Sunday, July 26, 2009

497)Professor Arif Babul In Conversation With Blogger Simerg:On Science Funding, Muslim Scientists, An Ismaili Academy;Quotes of Aga Khans And Others.

Simerg: You have mentioned about the importance of funding basic research in science, as opposed to only paying attention to the applied fields. Many people seem to have a misperception that “basic science” is entirely self-contained, and that it confers no tangible benefit to society. Could you reflect on this sentiment, and discuss why you feel investment in basic science is so important?

Dr. Babul: It is true that most people harbour the misconception that basic science confers no benefit to society, that it is purely a curiousity-driven endeavour, and the latter is true to some extent but the “no benefit” idea is definitely wrong.

Let me explain: If you ask me why I do what I do, I do it because I just want to understand and to know. I really don’t think about application of knowledge that I create. But on the other hand, when you step back and look back at the developments in science over a fifteen-twenty year window, it becomes clear that most of the technological revolutions of the past two hundred years have occurred as a direct result of major conceptual breakthroughs that emerged from basic research. On the average, the estimate of the annual rate of return on investment in basic research ranges from 28% to 50%. In the case of astronomy, for example, for every dollar that the Government commits to research, the return to the economy has been estimated to ten dollars.

Let me give you a specific example of how this works. If you look at the sky, the reason why stars look like they’re twinkling is because as light passes through our atmosphere, which is moving, it bends, and when you see this light bending, it seems like the star is moving, which gives it its twinkling effect.

…..when you step back and look back at the developments in science over a fifteen-twenty year window, it becomes clear that most of the technological revolutions of the past two hundred years have occurred as a direct result of major conceptual breakthroughs that emerged from basic research.

For astronomers, twinkling is an irritation because it smears out the light, and you want the sharpest image possible. What somebody figured out was that if I take a laser beam and shine it from the ground up, a part of the atmosphere lights up so I see a dot in the sky. I know that the dot should be absolutely round and sharp, but because the atmosphere is moving, it doesn’t look round and sharp. So I point a telescope at that dot, and program a computer to alter the shape of the telescope optics so that the image of the dot is perfectly sharp. In this way, the telescope is calibrated to account for the so-called “twinkling effect,” and now all the stars and galaxies in the vicinity of the laser dot will appear extremely sharp.

You’re probably thinking in the back of your mind, “So what?”

Well, a few years ago, the Optometry school in Waterloo sent some of its researchers to the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria; they wanted to learn about these technologies. It turns out that when optometrists look in your eye and try to image the retina, they have to look through all that fluid in your eye, and the fluid is moving, and that moving fluid distorts the image of the retina. But the same technology that allows astronomers to correct for the atmospheric distortions can also correct for the distortions due to the moving fluid in the eye resulting in pictures of the back of your eye that are perfectly sharp. And the sharper the picture, the earlier you can detect diseases of the eye such as glaucoma and even signs of diabetes. So in a secondary way, innovative new technology has been introduced into the health system.

Let me give you one other very quick example. As early as 1917, Albert Einstein had described the theory of stimulated emission but it took 30 years before physicists, motivated by successes in developing masers (microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) figured out how to make lasers. Initially, nobody could figure out what to do with a laser. It was dubbed “a solution looking for a problem.” Today, 30 years later, the laser is at the heart of virtually all high-tech devices we use, from DVD and CD players to supermarket bar code scanners and laser scalpels for surgery. Laser light is even used to transmit telephone calls and internet signals.

The laser, deemed useless in the past, is now present in countless technological devices.
So you can ask the question, “did the inventor of the laser, in his wildest imagination and dreams, anticipate that laser would turn out to be so useful?” The answer is no but others did and they turned it into a versatile, highly useful, even indispensible tool. Still, Einstein, deserves the credit for providing the conceptual spark, as do the individuals responsible for the pushing ahead with the first laser device. In the same vein, basic scientists are people who sometime purposefully, sometime accidentally provide the all-important sparks, sparks without which the fires of innovation would never get started.

Simerg: When you look back at Islamic history, which Islamic scientists are your inspirations?

