The entire universe worships its Creator with paramount joy and pride, with neither fatigue nor boredom ever befalling it. This is a truth which humans, owing to their restricted aptitude, will never be able to comprehend. As a result of their arrogance and ignorance though, human beings have developed their own perceptions in relation to many a secret of both the animate and inanimate worlds that surround them. However, most of the existing views and theories are dubious, at best, as they rest on no definite epistemological source. The unsurpassed and only source of trustworthy knowledge in this regard is revelation, that is, the revealed knowledge wherein many secrets of other worlds have been disclosed by the Creator and Sustainer of every creature, as well as the knowledge that derives its authority and orientation from the revealed word. This reality notwithstanding, there are many people who favor the ‘knowledge’ based on assumptions and superstitions over that which is based on the wisdom granted by the Creator and Lord of the universe. Certainly, due to their ideological and epistemological disparities, people’s outlooks on the realities of life vastly differ, often resulting in the creation of not only irreconcilably different but also conflicting cultures and civilizations.
For example, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) mentions that all the created objects, celestial and terrestrial, are His obedient servants:
أَلَمۡ تَرَ أَنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَسۡجُدُۤ لَهُۥۤ مَن فِي ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتِ وَمَن فِي ٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَٱلشَّمۡسُ وَٱلۡقَمَرُ وَٱلنُّجُومُ وَٱلۡجِبَالُ وَٱلشَّجَرُ وَٱلدَّوَآبُّ وَكَثِيرٌ مِّنَ ٱلنَّاسِۖ وَكَثِيرٌ حَقَّ عَلَيۡهِ ٱلۡعَذَابُۗ وَمَن يُهِنِ ٱللَّهُ فَمَا لَهُۥ مِن مُّكۡرِمٍۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَفۡعَلُ مَا يَشَآءُ۩ (18)
“Have you not seen that to Allah prostrate all those in the skies and all those on the earth, and the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the animals and many from mankind? And there are many on whom punishment has become due. And the one whom Allah puts to disgrace, there is none to give him respect. Surely Allah does what He wills.” (al-Hajj 22:18)
سَبَّحَ لِلَّهِ مَا فِي ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتِ وَمَا فِي ٱلۡأَرۡضِۖ وَهُوَ ٱلۡعَزِيزُ ٱلۡحَكِيمُ (1)
“All that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth proclaim Allah‘s purity, and He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.” (As-Ssaff 61:1)
تُسَبِّحُ لَهُ ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتُ ٱلسَّبۡعُ وَٱلۡأَرۡضُ وَمَن فِيهِنَّۚ وَإِن مِّن شَيۡءٍ إِلَّا يُسَبِّحُ بِحَمۡدِهِۦ وَلَٰكِن لَّا تَفۡقَهُونَ تَسۡبِيحَهُمۡۚ إِنَّهُۥ كَانَ حَلِيمًا غَفُورٗا (44)
“All the seven skies and the earth and all those therein extol His purity. And there is not a single thing that does not extol His purity along with His praise, but you do not understand their extolling. Surely He is Forbearing, Most-Forgiving.” (Al-Israa 17:44)
Furthermore, all nature bears witness to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s oneness, power, wisdom and goodness. All of it contains signs, the unearthing of which leads the believer to an appreciation of the wonders of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s creation, bringing them thus closer to their Lord. It goes without saying, therefore, that nature, in a sense, participates in revealing the truth to humankind; it is, in fact, a revelation in itself. Accordingly, in addition to having the composed or written Quraan for guidance, it could be duly asserted that humankind has a cosmic or ontological ‘Quraan’ too for the same purpose. Both revelations complement each other as it were, in furnishing people with the necessary substance so as not to let them betray the trust of inhabiting the earth. It follows that those who fully submit to the divine Will, and also read, understand and apply the written Quraan, will easily see upon the face of every creature, letters and words from the pages of the cosmic ‘Quraan’. For this reason does the Quraan refer to the phenomena of nature as signs or symbols (Aayaat), a term that is also used to describe the very “Verses” of the Quraan.
