Q and A Dr. Mohammad Aslam Parvaiz on Muslims and Scientific Research
Dr. Mohammad Aslam Parvaiz did his Ph.D. in Botany from Aligarh Muslim University and taught for many years at Delhi University. In 1994, he established the Urdu monthly ‘Science’. The magazine, which continues to be published regularly, has played an important role in promoting scientific awareness among the Urdu-reading public.
Dr. Parvaiz has also written widely on the relationship between the Quran and Science. Presently, he is the Vice-Chancellor of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.
Q: To present Islam in practice, as a practical way of life, is indeed a very important task. But do you think that in the light of Islamic beliefs, Science can provide us with guidance with regard to certain basic questions that relate to the purpose of human existence, the relationship of humans with God, the basis of morality and so on and can help guide youngsters who may be under the influence of various atheistic ideologies to the right path?
A: The basic problem lies in the mistake of making other worldviews the focus of discourse, rather than the Quran. This is an indication of our distance from the Quran. We need to make the philosophy, worldview and way of life of the Quran the basis of our discourse. For instance, when it comes to our understanding of the Quranic concept of the economy, we haven’t been gone beyond the notion of 2.5% zakat, whereas in the Quranic economic system there should be a development fund to which everyone is exhorted to contribute whatever they may have left after their needs have been met. There is need to highlight the entire philosophy of the Quran, understood in this expansive manner, a philosophy that is the basis of human welfare.
As far as young people who are attracted by atheistic philosophies are concerned, one needs to reflect on the arguments on the basis of which these ideologies may attract them. And then we need to present the philosophy of the Quran with convincing arguments and evidence. To seek to convince people about religion through authoritarian commands and verdicts will not help at all. We must recognise here that the Quranic narrative itself employs arguments, proofs and evidence, and so there is no reason why our young people should not be given knowledge of the Quran in the same way.
Q: On the whole, what sort of alternative thinking do you think needs to be promoted in society so that people become more interested in scientific research?
A: There is need for transformation in the family environment, encouraging us to become givers, instead of takers. In many places, the Quran exhorts us to spend on others. So, we need to become more concerned with serving and helping others.
With regard to education Muslims often talk about scholarships and reservations, but they should learn from the Jews, who despite being such a small minority have won such a large number of Nobel prizes. That means that being a minority or being Muslim is not the cause of our backwardness. Instead, our backwardness is an expression of our lack of hard work. We need to develop our skills. If we are in a minority, there is even more need to work harder. To cry about discrimination is also a reflection of weak faith. If we put in our all efforts in a particular task and hope for good results from God, there would be no reason to complain about discrimination and prejudice. But it is a common practice to attribute the causes of one’s failures to discrimination.
Q: Besides publishing the Urdu monthly ‘Science’, you have established another organisation Society for the Promotion of Science. Could you please share something about this?
A: This organisation was established in 1992, even before the monthly ‘Science’ began. Among the founders of the organisation were people like the late Syed Hamid, Hakim Abdul Hamid and the Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam. But because of people’s engagements, not much happened, even though the organisation still exists. In the meantime, we began holding an annual Quran Conference and are trying to promote understanding of the Quran from an intellectual perspective, rather than from the point of view of the minutiae of fiqh or jurisprudence. Similarly, we began the ‘Urdu Science Congress’, on the pattern of the ‘National Science Congress’, seeking to bring Urdu-knowing people who have an interest in Science on one platform. The first meeting of the Urdu Science Congress was held at the Zakir Husain College, Delhi University, the second at Aligarh and the third at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. Along with this, the ‘Urdu Social Science Congress’ is also being organised. This has become a part of the intellectual activities of this Central University and so we hope this will continue, and if for some reason these meetings aren’t held in the university, they will, we hope, be organised through the Society for the Promotion of Science.
Q: It is a general misconception that other than in the field of literature, research conducted through the medium of Urdu in the social sciences is substandard. What do you think about this?
A: This is no mere misconception. Rather, it is a fact. And the people responsible for this are Urdu intellectuals because the Urdu language undoubtedly has great scope and expansiveness, and especially in the social sciences, the field is wide open. In the natural sciences, there are some limits and boundaries, but even these are not such that work cannot happen in Urdu.
Another thing to consider is that in most cases, the teaching of English in Urdu-medium schools leaves much to be desired, because of which many Urdu-readers cannot access research done in English.
Q: What have been the main factors motivating you in your effort to understand the Quran from a scientific perspective, and which personalities have influenced you particularly in this regard?
A: In this regard, verse 85 of Surah Al-Qasas has been a major inspiration. This verse taught me that the Quran is binding on us. The Quran being a duty means that I need to turn to it, read it and understand it. And that is what I started doing. After reading and understanding the Quran I discovered that this Islam was something that no one had ever told me about! In other words, I regard the Quran itself my real motivating force.
Q: The work that you have been engaged in with regard to the Quran has helped promote awareness about the Quran and its teachings among many people. What do you think might be the reasons for this?
A: The basic reason is the Quran itself, because it is one of the wonders of the Quran that it is a book that exercises a deep impact on the hearts of its readers. In this regard, Muslims in general have been negligent. Look at the madrasas even there the education is not based on the Quran. Rather, the Quran is merely a relatively small part of the madrasa curriculum. For around a thousand years Muslims have distanced themselves from the Quran, and in this way bearing witness to their downfall.
Q: Could you please share some experiences from your student days for the benefit of readers and students?
A: There are many things that one could say, but there’s one in particular that I’d like to share. I had my initial education in a government school, where there was no proper arrangement for learning English. From the sixth standard onwards, in order to learn English I began reading signboards along roads and old newspapers. I worked hard and dedicatedly. And then God arranged for that day to come when I was invited to speak on Islam and Ecology at Harvard University.
In other words, if you work hard and with true dedication for a noble purpose, God will definitely help you. And so, I’d like to tell students to work hard and with commitment and to submit to God’s commands with full faith, for success.
(This interview is based in large part on an interview that was published in Afkar-e Milli)
Dr Aslam Parvaiz can be reached at [email protected]