[These are rough notes from the second session of the workshop on Historical, Intellectual and Spiritual Approaches to Islam conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in Karachi, on Jan 05, 2016]
Disclaimer: This is a purely educational course held to spread the teachings of Islam, with no intention of offending any sect or School of Thought.
Does Islamic Scholarship have a perspective and a vantage point on science? Is that perspective and vantage point academically robust, is it significant, is it able to address those issues where outwardly, initially and apparently science seems to contradict areas of Islamic belief and faith?
First we will begin with some basic terminologies. I am going to read these things out to you and then we are going to look at them one by one; truth, reality, objectivity, subjectivity, relativity, true and false, and verification and falsification. These are some of the words that are used in the discussion of science and rationality, especially when people are discussing the concept of religion.
1. Truth and Reality. There are many philosophical ways in which a person can describe truth. One way to describe it is that truth is that which corresponds to reality. Interestingly, this philosophical formulation is there in ilmul kalam. Ilmul kalam is a science of theology which you are completely unaware of. Because people are more interested in ilmul aqaaid – Sunni sect, Shi’a sect, this sect, that sect. But ilmul kalam is almost virtually unknown still in the majority of educated Muslims today. In ilmul kalam, there is a huge discussion on what is sidq and what is kizb, or sometimes it is called kazib in Arabic; what is truth and what is falsehood. You will find volumes on this.
I am going to start with this, because science operates on the principles of rationality and empiricism and demonstrable proofs. So truth is that which is demonstrated, through some scientific method, to be that which corresponds to the reality. In Arabic we call this mutabiq al waqai; or mutabiq nafs e amar; in correspondence to what exists in reality.
So what is reality then? Reality is that which exists separately and independently from us. That’s what is called real. Now if you want to go into the ilmul kalam discussion on this, a very interesting discussion is when they talk about Allah swt’s attributes of Asma ul Husna, and one of His attributes is that He is al-Haqq, to the extent that He is Real, and relative to that everything else is unreal.
However, from a scientific and empirical perspective, that reality should be separately observable and known. But if you move into the area of Neuroscience and Psychology, it is a big question that are my hopes real? Are my dreams real? What empirical basis do my dreams have? If I tell you that I had a dream last night, is that real? Is it true? Am I speaking the truth? Is there any way you can empirically test that? Is that empirical? Is it falsifiable? It is a claim I will make.
If you insist on taking this way of life, that every single thing has to be understood by science; this is a perfect example that your dreams to what extent are they real, and to what extent did you truly see them, this is not fully able to be captured by science. No doubt, cognitive science will try to deconstruct the brain to different neurochemical reactions in different parts of the brain. But still, no true cognitive scientist will tell you that we have a complete exclusively scientific understanding of how, and exactly why, do people dream.
In layman’s terms, if I asked you if dreams were a reality, you would say yes. I would ask you why. You would probably say because I had a dream myself. I say, but that is not empirical. It is not falsifiable. It does not pass the scientific method. What you are actually saying is something called knowledge by experience. That is something different from knowledge by demonstration. We will come back to this later.
2. Objectivity, Subjectivity and Relativity. Is there any such real thing as objectivity? Is there one single perception, understanding of reality that can be called “objective”? A lot of philosophers will say no. On the other hand, if every single thing is subjective, and you have complete subjectivity, then you end up in this notion of complete relativity.
Let’s say if I try to put forth a proposition to you, like in philosophy and logic they put forth a proposition, that there is no objective reality. There is no way that I can have an objective way to prove that statement. If I take the opposite extreme, that there is no subjectivity, there is no objective proof that I can use to prove that statement.
So logic was the tool that we used, and this is a very important thing that we should know that in the Aristotelian world, logic was the litmus test for any “scientific” type of a statement. And this is one of the great things that Imam al-Ghazali rah incorporated, and he took all of Aristotelian Logic in its entirety.
When you take that logic, you will realize that a lot of statements that you make, they are claims, but you cannot logically prove them. If I say there are both; there is both objectivity and subjectivity, I cannot prove that. Although that may resonate with us. But that is something else. That is not called science. That is called intuition.
Intuition means that statement that resonates with you to be true based on your own experience and understanding of the world. When I say “your own experience” then again we are back to subjectivity. But shouldn’t truth be something that is objective?
Then if you ask the question of religion, is Allah swt actually suggesting that in Qur’an when He says:
Have you then no sense?
That Allah swt has given you an aqal (intellect), and if you use it you will arrive at the single objective truth, which is the belief in the existence of Allah swt. Believe me, in ilmul kalam they talk about this a lot. It is a mistake that you think Philosophy and Science are the only ones to talk about these things. But you are not conversant and versed in the Classical Arabic Scholarly Tradition of your own deen.
3. True and False, Verification and Falsification. By this I mean to declare something decisively to be true, or to declare something decisively to be false. If you can definitively declare something to be true, that means you will invalidate everything else. There is no multiplicity left. If you definitely declare something to be false, you will end up in a process of invalidation and elimination.
In Science, at one level, they put forth a hypothesis. When they are fairly sure that something is true, they call it a theory. But as you know that there have been time, and up till right now cutting edge of science, they are constantly revisiting and reconsidering their theories. Sometimes they disprove their own theory.
The most famous example of this was the Theory of the Universe by Ptolemy. He felt that the Earth was the centre of the Universe. When you look at demonstration, his model that puts Earth at the centre of the Universe and the Sun rotating around the Earth, that did perfectly, and still today can perfectly predict the stars and constellations that appear in the sky.
If you say that science is about demonstration and empiricism, actually that method of astronomy passes the test of empiricism and demonstration. All of the astrologers, and all astronomers, may use these models – putting the Earth at the centre, knowing and thinking the Earth to be the centre, and that the Sun is rotating around us – and they could actually perfectly predict the stars and their constellations in the sky.
Today me and you know that is not true; Earth is not the centre. Sun is the centre, and because the Sun is the centre, it is called the Solar System, and Earth has been revolving around the Sun. I 100% accept that. But interestingly that additional scientific truth did not in any way help the humanity in being able to observe the stars.
The prediction of the constellations of the stars, the navigation from stars, was perfect in the Ptolemaic System, which was scientifically untrue. So what is untrue and what is false? We have used the untrue system to perfectly navigate through the oceans for centuries. So it is a relative thing; you are talking about frames of reference here.
Let’s suppose that I say that all truths are relative, even for that there is no scientific, decisive, empiric proof. So basically, all of these things cannot be determined and decided by science. These are the fundamental things; what is true, what is false. It does not mean that science can never do this. When science realized that in some things it can make the determination, so it is called verification and falsification.
How do you test the hypothesis? The first thing is that the hypothesis should be constructed in such a way that its premises are falsifiable. As in, what you do is that you keep trying to falsify them. You run these experiments, and you keep doing it, and you keep getting these sets of data, and you constantly try to falsify. But even then, strictly speaking in terms of pure Philosophy of Science, you are making the highest approximation of the certainty that you can, but you still cannot say that you have achieved certainty.
For example, if I tell you that science says that xyz is the speed of light. What if I say that did you factor the particles of dust in that light? Did you calculate the speed of light in a vacuum? You are talking about the light from the stars that do not exist anymore, and you calculate the distance of those stars also using the speed of light, but how much particles were in the way? Along the way, maybe there was some asteroid belt; there maybe so many things. Did you factor these things in your speed of light? They will say no.
