Change the way we educate

As I mentioned in my last Khutba, ‘Living in the Revolution’, there are three things that we must change in our approach to life to leverage the benefits of technology and counter its ill effects. Change the way we connect with Allahﷻ and Rasoolullahﷺ, change the way we teach, and change the way we relate with one another.  In the 15th century in Medieval Europe the conflict between the Church and scientists came to a head. The Pope was Urban VIII and the scientist was Galileo. Galileo’s theory of Copernican heliocentrism (Earth rotating daily and revolving around the Sun) was opposed by the Catholic Church. The matter was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, which concluded that heliocentrism was foolish, and heretical since it contradicted Holy Scripture.

Galileo later defended his views in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632), which appeared to attack Pope Urban VIII and thus he was tried by the Inquisition, found ‘vehemently suspect of heresy’, and forced to recant. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest. The reason I am mentioning this is because we Muslims inherited this conflict between the Church (in our case our Ulama) and scientists without any reason because there is, in fact, no conflict between Islam and science.

The purpose of science is to peel back the layers of the appearance of objects to reveal their underlying nature. The purpose of Islam is to peel back the layers of the appearance of objects to reveal their underlying purpose. Let’s see what happens in practice. I call it the “Why” versus “How” conundrum.

When you ask “Why” something happens, science tells you “How” it happens. For example, if you ask why do rogue waves happen? You are told, “Waves coming at different speeds from different directions suddenly meet and mingle into one big rogue wave. Strong waves collide with fast-flowing ocean currents coming from the opposite direction, slowing down the waves so that they pile up and form rogue waves.” The answer is perfectly correct but not for the question you asked. Is this the answer to the question: “Why?” Or are they telling us “How” rogue waves are formed? Is it important to know how it happens? Of course, it is. But does that answer your question about why? ‘How’ is the method or mechanics. ‘Why’ is the cause or reason. Both are important but not in the same way. Just as ‘How’ is different from ‘Why’, so are the answers. Also, if you want to know how to change something, you must know why it happened. Just understanding the mechanics is not enough. You need to know the reason.

The real answer to “Why” can only be given by the One who made it happen. Let me give you an example. If you invite me for dinner and make Hyderabadi Biryani, I will be totally delighted. Then imagine that overcome with happiness, I ask you, “Ya Habeebi, why did you do this?” Listen to my question: ‘Why did you do this?’ You answer, ‘Take a pot and wash it well. Then take good quality Basmati rice and wash it well. Then cut up the mutton because Biryani with any other meat is Bida’a. Wash the mutton well in lime juice and then with water.’ I say to you, ‘Hello! Excuse me. I asked you why you took all the trouble to make this delicious Biryani. You are telling me the recipe of Biryani. While that is good to know, it doesn’t answer my question. Why did you do it?’ You respond, ‘That is what I am trying to tell you. Just listen.’ And this ridiculous conversation continues. Tell me, is my question, ‘WHY did you make Biryani for me?’, answered, if you learn HOW to make Biryani?

The source of confusion is modern education that is taught without considering the nature of the Creator and His Will in His creation. Since the Creator is not recognized, His Will is not recognized. This leads to gaps in knowledge which are attempted to be closed by answering the question; “Why” with “How”. Like the example I gave you about rogue waves. Another one, if you ask why earthquakes happen; they will tell you that they happen because of the movement of tectonic plates. But that is ‘How’ they happen. Not ‘Why’. The answer to ‘Why’ is only one: Because of the order of Allahﷻ. Only when we understand this, can we begin to ask the real questions: What brings about these orders of Allahﷻ? What can we do to ensure that the orders of Allahﷻ are always those of reward and not punishment? Again, I repeat knowing how something happens is important. But knowing why is equally if not more important. When we confuse reason with method, we lose the lesson in the experience. Experience is not what happens to you but what you learn from what happens to you. But when you start by refusing to acknowledge the Creator, how can you answer the question, ‘Why does something happen?’ It is part of Imaan bil Ghayb to recognize this connection between human actions and Allahﷻ’s decisions. It is also essential to recognize this if we want those decisions to change. Allahﷻ told us why things happen. He said:

ظَهَرَ ٱلْفَسَادُ فِى ٱلْبَرِّ وَٱلْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِى ٱلنَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ ٱلَّذِى عَمِلُوا۟ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

Rum 30:41-2    Mischief has appeared on land and sea because of (the deeds) that the hands of men have earned that (Allah) may give them a taste of some of their deeds: in order that they may turn back (from Evil).  

The Mercy of Allahﷻ is visible in everything that He does. Even his punishment is a sign of His Mercy because it protects us from real disaster. This integration of knowledge is what must be re-created. In the words of one of the greatest Ulama of our land, Allama Syed Sulaiman Nadwi, ‘The greatest corruption was when we separated religious knowledge from scientific knowledge.’ This is what needs to be corrected. Not ‘Islamization of knowledge’ since all knowledge is from Allahﷻ in any case. But Islamization of our character, ethics, values, and morals, so that the knowledge we acquire is used only to spread goodness all around us to all creatures, human, animal, and the environment. It is Tarbiyya that we need. Tarbiyya focused on Taqwa wal Ihsan. No time to go into those details here. I am just putting markers here for you to reflect on.  Allahﷻ taught us how to teach. He told us to first recognize Him and then look for His Signs in His creation.

إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلاَفِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ لآيَاتٍ لِّأُوْلِي الألْبَابِ

الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىَ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَذا بَاطِلاً سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ

A’al Imraan 3: 190. Verily! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for people of understanding. 191. Those who remember Allah (always) standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying): “Our Rabb! You have not created (all) this without purpose, glory to You! Give us salvation from the torment of the Fire.

There are 3 critical elements in these Ayaat. First, after telling us that intelligent people can see His Signs in His creation, Allahﷻ described intelligent people. He said that they are first and foremost, people who know Allahﷻ and remember Him in all aspects of their lives. For them Allahﷻ is real. The meeting with Allahﷻ is real. Allahﷻ’s pleasure is real. Allahﷻ is their first priority. For them, nothing is more important than pleasing Allahﷻ and everything else in their lives revolves around that. This means that these people are those who have Taqwa and whose first and only concern is never to displease Allahﷻ. They love Allahﷻ, are connected to Him and remember Him constantly. Please remember that Dhikr is not merely repeating the names of Allahﷻ, but to stop and ask ourselves before every action or speech, “Does this please Allahﷻ?” If it does, we do it. If it doesn’t, we don’t do it and if we have a doubt, we clarify the doubt. That is the meaning of Dhikr. And that is the first attribute of intelligence according to the Qur’an; that we recognize and worship Allahﷻ.

Second attribute is that they are concerned with the world. They are people who research in the creation. In the beautiful way of the Qur’an Allahﷻ used only one word – Fikr – to encompass every form of research that we can ever do, in His creation. Allahﷻ created this universe and the laws that govern it. Allahﷻ created the Law of Gravity; Newton described it. Thanks to this law, we are all sitting here in safety instead of flying off into deep space due to Centrifugal Force. Allahﷻ created the Laws of Thermodynamics and Fowler and Guggenheim described and listed them in the 1930’s. Too many things to thank Allahﷻ for in these, so I shall leave you to read up about them. Allahﷻ created the Law of Aerodynamics and Lift, thanks to which an A-380 with a fully laden weight of 91,000 Kilograms takes to the air.

Allahﷻ created the Law of Displacement and Archimedes described it. Thanks to that a tanker or container ship with a deadweight of 200,000 tons of steel floats on the sea. Allahﷻ created the Pacific with the Mariana Trench which is 11 kilometers deep where sunlight never ever reached and where in total darkness the temperature is 4º C and water pressure is 1,086 bars (15,750 psi), enough to squash a nuclear submarine to pulp, yet Allahﷻ created marine animals that live there in perfect safety even though they are not made of titanium steel. Tell me, do you teach these things in your schools? Do you teach them in your Madrassas? How then do you claim to teach the Qur’an?

Critical to the second attribute of the Ayah is the word AND. Allahﷻ didn’t state that intelligent people are those who do one or the other of these things: Dhikr of Allahﷻ OR research in His creation. He said that intelligent people are those who do both. He used the preposition AND. Not OR. So, to be considered intelligent according to the standard of the Qur’an, we must do both; Dhikr of Allahﷻ and research in His creation.

The third attribute of this Ayah is the sequence of teaching i.e., first introduce Allahﷻ to the students, then let them research in His creation. If you don’t follow the sequence, you get Ulama who know nothing about the material world and so can’t guide anyone in it. Or you get atheists who deny the existence of Allahﷻ and imagine that everything got created by accident. The third and last part of the Ayah tells us what happens when we educate as the Qur’an taught us. We create Muttaqi scientists. We create scientists and technologists who see the signs of Allahﷻ and fulfill the purpose of the revelation of the Qur’an which began with the command, Iqra (Read). When people study in this sequence, they remember that one day they will meet Allahﷻ and yearn for that day when they will be with the One, they love. It is my dream to see the day when a cardiac surgeon will hold a scalpel in his hand. A hand about which Allahﷻ said in the Hadith Qudsi, ‘My slave comes so close to me that I become the hand by which he holds.’ The surgeon then makes dua to his Rabb for Shifa for his patient because he knows that the cure is with Allahﷻ and not in his surgery. And after the operation is over, he goes across to the masjid to deliver the Khutba for Juma.

There is no conflict between ‘science’ and ‘religion’ in Islam. Conflict happens when we want to ignore the Creator and develop our knowledge. It is a basic principle in life that you cannot ignore the source of your own power. Since Allahﷻ is the source of all knowledge, it is oxymoronic to imagine that you can develop ‘knowledge’ while ignoring the ‘source of knowledge’. That is why we have so much confusion and discord, because this thinking can only lead to misguidance. Our Ulama are equally at fault for preaching hatred of science while running to scientists, also called doctors, when their Quloob are in Wajd. We must discard this hypocritical stand and start teaching the way Allahﷻ prescribed. Teach science through the lens of the Revelation (Qur’an) to people who know Allahﷻ and are connected to Him. The result will be as Allahﷻ described:

رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَذا بَاطِلاً سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ

“Our Rabb! You have not created (all) this without purpose, glory to You! Give us salvation from the torment of the Fire.”

That is our challenge. The reward will be a glorious future contributing to the world and the pleasure of Allahﷻ.