“Principles like honesty, kindness, punctuality, good etiquette, manners, keeping your promise, being just in all matters and serving humanity are at the core of Islam” says Dr. Parvaiz.
Dr. Mohammad Aslam Parvaiz is the Founder of Anjuman Farogh-e-Science (‘Organisation for Science Promotion’), a registered NGO promoting scientific awareness, aptitude and education among Urdu-knowing people, and founder and editor of Urdu Science Monthly, a popular science and environment monthly in Urdu. Launched in February 1994, the magazine covers various issues, including health, scientific developments and inventions, food and hygiene, as well as the Qur’an and science. Dr. Parvaiz is Founder “Director of the Islamic Foundation for Science and Environment, a charitable trust that focuses on the interface of Science, the environment and Islam, and also seeks to promote awareness and significance of science among madrasa students and staff.
Dr. Parvaiz has also been the Principal, Zakir Husain Delhi College (Delhi University) and is currently Vice-Chancellor of MANUU (Maulana Azad National Urdu University), Hyderabad. Here, Dr. Parvaiz shares some of his reflections:
I received my basic education in Urdu-medium at the Anglo-Arabic School in Delhi. This institution was founded some 300 years ago, and was formerly known as the Madrasa Ghaziuddin. At high school, I decided to study science, although my father’s friends insisted that I should take up arts or commerce instead, because they felt that Muslim students are generally weak in science and that the school I was studying in had produced very few science graduates. But despite this, I decided to take up science. I then went on to do a doctorate in Botany from the Aligarh Muslim University. I taught there for a couple of years and shifted to Zakir Husain Delhi College (Delhi University). A few years later, I became the Principal of the college.
It was during my days at Aligarh that I began to feel the urgent need to motivate students of Urdu schools to take interest in science. Relatively few students of such schools opt for science, because they do not generally score high marks. There is also a paucity of texts and popular science literature available in Urdu. Even today, besides our magazine, there is really nothing else being published in Urdu to promote science awareness. Then again, it struck me how the lack of science awareness at the level of the Muslim masses was so instrumental in sustaining and promoting an unscientific approach to life. Most students of Urdu schools come from poor families, where science education is not given much importance, and if you don’t have a scientific attitude, you will blindly believe anything that you are told. This triggered in me the need to promote scientific awareness among Muslims, and that is why I decided to launch the Urdu Science Monthly.
I began seriously trying to study the Qur’an during my Aligarh days. I read several translations of the Qur’an, but as I moved from one translation to another, I felt that they did not deal properly with several verses in the light of the growing stock of modern scientific knowledge. Undoubtedly most of the translations were good, but their translators were influenced by the conditions of their own times. So, I went back to the Qur’an in its Arabic original, and looked at particular verses, examining each word through authoritative Arabic dictionaries instead of seeking to understand the verses through traditional Quranic commentaries. What I did was to examine a particular word or issue by going through the entire Qur’an to see the different ways and contexts in which it has been used throughout the text in order to understand the different meanings that a single word or phrase can have. Take, for instance, the word “al-mizan” that is used the Qur’an. Traditional Quranic commentators translated it as ‘balance’ in the sense of a weighing scale. Today, that word could be widened to refer to other forms of balance, such as ecological balance or global economic balance and so forth.
The Qur’an stresses the importance of worldly or scientific knowledge. The Qur’an uses the word ‘ilm for knowledge. The Qur’an repeatedly exhorts believers to acquire knowledge, both of God as well as God’s creation. The Qur’an describes the mysteries and wonders of nature as “ayat” or signs of God, and asks us to ponder over or to examine them because they reflect His glory. In the Qur’an, God asks us to reflect on the cattle, the clouds, the mountains and so on, these being described as among His many signs. If you take a tree, which is one of God’s many signs, and examine the intricacies of its roots, how they extract water from the soil, how they produce leaves and fruits and so on, you would be led to appreciate the power and the beneficence of God. By following the commandment of the Qur’an and appreciating the work of God as reflected in His creation, you are led to wonder at God’s glory, and this, in turn, reinforces your faith in Him. Looking closely at the marvels of nature, examining them and studying them, you are led on to praise God for His greatness as reflected in His creation. You then realize how every little particle in the universe instinctively follows God’s laws, or is ‘Muslim’ in the literal sense of submitting before God’s Will. In this way, the Qur’an exhorts the believers to study nature, and positively encourages the promotion of science and a scientific attitude.
The rigid distinction between ‘religious’ (dini) and ‘worldly’ (duniyavi) knowledge in Islam which some Muslims make is completely foreign to the Qur’an and the early Islamic tradition. The Qur’an says that in the Hereafter, God will question people why they rejected His verses without comprehending them through knowledge. Here, knowledge is understood in its comprehensive sense, not as restricted to what is today narrowly understood as religious knowledge by some Muslims. Rather than making a rigid distinction between ‘religious’ and ‘worldly’ knowledge, setting them as apart and mutually opposed to each other, the Qur’an speaks of revealed knowledge, knowledge revealed by God to His prophets, as well as human knowledge, and sees both as integral to a comprehensive vision of knowledge.
To properly understand Islam, one must go directly to the Qur’an. The Qur’an is a book of guidance, and so it should be studied directly by people, instead of relying solely upon a class of religious specialists and ancient commentaries. The absolute meaning of the Qur’an is with God alone. We humans can only try our best to fathom its meaning, but this will necessarily always be limited and partial.
To help people understand and read the Quran with meaning, we set up the “Quran Center” in Zakir Nagar, in New Delhi. Here, coaching classes for Maths, Physics, Chemistry, English, Biology and Social Studies are conducted, without charging any tuition fees, but with the condition that students attend a daily class on the Quran and three classes of Urdu every week.
I believe that Islam is a 24 x 7 way of life”good manners, etiquette, the way you speak to people, treating and speaking to people kindly, being punctual, honest, keeping your word, doing justice in all your relationships, in your personal and professional lives, are all part of being conscious of the accountability that we have towards God.
Today, if I am a positive person, it’s because I learnt all about it from the Quran! You, too, can do it!
(Dr Mohammad Aslam Parvaiz can be reached at: