each other and to nature. It is the modulator of human behavior, art, philosophy, economics, politics and culture.

As we move forward, the world is increasingly segregated into two segments: those who have access to technology and those who do not. The first group will rule the world. The second group will serve the first group.

Technology is not just a nice thing to have. It is not just to have mobile phones, TV, cars and airplanes. It is not just for national defense although technology has a major impact on defense. Technology is necessary for the very survival of a civilization.

Islamic civilization is at a cross roads. One road leads to security and prosperity based on science and technology. This is the road that the Shariah commands the human to take and for which the Qur’an provides guidance. The other road is one of ignorance, poverty, servitude and ultimately, extinction.

Islamic civilization has locked itself in a self-made prison and has shackled itself in chains of misconceptions about the human and the universe that he lives in. These misconceptions arise from a burden of history.

It is time the Islamic civilization unshackled itself. Ash’arite philosophy, assumptions about mysteries of time, rejection of causation are burdens of the past. A scientific and technological culture unshackles these burdens. The keys to unlock these shackles are in God-given Aql (reason). However, unlike secular man who has left God in the church and assumes that his reason is autonomous, the Muslim scientist exercises his reason as a divine gift to which the God’s creation opens its doors. The keys are in the Qur’an, which beckons the mind towards Signs of Allah, shows the broad, open highways to the physical (seeing, hearing, touching, speaking), ennobles the heart with the Light of Divine Names and guides the soul to avoid the pitfalls of disbelief.  How marvelous a world that is! Subhan Allah!

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

A Bridge of Iron Between Faith and Reason

By Dr. Abdullatif Aljibury, PhD

With continuing advances in science and technology, facts start to emerge that show how we are living in a meticulously designed universe, intricately formed, physically balanced and tuned to its finest detail.

As we carefully read the Quran, we continue to discover many statements that throw light on the finely balanced physical world that we are a part of.

It all started, as science tells us, billions of years ago, with a single event that gave rise to the physical world. We can only imagine the enormity of the events that followed, and be guided by ideas that suffuse our minds with owe and wonder.

As we read and contemplate the verses from the Quran regarding natural phenomena, we find that they are in total agreement with the physical reality that modern science has so far proved as being factual. The topic that is dealt with in this article is the element iron which is one of the elements in the periodic table. The majority of the elements are found naturally, but some are not. The element that we examine in our story in this paper is iron.

The Quran: 57:25 states: “Indeed We sent our Apostles with all evidence of truth and through them we bestowed revelation from on high and thus gave you a balance to weigh right and wrong so that man might behave with equity, And We have brought down, from on high, Iron, in which there is awesome power as well as a source of benefits for mankind.”

God has enabled mankind by revealing the truth to discriminate right from wrong,  which is after all the ultimate goal of His revelation to mankind.  The human is commanded to observe and maintain an equitable balance throughout the natural systems.  He is instructed to convert to his use the natural resources, one example of which is iron.

Iron, as God tells us in the above- mentioned verse, is not native to earth, but has been brought down, from on high, which is what modern -day science confirms.

Although most of the Iron on earth is found in the central core of our planet earth,it was actually brought down from outer space where it was formed. Thedynamics of the process reveals the mightiness of the Creator.

Shortly after the Big Event, there was only the element hydrogen and no otherelement, gas, liquid or solid, in existence. As super giant stars were being made there was a tremendous gravitational force, the elements started to form from hydrogen by the process of fusion.

The hydrogen atoms under such extreme conditions combine to form helium atoms with the evolution of tremendous amount of energy just as in the case of the hydrogen bomb. The reaction will continue until all of the hydrogen atoms are converted to helium atoms. Meanwhile the newly formed helium atoms will themselves fuse together and start their own fusion reaction combining among themselves to form a new product. Now, the product of the fusion reaction of two helium atoms is a carbon atom. This fusion process continues such that two atoms of carbon combine to give an atom of oxygen and so on as shown in the diagram above.

The process of fusion continues until all of the hydrogen is converted to Helium nd from helium to Carbon to oxygen to neon to magnesium to silicon and then all of the silicon atoms in the chain process are converted to iron. By then, all of the fuel, so to speak, is exhausted leaving us with only a mass of iron at the center of the star.  The supernova, under tremendous gravitational force, then explodes and the iron fragments are blasted out into space. Some of this iron found its way to earth millions of years ago.

A massive amount of the iron, being very heavy, found its way through to the core and settled in the center of the earth which is the center of gravity. Less heavier pieces of iron settled at various distances from the center of gravity and distributed in the iron mines and around the crust of the earth as we find them today.

What makes the topic of iron so fascinating is that it is mentioned in chapter 57 of the Holy Quran which opens up, as we shall see shortly, many venues to the role that iron plays in our lives and that of our planet earth.

It is interesting to point out that the name of chapter 57 in the Quran is “The Iron.” This is the only chapter in the Quran that is named after a chemical element. The chapter number 57 is the center chapter of the 114 total chapters of the Quran. This must reflect the fact that iron occupies the center core of our planet and plays a central role in the health maintenance of human beings as well as other biological systems, plants and animals occupying our planet earth.

