Here, a Theoretical Physicist and Islamic scholar writes a fascinating, technical, yet awesomely heartfelt critical review of IERA’s ‘new approach’ to the Quran and Science. The paper in question is quoted extensively in the interests of fairness (and for those who can’t be bothered to read all of it).
My only addition to this would be that perhaps we should remember that it was IERA who were largely responsible for the ‘old approach’ to Quran and Science (see above booklet)…
We begin in the name of Allah the Exalted. May Allah bless and grant peace to the leader of the Creation Muhammad (SAW), and on his Family and Companions until the Day of Judgement. We ask Allah to keep us away from knowledge that is not beneficial, and may increase us in (useful) knowledge that will be an adornment for us in this world and the next.
The subject of this paper is quite important, as it centres on analysing the recent paper released by Hamza Tzortzis entitled ‘Does the Qur’an Contain Scientific Miracles? A New Approach on how to Reconcile and Discuss Science in the Qur’an’. There will be some strong words that may be occasionally used hereunder, but the goal is to make many of Daa’is (Propagators of Islam) understand certain serious problems that have been plaguing the Da’wah effort for a long time now, and which are in need of urgent attention.
o There are certain things in life that have serious effects and their impact on people is enormous. One cannot joke about these things. Sometimes, one cannot get a second chance. For example, you only get one interview opportunity for any given job. We cannot toy with everything or everybody in life. Life and hence the lives of people are not something to be taken for granted.
o I really urge people, especially Muslims, to come to their senses regarding their own actions. They react to things emotionally rather than with calmness, assertiveness and justice. Unfortunately we live in an age in which the truth does not prevail and this state is clearly pointed to in Qur’an in its purport that ‘the power will be shifted sometimes in favour of the truth and sometimes in favour of falsehood’.
o Unfortunately, falsehood is prevailing at the moment, with the people who claim to be peacemakers being actually those who are the mischief makers (as stated in Surah al-Baqarah). And as the Prophet (SAW) said that close to the Day of Judgement, those who are trustworthy will be treated as liars and liars will be treated as trustworthy.
o There is a Marfu’ Hadeeth about this state of affairs, and it is as follows:
(حديث مرفوع): حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو بَكْرِ بْنُ أَبِي شَيْبَةَ , حَدَّثَنَا يَزِيدُ بْنُ هَارُونَ , حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الْمَلِكِ بْنُ قُدَامَةَ الْجُمَحِيُّ , عَنْ إِسْحَاق بْنِ أَبِي الْفُرَاتِ , عَنْ الْمَقْبُرِيِّ , عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ , قَالَ : قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ
“سَيَأْتِي عَلَى النَّاسِ سَنَوَاتٌ خَدَّاعَاتُ , يُصَدَّقُ فِيهَا الْكَاذِبُ , وَيُكَذَّبُ فِيهَا الصَّادِقُ , وَيُؤْتَمَنُ فِيهَا الْخَائِنُ , وَيُخَوَّنُ فِيهَا الْأَمِينُ , وَيَنْطِقُ فِيهَا الرُّوَيْبِضَةُ , قِيلَ : وَمَا الرُّوَيْبِضَةُ ؟ قَالَ : الرَّجُلُ التَّافِهُ فِي أَمْرِ الْعَامَّةِ “
The Prophet (SAW) said: “Years of great deception will come upon the people, where the liar will be believed and the truthful man will be called a liar, the treacherous person will be entrusted (with things) and the trustworthy person will be regarded as treacherous, and the Ruwaybidah will speak”. It was asked: Who are the Ruwaybidah? He said: “The worthless man who gets involved in the affairs of the masses.” (as in the Musnad of Imam Ahmad, Sunan of Ibn Maajah and Hakim’s Mustadrak)
o Those who accept Islam as a religion are called Muslims and they are supposed to be at peace. Are Muslims ‘at peace’? If you are not at peace, what has happened? How come Islam has not put you in a peaceful state? Unfortunately, the whole Ummah is in chaos, and a person or body in a chaotic state will only cause more chaos to his surroundings.
o This is why we see that so many so-called ‘Muslims’ are causing chaos on earth, whether willingly or unwillingly. We can see that this is not only the case with common Muslims but even more so with many of the so-called ‘Imams’. Regrettably, large numbers of these ‘Imams’ are not interested in the affairs of people, let alone the Muslims. These so-called Imams failed and have been failing this Ummah for along time now. An ‘Imam’ is supposed to be the leader of a community and lead people to peace and tranquillity, just like a mother cuddles her child and gives the child comfort, or like a father protecting his household no matter what.
o Nowadays Imams are severely lacking in their Islamic knowledge, and many have no clue about the Qur’an or the Sunnah other than from a superficial angle. I am not even mentioning intimate knowledge of the language and culture of the society, which are very important additional traits in order to be able to influence the hearts of men. The result is that we are in a pickle as an Ummah. We have people who claim to be ‘scholars’ yet lack deep Islamic knowledge, and we have so-called ‘apologists’ whose work betrays their total lack of knowledge. We have so called ‘Muslim scientists’ who are completely lost in society and have no clue about Islam. We have ethnic Arabs who can speak Arabic but who cannot understand the Qur’an, yet they claim to be better in understanding the Qur’an than the non-Arab Muslims who actually studied the Qur’an. (Note that being an Arab does not make you superior to non-Arabs. The companions who were Arabs went to the same school as the companions who were non-Arabs.)
o If we wish to talk about the relationship between the supposed ‘scientifically miraculous Verses of the Qur’an’ and the true exegesis of the Qur’an, let us start out by asking a simple question regarding these Verses, and then see how many people will be able to answer by reading the translation of Qur’an (and translation is mentioned here, since most Muslims cannot by themselves carry out even a rudimentary translation of the Qur’an, so they have to rely on others):
o Why is the word ‘Sama’ used as with feminine gender in Surah al-Infitaar and with masculine gender in Surah al-Muzzammil?
o I guess you probably failed to answer the question. So let us replace ‘Sama’ with ‘Sky’ or ‘Heaven’ and try it again. I guess you failed to answer the question even this second time, so let us try again, but this time read it from the original Arabic as ‘Sama’. Did you realize that one is feminine and the other one is masculine?
o In fact, the word Sama also can be used as plural in addition to singular feminine and singular masculine, whereas Samaawaat can be used as a feminine plural. Also, ‘Sama’ has at least more than 10 meanings such as rain, grass, cloud, the roof of a house, something elevated, something that covers the whole earth etc.
o I guess my point is clear and I will stop at this. This is just a simple example of what happens when you read from the translation and try to make commentary of the Qur’an relying on the translations, since you miss many crucial points due to the natural loss of information that occurs when one language is translated into another one.
o As an aside, we see that the case of certain apologists who simply do not know Islam properly but have a lot of zeal is analogous to that of certain Hadeeth fabricators of earlier generations. For example, Nuh bin Abi Maryam (d. 173/789) fabricated many Ahadeeth through the Ibn ‘Abbas-Ikrimah chain (al-‘Iraqi in Fathul Mugheeth I:131, ‘Ali al-Qaari in Sharh Nuhbatul Fikr: 128, ash-Shawkani in al-Fawaaid al-Majmuua’ 315-317) and these Ahadeeth were included in the Tafaseer of az-Zamakhshari, al-Baydawi as well as that of others.
o Ibn Hibaan (Rahimahullah) also obtained information from Maysara bin ‘Abd Rabbih that he had fabricated many Ahadeeth in order to attract people to the recitation of the Qur’an (adh-Dhahabi in Meezaanul I’tidal fi Naqd Ar-rijaal 4:230). This, while Muslim and Ibn Maajah (Rahimahumullah) state in their Muqaddimaat that whoever tells a lie about the Prophetm (SAW) let him prepare for himself a place in the hellfire (and this is in fact a Mutawaatir [mass-transmitted] Hadeeth).
o There was a Bid’ati sect called the ‘Karramiyya’ who gave Fatwa to fabricate Ahadeeth in order to attract people into Ibadah (For targhib-tarhib [i.e. related to encouraging people to do good deeds and dissuading them from evil deeds]). There are also people even today who follow the footsteps of this ‘Karramiyya’ sect.
o Now, let us carry on asking some more questions regarding ‘scientifically miraculous Verses’:
o Can you please explain what we find in Suras Aal-Imran: 59, al-Hijr: 26,28, and 33, as-Saaffaat: 11, and ar-Rahman: 14? Allah mentions Hama, Tin, Salsal and that Adam (Alayhi Salaam) was created from various materials as stated in these three verses? So which one is it? Is there an Ishkaal (problem) in these Verses? If so, how do we solve the problem to understand these Verses, and their relationship with the so-called ‘Scientific verses’?
o Also, if we consider matters from another angle, do you have enough knowledge to differentiate between the different Mutashabihat (the ambiguous Verses)?
o Can you please explain why in Surah Hud Verse 1 the Qur’an is mentioned as ‘Muhkam’ (absolutely clear), while in Surah az-Zumar verse 23 the Qur’an is described as ‘Mutashaabih’.
o Or if we consider Verse 7 of Surah Aal Imraan. The normal translation found online is given as: ‘As for those in whose hearts is deviation [from truth], they will follow that of it which is unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation [suitable to them]. And no one knows its [true] interpretation except Allah’. In fact, there are two narrations about the meaning of this Verse, one is through Abdullah b. Abbas, Hz. Aisha, al-Hasan, Malik b. Anas, Kisaî and Ferra’ (Radhia Allahu Anhum Wa Rahimahumulla) stating that only Allah knows the meaning of the Mutashaabihaat (unspecified) Verses; and through another narration Abdullah b. Abbas, Mujaaahid, Rabi’ b. Anas and others stating that only Allah and those who are firm in knowledge know the intended meaning of the Mutashaabihaat. This difference comes due to a consideration of the letter ‘و‘, and whether it is considered as isti’nafiyya or as atf. Now the question is, which category are you in when it comes to interpreting these verses, and which teacher instructed you on the correct interpretation of this Verse and how to reconcile these two sets of narrations?