Dr. Babul: The two people that stand out in my mind are Ibn al-Haytham and Nasir Al-Din Al-Tusi. Al-Haytham worked at the Dar al-Ilm in Cairo under the patronage of Imam al-Hakim. He was given a stipend – a sort of a “research grant” and did groundbreaking work in the area of optics. It is only over the past few years that his contributions to the field of optics have started to be recognized and he is increasingly referred to the “father of optics.” I seem to recall somewhere that Newton acknowledged his debt to Al-Haytham.

…..Al-Haytham was in the vanguard, resisting a growing movement within the Muslim world at the time to try and limit the scope of scientific discoveries….Dogmatism, which was always present but kept in check, was beginning to spread, and if your scientific work was not quite in consonance with “accepted” interpretations of the Qur’an, you would come under pressure to abandon your work….He believed that nature too is God’s Book; God commands us in the Qur’an to go out and understand it, and that’s exactly what we should do.

Al-Haytham was also one of the pioneers of what we today call the “scientific method” because he was a strong proponent of empirical tests of scientific theories. He was one of the earliest scholars who argued that to understand nature, one must study nature firsthand. And if the observations and experiments say that something is untrue, then we have to accept that our preconceptions are not quite right. Observation must take supremacy over our ideology or myth. That is also a foundation of modern science method: You test your ideas, and reject them if nature rejects them. Contemporary scientists like to say, “Man proposes, Nature disposes.” The kernel of that idea were already present in Ibn Al-Haytham’s work.

A facsimile frontispiece from a 1572 Latin edition of ‘Optics,’ the magnum opus of 11th century mathematician al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), who pioneered modern scientific concepts of vision. Courtesy of Houghton Library

In keeping with the above approach, Al-Haytham was in the vanguard, resisting a growing movement within the Muslim world at the time to try and limit the scope of scientific discoveries based on interpretations of the Qur’an. Dogmatism, which was always present but kept in check, was beginning to spread, and if your scientific work was not quite in consonance with “accepted” interpretations of the Qur’an, you would come under pressure to abandon your work.

Al-Haytham was an active opponent of that approach. He believed that nature too is God’s Book; God commands us in the Qur’an to go out and understand it, and that’s exactly what we should do. And in his writings he was already trying to establish that if there are tensions between these two areas, we should acknowledge that nature, as a book of God, is worthy of study in its own right and on its own terms. So in many ways Ibn Al-Haytham was a dramatic figure, and unique too.

Simerg: And how about Tusi?

Dr. Babul: Tusi was influenced by al-Haytham, and carried on his legacy. In doing so, he laid down many of the foundational ideas, particularly the mathematical ones, for the study of the solar systems, which allowed Copernicus to develop his heliocentric model. In fact in Tusi’s own model, it was straightforward to exchange Sun for the Earth as the center of the solar system because the mathematics was already there. And I’ve often wondered why it was that Tusi did not consider the possibility.

A drawing by the Alamut astronomer Nasir Al-Din Tusi, illustrates what's now known as a Tusi-couple, used to depict an aspect of planetary motion that Ptolemy described in his convoluted equant theory. Together with its clarity, and the elegance of the Arabic script, it combines calligraphic elements that exemplify good solid graphic design principles still in place.
I remember talking to a scholar who has studied Tusi’s writing extensively, and he mentioned that in some of Tusi’s writings, it’s hinted that he actually did think about it, and asked the question, “what if the earth was moving?” In fact, I have since learnt that a several other Muslim astronomers considered the possibility but at the end of the day, they concluded that this model offered no advantage. Tusi tried to test the idea. If the earth was moving, he expected the positions of the stars to change over the course of a year, but he couldn’t see the change in the positions of the stars, so he decided that the earth was not moving. And that’s an interesting argument, because to detect the changes in the positions of the stars, he would have needed a telescope, which was three or four hundred years into the future.

So it was interesting that he was far ahead of his time in terms of thinking, but being a good scientist he rejected the idea on the basis that he did not have the empirical evidence to support it.