Verse 57:25, states that iron, which was sent from on high, has awesome power and is, as well, a source of benefits to humankind.

With the ingenuity which God has endowed mankind, this awesome power has been further enhanced by modern research and technology. From weapons of war to airplane carriers to submarines to rockets to more advanced and highly sophisticated and powerful forms use the iron that has been sent from on high. For this reason, God earlier on in the same verse warns us that having been endowed with the command of such powerful industrial and strategic an element,  we need to stop and reflect (about its appropriate use).  

Human beings need to use this awesome power wisely and carefully. They should not feel autonomous and lose harmony with nature and upset the equilibrium of an orderly life. Being conscious and humble must be our guide to live in peace and harmony.  We must distinguish right from wrong and maintain the global balance with equity to be of benefit to all humankind.

In the same verse, it is stated that iron, besides being a source of awesome power, has also many benefits for mankind. The benefits are noticeable in our daily lives. This is made possible with man’s creativity and skill in tool making and other innovations. There is hardly any place where one cannot notice an instrument, a tool or a machine that is made of iron. As a matter of fact, the advent of industrial revolution was made possible only through the use of iron which led to the construction of the railways, automobiles, bridges, cargo ships and so on. The list of material advantages of iron is literally endless. One can hardly miss the advance in transportation, which was hinted at in the Quran 16:5-8, which was made possible because of the use of iron.

We cannot miss the direct necessity of iron to the human body.  Every human body carries about 4 grams of iron in the form of hemoglobin which is so essential to the maintenance of life and sustenance of healthy living. Iron is involved in some essential reactions involving enzymes and other compounds in the human body. We can hardly breath, so to speak, without the help of iron. Besides, and to support our continued healthy existence, iron is also essential for the survival and proper functioning of animals and plants and their supporting ecosystems. Animals need iron in their blood  to breath and carry on with their daily lives, just as do humans. Plants need iron in their system to synthesize chlorophyll, which is essential for the functioning and existence of plants and for the production of oxygen so essential for life on earth.

Without iron, every living matter, from human beings to animals to plants, would cease to function and grow. Iron is a bridge between science and faith

It is worship to fulfill God’s command and to seek knowledge that will ultimately lead to the truth. God has prescribed the means that are available to the human to reason, think and reflect in a quest to understand natural phenomenon and use it to the progress of society and the created world.

God Has given Signs or guide posts to the faithful to follow and reach the desired end. In our continuing effort to seek knowledge, and learn more and more about our universe and beyond, what better means are there than science to facilitate the quest for the truth?

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

“You are not a drop in the ocean; you are the ocean in a drop.” 

Quotes from Rumi (A symphony of love in the midst of war)

“You are not a drop in the ocean; you are the ocean in a drop.”

 “Love is the bridge between you and everything.”

“Wherever you are, and whatever you do, be in love.”

“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”

“However much we describe and explain love, when we fall in love, we are ashamed of our words.”

“If you find Me not within you, you will never find Me.

“I have been with you, from the beginning of Me.”

“Only from the heart can you touch the sky.”

“A thousand half-loves must be forsaken to take one whole heart home.”

“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?”

“Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.”

“Reason is powerless in the expression of Love.”

“I closed my lips. I was silent. So, I spoke to him in a thousand languages”

“The lover visible and the Beloved invisible, Whoever saw such a love all the world?”

“I looked for Him in temples, churches, and mosques. I found Him within my own heart.”

“You searched the whole world for life, Yet in your own heart you will die. You were born in the blissful arms of union, Yet alone you will die.”

“Appear as you are, Be as you appear.”

“I am a bird of the heavenly garden, I belong not the earthly sphere, They have made for two or three days, A cage for my body.

“The presence of a friend of God is a book and even more. The book of the Sufi is not written with ink and letters. It is only a heart, White like snow.

“What can I do, Muslims? I do not know myself.
I am neither Christian nor Jew, neither Magian nor Muslim,
I am not from east or west, not from land or sea,
not from the shafts of nature nor from the spheres of the firmament,
not of the earth, not of water, not of air, not of fire.
I am not from the highest heaven, not from this world,
not from existence, not from being.
I am not from India, not from China, not from Bulgar, not from Saqsin,
not from the realm of the two Iraqs, not from the land of Khurasan.
I am not from the world, not from beyond,
not from heaven and not from hell.
I am not from Adam, not from Eve, not from paradise and not from Ridwan.
My place is placeless, my trace is traceless,
no body, no soul, I am from the soul of souls.
I have chased out duality, lived the two worlds as one.
One I seek, one I know, one I see, one I call.
He is the first, he is the last, he is the outer, he is the inner.
Beyond He and He is I know no other.
I am drunk from the cup of love, the two worlds have escaped me.
I have no concern but carouse and rapture.
If one day in my life I spend a moment without you
from that hour and that time I would repent my life.
If one day I am given a moment in solitude with you
I will trample the two worlds underfoot and dance forever.
O Sun of Tabriz, I am so tipsy here in this world,
I have no tale to tell but tipsiness and rapture.”

