Mary&Marie readers are used to my posts about science and faith from the Christian perspective. Raeya brings a new perspective, reflecting on science and faith as a Muslim during Ramadan (June 6-July 6, 2016).
For a little more of an "official" introduction:
Raeya Maswood is a Ph.D student in Cognitive Science. She is the founder of the blog, Cognitive Ties, which is dedicated to challenging the stereotypes surrounding science by featuring the diversity and perspectives of individuals in STEM. In addition to research, she enjoys mentoring students and introducing them to science research. When she is not running experiments in the lab, she likes playing board games, drinking tea and reading.
Last month was full of deadlines and work towards my Master’s thesis. My days were spent analyzing data, reading articles, writing, revising and writing more (and revising more). As a Ph.D. student who does science research, this wasn’t far from what I expected the weeks before a paper submission to be. However, last month turned out to include some additional lifestyle changes. Concentrating throughout the day seemed more strenuous, the distractions more enticing and the hangry-ness a bit more harsh. The early hours of the day turned to be the best time to work, strangely transforming me into an energized morning person that I’m typically not. Instead of having rushed campus meals at my desk, daily dinners turned to be family celebrations. Midnight snacking felt less guilty, and 3 AM bowls of cereal became the norm. Although the days felt longer and the June heat warmer, the sight of the sunset, on the other hand, felt far more rewarding.
Ramadan is the month during which Muslims all over the world revisit and reconnect with their spirituality. It is a time spent fasting from dawn-to-dusk, self-reflecting, and refraining from vices with the hopes of growing more charitable and kinder hearts. During this month, we aim to recognize the privileges in our life, and join forces to help those less fortunate and fight for social justice. In order to grow and improve ourselves, Ramadan is a critical time during which we strive to introspect and analyze in order to learn and understand. This year, Ramadan coincided with an important time for my work in science, and it turned out to be good timing to reconnect to both my spirituality and science.
‘Read’ is the first word from the Qur’an. Before anything else, we are first called to read and learn. In Islam, seeking education is believed to be one of the most important responsibilities for all. Learning is viewed as a lifelong journey towards our human potential as we acquire knowledge, think critically and share what we know with others. We are challenged to make observations of ourselves and the natural world, pose questions, and seek explanation and understanding. This is believed to be fundamental for both intellectual and spiritual growth. In Islam, there is a continued theme of the importance of science, discovery and education. In fact, the Qur’an marvels at scientific phenomena across topics in astronomy, geology, and biology. Respectively, we are also reminded to recognize all that is unknown and not to fear it, but rather remain humbled by all that is yet to be discovered.
Islam’s call to seek knowledge and understanding captures the spirit of a scientist. In Islam, we are encouraged to be curious and open-minded. We are encouraged to make observations, form questions and pursue the investigation of beneficial knowledge. New perspectives are welcome, and we are recommended to challenge and scrutinize. We are encouraged to advance science.
Prophet Muhummad (peace be upon him) once said, “Wisdom is the lost property of the believer, let them claim it whenever they find it.” During the Golden age of Muslim civilization, it was these words and the respect given to science in Islam that inspired a generation of innovators. This was the time we can thank for the creation of coffee. But more notably, this was the time when the modern scientific method was developed by Ibn al-Haytham during his research on optics and light. For al-Haytham and his generation, the pursuit of science was believed to enhance their understanding of Islam and strengthen their faith. Furthermore, since Islam empowers women to participate in education and the workforce, this was also a time of advancement for women in STEM and the arts. In fact, it was a Muslim woman, Fatima Al-Fihri, who established the world’s first university, thus founding the modern model of higher education.
But now, times are different. Islam has been associated with oppression, misogyny and backward-thinking. In education, women and people of color remain the minority in science. For these reasons, it’s imperative to affirm Islam’s symbiotic relationship to science and feminism, and the belief in the universal right to education. Islam not only encourages our search for knowledge, but it speaks to our responsibility as teachers to share it: "Acquire knowledge and convey it to the people”-Prophet Muhummad (peace be upon him).
It is often thought that faith and science send conflicting messages. However, I personally cannot attest to that. As scientists, we are encouraged to foster curious and inquisitive minds, think critically and pursue knowledge and investigation. As Muslims, we are encouraged to do the same. I have not found Islam to be at odds with the goals of science. Rather, I believe that Islam captures the inquisitive spirit we share as scientists.