Why did al-Shatibi (RA) in al-Muwaafaqaat mention Mutlaq and Idaafi under the categories of Mutashabihaat?
o With respect to the subcategory of Idhaafi Mutashaabihat, can you explain terms such as Khafi, Mushkil, Mujmal, Mub-ham, Muawwal, and Mutlaq?
o The reason I have been using the above Arabic terminologies is that there is a particular technical vocabulary for the science of Usool at-Tafseer that was developed by classical Usool scholars, and it really bedevils the mind as to how anyone can come and issue commentaries of the Qur’an without knowing these sciences.
o Note that when Hazrat Abu Bakr (RAA) was asked about the word ‘abba’ in Surah ‘Abasa, he did not answer the question by explaining the Verse. Rather, he said that he is scared of saying something which Allah did not intend to say. (Ibn Katheer, Tafseer as-Suyuuti, al-Itqan I:149).
o Hazrat Umar (RAA) also claimed the hardship of knowing some of these words and understanding some of these verses, including the word ‘abba’ (as-Suyuuti, al-Itqan).
o The word ‘abban’ is considered Mujmal (generic) and needs a Qareena (proper context) in order to be understood. One must be skilled in Islamic sciences to be able to look for a Qareena and derive the meaning through detailed analysis, and one must also know when and where to say ‘I do not know’.
o Also, sometimes the meaning of a verse might be Mutashabih due to a specific Lafdh (word) found therein.
o Consider that Verses such al-Furqan: 53, and ar-Rahman: 19-20 were considered as Mutashaabih by classical Mufassirun like at-Tabari, ar-Raadhi, Ibn Katheer and Hamdi Yazir, and they described it as a ‘Land mass in between’ or a ‘Sad’ (barrier).
o There is a narration from Said ibn al-Musayyib (RA) saying that these two seas are referring to a sea from the Sky and another sea from the Earth (as-Suyuuti in Mufhamaat 44). Since Said’s narrations are a Hujjah (formal evidence), can we go against his Hadeeth and make Ta’weel whichever way we wish?
o These people were experts in the Arabic language as well as in other Islamic sciences. Knowing this, can we say that we now know what it means and that this is the final meaning?
o Some more examples of Mutashaabihaat Verses are from Al-Hijr: 22 and al-An’am:125.
o Also in Surah ad-Dhaariyaat: 47, the word ‘Muusi’uun’ is used, which has been claimed by many as a scientific miracle of the Qur’an. But does the word ‘Musi’uun’ really mean ‘expansion’? How do we know if the universe has been expanding from the start? What happens when it stops expanding and contracting? Are we going to re-comment on this word? What if it a new theory comes along which says that the Universe has stopped expanding? Will the meaning of the verse change?
o As an analogous example, the word ‘Tawwaabiin’ in surah al-Baqarah refers to ‘constant’ repentance. But can we say that ‘Muusi’uun’ refer to a constant expansion that has been happening from the beginning of the Universe, and continues from now and until the end of the Universe? Knowing this, how would we then explain the acceleration in the expansion of the universe?
o As a theoretical physicist, part of my job is to follow physics papers published online and one of the recent papers suggests that the universe is not expanding but the distant galaxies are gaining and losing mass, and this is the reason why we observe the red and blue shift of light waves from distant heavenly bodies. What if the suggestion in this paper is correct? We must remember that not all inductions and scientific findings are probability based.
o In order to connect this to Islam, we see that in the sciences of Mantiq (Logic), which is a compulsory subject of study for the scholars of Usool in the Islamic sciences, one learns that Burhan means certain proof (Daleel), which consists of Muqaddimaat (premises) which are certain and the outcome becomes certain as well, and it is a type of Qiyaas (analogy). Thus, Yaqeeni knowledge (which consists of two types: Dharuuriyyaat and Nazariyyaat/Iktisaabiyyaat ) is 100% correct. This is also something studied as part of ‘Ilm al-Mantiq, and this knowledge is compatible with reality, and it is not possible for us to neglect this information as a description of reality.
o So the suggestion to my fellow brothers and sisters is that they must wake up from this ignorance in all fields that they are currently exhibiting.
o What is happening nowadays is that people with money open mosques, schools and madrasahs and run them. Unfortunately people with knowledge are being treated like third-class citizens. People value money and wealth more than they value knowledge. Muslims are not even in a position to make healthy decisions; they cannot even choose their Imams or rulers properly. Hence people without knowledge generally make the decisions.
o This is one problem. The other problem is due to people not knowing their limits. There is a revert brother who has been studying Islam for a long time outside of his home country. He has immense Islamic knowledge, is fluent in classical Arabic and an expert in other sciences yet he still does not see himself qualified enough to become an Imam or a public speaker. On the other hand, we have many reverts given platforms to talk about Islam as if they know the Qur’an, Tafseer, Ahadith, Fiqh, Tasawwuf and Kalaam sciences. They can convey the message up to a certain degree and this is not a bad thing.
o However, when it comes to these very deep matters, they have no clue about Islamic sciences and yet they talk about Islam in the name of Allah, and his Prophet (SAW). And if someone were to investigate why they are given this platform, it is because they are new Muslims, and just because of that they are seen to be qualified enough to teach Islam to the masses, and even to people like Hamza Yusuf Hanson or ‘Abdul Hakeem Murad. Note that these two scholars have given their whole life to Islamic studies and they are still studying. Hence they have the qualifications and moral etiquettes to talk about Islam.
o However when I see people like Abdurrahman Green, Zakir Naik, Yusuf Estes, Bilal Philips, Khaalid Yaaseen and Hamza Tzortsis, I ask one question only: “Are they qualified enough to be the leaders of Muslims?” How can someone like Bilal Philips talk about Einstein’s equation and call it Shirk? How come Zakir Naik quotes verses from the Qur’an stating that these verses talk about the Earth being round and yet these verses have nothing to do with the shape of the earth? How come Abdurrahman Green tells people to follow the Qur’an and al-Bukhari directly without any formal scholarly guidance, while all the great scholars of this Ummah were part of a school of thought in Fiqh?
o I can carry on and on but alas this is more than enough. Certain Muslims are calling other Muslims deviants, polytheists, infidels and many other names. They never back off from their ill behaviour and never admit that maybe they might be doing something wrong or causing mischief. Don’t get me wrong, you can criticize someone’s ideas if they are incorrect. Call them upon the middle path where we can meet and discuss things without calling each other polytheist, deviant and infidel. There is nothing wrong with being assertive but this must be done without transgressing the boundaries.
o Do we know of our boundaries? These so called speakers are human beings, and they make mistakes. It is very good behaviour if someone makes a mistake and admits it to improve oneself for the better. We should offer support for people like these.
Brief overall comments about Brother Tzortzis’ article
o Hamza Tzortzis is one of the public speakers speaking on behalf of Islam. He released a new paper recently claiming that he like other Muslim speakers made mistakes by overusing scientific arguments and so called science-related verses from Qur’an. I would like to applaud him for his brave effort to confess that what he had been over the years was a wrong strategy. I admire his behaviour and courage for that.
o But, I would like to make some comments over his paper, since it still has flaws. The first issue is, can so-called Muslim academics and apologists use science in any capacity to establish the miraculous nature of Qur’an?
o Many people who became Muslim in the past did not become Muslim because of so called scientific verses. I really wonder where this notion came from. If the whole Qur’an is a miracle, what is the point of using science to verify the Qur’an? Does the Qur’an need any verification by using the so-called physical or life sciences or social sciences? Can we see early Muslims, the Salaf as-Saaliheen using any arguments of science in order to convince people to become Muslims?
o The bigger question is: “Can you really understand the Qur’an?” When I say Qur’an I mean the original Arabic text I am referring to, not the translation or the Tafseer books which are translated to English or any other language. As far as I am concerned, there are no scholars or classical exegetes from the Salaf who made commentaries regarding the Big Bang, black holes, speed of light, embryology, or even about the shape of the earth (we do not have information about this from any Mutawaatir sources).
o The first person who used natural arguments with sound classical Arabic knowledge and Kalaam arguments was Fakhruddin ar-Raadhi, an exegete of the 12th century. He was an amazingly great scholar of his time, yet he committed some mistakes in his commentary as a result of his method. But the thing is, I wonder if there is anyone with his calibre on the face of the Earth right now, if there is just one person who can produce a commentary like Tafsir al-Kabeer? (The question is rhetorical: there is indeed no-one of his calibre today).
o In order to understand the Qur’an we need Tafseer methodology and the Ahadeeth, in order to understand Ahadeeth we need Hadeeth methodology, and so on. Laymen should know their limits and just follow the basic rules that are compulsory upon them and not to get involved with Qur’an, Tafseer and Ahadeeth, as they are not in a position to be the inheritors of the Prophets or to be the speakers in the name of Allah without having the requisite scholarship.
o When Abu Bakr (RAA) was asked to give a commentary about a Verse in Surah Abasa, he said what if I can not give it the true meaning that Allah intended, then which earth will accept me, which heavens will shadow me, where can I go, and what can I do?
o Do not spread whatever you hear and read without having certain knowledge. Do not take uncertain knowledge which is probabilistic and use that probabilistic knowledge to prove the veracity of certain knowledge. This is unfortunately a farcical way of dealing with the Qur’an, in all honesty. How can you take a scientific theory like the Big Bang which is based on certain assumptions and has competing, alternative theories facing it (like quantum gravity) and use that as a proof to show the veracity of a Mutawaatir, 100% certain verse? How can you even compare these two types of information?
o No one needs to ‘verify’ the Qur’an. People need to verify themselves, and sort themselves out. One does not need to “prove” certainty.
o Imagine an unqualified surgeon teaching others how to do surgery on a patient through trial and error. He will kill lots of people with this methodology. Never ever try to learn things through putting other people’s Eternal Hereafter in danger. This is about the Qur’an, the Ahaadeeth and Islamic sciences. This is why we are created. This is the whole and the sole purpose. Please brothers and sisters, I call you to be more careful and take the example of Abu Bakr (RAA) to heart, since with all of his knowledge and expertise in the inward and outward sciences, he still did not wish to comment on one word he was unsure of.
o Brother Hamza calls upon others to speak out against this so called scientific miracles narrative. I personally as a scientist and as an Islamic scholar have been warning people against using these arguments to prove the veracity of Qur’an and disproving all their arguments. Again, this reminds me of certain Hadeeth fabricator establishments that would fabricate Ahaadeeth with good intentions in the early centuries of Islam to attract people into more worship or make them better practitioners of the religion.
o It is basically the same scenario albeit in a different century, since the nature of humans never changes as time goes by. Only if the people studied about Hadeeth methodology they would easily see the resemblance. When people cannot attack the Qur’an and Islam directly, some so-called Muslims ‘scholars’ are opening holes for the enemies to attack the Qur’an and to refute something which is not Qur’an but is simply presented as if it were the Qur’an.
o This is a very dodgy game some of these propagators have been playing, a very dangerous game. It does not matter whether one is sincere or not, willingly or unwillingly, this sort of approach is causing more damage than benefit.
o Thus, please do not discuss science in the Qur’an unless you are a scientist and a scholar at the same time. I do not know if people use ‘science’ in the right manner or not. Qur’an does not need life sciences, physical sciences or social sciences to be verified as the truth.
Commenting on brother Tzortzis’ article through quotes
o Now let’s look at some of his other points made in that paper:
Since the eighties there has been a growing movement of Muslim academics and apologists using science to establish the miraculous and Divine nature of the Qur’ānic discourse. On a grass roots level, Muslims across the world, especially in the West, try to articulate the veracity of Islam by using verses that allude to science as evidence for the Qur’ān’s Divine authorship. The internet is full of websites, essays, videos and posts on the scientific verses in the Qur’ān. A Google search on “Quran and science” produces over 40 million search results.
o Muslims have unfortunately been using the so-called ‘science in Qur’an’ narrative for two main reasons. Either to show off that they belong to a religion that is modern and scientific, that we are better than anyone of you out there and not for any practical reasons – purely theoretical reasons that they do not even understand. Most of these people do not even know how to read Qur’an properly let alone understand the verses that they are promoting as scientific, and this extends to certain academics and apologists. The second group has sincere intentions but lack the knowledge; they believe in the ‘scientific narrative’ of these Verses blindly and don’t know what they mean while they spread it all over.
o Is there any mechanism to stop these people? Unfortunately not!
o We must consider one important question: “What sort of people can make comments on Qur’an?” Making comments mean you are being a Mufassir. What are the conditions laid down in Usool at-Tafseer to be able to make comments on Qur’anic verses? Hamza mentioned about Usool at-Tafseer in his article yet he himself does not have any clue about whom and how one can make comments on Qur’an. It is really a chronic epidemic in this Ummah to spread whatever you read and hear. It is enough to be called a liar if one spreads whatever he hears (as per the general meaning of a well-known Hadith).
o What is the aim of Usool at-Tafseer? (please see the attached link): In short, the aim of Usool at-Tafseer is to facilitate a person’s understanding of Qur’an as a whole and in its parts.
o It lays down general principles and rules in order for Qur’an exegetes to make healthy commentaries. There are primary sources to study and make use of Usool at-Tafseer principles such as al-‘Aql wa Fahmul Qur’an by Haarith al-Muhaasibi, Ibn al-Jawzi’s Funun al-Afnaan, az-Zarkashi’s al-Burhan fi Ulum al-Qur’an, al-Kafeeji’s at-Tayseer fi Qawaa’id ‘Ilm at-Tafseer, and as-Suyuti’s al-Itqan fi Ulum al-Qur’an, just to mention a few. The one who wants to make commentaries of verses in Qur’an should have studied the above texts under Islamic scholars.
o And moreover, if these verses are specifically related to the physical sciences then one also must have qualifications in the physical sciences. The condition is at least to have finished a MSc. in physical sciences such as physics, biology etc. And one very important point is that if one is an expert in physics but not in biology then he should not make comments on embryology, evolution or biology – that is, saying things as if he was ‘within’ the field when he is not part of it.
o Now, some of the prerequisites for a commentator are:
o The commentator should know the language and the morphology of Arabic linguistics (Sarf-Ishtiqaaq), Nahw (syntax, the position of words in a sentence and their states), Balaagha (eloquence, majaaz, kinaaya, badi’, bayaan), so it is not only a matter of looking up the words in a dictionary or lexicon and then making comments about the Qur’an. Comprehending the methods of Usool, the reasons behind religious rulings, and the theoretical pillars of this religion are also crucial.
o Also, what is required is not only knowledge through Naql (simple transmission) but also understanding the events, the historical context, time-place, culture, sociology, social psychology, and so forth. Moreover, the ‘Aql of the commentator must be fed from the original Islamic and Qur’anic resources, thinking, and methodology, and not the Biblical or Western points of view.
o He should also have the capacity and the knowledge of the past and link it to the future events, as well as knowing how these affect all sorts of people now and in the future.
o The ‘matn’ must be seen as a divine message and not as a puzzle book or a mystery homicide case waiting to be resolved. The commentaries should not made for the purpose of gaining fame, or for saying: ‘I am the one who came up with this methodology!’. In here, we should seriously think about the verses which warn about people who take their whims and minds as their gods.
o Other prerequisites such as knowing the Ahadeeth, Usool, Kalaam, etc. are also mentioned in the primary Usool at-Tafseer books. (Of course, we are not talking here about the prerequisites of people who read the Qur’an, since the aforementioned prerequisites are for those who provide commentary on the Qur’an.)
o The Qur’an is a book about interactions at various levels: human-nature, human-human, human-Creator, and all of these involve myriad disciplines such as economics, sociology, psychology, history, moral etiquettes, warfare, in addition to knowledge about the Creator and His attributes. It is not easy to be an expert in all of these disciplines and this is why there were only 7 main Fuqaaha out of more than one hundred thousand Companions. Consider that even not every Muhaddith [Hadeeth expert] is considered a Faqeeh. A’mash who knew over 300,000 Ahadith would not give fatwa in front of Imaam Abu Haneefa (Rahimahumulla). When explained by the true scholars, it is easy to understand the Qur’an. The message of the Qur’an is easy to understand without any further explanation, but of course one needs further explanation by the Prophet (SAW) and the Ulil-Amr (scholars) in order to understand the ancillary issues of the religion.
This movement has classical and modern origins. The Islamic classical scholarly tradition was engaged in a debate as to whether to use science as an exegetical tool to explain the Qur’ānic verses.
o It is asserted in that paper that the Islamic classical scholarly tradition was engaged in a debate on whether to use science to explain Qur’anic verses but no references are mentioned. It is unfortunately unclear what brother Hamza means in here by classical scholarly tradition.
However, it was during the eighties that the apologetic expression of this movement was born. I would argue there are two main events that facilitated the emergence of this movement. The first was the publishing of the book Bible, the Qur’ān and Science in 1976 written by Dr. Maurice Bucaille, and the second was the 1980s video This is The Truth produced by the Islamic scholar Abdul-Majeed al-Zindani. Dr Bucaille’s book argued that there were no scientific errors in the Qur’ān and that the Bible was full of scientific inaccuracies. Dr. Bucaille’s book became a best seller in the Muslim world and it was translated into many languages. Even though the book has faced academic criticism, it is still a popular read and used as a reference for Islamic apologetics and proselytisation.