It is like Calculus; the limit of X is that it approaches 5. I say, it isn’t X=5, it’s X is approaching 5. They will say that no but if X is approaching 5, then you will just take that approximation as a certainty that it becomes 5. All of the Maths is based on this principle. X isn’t 5 though. The limit of X as it approaches 5, reaches 5.
That is what they are saying in the first example. Basically, at the very higher level of approximation, this is the speed of light. We have no idea that what type of asteroid, or space matter, or star burst and that light travelled from the reminiscence of that star matter to us, and how that star matter may have effected the speed of light. We have no idea about these things. It is an approximation. It is an approximation based on human ability. It means that to whatever extent the human is able to falsify these premises, he must try all of his ways to falsify it, and if it passes the falsification test then we will verify it.
You may ask a philosophical question that is the human ability to falsify that hypothesis, is it complete? I say no it is approximate. You ask is it absolute? I say no it is approximate. If I ask science this question that could science itself in another 10 years possibly find a way to falsify this hypothesis, they will say yes. In fact we are trying, that is what we love to do. This is the area of scientific invention and progress that they try to discover new ways to test “tried and true” theories. So it’s all relative. It’s a frame of reference.
In terms of present, they will declare a theory of a hypothesis today, because to whatever ability the scientific method is able to falsify that hypothesis, it has attempted to falsify it and has not been able to falsify it, therefore they will view the theory to be true and they will verify it. But they don’t say that it is definitive or decisive for all of eternity.
Actually the realm of religion and revelation is totally different. There is no encroachment here. Encroachment would be that science is also trying to capture eternal truths. No, science does not make that claim. Science can change any day.
In ilmul kalam, and also in Philosophy and Science, people have written tons of books on these; what is subjectivity, what is objectivity, what does it mean to falsify. There are huge workshops on this.
Now, when you are building this workshop, it does not mean that the workshop only needs to have Qur’an and Hadith. If you want to play this game, and understand this, you are perfectly allowed in Shari’ah, and in certain cases you may very well need to, put the writing of the scientists and the philosophers in the workshop. The only difference is that the Qur’an takes a higher level of precedence on that workshop, but it does not mean that these things are not allowed.
Imam al-Ghazali has mentioned that his own personal view about Science and Maths was that there was nothing in it that was against religion. But he did observe that there were some individuals who got misled by some myths and realities and misunderstandings about Science and Maths. In themselves, science and maths have nothing in them that is against religion. I will come to this later that there are certain things that science has put forth today, such as the human evolution, that are clearly, directly against the scriptural revelation.
That is also a very interesting thing; this may also be the issue why the vast and overwhelming majority of humanity were not atheists, because the scientific discovering and understandings and theories up till that time do not actually have anything in it that would necessitate Atheism.
But obviously if a person comes to believe in the human evolution – a belief that Syedna Adam (as) had parents – it is not even a question of man being a descendant of Apes. Islam says Syedna Adam (as) did not even have human parents. It is a totally different thing. It is not even about evolution, if you think about it that way. It is about miracles. We believe that Syedna Adam (as) did not even have human parents. It might happen 23 years from now, that science deny evolution. Maybe they would do it. But they will still say Adam (as) had parents. They will not accept that he was created from nowhere. That itself is the difference.
That is the same case here; that most of the scientists were comfortable with their Jewish or Christian faith, because the science of their time and day did not really have anything that necessitated them to abandon their faith. That is why we have mentioned this term of New Atheism because it is not like there were no Atheists before, but there were atheists before for philosophical reasons, not for scientific reasons.
The Question of Whether Science Necessitate Atheism
The New Atheism, and this is a term used in Academia, is that Atheism which is purportedly, supposedly, born out of science. That confuses a person because we all agree with science. The earlier Atheism, which was born out of a particular philosophy, it was not a problem for Muslims, they would say I do not believe in that. I believe in Qur’an and Sunnah. But the New Atheism becomes an issue because a person may think that if the New Atheism is really born out of science, and I believe in science, then what does that mean? This is the question that does science necessitate Atheism?
Three Criticisms of Atheists to the Claim of Existence of God
Let’s go step-by-step. So if you ask this question that does God exist, or for us does Allah swt exists? If you answer yes, you are going to face three criticisms from the Atheists:
- Your claim is not scientific and therefore false, for only that which is contained in science is true.
- Your claim is not logical. You cannot give me a logical proof for the existence of God. Therefore, your claim is false.
- Your claim is not rational. There is no rational basis for the existence of Allah swt, so therefore it is false.
You have your science, logic and rationality. These are basically the first principles. We are going to look at all of these three things.
Brief Introduction to Scientism
There is a word that has been coined; it is called Scientism. It is a worldview, it is something different than science. That is why its has the suffix ‘ism’. Scientism is a view which holds that whatever you will view to be true, or false, will be on the basis of science. Scientism means that science is the way in which you understand everything.
Science normally meant that this is the way you understand the material world. And normally the scientists did not try to investigate the immaterial world, or have questions about that. They did not try to investigate the ruh, or the qalb, or even mind and thought and consciousness.
Classically, scientists did not have the realm of neuroscience. It was created as a part of Scientism. Otherwise earlier, ideas were understood through Philosophy. But now Scientism is a belief that every single thing can be understood on the basis of science. So instead of Psychology, it is Psychiatry. And instead of Philosophy, it is Neuroscience, or Cognitive Behaviour.
Genetics is also a very important aspect of Scientism, because the cutting edge of genetics is trying to discover behavioural genes; the notion that a human being is genetically programmed to certain kinds of behaviour. Allahu Alam, if they ever discover the taqwah gene, or the haya gene, they might take it out!
They will not say that this is a theory. It is a hypothesis; it is research. They are not saying it is a fact. But like I told you in the ideology-based approach to knowledge, some of them are doing this as an ideology. Another way I can explain it to you is that when you choose to deny Allah swt, you have to come up with an alternate understanding of the world. And when you take that denial so far – like in scientism that science alone can understand everything – then you end up denying a lot of philosophy, a lot of psychology, a lot of other things.
Scientism is not just denial of religion. It is a denial of any way of understanding, explaining and engaging in the world. It is inherently against aesthetics, arts and creativity. Or it tries to explain all aesthetics and arts and creativity in terms of neuroscience and cognitive on the left side of the brain.
But the artist will tell you, no, it is because of my creative spirit. It is not because I have a different set of neurons in the left side of my brain than that one does. They will say I have a more creative spirit than that person does. I have a greater imagination than that person does.
Scientists will say, no this is all bunk; all of your creative imagination is fluff. It is all due to difference in your cognitive behaviour; your cognitive thinking power on the left side of your brain. That is called Scientism. It is not just the denial of religion. It is an entire world view.
Most Atheists are not following science. It is Scientism that they are following. And there are definitely many scientists who are following it. There are Atheist scientists who follow this. And those of you who are aware of it would know that they have a huge literature on it in English language; Dawkins, Hitchens – there are so many of them. Some of them were pure physicists, some of them were pure Mathematicians, some of them were pure Philosophers, and they are on both sides.
