What a doctor can learn from the Quran

What a doctor can learn from the Quran



You’re a doctor, right? What did you learn from the Quran when it comes to medical practices or research? I think that would make a great sermon to a congregation of pre-med students, if some of them shadow you in your clinic.


First, the Quran is not a textbook of Medicine. So we are not really looking for medical information in its pages. Well, often through snappy allusions, the Quran quite fascinatingly conforms with – or, as some will say, “foreshadows or points to” – many aspects of our current knowledge about the universe (inc. biological and medical knowledge) that have been discovered only very recently by modern science. Yet, most of these ‘scientific’ messages are veiled, to various extents, while sketchily dwelling only in the deeper layers (56:77-79). But they are there. Otherwise restricted by their vagueness, impregnated with a clear metaphysical intent, they do not help per se to discover any new scientific knowledge, but, reversely, new scientific knowledge often helps to spot and elucidate them. This is to my mind one of the many idiosyncrasies of the Quran that convincingly indicate its uniqueness and its divine origin.

Having said that, however, when it comes to medical practices and research, to me what really counts is not the information contained in the verses about natural phenomena (inc. biological and medical knowledge), but the worldview, ethics, methodology and epistemology that we learn from the Quran.

Here are some of the principles and inspirations in this regard that I find truly important:

The central message of the Quran, the message of the Oneness (tawhid), is based on the concepts of the oneness of humans, the oneness of life, the oneness of the universe, and, above all, the oneness of the Divine. This awareness of the Oneness, which demands from us seeking knowledge and doing justice (6:115; cf. 3:18, 4:135, 5:8), makes the core of my worldview and, thereby, also the basis of my understanding of medical ethics.

The Quran – with its constant calls to acquire knowledge through deep observation and reflection upon the world (10:101), and its calls to continuously question, analyse and verify (17:36), together with its emphasis on inductive reasoning (39:18) – robustly promotes scientific observation, experimental knowledge and rationality. Reputedly first developed by the Quran-inspired Muslim scientists, these primary tools are the foundations of the modern scientific method which I find important for progress in scientific (and so medical) knowledge and research.

The Quran exhorts us to explore the treasures of nature and utilize all things in it for the benefit of man.

The Quran views nature as a compilation of messages pointing to the Divine, where everything is an integral part of the whole that interconnects God, humanity and the world through infinite links. This Quranic perspective, which provides me with a meaning and purpose, gives my quest for scientific (inc. medical) knowledge a heavenly touch.

The Quran insistently regards every single human life as a sacred, divine gift (42:49-50) that needs to be protected and saved from all adversities including diseases (5:32, 17:33). This strong emphasis on the sanctity of life (6:151) guides my sense of morality when I am engaged in clinical practice, and adds to it an extra dimension.

The Quran describes ‘the ascent’ or way of progress as ‘freeing a neck’, i.e. emancipating oneself and others from all sorts of bondage: physical, mental and moral (2:177, 90:10-13). For me, treating a patient is freeing a neck from the bondage of pathology.

As Islam in the Quran is a total system governing all aspects of life, all interrelated within a whole, Islamic medical ethics views the patient holistically. This constitutes the basis for an integrated approach to health care that treats the ‘whole’ person, not simply symptoms and disease.

The medical ethics incorporated in the Quran comprises too many important domains relevant to our time and extends as far as to the issues like a positive neuroethical understanding of mental health (4:5), elderly care (17:23-24, 31:14, 46:15), disability care (24:61, 48:17, 80:1-2), sexuality and sexual health (3:6, 30:21,17:32, 2:187, 2:222-223, 4:19, 42:49-50), abortion (31:14, 46:15, 23:14, 6:151), breastfeeding (2:233, 31:14, 46:15), diet and nutrition (2:168, 2:172, 7:31, 16:67, 20:81), drug abuse (5:90, 2:195, 20:81), organ donation (5:32), euthanasia and suicide (17:33, 4:29, 6:151, 31:17), animal rights (6:38,16:7), vivisection (16:5-8), environmental pollution (30:41-43, 2:195), ecological balance (15:19) and so on.


By Siraj Islam (based on a discussion with Dongyi Lu)


Reading the verses on natural phenomena: A multi-layered approach


A multiple, multi-layered approach

While the verses of the Quran on natural phenomena made sense to the immediate audience of the 7th century Arabia, to our observation they remain coherent to us even when we read them through the eyes of the 21st century readers.

It appears that viewing these verses from multiple perspectives, instead of a single perspective, should help us for a better understanding and a more complete reading. No doubt, our evolving scientific knowledge can easily qualify for at least one of these many viewpoints wherefrom we may try to look into them.

Now, if the same verses make sense to different generations of different times, and in different ways, then one may ask: Should we necessarily perceive them through the perception of the ancients? Or, we should understand them from the perspective of our own worldview? Also, who is here to decide what the ultimate, intended meaning of a verse is? And, why should we not be entitled to get a new meaning that was never grasped by the readers in the past?

A possible rational approach in this regard is what Nidhal Guessoum, an astrophysicist, calls a “multiple, multi-level approach”.

Mustansir Mir, Professor of Islamic Studies at Youngstown State University, argues for a similar approach:

“From a linguistic standpoint, it is quite possible for a word, phrase or statement to have more than one layer of meaning, such that one layer would make sense to one audience in one age and another layer of meaning would, without negating the first, be meaningful to another audience in a subsequent age.”

“The word yasbahun (swim or float) in the verse ‘And He is the One Who created the night and day, and the Sun and Moon – each swimming in an orbit’ (Q 21:33) made good sense to 7th century Arabs observing natural phenomena with the naked eye; it is equally meaningful to us in light of today’s scientific findings (i.e. celestial mechanics).”

Here we will cite two more examples of analysis with similar multiple, multi-layered approach:

The Quranic description of the sky as ‘a protective roof’ over us (21:32, 2:22) appeared literally true to the classical commentators who imagined sky as a dome or solid ceiling over the Earth. Now it makes sense in a very different way to a modern reader: Not only the Earth’s atmosphere itself with its multiple layers protects the terrestrial life from extinction by functioning as a strong shield, our solar system (‘the lowest Heaven’) acts like a guard in protecting the Earth as it prevents the potentially harmful intruders from the outer, extrasolar cosmos, like meteors, cosmic rays etc.

Then, the word ‘alaq’ in 23:14, which describes an initial stage of the development of the human embryo, originally means ‘something that clings or remains attached to something’. The word has been traditionally used to mean a clinger, leech, blood-sucker, worm, clot, hanging embryo, affection etc. While some of these meanings appeared convincing to a desert Arab, others make more sense to a modern reader.


A multiple, multi-layered approach can be useful during our reading of the verses on natural phenomena. This is because a word or a text in the Quran may have more than one layer of meaning, such that the same verses may make sense to different generations of different times, in different ways.

Relationship between the Quran and science

Relationship between the Quran and science

Any science that collided with the Quran will turn out to be false! (Tertium organum). – P. D. Ouspensky


What is the relationship between the Quran and science?

Here are a few points that can shed light on this issue:


The Quran is not a textbook of science, and it was originally a lecture addressed to the Arabic speaking and, in modern sense, ‘illiterate’ listeners of the 7th century Arabia.

Thus the Quran must have originally referred to natural phenomena with intent very different from that of a modern science book. Here our normal anticipation would be that the Quran must contain many scientific errors that we, in our age of scientific progress, must be able to easily detect.

Interestingly however, when we go through a critical observation of some of these verses – considering the many natural scientific topics they sketchily cover, together with the related expressions, unique terms, interesting highlights, allusions and interactive hints throughout the Quran – we often get overwhelmed by the impression that, not only that the Quran doesn’t contain any provable scientific error, the Quran – usually with simple text and simple style, though sometimes appearing vague and mystic – alludes to many important discoveries of modern science and to the core philosophical discussions of our time.

Remarkably, the Quran itself, having one of its attributes ‘hakeem’ (‘wise’ or ‘clarifier’, 36:2), is well aware of this (43:3-4).

Thus, while illustrating many natural phenomena in a language that appears ‘miraculous’, the Quran covers an extensive range of topics, messages and meanings. On deeper analysis with interconnected reading, often a text offers far more information than it appears on the first sight. And often a single phrase in it may allude to various issues of several subjects.


Now, the Quran states that all nature extols divine glory. So every single thing in nature is a divine sign or message (ayah) that declares divine majesty and, therefore, deserves our serious attention and observation. The Quran outlines some of these signs or messages as examples in order to promote and further clarify some of its fundamental concepts.

There are in the Quran over six thousand verses (also called ayah, i.e. divine sign or message), whereof over one thousand are associated with natural phenomena. This is about one sixth of the Quran!

Obviously, the function of the verses about natural phenomena is NOT simply to state facts about the natural world.

Apart from reminding us of God’s most emphasized characteristics like compassion and mercy as our Sustainer, these verses also seem to have other important functions.

Yes, they function on the first place as references to, and reminders of, nature’s wonders and veiled messages regarding God’s existence and oneness as well as His numerous attributes including mercy, wisdom, power and greatness.

Then, a deeper insight into these verses with a growing scientific understanding of the world helps our thoughts in a number of ways. It helps us to better comprehend the Quranic messages holistically; it reassures and reinforces our acknowledgement of the Quran as a divine revelation; it makes us better appreciate God’s greatness and our relationship with the Universe from a divine perspective; it stimulates our imagination with an awareness of being connected with the infinite; it provides meaning of life; it promotes rational attitude and logical thinking; and it generally encourages our curiosity about ourselves and the world around us.

Also, through the many natural scientific topics it sketchily covers, together with the numerous interactions, the Quran directly awakens a scientific inquisitiveness in a receptive mind.


To a serious reader, the Quran represents a key that unlocks the doors to the understanding of the hidden meanings and unknown realities behind the relative, material boundaries of our daily existence.

Thus, while the Quran functions as a voice broadcast from the worlds of the ‘Unseen’ (2:2-3), it is also a mystic interpretation of the messages underlying the great Book of Universe.

On its way, therefore, it goes on referring to many natural phenomena, but not in the way a textbook of science does.

The Quran considers creation in order to glorify the Creator, while science considers the world in order to know it solely within its physical dimensions.


Thus one can say that the Quran is a book of ‘signs’, not a textbook of science. It is not concerned about detailing the scientific facts or describing any scientific model per se.

This explains our observation that, although the Quran doesn’t make people discover any new scientific information or develop any specific scientific theory, new scientific findings and related fresh knowledge often surprisingly match with and also better clarify many of the previously less understood texts.

Evidently, the ‘messages’ (ayah) of the Quran, by definition and as instructed by the Quran itself, must be understood in such a way that they conform both to reason and to scientific data – i.e. nature’s divine messages scripted throughout the Universe.

That is why the Quran lays so great emphasis on reasoning and deep observation of nature to explore its ‘hidden’ messages so that we can better understand the veiled messages of the Scripture, which in fact are essentially the same as the messages of the great Book of Nature (10:100-101).


So, humankind’s growing scientific knowledge, which has been thriving through her divinely gifted pursuit for observation and investigation, is proving helpful not only to understand the ‘hidden’ messages of the Universe but also to uncover many of the veiled messages of the Quran, as predicted by the Quran itself (21:37, 10:20, 41:53, 75:16-21, 6:66-68, 27:93).

Unfortunately but understandably, the earlier generations of the commentators, as they lived in a pre-scientific time, often did not have that basic minimum of information necessary to better comprehend many of these messages.

As they failed to decipher the apparent enigma underlying these messages, they either accepted them as mystic texts unexplainable by human intellect or simply interpreted them too literally, often through various fabricated hadiths and unverified Judeo-Christian materials, and, as a consequence, grossly erroneously.

However, as science advanced to new frontiers, later commentators started comprehending some of them in a better way, gradually translating them in the light of the evidence-based, newer scientific knowledge.