ISLAMIC ERA: SCIENCE TIMELINE(Timeline compiled by Blogger Simerg; Nature magazine was used as a reference for some of the material above)

c. 750-1258 Abbasid Era.

c756-929 Umayyads rule over Spain
The Abbasids overthrew the Umayyad caliphate, which had spread Islam through Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and the Iberian peninsula. The Abbasids moved the caliphate’s capital from Damascus to Baghdad. Umayyads, however, retain control over the Iberian territories. This was a particularly productive period for science in Islamic history.

c. Late 700s Muhammad al-Farabi
Al-Farabi lived during the time of first Abbasid Caliph Al-Mansur and is credited to have built the first astrolabe in the Islamic world. Along with his father and Yaqub ibn Tariq, he helped translate the Indian astronomical text by Brahmagupta (fl. 7th century), the Brahmasphutasiddhanta, into Arabic as Az-Zīj ‛alā Sinī al-‛Arab, or the Sindhind. He lived at the beginning of the concerted effort, involving Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian and even Sabian scholars, to translate Greek and Hindu works into Arabic.

c. 721-813 Jabir ibn Hayyan
Works attributed to this alchemist had lasting influence in Europe until the sixteenth century. He is credited, for example, with introducing a completely new approach – controlled, systematic experimentation – that has since become a hallmark of contemporary science’s empirical effort. Many words in chemistry have Arabic roots including alkali (al-qaliy) and alcohol (al-kohl). Jabir is believed to have been an apprentice of Ja’far al-Sadiq.

c. 813 Abbasid Caliph al-Mamun
One of the great patrons of intellectual inquiry in Islamic history and in due course, establishes the House of Wisdom.

c. 830-1258 House of Wisdom, Baghdad
Activities at this library and research centre included translation of Greek works into Arabic by both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars. Free public libraries later spread to other cities.

c. 780-840 Al-Khwarizmi
Mathematician who gave his name to ‘algorithm’ and promoted the use of Indian numerals. Latin translations of his books introduced algebra (derived from al-jabr) to Europe.

c. 850 Banu Musa brothers
Published their first book of ingenious mechanical devices. Examples include fountains that change shape by the minute, clocks with all sort of gimmicks and contraptions, flutes that play by themselves, water jugs that serve drinks automatically, and even a full-sized mechanical tea girl that actually serves tea!

c. 875 Ibn Firnas
Iberian scientist, constructs a hang-glider from silk and eagle feathers on a wooden frame and successfully floated in the air, circling for up to ten minutes, before gradually crash-landing. It was only later, he realized that birds use their tails to slow down before landing.

c. 865-926 Al-Razi (Rhazes)
Persian who contributed to medicine, alchemy and philosophy. He formulated the first known description of smallpox, which the Ancient Greeks had confused with measles.

c. 909-1171 Fatimid Era
The Fatimid Caliphate was an Ismaili Shi’a dynasty that ruled over varying areas of the Maghreb, Egypt, Sicily, Malta and the Levant from 5 January 909 to 1171. Along with the Abbasids, the Fatimid period represents one of the greatest eras in Islamic history. Fatimids patronized intellectual activies and created major libraries and Cairo, their capital city(founded in 969), grew into a centre of scholarship and science. The Fatimid intellectual activities centred around two institutions: al-Azhar and Dar al-Ilm.

c. 988 al-Azhar
Established in the time of Caliph al-Muizz, the Fatimid Caliph who built Cairo, al-Azhar is the Fatimids’ most famous legacy and is often described as the world’s oldest fully-functioning institutions of teaching and scholarship. al-Azhar was concerned mainly with religious sciences and related studies, including jurisprudence.

c. 996 Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim
al-Hakim becomes Caliph at the age of 11. In due course, he establishes a unique centre of excellence for teaching and research known as Dar al-Ilm (House of Knowledge).Fatimid-era intellectual scholarship and pursuits reached their zenith during the reign of al-Hakim. Louis Massignon,the renowned French Orientalist, has designated the 11th century as the Ismaili Century of Islam.

c. 1005 Dar al-Ilm
Dar al-Ilm was founded by Caliph al-Hakim in 1005. Dar al-lm was the first institution of its kind. It drew together research and teaching of a wide variety of subjects such as medicine, astronomy, mathematics, philology, logic, law and like, under a single “roof”. The scholars, teachers and the librarians were supported by an endowment – the first known record of an institution of research and teaching being supported in this fashion – and scholars who achieved high standards were awarded with robes of honour, much like today’s universities award degrees and gowns.Additionally, the Dar al-Ilm housed one of the largest, most extensive libraries in the world (at the time).