The Islamic Scholar Abdul-Majeed al-Zindani, founder of the Commission on Scientific Signs in the Qur’ān and Sunnah, produced a video entitled This is the Truth. Al-Zindani invited prominent Western academics to attend one of their conferences. During the conference al-Zindani claimed that a group of eminent non-Muslim scholars in several fields testified to the fact that there were scientific miracles in the Qur’ān. However, the Commission received criticism that it had spread out of context and misleading statements to justify its narrative. Relatively recently an Atheist video blogger and commentator personally contacted some of the scientists who had attended the conference and conducted interviews with them. The interviews were recorded and uploaded on YouTube. All of the scientists he interviewed claimed that their statements had been taken out of context, and that there is nothing miraculous about the scientific statements in the Qur’ānic discourse.
o I think one of the problems again occurs by comparing the Qur’an with the Bible. This is an outlook which is in fact childish in its very nature. We sometimes compare things in a wrong way. For example to say that the son of a medical doctor is a doctor even if he did not study is a false comparison. The point is, how can you compare Qur’an with anything else or any other book? This methodology is wrong in its very essence.
o Having said this, we are right to ask: Who is Dr Maurice Bucaille or Abdul-Majeed al-Zindani? What are their credentials? Are they both experts in Islamic sciences? What papers have they published with regards to Islamic jurisprudence, Hadeeth, Tafseer or any other Islamic sciences? Are they theoretical physicists, cosmologists, entomologists or embryologists? Now if they are not, then how can you take their material and spread it around as so called ‘original material’ related to the Qur’an? Are they taking the literal meanings of these verses or metaphorical? What is their research based on?
o I am not only criticizing them but also people like Zakir Naik and Bilaal Philips. They have been spreading the false ideas that they have in the name of Islam. It is so sad that this material is still out there and everyone is reading about these things in the name of Islam.
In spite of this, millions of booklets and pamphlets have been printed that make the claim that there are scientific miracles in the Qur’ān, and countless non-Muslims have converted to Islam as a result. This growing movement has influenced academia too, for example an academic book published by Curzon entitled Qur’ān Translation: Discourse, Texture and Exegesis dedicates a few pages on the topic. Famous popularisers such as Dr. Zakir Naik and Yusuf Estes have also used the scientific miracles narrative to verify the Divine nature of the Qur’ān. Due to this intense popularisation over the past few decades, there is now a growing counter movement that attempts to demystify the so-called scientific statements, and they seem to be more nuanced, with a growing popularity. A significant number of apostates from Islam (many of whom I have had private conversations with) cite the counter movement’s work as a causal factor in deciding to leave the religion. Nevertheless, I do believe that apostasy is not entirely an intellectual decision but rather a spiritual and psychological problem. This can include a lack of spiritual connection with God and disheartenment with Islam due to unfortunate negative experiences with Muslims and the the Muslim community.
o Someone can easily apostatize through an intellectual decision which is not related to a spiritual or psychological problem. If I see that someone is telling me that the Big Bang is mentioned in the Qur’an, or if I listen to Zakir Naik who said that some Verses are proving the roundness of the Earth while it does not state this at all, then I may apostatize or reject Islam as a result of this, and this is solely based upon my intellect. This is because I am being lied to about the Qur’an, about the verses of the Qur’an. I am interested in Islam and all I get is a big fat lie. Obviously people who become Muslims due to these so-called scientific verses will leave Islam as soon as they find out about the misinterpretations of so called ‘scholars of Islam’.
o As brother Hamza put it, this is an unfortunate and negative situation that has been experienced by apostates or those who were interested in Islam with these so called scholars or others who represent Islam.
Regrettably, the scientific miracles narrative has become an intellectual embarrassment for Muslim apologists, including myself. A few years ago I took some activists to Ireland to engage with the audience and speakers at the World Atheist Convention. Throughout the convention we had a stall outside the venue and as a result positively engaged with hundreds of atheists, including the popular atheist academics Professor P. Z. Myers and Professor Richard Dawkins. During our impromptu conversation with Professor Myers we ended up talking about God’s existence and the Divine nature of the Qur’ān. The topic of embryology came up, and Professor Myers being an expert in the field challenged our narrative. He claimed that the Qur’ān did not predate modern scientific conclusions in the field. As a result of posting the video of the engagement on-line we faced a huge intellectual backlash.
o Hamza clearly does not have any clue whatsoever about quantum theory or fluctuations, something that is obvious in his discussion with Professor Myers. Hamza also denies that there are (so-called) Muslims who have an anthropomorphic view of God. How about Wahhaabis and so called false Salafis who believe that ‘God’ has hands, moves, sits, etc. Ibn Taymiyyah had anthropomorphic views and Hamza loves quoting him a lot in his lectures and debates. Adnan Rashid is also talking about embryology and clearly shows ignorance about the subject as well as ignorance about the Qur’an and Arabic. It is so sad that these people are pushing away people due to their ignorance. Qur’an talks about the great flood during Noah’s (Alayhi Salaam) time and Adnan Rashid denies this. This is so sad. How can these people represent Islam?
We received innumerable amounts of emails by Muslims and non-Muslims. The Muslims were confused and had doubts, and the non-Muslims were bemused with the whole approach. Consequently, I decided to compile and write an extensive piece on the Qur’ān and embryology, with the intention to respond to popular and academic contentions. During the process of writing I relied on students and scholars of Islamic thought to verify references and to provide feedback in areas where I had to rely on secondary and tertiary sources. Unfortunately they were not thorough and they seemed to have also relied on trusting other Muslim apologists. When the paper was published it was placed under a microscope by atheist activists. Although they misrepresented some of the points, they raised some significant contentions. I have since removed the paper from my website. In retrospect if this never happened, I probably wouldn’t be writing this essay now. It is all a learning curve and an important part of developing intellectual integrity.
o This experience might be a learning curve to some brothers but one should not jeopardize other people’s Eternal Afterlife by testing and learning through life experiences at the expense of others. That is why it is not easy to represent Islam as a scholar, and one needs to be careful about what to say and write. This is not the way to go through a learning curve. The true learning curve is through schools where you study Qur’an, Ahaadeeth and classical texts. When you master them then you can start conveying the message in an appropriate manner.
o While some people are ‘developing intellectual integrity’, many others are getting confused or leaving the truth for falsehood. Is it so hard to find a brother who is a scientist and has a solid Islamic scholarly background with all the money that IERA receives from donations?
o Islam is like a toy to play with for certain people; they are playing with the verses of Allah and claiming that their intentions are good. Who on the right frame of mind challenges a professor of embryology about embryology without medical or life sciences background? How blinded can some people get?
In light of this, this essay aims to provide a rational and Islamic perspective on how to understand the scientific verses in the Qur’ān. It is time more people from the Muslim community spoke out against this problematic approach to verifying the Divine nature of the Qur’ān. It has become an intellectual embarrassment for Muslim apologists and it has exposed the lack of coherence in the way they have formulated the argument. Significantly, many Muslims who converted to Islam due to the scientific miracles narrative, have left the religion due to encountering opposing arguments. This essay intends to explain how the scientific miracles narrative is problematic and incoherent, and it aims to bring to light a new approach on how to reconcile and discuss science in the Qur’ān. It must be noted that I am not asserting that the Qur’ān is inaccurate or wrong, or that there is nothing remarkable about the Qur’ānic statements eluding to natural phenomena. I am simply bringing to light the perilous nature of the claim that some Qur’ānic verses are miraculous due to their scientific content. For this reason, I am offering a new approach to the topic that is nuanced and bypasses the intellectual hurdles and problems faced by the scientific miracles narrative.
o I cannot even imagine someone who does not have an Islamic studies background like Sarf, Nahw, Balaaghah, Mantiq, Usool at-Tafseer, Usool al-Hadeeth to provide a rational and Islamic perspective to understand the scientific verses in the Qur’an.
o We have been speaking against this for years and it seems that no one hears or understands, because it seems that the person must belong to a particular organization to be heard, and he has to follow the guidelines of that group, even if the group’s agenda and fundamentals are wrong.
o I highly recommend for brother Hamza and all people like him to go and study Islamic sciences from scratch and then work for Da’wah. And if someone has no credentials in science then please avoid those verses related to science. I say the same things for Dr. Zakir Naik, Yusuf Estez, Adnan Rashid, Abdurrahman Green and others who give Da’wah. Alternatively, people should not talk about subjects that they do not know. People are not obliged to answer every single question.
A summary of the scientific miracles claim
The scientific miracles of the Qur’ān are expressed in different ways but with the same philosophical implications.
1. The Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) did not have access to the scientific knowledge mentioned in the Qur’ān, therefore it must be from God.
2. No one at the time of revelation (7th century) had access to the necessary equipment to understand or verify the scientific knowledge in the Qur’ān, therefore it must be from God.
3. The Qur’ānic verses where revealed at a time where science was primitive and no human could have uttered the truths mentioned in the Qur’ān, therefore it must be from God.
There are an array of reasons of why the above expressions of the scientific miracles are problematic and incoherent. These include,
1. The Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle
2. Inaccurate History
3. Teleology of the Qur’ānic Verses
4. Scientism, the Problem of Induction and Empiricism
5. “Unscientific” Verses
6. Miracles, Simplicity and A Note on Qur’ānic Exegesis
Each of these points will now be explained in detail.
o We really do not need to refer to the philosophical arguments to prove that some idea or notion surrounding the Qur’an is inaccurate. Although his explanation is very clear and good, it is unnecessary. We Muslims always use simple language for everyone to understand rather than syllogism.
1. The Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle
The science in the Qur’ān claim commits a logical fallacy called the fallacy of the undistributed middle. This fallacy is where two different things are equated due to a common middle ground that is misused. Below is a generic example:
1. All As are Cs
2. All Bs are Cs
3. Therefore all As are Bs
The above fallacy is in the conclusion. Since A and B share the common category C, it doesn’t follow that A is the same as B.
