Islam and Science
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Among the many and diverse matters discussed in or touched upon by Islamic scriptures are topics of direct or indirect scientific interest. These topics include reproductive science, embryology, cosmology, medicine, and a slew of other topics. While mainstream academic scholars and scientists have found the discussion of these topics contained in Islamic scripture to be unremarkable in its seventh-century context, in recent times, many traditional Muslim scholars and figures have argued that Islamic scriptures contains statements which not only adhere to but also predict modern science. Criticism of these ideas has been widespread and has even come from Muslim scholars themselves.
Philosophical concerns regarding the idea of a scientific miracle
Many take seriously the idea that the Quran contains miraculous foreknowledge of modern science. Certain philosophical questions have often been proposed as being of interest for those who either take these ideas seriously or are presently considering them.
- The proposition that Humans have access to a miracle from God/gods would be incredibly consequential or at least extremely interesting if true, and thus deserves to be thought about with great seriousness and scrutiny. Otherwise, any number of contradictory parties would be able to claim that their respective scriptures contained scientific miracles.
- A god/gods desiring to present humankind with a miracle of scientific foreknowledge would need meet this justifiable scrutiny with a miracle so uniquely clear and sound as to distinguish itself from false miracle claims, else the god/gods would have failed in their purpose, which is a supposed impossibility. It would indeed have to be impossible to have reason to deny such a miracle - this is the meaning of certainty.
- A scriptural statement containing a scientific statement would be evident as a miracle if and only if it is at once: (1) unambiguous and intentional, (2) ascertainably unknowable at the time of revelation, and (3) scientifically sound, because:
- (1) An ambiguous or unintentional scientific statement could be correct only by accident
- (2) A scientific statement knowable at the time and place of revelation would not be a miracle
- Additionally, it may be that none of the above criteria can be established regarding any scientific statement because: (1) language is inherently ambiguous, (2) it is impossible to prove something is not an accident, and (3) history is fundamentally inaccessible. Nonetheless, one can and probably will disregard the skepticism necessitated by this last bullet point in their analysis.
Islamic practices and health
Islamic medicinal practices
Islamic scriptures record and encourage various folk medicinal practices common in Arabia at the time of Muhammad and his companions in the seventh century and perhaps introduced some new practices, including the use, in diverse ways, of: camel urine, a mixture of saliva and dust, Muhammad's bodily fluids and hairs, Indian incense, averting one's gaze from women, prayer, the wings of houseflies, cupping, and black cumin.
Camel urine as a curative
Muhammad prescribed camel urine as medicine.
Dipping flies into drinks
Muhammad advised that if a fly lands in one's drink, one ought to dip it in further and then consume the drink.
Beyond the unsanitary nature of the practice, Muslim scholars arguing for efficacy of the practice on the grounds that there are bacteriophages present on flies' wings encounter the following scientific challenges: (1) bacteriophages are not limited to any specific wing of the fly (2) bacteriophages in their natural state and concentration are not antidotal to bacterial diseases, particularly for temperate or lysogenic phages, (3) bacteriophages are ineffective against non-bacterial diseases, and (4) phage therapy is not a generally-accepted medical therapy at present because it is largely ineffective and requires large quantities of purified, possibly genetically-engineered, phages not present in the natural condition.
Islamic fasting and health
Medical fasting is different from Islamic fasting (Sawm). Islamic fasting, unlike Medical fasting, has numerous adverse effects that have been in scientific studies. Islamic fasting is intermittent, prolonged, water-deprived, and often combined with unhealthy night-time indulgence. Each of these factors are known to contribute to an unhealthy metabolism, mood swings, and generally poor performance.
Zamzam water and health
Millions of Muslims visit the Zamzam well in Mecca each year while performing the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages in order to drink from its water and, in many cases, to take home some of its water for distribution among friends and relations due to what are believed to be the water's miraculous properties. In May 2011, a BBC investigation found that genuine Zamzam water taken from the well contained arsenic levels three times the legal limit, something which could contribute to increasing people's risk of cancer. In addition to the dangerous arsenic levels, the holy water contained high levels of nitrate and potentially harmful bacteria.
