The Month of Science

Of the many religious rituals, fasting is perhaps one of the most analyzed ones from a scientific perspective. At first, people only saw the practice of fasting as mere religious worship. However, when Western scholars who were accustomed to the scientific mind-set paid attention to the practice of fasting by Muslims, a scientific perspective on this third pillar of Islam began to emerge. In particular, it relates to medical, or in general, health sciences. This, in recent years, we have been familiar with the views of scientists that fasting is indeed healthy: cleaning toxins in the body, improving kidney function, improving brain function, maintaining blood sugar balance, etc.

The rise of such positive scientific views is usually claimed by Muslims as a justification for Islamic truth, or the scientific nature of Islam. Therefore, there is a kind of hope from Muslims that scientific proofs and scientific support for various Islamic teachings will make Western scientists embrace Islam in droves. Such cases do exist, of course, though not many. Because, the problem is not that simple. The scientific ethos of Western society has transcended the axioms of religious belief, and it is precisely because of this that they can freely carry out scientific research without being burdened by religious dogmas.

Scientific research on Islam is not intended to prove the scientific nature of Islam, and this is not necessary. Islam will continue to stand tall as a religion, not a scientific building. The sacredness of Islam is precisely because it is a religion that is rooted in God's revelation. Once it becomes knowledge, its divine dimension disappears. So let Islam remain as a religion, but at the same time we develop a scientific epistemology which is extracted from the sources of revelation. Isn't it the Koran itself that calls on Muslims to always think (afalaa tatafakkarun), use reason (afalaa ta'qilun), and reflect on God's various creations (afalaa tatadabbarun)? These are all scientific mandates in religious language. This means that a Muslim should also be a scientist.

So in the momentum of welcoming this holy month of Ramadan, we are reminded again that the Qur'an was revealed in this month, as a guide for pious people (hudan lil muttaqien). The question is, how to make the Qur'an an operational guide? So far, people tend to prioritize the miraculous dimensions of the holy book, but do not expose its scientific side. Thus religious gatherings are often very crowded, but research and studies are hard to find. Majlis taklim or religious congregation councils are being established everywhere, but who built the research laboratories?

Is it wrong to glorify the miraculous side of the Qur'an? Absolutely not. Al-Qur'an itself describes various miracles or wonders such as the splitting of the moon, the appearance of angels who helped Muslims in the Battle of Badr, etc. Allah revealed miracles to prove the truth of His message. How can we not believe it?

But it's not enough to just stop here. Faith must be followed by a scientific attitude. In the Qur'an (58:11) it is stated that God exalts those who believe and those who know more than others. No less than 68 verses in the Qur'an that talk about science. This shows the high position of science in Islam. So why are Muslims still behind? Why don't Muslims lead the thriump of science and technology in this modern era? Today's Muslims are the end users of various scientific and technological developments as well as the products that follow them. The ethos of science in Muslim societies is far from expectation. This is related to the scientific attitude that has not grown optimally in Islamic society. Instead, what thrives is occult attitudes in viewing the Qur'an. As an illustration, try to notice how many people still view the Qur'an as an efficacious book, where the verses are treated as magical mantras. If you read certain verses, your body will be immune from weapons; if a verse is written on paper and burned and then the ashes are put in water to drink, then you will be intelligent; if a certain verse is written and stored in the wallet, you will not run out money; if a verse is recited the devil will be destroyed, etc.

This is very concerning. Although we believe that the Qur'an can indeed be appreciated for various purposes, we should also take an attitude that is commensurate with the spirit of the Qur'an as a guide, which means that it is actually a source of knowledge.

Isn't it that the first Qur’anic revelation was “Iqra” (reading) which discursively correlates with scientific attitudes, because reading has the consequences of paying attention, investigating, exploring, carrying out systems, etc. If we just stop at "Iqra" in its conventional meaning, that is "reading" letters and words literally, then we will be fixated on the concept of reward, whose benefit side centers on oneself.

This kind of non-scientific attitude causes us Muslims to be behind the development of world civilization that is supported by science and technology. The content of the Qur'an as a guide and source of knowledge was not explored so that it became, in what Sir Mohamed Iqbal called a “dead text” – because it was ignored by Muslims. It is not surprising that the great theories whose instructions have been contained in the Al-Qur'an were actually discovered by others. Take, for example, Qur’an Surah al-Anbiya verse 30 which justifies the Big Bang theory put forward by Edwin Hubble in 1929. In the same verse 33, it is stated about the circulation of the sun and moon, which justifies the theory of orbit or Heliocentrism from the scientist Nicolaus Copernicus in the15th century AD as the antetesis of the geocentrism theory adopted by the church.

Do people have to be at odds with religion to become a free scientist who is able to explore natural signs into knowledge that is useful for human life? In my opinion, there is no such need. Especially for Muslims whose holy books are full of a spirit that supports rational inquiry and the development of science. This spirit has long since disappeared from the lives of many Muslims.

How long this will take place, depending on how capable the Muslims are to recapture this spirit. Al-Qur'an was revealed in the month of Ramadan, so in this momentum of Ramadan it is very important for us, Muslims, to do “Iqra” which is more than just wanting to gain rewards but more than reflecting, exploring, and cultivating religious attitudes as well as scientific one. Read al-Qur'an with serene neat and orderly, then we can be able to absorb the meaning and the spirit it contains.

Happy fasting, everyone.

Komaruddin Hidayat