c. 965-1039 Ibn al- Haytham (Alhazen)
Basra-born Fatimid polymath researcher, and one of the most brilliant of all Islamic scholars, who lived in Cairo in the time of Caliph al-Hakim, al-Haytham made significant contributions to the principles of optics, as well as to anatomy, astronomy, engineering, mathematics, medicine, ophthalmology, philosophy, physics, psychology, and visual perception. He is credited with refuting Greek models of vision using “controlled experiments” and arguing instead that vision is the result of images being formed in the eye. He also developed the basics of the camera obscura. Due his foundational work in optics, al-Haytham is often referred to as the “father of optics”. Due to his formulation of a modern quantitative and empirical approach to physics and science, and especially the central role of experimentation and observations as the only legitimate way to arbitrate between competing explanations, he is also acknowledged as the pioneer of the modern scientific method.

c. 973-1048 Abu Rayhan al-Biruni
A brilliant Persian polymath of the 11th century, al-Biruni was a scientist and physicist, an anthropologist and comparative sociologist, an astronomer and chemist, a critic of alchemy and astrology, an encyclopedist and historian, a geographer and traveler, a geodesist and geologist, a mathematician, a pharmacist and psychologist, an Islamic philosopher and theologian, and a scholar and teacher. He was the first Muslim scholar to study India and the Brahminical tradition. Like al-Haytham, he was one of the earliest exponents of the experimental scientific method, and was responsible for introducing the experimental method into mechanics. He was one of the first Islamic astronomers to seriously consider the possibility that the earth orbited the sun (as we now hold today) than the other way around. George Sarton, the father of the history of science, described Biruni as “one of the very greatest scientists of Islam, and, all considered, one of the greatest of all times.”

c. 980-1037 Ibn Sina (Avicenna)
Persian physician and philosopher born in an Ismaili family from Bukhara. The Latin translation of his Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (The Canon of Medicine) was a highly regarded medical text in Europe until the sixteenth century.

c 1090 – 1256 Alamut Library
Following a schism, the the Nizari Ismailis established a state centred on the fortress of Alamut. In keeping with their traditions, the Ismaili leadership maintained a sophisticated outlook and placed a high value on intellectual activities. They created impressive libraries of which the library at the fortress of Alamut was the most famous. The Alamut library contained not only important collections of religious and philosophical texts, but also scientific treatises and instruments. Among the eminent Muslim scholars who availed themselves of the patronage of the Ismaili rulers (and access to their libraries) during time was Nasiral-Din al-Tusi, who spent three decades with the Ismailis.

c. 1126-1198 Ibn Rushd (Averroës)
Spanish-born Islamic philosopher who tried to reconcile the contradictions between Aristotelian ideas of studying nature through observation and reason, and religious truth. His writings and translations had considerable influence in Europe.

c. 1201-1274 Nasir al-Din al-Tusi
Persian astronomer, mathematician and astronomer who worked under Ismaili patrons in various centers including at Alamut Fortress. He established the Maragha Observatory and introduced several mathematical devices, including the ‘Tusi couple”, that Islamic scholars to greatly improve ptolomeic models of planetary motion. The “Tusi couple” as well mathematical models for planetary motion by Tusi’s student, Mo’ayyeduddin Urdi, was instrumental in Copernicus’s reformulation of the solar system where planets revolve around the sun (see also Al-Shatir below).

c. 1259- c.1304 Maragha Observatory
One of the top three observatories in the Islamic world, this was built in Maragha in modern-day Iran. Maragha had a library of 400,000 books and a school of astronomy.

c. 1213-1288 Ibn al-Nafis
Damascus-born physician who worked in Cairo hospitals and produced the first recorded explanation of the blood leaving the heart for the lungs. William Harvey’s discovered the full pulmonary cycle in the 1600’s.

c. 1281-1923 Ottoman Era
The Ottoman Empire spread from Anatolia into north Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and eastern and southern Europe.

c. 1284 Al-Mansuri / Qalawun hospital, Cairo
Specialized institutions that treated disease for free and conducted research took root under Islamic rule, building on Roman efforts. The hospitals in Cairo and in Baghdad had wards for different illnesses. Clinicians took detailed case notes, which were collated into teaching manuals.

c. 1304-1375 Ibn al-Shatir
Damascus-born astronomer and mathematician who developed new models of the Moon and planetary motion that eliminated problems with Greek models. Aspects of his work are identical to that produced by Copernicus.

c. 1332-1406 Ibn Khaldun
Ibn Khaldūn born in North Africa in present-day Tunisia. is considered a forerunner of several social scientific disciplines: demography, cultural history, historiography,the philosophy of history, and sociology.While he is considered one of the forerunners of modern economics, he is preceded by the Indian scholar-philosopher Chanakya.He is considered by many to be the father of a number of these disciplines, and of social sciences in general, for anticipating many elements of these disciplines centuries before they were founded in the West. He is best known for his Muqaddimah (known as Prolegomenon in the West).