Islamic embryology is derived from both the Qur’an and the hadith, and is described rather consistently across the scriptures from which it is derived. Verse 5 of Surah 22 summarizes the theory. While there are a few other verses in the Qur'an on the subject, none of them diverge dramatically from the basic outline given in 22:5. Hadiths recorded in Bukhari and Muslim provide many further details but, likewise, remain consistent with the outline presented in 22:5.
The details of embryology as reflected in the Qur’an and the hadith can be summarized as follows; the embryo spends 40 days as a drop of sperm or seed, the embryo then spends another 40 days as a “clot” or a “leech-like clot” of blood, the embryo then spends another 40 days as a “lump of flesh” during which the gender of the child is assigned by an angel at Allah’s direction.
Quranic theory of semen production
Qur'an 86:7 says that sperm originates from the backbones and the ribs, a theory similar to another erroneous theory proposed by Hippocrates in 5th century BCE.
That issued from between the loins and ribs.
Many Muslims scholars have in recent times declared the Quranic theory of semen production to be an instance of miraculous scientific foreknowledge; much criticism has been forthcoming.
Sources of Islamic theories of reproduction
The hadith contain many statements about fluids from both the man and woman that were believed to form the human embryo. The Qur’an likewise says that the embryo is formed from emitted fluid, and in one verse perhaps indicates a mingling of male and female fluids. The origins of each of these ideas go at least as far back as the Jewish Talmud and the ancient Greek physicians. While none of the historical theories in this respect can be considered valid in light of modern science, the influence of ideas from ancient cultures and scientists upon the theories presented in the Quran and hadith is clear.
Cousin marriage in Islam
Cousin marriage is explicitly permitted in verse 23 of the 4th chapter of the Quran (Quran 4:23). Muhammad himself married his cousins. Zaynab bint Jahsh, one of Muhammad's wives, was the daughter of his father's sister as well as the former wife of Muhammad's adopted son Zayd ibn Haritha. Muhammad also allowed the marriage of his daughter, Fatimah, to his cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib, who would later go on to become the fourth Rightly-guided Caliph of Islam. The second Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab, also married his cousin, Atikah bint Zayd ibn Amr ibn Nufayl.
Modern cultures strongly discourage cousin marriage due to the higher than normal consanguinity rate among close relatives which results in an increased chance of sharing genes for recessive traits and birth defects. The British geneticist and professor Steve Jones, giving The John Maddox Lecture at the 2011 Hay Festival, stated in relation to Muslim inbreeding, "It is common in the Islamic world to marry your brother’s daughter, which is actually [genetically] closer than marrying your cousin." Tragically, statistical estimates show that close to half of all living Muslims are the offspring of cousin marriages and are, according to scientific standards, inbred.
Adam, Eve, and the beginning of creation
The Qur'an generally follows the biblical account of creation in 6 days (Genesis 1:31), although surah 41:9-12 seems to imply that the earth (and the universe) were created in 8 days instead of 6, although the figure of 8 days is never written. The tradition mostly agrees with other elements of the biblical account, such as the creation of Eve, the first woman, from the rib of Adam, the first man; Qur'an, though, broadens the claim of the bible that Adam was created from dust (Genesis 2:1) by stating in one occasion that man was created was created from dust and, in another, from clay. Tabari in his history of the world attributes to the universe an age between 6 and 7 thousand years, a figure more or less in keeping with the biblical timeline (although of course far from the now-known history of the universe as at least over 13 billion years old).
Other notable details in this narrative include (quoted from Bukhari) the description of women as being created from a "crooked" rib which will break if one tries to straighten it, the idea that "were it not for Eve, no woman would ever betray her husband", and that Adam was "60 cubit tall" (~90 feet) and that since his time, "people have been decreasing in stature".
Cosmology of the Quran
The cosmology of the Quran is essentially the same as cosmology as that which was accepted by seventh century Arabia and much of the contemporary world. The Earth: is the center of universe, is disk-shaped, is orbited by the sun (which sets and rises through holes in the Earth's surface), sits atop seven similar disk-shaped earths, and lies beneath the seven concentric domes of heaven which, if God so willed, could 'fall out of the sky'. The entire universe as such rests beneath the throne of Allah, floats in the midst of an unending sea, and all of this exists on the back of a giant, cosmic whale, known as the Islamic Whale (al-Hut al-Islami).
