Monthly Archives: September 2022

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Science, Scientific Progress and The Religion of Islam In Today’s World

It is common these days to hear the sentiment science is progress and religion is backward. You believe in religion? You believe in fairy tales. You have been brainwashed. Clearly you are incapable of independent thought or critical analysis.

Its important as Muslims to know where this came from, where it stands today, and what the general Muslim position is, understanding that even in the Muslim viewpoint there would be some debate and variance in the positions held.

Where it came from

So, where did this come from? It is the late 1950s & early 60s, the world war is over, Europe is flattened, UK is divesting its colonies by giving them Independence – cutting them loose, in part to focus on rebuilding and in part under the terms of the Marshall Plan, as conditions to get funding for that reconstruction.

There is an ongoing ideological war between the Capitalist West and the Communist Europe, across many fronts – nuclear, military, geopolitical, economic and social. This of course is the time for the Cuban Revolution, with Fidel and Che declaring a socialist state. The Cold War period is at its peak, the nuclear arms race is underway, American technology in air and sea helped western forces repel the North Korean attack on South Korea. And communist Russia seems to be winning on the technology front. It not only launches the Sputnik 1 in 1957 – the 1st earth-orbiting satellite, and Sputnik 2 a month later carrying the dog Laika into space, but also Luna 2 in 1959 – the 1st man made object to reach the moon, and in 1961 the first human, Yuri Gagarin, to reach into space on board the Vostok 1.

These are disturbing developments, since scientific and technological superiority of the Communist Russia can shift the balance of power in the west. Not to mention the ideological impressions on the minds of the global citizen – we saw it in the shift in focus in things like the toys kids played with and the themes of focus in fiction – a shift from The Wild West – cowboys and Indians – to sci-fi and aliens. If you saw Toy Story, you would see Woody and Buzz Lightyear side-by-side as one example of this.

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None of this was helpful to the capitalist/democratic west, so there was need to win this war. To this end we saw the formation not only of NASA in the late 50s but of the NIST – national institute for science and technology. What do we need to win the space race? We need more engineers and technologists – STEM, basically, and to do that we have to re-engineer the education system – syllabus, scholarships, the works. It is at this point we saw the secular movement and the separation of church and the state – in order to control the curriculum, we need the church-dominated schools to yield. So if we are funding the school, we want to inform the content to help the country achieve its goals.

It was of course from all of this we saw the grandeur of Rocket Science – aeronautical engineering – and the formative years of computer sciences in the modern context. This of course gave a voice to the agnostic and the critical skeptics – establishing a solid foundation for atheism as we know it today. So you stop teaching about God, focus on natural laws and principles, and seek justification from selections of specific authors, and the result is what we have – a materialist godless society replete with moral relativism.

Now to be clear, the problem to Muslims was not the developments in science itself, as was the objection with some other religions[1]. In fact, Islam propelled development in science, as we will see later on, but the problem was rather the removal of the religious ethic that contained development within a self-regulating ethic of morality – was is directed to the greater good.

Where are we now? But this brings us back to the sentiment science is progress and religion is backward. And that was how we got here.

[1] In The Meadows of Gold, al-Mas‘udi wrote his famous condemnation of revelation over reason: The sciences were financially supported, honoured everywhere, universally pursued; they were like tall edifices supported by strong foundations. Then the Christian religion appeared in Byzantium and the centres of learning were eliminated, their vestiges effaced and the edifice of Greek learning was obliterated. Everything the ancient Greeks had brought to light vanished, and the discoveries of the ancients were altered beyond recognition.

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Crime, Poverty, Social Issues and The Muslim Mindset

We have seen the world heave under the covid restrictions, and following that, we are experiencing even more pressures from inflation and supply chain disruption. Society seems to be in upheaval, with increases in crime, poverty, more persons getting ill, less staff and more work, and more complex demands on the work that persons do.

To speak with us about this is Br. Faheem Mohammed, Director of the MAI Institute, University Faculty and Researcher. Br. Faheem Assalaamu alaikum and welcome to the program.


Q1 In the face of all that we are seeing in the community and in society, how do we make sense of all that is happening today?

Well, what we are seeing today is the symptoms at different levels, across different facets of society.

Socially crime is spiking because people need money – price increases in food, fuel and pharmacy, and school supplies etc. mean that people have to find a way, and unfortunately some choose to do that at the expense of others.

