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Commentary MUSTANSIR MIR The absence of a historical conflict between science and Islam has led some, perhaps many, Muslims to believe that, unlike Christianity, Islam faces no challenge from science today. But the largely secularist orientation, premises , and parameters of the modern scientific enterprise are fundamentally different from the orientation, premises, and parameters of science in ancient, medieval, and premodern times. Of course, an easy way of heading off a possible conflict between science and religion is to raise the entirely valid question of the limits of scientific discourse and argue that religion and science each have a different province of activity and each speak a different language. From a practical standpoint, however, it cannot be denied that scientists, too, have their views and opinions, and that what they think—or even speculate— contributes, for good or ill, to the creation of an intellectual climate. And it is difficult to deny that, in the particular context in which science is prosecuted today, the net effect of the scientists’ excogitations is to create the impression that science and religion are in conflict, with science being the privileged route to the ascertainment of truth in the philosophical sphere no less than in the scientific sphere proper. It is in this sense that any challenge that science poses to religion is posed to all—or at least to the so-called theistic—religions. When, with this background in mind, we look at the Qur’ānic texts presented in this volume, we wonder how these texts can at all be relevant to an investigation of the science–religion dialectic at which the whole volume aims. We are faced with the question: Are we trying to draw from the Qur’ān answers it was never meant to provide? How can a series of statements or claims, made in an imperious tone, illuminate a subject that calls for rational inquiry? It is important to bear in mind that this selection of texts does not constitute the entirety of the Qur’ān. Viewed as a whole, the Qur’ān not only states and prescribes but also seeks to validate, with reasons and arguments, a 69 70  texts and commentaries set of ideas and concepts that have internal coherence and contribute to the creation of a distinctive worldview and a specific code of guidance. Setting our texts within the larger context of the Qur’ānic universe of ideas is, then, part of our challenge. Instead of commenting in detail on any particular texts, we will offer some general observations. The God Question The first thing that jumps out at the reader of these texts is the centrality of God in them. The texts speak of a personal God who is the originator of the heavens and the earth, who, as supreme sovereign, controls and manages all of creation. In other words, there is simply no way of ducking the God question . The centrality of God—of a personal God—in the Qur’ān has to be reckoned with in any discussion of religion and science from an Islamic viewpoint . As in Judaism and Christianity, the existence of God—of a being who, ultimately, is in charge of the world—is assumed in Islam. But in the Qur’ān, the real purpose of the emphasis placed on God’s sovereignty and control over nature (perhaps a better word than ‘‘world’’ or ‘‘universe’’ in the present context ) is to underscore the idea that nature’s involuntary submission to God constitutes an object lesson for human beings, who ought to make voluntary submission to God if they wish to achieve in their lives the peace and harmony found in nature on account of nature’s submission to God. The point to note in the Qur’ānic texts, though, is that human submission is predicated on study of and reflection on the many and multifarious phenomena—or ‘‘signs’’—that make up nature. Nature as a Repository of Signs Nature, then, is a repository of signs. The word ‘‘sign’’ (āya) is a key word in the texts. Two things need to be noted about a sign. First, by definition, a sign points to something beyond itself, the signifier being a means used to arrive at the signified, the latter occupying a higher ontological status. It would be a mistake to focus attention on the signifier at the cost of neglecting the signi...


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