Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad on Radio 4 (25/08)
Thought for the Day,25 August 2003
Abdal Hakim Murad
Good morning. Two hours ago, the Americans lobbed another piece of advanced technology into space. This time it was a new telescope ذ probably the most advanced object our species has ever sent into orbit. Its purpose is to pick up infrared radiation from the
furthest, faintest, and, therefore, the oldest heavenly bodies.
Once again, and at astonishing expense, science is doing something that could not seem more irrelevant to our lives. The boffins promise, however, discoveries which could hardly be more unnerving. For millennia, mystics, prophets and philosophers delved into the mysteries of the soul, in the hope of lifting the veil on the enigma of creation. It seems that, impatient with their results, our civilisation is now directing its attention outwards, not within.
Our own Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, predicts a شcrescendo of discoveriesص, as شthe big picture comes into focus for the first time.ص Will this represent a final triumph of science over religion,
of the telescope over the prayer beads, of the equation over the illuminated heart?
The trouble is that the big picture has a habit of eluding the scientists. We still cannot agree on the origins of life. The nature of human consciousness remains a puzzle. And the mystery which is perhaps the greatest of all ذ the emergence of our universe in a form which is hospitable to life ذ is a deep conundrum.
Martin Rees does not hesitate to acknowledge this fact. شIf the recipe imprinted at the time of the Big Bang had been even slightly different,ص he writes, شwe could not exist.ص Like other astronomers, he recognises that our universe is شfine-tunedص.
Believers in the religions should have no problem with any of this. Science has explained the details, banishing in the process a thousand superstitions that did little honour to religion anyway. The core questions, however, stubbornly remain. Why the fine-tuning? A billion alternative universes which reduce the improbability of our own? If so, where are they? What telescope, or other instrument of human devising, could peer within them?
Last Friday, after the dawn prayer, I stood outside a mosque on a remote mountain in New Mexico. The planet Mars shone like an aircraft coming in to land. But silence reigned: the dawn was, as the Koran puts it, breathing. The trees and stars were, in its words, prostrate before God.
The Muslim life is shaped by acts of prayer which, in turn, are shaped by the movements of the solar system, and the rolling of the planet beneath our feet. A sense of harmony, we hope, is the result.
Science can alienate us from the holiness of nature. It can teach us how to destroy nature. But we should thank it too, for giving us more reasons to feel awe, humility, and even gratitude.