Friday, April 24, 2009

SCIENCE OF ISLAM II – Setting the Terms of the Debate

Taimoor Khan Mumtaz

Science of Islam II - Setting the terms of the debate
Sunday, 3rd August 2008
Aiwan-e-Iqbal Complex, Lahore

This slide presentation illustrates the shared Cosmological & Metaphysical frame-work or ‘World-view’ within which Islamic Science and Art exist. My argument is that ultimately the arts and the sciences of Islam share a common philosophy and objectives.

- First I’ll try to illustrate their common frame-work.

- Then the respective Aims & Objectives of Islamic Science and Art.

- Lastly how these common principles and methods are applied in practice, more particularly the application of science in Islamic Art.

Common frame-work of Art & Science

World-view: The Islamic world-view is based on the idea of a Single Supreme Reality which determines all others. It sees the physical and the psychic worlds as nothing but reflections of a spiritual world beyond time and space. And that spiritual world in turn as a reflection of God’s qualities – to quote a Hadith Qudsi: “I was a hidden treasure and I loved to be known, so I created the world so as to become known.” And the Quran: “Wheresoever you turn there is the Face of God.”

Such a conception of the created Universe – including the physical and the non-physical- which is the immediate context for all the various sciences and the arts.The basic elements of this cosmology are rooted in the Quran – which speaks of the seven heavens, the throne of God, etc. – and the Prophetic traditions, especially the descriptions of the Night Journey of the Prophet through the spiritual heavens to the very Presence of God .[1]

Objectives of Science: Based upon the above world-view traditional Islamic science supposes that the Unity and Hierarchy within the Divine order are reflected in the created order - the Cosmos. Consequently, the various cosmological schemes in Islam sought to show the inter-relatedness of all things.

For example the sciences of geometry, number, music, medicine all have a metaphysical, cosmological and symbolic aspect in addition to their material aspect.

These forms, which are perceived in the material world, are the similitudes of those which exist in the world of spirits…these are the movers and those the moved … [they] endure ; whereas these perish and pass away.

– Ikhwan-as-Safa, 10th Century, Baghdad

Harmony between Reason & Revelation: One of the aims of muslim scientists through -out the discourse of traditional Islamic science –from Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina to Mir Damad and Mula Sadra[2] – was to show the essential concordance and harmony between Reason and Revelation.

To give an example from a 17th Century treatise on astronomy which was being taught into the 20th century as part of the Dars-e-Nizami. Written by Maulana Imam Al-Din Riyazi, a third generation member of an illustrious family of architects who were experts in astronomy, mathematics, geometry, the religious sciences and calligraphy in addition to being poets. His grand-father the famous Ustad Ahmad Lahori, who died in 1649, was one of the great architects of the seventeenth century. He may also have been the architect of the Taj Mahal. Ustad Ahmed was a skilled engineer and a learned scholar of astronomy, geometry and mathematics.

Objectives of Art: Islamic Art has two aspects: a functional, the other formal.

Like the forms of traditional art in all cultures based on a Divine revelation those of Islamic Art are symbolic. These forms symbolize the same metaphysical and cosmological realities which underlie Islamic science. This symbolism resides both in the principles of Islamic art and in the vocabulary of its forms.

Principles of Islamic Art:

The over-riding idea of Islam – Tauheed i.e.Unity – is also the central idea of Islamic Art.

The traditional concept of formal Perfection sees it as having two aspects: an aspect of regularity or rigor and an aspect of mystery or infinity. In other words a geometric aspect and a musical aspect. One can say that Perfection i.e. Kamal comprises a balance of Jamal and Jalal. It is these two complementary aspects which the traditional rules for artistic forms embody.

This complementarity of principles, according to the traditional doctrine, reflects the inner reality of the world itself, which comprises an element of geometry and an element of musicality.[3] In Saadi’s words:

The world subsists on music, intoxication and ardour
But what does the blind man see in a mirror?

Jahan bar sama’ ast wa masti o shur
Wa-lekin che beenad aaeena kur

These two aspects of formal ordering in the final analysis are a reflection of two complementary aspects comprised in the Divine unity. The Islamic doctrine expreses this by dividing the names of God into those of rigor (jalali) and those of beauty (jamali).
Examples: Tazia & Iqbal’s verses on the Cordoba Mosque.

Symbolism of the Forms of Islamic Art

The cosmological and metaphysical principles which Islamic Science uses in many of its applications (for example in medicine) Islamic Art expresses in its forms and principles of design.

The inter-relation of Islamic Science and Art in Practice

Art uses applications of Science on the one hand in its aspect of technique (sana’) i.e. the science of materials and their properties, as well as instruments. And on the other, in its aspect of Beauty of form (fann), it needs an application of science (ilm), very often geometry, mathematics and proportioning.

Central Importance of Knowledge in Islam

In conclusion one must ask why knowledge has always had such a central importance in Islam? E.g. the Hadith which is the motto of this series of seminars: “Aquiring knowledge is a duty upon all muslims”.

Man - the Image of God

For an answer one has to remind ourselves that in Islam the human being, like the cosmos, is seen as a reflection of God’s qualities, according to the Hadith, “God created Adam in His image”. The sajda of the angels to Adam also points to the same reality.

In this way one can see that art, science and the world around us, all remind us of our own deepest reality – lead us to a knowledge of who we are.

In the words of the Quran: “We will show you our signs on the horizons and within yourselves [“fil aafaaqi wa fi anfusahum”] until it becomes clear to you that it is the Truth.” (Surah Fusilat, V.53).

[1] Nasr, S.H. , Islamic Science, An illustrated study, U.K. 1976, pp27-ff
[2] Cf. Nasr S.H. Three Muslim Sages
[3] To quote from the Hindu tradition, ‘The universe itself, properly viewed by the Intellect, the “eye of the heart”, as it is often called, is the result of the marriage of harmony (saaman) and the word (rc).’ [Aitareya Brahmana, VIII; 27 …].