Timeline compiled by Simerg; Nature magazine was used as a reference for some of the material above

Continue at the Source:

Simerg: What are your hopes and aspiration for the Jamat in Canada, with the talent that we have?

Babul: Apart from my concerns as a father, I also see the present time as time of opportunity for the Ismaili community in the West. We have been in Canada nearly 40 years now. And during this time, I think that members of the Jamat have done extremely well in terms of achieving professional and entrepreneurial successes. By and large, this has been an individual effort and I think now is the time to convert these individual successes into collective assets for the community.

Focusing on Ismailis in academia, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are Ismaili professors in nearly every area of study. I personally know Ismaili Professors of Art History, Ismaili Professors of Mathematics, Ismaili Professors of Engineering, of Law, of Islamic Studies, of Physics. We have researchers pursuing careers in molecular biology, in neuroscience…the list just goes on and on.
And these individuals are at the forefront in their own fields – truly stellar individuals. And what gives me great optimism is that there is cadre of brilliant graduate students moving in the same direction, and probably many more interested undergraduate and high school students.

With this in mind, two years ago, I started toying with the idea of setting up something that I like to call the “Ismaili Academy”, a “tent structure” that would bring together all the Ismaili academics from around the world.

Academics possess skills which transcend their own specific area of expertise; they bring unique ways of thinking about and formulating responses to critical challenges facing the Jamat. It is not a coincidence that government think tanks often include academics that have no direct expertise or relationship to the issue that the think tank is meant to consider. And so the Academy would be a resource for the leadership to draw on. It would offer the leadership an up-to-date snapshot of the expertise and talent that is available.

Second, the Ismaili Academy would provide a forum whereby junior members of the academia can seek guidance and advice from more senior members, and where senior members can pass down their insights and experiences to the next generation so that the latter can avoid pitfalls. I see no reason why we, as a community, cannot be proactive in giving the next generation a career boost. It is one of many ways of ensuring that the impact of the community continues to grow in the years to come.

Academics possess skills which transcend their own specific area of expertise; they bring unique ways of thinking about and formulating responses to critical challenges facing the Jamat. It is not a coincidence that government think tanks often include academics that have no direct expertise or relationship to the issue that the think tank is meant to consider. And so the Academy would be a resource for the leadership to draw on.

Even high school and university students could benefit from such an infrastructure. Consider, for example, students wishing to pursue a career in science. There are summer research positions, scholarships and fellowships they should be applying for to enhance their profiles. Many of these are not widely announced, but those of us who have been in the system often come across these and can bring them to the attention of interested students.

I think the real difficulty here is figuring out how get this Academy idea going, and how to get enough momentum behind that idea so that it could actually come to fruition. It definitely requires institutional assistance; you can’t do something that involves the community without the direct support from the institutions, so that’s where I am.

I’m at the stage of working with different members of the leadership trying to see how we could bring this about. It is, after all, very much in keeping with the idea of cooperatives and associations that Hazar Imam mentioned over the Golden Jubilee Year.

Simerg: Most of your life has been dedicated toward trying to understand the mechanisms and complexities of this incredible Universe of ours, through Allah’s greatest gift to mankind – the intellect. His Highness the Aga Khan once said and I quote: “The Divine intellect both transcends and informs the human intellect.” What does this statement hold for you – say when you are totally engrossed in your field of study, and you come across discoveries that you make, or formulae that you develop. How do you relate this to the Divine Intellect? Is the discovery something that you attribute to Allah’s blessing?

Dr. Babul: I definitely see it as a blessing.
A few of my colleagues have written about these experiences, when you’re struggling with problems and then out of the blue something just hits you. In those kinds of moments, you often literally lose yourself and are transported into a different time and space, if you will.
I feel that those moments are as spiritual as any other moments that are traditionally associated with religious experiences. And it goes back to what I was saying earlier: I don’t divide up my world. I don’t become an Ismaili Muslim only during prayer time. I am an Ismaili Muslim 24/7, and my relationship to the world around me is informed by this notion of an all-pervasive “Divine” or “Mystery.”

