Through the ages religion has been the source of moral and spiritual values and standards. Since the opening of the scientific age, however, that is to say, since the start of the era of investigation and research into the operation and application of the laws of nature, it has been assumed in the West that there is certain amount of conflict between science and religion. This sense of conflict was stressed and sharpened by incidents like that of Galileo’s trial by the Holy Office and, in more recent times, by the attitude adopted towards Darwin.
In the West this supposed conflict is deemed to have been resolved by the assumption that gradually gained acceptance, that science and religion operate within their own special but well-defined spheres which do not overlap. In consequence of this erroneous assumption, religion was, in the end, confined to the regulation and performance of Divine Worship and certain rituals and ceremonials. Ministers of religion and Church authorities have made constant efforts to win back for religion its true position as the source of moral and spiritual values but signs of revival notwithstanding, there is no assurance yet that people are eager to turn to religion as the principal source of guidance in the moral and spiritual spheres. In the meantime, the West’s attitude towards religion is being very largely copied in the East.
What is the attitude of Islam towards the problem that we have set out above? We have already mentioned that there is no church hierarchy in Islam. Not on the intellect always been free, Islam has insisted the application of reason and intellect to all problems which man may encounter.
The very first revelation that came to the Holy Prophets(sa) of Islam was:
Recite in the name of your Lord Who created… Recite! And The Lord is Most Generous Who taught man by the pen. Taught man what he knew not. (Ch.96: Vs.2-6)
There is at every step in the Qur’an an exhortation towards the exercise of reason and judgement. People are invited to reflect, to ponder, to understand, etc.
He grants wisdom to whom He pleases, and whoever is granted wisdom has indeed been granted abundant good; and none would be reminded except those endowed understanding. (Ch.2: V.270)
The Holy Prophets(sa) has said:
The pursuit of knowledge is an obligation laid upon every Muslim man and woman. (Ibne Majah)
And again ……
A word of wisdom is the lost property of a Muslim He should seize it wherever he finds it. (Tirmizi)
But the Qur’an does not stop short at general exhortation in support of learning and philosophy. At every it draws attention to the phenomena of nature in support and illustration of spiritual truths, emphasizing the accord between nature and spiritual truth, thus excluding any possibility of conflict.
It goes further. It draws repeated attention to man’s position as God’s vicegerent upon earth, and lays emphasis upon God’s bounty in making the universe subservient to man. This means that the universe is governed by laws and that, therefore, its operations are controlled and regulated, and that through research one can discover these laws and their operation. It also means that the whole of the universe and all its phenomena are at the service of man. Consequently man must carry on research into the laws and workings of nature so as to obtain increasing mastery over the forces of nature, and to put these forces into beneficent service. There is thus no conflict between science and religion so far as Islam is concerned.
Islam claims that its guidance is universal and comprehensive. The Qur’an claims that it comprises lasting commandments and teachings which are of universal application:
A Messenger from Allah, reciting unto them the pure Scriptures. Therein are lasting commandments. (Ch.98: Vs.3-4)