The Context of Rumi’s poems

1207 Birth of Jalaluddin Rum

1210 Ibn al Arabi arrives in Konya

1212 The al Mohads defeated at the battle of Las Novas de Talosa in Spain

1217 The Fifth Crusade aimed at the capture of Egypt

1219 Genghiz Khan invades Khorasan

1221 Genghiz Khan destroys Samarqand, Bokhara, Nishapur, Herat, Ghazna and much of Central and West Asia

1236 The Crusaders capture Cordoba, capital of Muslim spain

1248 The Crusaders capture Seville

1258 Hulagu Khan destroys Baghdad

1273 Rumi passes away in Konya, Turkey

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

The Origin, Nature, Methods and Limits of Knowledge

Professor  Nazeer Ahmed

Summary

“Love is the remedy for all ills, and it is the remedy of the soul in the two worlds”,  Fareed ud-din Attar (d 1219 CE), Mantiq at tayr (The Conference of the Birds).

Truth is one and indivisible. There cannot be one truth for nature and another truth for faith and a third one for history. This self-evident reality is overlooked by secular man who compartmentalizes science, history and faith.

Science, history and faith are interrelated in their origin as well as their functionality.  The origin of all knowledge is the Divine Name. Humankind is born with an innate capacity to know the Divine Name, and through the Name, know the names and nature of all things.

The function of knowledge is to know God (meaning, His Name) so that humankind may serve and worship Him. This is the grand schema for the existence of the human species.

All that exists springs from God and returns to God. History began when humankind separated itself from Divine presence.  Ever since then it has been engaged in a perpetual struggle to find Him. In this struggle, the body, mind, heart and the intellect are his cohorts. As humankind approaches Divine presence, the awe inspiring panorama of nature and the grandeur of the historical process pale into insignificance, collapse and become mere Signs. These Signs, in turn, point the way back to Divine presence from where humankind originated in the first place.  Thus science and history become a study of Divine Signs. They lose their profane character and take on a sublime character.

The discipline of each – science, history and faith- is a noble and grand enterprise in its own right.  Each one shows the grandeur and majesty of God’s creation and guides man to his noble destiny. Each one has its own assumptions. A man of wisdom is aware of these assumptions so that when he embarks on his discovery of the Truth, he does not confuse what is apparent with the reality that lies hidden behind the manifest.

In what follows, I present a unified vision of knowledge that integrates science, faith and history. The basis of this integration is the wisdom of the Qur’an.

The interrelationship of science, history and faith through a search for al Haqq (The Truth) is a theme that repeats in this collection of essays.

The Origin of Knowledge

Read! In the Name of your Rabb, Who created,

Created the human from that which clings.

Read! By your Rabb, the most bountiful,    

Who taught by the Pen,

Taught humankind what it knew not.

No! The human does indeed transgress,

When he looks upon himself as autonomous.  (The Qur’an 96:1-5)

Knowledge is a treasure. It is gifted through the Spirit which is the source of life.  Whether one is a saint or a scientist one must concede that with birth come life, knowledge and power. A dead man has no life, no power and no knowledge.  It stands to reason that knowledge is a Divine gift that accompanies the Spirit which is infused into a person between conception and birth. It is the Spirit that is the life source. Without the Spirit, there is no life and no knowledge.

Ilm ul Ibara and Ilm ul Ishara

Broadly speaking, knowing is of two kinds:

  • Knowledge that can be taught
  • Knowledge that cannot be taught but can only be alluded to.
  •  

Knowledge that can be taught is called ilm ul ibara. In this category belong science, history, mathematics, geometry, civics  and the languages. Knowledge that cannot be taught but can only be alluded to is termed ilm ul ishara. In this category belong faith, love, honor, valor, courage, beauty, compassion and forgiveness.

There is a third category of knowledge, ilm al Wahi or ilm al ladnuni  that is bestowed only upon the Prophets.

The Qur’an uses parables and similes to convey transcendent ideas that are difficult or impossible to communicate through discursive language. Transcendental ideas such as love, grace, beauty, wisdom and peace are best felt, not expressed.  Accordingly, knowledge can be divided into two categories: ilm ul ishara (knowledge that is allusory and cannot be expressed through language), and ilm ul ibara (knowledge that is descriptive and can be expressed through language). Ilm ul Ibara can be measured and taught in a school. Ilm ul Ishara cannot; it is a Divine gift, a moment of Grace.

Consider, for instance, love which animates creation. Love is the cement that binds the world of man. Human love is but a simile to Divine Love that sustains all creation, like the light of an oil lamp is a simile to the light of the sun. The difference is that while the sun and its light are finite, Divine Love is infinite, boundless, beyond description.  Such is the language of love, the language of the heart, the language of allusion.

The word Ibara has its root in the trilateral Arabic word A-B-R (a-ba-ra) which means to wade, as wading across a river from one shore to the other. In prose, it means a line or a description. Accordingly, any thought or idea that can be described through prose, poetry or mathematical symbols can be classified as ilm-ul-ibara.  Such is the language of the body and the mind.