I exist in this Mystery, I try and guide my actions by an ethical system that is informed by it – [laughing] can’t say I am altogether successful in this – and so I’m fortunate that once in a while the door will open and I’ll get the sense of it through my work. I really see it as one of a variety of spiritual experience.

The phrase I would prefer to use is “a glimpse of Mystery.” When we think of the Divine, we tend to narrow it and compartmentalize it, but that’s not the case. Mawlana Sultan Muhammad Shah, again, said, “you live in it, you breathe in it, you are immersed in it.” So every aspect of your life is directly related to and informed by this.

I don’t divide up my world. I don’t become an Ismaili Muslim only during prayer time. I am an Ismaili Muslim 24/7, and my relationship to the world around me is informed by this notion of an all-pervasive “Divine” or “Mystery.”

And I don’t think you have to be a scientist to experience those precious moments, those “glimpses of Mystery.” It could happen while reading poetry, or during the act of creating sculpture or a painting. It could even happen during an everyday moment. Imagine spending every evening on a beach, watching the sunset. Most of the days, you don’t pay much attention to this, or it doesn’t strike you as particular moving. Then one day, as the sun sinks below the horizon, you are struck by the brilliant colours, you are mesmerized, and you forget where and who you are. You’re just caught. I would say that you’ve just had a spiritual experience.
And this is when you’d say, “Masha’Allah.”

Simerg: Thank you Professor Babul. It has been immensely rewarding talking with you.

Continue at the Source:

Link to all 4 parts of the interview:

Quotes of Aga Khans and Others:

".....As we use our intellect to gain new knowledge about Creation, we come to see even more profoundly the depth and breadth of its mysteries. We explore unknown regions beneath the seas – and in outer space. We reach back over hundreds of millions of years in time. Extra-ordinary fossilised geological specimens seize our imagination – palm leaves, amethyst flowers, hedgehog quartz, sea lilies, chrysanthemum and a rich panoply of shells. Indeed, these wonders are found beneath the very soil on which we tread – in every corner of the world – and they connect us with far distant epochs and environments.
And the more we discover, the more we know, the more we penetrate just below the surface of our normal lives – the more our imagination staggers. Just think for example what might lie below the surfaces of celestial bodies all across the far flung reaches of our universe. What we feel, even as we learn, is an ever-renewed sense of wonder, indeed, a powerful sense of awe – and of Divine inspiration"(Aga Khan IV, Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa, Canada, December 6th 2008)

"In Shia Islam, intellect is a key component of faith. Intellect allows us to understand the creation of God"(Aga Khan IV, July 23rd 2008, Lisbon, Portugal)

"....AND SHOULD'NT IB SCIENCE STUDENTS not learn about Ibn al-Haytham, the Muslim scholar who developed modern optics, as well as his predecessors Euclid and Ptolemy, whose ideas he challenged.....The legacy which I am describing actually goes back more than a thousand years, to the time when our forefathers, the Fatimid Imam-Caliphs of Egypt, founded Al-Azhar University and the Academy of Knowledge in Cairo. For many centuries, a commitment to learning was a central element in far-flung Islamic cultures. That commitment has continued in my own Imamat through the founding of the Aga Khan University and the University of Central Asia and through the recent establishment of a new Aga Khan Academies Program."(Aga Khan IV, "The Peterson Lecture" on the International Baccalaureate, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 18 April 2008)

"The second great historical lesson to be learnt is that the Muslim world has always been wide open to every aspect of human existence. The sciences, society, art, the oceans, the environment and the cosmos have all contributed to the great moments in the history of Muslim civilisations. The Qur’an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God’s creation"(Closing Address by His Highness Aga Khan IV at the "Musée-Musées" Round Table Louvre Museum, Paris, France, October 17th 2007)

"......The Quran tells us that signs of Allah’s Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation - in the heavens and the earth, the night and the day, the clouds and the seas, the winds and the waters...."(Aga Khan IV, Kampala, Uganda, August 22 2007)

"Of the Abrahamic faiths, Islam is probably the one that places the greatest emphasis on knowledge. The purpose is to understand God's creation, and therefore it is a faith which is eminently logical. Islam is a faith of reason"(Aga Khan IV, Spiegel Magazine interview, Germany, Oct 9th 2006)