The stress of course raises the demands for narcotics, which means more money spending there, and increases in gang warfare and people fighting for turf and distribution blocks.

None of this is new. Its maybe more amplified, but its been the case for decades.

Economically, the economy is not doing well, and you might find some companies are either relocating to or focusing on countries like Guyana with cheaper resources and better opportunities, or simply cannot compete with maybe online channels with more developed AI technology, or simply better funded larger competition.

These of course all have political and legal implications – ease of doing business, for e.g., or the political strategy to drive economic performance of certain sectors.

At the core, what we are sure about is this is a rough patch, and whether its natural or man-made, we are at this part of the cycle and its unpleasant because of the difficulties and behaviours it leads to.

Q2 What does that mean for us as Muslims today?

Well, with everything happening over the past 3 years, I don’t think any Muslim would be surprised, to be honest. We are told in the Quran that we will face trials in this life – in Quran 29:2: Ahasiban nasu, an yut raqoo, an ya kuloo ‘a manna wa hoom, la yuf ta nun

Do people think once they say, “We believe,” that they will be left without being put to the test?

And again in Chapter 2:155: Wa la nablu wanna kum be shay inm minal kowfee wal jew’e wa nak sinm minal amwaali wal anfosee, was samaratee

We will certainly test you with a touch of fear and famine and loss of property, life, and crops.

We understand that life happens in cycles – sometimes good, sometimes bad, and it’s a similar concept in economics, with the cycles of the economy from expansion and peak to contraction and trough, or in social change as the rise and fall of civilizations as presented by scholars like Ibn Khaldun.

In fact, we are told in the Quran “For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease. Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.” (Qur’an 94: 5–6)

So whichever frame you look at it through, these are tough times and its something that is not permanent, so we have to ride it through.

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Q 3: How do we as Muslims approach that?

Well, as Muslims, it’s a bit easier to treat with, to be honest. In the same way Almighty Allah tells us we will be tried, He also gives us a number of assurances, a social contract, if you will, in writing, in the Quran. And these help us to frame our psychology and thoughts in facing difficulties:

  • We are told in the Quran for example we will not be given more than we can bear (2:286)
  • And we are told in a Hadith: When Allah wants to give you more, He tries you (Bukhari)
  • In another Hadith we are told: Those whose religious commitment is strong, will be tested more severely, and the trials to the Prophets were strongest (Al-Tirmidhi)
  • But as for a human, whenever his Sustainer tries him by His generosity and by letting him enjoy a life of ease, he says, “My Sustainer has been generous towards me”; whereas, whenever He tries him by tightening his means of livelihood, he says, “My Sustainer has disgraced me!” But nay. (Quran 89:15-17)
  • “Never a believer is stricken with a discomfort, an illness, an anxiety, a grief or mental worry or even the pricking of a thorn but Allah will expiate his sins on account of his patience.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Q 4: Is there something specific that we can do to address the challenges?

            Generally we are guided in Islam to focus on a few key things:

  1. In times of difficulty, we need to be patient and contented

Allah is with those who are patient in adversity (Quran 2:153)

“O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” (2:153)

We are consoled it might happen to make us stronger. Allah tells us in the  Holy Quran “…it may be that you hate something when it is good for you and it may be that you love something when it is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not know.” (Qur’an, 2:216)

  • Related to that, we have to make the first move to improve our lot

God does not change the condition of a people unless they change what is in themselves (Qur’an 13:11)

Let one of you ask his Lord for his needs, all of them, even for a shoestring when his breaks. (Al-Tirmidhi)

Call upon your Lord with humility and in private. Verily, He does not love transgressors. (Quran 7:55)

  • In times of abundance and ease, we need to be humble and generous.

And turn not your face away from men with pride, nor walk in insolence through the earth.  Verily, God likes not each arrogant boaster. (Quran 31:18)

And the slaves of God are those who walk on the earth in humility and calmness, and when the foolish address them (with bad words) they reply back with mild words of gentleness. (Quran 25:63)

And We have already sent [messengers] to nations before you, [O Muhammad]; then We seized them with poverty and hardship that perhaps they might humble themselves. (Quran 6:42)

Remember your Lord in yourselves with humility and in private without announcing it in the mornings and evenings, and do not be among the heedless. (Quran 7:205)

And the servants of (Allah) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, “Peace!” (Quran 25:63)

If ye are grateful, I will add more (favours) unto you” (Quran 14:7)

[6:141] “Eat from their fruits, and give the due alms on the day of harvest” 

“O son of Adam, spend (in charity), and I’ll spend on you!” Hadith Qudsi

Honorable words and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury (Quran 2:263)

  • And at all times, we are commanded as Muslims to have faith in Allah.

