Paper presented at the International Seminar on Islam and the Challenges of Science and Technology in the 21ST century held in In conjunction with the 30th Anniversary of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and organised by Masjid Sultan Ismail, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia on  07-09 September 2003 at Puteri Pan Pacific Hotel, Johor Bahru by Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr MB ChB (MUK), MPH, DrPH (Harvard).


The paper asserts that there is no innate problem with the practical experimental methods of contemporary science and technology. The main issue in contemporary science and technology is the defective and biased philosophical context of the empirical scientific method involving formulating and testing hypotheses. The problem lies in the following associated philosophical presumptions: materialism, pragmatism, atheism, rejection of wahy as a source of knowledge, lack of balance, rejection of the duality between matter and spirit, lack of purpose, lack of an integrating paradigm, Euro-centricity and not universality, moral bias, and the arrogance of treating probabilistic and relativistic empirical knowledge based fallible human observation and interpretation as superior to revelation. The challenge to Muslim scientists is to reform and reformulate the philosophical context to conform to tauhid. A tauhidi universal, objective and unbiased methodology must replace the Euro-centric and philosophically biased context. The following tauhidi-based precepts must be used in formulating the philosophical basis of tauhidi science are: unity of knowledge, comprehensiveness, causality as the basis for human action, limitation of human knowledge, constant and fixed natural laws, sunan, as the basis for investigation of causal relations, harmony between the seen and the unseen, 3 sources of knowledge (wahy, aql, & empirical observation), khilafat, moral accountability, purpose of creation and existence, absolute and relative truth, accountability based on human free will, and tawakkul.


Basic characteristics of the empirical methodology

The empirical methodology is a heritage of all humanity. It is encouraged by the Qur’an and is accepted by Muslims. The method is open-ended; theories are abandoned if no longer sustained by facts. It is methodological (systematic, repeatable, and consistent). It is accurate, precise, and objective. However its contemporary use in a European world-view and philosophical context is defective. The European use of the empirical method is pragmatism and atheistic. Reliance only on empirical observation as the source of knowledge excludes other valid sources of knowledge such as history, tarikh, and transmitted knowledge, naql, in the form of revelation, wahy.


Use of hypotheses in the scientific method

Muslims have used the scientific method since the beginning. Scientific investigation starts with hypothesis formulation. The hypotheses are tested by empirical observation and deductions/inductions are made. Ibn Haytham, in his ‘Book of Optics’, kitaab al manadhir, illustrates the use of the empirical method. He did a lot of experiments and interpreted the findings. He realized the importance of mathematics. He used a combination of both inductive and deductive logic. Ibn Hytham formulated hypotheses in 2 ways: observation and analogy.  In his observation of natural phenomena, he observed that that light passing through a hole has the shape of that hole and therefore formed a hypothesis that light travels in straight lines. He concluded by analogy that since the moon gets its light from the sun, the stars cannot get light from the sun. To verify the hypotheses about the stars above, Ibn Hytham made the observation that unlike the moon, the shapes of the stars did not change with distance from the sun. He concluded that the stars must emit light of their own. Ibn Hytham moved from experiment to generalize into a law by making 2 conclusions. The first was that light of whatever type travels in straight lines. The second was that the incident ray, the reflected ray, and the normal are in the same plane.


Empirisism is innate

Empiricism could be said to be an innate character of humans that they share with animals. Humans always want to know the explanation of natural phenomena and what relates one event to another. In the absence of empirical knowledge or wahy they have sometimes resorted to superstition.


Muslim pioneers of the empirical method

Greek science was conjectural and hypothetical. Greeks preferred reasoning and looked down upon perceptual knowledge. They would spend years in their comfortable arm-chairs reasoning instead of going out of the room and making observation or setting up a simple experiment to close the issue. Aristotle for example never thought of testing his theory about the speed of fall of heavy and light objects.