The Nafs or the Self straddles ilm ul ibara and ilm ul ishara. It receives its inputs from the senses, mind and heart. It is molded and transformed by these inputs. Like the senses, the Nafs measures in space-time. Like the mind it extrapolates. Like the heart it perceives. But it has its own unique characteristics which are not shared with other human attributes. That is its free will.

We illustrate in the diagram below our classification of knowledge.

A CLASSIFICATION OF KNOWLEDGE IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE QUR’AN

“Soon shall We show them Our Signs on the horizon and within themselves until it is clear to them that it is the Truth)”- (The Qur’an 41:53)

KNOWLEDGE  (A TREASURE THAT IS A DIVINE GIFT )

  • ILM UL IBARA (KNOWLEDGE THAT IS PERCEIVED AND CAN BE TAUGHT)
    • SIGNS THAT ARE PERCEIVED BY THE SENSES (INDUCTIVE SCIENCES)
      •  
        •  
          • NATURAL SCIENCES (PHYSICS, CHEMISTRY, BIOLOGY)
          • HISTORY
          • SOCIOLOGY
          • THE LANGUAGES
          • CIVICS AND GOVERNANCE
          • RITUALS
    • SIGNS THAT ARE PERCEIVED BY THE MIND (DEDUCTIVE SCIENCES)
      • PHILOSOPHY
      • NUMBERS
      • MATHEMATICS
      • GEOMETRY
  • SIGNS THAT ARE PERCEIVED BY THE NAFS (SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG; JUSTICE AND BALANCE; ORDER AND PROPORTION)
    •  
      •  
        • NAFS E AMMARA
        • NAFS E MULHAMA
        • NAFS E LAWWAMA
        • NAFS E MUTMAENNA
        • NAFS E RADIYA
        • NAFS E MARDIYA
  • ILM UL ISHARA (KNOWLEDGE THAT IS BEYOND PERCEPTION AND CANNOT BE TAUGHT)
    • SIGNS THAT ARE PERCEIVED BY THE HEART
      • KNOWLEDGE ACCESSIBLE TO THE SADR
      • KNOWLEDGE ACCESSIBLE TO THE QALB
      • KNOWLEDGE ACCESSIBLE TO FUAD
      • KNOWLEDGE ACCESSIBLE TO BIRR
      • KNOWLEDGE ACCESSIBLE TO THE INTELLECT
  • ILM AL WAHI OR ILM AL LADUNI (KNOWLEDGE BESTOWED ONLY UPON THE PROPHETS)
    • REVELATION
    • GUIDANCE FOR HUMANKIND
    • CRITERION FOR RIGHT AND WRONG

AN ALIM IS ONE WHO IS GIVEN THE GIFT OF BOTH ILM UL ISHARA AND ILM UL IBARA AND IS ALSO BLESSED WITH AN UNDERSTANDING OF ILM AL WAHI.

Empirical Knowledge as a Sign

The created world becomes but a simile before the grandeur and majesty of God. This simple truth provides a basis for the integration of the physical and the spiritual. The physical becomes “a Sign” and points the way to Divine presence. So does history. So do the Signs in the heart.

The approach of the Qur’an is inductive.  It builds the awareness of Divine omnipresence through Signs in nature and in history. The quest for the Divine is through the struggle of man on earth; the path lies through science and history. It is a limitless, unceasing effort until man meets God. By contrast, the philosophical approach is deductive. It starts with axioms and theses and deduces inferences from it. If the axiom is flawed, so is the deduction.  In addition, reasoning and the process of deduction itself have inherent limits.

God reveals His majesty and His bounty every moment through nature and through history. Nature is a great teacher. It is an open book with an infinite number of pages. It offers an infinite variety of vistas. Humans try to understand nature and use it for their benefit. The question is: how can the physical and the natural be integrated into a holistic picture which includes not just the inputs from the body and the mind but also the perceptions of the heart?

The Qur’anic perspective integrates the physical, the rational and the emotive by asserting their common origin and their common functionality. Each of these modes of knowing springs from the spirit (the Ruh) and is a Divine gift. Each of these assists humankind in discharging its responsibility to know, serve, praise, adore and worship Him. We will briefly outline here how the senses, the mind and the heart facilitate the perception of Signs of Divine presence and serve to augment faith.

In the secular view there is no interconnectivity between the worldviews of the body, the mind and the heart. The interconnectivity is established when these worldviews are taken as Signs from a Single Source so that man may perceive the presence of the Divine and attain certainty of faith.

Consider the physical. The senses act as windows to the physical in space-time and facilitate the construction of an empirical worldview which forms the basis of science.  This worldview, based on the assumptions of before and after, subject and object, is useful but is deceptive. Here is an example: Consider a rainbow. A physical description of the rainbow would take us in the direction of wavelengths, dispersion, wave propagation, optic nerves, and neurons in the brain. Consider this worldview of wavelengths, dispersion and neurons. Where  in this description is the enchanting beauty of the rainbow as it vaults the sky from horizon to horizon? It is not there. Yet, even the most unlettered human can relate to the beauty of the rainbow and be awed by it. The beauty of the rainbow is not in the physical description because beauty is not in wavelengths, cells and atoms. It is in the Self, the Nafs which is hidden from the physical, but makes its presence felt through interaction with the physical.