"Astronomy, the so-called “Science of the Universe” was a field of particular distinction in Islamic civilization-–in sharp contrast to the weakness of Islamic countries in the field of Space research today. In this field, as in others, intellectual leadership is never a static condition, but something which is always shifting and always dynamic"(Aga Khan IV, Convocation, American University of Cairo, Cairo, Egypt, June 15th 2006)

"In this context, would it not also be relevant to consider how, above all, it has been the Qur'anic notion of the universe as an expression of Allah's will and creation that has inspired, in diverse Muslim communities, generations of artists, scientists and philosophers? Scientific pursuits, philosophic inquiry and artistic endeavour are all seen as the response of the faithful to the recurring call of the Qur'an to ponder the creation as a way to understand Allah's benevolent majesty. As Sura al-Baqara proclaims: 'Wherever you turn, there is the face of Allah'.The famous verse of 'light' in the Qur'an, the Ayat al-Nur, whose first line is rendered here in the mural behind me, inspires among Muslims a reflection on the sacred, the transcendent. It hints at a cosmos full of signs and symbols that evoke the perfection of Allah's creation and mercy"(Aga Khan IV,Speech, Institute of Ismaili Studies, October 2003, London, U.K.)

"From the seventh century to the thirteenth century, the Muslim civilizations dominated world culture, accepting, adopting, using and preserving all preceding study of mathematics, philosophy, medicine and astronomy, among other areas of learning. The Islamic field of thought and knowledge included and added to much of the information on which all civilisations are founded. And yet this fact is seldom acknowledged today, be it in the West or in the Muslim world, and this amnesia has left a six hundred year gap in the history of human thought"(Aga Khan IV, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA, 1996)

"An institution dedicated to proceeding beyond known limits must be committed to independent thinking. In a university scholars engage both orthodox and unorthodox ideas, seeking truth and understanding wherever they may be found. That process is often facilitated by an independent governance structure, which serves to ensure that the university adheres to its fundamental mission and is not pressured to compromise its work for short-term advantage. For a Muslim university it is appropriate to see learning and knowledge as a continuing acknowledgement of Allah's magnificence"(Aga Khan IV, Speech, 1993, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan)

"Science is a wonderful, powerful tool and research budgets are essential. But Science is only the beginning in the new age we are entering. Islam does not perceive the world as two seperate domains of mind and spirit, science and belief. Science and the search for knowledge are an expression of man's designated role in the universe, but they do not define that role totally....."(Aga Khan IV, McMaster University Convocation, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, May 15th 1987)

"The Divine Intellect, Aql-i Kull, both transcends and informs the human intellect. It is this Intellect which enables man to strive towards two aims dictated by the faith: that he should reflect upon the environment Allah has given him and that he should know himself. It is the Light of the Intellect which distinguishes the complete human being from the human animal, and developing that intellect requires free inquiry. The man of faith, who fails to pursue intellectual search is likely to have only a limited comprehension of Allah's creation. Indeed, it is man's intellect that enables him to expand his vision of that creation"(Aga Khan IV, Aga Khan University Inauguration Speech, Karachi, Pakistan, November 11, 1985)

"The Holy Qu'ran's encouragement to study nature and the physical world around us gave the original impetus to scientific enquiry among Muslims. Exchanges of knowledge between institutions and nations and the widening of man's intellectual horizons are essentially Islamic concepts. The Faith urges freedom of intellectual enquiry and this freedom does not mean that knowledge will lose its spiritual dimension. That dimension is indeed itself a field for intellectual enquiry. I can not illustrate this interdependence of spiritual inspiration and learning better than by recounting a dialogue between Ibn Sina, the philosopher, and Abu Said Abu -Khyar, the Sufi mystic. Ibn Sina remarked, "Whatever I know, he sees". To which Abu Said replied," Whatever I see, he knows"."(Aga Khan IV, Aga Khan University Inauguration Speech, Karachi, Pakistan, November 11th 1985)

“Muslims believe in an all-encompassing unit of man and nature. To them there is no fundamental division between the spiritual and the material while the whole world, whether it be the earth, sea or air, or the living creatures that inhabit them, is an expression of God’s creation.”(Aga Khan IV, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, 13 April 1984)