Mostly this is taking place in the Christian world; you have completely believing Christian evolutionary biologists, completely believing Christian pure particle Physicists, completely believing Christian Philosophers. I have studied under one of each at Oxford. And you have completely Atheists for all of the above. You have several, or dozens of them. And there is massive literature that they are writing, engaging and discussing each other.
On the fringes, there are certain extremists. It would seem like terrorism to you; the way they talk to you with the fatwas of kufr. Some of them have extreme hatred, and there are extremely horrific tones that they use. But on a very large scale, there are many discussions and debates taking place in a considerate and thoughtful manner. And volumes have been written on this.
The point of telling you all of this is that do not fall into an assumption that every Mathematician, every Physicist, every Philosopher is an Atheist. This is nowhere near the case in UK, US or Canada right now. Those people do not deny science. It is about scientism; it is all about this thing. That is why they coined this word.
They say it is not about science, I am also a Scientist, or I am also a Physicist, or I am also a Biologist. It has nothing to do with science. It is about Scienitsm; the question is that how will you choose to understand things that are outside the realm of science? Scientism says that nothing falls outside the realm of science. Therefore, everything would fall in the realm of science.
These believing scientists are saying that there are some things that fall out of the realm of science, and we are happy and comfortable understanding those things on the basis of revelation, scripture, and prophethood, in whatever faith system they may personally believe in.
So, Scienitism is a world view that only science and knowledge derived from science contains truth. Everything else is merely belief, superstition and myth. These are the three buzzwords that they use.
The Scientistic approach has trickled down to Liberal Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. So then you will find Scientistic Anthropologists. So the Anthropology of Religion would be that all religion is just superstition and myth and a product of culture.
You will find Scientistic Sociology which says that all religion that exists at the societal level, like Karl Marx said, is the opium for the people. The words that are used in Scientistic outlook enters the Humanities, Social Sciences and Liberal Arts; that everything else is just belief, superstition and myth. By belief they do not mean imaan, by belief they mean anything that is not knowledge; it is fluff.
Let’s examine this notion of Scientism. Like I told you, there are believing scientists who have tried to refute Scientism. Nobody is trying to refute science. I will come to the history of evolution at the end. Understand this very clearly, I am not talking about science now. I am talking about Scientism.
Applying the Self-Refuting Test on Scientism
The first thing is called the self-refuting test. How will Scientism be refuted? It is not going to be refuted from Qur’an and Sunnah. Scientism is going to be refuted by logic and philosophy. So you have logic and philosophy taking on Scientism in this discussion, that can everything be understood through science, or are there some things that cannot be understood through science?
Self-refuting test means that if you accept the proposition, like I told you about the box; that if you accept the position and flush out its consequences, the consequences itself negate the position in the box. It is self-refuting. And the self-refuting test means you take the proposition, you flush out its necessary logical implications and consequences. And if it turns out that its logical consequences actually would necessitate refutation of the proposition in the first place, then it is a self-refuting proposition. I did not even need to refute it.
The proposition that claims to be true actually refutes itself. If it just claims to be a hypothesis, then it is not going to work. But it will work if it claims to be the truth; this is what Scientism is. This is why the self-refuting test is applied to Scientism. Because they are not giving another hypothesis that maybe it is Philosophy, maybe it is Psychology. They are saying this is it. This is the ultimate demonstrable, rational truth; the only way to understand the world is the Sceintistic method.
Let’s take some claims of Scientism.
- It is their statement that true knowledge is only that which is contained in science and found through scientific methods. This sentence itself is not a part of science. This sentence itself cannot be proven through the scientific method. This sentence itself cannot prove itself. Therefore, if this sentence is true, then this sentence is false. Do you understand? This is called a logical fallacy. It is pure philosophical logic and syllogism that is used in the self-refuting of the sentence. It has nothing to do with religion vs. science. Do not count this debate in religion vs. science domain. The way you frame a debate, often that itself decides the victor and the loser in the debate. If you talk about religion vs. science, all the Muslims who are studying Engineering and Chemistry and Physics would be like I have been accused! It is not religion vs. science. It is religion vs. scientism. It is science vs. scientism. It is logic and philosophy vs. scientism.
- Second claim is that true knowledge is only that which is observable. Can you observe that statement? Is there any empirical observation to prove the statement that true knowledge must be observable? Can you observe the truth of that? You can accept that as a first basis. So actually Scientism is another religion. It requires imaan in these things. It requires you to accept something as your first principles, and then understand everything on the basis of those principles. Actually the choice is whether you want to accept Allah swt’s first principles in Qur’an, or you want to accept the scientism’s first principles.
- True knowledge is only that which is testable. Can you test this sentence? Is this sentence in itself testable? No, so then it is not true knowledge. Because if true knowledge is only that which is testable, this sentence itself is not testable, therefore it is not true knowledge.
- True knowledge is only that which is empirically verifiable. It is slightly different. Because scientific knowledge may have some things that are beyond empirical senses. Like saying that if you see it, you will believe it. Only that which I see will I believe. This sentence itself, did you see that somewhere? We could say that we saw it in Qur’an, but what would a scientist say if they were asked, where did you see it? This is self-refuting.
- True knowledge must be refutable. Is this sentence itself refutable? How will you refute that sentence? This is a bit tricky one. Let me keep it easier for you – true knowledge must be falsifiable. Can you falsify this proposition?
For example, if we take the example for true knowledge must be observable; can you touch, smell, or hear that concept? Not if you take empiricism at its basics. Empiricism can be more than that. But if you take it from that level, you will say no. This is a very small thing, but its going back to what I showed you – these things are not easy to figure out; truth, falsehood, relativity, subjectivity, objectivity.
Basically these are claims, but as I have shown you, they do not pass the self-refuting test. They are not objective truths. These are the subjective truths adopted by the Scientistic worldview and approach. And they are free to do that. But they pick the claim of objectivity for that, and then to take an exclusive claim of truth for that, and then to falsify and invalidate every other thing, there is no basis within their own system to do that. And it is not based on logic either.
Next is the question of what exactly is science? How do you separate science from non-science? For example, you will find this question in the Western academies that why were some of the Liberal Arts called Social Sciences, and why were the other ones called Humanities? Is Psychology a Social Science? Some Psychology departments are unhappy. They say we want to be in the School of Science and Engineering, we are science. Scientists say, no you are not a science, go to the Social Sciences school.
So what is science and what is non-science? Is there any objective, falsifiable, verifiable, absolute way to determine this question? Or is it relative? There was a writer, his name is Larry Laudan. He has written an article Science at the Bar. What he talks about is very interesting, or let me put it this way, it is a very enjoyable piece to read about this notion of what is science and what is non-science.
Now let’s suppose someone says a statement like true knowledge is falsifiable, let’s suppose I were to say this proposition to you that Martians will land on Earth in 2050. Or for that matter, humans will land on Mars in 2050. You cannot refute that. Maybe it will happen, maybe it will not – we do not know. So what does that mean, is it science now?
For any falsifiable test to be applied, you have to be open to the possibility; science is when you keep falsifying till you get an approximation of certainty, because to the best of your knowledge you have eliminated any possibility of truth or falsehood. How can you falsify that statement?
