Love of knowledge and research

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Endeavor for Renewal

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Love of knowledge and research

Question: Is the transfer of knowledge an obligation for reaching the desired level in the field of science and research? What do you think needs to be done in order to establish an understanding of science based on the essential dynamics of Islamic teaching?

Answer: The genuine source of knowledge is God Almighty’s works. The lucid interpreter, clear evidence, and substantial proof of those works is the Miraculous Qur’an.[1] The interpreter and expounder of the Holy Qur’an is the authenticated Tradition of the noble Prophet. How the Prophet’s Companions and the blessed generation after them understood the Qur’an is also an important criterion for us; the Qur’an was revealed in a language they understood well, and the noble Prophet also used a language that would suit their understanding. Thus, it is very important, first of all, to realize a correct and sound understanding of the laws of physics in the guidance of the Qur’an, authenticated Sunnah, and the perspectives of the generation of the righteous scholars after the blessed Prophet, and then to reach the horizon where those truths unify with the laws of religion. However, it should not be forgotten that this issue has been neglected for years and it is not possible to reach the desired level and the targeted horizon all at once. Love for knowledge and research in the Muslim world received a blow in the fifth century after the Hijra (migration from Mecca), or nearly nine centuries ago. Together with that, the lofty meanings and truths that lead one to Divinity as a flourishing of knowledge in souls were excluded from the centers of Islamic education. As it was expressed in different talks, the madrasas did not only expel natural sciences, but also bolted up its doors to true spiritual experience.

The dizziness brought by victories

At this early period, Muslims had both significant political and military successes, and strived for their faith seriously. Surely, it is very valuable in God’s sight to protect believers against vicious attacks targeting the honor of their religion and their families. All of these deserve appreciation and praise. From the Seljuks to the Ilkhanids, from the Ayyubids to the Ottomans, different generations fulfilled the responsibility of bearing the flag. They upheld the crescent as a symbol of honor and chastity. However, as a person who concentrates on one field cannot be deepened in the same way in other fields, they fulfilled the task of bearing the flag, but neglected the issue of laboratories and research centers.

In the earlier centuries of Islam, knowledge was an issue of top importance and very successful scientists were raised. When you take Ibn Sina (Avicenna) for instance, you see that he was an expert in many fields. Along with philosophy and thought, he was also an important figure in physiology, anatomy, and medicine. He came up with certain solutions against viruses at a very early period. He also had some views on understanding the Qur’an. Besides, he took an interest in Sufism. It was not just Avicenna; in those times so many great figures were raised, from Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi to Jabir, from Fazari to Zahrawi, and from Khwarazmi to Biruni… Those people took the guidelines for science from their religion, understood it very well as the unified point of truths revealed by sciences and those taught by religion. As a result of all of this, they did not feel an inferiority complex before others. Other people understood that this superiority stemmed from religion and they respected religion in those people. Unfortunately this love for knowledge and research, which continued until the fifth century of the Islamic calendar, lost speed and quality over time, and failed to fulfill the function expected from it. Possibly, the triumph that came with military victories, such as the conquest of Istanbul, may have made the Ottomans feel dizzy; gaining the caliphate may have contributed to that dizziness. These considerations should not be taken as a total denial of good works done in that period. The madrasas of Fatih and Sulaymaniya, and institutions like Enderun, the Ottoman palace academy, made important contributions to the development of knowledge. However, it is an undeniable fact that the flourishing and development of sciences up until the fifth century of the Islamic calendar was not seen in later periods.

The book of nature studied meticulously

It is a reality that the West came to a certain point of knowledge and science by scrutinizing phenomena with a serious love for research. We see it in documentaries. For example, they followed, for days, the lives of penguins in the South Pole or of wild whales in some other part of the world. A researcher says, “I have watched the life of cobras for 25 years.” I guess those people do not even know what exactly they will obtain after so much effort. Still, they scrutinize “wild” nature as they call it. They undo, detach, and redo… they savor the pleasure of redoing. With all of this research and study, they try to get to somewhere.

Let me express another point here: Those people made a certain advance in the name of science but they tried to explain the results by attributing them to factors like natural instincts. Unfortunately they failed to take this one step further and ascribe the issue to the True Owner. They saw that every living thing virtually acts like a human being and that some were even more evolved when it came to certain functions that helped them survive. However, they failed to recognize the Creator behind such a magnificent order and harmony, and the laws He decreed. Since they were not thoroughly conscious of the gist of walking to God by starting from facts about humans and the phenomena around them, and since they did not own a perspective to guide them to such horizons, most of them—though we cannot say all—were stuck in naturalism, positivism, or materialism. Despite all of those studies, they failed to see that this universe, which resembles a great book, tells about God with its every letter, word, and paragraph.