The secular man is constantly at war with himself. He cannot circumscribe the heart with his logic. Secular thought would have us believe that there is nothing more to the cosmos than the physical. The materialists go even one step further; they reduce all experience to the physical. In the process they negate the essence of being human which lies in the perceptions of not just the physical but also perceptions of the heart and the Self (Nafs).

This dichotomy between the physical and the Self is removed when the physical is looked upon as a Divine Sign. Such a perspective does not negate the scientific approach which demands its validation in observation and measurement. It merely imparts a transcendent quality to the physical so that the scientist can use the experience of the senses, not as an end in itself but as a Sign to perceive the presence of the Divine and witness the grand panorama of creation from a platform of faith and reason.  Such a view does not negate the processes of science. But it changes the perspective in a profound way.

Every moment Divine grace displays itself in nature, and it does so with majesty. In it there are Signs for the perceptive minds. The study of nature thus becomes mandatory on humans to witness these Signs, use them as occasions to celebrate Divine grace, apply reason, learn from them and use them to create Divine patterns (‘amal us salehat) in the world.

Whatever is in the heavens and the earth ask of Him,

Every moment He (reveals His Signs) with grandeur. (The Qur’an 55:23 )

The physical sciences are a part of ilm ul ibara. They can be described and taught. They are an essential part of the sublime gift of ilm (knowledge) bestowed upon the human.

History as a Sign and a Teacher

History offers a fascinating panorama of human struggle on earth. The rise and fall of civilizations, the making and unmaking of dynasties, the formation and breakup of societies offer endless lessons for the discerning mind. The question is: Is history a part of a grand Divine scheme or is it merely a collection of dates, events, conflicts, triumphs and tragedies?

In the secular paradigm, history has no Grand Purpose. It is like a meandering stream, without a known origin and without a known destiny. It may reveal its secrets to philosophical scrutiny but such scrutiny yields answers that are partial, incomplete and change with the vagaries of time-space.

In the Qur’anic paradigm, history has a beginning and an end. It has a meaning and a purpose. It begins with creation and ends with judgment. Its meaning is to be sought in the perpetual struggle of man to find God:

Verily! O humankind ! You are toiling on toward your Lord! Painfully toiling! And you shall meet Him! (84:6)

The purpose of creation is to know God:

I was a hidden Treasure. I willed that I be known. So I created a creation (that would know Me).  (Hadith e Qudsi)

Man is not separate from nature, or antagonistic to it, as he is in the secular perspective.  The Divine laws that govern the universe govern humankind also:

The Most Compassionate,

Taught the Qur’an,

Created Humankind,

Taught him speech,

The sun and the moon, (rotate in accordance) with mathematics,

And the stars and the trees submit (to His heavenly Laws),

The heavens has He raised high and established dynamic equilibrium therein,

So that you do not violate that equilibrium in your own lives (The Qur’an 55: 1-7)

In the Qur’anic view, history is another Sign, like nature. It is like a mirror that teaches humankind something about itself so that humankind may learn and work towards its ethical journey to find God.

The Noble Station (Maqam) of the Mind

In all of God’s creation, there is nothing as noble as the Mind, except the heart. The Mind is that collection of attributes that sifts through, analyzes, integrates and creates that enormous ocean of knowledge that distinguishes man from the beast. The distinguishing characteristic of the Mind is that it conceives of the possibility of things. It even admits of the possibility of heaven, of the Tablet and the Pen. Logic is its companion, reason its queen. Questioning is its lance. It plays with the concrete and processes what is abstract. When it is set free, it seeks to conquer the heavens and the earth.

Mathematics and Symbols

The Mind is the master of the abstract. Symbols and concepts are its vocabulary. This ability to grasp symbols and concepts, work with them, transform them, integrate them and bring forth new symbols and concepts is a divine gift. It is one of the distinguishing capabilities of the human genre that sets it apart from the beast.  This ability is what has enabled humankind to build the edifice of knowledge. It is a natural ability, inherited at birth by every human.

Mathematics and symbols can be taught just as language, history, sociology, civics, politics and governance can be taught. Hence the study of symbols also falls under ilm ul ibara.

The Mutuality of the Body and Mind

Sublime as it is, the Mind is helpless without the body. It draws upon the inputs from the senses to validate its perceptions. It is for this reason that sometimes one says that the Body and the Mind are one: the Body is an extension of the Mind while the Mind is an extension of the Body. Let us elaborate this subtle idea by an example.

Our knowledge of the cosmos is space-time bound. The senses, i.e., the eyes, the ears, touch, taste and smell, take inputs from this space-time bound world which are then processed by the mind so that we “know” what it is that we have seen, heard, tasted or touched. The mind is like the processor of a computer into which inputs are provided by the senses. For example, a child touches a hot stove. The input from his touch is processed by the mind which tells him that it is hot. Even if we devise an infrared sensor to measure the temperature, the sensor must be read before we know that the stove is hot. Neither the body nor the mind would know anything of the condition of the stove without the help each of the other.

