Saturday, February 21, 2015

Science Education for Muslim Children

There are two reasons for studying science given to us in Quran.  The first is that it is something special in our nature and the second is that it is a way to see our Creator in exploring His creation and thus strengthen our faith and knowledge of His existence.
Remember the verses in Quran about the creation of Adam.  Allah told the angels that He would create a vicegerent, or successor on earth.  Then He taught Adam the names of all things.  Then He challenged the angels to name things, but they couldn’t, because that was not their nature.  Then He had Adam display his knowledge before the angels.  Then He ordered the angels to bow down to Adam. (2:30-34) So what is this special quality to ‘know the names of things’? 
It couldn’t be that Allah simply filled Adam’s mind with names, like a databank.  What language would He have used?  And why would there be so many other languages in the world today if Allah had made one special language for man?  It would be a program like He gave to the angels and indeed to animals.  They know what He told them and no more.  The gift to Adam was different. He was taught the skill of naming things.
Giving something a name is the first part of knowing it.  See that thing hanging from a tree.  Name it ‘apple’.  Describe it by taste, color. Investigate the cycle of the tree to know when the apple will be available and when it will be at peak flavor. Investigate how it smells.  What part of the apple creates the odor? How strong does the tiny stem need to be to keep the apple on the tree?  Study how long the apple can be kept before it withers or rots and explore the conditions needed to protect it.  We could continue on deepening our knowledge about ‘apple’, using biology, chemistry, and even a little physics. 
We are human.  Allah taught us to be scientists. We explore our world, building on knowledge passed down by those before us.  We name it, compare it, and describe it, and share that information with others and pass it down to those who come after us.  We could not have invented the wheel or learned to make and control fire without this ability to name things, to study their characteristics and learn what we can do with them. 
Allah explains how He created us with this nature and then He calls on us to use this nature as a way to know Him.
"Verily! In the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day there are indeed ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) for men of understanding” (Surah 3:190-1).
There are multiple verses in Quran that encourage us to observe the world around us as a way of knowing Allah. A few examples:
 “Have you not seen how Allah has sent down water from the sky and has caused it to penetrate the earth as water springs, and afterward thereby produces crops of diverse hues; and afterward they wither and you see them turn yellow; then He makes them chaff. Lo! Here indeed is a reminder for men of understanding.” (Surah 39:21)
“And He it is Who has set for you the stars that you may guide your course by them amid the darkness of the land and the sea. We have detailed Our revelations for a people who have knowledge.” (Surah 6:97)
“Allah it is who has created seven heavens, and of the earth the like thereof. The commandment comes down among them slowly, that you may know that Allah is able to do all things, and that Allah surrounds all things in knowledge.” (Surah 65:12)
“We have built the heaven with might, and We it is who make the vast extent (thereof).  And the earth have We laid out, how gracious was the Spreader (thereof)!  And all things We have created by pairs, that maybe you may reflect.” (Surah 51:47-49)
There are these and other verses of Quran that refer to the orbits of the sun and moon, to the formation of the fetus in the womb, to the destruction of mountain ranges and the separation of salty sea water from fresh water, along with many other topics.    Allah calls on our intellect.
If we look at Islamic history, a major contribution to the world was the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, created by the Caliph Haroun El Rashid, precisely to acquire the science of the Greeks, India, and Persia, and introduce it to the Muslim world. The scholars of science who worked there didn’t worry that they might contaminate their religion by learning the wisdom of others. Instead, they filtered anything that conflicted out. Muslim scientists built on these translated sciences, established the basics of scientific enquiry, and expanding world knowledge in all directions.  They understood that an understanding of science can provide important paths toward a better appreciation of the Glory of Allah. 
So what are some suggestions for integrating Islam into a science lesson for children? It is rather simple to do and doesn’t need a lot of effort or planning time.  Simply include the marvel of the spirit in with all the other observations children make.  And include a bit about being responsible toward creation. 
For a young child, watch a bug wandering around on the dirt.  If you catch it in a container to observe with a hand lens, examine it and count the things you can identify about it.  Subhanallah!  It’s so tiny but it has so many parts and each one of its legs knows how to work with the others.  It knows where to find its food even though the world around it is so big.  Where does it live?  Allah made it know how to find shelter.  Then teach the child not to harm the bug, but to release it outside again because vicegerents take care and don’t hurt things if they can help it. 
Explore all the animals, dogs, cats, tigers, sharks, each so different.  What a great imagination it took to make all these, each eating different food and finding its food and its home that Allah provided for it.  Observe things in the environment.  What did Allah make?  What did man make?  People rely on what Allah has created to get what they need to make cars and sofas and spaghetti.  Watch the moon and the sun.  Observe how they move through the sky.  We sense the marvel of it all.  Allah made this movement happen and we can tell time from these movements.  Look at the snow through a hand lens.  See each snowflake different from the other.  Allah creates all kinds of difference in something that at first looks so much the same.  How Allah is Great!
For an older child, study ecosystems.  See how each living and nonliving thing has a role to play in the ecosystem.  See how it is all one system, everything linked.  There is a great design and in that design we can see the intelligence of the one Creator. 
Study the weather.  Follow the cycles.  Look at the complex and yet unified system of water, temperature, and pressure.  How does energy flow through the system?   The same basic principles apply all over the world.  Weathering wears away the rocks and mountains fall into ruins.  The Earth changes over time.  Time to Allah is different from time for us. 
Then look at the Periodic Chart.  Is it not a sign of Allah?  It is simple. The atoms change by one proton from left to right. But the elements created are so different!  All matter is made of protons, neutrons, and electrons.  One simple yet complex system, one intelligence, we see the signs of the Creator in His creation.  Subhanallah!
Now look at DNA.  As atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons, DNA is made of just 4 nitrogen bases, adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C). The code for living organisms is simple at its beginning.  But different combinations of these nitrogen bases form very different organisms. For those worried about man’s relationship with monkeys, yes, 98 to 99% of our DNA is the same, but that 1% difference is really about 40 million base pairs, and look at the evidence of difference we see between us and them.  And think, we share 50% of our DNA with bananas.  Subhanallah!  All living things are part of one system. We are part of the system. The system is simple at its base, showing the single intelligence that created it, but the results of minor changes create such varied species.  As a species, actually, humans share 99.9% of their DNA with each other.  Look at all the different people in the world, so alike, yet each with his or her own fingerprints and personalities.  We stand in awe of our Creator! 
A small change of one proton is the difference between nitrogen and carbon.  A small change in DNA is the difference between a chimpanzee and man.  At some point in evolution, Allah created the right change to make the organism to which He would give a soul, and He would teach this organism, Adam, the names of things.  Alone of all animals, man can name, describe, put into categories, classify.  That is the basis of science.  Man is more than this, of course.  With his soul he can choose to follow the will of Allah or not, unlike any other animal.  But he also has this side of his nature as well.
A scientist who has no faith in God will see the mutations that occur in DNA as random occurrences.  On the micro level they look that way.  But a Muslim looks at the big picture, how these random occurrences create a grand order in each ecosystem, and sees the signs of Allah.  He sees the connections between all of Creation, from the microscopic bacteria to the multitude of galaxies. 
Let us teach our children to see these wonders and encourage them in the study of science in the tradition of Muslim scientists throughout the centuries.