Safe routes that lead to truth

Getting back to our main subject, we unfortunately cannot see Western scientists’ diligence in scrutinizing things in Muslim scholars and researchers, at least those who have come after the fifth century of the Islamic calendar. So if we do not focus on this issue and do not give ourselves to such research with the diligence they do, it is not possible for us to attain real success. First of all, we need a very serious thirst for truth. As there is no greater truth than God, there can be no greater truth than what God sees as great. Then we need a love for reaching Him. Then this intense love felt for the Truth of Truths will trigger a love for science. This love for science will lead some people to research; they will always seek ways for reaching Him through, varied new research in varied places.

Understanding the fact expressed in “The roads leading to God are as many as His creatures’ breaths”[2] as only referring to different Sufi paths and schools of thought is a narrow perspective. Actually, there are many ways leading to God, through every being, from minute creatures to macro realms. So we are supposed to find these ways and try to form safe routes to save people from falling into valleys of misguidance and being stuck up there. We will be drenched in sweat exerting ourselves to the utmost degree, so that people can pass from those safe routes and reach God. For the sake of letting others live in the true sense of the word, we will give up leading an easy life of our own. On the other hand, at the points where people get stuck in naturalism, we will show how the issue connects to God, and try to see the works of His hand of power, encompassing knowledge and supreme will in everything. Effecting such a spirit in seekers of knowledge requires a very serious rehabilitation. Beginning with the primary school, if you do not rehabilitate all steps of academic life as oriented to this feeling, you cannot raise such a team from among them. If need be, you should give them prizes. Although in our philosophy, grace comes after attaining knowledge, we need to know that not everyone has or will have this virtuous feeling. In order to encourage attaining knowledge, you will offer prizes from the very beginning and assure the livelihoods of those who seek of material and spiritual knowledge. For example, you can say, “If you carry out such and such research, and gain insight into this matter, then we will guarantee your livelihood. In order not to busy your mind with material issues instead of knowledge and research, we will provide you with two apartments and give you a satisfactory salary.” Actually, scientific research is a matter of love, a matter of completely dedicating oneself to that issue with a thirst for learning. However, inspiring such yearning depends on rehabilitating them.

The transfer of knowledge and what really matters

Walking toward the future, the transfer of knowledge is the first matter to be tackled. For this reason, it is possible to follow in the footsteps of the Japanese and the Chinese. As it is known, they took the sciences developed in the West and, by making some additions, they adapted those sciences to suit their worldviews and thus benefited from them. For example, China has become a world giant today by finding lower costs for using the knowledge and technology they transferred. Japan was demolished at the end of World War II with the atom bomb. In spite of it all, they walk far ahead of us in the fields of science and research. Germany was also demolished in World War II, then divided by powerful states. East Germany became subject to Russia and West Germany to the US. In spite of all those negative conditions, they got back to their feet and started to transfer workers from countries like Turkey. In this respect, it is also possible for Muslims to go through a period of transfer. First, it is possible to make good use of what is transferred from outside, and then to guide our people toward much loftier ideals. Some term it as the “Islamization of knowledge.” Instead of saying so, I think it will be more appropriate to say, “Pinpointing the unification point of the legislative and creative commands, which are the source of sciences.” Surely, it is not possible to reach such a point in a flash. Therefore, as you raise dedicated researches crying out for truth like a muezzin, you should not fail to keep pace with your age by following new developments and technologies.

To conclude, in order to have a mentality of science based on Islamic dynamics of thought, it is necessary to transfer knowledge, then to kindle love and zeal for deciphering, understanding, and interpreting phenomena. After that, it is necessary to let that knowledge meet with our own values, and then use those values to realize and adapt. Then, by looking at the accumulations they have made so far, we will do the same research after realizing there is nothing that stops us from it. That is, the transfer of knowledge is a process, and its adaptation is another process. What comes next is evaluating everything in accordance with their true natures, acting in line with the Divine purpose in creating this universe like a book for us to read, and then studying the fact that the Qur’an is its lucid interpreter, clear evidence, and substantial proof pointing to its Maker. After attaining a sound perspective, you will begin to see the same truth by looking at those two books of God Almighty. The Qur’an will seem like a universe, and the universe will look like the Qur’an to you. On the other hand, you will begin to see humanity as an index of this universe, and the universe an unfolded human. Eventually, you will cry out, affirming all of these matters with the attestation of your conscience.

[1] Nursi, The Words, p. 388
[2] Nursi, Al-Mathnawi Al-Nuri, p. 369; Ibn Arabi, Al-Futuhatu’l-Makkiyya, 3/549; Al-Alusi, Ruhu’l-Ma’ani, 1/396, 6/165, 14/160