“Whoever puts his trust in Allah; He will be enough for Him.” (Quran 65:3)

“And for those who fear Allah, He (ever) prepares a way out. And He provides for him from (sources) he never could imagine” (65:2-3).

“And if any one puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is (Allah) for him. For Allah will surely accomplish his purpose. Verily, for all things has Allah appointed a due proportion” (Quran 65:3)

“Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest” Quran (13:28)

“If anyone continually asks forgiveness from Allah, Allah will appoint for him a way out of every distress, and a relief from every anxiety, and will provide for him from where he did not reckon.” (Hadith)

“Whoever Allah wants good for him, He puts them to the test. He puts them through difficulties; like a diamond or gold that has to be burnt after which anything bad from it is removed so that what you have is pure diamond or pure gold.” (Hadith)

Q5 When your children are hungry or you have sacrificed whatever you could, this seems like something easy to say but difficult to practice…

Yes, it’s a question of faith – of building your relationship with Allah, building your concept of Him, and your relationship with Him by understanding what He asks of you and what He promises in return.

Q6 Let me interrupt you there, what really does that entail?

            Well, its not really as complicated as some make it out to be. You need to know:

  1. The principles of authentic Sunni Islam. And I say authentic because there are some extremist groups that claim to be Sunni, but their practices are anything but Sunni. In fact, globally, mainstream Muslims more and more are speaking out against those fanatical extremists who have misrepresented Islam for the past decades.
  2. But anyway, an understanding of the principles of authentic Sunni Islam, the practices and bahavioural requirements or guidelines of Islam – beyond the 5 pillars, but going into how to act with parents, children, neighbours, in the workplace, etc., and thirdly
  3. It is helpful to know the culture and history of Islam and Muslims, beyond the Seerah, which everyone has  access to and hears. But there is soo much similarity of Mulims today and the time of Andalus, or with the invasion of the Monguls, or the clashes of Muslim society with colonial powers in the industrialization era, for example – a lot that we can learn from and understand to guide how we deal with issues we face today.

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Q7 I recall you were mentioning some aspect of this in introducing the Islamiyat Program…

            Yes, that mindset was… (interrupted)

Q8 I had interrupted you to speak about building the faith in Allah. I was asking about how to build faith…

Yes. I was saying building faith in Allah is one thing. And some would say that is enough, but that requires a certain understanding. For those not there, I would add building that faith requires a certain independent mindset on one part. You think that you are alone in this world as a slave to Allah, and He will look after your affairs. With that mindset, you find that you don’t rely on anyone – your boss, social worker, your in-laws or others; you depend only on Allah and He will show you the way; and He will never let you down. He tells us that in the Quran:

I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me (Qur’an 2:186)

Indeed Allah provides to whom He wills with no limit! (Quran 3:37)

and on another part, what proves helpful is immersing yourself in a community of like-minded persons who would cheer each other on, not try to fight them down or take what they can. But, even if you are alone and everyone is against you. We are told in a Hadith Qudsi

Whoever comes to Me walking, I will come to him running. Whoever meets Me with enough sins to fill the earth, not associating any partners with Me, I will meet him with as much forgiveness. (Muslim)

Q6 That might be a difficult thing to achieve

Well, yes and no. It depends on the life that you live and the circles that you immerse yourself in. We see that camaraderie and reminders of faith in the MAI classrooms, for e.g., more than we might in the mosque, or the family circle. In fact, that is something Maulana Waffie emphasized from day 1 – we are a family striving to do good. So its there, you have to find out where it is, and then make the move to get into that environment. Its probably not going to come to you.

Patience and contentment when facing difficulties… faith in Allah only, and being part of a community that supports your development, as key ingredients to help us through what is no doubt a difficult time in our country’s history.

We remind you we are accepting registrants for our Islamiyat program starting September 10th, find out more or register at MAI, and we look forward to having you there. We hope you enjoyed this feature, and hope to see you on the next one, where we unpack and explore current issues from a Muslim perspective. This is Muslim Matters brought to you by the MAI Institute; I am Ahmed Rahamut, see you next time.

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