Islam is not opposed to knowledge and science. Knowledge is of two types: religious, which has to do with the understanding of the religious duties one is required to carry out, and temporal, which has to do with all that is needed to know with a view to living a comfortable and beneficial life. A Muslim is required to acquire both types of knowledge. In fact, Islam advocated attaining knowledge and education at a time when the whole world was engulfed in utter ignorance. The first revelation the Prophet of Islam received from Allah was:
Read in the name of your Lord who created – created man from a clinging clot. Read, and your Lord is the most Generous, who taught by the pen; taught man that which he knew not.
These verses represent the first spark ever to dispel the darkness of ignorance and barbarianism in which the world had long been immersed. And Allah reminded the Muslims of His immeasurable favour to humankind, saying:
It is He who raised among the unlettered people a Messenger from among themselves, reciting to them His verses, purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom, although they were before in manifest error.
The early generations of Muslims became, in a matter of years, a learned and refined nation in religious as well as worldly matters, after having remained in the darkness of ignorance for centuries. Islam awakened in man the faculty of intellect and motivated him to serve Allah, the one true God.
Religious knowledge is essential, because, without it, one will not be able to perform his or her obligations in the prescribed manner. The Prophet said:
To whomever He intends benefit, Allah grants understanding of the religion.
Allah ordered the Prophet to pray to Him for advancement in knowledge:
O my Lord! advance me in knowledge.
Beneficial worldly knowledge is also necessary, and Muslims are encouraged to acquire it in order to benefit themselves and their fellow men. When the early Muslims understood this fact, they surpassed other nations in development and productivity and carried the torch of knowledge for many centuries.
Islam made great advances in the fields of medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, architecture, art, literature, and history, to mention but a few. Many important new procedures such as the use of algebra, Arabic numerals, and the concept of the zero –which was vital to the advancement of mathematics-, were transmitted to medieval Europe from Muslim countries. It was the Muslims who developed sophisticated instruments, including the astrolabe, the quadrant and good navigational maps which were to make possible the European voyages of discovery to the New World.
As T.W. Wallbank and A. Schrier put it:
“In medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry and physics, Muslim achievements were particularly noteworthy. Well-equipped hospitals, usually associated with medical schools, were located in the principal cities. At a time when superstition still hampered the practice of medicine in western countries, Muslim physicians were diagnosing diseases, prescribing cures and performing advanced surgery… Probably the greatest of all physicians was the 9th century figure, Al-Razi, known in the West as Rhazes. He was the author of scores of scientific works, including a comprehensive medical encyclopaedia and a pioneering handbook on smallpox and measles. A 10th century physician, Avicenna, (Ibn Sina) compiled a huge Cannon of Medicine which was considered the standard guide in European medical circles until the late 17th century… Important advances were made in algebra, analytical geometry and plane spherical trigonometry.”
The Quran itself is a book of guidance and it contains some amazing scientific facts. They are amazing because although they were revealed to Prophet Muhammad over 14 centuries ago, they were not really understood by man until scientists “discovered” them in very recent times. Although not meant to be a book of scientific facts as such, the Quran mentions certain realities that would only be recognized and appreciated through technological advancements in later centuries – further undeniable evidence and proof that it was not the work of Muhammad or of any person, but divine revelation from God.