Sufism and Critical Thinking

By : Kholqillah Ardhian Ilman


Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, on 28th National Space Symposium in Colorado, discussed on how scientists and their contributions can shape our world as we know today. On his lecture, he gave the list of Nobel laureates on biomedical, chemistry, physics, and economics ranged from 1900 until 2010. There were total 609 Nobel prizes at the time, with 196 in biomedical, 158 in chemistry, 189 in physics, and 66 in economics. And you know what, 150 prizes were awarded to Jews scientists or about 25% of all Nobel laureates at the time.  And how about Moslem? It is only 3 awardees or just about 0,5%. A fact which is worth to note.

According to, in 2010 there were about 14 million Jews around the world.  And also, according to the same research center, in 2015 there were 1,8 billion Muslims or almost 130 times of the number of Jews in 2010. With the huge number of the Muslim population, Muslims can only contribute 3 people to be Nobel Laureate. What is wrong with the Muslim?

Important note: The concern of this article is not about comparing and flexing muscle between religions. I just want to raise awareness among Muslims that science is and always be an integral part of our religion.

Muslim has a great era of science development and people call it “The Golden Age of Islam” dated from the 8th century to the 14th century. All of this great history was started by Harun Al-Rasyid, Khalifah of Abbasiyah (The Caliph of Abbasid), 786 to 809, who inaugurated a research center called “The House of Wisdom” in Baghdad where many scholars from different background were invited to discuss, gather, and translate all the world’s Pre-existing knowledge into Arabic. In this era, many Muslim scientists showed his work, such as Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khawarizmi with his algebra, Al-Kindi with his chemistry who was able to transmute simple and base metal into a new material like a gold, Banu Musa with his first programmable machine ever created by humankind, and many more. What a stunning history of science development in the history of Islam. But now, most of the stories are faded and if we try to think the science advencement we usually refer to the West.

Historians say that the reason behind the collapse of Islamic golden age was caused by an invasion led by Hulagu Khan, a grandson of Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan. Most Muslims were killed and many buildings of Abbasid Empire were devastated, including The House of Wisdom. All scientist works and books were thrown into Tigris River. This invasion didn’t only ruin the empire, but also ruin all science development which had been established for hundreds of years. But, was it true that all of the scientific cultures in the golden age of Islam devastated by Hulagu Khan invasion?

In the 13th century, there was something called “The Golden Age of Sufism”. Sufism is a concept which stresses the aspect of spiritual and mystical philosophy in Islam. This concept teaches the followers to make a direct connection to Allah by looking beyond material things and everything which doesn’t relate to Allah. Sufism also instructs people of Islam to present all of their life through meditation, repetitive prayer, and non-violence action. This approach is something called the beauty of Islam itself and makes the followers become real Muslim, as it should be.

In the flourishing era of Sufism, many Muslims of Abbasid Empire overtook the concept and extremely applied it in their life. Somehow after the tragedy of Abbasid wrecking, although there was no scientific-related stuff media was left, the habit of scientific culture should be internalized in the mind and conscience of the Muslims. But, in the fact, there was not any history said about the development of science after then. Muslims felt all of the things happened to them are God’s will (absolutely right) but there was no significant action to rebuild the culture and preferred to choose become a Muslim who ignored worldly life and immensely pursued afterlife.

Radically applying Sufism concept can be the inhibitor of Muslim to enhance the quality of the world, especially for the science improvement. In the Holy Book of Qur’an, Allah says that the creation of humankind is to be “manager” of the world (Q.S. Al-Baqoroh: 30). Also, Prophet Solomon, peace be upon him, ever asked Allah to give him a great kingdom which no people would belong to another after him (Q.S. Sad: 35). See, a prophet, a man who interacts with Allah the most, ask something so worldly. He wanted wealth and power to rule the world, human, animal, and Jin. Why did Prophet Solomon ask power? Because he knew that by controlling and reigning the world, he can do da’wa and teach the beauty of Islam as it should be, as widely as possible. So, nothing wrong to request Allah with a worldly thing as long as it can support da’wa.

Secondly, Muslims respect ulamas (Islamic scholars) so much because through their works, Muslims can understand and apply Islamic life according to Qur’an and Hadith which is not explicitly mentioned in Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) generation. This statement is absolutely right because Islamic Scholars are like a bridge which connects the era of Prophet Muhammad and present-day life. Well, sometimes, in the present society of Muslims nowadays, questioning and criticizing the work of ulama can be acknowledged as a bad habit and every Muslims should avoid it, just accept it without any deep investigation. This culture possibly makes Muslims blindly follow a certain concept without knowing the foundation why something needs to be done and why something is prohibited. I think every Muslims should inquire, discuss, observe, investigate, even criticize the works of ulama for the sake of understanding, but not to be offensive and reason to accuse them. Thinking critically is not banned in Islam, even Prophet Musa ever asked Allaah to show him His power and divinity as the support for Prophet Musa’s creed (Q.S. Al-A’raf: 143).

Science is very vital for the future of a nation. Most Islamic countries are left behind in the aspect of science development compared to the west country. And this condition will continuously happened unless Muslims can be wise when putting worldly life and afterlife. Anyhow, the paradigm of critical thinking must be internalized in every mind heart and brain of Muslims today.

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