In other words, science is proving helpful to freshly interpret many of those verses that have been incorrectly interpreted by the earlier generations of commentators (6:66-68).


The Quran does indeed present fascinating facts and reveals a heightened understanding and appreciation of creation and its environment. Although the primary focus for the presentation of these facts was to convince the desert Arabs, as Joseph Islam noted, no doubt as science would have advanced, further insights into the Quranic statements would have become apparent:

“Only a message from a Divine Creator can remain so timeless and in perfect harmony with advancement in thought and science. The Quran remains just that; a completely ‘timeless’ and ‘truthful’ message.”

A deeper analysis of many of these verses through our growing scientific understanding of the world impresses us with the miracle that the Quran continuously provides dynamic messages and meanings according to the developing knowledge of evolving generations.

For instance, look into the statement “And indeed We created man out of potter’s/sounding clay of black mud transmuted. 15:26” (cf. 15:28, 15:33). Now, this makes a good sense if interpreted in light of modern evolutionary biochemistry. That is how we can appreciate that ‘black mud’ (‘hama’) here actually means carbon and that the term ‘transmuted’ (‘masnoon’, also meaning altered, moulded or aged, which shares same root with ‘sunnah’, ‘to follow a path’) alludes to the change over lengthy time span of millions of years when ‘hydrocarbons’ were gradually organised into higher organic molecules – like amino acids (protein), nucleic acids (RNA and DNA) and so on – necessary for origin and evolution of life. All these molecules are ‘sounding’, i.e. tale-telling, as they encompass in themselves history of millions of years. Thus the Quran seems to have used the expression ‘black mud transmuted’ to depict the original matrix – carbon (‘black mud’)-based organic molecules like hydrocarbons and their derivatives – whereby started the evolution of human’s physical body.


Now, as the Quran so much inspires the pursuit of knowledge and encourages in so many ways all sorts of scientific investigation, its followers must unequivocally regard science and its methods. They must foster in themselves the genuine scientific spirit found within the scientific community, rather than attempting to prejudge a scientifically established fact or data in a way that is not scientific (17:36).

As science is an endless, relentless quest for the truth, MEN OF SCIENCE should be allowed to continue developing science in their own way, uninterrupted, i.e. by following the appropriate scientific method with its inductive and deductive logic. They should never be censored or interfered by any external influence, nor should their scientific discoveries be judged by any religious, educational or social group, or by any authority or government body.

On the other hand – apart from learning from men of science – MEN OF RELIGION have obviously a right and an extra duty to be vocal on the moral aspects or the consequences of a particular application of science. For instance, they should express the voice of their conscience against nuclear proliferation, chemical and biological weapons, indiscriminate abortion, carbon emissions and so on, as well as against the possible socio-moral setbacks caused by advanced technology and material development.

Here is a quote from Gary Dargan that roughly clarifies the relationship between science and the Quran:

“What you get with Islam is that it encourages thinking about and investigating nature. It values scholarship. … Personally, I believe that science should stand on its two feet, and on its own merits. It shouldn’t require the Quran to justify it as correct. Likewise the Quran should not require science to prove it. … Science itself is a progress report. Ideas are always subject to being disproved whereas the Quran being a revelation from God is something that has to stand unchanged for all time and it is not amenable to disproof.”


We cannot avoid the impression that the Quran is a ‘living document’, as Dr. T. B. Irving rightly called it, which appears to excel the level of knowledge of every generation, and a living miracle throughout the ages.

The Quran is a living document with evolving meanings and messages for an evolving mankind.

This is how Professor Bruce Lawrence describes this:

“As tangible signs, Quranic verses are expressive of an inexhaustible truth, they signify meaning layered with meaning, light upon light, miracle after miracle … In a historical context the Qur’an becomes A Book of Signs, multilayered in its meanings, continuously reinterpreted by successive generations and diverse audiences. Detached from history the Qur’an becomes the Book of Signs, singular in its meaning, applicable across time and place, unchanging, univocal.” The Qur’an: A Biography


What is the relationship between the Quran and science? Here are a few points that can shed light on this issue:

  • Verses on natural phenomena often ‘miraculously’ contain more information and allusions than otherwise expected.
  • These verses occupy one sixth of the Quran, while their functions are manifold.
  • The Quran refers to science in its own way.
  • The Quran is a book of ‘signs’, not a textbook of science.
  • Scientific progress is proving helpful to better understand the Quran.
  • We should try to get deeper insights into the Quran through these verses with our growing scientific knowledge.
  • But we should not try any forced reconciliation between the Quran and science.
  • The Quran is a ‘living document’ that excels the knowledge of every generation.