Another example includes:
1. John needs oxygen to survive
2. My dog needs oxygen to survive
3. Therefore John is my dog
As can be seen above, the middle ground that is misused is oxygen. Although the first two premises are true, that both John and my dog need oxygen to survive, it doesn’t follow that John is my dog.
Most of the science in the Qur’ān arguments commit this type of fallacy. Below is a summary:
1. A description of a scientific fact A uses C
2. A description in the Qur’ān B uses C
3. Therefore, the description in the Qur’ān B is the description of A
The following are some specific examples:
1. The scientific fact in embryology is the implantation of the blastocyst in the uterine wall. Implantation can be attributed as a safe place.
2. The Qur’ān uses the words qarārin makīn, which can mean a safe place.
3. Therefore, the Qur’ān is describing the scientific fact of the implantation of the blastocyst.
In the above syllogism, it doesn’t follow that the words qarārin makīn (a safe place) imply the process of implantation just because it to shares the attribute of a safe place. The argument will only be valid if all descriptions of qarārin makīn refers to, and describes, the process of implantation. Since qarārin makīn can also refer to the womb, which was the 7th century understanding of the words, then the argument is invalid. The mere correlation between a Qur’ānic word and a scientific process or description does not ascertain the intended meaning of the verse.
Another example includes:
The scientific fact is that the Earth’s atmosphere helps destroy meteorites as they approach Earth, filters harmful light rays, protects against the cold temperatures of space, and its Van Allen Belt acts like as a shield against the harmful radiation. The Earth’s atmosphere can be attributed as a protected roof.This is wrong,the earth’s atmosphere does not destroy meteorites.
1. The Qur’ān uses the words saqfan maḥfūẓan, which means a protect roof.
2. Therefore, the Qur’ān is describing the function of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Again, the above syllogism is invalid. It doesn’t logically follow that the words saqfan maḥfūẓan, which refers to a protected roof, describes the function of the Earth’s atmosphere. This is because saqfan maḥfūẓan can also refer to a physical roof. Some interpretations of the Qur’ān include that the heaven is erected with invisible pillars, and that a fragment of the heaven or sky can fall on Earth; (see Qur’ān 13:2 and 34:9). These interpretations indicate a solid roof like structure, as confirmed by the classical exegete Ibn Kathīr who cites a scholar mentioning that “the heaven is like a dome over the earth”. Therefore the words saqfan maḥfūẓan can also refer to a physical roof or dome like structure. For that reason, the above argument will only be valid if all interpretations and descriptions of saqfan maḥfūẓan describes the function of Earth’s atmosphere. Atmosphere is a physical roof.
o In his two examples, the one about embryology is valid and clear. In his second example he refers to Ibn Kathir (RA) who was not a classical scholar in the sense that we are referring to it in here. One cannot mention only a single 15th century scholar to try to prove his point. Besides, what is meant by physical roof? As far as I am concerned as a scientist, the atmosphere is a physical roof, as well as other structures above the earth as a protective layer. Moreover, is there anything that is not physical apart from Allah Ta’ala?
o We should also realise that the Tafseers may contain fabricated Ahadeeth and interpretations which are not true. What is the necessary requirement in order to differentiate the fabricated Ahadeeth from others? Someone also should study the Tafseer methodology to be able to quote from the classical Tafaseer safely. There is also a huge problem by quoting ‘invisible pillars’ and ‘a fragment of heaven or sky can fall on earth’ (Verses 13:2 and 34:9) in this argument. We do not take this religion from one scholar or one exegete only. This religion came to us through Tawaatur and we have many scholars, so it is very wrong to quote one scholar to explain the verses of Qur’an. Ibn Kathir (RA) is not even considered as an authority in Islamic sciences the way Imam ash-Shaa’fi’i is for example. If he quoted a Mujtahid as a proof to his argument then we would accept it. So we need to understand the differences between someone accepted as an authority in Islam by consensus and someone who has knowledge of the Qur’an and Hadith but is not a formal authority.
In light of the above, the argument that the Qur’ān is a miracle because the descriptions of certain words it uses seem to relate to descriptions of words used in scientific facts, is logically fallacious. The scientific miracles claim would only be valid if it could be demonstrated that the interpretations of the words that seem to correlate with science are the intended meanings. The principles of Qur’ānic exegesis dictates that this is impossible to ascertain (this will be discussed later in the essay).
Furthermore, there a myriad of questions that exposes the incoherence of the scientific miracles narrative. For instance: why are the more simpler explanations and meanings of the verses in the Qur’ān dismissed? What about the alternative valid interpretations of these verses that are unscientific or crude? Since the ambiguity of the words renders it impossible to know what the intended meaning of the verses are, how can anyone claim them to be miracles? What about the ancient civilisations and their accurate predictions of scientific phenomena before they were verified by modern science? Does that make the ancient civilisations Divinely inspired?
o If a verse does not talk about a physical or life sciences phenomena, that does not mean that the verse in question is not a miracle. This is a very fallacious thinking and needs to be addressed properly.
2. Inaccurate history
The Big Bang “Miracle”: The Qur’ān mentions the creation of the cosmos in the following way:
“Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them, and we made every living thing of water? Will they not then believe?”
o I will skip most of this section as I agree with most of his arguments. However we again reach the same problem when he says that ‘the Qur’an mentions the creation of the cosmos’. Where does the Qur’an mention cosmos? Seriously, if it is the whole cosmos why not mention it as the whole cosmos rather than splitting it into the Heavens and the Earth? The Verse does not even mention the 7 Earths like what is mentioned in the last verse of Surah at-Talaq.
“I intended to prohibit cohabitation with the suckling women, but I considered the Romans and Persians, and saw that they suckle their children and this thing (cohabitation) does not do any harm to them (to the suckling women).” [Please note that this does not mean the Prophet (upon whom be peace) used knowledge from other civilisations as a source of revelation. Rather, in Islamic theology when it concerns medical and scientific matters, it is advised to seek the best opinions and best practice, as practised by the Prophet (upon whom be peace) himself. Access the following link for a discussion using cross pollination as an example http://en.islamtoday.net/node/1691.%5D
This authentic ḥadīth shows that the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) had access to medical practices prevalent in other civilisations. Therefore, in the eyes of the sceptic, it is not impossible that he could have accessed other scientific knowledge that was popularised at the time.
o Again there is a Hadeeth mentioned in this section which is claimed to be authentic. However we need to first ask a number of important questions such as: How authentic is that Hadeeth? Authentic, according to which Hadeeth scholars? Do Fiqh scholars use it as part of Islamic jurisprudence? What type of authentic Hadeeth is that? Is it an abrogated authentic Hadeeth? Is it one of those authentic Hadeeth that can be practiced upon or not? We should note that we should not use any Verse or Hadeeth to prove our arguments unless we have certain qualifications.
4. Scientism, the problem of induction and empiricism
Jalees Rehman, a cardiology fellow at Indiana University School of Medicine, aptly and concisely articulates a major problem with the scientific miracles narrative. He writes:
“One danger of such attempts to correlate modern science with the Qur’ān is that it makes a linkage between the perennial wisdom and truth of the Qur’ān with the transient ideas of modern science.”
What Rehman is eluding to here is that there is a philosophical issue in asserting that Qur’ānic verses are miraculous. The problem is that science does not claim certainty or 100% truth, and to use science as a method to establish the absolute nature of the Qur’ān is fallacious. Science by its very nature is not static, it is dynamic. Its conclusions change over time, even ones that we may think are established facts. A hidden assumption behind the scientific miracles narrative is that science is the only way to render truth about the world and reality – a proposition known as scientism.
So there are 3 things to discuss here:
1. Science does not claim certainty or 100% truth.
2. Science is dynamic and therefore changes over time.
3. Science is not the only way to render truths about the world and reality.
Science does not claim certainty or 100% truth
The philosophy of science is a field of study that attempts to address how we can derive knowledge from scientific experiments and empirical data. Key problems in the philosophy of science include induction and empiricism, as they both have limitations and a restricted scope. Understanding these issues will enable us to reach the conclusion that scientific facts are not 100% and there is always the possibility of doubt.
Induction: Induction is a thinking process where one makes conclusions by moving from the particular to the general. Arguments based on induction can range in probability from very low to very high, but always less than 100%.
Here is an example of induction:
“I have observed that punching a boxing bag properly with protective gloves never causes injury. Therefore no one will be injured using a boxing bag.”
As can be seen from the example above, induction faces a key problem which is the inability to guarantee the conclusion, because a sweeping generalisation cannot be made from a limited number of observations. The best it can provide are probabilities, ranging from low to very high. In the aforementioned example the person who made the statement could not logically prove that the next person to punch a boxing bag will not get injured.
Therefore, the problem with induction is that it can’t produce certainty. This issue was raised by the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume in his book, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Hume argued that inductive reasoning can never produce certainty. He concluded that moving from a limited set of observed phenomena to making conclusions for an unlimited set of observed phenomena is beyond the present testimony of the senses, and the records of our memory.
From a practical scientific perspective, generalisations made for an entire group or for the next observation within that group, based on a limited set of data will never be certain. Take the following example into consideration, a scientist travelled to Wales and wanted to find out the colour of sheep (assuming he does not know the colour of sheep). He started observing the sheep and recorded what colour they were. After 150 sheep observations he found that all of them were white. The scientist concluded, using induction, that all sheep are white. This basic example highlights the problematic nature with the process of induction as we know sheep can also be black. Certainty using induction will never be achieved, because there is always the possibility of new observations undermining the previous conclusion.