Muslims criticized Greek logic, al qiyaas al mantiqi. They were pioneers of the systematic use of the empirical method. They developed a complete empirical methodology in the form of qiyaas usuuli. Allama Muhammad Iqbal in his ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ argued that the empirical method was not a European discovery. He quoted contributions of Ghazzali, Ishraqi, Ibn Taymiyyat, Abubakr al Razi, and Ibn Hazm. Other pioneers of the empirical method were: Ibn Sina, Al Biruni, al Kindi (d. 260H), Jabir Ibn Hayyan (d. 200H), Ibn Haytham (d. 340H), al Khawarizmi (d. 387H).


European pioneers of the empirical method

European history ascribes ‘discovery’ of the empirical method to Roger Bacon (1561-1626H). Roger Bacon learned the empirical method from Arabs. Other European pioneers of the method such as San Simon (1760-1825 M), August Kant (1798-1857 M), Emile Durkheim (1858-1917 M) built on Bacon’s ideas.


Methodological development in the ummah

The Qur’an was and continues to be a methodological inspiration to Muslim scientists. Qur’anic, hadith, and usul al fiqh sciences are a rich intellectual heritage on which Muslim scientists built their methodology. They learned from and improved Greek science. The improvements were inspired by the Qur’an and the sunnat. Muslims pioneered the empirical methodology and transmitted it to Europe just before the renaissance. The European copied the empirical method but not its context hence their misuse of the method. Methodological development in empirical science in the ummat has stagnated over the centuries. The Greek deductive logic hampered the development of the Qur’an-based inductive method. Biased European methodology was imposed on the Muslim world over the past 2 centuries. Its deficiencies are explained below.



The empirical  methodology is innately good but the manner and context of its use lead to the following 4 problems: biases due to a priori assumptions, limitations of observation by human senses, limitations of human intellect, and lack of an integrating paradigm


Biases due to a priori assumptions

European use of the empirical method is biased due to a priori assertions or non-assertions, (assertions by default). These 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. Some assertions are understood but are not stated explicitly so that the uninitiated may not recognize their existence. European thought is basically materialist. 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.


Limitations of observation by 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. Both European empiricists, those who assert that empirical experience is a source of knowledge, and rationalists, those who assert that human reason is source of knowledge, agree that there is no source of knowledge outside the human. The assertion that empirical knowledge is the only source of valid knowledge excludes 2 major fields of study: ultimate questions about the universe and human behavior. There are ultimate questions about the universe that cannot be answered empirically or rationally. These questions about the universe include its start, its future, its end, purpose of human life, nature of life, nature of death and nature of after death. Human behavior cannot be explained empirically or rationally. No empirical experiment can be set up to investigate motivations of human behavior and human spiritual experiences.


The European paradigm that does not recognize existence of limits to human senses and intellect cannot accept that some matters cannot be investigated empirically. A distinction is made between scientific assertions that can be investigated empirically and non-scientific assertions that cannot be investigated empirically. Matters classified as non-scientific are just ignored as if they do not exist. A proper approach would have been a declaration by the empiricists and rationalists that some questions lie outside the bounds of unaided human investigation. They would then have to consider other sources of knowledge about these matters for example revelation, wahy. 


The argument of secularist empiricists and rationalists rejecting anything that cannot be investigated empirically as unscientific is flawed. There are many phenomena in science that are believed but are not yet proved empirically. A good example is the disease of cholera. It was established that contaminated water was a cause of cholera and that the disease-causing agent is transferred from the sick to the healthy by means of such water. It was only later that the vibrio cholerae organism was isolated. By that time public health measures had already controlled out the disease in the industrialised countries. These measures did not depend on complete knowledge and had a measure of belief in the unseen yet no one disputed their effectiveness.


Islam recognizes three sources of knowledge, two being primary and the third being dependent on the first two. Revelation, wahy, and empirical observation are independent sources of knowledge and intellect, ‘aql, is a dependent source of knowledge. Both revelation and empirical observation need intellect, ‘aql, for understanding. Muslim thinkers have mentioned other sources of knowledge such as intuition, hadas; inspiration, ilhaam; and instinct, jabillat. These either have a basis from revelation or from empirical observations that may not be obvious to the unitiated.


Wahy remains the absolute source since human senses and intellect are known by ordinary human experience to be fallible. 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 knowledge of the unseen, ‘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 cannot 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.


