Parents are confused! They have sent their children to the best Islamic schools, enrolled them in Quran memorization programs, and educated them in Islam yet when their kids reach high school or university, they start having serious doubts about the existence of Allah or the authenticity of Islam! A scary prospect for any parent who cares about the future of their children.
I was approached on a few occasions by parents who are going through a version of what I just described. One of the main points of frustration has been that the exceptional education they strove to offer to their children seems to be the very thing that is driving them away from the religion, leading them to question Allah and Islam! How come? We were trying to offer our kids the best education and provide them with an edge to excel in the future. We never expected that these skills and education will lead our kids to have a faith crisis!
Frankly, I strove to understand what was exactly going on, and in most instances did not have an answer. I realized there was a lot for me to learn about this dilemma. I am not an expert on either science or atheism although they mildly fall within my interests. However, by virtue of my involvement in the Muslim community in Toronto I have had a decent exposure to such an unfortunate phenomenon. Being a father propelled me to try to understand what this was all about and kept my mind eagerly focused on trying and make sense of the issue.
In this article I share my personal thoughts on what I believe has been happening. I expect this will open the door for better appreciation of some of the factors that play a major role in leading many Muslim youth to experience doubt at that level of intensity as such that their religious identity is at jeopardy.
First, we believe the world we live in consists of two major realms: the seen and unseen. Seen phenomena, also known as the material world, are the things we can access with our five sense either directly or through a helping tool (like a telescope). This is the sole content and field of enquiry for science. Science thus has nothing to do with non-physical reality (the unseen world). It doesn’t seek to prove or disprove phenomena beyond the physical world. Science in this sense is an extremely helpful and powerful tool that has led to a great deal of advancement in the human condition.
Matters of the unseen can be handled only through true revelation. Since we don’t have access to this realm, we are completely dependent on divine revelation. How can we find authentic revelation? This is the study of theology and other religious studies.
Science or Ideology?
As long as science minds its own business and stays in its legitimate territory, it serves the purpose behind its pursuit and those involved in it will be able to reap the fruits of their endeavours and extend them to the rest of us. However, when science is abducted and used to make conclusions on matters beyond its scope, then it has turned into an ideology. It loses its scientific nature and infringes on other territory while lacking the necessary tools. This way science is turned into an ideology and a religion rather than a useful tool to investigate the world of matter. This is how science was abducted by the ideologues of scientism.
Scientism is exclusive and narcissistic to the core. It claims that only science has the tools to know the truth. Other systems that investigate metaphysical matters, it suggests, are baseless and essentially flawed.
When we thought our children where being educated on the scientific method in the schools system, they were simultaneously indoctrinated into scientism as a philosophy and an ideology, a religion in more relatable terms. The school system is meant to educate children in what they need to know in order to survive and thrive in life. It is supposed to teach them the nature of matter at different levels of conception. However, due the heavy secularization of modern societies, education has been theoretically reduced to the study of the scientific method and to the exclusion of everything else. This laid the grounds for scientism. Since all kids get educated on is science, and many teachers and professors are either atheists or semi-atheists, the ideology of scientism seeped into the minds of the students. It gave them the impression that existence is essentially physical and if something cannot be perceived with one of our sense or measured then it doesn’t exist. This is how the very advantage many parents strive to give to their kids ends up being a great disservice. The school system was highjacked by religious ideologies who managed to smuggle their religion into education. Pure secularism is has failed to see the fact that scientism is an ideology and a religion.
With an example I hope to demonstrate the point. Science is mainly descriptive. For instance, it describes and analyses how objects that have mass will fall to the grown because of the gravity pull. This is not true. But when for over a decade that’s all what students are exposed to, the mind will assume that natural phenomenon like gravity are autonomous and work on their own. The mind will replace causality with mechanism. The human mind is active and is always looking for answers, especially big ones. The small descriptive bits and pieces will dull the mind into assuming that natural forces are the ultimate explanation of natural phenomenon. Physical forces explain movement, chemicals and electromagnetic waves explain thought and emotion, and natural selection explains variety in the species. When the mind of students is molded only in descriptive and experimental methods, it wraps itself completely around them. It can only think in those ways and it assumes that truth can only be known using these methods. In this sense, modern education is a training in naturalism, the belief that only natural laws and forces operate in the world.
This lays the ground for militant atheists who push the poor student beyond the tipping point. All they have to do is claim that God cannot be proved using scientific method. And most students are philosophically illiterate to know there are other method of knowing the truth with it comes to non-physical phenomena; that even the scientific method stands on specific philosophical assumptions.
When science starts making speculations about what exists and what doesn’t exist, it ceases being scientific. It has no tools to speculate of other realms of existence. By definition science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God directly through its own tools. When so-called teachers or professors pronounce claims about the existence or non-existence of God, they are betrayed the scientific method and have acted unscientifically. Richard Dawkins was asked in an interview what he would do if he found out after death that God was actually there. He said: “I would ask him why did you go to great lengths to hide yourself!” You can see that Dawkins cannot relate to things outside the scientific method which is meant for the material world. This paralysis is the result of the indoctrination we just spoke about. It leads to being unable to logically relate to things outside the boundaries of scientific research. Basically, the student becomes a naturalist.