"One of the first and greatest research centres, the Bayt al-Hikmah established in Baghdad in 830, led Islam in translating philosophical and scientific works from Greek, Roman, Persian and Indian classics. By the art of translation, learning was assimilated from other civilizations"(Aga Khan IV, Aga Khan University, 16 March 1983, Karachi, Pakistan)

"Indeed, one strength of Islam has always lain in its belief that creation is not static but continuous, that through scientific and other endeavours, God has opened and continues to open new windows for us to see the marvels of His creation"(Aga Khan IV, Aga Khan University, 16 March 1983, Karachi, Pakistan)

"Our religious leadership must be acutely aware of secular trends, including those generated by this age of science and technology. Equally, our academic or secular elite must be deeply aware of Muslim history, of the scale and depth of leadership exercised by the Islamic empire of the past in all fields"(Aga Khan IV, 6th February 1970, Hyderabad, Pakistan)

"God has given us the miracle of life with all its attributes: the extraordinary manifestations of sunrise and sunset, of sickness and recovery, of birth and death, but surely if He has given us the means with which to remove ourselves from this world so as to go to other parts of the Universe, we can but accept as further manifestations the creation and destructions of stars, the birth and death of atomic particles, the flighting new sound and light waves. I am afraid that the torch of intellectual discovery, the attraction of the unknown, the desire for intellectual self-perfection have left us"(Aga Khan IV,Speech, 1963, Mindanao, Phillipines)

"The creation according to Islam is not a unique act in a given time but a perpetual and constant event; and God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time. Allah alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine Will"(Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954)

"Thus Islam's basic principle can only be defined as mono-realism and not as monotheism. Consider, for example, the opening declaration of every Islamic prayer: "Allah-o-Akbar". What does that mean? There can be no doubt that the second word of the declaration likens the character of Allah to a matrix which contains all and gives existence to the infinite, to space, to time, to the Universe, to all active and passive forces imaginable, to life and to the soul. Imam Hassan has explained the Islamic doctrine of God and the Universe by analogy with the sun and its reflection in the pool of a fountain; there is certainly a reflection or image of the sun, but with what poverty and with what little reality; how small and pale is the likeness between this impalpable image and the immense, blazing, white-hot glory of the celestial sphere itself. Allah is the sun; and the Universe, as we know it in all its magnitude, and time, with its power, are nothing more than the reflection of the Absolute in the mirror of the fountain"(Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954)

"Islam is fundamentally in its very nature a natural religion. Throughout the Quran God's signs (Ayats) are referred to as the natural phenomenon, the law and order of the universe, the exactitudes and consequences of the relations between natural phenomenon in cause and effect. Over and over, the stars, sun, moon, earthquakes, fruits of the earth and trees are mentioned as the signs of divine power, divine law and divine order. Even in the Ayeh of Noor, divine is referred to as the natural phenomenon of light and even references are made to the fruit of the earth. During the great period of Islam, Muslims did not forget these principles of their religion"(Aga Khan III, April 4th 1952)

Chapter 21, Verse 30: Do not the unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together before We clove them asunder, and of water fashioned every thing? Will they not then believe?(Noble Quran, 7th Century CE)

Chapter 51, verse 47: We built the heavens with might, and We expand it wide(Noble Quran, 7th Century CE)

Chapter79, verse 30: And then he gave the earth an oval form(Noble Quran, 7th Century CE)

Chapter 86, verse 11: I swear by the reciprocating heaven.....(Noble Quran, 7th Century CE)

"Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave"(Prophet Muhammad, circa 632CE)"

"Seek knowledge, even in China"(Prophet Muhammad, circa 632CE)

"One hour of contemplation on the works of the Creator is better than a thousand hours of prayer"(Prophet Muhammad, circa 632CE)

"The ink of the scholar is better than the blood of the martyr"(Prophet Muhammad, circa 632CE)

"All human beings, by their nature, desire to know."(Aristotle, The Metaphysics, circa 322BC)

The above are 30 quotes and excerpts taken from Blogpost Four Hundred, a collection of around 100 quotes on the subjects of Knowledge, Intellect, Creation, Science and Religion:

Easy Nash

The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)
The Holy Qu'ran's encouragement to study nature and the physical world around us gave the original impetus to scientific enquiry among Muslims: Aga Khan IV(1985)
The first and only thing created by God was the Intellect(Aql): Prophet Muhammad(circa 632CE)