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By: Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri


Science and Religion appear to be far apart; spheres of learning that touch only distantly at some common boundaries. If we are scientists grounded in logic, learning to interpret the world in terms of cause and effect, then religion may appear an alien, illogical pursuit grounded in an ill-defined faith in the unseen that is rarely experienced and never measurable. Conversely, if we are firm in faith in the unseen and encompassed in dogma, then science appears to be an endless pursuit of knowledge with technology as a dubious spin-off with no place for man or human interaction. There is often fear and mistrust in both camps and recrimination on both sides for the obvious failure to provide a better life for the man in the middle.

Let us step back from both of these positions and try to take a place somewhere in the middle, for the one on the middle path has both camps clearly in view. Then we can ask ourselves why the practice of religion, as it is usually perceived, does not lead to peace on earth and goodwill among men. And on the other hand, we must ask why scientific progress has not led us to peace, prosperity, and general well-being for everyone here. Let us begin with a review of scientific knowledge that is pursued for its own sake and not for immediate gain in order to get a better perspective of the method of scientific enquiry.

The sun's diurnal motion and the multitude of stars wheeling about a fixed point suggest the Earth is at the center of the visible universe and man is the central observer. But man is born with the curiosity to question and to explore. It did not take him long to realize that five wandering starts did not conform to this simple picture. In trying to account for the peculiar motion of these five planets (wanderers) he embarked on a long voyage of discovery that is characteristic of all such quests for knowledge. After many false starts and bitter arguments he was satisfied that the sun and not the earth was the center. This view soon gave way to one far grander in scope when it was shown that the sun is one of billions of stars comprising the Milky Way Galaxy and that it is displaced from the center about two-thirds of the way out towards the edge.

Now we recognize that our neighboring galaxies form a local cluster and similar galaxies are visible in every direction, scattered throughout a cosmos so vast in scale that we cannot possibly comprehend its extent in either space or time. What we now detect at the discernible boundary of the universe is the faint, cool radiation remaining from the beginning of the creation. Cosmology has brought us face to face with Creation whichever way we turn! Furthermore, the galaxies are separating at enormous speed in an exploding universe that is centered on the observer, wherever he may be.

For another example from science let us turn to what is immediately at hand. At about the same time as the exploration of the cosmos began, the current theory of matter held that ultimately everything was composed of discrete particles that combined in different proportions to account for the great variety of minerals found on the earth. The minerals were assimilated into plants which were then assimilated into the animal kingdom. The fundamental building block of matter was called the atom. It took a very long time to discover the nature of the atom but only a relatively short time to find there are only some ninety-odd different atomic species in nature to account for everything observable. Stars, sun, earth, and ourselves are all made from these few different kinds of atoms proliferated into an almost infinite variety of forms. The carbon in the pages of this book was created in the stars at an early stage of cosmic evolution many aeons in the past.

Probing into the nature of matter did not stop there since atoms differ in their composition and must be built from yet finer particles. Always spurred on by exciting possibilities dimly perceived on the edge of awareness, we have probed further and yet further into the atom in quest of the ultimate building block. It is worth noting that this science of quantum physics has come to fruition just as the most far-reaching discoveries were made in cosmology. The fundamental forces that account for the nature of matter are few in number. Science has yet to account for the nature of these fundamental forces, or fields, and is still in pursuit of the unifying field theory. If we turn from the physical to the biological sciences we find an exactly parallel acceleration in understanding, after years of slow progress and false starts. This never-ending pursuit of knowledge goes on in each and every branch of science.

Between the infinitesimally small scale of the baryons in matter and the vast scale of outer space, Man stands exactly in the center. But we see ourselves separate from what we observe like someone before a mirror. Cosmology, quantum physics, and genetics are visible and invisible worlds several times removed from the dimension of Man. We have not yet faced this question in science but it is fundamental to any unifying theory.

If we pursue science with an open mind we must surely realize that inevitably we are brought to face ourselves. The pioneers in science were humble men who gazed into vistas far beyond their field of knowledge. The great beauty and order in the Universe moved Kepler to view God as the great Geometer. Newton, who built on Kepler's work, first formulated the universal law of gravity and created an elegant language of mathematics in its formulation. He said, "I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." This is an eloquent, humble testimony from one of the greatest men of science who was also, in the latter part of his life, a Christian theologian.

