Let Knowledge Of Islam Be The Foundation Of Living
The adaptation and repurposing of the astrolabe in the 9th century for the determination of Muslim prayer times (waqt) and directions (qiblah) is an example of ingenuity (hiyal) in solving the problems encountered in the performance of religious duties. It shows that through their worldview, Muslim engineers and scientists of the past have developed solutions to problems related to elements that concerned the community the most.
The work of Muslim engineers and scientists who repurposed the astrolabe, such as Banu Musa in the 9th century, were fitting examples how the worldview of Islam and the appreciation of science as a study of signs of God (ayatu’-Llah) promoted the advancement of science and technology, which benefitted not only Muslims but the entire world.
Although the origin of the astrolabe was Greek, it has gained the emblematic status of technological advancement in the Muslim world that just by invoking its name conjures up the picture of both Islam and its adherents.
The Holy Prophet’s exhortations, such as to maintain cleanliness and to place premium on water as primary cleaning agent, have always been at the centre of their design consideration. For example, Banu Musa and their 13th century successor al-Jazari who focused on facilitating the transportation and dispensation of water clearly took them seriously when devising their ingenuous mechanical devices.
Muslim scientific and technological activities of the past should let us now realise that the civilisational aspect of Islam is able to perfect what it inherited and endow what it made with beauty. Such is the case with the astrolabe whose image popularly adorns the cover of books discussing Muslim advancements of science during what orientalists refer as the ‘Golden Age’ period of Islam.
Indeed, science and technology are both useful for the benefit of mankind. However, it is also important to realise that it is the human being who is certainly giving the value of utility based on his experience as well as his education in the knowledge of virtues and morality.
In his book Tinjauan Ringkas Peri Ilmu dan Pandangan Alam, Muslim thinker Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas alluded science and technology to the metaphor of the knife—their oldest, simplest and closest application as a tool that is indispensable now in today’s modern day living—that can be used for either good or evil purposes.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance for the society to produce from within it good men who will ensure that both science and technology are used for the good. With its ever-changing values and redefinitions, science and technology cannot and should not be made as the supplier of our moral compass; rather, right and complete knowledge in religion must be made as the foundation of living because it is the one that evaluates life.
So, it is clear that it is the human being who needs to be educated with good values supplied by religion as a source of worldview, but there is need to further extend the question on much more complex technology, given that our lives today have grown more in its complexity that necessitates the proliferation of more laws in order to rectify social, economic, and political disharmony.
Today, our ability to resolve crises has not surpassed our tendency to cause them, despite scientific and technological advances. For this reason we need to re-examine our concepts and notions of technology.
Our worldview, ethics, and epistemology are determinants in the conception, implementation, and deployment of our science and technology. For Muslim scientists and engineers, these are obviously supplied by their understanding of Islam.
For Muslims, watchfulness and vigilance must be exercised against purposeless materialism resulting from false sense of greater abundance of physical means at the expense of time as well as excessive enjoyment of the present that impede worship and contemplative life.
Thus, Muslim technologists must include in their work the removal of elements that are contrary to Islam and imbuing the philosophy of science and technology with religious virtues in such a manner that it results in the re-enchantment of nature and re-consecration of values, inasmuch as it restores all spiritual meaning in our understanding of the world as created by God and removes the restriction of our way of knowing in scientific methods currently perpetuated by ill-defined paradigms and obscure worldviews.