Paper  presented at The Malaysian Institutions Program Seminar on Islamization of Knowledge Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Johor Bahru January 4-5, 1997 by  Dr Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr.; MB ChB, MPH, DrPH (Harvard) Professor of Medicine, International Islamic University, Malaysia. PO Box 70 Jln Sultan Petaling Jaya Selangor DE Malaysia Fax 60 3 757 7970


Science and technology based on empirical research are accepted and are encouraged by Islam. The basic elements of the empirical method are valid; the objections of Muslims center on attitudes and values associated with S&T as developed and used today using a Eurocentric philosophical frame. The problems due to a Euro-centric world-view are (1) unstated and stated a priori biases in the formulation of hypotheses, selection of hypotheses for testing, interpretation, and  use of scientific knowledge (II) the assertion that only empirical knowledge is valid (III) arrogance in not acknowledging limitations to human observation and interpretation of physical phenomena (IV) dealing with the parts and missing the whole.  The following Qur’anic concepts can contribute to the formulation of values and attitudes in science and technology: (a) acknowledging wide but finite frontiers of human knowledge (b) appreciating tauhid as an integrating wholistic universal intellectual paradigm for all processes of empirical research (c) accepting natural laws (sunan al llaah) as a basis for an orderly universe with stable causal relations (d) study of physical phenomena ( tadabbur aayat llaah) as basis for empirical observations and interpretation (e) uprightness (Istiqamat) as protection from methodological biases (d) vicegerancy of the human on earth (Istikhlaf), placing the universe at the service of humans ( taskhiir), and (building civilization (isti’imaar) are bases for responsible technology.


* This is an adaptation of a paper entitled: ‘The Empirical Scientific Method: An Islamic Reformulation’ delivered by the at the International Conference on Values and Attitudes in Science, Kuala Lumpur September 1996




The paper analyzes the empirical methodology and discusses an Islamic approach to the formulation of values and attitudes in science and technology. The paper concludes that the basic postulates and elements of the scientific method are valid and acceptable. The problems are external to the method and manifest in the way it is framed and is used. The paper proposes using Qur’anic concepts in the formulation of the values and attitudes mentioned above.


The European use of the empirical method has the following established characteristics: (a) It is pragmatic and basically atheistic (a) only observation is the source of valid knowledge; other sources of knowledge such as istinbat, tarikh, naql are rejected.


The following characteristics of the empirical method are alleged  and may not always hold in practice (a) It is open-ended, theories are abandoned if no longer sustained by facts (b)  It is methodological (systematic, repeatable, and consistent) (c)  It is accurate, precise, and objective.


The empirical methodology is innately good but the manner and context of its use lead to the following problems: (a) biases due to a priori assumptions (b) limitations of observation by human senses (c) limitations of human intellect (d) lack of an integrating paradigm






A priori assertions or non-assertions (assertions by default) bias the selection of fields/issues of investigation, formulation of hypotheses, selection of hypotheses for testing, reporting of data, interpretation of data, and use of information.


The source of frustration with European empiricism is that some assertions are understood but are not stated explicitly so that the uninitiated may not recognize their existence.


European thought is basically materialist. It has several manifestations as positivism, empiricism, pragmatism, and semanticism.


A materialistic view of the universe contradicts the Islamic view of duality of matter and spirit, mind and body, soul and intellect, philosophy and religion, here and the hereafter.


The theory of evolution that evolved in 19th century England and coincidentally provided ‘scientific’ justification for industrial exploitation for the less fit in Europe and the colonies by the fittest who alone had the right of survival, has a lot of influence in the thinking of many natural and social scientists. Scientific hypotheses, scientific language, choice of what to study reflect an underlying assumption of the innate superiority of the most ‘evolved’ human species in Europe.


Psychological leanings cause bias. Personal or group selfish interests can unconsciously lead to bias because of the European dichotomy between science and morality.


The life of the scientist is not put in the equation. A scientist is a prisoner of his culture. Only the aqida of tauhid that is based on universality can rescue him from such a prison. Many of the leading scientists were morally corrupt even psychologically sick yet their theories and discoveries were not suspected. There is an implied unscientific assumption that a person who tells lies in his ordinary life will not do so about his laboratory research. The character and moral worth of the investigator is not taken into account when judging the validity of the data on the assertion that science is morally/ethically  neutral (hiyaad akhlaqi). This is the cause of so much scientific fraud most of which is undetectable. The Islamic approach will involve checking the moral worth of the researcher in the assessment of any research data to void the possibility of scientific fraud.


Regarding natural laws as final and accepting the laws of evolution that explain the start and progress of life as chance or accidental events make the European scientist consider the existence of a creator superfluous. No empirical experiment can be set up to test the proposition yet there are indications especially in empirical behavior of humans that there is a super-natural power.


Tauhidi science start with the following prior assumptions: tauhid (Allah, His attributes, uluhiyyat, rububiyyat), limitations of human knowledge, causality (sababiyyat) is the relation between the cause and effect. The causes are creatable by Allah and he could change them. Thus causal relations are not always what humans expect. The creator can disregard the so-called natural laws. A Muslim believes that miracles are associated with causal relations that are in the realm of ghaib but also recognizes that in practical terms he need not delve into this field.



Both European empiricists (experience is source of knowledge) and rationalists (reason is source of knowledge) agree that there is no source of knowledge outside the human.


The assertion that the empirical is the only source of valid knowledge excludes 2 major fields of study: (a) the ultimate questions about the universe that can not be proved rationally: its start, its future, its end, purpose of human life, life, death and after-death and (b) human behavior: motivation and spiritual experiences). There are ultimates of religion tat can not proved rationally.


The European paradigm that does not recognize existence of limits to human senses and intellect can not accept that some matters can not be investigated empirically and that  other sources of knowledge such as wahy (knowledge of ghaib) must be used. They are just ignored as if they do not exist. A proper approach would have been a declaration by the empiricist and rationalist that they lie outside the bounds of unaided human investigation.


Islam recognizes three sources of knowledge, 2 being primary and the third dependent on the other two. Wahy and empirical observation are independent. They however both need reason ‘aql for understanding. Muslim thinkers have mentioned other sources of knowledge such as intuition (hadas), ilhaam, and wijdaan. These either have wahy or an empirical basis that may not be obvious to the uninitiated.


Wahy remains the absolute source since human senses and reason are known by ordinary human experience to be fallible. Al Ghazali doubted the authority of sense and reason. Human illusions and hallucinations are possible and do occur.



The empirical method performs well in investigation of the present but is awfully incompetent in its historicity and futuristicity. Investigation of the past and the future requires ‘ilm al ghaib that comes only from wahy. Ghaib can be absolute or relative. Empirical investigations continually roll back the frontiers of relative ghaib but can not even start looking into absolute ghaib. The problem is that the European use of the empirical method just assumes that uninvestigatable matters just do not exist or are irrelevant. Untestable assertions are classified as unscientific.



European empiricism, by looking at the human as only matter, does not have the tools to understand human duality. It fails in understanding causal relations in situations in which humans change the ecosystem. Humans can create new facts that accord with their inner biases such that an investigator coming later is confused.



Too narrow specialization in science has resulted in a situation of knowing the parts and failing to put them together. Knowing the whole picture makes the study of the parts more meaningful. European empiricism as used does not acknowledge the basic assertions of tauhid that there is one creator for the universe and that therefore there must be an integrating paradigm for all human research and actions. A practical consequence of this is that one advance in one area is a catastrophe in another to the extent that many insightful scientists fear the ultimate destruction of the ecosystem.



The claim of universality and objectivity is not true. It would have been more honest to accept the minimum that European science reflects a Euro-centric view of the world.



Empirical knowledge is relativistic and probabilistic. European science is too arrogant in stating its conclusions as established facts when the observations on which they are based may be wrong.


Empiricism depends on human senses. Human senses are limited in their observation and can be deceived; this failure is not cured by use of instruments because they are aids and extensions of the basic human senses.


Diseases of the heart can lead to biased empirical observations. Among these diseases are: hiqd, kibr, kadhb,


Existence (al wujuud) is at 5 levels: dhaati, hissi, khiyaali, ‘aqli, and shibhi. The empirical method can only observe the hissi, the rest have to be inferred.



The human intellect is necessary to interpret and understand empirical observations. This intellect has limitations and there are matters like the human himself that lie outside its reach. A human can not understand himself fully. Rationalism has a basis in the Qur’an and reason is needed to understand the Qur’an and sunnat. However there are transgressions in the use of reason that lead to false results. This occurs when reason is employed in areas that are exclusive for wahy. The Ummah like the Europeans has had excesses by rationalists like the mu’tazilites. Ibn Taymiyyat, al Ghazzali, and other scholars of the same caliber came to bring the ummat back to the original methodology after the excesses of the rationalists.



