The spirit of inquiry
Scientific research was considered a meritorious duty. It was the response of the faithful to the persistent call of the Quran to ponder creation in order to understand God’s greatness. This attitude helped to cultivate an open yet inquiring bent of mind. Ancient sages were esteemed but their legacy was critically appraised. Ar-Razi (d. 925), philosopher and medical scientist, while in admiration of Galen, wrote: “But all this reverence will not and should not prevent me from doubting what is erroneous in his theories”. Ibn Haytham (Al-Hazen), al-Biruni and Ibn Sina (Avicenna), in challenging the long held view of Euclid and Ptolemy that the eye sent out visual rays to the object of vision, laid the foundations for modern optics.
Research was recognised as a way of intellectual growth, an ethical duty since the human intellect is a divine gift to be cherished and cultivated. “Accept whatever adds to your wisdom, regardless of the nature of its source”, is a well-attested Prophetic tradition. “Wisdom sustains the intellect” whose “natural disposition is to learn from experience”, are among the sayings of Hazrat Ali. Jurists and mystics, from the classical Middle Ages to the 20th century, from al-Ghazali, Ibn Khallikan and Sanai to Shaykh Shalut and Mohammad Iqbal, have upheld and celebrated the never-ending duty of the mind to push the frontiers of its gaze to ever expanding horizons to capture glimpses of a flawless, continuing creation.