Hennebach Lecture: Imam Shamsi Ali

Science and intellectual knowledge are paramount in the world of Islam, according to Hennebach guest lecturer Imam Shamsi Ali. The two must not and cannot be separated, despite any common misconceptions.

Ali, the director or Imam, of the Islamic Cultural Center in New York, underlined that all Muslims have a deep and extensive connection with both knowledge and learning. As he pointed out, many of the earliest mathematical and astrological pioneers, such as Al-Khwarizmi and Al-Kindi were devout Muslims.

To these men, science did not exist separately from their religion, but rather ratified it as scientific discoveries do not contradict, but continually prove the Qur’an. For example, the Qur’an claims that the heavens and the earth were once united before a cataclysmic event separated them. According to Ali, this is confirmed through the big bang theory.

“The intellectual capacity of human beings has been there since the beginning,” said Ali. To the Muslims, this capacity must be united with the spiritual realm. Ali emphasized the importance for Muslims to critically analyze the scripture and to logically apply it to the modern day. “We must open the scriptures to the 21st century,” said Ali. For example, when the Qur’an describes the journey to Mecca for the Hajj, it requires its readers to travel by camel. Ali pointed out though that just because the Qur’an only mentions camels it does not mean any other type of transportation is prohibited. Rather when it refers to a camel it refers to transportation in general.

“Islam is about all segments of human life,” said Ali. He explained that these segments can be simplified down into the three major categories known as the intellectual, the physical, and the spiritual. The intellectual aspect is merely a small piece of the puzzle and must not be separated from the rest.

The Muslim teacher Muhammad understood this union. “[Muhammad] underlined the importance of human thinking. The prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, taught about social justice a lot.” Ali then explained how Muhammad was ahead of his time in these teachings, and that it is key for Muslims to continue to expand their use of the intellect. “We Muslims are also challenged by fact that we must develop ourselves and expand our horizons to understand our religion,” said Ali.

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