At some point in our lives, we will all hear people who say they do not believe in God because they “believe in science.” Our children are likely to hear that, too. Believing in “the science” has become a slogan everywhere from politics to entertainment in modern times. However, science is not the antithesis of religion, and especially not of Islam.
To understand how we should respond to this sentiment as Muslims, it is important to first establish that Islam encourages science and there are numerous scientific miracles that can be found in the Quran. Secondly, we should question exactly what does someone who says they believe in science even mean?
Science is defined in the Merriem-Webster dictionary as knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths, or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method. As such, science is a methodology rather than a belief system or ideology. It is a systematic approach for observing and explaining the world around us. We all rely on science to acquire knowledge. In fact, Muslim scholars of the past contributed vastly to many areas of science and influenced the way we approach those fields of knowledge today. We can argue that their involvement in the sciences and subsequent contributions were more than likely inspired by the Quran.
Allah encourages human beings to seek knowledge and to look for signs of His existence by reflecting on nature. He says in the Quran:
“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth; the alternation of the day and the night; the ships that sail the sea for the benefit of humanity; the rain sent down by Allah from the skies, reviving the earth after its death; the scattering of all kinds of creatures throughout; the shifting of the winds; and the clouds drifting between the heavens and the earth —˹in all of this˺ are surely signs for people of understanding.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:164)
When engaging in science, a scientist or student employs the scientific method. The scientific method or process involves defining a question to investigate, forming a prediction or hypothesis, gathering evidence or data, testing, analyzing the data, and finally, drawing a conclusion. Through these techniques, scientists seek to explore, understand, and explain natural phenomena.
Notable Muslims Who Embraced Science
Abu Ali al Hasan Ibn al-Haytham, also known as Alhazen, was an influential Arab Muslim scientist, mathematician, and philosopher who lived during the Islamic Golden Age in the 10th and 11th centuries. Through his work, he laid the foundation for many principles and aspects of the scientific method. In 2015, the United National Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) celebrated Ibn al-Haytham as a pioneer in the field of optics, stating that:
“This brilliant Arab scholar… made significant contributions to the principles of optics, astronomy and mathematics, and developed his own methodology: experimentation as another mode of proving the basic hypothesis or premise.”1
Other great scientists of the Islamic Golden Age include the mathematician and astronomer Omar Khayyam; the medical researchers Al-Razi and Ibn Sina (Avecina); the surgeon Al-Zahrawi; the mathematician Al-Khwarizmi; the physicist and anthropologist Al-Biruni; and so many others.
A Divine Description of our World
Now that we know that Islam not only encourages science but has also inspired some of the greatest scientists and thinkers the world has ever known, let us discuss some of the details about our world that we can find in the Quran. There are many elements of our world there were shared with Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, more than 1400 years ago that modern day scientists have just come to understand. Here are a few examples:
1. The Creation of the Universe
Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, says:
“Do the disbelievers not realize that the heavens and earth were ˹once˺ one mass then We split them apart?”
(Surah Al-Anbya, 21:30)
The idea of an expanding universe that came about from a single event did not come about until the 20th century. The Big Bang Theory suggests that the entire universe originated as a single, enormous mass known as the Primary Nebula. Following this, a massive explosion, referred to as the “Big Bang” or Secondary Separation, occurred, leading to the formation of galaxies. These galaxies later underwent further divisions, resulting in the creation of stars, planets, the sun, the moon, and other celestial bodies. The Big Bang theory is now the universally accepted (pun intended) scientific explanation for the origin and development of the universe although it does not address its cause or what mechanisms triggered the Secondary Separation. We understand from the Quran that it was Allah Who caused the mass to split apart.
2. Everything Was Created from Water
Allah continues in the same verse:
“And We created from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?”
(Surah Al-Anbya, 21:30)
He also says:
“And Allah has created from water every living creature. Some of them crawl on their bellies, some walk on two legs, and some walk on four. Allah creates whatever He wills. Surely Allah is Most Capable of everything.”
(Surah An-Nur, 24:45)
Today we have come to know that cytoplasm, the basic substance of the cell, is made up of 80% water. We also know through modern research that most organisms consist of 50-90% water, and that every living entity requires water for its existence. But how could Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, an illiterate man who lived in the desert where water was so scarce, even begin to fathom that everything was created from water? The only logical answer is that this information came from a Divine source.
3. The Stages of Human Development
Allah describes the creation of humankind in the following verses:
And indeed, We created humankind from an extract of clay, then placed each ˹human˺ as a sperm-drop in a secure place, then We developed the drop into a clinging clot ˹of blood˺, then developed the clot into a lump ˹of flesh˺, then developed the lump into bones, then clothed the bones with flesh, then We brought it into being as a new creation. So Blessed is Allah, the Best of Creators.
(Surah Al-Anbya, 21:12-14)
The Quran provides a concise depiction of the embryo’s development within the mother’s womb. Although that description is brief, the stages that are mentioned correspond precisely to significant milestones in its growth.
Dr. Keith Moore, a professor of embryology and Chairman of the Department of Anatomy at the University of Toronto, was invited to conduct research with the Embryology Committee of King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Dr. Moore said about his experience: “It has been a great pleasure for me to help clarify statements in the Qur’aan about human development. It is clear to me that these statements must have come to Muhammad from God or Allah, because almost all of this knowledge was not discovered until many centuries later.”
4. The Mountains Are Pegs
Allah says in the Quran:
“Have We not smoothed out the earth ˹like a bed˺, and ˹made˺ the mountains as ˹its˺ pegs…” (Surah An-Naba, 78:6-7)
The scientific community has made recent advancements in understanding the formation of mountain ranges through a phenomenon called folding. Geologists have revealed that the earth’s crust resembles a solid outer shell, while the underlying layers are hot and fluid, rendering them unsuitable for supporting life. Additionally, it has been established that the stability of mountains is closely connected to the process of folding. This process involves the downward movement of the earth’s crust into the lower layers, providing a solid foundation for the creation of mountains. Those foundations are literal “pegs” holding the mountains down similar to the way we secure a tent.
5. The Water Cycle
Allah reminds the believers in the Quran:
“Do you not see that Allah sends down rain from the sky—channeling it through streams in the earth—then produces with it crops of various colors, then they dry up and you see them wither, and then He reduces them to chaff? Surely in this is a reminder for people of reason.”
(Surah Az-Zumar, 39:21)
And in the following verse:
“We send down rain from the sky in perfect measure, causing it to soak into the earth. And We are surely able to take it away.”
(Surah Al-Muminun, 23:18)
Bernard Palissy, a famous potter and hydraulics engineer, became the first person to describe the water cycle the way we know it today back in 1580. Palissy explained the process by which water evaporates from the oceans, transforms into clouds through cooling, moves inland, rises, condenses, and eventually falls as rain. The accumulated water then forms lakes and streams, ultimately flowing back into the ocean, thus completing a continuous cycle. His theory was not widely accepted until it was tested by scientists in the 17th century.
These are only a few of the detailed references to our world that were revealed in the Quran. Others include the descriptions of the barrier between salt water and fresh water, the curative properties of honey, movement of celestial bodies, reflective nature of the moon’s surface, gender distinction in plants, milk production in mammals, and more. These complex details in the Quran are another proof of its Divine origin. Alhamdulillah, all praise and thanks are to Allah alone, it is a constant source of guidance and inspiration to all of us.
“We will show them Our signs in the universe and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that this ˹Quran˺ is the truth. Is it not enough that your Lord is a Witness over all things?” (Surah Fussilat, 41:53)
By Wendy Díaz, a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish (hablamosislam.org). She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam