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
2.0 PROBLEMS OF THE EMPIRICAL SCIENTIFIC METHOD
2.1 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
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.
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.
2.2 SOURCES OF KNOWLEDGE
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
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.
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.
2.3 INVESTIGATION OF THE PAST AND THE FUTURE
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.
2.4 INVESTIGATION OF THE HUMAN
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.
2.5 INTEGRATION AND SPECIALIZATION
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.
2.6 OBJECTIVITY AND UNIVERSALITY
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.
2.7 LIMITATIONS OF HUMAN SENSES
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,
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.
2.8 LIMITATIONS OF HUMAN INTELLECT
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.
2.9 LACK OF BALANCE
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.
3.0 QUR’ANIC CONCEPTS IN VALUES AND ATTITUDES
3.1 QUR’AN AND KNOWLEDGE, ‘ILM
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.
3.2 THE TAUHIDI PARADIGM FROM THE QUR’AN
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).
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.
encourages innovation (ibda) by emphasizing the unity of the universe and its wide
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.
3.3 SUNAN LLAH FI AL
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
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.
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.
3.4 BASIS FOR EMPIRICAL OBSERVATION AND INTERPRETATION
The Qur’an calls for the inductive method
by ordaining looking at nature.
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
can also be defined negatively as rejection of what leads to bias: hiwa al nafs,
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 CHARACTERISTICS OF ISLAMIC METHODOLOGY AS
PRESENTED BY DR ABDULHAMID ABUSULAYMAN
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
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
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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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