A very noticeable feature of the development of science and technology in the past 2 centuries has been a lack of equilibrium and balance in the field of applications. What are today’s achievements become tomorrow’s problems. Industrial production has been associated with environmental pollution. New medical treatments and procedures turn out to be causes of new diseases after a decade or so. Much economic prosperity has been achieved at a great sacrifice of personal happiness and family break-down. The cause of this is that there is no clear concept of wasatiyyah, equilibrium or taking the middle path and avoiding extremes. This concept is found in the Qur’an and Muslims can be pioneers in introducing this concept in S&T.







Previous civilizations were condemned for reading and not understanding their revelations (2:78). This is a situation of intellectual blindness. For Muslims the revelation is the start of understanding and knowledge.  Some of the contemporary Muslim weaknesses are attributable to defects in understanding and using the Qur’an. Many Muslim communities today have abandoned the Qur’an (hijr al Qur’an) in that they do not use it as the sole guide of their affairs. Muslim scientific and technological renaissance will require a return to the Qur’an as an inspiration and a methodological guidance.


The learning, collection, study, and interpretation of the Qur’an was the start of the methodological and knowledge revolution ushered in by Islam.  This revolution was mainly the liberation of human intellect and will from the clutches of superstition and blind following.


Qur’anic verses deal with basically 4 concentric themes: (a) the self, nafs; (b) relation with other humans; (c) relation with the ecosystem; (d) relation with the creator. In the temporal dimension the Qur’an deals with the past, the present, and the future. The future is generally subsumed under the concept of the unseen, al ghaib.


The Qur’an is a book of general and basic guidance and not a textbook for any discipline. It is a methodological guideline for the development of science and technology as well as other areas of human knowledge.


The Qur’an and sunnat have their wisdom, hikmat, in the scientific tarbiyat of Muslims. There is a hikmat in the Qur’an and sunnat being in generalities and not details and why the companions did not ask many questions. There is also hikmat in verses of the Qur’an being validly interpretable in more than one way. There is hikmat in the revelation of the Qur’an in bits and pieces. The hikmat is to develop a spirit of inquiry and reflection as the way to scientific facts.


Scientific facts in the Qur’an are there for purposes of guidance to aqida and not a substitute for empirical research. It encourages humans to study the universe in order to get empirical knowledge. This is achieved by indicating that the universe is large, knowledge is wide in scope, and human knowledge is limited.


The field of human endeavor is the seen and not the unseen. It will be a transgression for a human to try to research or deal with the unseen. All knowledge of the unseen needed for methodological guidance of empirical study of the world is provided by the Qur’an. The Qur’an also provides information to understand uluhiyyat and rububiyyat and their implications in daily practical life.




The tauhidi paradigm has the following concepts: unity of Allah, unity of creation, unity of truth, unity of knowledge, unity of life, unity of humanity. The concept of unity is the bedrock for causal relations and a rational predictable universe. Science shows that the complex universe is actually a simple made up of a few fairly identical building blocks called atoms, sub-atomic particles and molecules. The natural laws that govern the interactions among these particles are simple and are usually written as simple mathematical equations.


Under the tauhidi paradigm, wahy and aql are complementary. Since knowledge and truth are a unity, both wahy and aql are searching for the same goal.


The tauhidi paradigm also implies an all-embracing aspect (shumuuliyyat). Since everything has the same creator and one source, there must be order and harmony (nidhaam) since that creator knows all His creation (ihaatat).


Tauhid liberates the human intellect from stagnation (jumuud), dependency (tab’iyat), blind following (taqlid a’ama). It frees the human from being a slave of his own whims and fancies.


Tauhid encourages innovation (ibda) by emphasizing the unity of the universe and its wide expanse.


Tauhid makes us understand why the Qur’an addresses the whole person and not parts


Tauhid is the final guarantor against methodological biases because the human observing and interpreting natural phenomena is in the same tauhidi frame of reference as the events being studied. The Qur’an is comprehensive (shumuliyyat). It has to be accepted as a whole (2:85). The reader must understand the changing time-space dimensions in the Qur’an.




The Qur’an calls for empirical observation of the environment and its interpretation in many verses. Human senses were given their responsibility in this matter with warning against transgression. The Qur’an calls for use of the human intellect. It provides actual examples of scientific research.


The principal of causality, ie a physical phenomenon must have a preceding humanly-understandable cause, is very clear in many verses of the Qur’an. The exceptions when the principle is suspended are described; they involve intervention of divine will beyond human understanding or are in the realm of the unseen (‘ilm al ghaib). Humans can ignore the principle of causality with the consequence of lack of creativity, innovation, and activity and they lapse into a stuporous state of tawaakul.