An answer to Richard Carrier’s “Cosmology and the Koran”

 An answer to Richard Carrier_s “Cosmology and the Koran”

Here is an answer to Richard Carrier’s Cosmology and the Koran: A Response to Muslim Fundamentalists (2001)

Richard Carrier’s first claim is that ‘There is nothing miraculously new in the Koran’.

This is his line of reasoning: Obviously, a dull book like the Quran, a produce of the 7th century desert-dwelling Arabs, cannot contain anything original. So, if there is any noticeable merit in the Quran at all, it must have been exclusively thanks to the ancient Greek knowledge which was somehow transmitted, evidently via Arab interaction, to the poor author/s of the Quran!

In our study, however, we find this inference far from true; but rather the opposite. For instance, while the Quran is not a textbook of science, it contains numerous verses which, often through snappy allusions, quite fascinatingly conform with – or, as some will say, “foreshadow or point to” – many aspects of our current knowledge about the Universe that have been discovered only very recently by modern science. A deeper reading of these verses1 through their interactive explanatory process will demonstrate that the Quranic descriptions of the Earth, life, Solar system, Cosmos and the origin and evolution of the Universe are centuries ahead of the time of its revelation. Miraculous, indeed!

Furthermore, when these descriptions are carefully compared with the best ancient Greek texts, or with hadiths, or with tafsirs written centuries after the Quran – such as by Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir, Tabari, Nasafi etc – the whole ancient and medieval scientific knowledge appears juvenile in front of the Quran. This does demonstrate the uniqueness of this interesting book and the profundity of its wisdom.

In fact, a simple, overwhelming proof of the divine authorship of the Quran is that, though it was revealed in a time when superstitions and mythologies were prevalent, the Quran does not contain even a trace of them.


Richard Carrier’s second claim is that ‘The Koran gets cosmology predictably wrong’.

And this claim, he thinks, can be easily ‘proved’ by a quick interpretation of the passage 41:9-12, which allegedly contains ‘scientifically wrong information’.

First RC challenges the word smoke (dukhan) in 41:11.

He maintains that ‘smoke’ doesn’t represent the original primeval material and also that, even if ‘smoke’ meant gas, the Univese in fact didn’t begin as a gas.

Let us read the verse in question:

While He settled to the Heaven, and it was smoke, so He said to it and to the Earth, “Come both, willingly or unwillingly”. They said, “We do come, in willing obedience.” 41:11

Well, the verse doesn’t necessarily mention the immediate aftermath of Big Bang, as claimed by Richard Carrier, though it definitely addresses certain details of the earlier stages of cosmic evolution.

Rather than implying a strictly literal meaning of ‘smoke’ as a chemical substance as understood by RC – here the term ‘smoke’ is actually an emblem that represents a state of chaos of disorganised matter, lacking order, shape and pattern.

This figurative meaning is supported by the subsequent expression ‘Come both’, which, with a description of cosmic organisation in the next verse 41:12, indicates a command to ‘get organised out of chaos.’ Please note that this command is both to the Heavens and to the Earth. It certainly indicates that the Earth itself was part of this ‘shapeless cosmic chaos’.

Also the word ‘come’, a verb involving movement – here referring to both the Heavens and the Earth – points to the motion of everything in the Universe including the Earth. Then ‘willing obedience’ of the Heaven and the Earth implies that they spontaneously followed (‘willingly’) their divinely- inherent ‘laws of nature’ rather than being interrupted (‘unwillingly’) by any coercive force externally or additionally acting on them.