Let’s suppose I say in year 2500 humans will be living on Mars. You cannot falsify that. Does that make it science – because you cannot falsify it? Can I call it a scientific statement? You would say no, you cannot call it a scientific statement. But I say no science is what you cannot falsify, and you cannot falsify this statement.
These are internal contradictions on these issues. I am not talking about what you read in your Chemistry textbooks. We fully accept the Periodic Table – that’s science. I am talking about Scientism. What is in the Physics and Chemistry textbooks that is science. This is Scientism; trying to negate any understanding of truth and claiming pure objectivity only for themselves. That is Scientism.
Intuition and the Fallacy of Falsification
Let’s look at some other things that we may accept as knowledge. One issue is that of intuition. Your intuition is going to guide you on how many factors, or causalities, you have to look at in a scientific experiment.
For example, somebody told us that science says there was an earthquake in China, and it measured 8.2 on the rector scale. And if I tell them, did you take into account the weight of coal mines in China? And maybe because the weight of the coal in the coal mines of China was heavier, it was a 8.4 scale earthquake, but it came out at a reading of 8.2 because of this reason. They would say, no that is a negligible factor. These things are negligible.
Then I could come up with something nonsensical. I could say, did you write any scientific test to see that did the prices of tea in China effected the level of the earthquake? They would say that is nonsensical. I say, but it is a hypothesis, I want you to falsify it. If I talk like that then there are a billion factors that will have to be examined. This is intuition.
This is also a fallacy of falsification that we did eliminate everything humanly possible. First, you used your intuition to eliminate the nonsensical and the absurd. Then you used your intuition to eliminate the things that had a negligible effect. And only those things that your intuition told you possibly could have a tangible effect, you ran your falsifiability test on those things that you thought had a tangible effect. How did you decide that what was tangible and what was negligible and what was nonsensical? That was done on the basis of intuition.
In our tradition, we call it zauq. This is why in the Hadith Studies, you cannot just copy somebody in 20th Century that this hadith is weak. The Muhaditheen had zauq; they had an acumen, they had a flare for this. They were hafidh of Hadith; they had memorized 100,000 chains of narrations. They had seen that narration being narrated from so many people. If they did not tag it as zaeef, you cannot do your database researches saying I have discovered today that so-and-so scholar in the 20th Century decided that so-and-so is zaeef. He does not have that zauq. He is using a laptop. He is using a library. He needs to have it up here – zauq is the intuition.
If you ask any scientist who has won a noble prize, or any great inventor, how did you do that – was it just an empirical method? He would say it was my intuition. I had a hunch. I had intuition that this would work. All the way from Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison; whoever it is, whatever they have invented, it is through intuition. Intuition is the creative force behind science.
This is what I was telling you about this empirical adequacy – or if you want to call it, the empirical inadequacy. If you insist that they should factor the negligible and the nonsensical, then we will say it is empirical inadequacy. But they say, no it is empirical adequacy. Why is it adequacy? If the factor was tangible, how did you define what is tangible? That was through intuition. That’s not science.
Scientists are fine with that. Scientism is not fine with that. Scientism is shattered by this. Scientists have no problem with this – they would say yes 100% we use intuition. We did not make any claim that every single way of knowing is going to be captured by science. They believe in inspiration. And many of the greatest scientists in history were believers, and they would write in their autobiographies that I was inspired by God.
Now the scientist today will say this is all fluff. He explains it as a cognitive moment – a surge of neurons and electrons activity in his brain, which he thought was an inspiration by God, in an attempt to falsify another person’s understanding of an event that actually lies outside the realm of science. I mean, are you a greater scientist or is Einstein a greater scientist? If science necessitates Atheism, then why in the world were these great scientists not Atheists themselves?
Arguments for God’s Existence
Theory of Uniformity & the Role of Intuition and Approximation
There is this thing called the Theory of Uniformity. For example, you take the law of gravity, to make it a law, the theory of uniformity means that these things will have to be uniform. It means that gravity must be universally the same in any corner of the Earth, baring some other external circumstances and conditions. But empirical method would mean you have to test it in all of these conditions. You cannot just make a claim like that. Then if you have a latitude inadequacy; let’s say how many points on GPS of Earth has the gravity been measured, it is probably not even on 10% of the places on Earth. So what is that? It is their intuition.
Very interestingly, in the ilmul kalam tradition, this intuitive element – that you have tested something at a level which is sufficient to give you certainty – that concept is called tawatir in our deen. And the tawatir concept is actually used in our deen, as well, to bring certain knowledge.
I will give you the example which Imam al-Ghazali (ra) gave that if one person walked in this room right now and said it is raining outside. Lets just pretend there is no window, lets pretend there are just four walls. Now when one person says it to you, you may not have certain belief. But if two people come in, three people come in, or five people come in, at some point it will be the ‘tipping point’; at some point you will reach a number of reports and narrations – it is not science – your intuitive heart will feel the feeling of certainty. You will look into your heart and say yes, now my heart feels certain that indeed it is raining. That will also have to do with how well you know those report givers; how true you know them to be; how upright you know them to be.
This is what the muhadith was doing when he was tagging. Yes, the Hadith scholars made a few comments, that so-and-so is this, and so-and-so is that, but those comments are just a drop in the ocean of the knowledge about that narrator and their feel about the narrator. Modern day researcher goes to the books of ilm al-rijal and looks up the narrator and sees the muhadith’s comment, and says I have discovered this hadith is dha’if which all these fuqaha had been using for the past 1,200 years.
No, you did not discover anything, you just discovered that the muhaditheen all accepted this hadith, even though for all of these centuries they knew that one narrator, critic, did make that one comment. They disregarded that comment on the basis of their intuition. And you think you are a hero because you discovered that comment, and you want to change the gradings of the hadith of the great hadith scholars?
So tawatir; they are saying that when we reach a certain level of tawatir, we will view that these things behave at a uniform manner, but actually it was just the individual thing that you saw behave in that way. You dropped a ball, you saw that it behaved in a particular way in the gravity. But you would extrapolate; it’s an extrapolation. Science is doing it right. A reasonable level of approximation, a reasonable amount of falsification based on the intuition, until they reach the level of certainty, but when they have reached that level of certainty, they take a leap and then they make a claim of uniformity, and we are fine with that, and up till now it bears out.
But strictly speaking in terms of Scientism, that leap is not warranted, that leap is unfounded, that leap is not acceptable. But for us, and for science, it is acceptable.
The Raven Paradox
This is something called the Raven Paradox. Raven is a particular type of a bird, and the notion is that all ravens are black. If you make a statement like that, how would you do that? Science will tell you that we used observation; we kept looking at the ravens and we kept seeing them to be black. We travelled around and we looked at raven populations; we went to raven’s nests, we tried to discover where they lived. And we kept seeing that they are black. At some point they made this statement that all ravens are black.
How many did you see? You saw a hundred, a thousand, the point is, you did not see all of them and yet you said that all ravens are black. You saw some of them, even many of them, you may have even seen a great many of them. Remember we are talking about Objective Absolutism now. I did not put the relativity in the absolutism. This is an absolute statement; all ravens are black.
It is possible that today somebody takes out the gene matter of a raven, and tries to analyze its genes, and maybe suggest that the pigment in the genes is only programmed to be black. Still, the question would be, that could there be any alternate sub-species of raven out there that have a slightly different genetic make-up? So, there is a certain intuition – a certain tawatir principle – with which you will end up saying all ravens are black.