In relation to this, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) mentions as in numerous Aayaat in the Quraan that:
وَفِي ٱلۡأَرۡضِ ءَايَٰتٌ لِّلۡمُوقِنِينَ (20)
“In the earth, there are signs for those who (seek truth to) believe….” (az-Zaariyaat 51:20)
الٓرۚ تِلۡكَ ءَايَٰتُ ٱلۡكِتَٰبِ ٱلۡمُبِينِ (1)
تِلۡكَ ءَايَٰتُ ٱلۡكِتَٰبِ ٱلۡمُبِينِ (2)
“These are Aayaat (Verses) of the enlightening Book.” (Yousuf 12:1, ash-Shu’araa 26:2)
In his classic Book of Animals, al-Jahiz, a prominent Muslim scholar of the ninth century, writes, reflecting the unique Islamic view of reality, that the miracles (signs) of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s creation are as manifest in the most insignificant as in the grandest. "I would have you know that a pebble proves the existence of God just as much as a mountain, and the human body is evidence as strong as the universe that contains our world: for this purpose the small and slight carries as much weight as the great and vast.”
Hence, the whole of the earthly existence is called ‘Aalam, which means the world and which is derived from the words ‘Aalam, Ma’lam and ‘Alaamah, which all mean symbol, sign, signpost and indication. The world as an independent entity, thus, is a sign itself pointing to the existence of its Creator and to the oneness of His Being. In its multifaceted tiers, however, the world comprises inestimable signs with a variety of modes, expressions and intensities. This undeniable truth led a poet to assert:
Oh, what an oddity… How is it that Allah is disobeyed,
How can a disbeliever deny Him,
When in every single thing there is a sign,
Revealing that He is the One!
(Tafseer Ibne Katheer)
It is because of this that Islamic science is anchored in the Muslim Ummah who attempts to unearth, comprehend and appreciate the signs of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) in nature, followed by drawing on whatever such signs can offer to the good of humankind and its civilizational headway. As proven in the history of Islamic civilization, this is best done when the Noble Quraan is wielded in the one hand and the practicing the Quraan in daily life in their explicit and implicit behavior resulting in solid bonds connecting them with the Creator, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). A one-sided approach to studying the world phenomena will never be able to lead humankind to discover and understand the universe created and controlled solely by Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa).
In Islam, while discharging their mission of leadership, humankind is to concentrate neither solely on this world and neglect the Aakhirah (Hereafter i.e. the place where everyone will be accountable for the resources he has been provided with – his body, soul, finances, time, knowledge, skill, etc.), nor solely on the Aakhirah and neglect the orders and command of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) regarding the creatures in this mortal world. While making use of this world, furthermore, humankind is to lay emphasis neither on its physical dimension at the expense of the spiritual nor on the spiritual dimension at the expense of the physical. A healthy balance between the two is to be meticulously struck in order that one is ensured a prospect of enjoying the good of both worlds. Life’s best motto is clear in the words of Allah:
وَمِنۡهُم مَّن يَقُولُ رَبَّنَآ ءَاتِنَا فِي ٱلدُّنۡيَا حَسَنَةٗ وَفِي ٱلۡأٓخِرَةِ حَسَنَةٗ وَقِنَا عَذَابَ ٱلنَّارِ (201)
“Yet there is another among them who says: .Our Lord, give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter, and save us from the punishment of Fire.” (al-Baqarah 2:201)
When commenting on this Aayah it is said that the proper Muslim attitude is neither to renounce this world nor to be so engrossed in it as to forget the future life.
The Muslims’ relationship with this world is exemplified in the following Aayah:
وَٱبۡتَغِ فِيمَآ ءَاتَىٰكَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلدَّارَ ٱلۡأٓخِرَةَۖ وَلَا تَنسَ نَصِيبَكَ مِنَ ٱلدُّنۡيَاۖ وَأَحۡسِن كَمَآ أَحۡسَنَ ٱللَّهُ إِلَيۡكَۖ وَلَا تَبۡغِ ٱلۡفَسَادَ فِي ٱلۡأَرۡضِۖ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلۡمُفۡسِدِينَ (77)
“And seek the (betterment of) the Ultimate Abode with what Allah has given to you, and do not neglect your share from this world, and do good as Allah did good to you, and do not seek to make mischief in the land. Surely, Allah does not like the mischief-makers.”