Sunan Allah are of 2 types: those known by Allah alone and those knowable by humans. The sunan in ‘aalam al ghaib are different from those in a’alam al shahadat. Ghaib is of two types: haqiiqi, knowable only by Allah, and idhaafi, knowable by some humans.


The Qur’an clearly refers to methodology in Maida: 48, An’am:155 and many other chapters.


The Qur’anic methodology is induction. It was most unfortunate that Muslim scholars, under Greek influence, turned to deductive and neglected inductive reasoning.


As part of the intellectual stagnation, the fuqaha concentrated on ayaat al ahkaam and neglected ayaat al kawn.




The Qur’an calls for the inductive method by ordaining looking at nature.


Ayat kawniyyat relate directly to human intellect because Allah gave humans the power of intellect and put at their disposal what is in the earths and heavens (taskhiir) and called upon humans to look and investigate


The Qur’an trains the human to observe nature by use of terms such as nadhar, tabassur. Interpretation is emphasized by terms such as: tadabbur, tafakkur, i’itibaar. tafaquhu. Use of evidential knowledge is emphasized by terms such as: bayyinat, burhan. Terms used to condemn tendencies to biased observations are: taqliid, dhann.


The Qur’anic story about Ibrahim’s search for the truth by observing natural phenomena like the moon and the sun is a good example of formulating and testing a hypothesis by empirical observation.




The concept of istiqimat promotes valid and un-biased research. It is defined by the following measures of central tendency to the golden mean or equilibrium:’adl, wasatiyyat, tawazun,hikmat,  i’itidaal, ma’ayiir, mawdhu’iyyat. The concept of wasatiyyat can be the basis for statistical measures of central tendency (mean, mode) that are the basis of much scientific inference


Istiqamat can also be defined negatively as rejection of what leads to bias: hiwa al nafs, al dhann.


The Qur’an came to fight false knowledge that manifests as: usturat, khurafat, kadhb, lahw, wahm. It condemned intellectual stagnation that manifests as taqlid. It warned against mistakes (khata) and forgetting (nisyaan). It warned against diseases of the heart that can color and distort objective observation and interpretation resulting in bias. It teaches practical measures for avoiding mistakes such as insisting on a written record and calling witnesses.


It called for use of evidence by use of the following terms: burhan, daliil, bayyinat, shahid, tathabbut, sidq,  iltimas al shawaahid, tathabut fi al umuur (nisa: 83, Hujraat:18).





3.6.1 Scope:

The Islamic methodology has a very wide scope that encompasses and harmonizes both the seen and the unseen (takaamul al ghaib wa al shahadat). Empirical research is in the province of the seen and can not trespass into the unseen. Guidance from the unseen helps encourage empirical research and guide it away from potential bias


3.6.2 Sources:

There are three main sources of knowledge and methodology: Revelation (wahy), Intellect (aql), and Empirical observation (kawn). These sources are complementary and are never contradictory. Full knowledge requires use of all the sources.


3.6.3 Basic principles:

Islamic methodology has 3 main principles: wahdaniyyat, al khilafat, al masuliyyat al akhlaqiyyat


3.6.4 Basic concepts:

The Islamic methodology relies on the following basic concepts: ghaiyyat al khalq wa al wujuud, mawdhu’iyyat al haqiiqat wa nisbiyyat al mawqiu minha, hurriyat al qaraar wa al iradat al insaniyyat wa masuliyyatuha, al tawakkul, al sababiyyat fi adaa al fi’ilu al insaani


3.6.5 Peculiarities:

A distinguishing characteristic of the Islamic methodology is its comprehensiveness, shumuliyyat.




The above analyzes have shown that the actual processes of the empirical  methodology (hypothesis, testing, conclusion) are not the problem but the context and manner in which the method is used. What is therefore needed is to define the Islamic values and attitudes in S&T.


The education of a Muslim scientist should encourage development of a culture involving attitudes and values that can be learned from the Islamic methodological sciences. Studying the methodological Islamic sciences of usul al fiqh, hadith, and tafsir will help mold the personality and intellectual preparation of the future researcher within an Islamic context. Studying the history and achievements of the early Muslim scientists will be an inspiration for the young generation.




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Three approaches to revival today

Dr Abdulhamid Abusulayman in discussing solutions to the ummah’s present weaknesses considere 3 alternatives: (a) al hall al tariikhi al taqliidi (b) al hall al mustawrad (c) al hall al Islami al muasir. He concluded that that the only viable alternative is al nahdhat min al asaalat al islamiyyat al muasirat

Professor Omar Hasan Kasule January 1997