Geocentrism and the Qur'an
The Qur'an states that both the sun and the moon swim or float in a rounded course, or perhaps in a celestial sphere or hemisphere (a 'falak' in the Arabic). The sun rises from the east, goes high above the Earth, sets in a pool of muddy water somewhere on the surface of the earth, and finally proceeds to a resting place under Allah throne and prostrates. All this takes place around an Earth that was spread out and had a firmament of seven heavens built above it without pillars. This reflects a common belief in the region at that time and is also found earlier with the Babylonians, ancient Hebrews, the Assyrians and several other cultures in the region.
Islamic views on the shape of the earth
As recently as 1993 the supreme religious authority of Saudi Arabia Sheik Abdul-Aziz Ibn Baaz declared "The earth is flat. Whoever claims it is round is an atheist deserving of punishment." and in a televised debate aired on Iraqi Al-Fayhaa TV (October 31, 2007), Muslim Researcher on Astronomy Fadhel Al-Sa'd also declared that the Earth is flat as evidenced by Qur'anic verses and that the sun is much smaller than the Earth and revolves around it.
The sun's setting in a muddy spring
The precise meaning of the opening phrases in verses 86 and 90 in the 18th chapter of the Qur’an (Quran 18:86-90) is a matter of considerable controversy. These verses occur within an account concerning a powerful figure called Dhu’l Qarnayn, “the two-horned one” (Alexander, in all likelihood), who Allah guides on a series of three fantastic journeys in Qur’an 18:83-101. The controversy surrounding the verses emerges from the fact that the verses appear to suggest, in plain language, that the sun sets into a spring of muddy water somewhere on earth in a location inhabited, no less, by people.
The Islamic Whale
The Islamic whale (in Arabic الحوت الإسلامي, al-hoot al-islami), is a mythological creature described in Islamic texts that carries the Earth on its back. It is also called Nun (نون), which is also the name of the Arabic letter "n" ن. Two alternative names of the whale are Liwash and Lutiaya. The details behind the mentioning of this creature is a unclear topic. There is little mention of Nun in the Quran, however there is further mention of it in other Islamic scriptures such has Hadith and Tafsir along with context verses.
From all of the earliest Sunni and Shi'a sources today available, it appears that the earliest Muslims believed the letter "nun" in the Qur'an surah 68:1 refers to a giant whale upon whose back the entire earth rests. This belief is attributed by all of the trusted sources of Islamic jurisprudence to "tarjumaan al-qur'an" ibn Abbas and was reaffirmed thereafter by many trusted Islamic scholars all the way up until the 19th century. According to this cosmogony, the earth (actually the 7 earths are) is attached to the back of the whale by means of the mountains, which are pegs to balance the earth upon the Nun's back. This cosmogony fits in with a widespread ancient belief that the world was balanced upon the back of giant animals, and the even more primordial belief that the world is surrounded by a giant, unending body of water.
Ramadan and the North and South Poles
According to Islamic rituals set out in the Qur'an and hadith, the keeping and breaking of a fast and the times of prayer, among other things, are related to times of sunrise and sunset. As one gets closer to the North or South Pole, the day or night can extend to up to several months each. At the North Pole itself, daylight and darkness lasts for more than 6 months at a time. Extending the five daily prayers of a period of several months appears to undermine the Islamic ritual, however, and fasting for such a period is evidently impossible. These considerations appear to confirm the pre-modern cosmology described elsewhere in the Quran and hadith.
Islamic scriptures and scholars on the universe
Islamic scriptures and scholars have much to say in regards to the cosmology of the universe.
Islamic science and the Golden Age
Islamic Inventions that Changed the World
These past few years have seen many inventions claimed and attributed to Islamic inventors, which in fact either existed in pre-Islamic eras, were invented by other cultures, or both. However, this detail has not apologists from perpetuating these false claims. Such claims have even been propagated through a nationwide tour which opened with an exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and the University of Manchester, England.
