By Syed Kamran Hashmi
May 29, 2015
“Maybe Adam was pregnant with Eve,” Professor Ahmed Rafique Akhtar, a renowned religious scholar, shared his understanding of evolution with me one day, “This can be the only explanation of Eve coming out of Adam’s rib,” he said. To avoid unnecessary arguments, I did not confront him then. However, his words shook me up, compelling me to revaluate my own ideas about Islam and to reconsider my fundamental values as a human being. Years later, and after numerous sleepless nights, my faith has both matured and evolved. As an ordinary person, I do not claim to bear the real knowledge of Islam and the universe but the scholars and sufis who do, without realising the gravity of their assertion, stupefy me.
I must also admit that I have not felt as bad for anyone else lately as I have felt for our Creator who has to deal with the colossal incompetence of Muslim clerics who interpret the Quran in modern times. Considering the speed with which science is making headway, it would have been difficult for a full time researcher to understand the depth of the book of God. However, in the hands of modern day clerics, it has become just an impossible task to accomplish, a responsibility way above their intellectual capacity.
Then why do scholars even attempt to explain science with religion? To stay relevant in society? I am sure that at least some religious authorities, at some point, must have realised that they had to come up with a strategy to respond to attacks on religion from scientific progress. But how could this task be managed? Was it even possible? Without understanding physics, biology or mathematics, they were handicapped, and they knew it too. Just a few of them, if any, had taken entry-level courses a long time ago and, since then, all they have learnt as far as science is concerned is how to drive a car or work on their smart phones. They have no interest in research, no passion for writing, no inclination to understand the scientific method and absolutely no reason to appreciate an article in a peer reviewed scientific journal. The whole system of modern education was alien to them.
So, they contrived a two-way action plan to solve their predicament. First, they discouraged Muslims from learning science and encouraged them to focus on sharia law. Less information will lead to less questions, which will reduce pressure on them and make their jobs a little easier. Second, they had to focus on Semantics, the study of the meaning of words. If that worked, it might be the key to their success. The linguistic part provided many advantages to these scholars over the scientific community; their understanding of Arabic was better, there is an immense depth in Arabic language with multiple meanings of a single word and most scientists were not able to understand Arabic. On top of that, there would be reluctance among scientists to involve themselves in an unnecessary religious debate and risk being labelled as heretics or blasphemous.
To put that into practice, they first paid close attention to the language and terms used by the scientists. Once they had memorised those terms almost half of their job was done. For the other half, they just had to find a phrase in the Quran or Hadith that could be translated into English as its modern day equivalent. Sometimes, it was not easy and a few words needed arm twisting to further ‘expand’ the meaning or required newer interpretation to change its essence altogether. Let me give you an example.
Remember E = mc2, Einstein’s theory of mass energy equivalence, which unfolds the conversion of matter into energy at the speed of light? After long and complex mathematical calculations, Einstein simplified the concept into this short formula, a brilliant accomplishment. In response, the religious scholars just needed one word in Arabic to equate Islam and science together. They found one, of course. It lay in front of their eyes: the burraq.
In Arabic, burraq stems out of the word burq, which means electricity. Burraq, if we remember, is the name of the animal that the Prophet (PBUH) rode on through his journey across the heavens during the night of Isra and Miraj. With that baseline information, I am sure you have already heard the following explanation: burraq must have been able to convert mass (human body) into energy as it travelled with the speed of light through the universe. It went to the heavens in the form of energy and then converted back to mass for a safe return to Earth. Wow! What a great shortcut; I am sure Einstein would have been amazed himself with this explanation.
Similarly, the Arabic word zarrah from the Quran, which means particle or weight of a red ant, becomes atom, to prove the Bohr atomic model. If Nebula was our concern in astronomy or the understanding of a supernova caught our interest, then again we found the word al-dukhan in the Quran and Hadith as an explanation, which means ‘the smoke’ and is a close equivalent of the above-mentioned scientific terms.
At the same time, if democracy is the way to go nowadays and Khilafat is out of date, we have to start stretching the meaning of the word shura, which means consultation and has never been interpreted as an election process in the last 1,400 years, but who can stop an Islamic scholar from doing it now?
Equipped with five or six such examples, any scholar can surprise his listeners with the ‘depth’ of his religious knowledge and amaze them with his grip on scientific matters. Being the audience, you just need to acknowledge his intelligence and sincerity to Islam. However, if you do not comply and/or criticise them, then they carry the divine authority to decide if you are a Muslim or not and if you need to live or die. So beware and pray.
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist. He tweets at @KaamranHashmi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org