Today we are buried in an avalanche of scientific papers that threaten to proliferate at an exponential rate and no one can review even a small fraction of this information and relate to it. It was not always thus. The philosopher and scientist Immanuel Kant, in reviewing the knowledge of his day, has commented on the seeming perfection of the universe thus, "The Universe, by its immeasurable greatness and the infinite variety and beauty that shines from it on all sides, fills us with silent wonder. If the presentation of all this perfection move the imagination, the understanding is seized by another kind of rapture when, from another point of view, it considers how such magnificence and such greatness can flow from a single law, with an eternal and perfect order."

We live in a time when almost all we know concerns the physical world. Scientific investigation moves fitfully by flashes of insight, like lightning that illuminates everything for a short distance and then leaves us in darkness with more questions unanswered than before. Pursued in isolation, science cannot possibly lead to the unifying goal of all knowledge but to endless proliferation. The ultimate questions of the origin and destiny of the universe lie always just outside our reach. The way forward from here is to turn back to revelation; this is knowledge that comes to us from the other side of time. It requires that for the moment we leave aside the scientific pursuit and suspend judgment. Now is exactly the right time to redress the balance and turn to insight, to review what has come to us that speaks of inward values, right action and ultimate reward. This is in the purview of Religion which we first posited in opposition to Science. But now we have to see religion as a unifying way of life that links the outward and inward dimensions in man, not as an imposed ritual. it must encompass everything or it will not be effective.

Man contains within himself something of his Creator. He was born to worship his Creator in order for him to return from this outward-bound journey of separation in a state of conscious awareness. The gate to worship is through submission to the unseen and the reward for complete abandonment is perfect freedom. Viewed from this standpoint, all knowledge that moves man to unity with the Creator is useful and what separates him from his goal is to be avoided as evil and of the well-defined path. There is no way in which he can find this royal road by his own efforts, try as he may. The way is in the message of those guides who were sent in times past and who have left a record and an example for us to follow. The last of the Messengers was the prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, and the last revelation to Man is the Holy Qur`an.

"Journey of the Universe" is the story of Man's journey through creation. It is the story of an unfolding, evolutionary, inward path Man was created to follow in order to know his Lord. It is played out against the vast Cosmic background that surrounds him and reveals the subtle interplay of forces within him. It places Man squarely in the center, from which he constantly strays, and sets up the balance of right action (shari'ah) and right knowledge (haqqah). The sole basis for this exposition is the Qur`an which is itself the master-copy of creation with nothing left out. Science, seen in the light of the Qur`an, is the revelation of Creation to Man by Man. He does nothing but read what is already written within him, for he is the central actor in this Cosmic drama. His actions can only manifest that knowledge.

The Qur`an, approached correctly, teaches by itself, for everything in the Book is supported and reaffirmed by everything else. To paraphrase the first ayah, after the opening surah,

Those who believe in the unseen and are in fearful awareness of Allah (God in English) and establish connection with Him and who give to others from the bounty they have themselves received know for certain this is the Book in which there is no doubt.

The Qur`an itself is the great ocean of truth that lies undiscovered before us. In "Journey of the Universe" the Shaykh has built an island in this vast Qur`anic see of knowledge so that we on the shore can build a bridge to it from religion, or from science or from wherever we may stand. Then, when we have bridged this gap between our intellectual knowledge and what is already written in our hearts we see, on looking back to the shore we left, the whole landscape of our existence from an entirely new perspective.

The creation of the Universe is the eternal instant unfolding in time. There was the "nothingness" and with the fiat of creation, "kun fa-yakun", the "nothingness" was split into the duality of existence, symbolized in the first Arabic letter "alif", the primary mark of creation that descends from God. Viewed from the other side of time, from where we stand, there was this vast creation of immense energy that flung everything into separation, which we can liken to an explosion, or theorize as the "Big Bang". But everything is from its Creator and must return to its Lord. From the effulgent flux of cosmic energy was formed the first condensation of matter, the lowest heaven of existence. Within this heaven is the first movement of the return journey, as the separated parts circle about their local center of mass.

The planets wheeling about the central sun are sustained by the initial energy of creation that forced them into separation. This course is exactly determined by the balancing energy of gatheredness that draws everything back to its source. Separation is temporary and apparent but gatheredness is hidden and permanent. In this broad picture of the duality of creation, gravity is the force opposing creation. And so it is in ourselves, flung from the Garden of a former existence and ever yearning to return to that which is our home. We persistently seek to unify our knowledge because that is the message already written in our hearts.

Ibrahim Stokes

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[ Foreword ] Introduction ] Creation Begins ] The Story of Man ] Growth and Sustenance ] The Meaning of Time ] Grinding to a Halt ] The Final Collapse ] Eternal Life ] Glossary ]