Existence, al wujuud, is at 5 levels: inner/real, dhaati, empirical/perceived, hissi, imaginary, khiyaali, intellectual/abstract, ‘aqli, and illusionary, shibhi. The empirical method can only observe the hissi, the rest have to be inferred. It is therefore limited in the understanding of the whole existence. European empiricism, by looking at the human as only matter, does not have the tools to understand human duality as spirit and body. It fails in understanding causal relations in situations in which humans change the ecosystem and their own internal environment. Humans can create new facts that accord with their inner biases such that an investigator coming later is confused about the causal chain and cannot tell the correct order.


Lack of balance

The way science and technology are used today shows lack of balance which leads to transgression. The Qur’an told the story of the people of thamud who were technologically advanced but lacked spiritual and social balance and the end-result was evil-doing[i].


Lack of purpose

Technology seems to have become an automaton with its own dynamism that is sometimes not related to any understandable human purpose. This is what the Qur’an described as building structures for amusement only[ii] with no underlying purpose.


Lack of an integrating paradigm

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 and is the Islamic approach. 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. Industrialisation causes air and water pollution. The modern society has destroyed the family. Increased material wealth has been associated with more stress and unhappiness. Nuclear energy generates electricity but is also a potential destruction of the whole universe if nuclear weapons are ever used.


Not universal

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. Many illustrations of this can be given. The European development model failed when transferred to third world countries. The failure was not due to intellectual deficiency among third world recipients but due to incompatibility of the underlying world-view and philosophies of life.


Limitations of the human intellect

Human intellect is necessary for interpretation and understanding of empirical observations. This intellect has limitations and there are matters like the human himself that lie outside its reach. A human cannot understand himself fully. Rationalism has a basis in the Qur’an. Reason is needed to understand the Qur’an and the 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 ummat has had excesses by rationalists like the mutazilites. Ibn Taymiyyat, al Ghazzali, and other scholars of the same calibre came to bring the ummat back to the original methodology after the excesses of the Muslim rationalists.



Universality of Islam

A valid fear could be expressed that correcting the Euro-centric bias in science and technology will produce another type of bias this time being Muslim-centric. This situation will not happen because Islam is the only religion that claims universality as a central and dominating doctrine. The Islamic world-view is the universal view and is therefore not biased ethnically, geographically, or in the temporal sense. The comprehensiveness of the Islamic frame leaves no room for bias. Bias is in essence standing apart and looking at a phenomenon from a certain pre-determined point of view only. A Muslim scientist with a universal outlook is therefore protected from such bias.


Tauhid and causal relations

Tauhidi science starts with following prior assumptions: tauhid,  limitations to human knowledge, and causality, sababiyyat (the relation between the cause and effect). Tauhid provides a basis for consistency in science by acknowledging one creator who controls the universe. Accepting limitations of human senses is the basis for a more humble science that knows that its conclusions may be wrong. The main field of scientific investigation are the causal relations. 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.


Dr Abdulhamid Abusulayman presented characteristics of the Islamic methodology with regard to scope, sources, basic principles, basic concepts, and peculiarities[iii]. 



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 cannot 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 the physical environment, kawn. These sources are complementary and are never contradictory. Full knowledge requires use of all the sources.


Basic principles

Islamic methodology has 3 main principles: one-ness/unity, wahdaniyyat; vicegerancy, al khilafat; and moral responsibility/accountability, al masuliyyat al akhlaqiyyat


Basic concepts

The Islamic methodology relies on the following basic concepts: creation and existence have a purpose, ghaiyyat al khalq wa al wujuud;  truth is absolute but humans are at different relative distances from it, mawdhu’iyyat al haqiiqat wa nisbiyyat al mawqiu minha; humans have a free will that carries responsibilities with it, hurriyat al qaraar wa al iradat al insaniyyat wa masuliyyatuha;  ultimate reliance on Allah (SWT), al tawakkul; and causality as a basis for human action, al sababiyyat fi adaa al fi’ilu al insaani.



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


The above analyses 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 context and make it predominant. The reframing will succeed most if it is part of the education of the Muslim scientist. 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 mould 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.

[i] (fajr:6-12)

[ii] (26:128)

[iii] Abd al Hamid Abusulayman – personal communication

Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr. June 2003