All of science is based on these things; the Theory of Uniformity, The Raven Paradox, they all have this notion of approximation with certainty. The way science regulates itself is with certain standards, it is not arbitrary, there will be peer reviews, there will be articles written in the journals, the scientific community will have to accept the research of that scientist, and that may take a few years, and then they may say yes, we accept that theory and now uniformly we will also use it in our own research and our experiments. It is a process, it takes time. It is not arbitrary. It is a structured, governed, regulated process. So this covers a few more concepts in the philosophy of science.
This was to suggest to you that the existence of Allah swt is beyond science. The question was ‘Does God Exist?’ The Atheist’s response to this was that your claim (that God exists) is not scientific and therefore false, for only that which is contained in science is true.This is how you will face this question:
Your reply is that no, not only what is contained in science is true. The question of the existence of Allah swt is beyond science.
Next was that your claim is not logical and your claim is not rational or logical. Lets take this. There is a whole range here. I will give you a couple of things from a whole range.
Like I mentioned to you, I attended a whole bunch of series of lectures at Oxford; probably 40-50 of them, one by a Professor of Pure Math Theory, and one by a Christian Professor who taught courses on Philosophy of Religion. Now, this is one notion of creation. Some of you, who are aware of these debates in America, you may know of the Intelligent Design, Creationism vs. The Blind Watch Maker vs. No Watch Maker. There are certain buzz words that are used in this literature.
One such term is called the Fine-Tuning Argument which was put forth by Fred Hoyle. It means that the Earth’s conditions are so finely tuned to create the possibility for the existence of life, and although science, certainly, and it is not that I have to negate this, but science is open to the possibility that life may exist elsewhere, what we call the extra terrestrial life. But up till now science says that there is absolutely no scientific evidence to prove the existence of terrestrial life. So even from today’s state of the art science, the current knowledge, although open to the possibility that there maybe life in other planets in the world, but the current knowledge says that there is only life on earth.
Fine-Tuning means that if the Earth was a bit closer to the Sun, or even a bit further away from the Sun, life would not be possible on Earth, because the temperature and climate would not be suitable to Earth. Fine-Tuning means that if the speed on which the Earth rotates around its axis, if it were somewhat slower, or somewhat greater, it would be more difficult to have life on Earth. There are so many factors, which even science will admit that we have only identified some, there are also going to be some factors that science yet has to identify.
No scientist claims that we know all the laws of the universe. No scientist who does anatomy in physiology can claim that we understand everything about the human body. There are so many diseases – still – of which we have not identified a cure for, nor do we know the cause. What does that mean? I accept also, that the disease is happening through a scientific process. But science itself is saying that we do not have the full understanding of this process. This is one disease, what causes the disease? We don’t know. How are you going to cure the disease? We don’t know.
I am not saying that the disease is some paranormal, psychal, spiritual thing. I am hundred percent saying the disease is physical, material, it is within the realm of science, it is the subject matter of science, but science does not know about it yet. This is a fact for so many things. So if it is true about the human body, then you can imagine the extent to which it is true about the universe. But they say that from what we know right now, there is no life anywhere else.
Multiverse Argument and the Law of Probability
The counter to the fine-tuning argument, which some Atheist scientist put forth, is the Multiverse Argument. And literally, one of them actually has this idea that imagine that there is some machine that just creates universes. Sooner or later, the law of probability would demand that a universe will eventually be created in trillions, and trillions, and trillions of years, eventually a universe will be created where life could be obtained. Or they say you take any universe, that eventually over a period of trillions and trillions of years of galaxy formations, star formation and star death, and star collapse, it is a matter of probability, that sooner or later a solar system would be formed in which there was one planetary body – the planet Earth – which would be so fine tuned that life would exist.
I accept that, but what is the probability? If you ask the Mathematician, he would say the probability is 1 over, you know, like in Maths, 1 over infinity equals zero. Now strictly speaking, why are you negating that one? Strictly speaking, in Maths, 1 over infinity should not equal zero. Zero is zero, and 1 over infinity, no matter how small it is, it is still something. But it is so negligible when you keep dividing it, it is infinitely divisible by infinity, so when you keep infinitely dividing it, it becomes so insignificant that it is treated as zero.
So we do the same thing. We take the 1 over infinity argument on the Multiverse; that probability is so infinitesimal, so extremely small, we will treat it as zero using this principle of Maths that 1 over infinity equals zero. The chance for such a finely tuned condition for life to have happened on its own is 1 over infinity, we will treat it as zero according to Maths, that means there is zero chance that this world came into existence on its own, that means that it is logically necessary that there was a Creator who brought it into existence.
You would be amazed if you ever research this Fine-Tuning argument. Even if you take a human being, any doctor will tell you that how incredibly fine-tuned the human being is, and as soon as the tuning goes out, that is the process of death beginning. We are just a speck; human being is a speck on Karachi, Karachi is a speck on Pakistan, Pakistan is a speck; we are a speck, on a speck, on a speck, on a speck – this is our reality in the universe.
I took three courses in Astrophysics as an undergrad in Chicago, way back in 1992, and my TA was an Atheist. Me and him used to sit back in the lab and have discussions. These are jokes sometimes, this is not a serious argument. But I am sharing to lighten this a little bit for you.
Some of the things that I used to talk to him about, and other such people, was the creation of Big Bang, and all of that stuff. I have no problem with the Big Bang. I believe that when Allah swt said kun fayakun; so He just said kun and the Big Bang happened, and fayakun – the universe came into existence. I said, you have a problem with the small bang. He said what is that? I said that you accept that the universe just came into existence, and I am telling you Adam (as) – one small speck (compared to the universe) – came into existence, and you say that is not possible, he must have evolved from apes. So, you accept the Big Bang, and you do not accept the small bang.
When we came to this issue of probability, I said lets suppose I accept the Multiverse argument that eventually the laws of probability, over trillions of years, would be that the universe is created, and the finely-tuned system is created – all of that stuff. I am telling you it is 1 over infinity, but I accept that. I say, in recorded human history, roughly from 2,000 or 3,000 B.C. up till now, lets just take it at 500 B.C., everyone would be happy with that, it was the time of Socrates, 2500 B.C. Shouldn’t one paper clip could have come into existence? I mean, if the whole Big Bang happened, and the universe came out of nowhere, couldn’t a small paperclip have just come into existence?
This is a quote by Fred Hoyle himself who came up with this Fine-Tuning argument:
The probability of the universe emerging out of random forces or by chance is less than the probability of a hurricane sweeping through a junk yard and assembling a 747 Jumbo aircraft.
If an infinite number of hurricanes pass through a junk yard, forget even the junk yard, lets say the Boeing factory, I will go a step further than him, a Boeing factory where all the parts are laid out perfectly, what is the probability that if a hurricane sweeps through, it would manage to assemble and screw every nut and bolt into place? If the universe could happen through such random forces, then it should at least be able to make a perfectly formed paperclip. Has anyone ever recorded in human history that a pencil came out of nowhere, or a paperclip came out of nowhere?
