There is an important discussion about whether or not the SECULAR view is compatible with Islam. Those who support the secular view use the following incident, narrated in Sahih Muslim, Sunan Ibn Maja, Sahih Ibn Hibban, Musnad Ahmed and other sources.
The narration in Sahih Muslim is as follows:
After arriving in Medina, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) passed by some people who were fecundating some date palms, so he asked them what they were doing. When they told him, he said, “I don’t think that will provide any benefit,” or in another narration, “It would be better if you didn’t do that.”
So they refrained from doing it, and that year the crop was not as good. They mentioned it to him (peace and blessings be upon him), and he replied:
“I am only a human: if I command you to do something in your religion, then take it; but if I tell you to do something based on personal opinion, then [realize] that I am only human,” and in another narration, “Yet if I inform you of something from Allah, then do it, for indeed I will never convey an untruth on behalf of Allah Mighty and Majestic,” and in yet another narration, “You know better of your worldly affairs.”
The SECULAR view is that there are domains of human knowledge which are outside the scope of religion. In particular, worldly affairs are outside the scope of knowledge. From this we come to the conclusion that we can study physics, chemistry, biology, and perhaps even economics, without invoking our religion of Islam. Since these are worldly affairs, the knowledge of these must be learned for the people of the world. Unfortunately, because this view is currently dominant, many Muslims have absorbed and accepted this idea. See my posts on “European Transition to Secular Thought” and “Crisis in Islamic Economics” for more explanation of the secular view, and its effects on Islamic thought.
OPPOSED to this is the view that Islam is a complete religion, which provides us with guidance on ALL aspects of life. Nothing can be outside the scope of religion. This can be supported by the following Ayah:
Quran 16:89 — that is why We have sent down to you this Book (The Qur’an) to explain everything – a guide, a blessing and good news for Muslims. Alternative Translation: We have bestowed from on high upon thee, step by step, this divine writ, to make everything clear,
So the Quran says it explains “all things”. So how can we reconcile these two facts – on the one hand, our religion provides guidance on all matters, and on the other hand, worldly affairs are (apparently) outside the scope of religion?
TO understand this, first of all note that no-one in his right mind would conclude from (16:89) that the Quran can teach us how to build nuclear reactors. So the Hadeeth that technical details of planting date trees, in pairs, are not covered by our religion, should not be a cause of surprise to anyone. We cannot even conclude from this that planting of trees is outside scope of religion, because there is so many Ahadeeth about the merits of planting trees and plants and the sin of cutting them down needlessly.
The question is how to understand the Quran — how does it explain “all things” when it obviously does not provide any information regarding the VAST MAJORITY of current human knowledge? If we just look at the bits and bytes — there must be terabytes of human knowledge, while the Quran and Hadeeth and all commentaries would be easily covered within a few Gigabytes?
We must understand that: Religion is at APEX – central and highest part — of knowledge.
The GENERAL in charge of the army is technically responsible for ALL affairs of the army. Even though he does not know what is being cooked in the mess and being fed to the soldiers, nor the recipe being used by the chef — he is responsible to ensure that they are fed. He provides the resources, and the relevant orders to the relevant subordinates to see that the job gets done. If there is some failure in the food supply chains, he is responsible to fix these problems and ensure that his soldiers get fed. SIMILARLY, he provides his commander with instruction on general overall strategy for the battle. But the commanders MAKE the micro-decisions on how to implement this strategy, given their troops and the terrain — they may do many things in general conformity with battle plans, but without specific knowledge of the general.
I am arguing that the secular position — that there are significant domains of knowledge OUTSIDE the purview of religion — is WRONG. I do not think any Muslim wishes to argue, on the basis of the tree Hadeeth, that agriculture or biology should be outside the purview of religion — this position is impossible to maintain. I would like to think that all Muslims would agree with me that the SECULAR position is wrong, and that all domains of knowledge, directly or indirectly belong to the purview of religion. Religion tells us about WHETHER or not we should plant the trees, and what are the rewards or demerits from doing so, and also what our intention should be in planting trees. It does not provide us with the technical details of how deep the seed should be planted, what type of fertilizer we should use, and what irrigation scheme would be suitable.
I have a DETAILED first lecture on Introduction to Statistics: An Islamic Approach — the first lecture deals PRECISELY with this question — what relation does Islam have to an apparently dry and technical subject like statistics? What can the Quran tell us about calculating means and medians? Despite this apparent paradox and contradiction, there IS a deep connection, and our religion CAN provide us with deep insights — NOT available in the West — about how to do statistics.
See my post linked below, for a brief introduction and links to the lecture, and the entire course. Applying Islamic insights to the development of the course (which is now complete and freely available online for all who wish to use it in teaching) led to radical changes in both the subject matter and pedagogy. I was forced to think about whether or not what I am teaching is USEFUL knowledge which the Prophet sought, or USELESS knowledge, which the Prophet sought protection from. The West does not differentiate between the two, and therefore every course contains a mixture of the two types. Differentiating between them leads to clarity unavailable otherwise:
This post is a continuation of an ongoing debate among Islamic Economists on how to construct an alternative to mainstream orthodox economics. The majority view is that a compromise is needed and we should take existing neoclassical theory and mix it with principles of Islam. My view is that since neoclassical theory is based on the idea of utility maximization, it takes the purpose of life to be maximization of pleasure obtained from consumption — this idea, equivalent to “worship of Nafs” — is not compatible with Islam. Therefore, we must completely reject neoclassical economics, and build on entirely different foundations — see Foundations of Islamic Economics
, for a new definition of the subject, based entirely on Islamic principles. The failure of the majority of Islamic Economists to recognize the many contradictions between Islamic ideas and those of Samuelson has led to the current Crisis in Islamic Economics