The sublime character of the mind is that it is space-time bound but it can conceive of the possibility of a world that is not bound by space-time and has many more dimensions than space-time. Indeed, it can conceive of the possibility of heaven.

The Position of Philosophy

Philosophy supported by empirical evidence becomes science. Philosophy unsupported by empirical evidence becomes speculation.  Logic and rational thought are its tools. Reason is its companion. Philosophy is deductive science. It starts with a premise and draws conclusions from it.  The limitations of philosophy are in the very assumptions that form its foundation. The errors of the philosophers arise when they forget the assumptions on which their philosophy is based and proceed to apply their methods to issues and concepts that are beyond the domain of philosophy. Let us offer an example.

In the eighth century CE, the Mu’tazalites (Muslim philosophers) adopted Greek philosophy as their own and rose to a position of political dominance. They were enamored of the precision, the logic and apparent cohesiveness of rational thought. In their enthusiasm they proceeded to apply their rational scrutiny to matters of faith forgetting that faith has a transcendental dimension beyond time-space whereas the objects of philosophy are space-time bound.  In the process, they fell flat on their faces. Their positions were rejected following an intellectual revolution led by Imam Hanbali and the Usuli ulema (846 CE) and they were expelled from their position of power and influence.

In summary, ilm ul ibara is knowledge that can be expressed and taught. It includes the knowledge that is acquired through the body and the mind. The disciplines that are a domain of the body include natural science, history, sociology, economics, politics and governance. Knowledge acquired through the body (the senses) depends on observation and measurement and is called inductive knowledge.

The body and the mind work together to form a worldview. They are intertwined with each other to such an extent that oftentimes it is said that the Body and the Mind are one.

Reason is one of the greatest blessings of the Creator upon His creation. It is an attribute of the mind. The mind is a noble faculty. It is the master of logic and reason. It is distinguished by its ability to read symbols and conceive of the possibility of things. Knowledge acquired by the mind can also be taught and hence it is also a part of ilm ul ibara. It includes mathematics, geometry, logic and philosophy.

What is Ilm ul Ishara

Ilm ul Ishara is knowledge that can be alluded to but not expressed through language. It includes the language of the heart and the language of the hidden Self (the soul).  Examples are: love, hate, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, generosity.

The secular worldview recognizes only the empirical and the rational (the Body and the Mind) as sources of knowledge. The secular world is cold, rational, devoid of feelings and emotions. Secular man finds himself alone in this cold world. He does not speak to this world; the world does not speak to him.

What makes us human is not just our Body and our Mind. It is also our heart and our soul.  Feelings and emotions are valid sources of experience. And experience is the basis of knowledge.

How can we deny that we love? Or that we have compassion and mercy? Why does a man want to climb a mountain? Why does a singer sing or a poet compose poetry? Joy and sorrow cannot be measured by instruments nor comprehended by the mind. They are attributes of the heart.  They are attributes of the soul.

The Imperfect Worldview of the Body and the Mind

Secular man who believes only in the material and the rational overlooks the flaws in his worldview. As an illustration, consider the red color of a beautiful rose. Ask a materialist to tell you where the redness in the rose comes from. His description will be something along the following lines: Electromagnetic waves from the sun hit the rose. All waves except those around 0.63 micrometers are absorbed by the rose. When reflected, they travel through space and are received by the eye. They hit the retina, travel along the optic nerve and are recorded in brain cells. Ask yourself: where in this picture is the red color of the rose? It is not there. The red color is neither in the rose nor in the eye. It is somewhere else.  It is in the Self (soul).

The attributes of color, beauty, joy and sorrow that make our world rich and meaningful are absent from a materialist worldview drawn purely on the basis of the empirical and the rational. Such a worldview is flawed and incomplete. It is also deceptive, erroneous and misleading.

The Exalted Station (Maqam) of the Heart

In all of God’s creation, there is nothing as noble, as sublime as the human heart, for it alone is capable of knowing the Name of God. Nothing, not the body, not the mind, measures up to heart in its nobility, its expanse and its heavenly character. Mohammed ibn Ali al Hakim al Tirmidhi, that great Sufi shaikh of the tenth century, in his treatise Bayan al Sadr wa al Qalb wa al Fuad wa al Lubb, compared the heart to the throne of God.  He wrote: “The heart has a nobler position even with respect to the Throne (arsh), for the Throne receives the Grace of God and merely reflects it, whereas the heart receives the Grace of God, reflects it and is aware of it.”  The sublime attribute of the heart is that it is aware; it knows what the angels do not know.

Hadith e Qudsi (divinely inspired saying of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh)) says: The heavens and the mountains and the earth were not large enough to contain Me. But the heart of the believer was large enough to contain Me.”

The heart as it is used here should not be confused with the physical heart. It should be understood as a collection of attributes. Based upon the terminology of the Qur’an, Imam Tarmidhi, ascribes four ascending stations to the heart, each with its own distinct characteristics.

The Sadr. This is the outermost station of the heart.  It is open to the goodness that comes from the spirit. It is also open to the distractions of the world. It expands with the light of the spirit and contracts with the darkness of evil whispering. In this sense it is like the aperture of a camera. The more it opens, the more it admits light.