Professor Alex Rosenberg in his book Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction concludes that this is a key problem facing science; he writes:
“Here we have explored another problem facing empiricism as the official epistemology of science: the problem of induction, which goes back to Hume, and added to the agenda of problems for both empiricists and rationalists.”
Empiricism: Empiricism claims that we have no source of knowledge in a subject or for the concepts we use in a subject other than sense experience. Philosopher Elliot Sober in his essay Empiricism explains the empiricist’s thesis:
“Empiricists deny that it is ever rationally obligatory to believe that theories provide true descriptions of an unobservable reality…For an empiricist, if a theory is logically consistent, observations are the only source of information about whether the theory is empirically adequate.”
Empiricism suffers from limitations and logical problems. One form of empiricism – which I will call strong empiricism – is limited to things that can only be observed. This form of empiricism faces a whole host of logical problems. The main problem with strong empiricism is that it can only base its conclusions on observed realities and cannot make conclusions on unobserved realities. Elliot Sober explains this problem:
“Empiricists need to address problems in the philosophy of perception. The most obvious first stab at saying what seeing an object involves is to describe the passage of light from the object into the eyes, with the result that a visual experience occurs. However, the invisibility of white cats in snowstorms and the fact that we see silhouettes (like the moon during an eclipse) shows that this is neither sufficient nor necessary.”
Further exploring Sober’s example, imagine you observe a white cat walking outside of a house towards the direction of an oncoming snowstorm; you can see the cat walking up to the snowstorm and then you can no longer see the cat. A strong empiricist’s account would be to deny that there is a cat in the snowstorm, or at least suspend any claims to knowledge. However, based on other intellectual tools at your disposal you would conclude that there is a white cat in the snowstorm regardless of whether or not you can observe one.
The problems faced by strong empiricism have not gone unaddressed by empiricists. They have responded by weakening their definition for empiricism by redefining empiricism to the view that we can only know something if it is confirmed or supported by sensory experience – I shall call this weak empiricism. Others have dogmatically maintained the view that the only way to truth is via direct observation and being supported by observation is not good enough. These responses have created an unresolved dilemma for the empiricist. The Philosopher John Cottingham exposes this problem in his book Rationalism:
“But what about ‘all water at a given atmospheric pressure boils at 100 degrees Celsius’? Since this statement has the form of an unrestricted universal generalization, it follows that no finite number of observations can conclusively establish its truth. An additional and perhaps even more worrying problem is that when we reach the higher levels of science…we tend to encounter structures and entities that are not observable in any straightforward sense. Atoms, molecules, electrons, photons and the like are highly complex theoretical constructs…here we seem to be very far removed from the world of direct ‘empirical observation’…The positivists tended to respond to this difficulty by weakening their criterion for meaningfulness…it was proposed that a statement was meaningful if it could be confirmed or supported by sensory experience. However, this weaker criterion is uncomfortably vague…Statements about God or Freedom, or the nature of Substance, or the Absolute, may not be directly checkable against experience…The positivist thus seems to be faced with a fatal dilemma: either he will have to make his criterion so stringent that it will exclude the generalizations and theoretical statements of science, or else he will have to weaken his criterion sufficiently to open the door to the speculations of the metaphysician. The dilemma has remained unresolved to this day…”
In light of the above, since induction and empiricism are used in deriving knowledge from scientific data then science cannot claim certainty. There are the obvious problems of the unobserved and the inability to guarantee that the next observation will be the same as the previous observation. Our observations do not encompass all phenomena, therefore science is tentative. In other words it can change based upon future observations. For science to be certain, all natural phenomena must have been observed. This is impossible.
Therefore to use the scientific method, which is a method that does not provide certainty, to justify a book which demands certainty is obviously problematic and incoherent.
Science is dynamic and therefore changes over time
To claim that there is anything scientifically miraculous about a particular Qur’ānic verse is incoherent. This is because science can change due to new observations and studies. Therefore, for someone to claim that a particular verse is miraculous would mean that the one making the claim can guarantee that the science will never change. To make such a guarantee would imply gross ignorance. Ignorance of the fact that science does change and is tentative due to the problems faced by induction and empiricism. The problems of induction and empiricism (as discussed in the previous section) explain the reason for the dynamic nature in science. In summary these problems are that a new observation can be made, or more data can be found. Therefore, by definition, we can never claim that a particular verse is miraculous because to make such an assertion would mean that the science is fixed. This is impossible to maintain.
To explain this point clearly, take into consideration, Muslims living in the 19th century. The science and academia of the time were asserting that the universe is static and without a beginning, known as the steady state theory. Since the Qur’ān argues that the universe had a beginning, does that mean the Qur’ān must have been rejected by Muslims living in the 19th century? Of course not, because all Muslims believe the Qur’ān to be from the Divine, and the Divine cannot be wrong. This exposes a hidden assumption: the Qur’ān is from the Divine and science will at some point show how the verses are in line with reality. This assumption exposes the scientific miracles narrative, as the Qur’ān being from the Divine is presupposed…
o Science does not only use induction and empiricism in their research and investigations. Induction is also not defined properly in his paper. Which induction is he talking about? Science also uses deductions as well as other methods. The scholars of Kalaam and Usool in Islam use induction too at times. We live in a dynamic universe and the laws do not change all the time in the Universe. There are certain facts which do not change. So criticizing the whole of science to back up a point is a very fallacious approach. Science can reach certainty in many fields. Science is also looking for answers to many other questions which may or may not have certain answers. Surely there are many aspects in science that are quite probabilistic and for now impossible to carry out empirical tests on such things due, for example, to high energy scales. It is also wrong to say that in order to make science certain all natural phenomena must be observed. Science or scientists do not favour such absurd claims.
o There are certain laws in nature and in cosmos. Almost none of the laws change whatsoever during our lifetimes. Our lifespan is negligible compared to the age of the universe, or geological timescales. There are certain scientific laws which do not change. Also, we should be aware of the dynamic nature of Qur’an as well as it is for all times. It is similar to nature, there are some verses which are fixed and clear and there are also other verses with dynamic nature.
o I think steady theory example is not a good example at all as it was not based on empirical evidences. Hence it was easily refuted and is not supported by majority of the scientists. There should be some sort of consensus in these fields. In disciplines like Supersymmetry, string theory, and quantum gravity we do not have consensus. We cannot take one of these models and say that yes this is the factual model of the universe. They are not based on empirical evidences. Empirical evidence is not bad after all. It is really absurd to claim that empiricism is bad wholesale. If we get rid of empiricism we cannot really improve in science. Of course if people exaggerate the use of empiricism and claim that that is the only way to progress in science then we say it is the attitude problem rather than methodology.
Science is not the only way to render truths about the world and reality
Another hidden assumption behind the scientific miracles narrative is that science is the only way or method to render truths about the world and reality. This assertion is known as scientism. To put it simply, scientism claims that a statement is not true if it cannot be scientifically proven. In other words if something cannot be shown to be true via the scientific method, then it is false…
o I have skipped over the lengthy discussion presented in the paper, since there are not many people who believe in scientism, so what is the point of discussing it over here?
5. “Unscientific” Verses
Some verses in the Qur’ānic discourse are currently “unscientific”. This does not mean the Qur’ān is wrong or not from the Divine (as we have already discussed above that science is not the only way to render truth claims about the world and reality, and that it faces problems in the way that it derives knowledge from empirical data), rather it can show that our scientific knowledge is limited and has not reached the right conclusions yet. The reason I am including unscientific verses here is to highlight the inconsistency of the scientific miracles in the Qur’ān methodology. The inconsistency is that if science was a yardstick to use to verify the Divine origins of the Qur’ān, then all verses must be in line with scientific conclusions. Given that some verses are not currently in line with science, then it follows that either the Qur’ān is wrong – and therefore not from the Divine – or that the Qur’ān is right and from the Divine, and that science will catch up. This dilemma, for the Muslims at least, is solved by affirming the Divine origins of the Qur’ān and limited nature of science. In this case it de-scopes the scientific miracles in the Qur’ān claim methodology, and is reduced to the following statement: the Qur’ān is from God and the science that agrees with it is correct, and the science that does not is incorrect. Therefore, the miracle claim is reduced to: the Qur’ān will never be wrong.
o Even to suggest that science is a yardstick to verify Qur’an is absurd and ludicrous. This shows sheer ignorance of the Qur’anic sciences for those who assume this approach. Hamza clearly explains this problem in his essay. In Islam we take the correct knowledge through three sources: Mustaqim (sane, correct) senses, ’Aql saleem, and Mutawaatir Khabar. Where does science fit into it? How can one use science as a yardstick to verify Qur’an? Have people not studied Islamic sciences at all?
Here is an example of an unscientific verse. The Qur’ān says:
“We said: Get down all of you from this place (the Paradise), then whenever there comes to you guidance from Me, and whoever follows My guidance, there shall be no fear on them, nor shall they grieve.”