To celebrate this series of events, an article titled “How Islamic inventors changed the world” was written by Paul Vallely and published in The Independent. This inaccurate piece of writing has received much praise and is still being widely circulated on Islamic websites, forums and blogs. This article lists and examines all twenty of these “Islamic inventions that changed the world”, and in doing so, it reveals their actual inventors and the true role of Islam/Muslims, if any, behind the inventions.
In short, we find that Paul Vallely's article is fundamentally misleading. It omits, distorts, and makes blunders concerning the most basic of historical facts to give the reader a false impression. It leaves you wondering what could have possibly motivated him into writing such a deceptive piece of journalism?
Islamic Science in Wikipedia Articles
At Wikipedia, Islam-related articles are often compromised by pro-Islamic editors. An example of this is a 2010 incident where an editor with over 67,000 edits was caught intentionally inserting false information into articles.
Jagged 85 is the main contributor to the many inaccurate Islam/Science/Golden Age articles which are still being copied and pasted all over the internet by Muslims, and more than 20% of Wikipedia's "Timeline of historic inventions" was provided by him.
With contributions to over 8,100 separate articles, it is unlikely that all of Jagged 85's edits will ever be fixed. And even if they were, these Wikipedia articles have already been reproduced all over the net by other sites which use Wikipedia as a source.
Science in the Qur'an
Scientific Errors in the Qur'an and Hadith
A common criticism of the Quran is that it contains numerous scientific and historical errors, with no obvious attempts to differentiate its understanding of the natural world and historical events from the common folklore and misconceptions of the people living in 7th century Arabia. Modern responses typically appeal to metaphor, alternative meanings, or phenomenological interpretations of such verses. They also argue that the wording needed to be acceptable to people of its time. Critics typically argue that an all-knowing, perfect communicator would nevertheless have been able to avoid statements in the Quran that reinforced misconceptions of the time, caused future generations to have doubts about its perfection, and on a scale that critics contend is an overwhelming weakness. A similar dialogue surrounds the mention of scientific topics in the hadith.
Bucailleism, Dr. Keith Moore, and the "Islamic Additions"
Bucailleism is the belief that "the Qur'an prophesied the Big Bang theory, space travel and other contemporary scientific breakthroughs," and that "there are more than 1200 verses (Ayat) which can be interpreted in the light of modern science." It has been called "a fast-growing branch of Islamic fundamentalism." Named after the French surgeon Maurice Bucaille, its proponents believe that "one of the main convincing evidences" that lead many to convert to Islam "is the large number of scientific facts in the Quran."
The doctrine is "widely taught" in Islamic secondary schools, promoted on popular television in Arab world and is advanced by "a well-funded campaign" led by the Commission on Scientific Signs in the Quran and Sunnah, based in Saudi Arabia and founded by Sheikh Abdul Majeed Zindani, a leading militant Islamist and "Specially Designated Global Terrorist". The ideas financed by the commission proved a popular tool of da'wah in the 1980s, when videos where taken of various Western scientists apparently vouching for the scientific accuracy of the Qur'an. In later interviews however, many of the scientists quoted revealed that they were tricked, misquoted, and misrepresented by Sheikh Abdul Majeed Zindani, who organised the conferences.
Scientific "Miracles" in the Quran
This article provides a list of supposed "scientific miracles" in the Quran.
Other Core Articles
Core articles contain an overview of other articles related to a specific issue:
- Islam and Apostasy
- Islam and Homosexuality
- Islam and Miracles
- Child Marriage in Islamic Law
- People of the Book
- Islam and Scripture
- Islam and Violence
- Islam and Women
- Qur'an and Science - Answering Islam
- The Scientific 100 - 3 different rankings from Adherents.com showing how little Muslims contributed to science
- Falak Lane's Lexicon Volume 1 page 2443 and page 2444 Lane also says that the Arab astronomers said there were seven of these spheres for the sun, moon, and the five visible planets, rotating about the celestial pole. This must reflect the post-Qur'anic influence of Ptolemy, whose astronomical work was translated for the Arabs from the 8th century onwards.