The Qalb. This is the heart proper. The word Qalb in Arabic means that which turns. It is like a gimbal in a spacecraft. One face of the heart turns towards the Light of the spirit. The other face turns towards the distractions of the world. The heart that turns towards the spirit receives the light that comes from Divine presence. A heart that turns towards the deceptive appearance of the material world is sealed off from that light.

The Fu’ad. The word Fu’ad comes from the word Fayida which in Arabic means that which is of benefit. It is the kernel of the heart. It is that attribute which enables the heart not only to be aware of the Divine Names but to see the presence of God around it. Hence it is the eye of the heart.

The Birr. This is the essence of the heart. It is like the oil in the lamp, that which gives off light. It is the station wherein are manifest the beauty and majesty of Divine presence. It is the inner sanctum of the heart that gazes in its rapture at the ruh or the spirit and receives the infinite Grace that comes from God’s presence. The word Birr has two letters, b and r. The “b” stands for Baraka (grace). The “r” stands for ra’a, that is to see. The Birr is a perpetual witness to the blessings that accrue from the tajalliyat (manifestations) of  Divine attributes. This is the highest station of the heart, the one that is attained by the sages, the awliya.

What is ilm al laduni?

This is the knowledge that is given only to the Prophets, the Messengers of God. It is Divine wisdom. It contains guidance for humankind and the criterion to separate right from wrong. It provides the framework and the wisdom (hikmah) within which all other knowledge is sorted out. Included in it are the Qur’an, the Injil, the Torah and all the revealed books given to all the prophets through the ages in all parts of the world.

What is the Nafs

The Nafs is a composite term which includes the body, the mind and the heart. Like the heart, it is a collection of attributes and is not to be confused with a specific part of the body. Depending on the context it is translated as “person”, “soul”, or the Self. It is the “I” that remains hidden and yet makes itself felt through the body, the mind and the heart. In the English language it is sometimes incorrectly translated as “the Ego”. The Ego is only one aspect of the Nafs; it does not capture the full, comprehensive meaning of the Nafs.

The secular perspective denies the existence of the Nafs. In its materialist outlook, it confines itself to the concrete and the rational. “What is material is real and what is real is material” is its perspective. Consequently, secular man cannot come to terms with the emotions and the passions that govern the world of man.  In the secular perspective there is no color, only wavelengths. There is no joy and no sorrow only chemical changes in the body. The secular world is cold, rational, devoid of the higher impulses that make us human.

Attributes of the Nafs

The Nafs is distinguished by its attributes, just as are its individual elements, the heart, the mind and the body. Some of the most important attributes of the Nafs are:

  1. The Nafs is the seat of cognition and knowledge. The sounds that we hear are “heard” not by the ear but by the Nafs. The sights that we see are “seen” not by the eye but by the Nafs. The “heat” and “cold” that we experience are not experienced by the skin but by the Nafs. The Nafs (soul or the Self) is the cognitive element in a human being.
  2. The Nafs is the fountain of speech. The faculty of “bayan” as it is called in Arabic, is not merely the ability to speak a particular language such as English, French, Arabic, Urdu, Swahili or Zulu, but it is that innate human ability to transform sounds and signs into ideas, to dissect, combine and integrate them and build the tree of knowledge that distinguishes the world of man from the world of the beast. Speech is not in the tongue; it is in the Nafs or the soul.

God, Most Gracious,

Taught the Qur’an,

Created the human,

Taught him speech.” (The Qur’an 55:1-4)

3. The Nafs is the owner of intent and free will.

Humankind is distinguished by its free will. “I will, therefore I am”, is the succinct way to state this. Man has the free will to choose and realize his existential potential.  It is this same free will that makes a man climb a mountain, conquer the oceans, ride the waves, and send a rocket to the moon.

4. The Nafs is the knower of beauty, of order and proportion.

And the Nafs

By the sense of order and proportion bestowed upon it. (The Quran 91:7)

The Nafs has a sense of order, proportion and beauty. Every human, man, woman and child is endowed with these attributes. That is how even the most unlettered person can relate to the enchanting beauty of the rainbow or the serene majesty of a mountain.  The Nafs recognizes beauty, order and proportion in the external world and relates to it because the external is a reflection of what is already in the Nafs.   It is like looking in the mirror; the beauty of the image is a reflection of the beauty of that which causes the image.

5. The Nafs is the seat of the Ego.

The Nafs is sometimes mistranslated into English as the Ego. In Arabic, the corresponding term for the Ego would be “Anaya”.  The term “Ego” is a Freudian term used in Western psychology and has its own specific connotations. The Nafs is a broader term than the Ego inasmuch as it includes the hidden attributes of the body, the mind and the heart, and hence connotes the total human being, or simply, the Person.