The above verse refers to Adam and Eve (upon whom be peace). It asserts that they were sent from paradise to earth and implies that they were both fully formed and created before coming to earth. This literal and orthodox interpretation of the verse is in direct conflict with science. The theory of evolution asserts that human beings were formed via natural selection and random mutations on earth over long period of time. The theory of evolution also argues that human have a shared ancestry with non-human species. One attempt to reconcile the theory of evolution and the orthodox interpretation of the Qur’ān is to accept evolution for non-humans and to claim that the creation of Adam was a miracle. A problem with this is that since the scientific evidence for non-human evolution is the same or similar as the evidence used to conclude human evolution, it would be incoherent to call it a miracle, because one would have to accept the same scientific evidence for one and reject it for another, which is tantamount to rejecting the all of the science.
o The verse says ‘all of you’ not both of you so how does it refer to Adam and Hawwa (Alayhimaa Salaam)? What is the meaning of ‘fully formed and created’? Is the meaning ‘formed in their bodies like here on earth’? If so, where is the evidence for that? Where did this literal interpretation come from? If we were to go along with this, would it mean that the creation of non-humans through evolution was not a miracle?
6. Miracles, Simplicity and A Note on Qur’ānic Exegesis
When claiming that something is miraculous it means that there is no plausible naturalistic explanation. In this case, in order for a scientific verse to be miraculous there should be no physical causal link between the verse and the nature of the knowledge of the time, and there should be no alternative linguistic explanation available to explain the verse. This definition of a miracle applied to the Qur’ānic verse exposes the incoherent methodology employed by many to try and find something miraculous.
o Another fallacy of this paper that it assumes the verses which do not describe a scientific phenomenon cannot be considered as a miracle. Every single verse of Qur’an is a miracle. The whole Qur’an is a miracle. It has nothing to do with plausible naturalistic explanations of verses. This is a very problematic approach although his intentions are sincere. As a result the paper causes certain misunderstandings. I think he believes the whole Qur’an is a miracle but because his focus is solely on the scientific miracles of Qur’an he misses the main point of the Quran being a miracle as a whole and his measure stick becomes if a verse is scientific or non-scientific.
From a linguistic perspective for a verse to be miraculous it must only have one meaning. If other meanings are available then it would be more rational to take the unscientific or crude meanings over the meanings that imply miraculousness. For a verse to be miraculous it would mean that there is no causal link between the verse and the knowledge of the language, or the science available and accessible at the time. However, since the Qur’ānic discourse allows multiple meanings (obviously within a certain scope) then the miracle claim is unfounded and incoherent by definition. The fact that the language used in the Qur’ān for the verses eluding to natural phenomena is not unequivocal and definitive exposes the perilous nature of the scientific miracles in the Qur’ān claim. Simply put, there are alternative simpler meanings that allow these verses to be explained naturalistically, and the knowledge was available and accessible at the time to explain such statements. Therefore, since a causal link can be found to explain the verses, it renders any miracle claim as null and void.
o Seriously, can someone explain it to me what a scientific verse is? I have studied classical texts under many scholars, and have never heard of such terminology? It is also imprecise, because would we then include the social or the life sciences under such terminology?
A Note on Qur’ānic Exegesis
In order for a verse in the Qur’ān to be a scientific miracle it would mean that the meaning attributed to a verse or word is definitive and absolute. This is untenable in light of the science of Qur’ānic exegesis. In the science of Qur’ānic exegesis (known as usul ul-tafsīr in Arabic) when a verse or word has not been explained via the Prophetic traditions (ḥadīth) and the statements of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) and their students, then the linguistic meaning is offered as an explanation. When the linguistic meaning is offered one would have to consult the classical tradition and the classical Arabic dictionaries. A consequence of this is discovering a range of meanings for a particular word. The general rule is that no one can claim that the meaning that someone has chosen is the intended meaning, someone could not say that God intended word X to mean Y. Rather, the approach that has to be taken is to claim that a particular word has a range of meanings and that word X may mean Y. The indefinite nature of a word clearly highlights how it is untenable to claim a miracle, as mentioned above, it would mean that the meaning chosen for a particular word is the intended meaning by the author, in this case God.
o Unfortunately, this is a very naïve interpretation of Qur’anic exegesis and Muhkam or Mutashabih Verses. Surely brother Hamza is not in a position to come up with this sort of approach. Is there a better linguist than az-Zamakhshari in the sciences of Qur’anic exegesis? How can the approach to consult a dictionary even be offered?
o We must remember that are talking about Qur’an here. What would have happened if everyone looked up in a dictionary, found, and applied different meanings? This would surely create confusion. This is a laypersons remark for laypersons, and it is unfortunately appalling.
A New Approach
So what now? How do we change the direction of the science in the Qur’ān tidal wave that has engulfed Muslim apologetics (more commonly known as daᶜwah in the Muslim community)? How do we transform the narrative? The simple answer is we need a new approach. This new approach is what Professor of Physics and Astronomy Nidhal Guessoum calls a “multiple, multi-level” approach.
The new approach is based on the following axioms and principles:
1. The Qur’ān allows multiple and multi-level meanings.
2. Our understanding of natural phenomena and science changes and improves with time.
3. The Qur’ān is not inaccurate or wrong.
4. In the case of any irreconcilable difference between a Qur’ānic assertion and a scientific one, the following must be done:
o Find meanings within the verse to correlate with the scientific conclusion.
o If no words can match the scientific conclusion then science is to be improved.
o Find a non-scientific meaning. The verse itself may be pertaining to non-physical things, such as the unseen, spiritual or existential realities.
Mustansir Mir, Professor of Islamic Studies at Youngstown State University, argues for a similar approach. He writes,
“From a linguistic standpoint, it is quite possible for a word, phrase or statement to have more than one layer of meaning, such that one layer would make sense to one audience in one age and another layer of meaning would, without negating the first, be meaningful to another audience in a subsequent age.”
o With this approach we need to have almost an infinite amount of layers or meanings with respect to every age. This would be very difficult to follow through properly, and is methodologically untenable.
Let’s use another example to highlight Professor Mir’s point and apply the axioms and principles mentioned above. In chapter 23 verse 14 of the Qur’ān uses the word ᶜalaqah (عَلَقَة) which can mean a clinging substance, a leech or a worm, and a blood clot, or blood in a general sense. This word is used to describe a stage of the development of the human embryo. A mutli-level and multilayered analysis can include:
Appropriate for the time: The meaning that refers to the embryo as a clinging substance and a blood clot could be seen with the naked eye, as the Hellenic physicians and ancient Hebrews predating the Qur’ānic revelation also described the embryo as a clinging substance and a blood clot. So from this perspective it agrees with the predominant scientific view of the time.
Appropriate for our time: The word ᶜalaqah also refers to a worm or a leech. This can correlate to the external and internal appearance of the leech. This view of the embryo could only have been discovered after the 15th century. Although the embryo at this stage (days 22 – 25) can be seen with the naked eye, it is about the size of the kernel of wheat and such details cannot be seen without a microscope, which was discovered in the 15th century.
This however doesn’t imply a miracle, because the above interpretation of the word ᶜalaqah is not certain, and a sceptic could argue that it could be just a guess. [There is also the problem of interpreting the literal meaning of the word as a metaphorical one. This is beyond the scope of the essay, but I adopt the view that a comprehensive understanding of Arabic and Qur’ānic stylistics allows this word to be understood as leech-like or worm-like and not referring to an actual leech or worm]. The point here though is not to argue the miraculous but to articulate the view that the Qur’ān is multilayered, and therefore can address various perspectives and interpretations.
o So brother Hamza adopts the metaphorical approach in interpreting the verses of Qur’an. But what school of thought in Usool does Hamza follow? How does he differentiate between Mutashaabih and Mujmal verses? Is it possible to just take one person’s opinion in order to change the approach to the interpretation of the Qur’an? Did any of the classical scholars or Salaf take this kind of approach?
o Surely science has been progressing for a long time, and we had brilliant Mutakallimun, mathematicians, scientists and medics in the past who were also experts in Qur’anic exegesis? I also would like to find out if he believes that the whole Qur’an is a miracle or not? If it is, what is the point of another so called pushed and shoved scientific miracle?
o Surely brother Hamza is not an expert in physical or life sciences or in Qur’anic sciences. He cannot even speak Arabic, how on earth can he come up with such linguistic analysis in Arabic? Where does he get the courage and authority to interpret the Qur’an or even suggest a new approach to a newly failed approach which himself and his colleagues have been using shamelessly? Did they not know about the Mutawaatir Hadeeth (the translation of which is): ‘Whoever conveys a lie on my behalf, let him prepare himself a place in Hellfire’?
o If this is the case for a Hadeeth referring to the Prophet (SAW), then what about misinterpreting a verse on Allah’s behalf?
o How correct it is to liken the word from a Qur’an to a parasite because of a non-Muslim scientist mentioned it once? Are we taking our source of information from every scientist Tom, Dick and Harry, wherever we may find them?
