The Spiritual and Ethical Foundation of Science and Technology in Islamic Civilisation

by Osman Bakar

Source: IAIS Journal of Civilisation Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (October 2008), pp. 87-112.

Abstract: The main aim of this paper is to identify and discuss the fundamental elements that shape the spiritual and ethical foundation of science and technology in Islamic civilisation. The task of identifying of these elements is undertaken through an understanding of the core teachings of Islam pertaining to knowledge in general and science and technology in particular. Islam is at once a religion, a community and a civilisation. The author examines how all these aspects of Islam help us to understand the relationship between science, technology, spirituality and ethics in Islamic culture. As a religion, Islam upholds knowledge as the key to both individual and societal salvation. With the idea of unity of reality and knowledge as a guiding principle Islam refuses to entertain any distinction between the religious and the secular in the realm of knowledge. Science and technology are as relevant as the so-called religious sciences to the human pursuit of the divine. As a community, Islam stresses on the divine law as the most important source of ethics to guide human actions in all sectors of personal and public life. This law is generally viewed as not only all-embracing in the scope of its applications, but also dynamic enough to be adaptable to the changing needs of space and time.

Science and technology are to be regulated by ethics that are embodied in this law. As a civilisation, Islam seeks to promote the interests of humanity as a whole by standing up for the perspectives of universalism, the common good and inter-faith understanding. As so many of Islam’s thinkers have asserted over the centuries, science and technology are the most powerful and the most enduring universal elements in human civilisation and should be pursued for the sake of our common good and inter-faith peace. In this paper we will also examine the relevance of the traditional Islamic ethics of science and technology for our contemporary world.

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