The reason I’m giving you these names is because you should know. Everybody just knows about Richard Dawkins, you should know there is a whole other world out there. We have a big problem in our university campuses here in Pakistan, that there are Dawkins-toting, I myself have seen it on a campus, like they sometimes have Bible-toting, so Dawkins-toting professors who carry Dawkins around and put it around their desks and they are totally preaching Dawkins in their classes, in the class that has nothing to do even with this topic.
They are completely abusing their position as a professor and a lecturer at a university, to preach atheism to the Muslim students. And there is no one who can even speak about this, you are not even allowed to raise your voice about this. This is the situation in the, very few, but the more ultra-elite class, high-academic universities in this country, only about 2-3 of which basically would fill all that description, there is some serious atheism going on.
Kalam Cosmological Argument for God
When you go back, they have other theories (to refute the fine-tune argument). There is a theory that the world was always here, there was no bang, it was always here. If you take that, I will show you another argument of the Kalam Cosmological argument. This is now for the theory that the world was always here. The previous one was if we all agreed that the world wasn’t always here; so there you say that Allah swt created it, or you say the Big Bang happened, that just out of sheer probability the fine-tuning happened.
Second, they will say forget the Big Bang, forget Multiverse, forget the probability; this world was always here. Now the light-hearted response: I believe in an Allah swt who has always been around, you believe in a physically created universe that has always been around. Both of us are believing in something that has no origin; that itself is a non-scientific concept – to have anything in existence that does not have an origin. In the classical texts of ilm al-Kalam they used to talk about this; that Allah swt is the only being that is ghayr masboot bil adam; that He has never been preceded by non-existence. He has always been.
They take the same concept and use it for the world. The second argument that is given by the people that the world has always been there. You want us to give you the proof that who created Allah, yet you’ve created the universe yourself (through this argument)? This is the light-hearted response.
Coming to the Kalam Cosmological argument, very interestingly, one of these Western Christian Philosophers, his name is William Lane Craig, he was trying to discover a philosophical way to refute, one is the logical way, one is the scientific way, and one is the philosophical way to refute a theory. His research led him to our own ilm al-kalam. Our own Muslim youth don’t even know ilm al-kalam, and Western philosophers who are non-Muslims they are going to ilm al-kalam. He calls it ilm al-kalam, he writes it in his honesty, he does not try to hijack it or plagiarise it, and it is taught, I was taught this at Oxford – it is called the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Our heart was so pleased to hear the word “kalam” from the professor.
Now understand what is the Kalam Cosmological argument. So we have necessity, contingency and logical fallacy. Necessity is what in Arabic we call wajib al-wujub; that what must necessarily exist. Contingency is just a fancy word that means dependant on something else. Let me first show you the Islamic understanding, second I will show how the Kalam argument can respond to that concept that the universe was always here.
Islamic understanding is that, within our tradition we understand that Allah swt alone is wajib al-wujud; He is the only Being who necessarily exists. We are all mumkin al-wujud; we possibly exist, we could also not have existed, our non-existence was also possible. Allah swt not existing, is not possible. Me and you non-existing, that is possible. This is also what so many of the great people, now I’m bringing in the spiritual approach, they used to make du’a to Allah swt just in shukr for this; that Allah swt you brought me into existence. If You didn’t create me, I wouldn’t even exist. I wouldn’t even “be” if I weren’t in your irada of kun fayakun. And then there is another thing called mumtani’ al-wujud; something that cannot exist, and what is that? That is a shareek to Allah swt, that is another god, another divinity, so that means it is mumtani’ al-wujud – it is not possible to exist.
That which is mumkin al-wujud, that which possibly exists, its existence is dependant or contingent on that Being who necessarily exists. Why is it necessary? Because Allahu al-Khaliq; that zaat which is wajib al-wujud, He created us, otherwise me and you couldn’t have existed. There is only one thing, only one factor that determines realizing the possibility or not, and that is Allah’s creative power, there is no other factor, no random forces, nothing else, there is one and only causal mechanism that brought us into existence, while it was completely possibly that we didn’t exist, and that was the will and wish, might and power, and creation of Allah swt.
When we will continue to exist in akhirah, that is because Allah swt is al-Hayyu al-Qayyum; He will live forever, the Pre-Eternal and the Ever-Eternal. Now we will also be eternal, but that is not because of our own ability. It is because of Allah’s irada, Allah’s wish and will and desire that we live forever.
Everything will either necessarily exist, necessarily also means istighna; to be independent, it is not dependant on anything for its existence and its creation. Me and you are dependant on Allah swt; He is our Rabb, He is al-Razzaq. We are something that is contingent, dependant on something else for existence.
Now look at how the Kalam Cosmological Argument works.
Step #1: Setting up separate categories. Everything that exists in our world, everything that exists in this universe, will have to either exist independently on its own, or its existence is contingent and dependant on some other existence
Step #2: Mutually existing categories. Anything that falls in the first category of contingent existence, cannot fall in the first category of necessary existence. You cannot be independent and dependant simultaneously. Your existence is either dependant or it is independent, if it is dependant then it cannot be independent. If your existence is contingent, there is no way it can be necessary.
Step #3: Every single thing cannot fall in the first category. Because, if it did, then everything would be pre-eternal, and that goes against both our empirical and experiential knowledge of the world. Even science wouldn’t think, nobody thinks that every single thing has always been here, that you have always been here, this watch has always been here, the black cup has always existed.
Because not every single thing is in the category 1, then all these things that are in category 2 must have something that brought them into existence. That upon which it is dependant and contingent must precede its existence. Because the existence of B (contingent) is dependant on A (independent), so existence of A must precede B.
When we reach that conclusion, that there are things that exist due to their contingency on other things that must have necessarily existed before them, and those things necessitated bringing them into existence, the question is that which it is dependant on that is itself going to be either necessary or contingent.
For example, your existence is contingent upon your parents. Now we will take a step back, are your parents contingent in their creation? You will say they are contingent, they also depended on something. We go back to their parents i.e. your grandparents. We keep asking this question, we keep going back, until we reach something that must necessarily exist.
Let me now put it for you in another way, if you say that something’s existence is contingent, that means it must be dependant on something else. If it is dependant on something else, you will ask the question about this ‘something else’ – is that something else’s existence contingent or necessary? You say it is contingent. Then I will keep taking it back. You cannot take it back till infinity, that is a logical fallacy. They must be traced back to something that is necessarily existing. You cannot have an infinite regression of infinity. That is a logical fallacy.
In Arabic they call it daur, you can’t have a daur, or what happens is that you are going round and round forever, it’s not possible. In logic we will not accept this, it is a logical fallacy. If you have an endless stream of contingent beings, everything brought into existence by something that itself was dependant on something with contingent existence, you cannot do that, you cannot have infinite regression. It means that it must necessarily be traced back to some being that has necessary existence. You cannot have an infinite regression.
Still a person may object that if all events need causes, like you said every contingent being has a cause, and that cause arises from a being that is necessary, and you cannot have infinite regression, so ultimately you will have to reach a cause that is necessary existence, but your first proposition was that everything needs a cause, so doesn’t that thing that is necessary existent also need a cause? Like some people will ask this question that who created God then? If you say everything is created then who created God then?