"But seek, through that which Allah has given you, the home of the hereafter; and (yet), do not forget your share of the world. And do good as Allah has done good to you. And desire not corruption in the land. Indeed, Allah does not like corrupters.” (Al-Qasass 28:77)
One of the modern day intellectuals states that nearly all these works were written to show the wisdom of the Creator in His creation. Most Muslim natural historians, like the medieval Christians, sought to study natural history not for ‘curiosity’ but in order to observe the ‘signs of God’, the Vestigia Dei, so that they were continually drawing spiritual and moral lessons from the study of the kingdoms of Nature, and saw in the world of Nature a unified domain in which Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s wisdom is everywhere manifested.
This philosophy of nature and the whole of the universe, as both a concept and sensory reality, had some serious implications for the life and thought of human beings in every time and place. The Muslims readily answered the divine call to open their cognitive senses and observe all of life’s phenomena, thus ascertaining the greatness, wisdom and supremacy of the Creator. Certainly, gratifying sheer curiosity was the least significant factor in this honorable enterprise. However, the most decisive factors were those related to reading and grasping the messages of the signs of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) unfolding the truth that they could be subjected to the service of humankind, the Creator’s vicegerents on earth.
It appears that the terms ‘Ilm and ‘Aalim, which mean knowledge and the one who knows or the scholar respectively, are derived from the words ‘Aalam, Ma’lam and ‘Alaamah which all mean symbol, sign, signpost and indication — just like the word ‘Aalam which means the world, as pointed out earlier. A scholar (‘Aalim) is so called because they are the ones who read and know the signs of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) better than anybody else. As a result, they eventually become a sign, so to speak, themselves, as they disseminate the knowledge they gain to others, and exude the light they generated whilst learning and applying the knowledge and wisdom they acquired. Thanks to Ulamaa (plural for ‘Aalim), people are able to not only see, but also obtain the light and use it to see further and read the signs for themselves. Hence, knowledge acquisition, application and dissemination are of the most highly regarded feats in Islam. Small wonder then, that the first revealed words to the Seal of Prophets, Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam), were those directly related to the reading and acquisition of knowledge in the name of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), the Lord of the universe as stated in Quraan:
ٱقۡرَأۡ بِٱسۡمِ رَبِّكَ ٱلَّذِي خَلَقَ (1) خَلَقَ ٱلۡإِنسَٰنَ مِنۡ عَلَقٍ (2) ٱقۡرَأۡ وَرَبُّكَ ٱلۡأَكۡرَمُ (3) ٱلَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِٱلۡقَلَمِ (4) عَلَّمَ ٱلۡإِنسَٰنَ مَا لَمۡ يَعۡلَمۡ (5)
“Read with the name of your Lord who created (everything), He created man from a clot of blood. Read, and your Lord is the most gracious, who imparted knowledge by means of the pen. He taught man what he did not know.” (Al-‘Alaq 96:1-5)
The life phenomena, regardless of whether they operate in the heavens or on the earth, or whether they are huge or small, are seen as definite signs saturated with meanings and life-force. They are intended for the vicegerent on earth to whom everything in the heavens and on the earth have been subjected, so that they can carry out their vicegerency assignments as effectively and smoothly as possible. Every human being is a micro cosmos also permeated with the signs of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), just like everything else:
وَفِي ٱلۡأَرۡضِ ءَايَٰتٌ لِّلۡمُوقِنِينَ (20) وَفِيٓ أَنفُسِكُمۡۚ أَفَلَا تُبۡصِرُونَ (21)
“In the earth, there are signs for those who (seek truth to) believe, and in your own selves! So, do you not perceive?” (az-Zaariyaat 51:20-21)