Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Scientist is an Ulama too !

Let me start by saying that this is in no way intended to disrespect anyone. Whilst I am a scientist by profession, this is not meant to insinuate that i am an ulama.. However i do feel that there is a lot of confusion in the word ulama and how it is currently being perceived. A scientist, by definition, is also an ulama...but then again, this is an academic excercise which has no bearing on anything! So here goes nonetheless....

1) In Arabic the word Ulama is the plural form of the word Alim, which has been derived from the word Ilmu. An Arabic dictionary will show you that the meaning of Ulama and Alim are as follows:

- Alim : expert, know all, past master, pundit, scholar, scientist
(Ref: http://translation.babylon.com/arabic/to-english/#)

- Ulama: Scientist
(Ref 1: http://translation.babylon.com/arabic/to-english/)
(Ref 2: http://www.arabicenglishdictionary.org/)

It is very clear here that ulama or alim refers to someone knowledgeable and learned…the references I have quoted above specifically refers to scientists as the English equivalent to the word ulama…and besides, the word science itself is derived from the Latin word Scientia, which means knowledge.

2) So what does the Quran say about ulama? I have only been able to find the word Ulama once in the Quran, but I am not ruling out the possibility that it has appeared more than once.
Have a look at Surah 35, ayat 28, but for completeness please refer to 35 (27-28).
(Ref: http://www.searchtruth.com/chapter_display_all.php?chapter=35)

أَلَمْ تَرَ أَنَّ اللَّهَ أَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَخْرَجْنَا بِهِ ثَمَرَاتٍ مُّخْتَلِفًا أَلْوَانُهَا ۚ وَمِنَ الْجِبَالِ جُدَدٌ بِيضٌ وَحُمْرٌ مُّخْتَلِفٌ أَلْوَانُهَا وَغَرَابِيبُ سُودٌ

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ وَالدَّوَابِّ وَالْأَنْعَامِ مُخْتَلِفٌ أَلْوَانُهُ كَذَ‌ٰلِكَ ۗ إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ غَفُورٌ

Seest thou not that Allah sends down rain from the sky? With it We then bring out produce of various colours. And in the mountains are tracts white and red, of various shades of colour, and black intense in hue (27). And so amongst men and crawling creatures and cattle, are they of various colours. Those truly fear Allah, among His Servants, who have knowledge: for Allah is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving (28)-
Translation by Yusuf Ali

See you not that Allah sends down water (rain) from the sky, and We produce therewith fruits of various colours, and among the mountains are streaks white and red, of varying colours and (others) very black (27). And likewise of men and Ad-Dawabb [moving (living) creatures, beasts], and cattle, are of various colours. It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah. Verily, Allah is All-Mighty, Oft-Forgiving (28)
Translation by Mohsin Khan

Tidakkah engkau melihat bahawa Allah menurunkan hujan dari langit, lalu Kami keluarkan dengan air hujan itu buah-buahan yang berlainan jenis dan rupanya; dan di antara gunung-ganang pula ada yang mempunyai jalur-jalur serta lorong-lorong putih dan merah, yang berlainan warnanya (tua dan muda) dan ada juga yang hitam legam (27). Dan demikian pula di antara manusia dan binatang-binatang yang melata serta binatang-binatang ternak, ada yang berlainan jenis dan warnanya? Sebenarnya yang menaruh bimbang dan takut (melanggar perintah) Allah dari kalangan hamba-hambaNya hanyalah orang-orang yang berilmu. Sesungguhnya Allah Maha Kuasa, lagi Maha Pengampun (28)
Translation in Bahasa Melayu

So what does the Quran say?
In ayat 28, the Quran says that only those with knowledge (ulama) would fear Allah.

And how do you become someone knowledgeable? The Quran says in 35 (27-28):

Don't you see (alam taraa):
- The creation of rain
- Production of fruits with a variety of colours
- Mountains with differing shades of colours
- The study of human beings
- The study of other animals and creatures

The above are descriptions of:
-Agriculturist/plant scientist/botanist
-Ecologists/ biologists/zoologists

These are descriptions of a scientist, which supports point number 1 above.

3) Now let us look at history… the ulama during medieval Islam were also successful scientists…Ibnu Sina, Ibnu Khaldun, Al-Khawarizmi , Al-Zarqali. etc….so I am not gonna spend much time explaining point number 3.

I am sure some people may disagree with me so please check your own references (Quran, dictionary etc) for more clarity and as always I stand to be corrected.


  1. Hahahahaha...should change your portfolio to Fuel Ulama...but it sounds a bit awkward..;)

  2. 3:18 and 58:11 talks about men of knowledge and those that comprehend the existence of Allah, etc, etc... I doubt Allah was referring to ulama/clergymen. Scientist or whoever have knowledge is then considered as an ulama... NM

  3. SPot on. The word ulama or derivatives thereof in the Quran do not refer to doctors of religion at all. In the Quran, the doctors of religion are called "habr" and is mentioned 4 times out which 3 times God speaks critically of them! For centuries, the doctors of religion have been wrongly referred to as "ulema". For this reason, in my Malay writings, I refer to them as "ulamak agama" so that there are distinguisehd from the true ulamas ie people with knowldege of the arts and sciences.


  4. There is no such thing as "ulama" agama, as agama is faith, it is not knowledge.

    It is based on belief, mukmin means people of iman, in other words people of belief.

    When you believe in something, it means you don't know something. Otherwise you'd know something. To further drill into that, you can believe you know something, but it doesn't mean you know something.

    The scientific method however results in true knowledge. You can prove your methodology as to which and what is true or not true. In fact we may not know for sure E=m*c^2, however we can certainly prove that E is not m^2*c, and that is knowledge.