This is a logical fallacy called a category fallacy, because Allah swt is in the category of necessary existence. Necessary existence, by definition, doesn’t need a cause. Not only does it not need a cause, it is without a cause. Necessary mean non-dependant, non-causal existence. It’s a category fallacy. It’s like asking, what colour is sound? Sound doesn’t have colour; it’s a question that does not apply to this category. You can say what volume is the sound. To ask the question that what is the cause of that being who is necessary, that is a category fallacy. By definition of being necessary, it means there was no cause. Just like if you say, who made God? It’s like saying who made the unmakeable?
Necessary means unmakeable, non-created, uncreated. It’s like saying who created the uncreated? What caused the necessary existence? If something caused the necessary to come into existence, then it’s not necessary existence; it’s contingent. You put it back in the other category. If you keep putting everything back in that category, you cannot have everything in the category of contingent, because it’s an infinite regression, that’s a logical fallacy.
This is the Kalam Cosmological argument. This basically revolves around these three concepts; necessity, contingency, and the logical fallacy which is what we call an infinite regression i.e. it cannot go back forever, you will ultimately have to have something that is necessary existence.
Imam Ghazali (rah) explains this logical fallacy in the following way. If you look at how many times the earth revolves around the sun, it is once in a year, however if you look at how many times the moon rotates around the earth, that’s twelve times in a year. Let‘s go back to the lunar calendar, there are twelve lunar months. Now if you say that the sun and the moon have both existed forever, then you will be bringing their number of revolutions in the past to infinity. At the same time, you are saying that the moon has twelve times more revolutions than the sun, i.e. A = 12B, but Maths will tell you
if A=∞ and B=∞
because 12 x ∞ = ∞
When for the sun and the moon you take infinite regression, they both reach infinity, then ∞=∞ so the number of revolutions of the moon around the earth and the number of revolutions of the earth around the sun are equal, but how can they be equal when we just said that the moon revolves around the earth 12 times the number of revolutions earth revolves around the sun every year? So there are different ways to use this system of the Kalam Argument. This was just a little bit about science, the point was to show you that there is a conceptual understanding in deen that can engage in this discussion. While on the other side, the conceptual science should not be called science, it should be called scientism.
Rationality in terms of Nabuwwah [Revelation and Prophethood]
Imam Ghazali (rah) has explained this concept in a beautiful way. He uses the epistemological approach, which is a fancy term that means studying knowledge and the way we know things. So there is a way of knowing, and then there are things that are knowable by that way of knowing.
- First way of knowing, he says, is through our five senses. That begins, even according to the modern human embryology, in the womb where the baby develops different levels of skills. There are certain things knowable that you will know through these five senses. This is what babies are doing all the time. They throw things if they want to check something is loud or not. They take things and put them in their mouths to see if it’s hard or soft, bitter or sweet. This a way in which they are constantly knowing, they are learning through their five senses. We accept the five senses. We accept that certain knowable things are known through that way of knowing.
- Second way of knowing, he says, progresses with human development i.e. your aqal (intellect). It is that stage when the child can begin to fathom concepts, and understand and intellectualize them. In our tradition this ability matures at the age of seven. That’s why Blessed Prophet (sws) taught us to really begin the child’s tarbiyyah at seven. This doesn’t mean there should be no tarbiyyah before seven, but you begin it in the earnest at that age. The ability to grasp concepts as right and wrong, moral and immoral, pleasing or displeasing to Allah swt really reaches its maturity at the age of seven. It’s not the peak, it keeps on increasing, but maturity means it has developed — it’s there now. It’s an ability now that the child has. So then through your aqal, i.e. your mind, you are able to know many things. For example, there may be many of you who have never been to New York. Your five senses have never experienced it. You have not smelt it live, heard it, touched it etc. But your mind tells you it exists. You know with as much certainty that New York exists as a person who was born and raised there. We acknowledge aqal as a tool of knowledge and we acknowledge the knowable that are known by that way of knowing.
- In the third level, Imam Ghazali (rah) takes it in reverse. He said there are certain things known by the five senses, and there are certain things known by the intellect. Now he is saying that there are some knowables the knowledge of which cannot be traced back to the five senses, and cannot be traced back to the aqal. What makes claim to that knowledge is revelation and Prophethood, Nabuwwah, Qur’an and Sunnah. The Qur’an is not something that came from our five senses, or our intellect. The Sunnah, the teachings of Blessed Prophet (sws) is also making a claim that this is knowledge, but the source of that knowledge is not the five senses, nor is it the aqal.
Now what he does is interesting, because this is well before the concept of modern science has even developed, but he very much adopts, what we call today, a scientific method. He goes for the falsifiability approach. He says that there are some things that claim to be knowledge and you didn’t know them through your five senses, and you didn’t know them through your aqal. So what you should do is you should test them out.
He takes one hadith that Blessed Prophet (sws) said: If you make pleasing Allah swt your first and foremost concern and worry in your heart, Allah swt will remove all the concerns and worries you have in the world. This is the proposition. It’s not the proper adab to say it, but lets just say it for the sake of understanding that this is a claim to knowledge made to somebody who, at this moment, thinks their only tools to knowledge are their five senses and their intellect. The five senses could never come up with this. They cannot establish this to be true that if you make the sole concern of your heart pleasing Allah swt, Allah swt will remove all your worldly worries and concerns. The intellect cannot establish this position. This is beyond its ken, beyond its ability and rationality.
Imam Ghazali (rah) then says that to find out, you have to adopt this position and see what happens i.e. you run a test. You do it. You make the only concern in your heart pleasing Allah swt and you see if Allah swt removes your worries and concerns in the world. And if you find that Allah swt does remove the worries and concerns in the world, you will realize that this statement is true. He says that you should do this with every single verse and hadith.
Remember when we covered correlation and intuition — that’s the scientific method that you keep running the experiment, and there’s a certain number of times you run it after which you will feel that yes now I know there’s fair uniformity, I will say this is uniform [and I will accept it]. Imam Ghazali (rah) is even more precise, he doesn’t say approximately try 10% of hadith or 40% of verses. He says try it on all – take every hadith and every verse of Qur’an and practice it. So it’s the perfection of the scientific method.
He says if you find that all of the hadith and verses are true through your experience, then you will know from yaqeen (certainty) the source of that knowledge. Now you know the knowables to be true. If the knowable is true, whatever was the source of that knowable is also true. The source of that knowable is Hadith and Qur’an. When you know the knowables to be true, you will know their source to be true, you will know Allah swt and Blessed Prophet (sws) to be true with certainty. That challenge is also there for anyone. Before non-Muslims, the Muslims have to take it up. Allah swt said in Qur’an:
Lower your gaze
Try it. See what happens. You say no I don’t want to lower my gaze, can you give me a cure, shaykh? That’s not how it works. We are also scientific. Deen of Islam makes no claim that you can disobey and still succeed. You say I want haya so I don’t commit these lewd crude sins on the screen but I don’t want to lower my gaze. Deen doesn’t make that claim. There is no hidayah like that, that you disobey Allah swt and you still get obedience. This is also a logical fallacy.
Deen says you try it. Do what Allah swt has told you to do and then see if you get haya. Build a spiritual workshop, don’t just build a workshop for your academic intellectual understandings. You should think I will build a workshop on every single thing in Qur’an and every single thing in hadith that Blessed Prophet (sws) taught me on how I can get haya, then I will, following Imam Ghazali’s (rah) approach, practice each and every one of those things. Then you will see, when you get that haya, you will have a certainty in your deen. You will say look at this deen — it’s kamil hidayah (perfect guidance). It changed my heart, it changed my life and it transformed my being. This is called deen.