Thus, if ‘smoke’ is understood here as an allusion to the shapeless disorganised scattered primordial matter, then ‘coming’ would connote condensing or coalescing under the influence of gravitation leading to organisation and shape.

The verse accords well with our current astronomical knowledge as it correctly indicates a stage of cosmic evolution when the space-time of the newborn ‘Baby Universe’ was packed with shapeless disorganised matter containing scattered subatomic particles, atoms and molecules gradually undergoing slow coalescence into gross structures such as clusters, galaxies, stars, planets and so on.

Thus the message of this verse, though appears simple, is remarkably very accurate from a modern scientific perspective.

Then RC insists that the verses 41:9-12 contain ‘scientifically wrong information’ that the Earth was created before the Heaven.

Say: Are you rejecting the One who created the Earth in two periods, and ascribing you rivals unto Him, the Sustainer of the worlds?,

For He placed therein mountains standing firm, and blessed it, and determined according to a measure its sustenance to all who would seek it: in four periods,

WHILE He settled to the Heaven, and it was smoke, so He said to it and to the Earth, “Come both, willingly or unwillingly”. They said, “We do come, in willing obedience.”

So He ordained them seven Heavens in two periods, and inspired in every Heaven its function. And We adorned the lowest Heaven with lights and security: such is the measuring of the Mighty, the Knowing. 41:9-12

His confusion about the time sequence allegedly mentioned in these verses arises from his misreading of the word ‘thumma’2. Translated above as ‘while’ (WHILE He settled to the Heaven; cf. 57:4), this particle in Arabic has a plethora of meanings: ‘and’, ‘while’, ‘moreover’, ‘also’, ‘again’, ‘then’, ‘so’, ‘likewise’, ‘similarly’ etc. He fails to appreciate that ‘thumma’, in contrast with ‘fa’ or ‘baAAda’ (‘then’ or ‘after’), functions in Arabic as a simple conjunction to link two parallel statements, without suggesting any cause-and-effect relationship or any time sequence between the two. It also links two events occurring together/ simultaneously/ concurrently.

Interestingly, in another description of cosmic evolution, in 79:27-30, we read – instead of ‘thumma’ – the expression ‘baAAda thalika’ (‘after that’), which makes a clear reference to the time sequence, where the Earth is specifically mentioned as having been shaped after the Heaven.

Otherwise, if we were to assume that ‘thumma’ in the verses 41:9-12 implies a time sequence or temporal succession, then there would be eight days of creation, not six. This would contradict the unequivocal statement that ‘the Heavens and the Earth were created in six days’, which persistently appears in the Quran, in seven instances (7:54, 10:3, 11:7, 25:59, 32:4, 50:38, 57:4), none of which refers to ‘eight days’.

Thus, as the Quran explains itself, we need to understand – in light of all these verses – the total number of days in 41:9-12 as six days, not eight.

In other words, the ‘two periods’ mentioned in 41:12 which involves the creation of both the Heavens and the Earth must be the same as the ‘two periods’ initially mentioned in 41:9 for creation of the Earth.

This simply indicates a chiastic structure in the order of verses 41:9-12 – a structure evident in many other cases throughout the Quran – possibly functioning just as yet another literary device in the Quran.


Note 1

Here are a few studies on some of the Quranic insights on natural phenomena:















Note 2

“The Arabic phrase ‘thumma’ often translated as ‘and’, but’ or ‘then’ does not always imply a sequence. From a Quran’s perspective, this phrase is also understood to signify ‘parallelism’ or two events occurring together / simultaneously / concurrently and not necessarily in sequence (or one after the other). For example in Surah 41:11, we note the phrase “thumma ‘istawa” signifying God’s instructions to the heavens when it was still smoke, to form. This was not an action carried out in sequence, or after the creation of mountains on the earth (41:10), but rather, it was an action in tandem or simultaneously with the creation of the Earth. Thus ‘thumma’ is better rendered in such contexts as ‘moreover’ or signifying a simultaneous action rather than one in sequence. This phrase is also used to signify repetitive stress as can be seen in Surah 102.” (Joseph Islam)