All over the world, no matter what the cultural or language differences, science is more or less guided by scientific principles—except in many Islamic countries, where it is guided by the Koran. This is the ultimate story about science and religion.
Cairo, Egypt: “There is no conflict between Islam and science,” Zaghloul El-Naggar declares as we sit in the parlor of his villa in Maadi, an affluent suburb of Cairo. “Science is inquisition. It’s running after the unknown. Islam encourages seeking knowledge. It’s considered an act of worship.”
What people call the scientific method, he explains, is really the Islamic method: “All the wealth of knowledge in the world has actually emanated from Muslim civilization. The Prophet Muhammad said to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave. The very first verse came down: ‘Read.’ You are required to try to know something about your creator through meditation, through analysis, experimentation, and observation.”
Author, newspaper columnist, and television personality El-Naggar is also a geologist whom many Egyptians, including a number of his fellow scientists, regard as a leading figure in their community. An expert in the somewhat exotic topic of biostratification—the layering of Earth’s crust caused by living organisms—El-Naggar is a member of the Geological Society of London and publishes papers that circulate internationally. But he is also an Islamic fundamentalist, a scientist who views the universe through the lens of the Koran.
n Treasures in the Sunnah, El-Naggar interprets holy verses: the hadiths, sayings of the Prophet, and the sunnah, or customs. There are scientific signs in more than one thousand verses of the Koran, according to El-Naggar, and in many sayings of the Prophet, although these signs often do not speak in a direct scientific way. Instead, the verses give man’s mind the room to work until it arrives at certain conclusions. A common device of Islamic science is to cite examples of how the Koran anticipated modern science, intuiting hard facts without modern equipment or technology. In Treasures of the Sunnah, El-Naggar quotes scripture: “and each of them (i.e., the moon and the sun) floats along in (its own) orbit.” “The Messenger of Allah,” El-Naggar writes, “talked about all these cosmic facts in such accurate scientific style at a period of time when people thought that Earth was flat and stationary. This is definitely one of the signs, which testifies to the truthfulness of the message of Muhammad.”
What about, say, evolutionary biology or Darwinism? I ask. (Evolution is taught in Egyptian schools, although it is banned in Saudi Arabia and Sudan.) “If you are asking if Adam came from a monkey, no,” Badawy responds. “Man did not come from a monkey. If I am religious, if I agree with Islam, then I have to respect all of the ideas of Islam. And one of these ideas is the creation of the human from Adam and Eve. If I am a scientist, I have to believe that.”
But from the point of view of a scientist, is it not just a story? I ask. He tells me that if I were writing an article saying that Adam and Eve is a big lie, it will not be accepted until I can prove it.
“Nobody can just write what he thinks without proof. But we have real proof that the story of Adam as the first man is true.”
He looks at me with disbelief: “It’s written in the Koran.”
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