It is the Ego that incites the human to self-aggrandizement, to rebel against the commandments of God and set himself up as an open adversary to Divine Will and in the process lays the groundwork for his self-destruction:

Nay! But humankind does rebel

In that it considers itself autonomous (self-sufficient);

We will drag him by his forelock,

A lying, sinful forelock! (96: 6-7)

6. The Nafs has a conscience and is the differentiator of good and evil.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of the Nafs is its ability to know right from wrong, good from evil (…And its guidance as to what is wrong and what is right… Qur’an 91:8). The propensity towards evil and its ability to say “no” to that tendency is a uniquely human ability. Humankind is born with “deen ul fitra”, in the natural state with closeness to Divine presence, but through its own actions gets away from the Divine presence and has to be reminded again and again to return to the Divine fold.

The Veil of the Nafs

The susceptibility of the Nafs to evil makes the Nafs the biggest barrier between the Light that comes with the Ruh and its perception. Properly trained, this barrier can be removed and the Nafs can become the carrier of that Light. The progression of the Nafs from an obstructer of Light to a carrier of Light is a continuous process. Four stations of the Nafs are identified in the Qur’an:

Nafs e Ammara: This is the dark side of man, prone to whisperings from the evil one. Nafs e Ammara stands steeped in darkness, cut off from the light emanating from the Spirit.

Nafs e Mulhama: This is the aspiring Nafs, the state when a person starts questioning the evil tendencies of his own Self and tries to rectify them.

Nafs e Lawwama: This is the blaming Nafs, the station from where the Self, having overcome the evil inclinations of the Self, reaches out to a higher station, to find the Light that comes from Divine presence.

Nafs e Mutmainna:

At this station, the Nafs has overcome its Ego and has shunned whisperings of the evil one and has turned with complete surrender to Divine presence. It is the station of satisfaction, tranquility and peace.

Nafs e Radiya

At this station, the Nafs is satisfied with itself.

Nafs e Maradiya

This is the highest station. At this station, the Nafs is satisfied with itself and its Creator is satisfied with it.

Tirmidhi tabulates the stations of the Nafs with respect to the stations of the heart: Nafs e Ammara corresponds to Sadr; Nafs e Mulhama corresponds to the Qalb; Nafs e Lawwama corresponds to the Fu’ad, and Nafs e Mutmainna corresponds to Birr.

The Interconnectivity of Knowledge

Truth is one. Its origin is the Light that comes with the ruh (the Spirit). It is the Spirit that suffuses the heart, the mind and the body to acquire knowledge. It follows that the various categories of knowledge are interconnected.  

The primal origin of knowledge from a divine source establishes the interconnectivity between different forms of knowledge. Ilm ul ibara and ilm ul ishara both have Divine origin. What is learned through the senses springs from the same Source as what is learned through the mind and what is perceived by the heart.  And all of them point like arrows (Signs) towards that divine purpose in creation, namely, to serve and worship Him. Unlike the secular framework where the body and mind stand as antagonists to the heart and to each other, in the Qur’anic paradigm, the body, mind and the heart are partners, each contributing its share to the acquisition of knowledge that enables humankind to discharge its divinely established responsibility to serve and worship.

There is interconnectivity in nature. There is interconnectivity between the perceived world and the world beyond perception. This interconnectivity is through the Creator, who creates everything, every moment, with sublime beauty, complete perfection and supreme majesty.

The Purpose of Creation

The various categories of knowledge are also interconnected through their shared functionality.

Does the universe have a purpose? As opposed to the secular view of a purposeless world, the Qur’anic view holds that there is a moral purpose to creation, that is, to serve and worship God:

I created not the Jinns and Humankind except to serve (worship). The Qur’an (51:56)

The word that is used in the Qur’an to describe this purpose is “‘abd” which may mean worship or unqualified servitude.  Thus humankind and jinns (another form of intelligent creation made of formless energy) are enjoined to acquire knowledge so that they may know God and serve and worship Him.

The fossilization of knowledge

Knowledge is fossilized because of the assumptions made by man about the secular nature of the cosmos. By dissociating the material and the rational from the heart and the soul, secular man ends up in a blind alley where the heart and the Nafs (soul) are absent from his worldview. History, science, philosophy, mathematics, good and evil, passion and emotion each are pigeon-holed into separate compartments with no interconnectivity. Secular man sees no grand purpose in creation. He embarks on a search for the truth using atoms, molecules, neutrons, protons, strings and wavelengths as his props. And what he finds in the end are nothing but atoms, molecules, neutrons, protons, strings and wavelengths.

Summary: I have presented in this paper a vision of knowledge that integrates the empirical, the rational, the intuitive and infusive (science, philosophy, perception and revelation).  Knowledge is a Divine gift. It has a grand purpose, and that is to know, adore and serve Him. The laws of nature and of history are Signs in this quest and serve as stations on the ladders of ascent towards Divine presence.  Humankind must strive to study these Signs so that through them it fulfills its heavenly mandate.  The heart is the seat of awareness, a container of Divine Names. Revelation is Divine guidance so that man may find God. Faith is the most precious jewel in the treasure house of the heart. Science, history and faith are not antagonists; they are complementary Divine gifts and it is through them that man finds God. Each is a sacred path that starts from the Truth and points towards the Truth. This is the essence of the Shariah, the Divine Cannon, the Divine Law which pervades the world seen and the world unseen.