The Concept of Science

Flowing to the future like a rapid flood full of energy and vitality, and sometimes resembling a dazzling garden, the natural world is like a book offered to us to study, an exhibition to behold, and a trust left to our safekeeping with permission to benefit from it. By studying this trust's meaning and content, we are to exploit it in a way that benefits future as well as present generations. If we wish, we can define science as the above-envisioned relation between humanity and the world science.

Science is humanity's common heritage, not the private property of a specific people. Its infancy began with humanity's infancy. When Europe's intellectual culture attained a sufficient maturity, attained in great part through the achievements of other non-European nations, the experimental sciences in particular were ripe for a new, comprehensive flourishing through the Renaissance.

If true science means directing the intelligence toward eternity without expecting any material gain, making a tireless and detailed study of existence to discover the absolute truth underlying it, and following the methods required to reach this aim, their absence means that science cannot fulfill our expectations. Although usually presented as a conflict between Christianity and science, the Renaissance-era conflicts were mainly between scientists and the Church. Copernicus, Galileo, and Bacon were anti?religious. In fact, we can say that their religious commitment ignited the love and thought of finding truth.

Before Christianity, Islam was the torchbearer of scientific knowledge. The religious thought springing from eternality and the love and zeal arising from that thought, accompanied by the feeling of poverty and impotence before the Eternal Creator, lay behind the great 500-year scientific advance observed in the Muslim world until the close of the twelfth century. The concept of science as based on the Divine Revelation, which drove scientific study in the Muslim world, was represented almost perfectly by the illustrious figures of the time who, intoxicated with the thought of eternality, studied existence tirelessly in order to attain eternity. Their commitment to the Divine Revelation caused Its intellect to diffuse a light that engendered a new concept of science in human souls.

If that concept of science, approved and appropriated by society as if it were a part of the Divine message, and pursued with the zeal of an act of worship, had not been exposed to the destructive Mongol invasion and the pitiless Crusades from Europe, the world today would be more enlightened, have a richer intellectual life, a more wholesome technology, and more promising sciences. I say this because Islam's concept of science was embedded in the aspiration for eternality, the ideal of being useful to humanity and responsible for earning the pleasure of God.

The love of truth directs true scientific study. This means approaching existence without any consideration of material advantage and worldly gain, and observing and recognizing it as it really is. While those equipped with such love can reach the final destination of their study, those infected with worldly passion, material aspiration, ideological prejudice and fanaticism, and unable to develop any love of truth, will either fail or, worse, divert the course of scientific study and make science a deadly weapon to be used against the best potentials of humanity.

No intellectual activity arising from and directed by worldly passion and egocentricity can lead to a truly beneficial outcome for humanity. If such soul-darkening passions and inappropriate behavior are combined with ideological fanaticism and prejudice, they inevitably will put insurmountable obstacles in the way of reaching the truth and using the results of scientific study to benefit humanity. Therefore, intellectuals, educational institutions, and the mass media must work to deliver modern scientific study from the lethally polluted atmosphere of materialistic aspiration and ideological fanaticism, and to direct scientists toward true human values. The first step is to free minds from ideological superstition and fanaticism and to purify souls of the desire for worldly gain and advantage. This also is the first condition for securing true freedom of thought and doing good science. Having fought the "clergy" and corrupt conceptions formed in the name of religion, and having blamed them for regression, narrow-mindedness and fanaticism, scientists should strive to remain free from being the target of comparable accusations.

There is no difference between the intellectual and scientific despotism arising from interest and power seeking and the ideological fanaticism and restrictive reasoning based on corrupt and distorted religious conceptions and clerical domination. The original name of God?revealed religion always has been Islam, meaning peace, salvation and obedience to God. This is true whether it was taught by Moses or Jesus, or communicated by Muhammad. Islam preaches and propagates courtesy, respect toward human values, love, tolerance, and brotherhood. Many Qur'anic verses urge the study of nature, which it sees as a place of exhibition of the Divine works. In addition, it asks people to reflect upon creation and the created, and to approach it responsibly, instead of with mischief and causing corruptions. When studied with an open mind, we see that the Qur'an promotes the love of science and humanity, justice and order. On the comparatively smaller scale of exploiting science and its products for the sake of power and worldly ambition against weaker people, some have used the Qur'an to satisfy the hatred and enmity of their dark souls. Unfortunately, in the hands of those who want to eradice Islam, such attitudes have been used to portray Islam as a religion of hatred, enmity, and vengeance.

Islam literally means peace and salvation. The Prophet defined Muslim as one from whose hand and tongue everyone is safe and secure; and mu'min (believer), derived from the amn (security and safety), as one who believes in and guarantees security, order, justice, love, and knowledge. Through the light disseminated by Islam, many have dedicated their lives to the happiness of others via self?denial, and many others have resolved to carry human beings to eternity.

Founded on the Qur'an, Islam has founded knowledge and its quest on the intention of discovering the meaning of existence in order to reach the Creator, and to benefit humanity, indeed all creation, and to combine with belief, love, and altruism. This is what we learn from the Qur'an, the Prophet's exemplary life, and the conduct of many who have represented it perfectly in thought and action. Yeseren Dusunceler, Izmir 1996, pp. 172–78

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