You have to get real. This whole notion of not practicing Qur’an and Sunnah, and basically philosophizing and intellectualizing [Islamic teachings] — this is not the asal (real purpose). I’m telling you very openly, we just keep these type of lectures to take people out of the jails of their intellect. It’s like jailbreak. I’m breaking you out of the jail of your aqal so you can enter the life of your qalb (heart).
My dream is not that you go home and start building a workshop on Iman and you write me up all types of interesting intellectual questions. Go build a workshop on haya, build a workshop on sabr, build a workshop on taqwah. Then use Imam Ghazali’s (rah) method. Then see what happens. You will come to such a certainty. You will say I was a rock, I thought nothing could change me. I was full of anger, and lust and envy and I did what Allah swt said in the Qur’an and whatever Blessed Prophet (sws) taught me, and I changed. Then you will have true certainty.
This is what Imam Ghazali (rah) is showing through epistemology that knowledge through demonstration is knowledge, but knowledge through experience is a higher form of knowledge, which scientism can never aspire to, because scientism believes in knowledge through demonstration, we believe in knowledge through experience. You will experience the qurb of Allah swt. Anyone who has experienced this qurb does not need to be demonstrated that Allah swt exists. Allah swt says:
Remember Me and I will remember you. [2:152]
You will feel it. You will feel Allah swt making dhikr of you. You will know He is true, you will know He is real. You will not need any logical proof then, you won’t even need this Kalam Cosmological Argument. That was just a key to unlock the jail. You don’t need these things. This is what Imam Ghazali (rah) is teaching us that Qur’an and Sunnah have to be lived. They are not just to be translated and commented upon and analyzed and discussed — they are supposed to be lived by the heart. They were lived by the heart of the Blessed Prophet (sws). He (sws) brought sahaba karam’s (ra) hearts alive. This is called tazkiya in deen.
and cleanse them of all impurities. [2:129]
It means to bring the hearts alive. This is something which is supra rational. Deen is not irrational. It transcends rationality. Rationality and intellect is a weak scale. When you go to the jeweler, he has a small little scale that can weigh up to maybe 10 pounds, because he is weighing in .003 grams and ounces of gold. If I put my suitcase on that scale, it will burst. His scale does not have that ability. Intellect is like the scale of the jeweler. Allah swt says:
عَلَّمَ ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنَ مَا لَمۡ يَعۡلَمۡ
He taught man what he did not know. [96:5]
Allah swt will teach humanity the knowledge which they never could have known, nor did they ever know. Allah swt gave them a scale. They are running around with their small little jeweler’s intellect scales, trying to figure out what is true and what is real, what is false and what is untrue. Can you imagine? That scale of intellect is big enough, but it is like a small jeweler’s scale relative to Allah’s swt knowledge. So if:
1 = your ability to know
∞ = Allah’s swt knowledge
1/∞ = 0
That 1 is something, because that 1 little, pure, innate intellect was enough:
Then, do they not use their reason? [36:68]
…it was enough to understand the existence of Allah swt. If this inherent little small jeweler’s scale that Allah swt gave us is enough to understand and realize the existence of Allah swt, then can you imagine the transformative effect of the human being when he moves beyond the small scale of intellect and gets into the ocean of Qur’an and Sunnah? Imagine what type of ma’arafat (deep understanding) of Allah swt will he have. When he understands Allah swt, as Allah swt has revealed Himself to be:
وَلِلَّهِ ٱلۡأَسۡمَآءُ ٱلۡحُسۡنَىٰ فَٱدۡعُوهُ بِہَاۖ
For Allah there are the most beautiful names. So, call Him by them [7:180]
When he understands Allah swt the way He wishes Himself to be known:
وَهُوَ مَعَكُمۡ أَيۡنَ مَا كُنتُمۡۚ
He is with you wherever you are [57:4]
I am near [2:186]
What will happen to that person then? This transcends intellect. This is something else when Allah swt grants a person sharah sadr (lit.: opening up of the chest; enlightenment). Allah swt says to Blessed Prophet (sws):
أَلَمۡ نَشۡرَحۡ لَكَ صَدۡرَكَ
Have We not caused your bosom to be wide open for you? [94:01]
It’s your sadr, these understandings come in your chest, your qalb, your spiritual heart. The understanding of the sadr and qalb is way beyond any understanding that the aqal could have. And you want to leave the understanding of the sadr and qalb in deen and just be reading Dawkins and talking about Atheism, which is a matter of the aqal? I’m just trying to unlock you from this solitary confinement, small prison cell of the aqal. When you come out of that you will come into the unlimited expanse in the pastures of the true deen and the knowledge of Qur’an and Sunnah, and in the pastures of your heart. You have to understand and keep all of these things in context.
This was a very small drop. In the end what I’m trying to do, I will tell you very openly, my personal view is that this drop is enough. I could sit down and give you a whole course on Atheism and Religion; existence of evil and this or the other, there are so many topics. For me, because I’m addressing you people, if I were talking to Atheists that would have been a very different engagement, but for the person who has Iman in their heart, this drop is enough to know that our deen has an academic and intellectual tradition, and also for you to realize that an ocean lies in the knowledge of spiritual tradition of my deen. My deen has engaged my aqal, but the real engagement is the way my deen has engaged my qalb. Allah swt says about Qur’an:
إِنَّ فِى ذَٲلِكَ لَذِڪۡرَىٰ لِمَن كَانَ لَهُ ۥ قَلۡبٌ
Indeed, there is a lesson in all this for him who has a heart [50:37]
Indeed in this Qur’an there is admonishment and advice, but for who? For that person who has a heart. A person who has a heart will be guided by Qur’an. They will be transformed and uplifted by it. But had I put that topic up only five of you would have shown up. I put this topic up that Science, Rationality and the New Atheism, then you flock to it. This is the problem. If I put Heart, Spirituality and Qur’an — I get only 10% of the attendance.
I didn’t do this just to get you to come. I did it because clearly this is an issue that’s disturbing you so I want to talk to you about it. I don’t want you to think that Islam has nothing to say about these things. I want you to understand it from the vantage point and perspective of deen. This is a speck for us. It’s a tiny dot on the map. This is an incidental discussion. Why something that the deen views as an incidental discussion, people are making it into the be-all and end-all of their decision to stay on Iman, or leave their Iman? This is a big problem and possibly because you hadn’t had these type of sessions, Allah swt knows best. We don’t know. We are desperately trying to figure out how to help these people who are getting distanced from their Allah swt.
May Allah swt accept our sitting here, may He grant us the khayr in it, may He save us from any confusion and error, may He just accept our intention that our intention in any and every Islamic gathering, in every learning and discussion, is only and only to become closer to Him, only and only to become more pleasing to Him, may He let us live on this intention and die on this intention, may He raise us up with this intention, and may He honor this intention by granting us the abode in Dar as-Salam in Akhira where we actually get what we want, and that’s not objectivity, subjectivity or rationality, we get what we want and that is closeness to Allah swt, belovedness to Allah swt and nearness to Allah swt.
وَآَخِرُ دَعْوَانَا أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