International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

The Holy Qur'an and the Sciences of Nature

by Mehdi Golshani

Introductory Essay by Nidhal Guessoum

Mehdi Golshani (born 1939) is a distinguished Iranian physicist-thinker who has produced some very good work on Science and Islam. His scientific training is very solid (a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley), and his philosophical outlook, while firmly grounded in the Islamic tradition, is fully aware of all modern, western ideas of relevance.

Golshani has focused much of his discourse on the concept of theistic science, advocating a shift from “secular science”, stressing how it fits both the Islamic philosophy of science and that expounded by some western thinkers. In an article titled “Seek knowledge even if it is in China” , he writes: “one can learn from the Qur'an some of the things that [the] humanities and [the] physical sciences cannot provide: a solid metaphysical base for all sciences.”

The Holy Qur’an and the Sciences of Nature was his first book on Science and Religion; it first appeared in Farsi in 1985 and has been translated into English Arabic, and other languages. In it, Golshani presents a cogent Islamic conception of knowledge, reviews scriptural references to natural phenomena, and discusses epistemological issues from the Qur’anic perspective.

As the author explains, the first principle that the Qur’an presents in its philosophy of knowledge is that Man has been endowed with the capacity to learn and to comprehend. Indeed, this is what makes him God’s “khalifah” (vice-regent, or viceroy, or deputy) on Earth. Also, the idea of reasoning appears in the Qur’an 49 times, always in the active form. One infers that Man can learn anything (in principle), and nature can be understood.

Golshani insists on the fact that, contrary to what many religious scholars have claimed, the concept of knowledge/science (`ilm) as described in the Qur’an is much wider than the religious topics that may be more obligatory for Muslims to know about. In fact, he simply rejects the traditional classification of knowledge into religious and non-religious; he writes: “Islam’s comprehensiveness and finality as a religion demands that every field of knowledge that is beneficial for an Islamic society be regarded as part and parcel of the `religious sciences’.”

Golshani divides the sources of human knowledge into three parts: 1) the senses, which allow humans to conduct observations and measurements; 2) the intellect, which allows men of ability to reflect and draw inferences; 3) divine revelation, which either brings knowledge directly to people or helps them reach truths, by means of parables, intuition, sudden enlightenment, etc. According to our author, such God-assisted acquisition of knowledge can occur by way of meditation, intellection, or observation that does not miss crucial information.

The Holy Book’s theistic objectives in the study of nature are also emphasized: “The Qur’an does not approve of such cognitions which aim at nothing except satisfying one’s own curiosity. On the way of understanding nature, one should not busy oneself with the means and forget the ultimate end.”

Golshani also recognizes the utilitarian aspect of science in Islam, citing the Prophet: “The best fields of knowledge are those which bring benefits”. He also insists on the ethical dimension of science in the Qur’anic/Islamic worldview. Finally, I should note that this book received appreciative recognition from many Muslim scholars.