…After establishing the plausibility of the Qur’ān having Divine origins, you can speak about the multi-level and the multilayered approach we have discussed. An example includes:
“You know what is very interesting about the Qur’ān? Well, the Qur’ān seems to address various levels of intellect and addresses different levels of understanding at different periods in human history. For example, in chapter 23 verse 14 of the Qur’ān, it mentions the word ᶜalaqah to described a stage of the development of the human embryo. This word can mean a blood-clot, something that clings and a leech or a worm. The knowledge that was available during the 7th century maintained that the embryo was like a blood-clot and that it is something that clings. Interestingly in the 21st century the embryo on a microscopic level looks like a leech, even the internal structure of the leech looks like the embryo at around 4 weeks in its development. The word leech can also imply that when we were embryos we drained our mothers resources, just like a leech does, so we should love our mothers more and lower the wing of mercy and humility because they willingly sacrificed for us. This is an interesting aspect of the Qur’ān, it seems to be able to address various times and different levels of understanding. If some statements do not seem to be in line with modern science, then science will catch up. I have already shown how the Qur’ān can be from God without using science, and therefore we can conclude that what God says is true. Also, and as you know, science is not absolute, it changes with time and that there is always the possibility of new observations and new findings.”
o This is extremely confusing and far from the message of Qur’an. This is what happens when one does not have a clue about Tafseer methodology and Arabic, and is purely thinking in terms of English rhetoric. One cannot keep changing the meanings of Qur’an as time goes by.
How could scientific miracles be established?
In light of the above, Muslims who have adopted the science in the Qur’ān narrative may argue that what I have presented is pessimistic. They may also assert that I haven’t provided a method or criteria on how to assess if a verse can be described as a scientific miracle. The primary reason why I find the science in the Qur’ān narrative incoherent is due to the philosophy of science. However, it could be argued that a verse could be deemed as more likely to have not come from a 7th century Arab if it adhered to the following criteria:
1. The verse must have meanings/interpretations that correlate to a scientific fact(s).
2. The meanings/interpretations must be clear and unambiguous. [An intentionally unsophisticated meaning is possible so that the Qur’ān’s direct audience could appreciate it.
3. The scientific fact must fall within the range of the verse’s meanings/interpretations.
4. The correlation between the scientific fact and the meanings/interpretations of the verse must be a strong one. In other words, it must not be a tenuous link.
5. The science that the verse is eluding to must be as close to a fact as possible, in other words it must not be a working in progress theory. The scientific fact must be established as a conclusive or factual via the scientific community.
6. It must demonstrate that no other naturalistic explanations (chance aside) can account for the correlation between the meanings/interpretations of the verse and the scientific conclusion. In other words, there must be a exhaustive study of the history of science to establish that: such scientific knowledge would have been impossible to discover and no one in the past theorised or discussed the scientific conclusion in question.
7. If such scientific knowledge was available, then a exhaustive study of the Prophetic and Arab history must be done to establish the impossibility of the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) or any 7th century Arab could have accessed such information.
8. If the verse in question has an alternative valid simpler unscientific interpretation/meaning. Then a probability analysis of the verse must be performed. To consider the verse to be miraculously predating science, the probability analysis must show that it is far more likely it could not have come from someone living in the 7th century (in context of the history, culture and language). The probability analysis may take in to consideration that it is remarkable that at least some plausible meanings/interpretations do indeed correspond to scientific facts.
Although this proposed criteria to salvage the science in the Qur’ān narrative is still work in progress, I personally find it almost impossible to practically fulfil the above criteria. Scholars, thinkers and apologists should develop this further.
o What is this supposed to mean? First the argument is that science is based on probabilities and not 100% accurate, and now the things are being turned on their heads and now we are talking about a so-called fact, why is there a contradiction being presented in the same essay?
o There is in fact no need to bring a new approach in the Qur’an in relation with ‘modern science’. This is what we call Bid’ah, a new blameworthy innovation. Certain people innovated the scientific miracles narrative, and this caused lots of confusion and damage. Now, removing this innovation and replacing it with a better innovation is not a good idea. Why don’t we go back to the traditional approach of the Salaf as-Saalihin such as Imaam Abu Haneefa and Imam Maalik, rather than keep bringing new approaches (bid’aat). This is the real Bid’ah in Islam. Note that wearing Converse shoes or wearing jeans is not a Bid’ah in Islam, nor is celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (SAW) considered a Bid’ah. Rather it is something as serious as making up rules of Tafseer ‘from thin air’ .
o Unfortunately, brother Hamza is still pushing his scientific miracle narrative by asserting that Qur’anic verses should have interpretations that correlate with today’s science. Some questions I have are: I wonder as to why it should be unambiguous (Muhkam)? If it is ambiguous then can you take the metaphorical meaning and for unambiguous Verses the apparent meaning? Besides, the apparent meaning is already established for Verses anyway, so is there an attempt to come up with a new Tafseer, or what is the aim in here?
o Did you also not know that some ambiguous verses might be unambiguous to some people and there is no definite ambiguity for verses? Also, what scientific community are we talking about? Do people think there is an agreement about the Big Bang theory and if there is, where is this mentioned? A an extension of this, can we say that the Universe was not accelerating by scientific community a decade ago or so, but that now it is accelerating?
o Another issue is that since when have probability analysis been done to explain verses?
o Seriously, this is very serious travesty of the Tafseer methodology. People should just stick to what they are experts in and don’t meddle with the Qur’an and confuse people. What is being offered in here and what is being done by using scientific narrative is called Bid’ah. People in the past like the Khawaarij had very good intentions to protect the Qur’an, but they were Ahl ul-Bid’ah. So having good intentions and doing the right thing or coming up with the right approach are sometimes two different things.
o Sometimes it is better to know one’s limits rather than transgressing the boundaries, not only putting yourself in danger but also others along with you. Brother Hamza has experienced this once, why does he insist in this mistake again? Why doesn’t he just share his experiences with people and not repeat his mistakes, as this is affecting many people. I can carry on with the serious problems found in the essay, but alas this is more than enough. I hope the brother takes the right approach and rectify himself rather than rubbing salt to the wound.
o It is also extremely important to know the sciences of kalaam if one is going to make commentaries with respect to Verses which are considered to be related to physical sciences such as physics.
o In ‘Ilm al-Kalaam, scholars study the atom, molecules and compositions. They have been looking for proofs whether the atom is divisible or not. They try to explain the concepts such as infinite or finite universe. Some of the scholars who we can mention in this vein are as follows:
o Mu’tazili scholar Abul Huzayl al-‘Allaaf (d. 226/752) used the concept of the atom in proving the existence of Allah before al-Baaqilaani.
o Note that an atom must be covered with an ‘Araadh (temporary characteristics like shadow, taste, colour). Jawhar is the alignment of more than one atom together. This is the material, composite Jism. A’raadh is something Haadith (created), and in this sense is like an atom. So all of these things, the atoms, ‘Araadh, and Ajsaam are created by Allah. They only exist for a moment.
o Imam al-Juwayni (419-478, 1028-1085) used al-Baaqilaani’s (338-403,950-1013) works as a primary source and later on taught them to Imam al-Ghazaali. He was a strong argumentator against the Mutazila, and although he knew logic and philosophy perfectly well he did not use Mantiq rules.
o Next, the Shaafi’i-‘Ash’aari scholar ‘Abdulqadir al-Baghdadi (429/1037) was a mathematician, Mutakallim and Faqeeh.
o Then we have Ar-Radhi (543-606, 1149-1210) who studied Fiqh, Usool al-Fiqh, Tafseer, philosophy, literature, medicine, and logic before writing the commentary of the Qur’an. He was an ‘Ash’ari-Shaafii’ scholar.
o Baydhawi (585-685, 1190-1287) studied logic, astronomy, and cosmography.
o As-Shareef Jurjaani (740-816,1340-1413) authored books on Kalaam, Tasawwuf, astronomy, maths and geometry.
o Ibn al-Humaam (790-861, 1388-1456) was also another Hanafi-Maaturidi scholar who was an expert mathematician.
o Molla Fanaari was the first Shaykh al-Islaam of the Ottoman state who authored books on Kalaam, Fiqh, Tafseer, Logic, Usool, Arabic and Balaagha. He was the teacher of Imam ibn Hajar al-Asqalani. His student al-Kafeeji was a teacher of Imaam as-Suyuti.
o In conclusion, we see that brother Hamza Tzortzis has gone some way in acknowledging the errors that he had committed in the past. However, there has to be a reorientation towards the classical methods of Tafseer. If the Ummah of Islam as a whole wishes to say anything that may have some relationship between science and the Qur’an or the Ahadeeth, this should be left solely to the ‘Ulamaa of Islaam, those who will first of all know the sciences of Tafseer, and then they will be able to see whether there is any tentative connection between the Verses of the Qur’an and the theories of modern science, after consulting with the experts in the field. But this should only be at most a very minimal concern of the Ummah, since the first goal should always be to take guidance from the Qur’an in order for us to reach our goal of salvation in the Hereafter.
o Finally, we pray that Allah may forgive us for any mistakes we may have made and any shortcomings in this work. And may Allah bless and grant peace to the Prophet Muhammad, his Family and Companions.
 We will provide any observations we think are relevant to the topic in footnotes.
 As pointed to by Verse 3:140 (translated as): [If ye have received a blow, the (disbelieving) people have received a blow the like thereof. These are (only) the vicissitudes which We cause to follow one another for mankind, to the end that Allah may know those who believe and may choose witnesses from among you; and Allah loveth not wrong-doers.]
 As pointed to by Verses 11-12(translated as): [And when it is said unto them: Make not mischief in the earth, they say: We are peacemakers only. Are not they indeed the mischief-makers? But they perceive not.]
 We will keep the quotes of Tzortzis’ article unbulleted and in bold italics.
 Speaking at a highly hypothetical level, not as a real possibility related to him.
 That is, the visual resemblance between an embryo and a leech.
The conclusion section has been omitted.
But let us remember that this is not the ‘atom’ of modern physics.