This is what kids get trained in through the school system. This could have been less gloomy had our Islamic education system adapted proficiently to address modern circumstances. Being stuck in traditional arguments and method that address all problems, does not at all preserve the religion but render religious discourse irrelevant and obsolete. These methods were designed to help people who lived in other condition and who faced different challenges. And using the same arguments in the same style to educate Muslims who are living in a drastically different world and who are facing a completely different set of challenges is an act of blindness induced by mental laziness, cultural captivity, and spiritual dumbness.
Proper Islamic education has the potential to put the scientific method in its right place within a comprehensive framework of methods and tools that will allow students to master science and utilize it without losing sight of its limitation when it comes to matters beyond the world of matter. A framework that enables students to see how science is merely a useful tool to uncover the work of Allah in this world and put it to good use. Science then becomes a tool to confirm the natural state of faith humans are born with. Science becomes a tool to enhance the human condition, a means to worship Allah through helping his creation.
There are individuals who do this work for themselves. They are Muslim scientists and educated people. But it is all in their head. It has not been standardized for facilitated use by others. This is the step we feel is needed at this stage.
We can’t deny anymore that the school system has long ceased to be merely a medium for learning science but also has become a camp of indoctrination in the ideology and religion of scientism. Pure science is no longer taught in schools for the most part. Science is offered with an atheistic twist. Thus, after 12 years through the school system, kids are heavily trained and brainwashed in naturalism, scientism, and atheism. Islamic schools are no exception. Merely sprinkling some religious texts on a methodology steeped in scientism will not do. Islam offers a framework for science and other methods to function within. It is not meant to offer a mere frosting on the cake.
It comes as no surprise then that teenagers and university students have a difficult time making sense of religion. This should be seen as one of many other factors that contribute to this complex phenomenon.
What we need is an integrative approach that combines an authentic understanding of Islam and an excellent grasp of the scientific method. The truth is one and is internally consistent. In Islam, authentic religion and true scientific facts cannot be at conflict. Science studies what is and how it can be utilized for good ends. Islam offers the framework, worldview, and lifestyle that puts science in context.
what can be done?
We need to build a framework that can undo the atheistic twist added to science and exposes the indoctrination of scientism so that children can put science in context and shed down ideology. In my estimation this work is a top priority. We have seen that putting out fires when it comes to Muslim youth who have fallen into the jaws of atheism hard work and hardly works. It is time we have focused our attention on the root cause in order to undone the ideological twist before it does its work. Scholars, educators, parents, teachers and activists need to join forces and work on this before the situation gets worse. It has already become too bad. If you are in education, I recommend you create a team with people who share this concern and passion and start doing something about it. Change usually comes from a small group of sincere individuals who start small and due to their sincerity and hard work they come up with a model that can be replicated by many others. This is real leadership. Don’t wait for organizations or governments to start this. Most likely they will catch up at later stages.
Borrowing curricula that are built on an naturalistic worldview and then sugarcoating them with a religious façade is catastrophic and deceptive to say the least. Acknowledging that we don’t have a perfect solution takes a lot of courage but will at least help us put our foot on the right path. We need to feel the pain of falling behind in civilization in order to generate the motivation to address the problem squarely rather than resorting to quick fixes.
Experts in education and pedagogy have a huge responsibility to digest modern science and redefine it and frame it from an Islamic understanding of existence and life. It is a process of integration rather than repackaging. The latter assumes that the Islamic twist on science is just cosmetics. What we have failed to understand is that there is no neutral approach to the world and our understanding of it. Knowledge needs a framework to function within. Today this framework is mainly atheistic. When you add Islamic education to this system, inconsistency is felt at the gut level and children find it extremely challenging to reconcile. Eventually they decide either to separate them completely and have two different minds. They shift from one to the other according to the environment. Or they adopt one and discard the other. And we have no shortage of young Muslims who want to hide from the outside world and just practice Islam at home and in the Masjid. Or Young Muslims who side with scientism and want nothing to do with Islam. Islam doesn’t seem to abide by the expectations of the study of the material world, so it is easier for them to go with what seems to be more dominant out there: a secular life.
Atheism is reaping the fruits whose seeds were planted by the philosophy of naturalism in the soil of science centuries ago. We as, concerned Muslims, are trying to just sugarcoat these bitter fruits! We need to work at the same level of depth if not deeper. This is the work of Muslim scholars, scientists, thinkers, and education experts.
I am a big proponent of science and education. The words above are not a call to not engage is science and education. On the contrary. I encourage Muslims to get into education and learn different disciplines. My contention is that we have to become active agents in the process of producing science and knowledge and not just passive learners. We have to contribute especially in the proper framing of what science is and what it can offer.