I was born in a Muslim household to parents who laid great emphasis on spirituality and science.
Growing up, I was taught to always speak the truth, to be kind to others, to serve humanity in all ways possible, and to never expect any form of thanks in return. Selfless service, as I was taught, was at the core of Islam. I remember reading the Koran from a very early age and reflecting over its commentary on a regular basis.
The concept of God as explained in Islam is that of a Spiritual Being, a conscious Creator who provides for man's needs, expects man to serve His creation, and to whom we are all accountable in the end. With my spiritual experiences through prayer, my faith in God was strong even as a child.
Just as I was experiencing this spiritual side, I was overtaken by a strong desire to pursue the sciences.
Islam lays great emphasis on science and education. The Koran urges Muslims to reflect on the laws of the universe, drawing repeated examples from cosmology, geology, embryology etc. This is why Science progressed a great deal in the golden age of Islam. The world saw scientific greats such as Ibn al-Haytham (the father of the Scientific Method), al-Khawarizmi, Avicenna, Jabir Ibn Hayyan, Razi etc. It is no surprise that the oldest existing university in the world today is Morocco's University of al-Qarawiyyin, founded by a Muslim woman named Fatima al-Fihri in 859 AD.
Impressed by the Koran's call for scientific reasoning, I too adopted science as a career path. And the more I studied science, the more I grew in faith. Everything made sense.
Take the motions of the planetary bodies for an example. The Koran states:
"And He it is Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon, each gliding along in its orbit" (21:33).
This knowledge of planetary motion was unknown in contemporary seventh century Arabia. Although some Greek astronomers -- who had no contact with Prophet Muhammad -- had already suggested the earth were not stationary, the Koran's claim that all celestial bodies including the Sun were moving in orbits was an unprecedented one. This fact was not known for many centuries later. How did the Author of the Koran have this information? And who was this Author?
Take another example -- the Big Bang theory. This theory postulates that matter rapidly expanded from a state of extremely high density and temperature, violently exploding to mark the origin of the universe 13.8 billion years ago. As I studied the theory, words of the Koran came to my mind.
"Do not the unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were a closed-up mass, then We clove them asunder?" (21:30).
Reading this verse creates a picture of the Big Bang in one's mind. How did the Author of the Koran have this information 1400 years before the currently accepted theory on the origins of the Cosmos? Was He in fact the Creator He claimed to be? And what is even more interesting is the fact that this verse was addressed to non-believers, as if to convey a prophecy on who would tread upon this great scientific discovery of our cosmic birth.
As my interest in cosmology and basic astrophysics grew, I was even more bewildered. The universe, for far too long, was thought to be static, until scientists in the late 20th century stumbled on a landmark discovery. They discovered that the universe was in fact expanding at an accelerating pace. Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking highlights the significance of this finding in these words:
"The expansion of the universe was one of the most important intellectual discoveries of the 20th century, or of any century. It transformed the debate about whether the universe had a beginning. If galaxies are moving apart now, they must have been closer together in the past. If their speed had been constant, they would all have been on top of one another about 15 billion years ago. Was this the beginning of the universe? Many scientists were still unhappy with the universe having a beginning because it seemed to imply that physics broke down. One would have to invoke an outside agency, which for convenience, one can call God, to determine how the universe began."
This reminded me again of the words of The Koran.
"And the heaven We built with Our own powers, and indeed We go on expanding it." (51:48).
How did the Author of the Koran know the Universe was expanding? It cannot be denied that this Author was aware of the deepest secrets of the Universe - secrets that we are only learning about now.
The Koran mentions a lot more scientific truths that were not known to man over a millennium ago. For instance, we know today that life is dependent on water. This is exactly why we look for water as a surrogate marker for life on other planets. The Koran mentioned this fact:
"It is He Who has created man from water" (25:54)
And in verse 24:45, the Author of the Koran claims all life is dependent on water.
But then I was reminded of this verse in the Koran:
"Indeed, We created man from cohesive clay" (37:12).
How could life originate from water and clay at the same time? Which of the two was it? Was the Koran contradictory? Once again, Science provided the answer to my queries. In a paper published in the prestigious Nature magazine early last year, researchers at Cornell University proved that clay might have been the birthplace of life on earth. The researchers demonstrated the importance of confinement for biomolecules and biochemical reactions in early life evolution and suggested that early life evolution may have occurred in a clay hydrogel environment. I was left awestruck again. Life, as we understand it today, is indeed dependent on water and most likely originated in clay.
The more I pursued science with a religious zeal, the more I grew in faith. There was no option, but to agree that the Author of the Koran is - as He claims - the Creator of the Universe and the life it holds. For if not, how did He know about secrets of the universe and of our origin? Secrets that we have just begun to understand over a millennium after the revelation of the Koran.
Equally significant to me was the fact that not a single scientific principle the Author proclaimed had been proven wrong.
Famous cosmologist Carl Sagan writes:
"The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God."
I agree with his first assertion completely. The God of the Koran is no physical entity. He is no old man sitting in the skies. He is a Spiritual being who cannot be sought with our physical senses, but through sincere spiritual insight. In the second part, Carl Sagan infers that the laws of physics could be considered "God" in his opinion. In my opinion, it is not possible for these laws - flawless as they are - to come of their own. I believe a Conscious Being set these laws into motion, and subjected the whole Universe to them 13.8 billion years ago at the time of the Big Bang.
Even Stephen Hawking himself said while at the peak of his career:
"You cannot understand the glories of the universe without believing there is some Supreme Power behind it."
I chose to call this Supreme power God. And I continue to worship Him through prayer and through selfless service of His Creation. And with each passing day, as I dwell more into the world of science, I see the beautiful work of this Creator in different forms. Through this work, I see Him and I grow closer to Him.