Western detractors who suggest Islam does not contribute to scientific progress haven’t met Dr. Syed Aziz Junaid. We drop by his lab at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the city of Boston, MA, USA, to check in with him.
Mufti News: Dr. Junaid, it’s an honor to meet you. You were just nominated for the third time for a Nobel prize- this last two for your work in nuclear physics, and the first time for a paper on economics you wrote as a teenager that has the potential to alleviate global poverty. Most observers suggest that a win for you is long overdue, and you are the odds on favorite to be nominated again for your latest research that could cure Alzheimer’s disease. How do you do it?
Dr. Syed Aziz Junaid: Well, I give a lot of credit to my parents. My father was a professor and my mother was a physician, and both of them worked hard so I could have opportunities to study. They sent me abroad at 16 to study, I had to live with relatives in London. They set a good example for me, I owe everything to them.
MN: You grew up in Pakistan. Can you tell our Muslim audience how growing up in Pakistan influenced your career?
DSAJ: Well, in Pakistan of course it was difficult. My family was fairly well off, but we still did not have the same resources we had in the West. If I did not have the opportunity to study abroad, it would have been very difficult. But still it was a lovely upbringing we had. I remember it fondly. It is not like it is now.
MN: What do you mean “like it is now?” You mean like with the Western interference in Pakistan’s affairs?
DSAJ: No, the West was interfering in Pakistan’s- and everyone’s, actually- affairs back then too. That will never stop. That is the nature of global politics. The dominant power will always exercise undue influence over smaller countries. It has been happening for centuries. When I talk about Pakistan having changed, I mean the oversized influence of religious authorities.
MN: Islam has a great tradition of scientific discovery. Can you tell our readers how the great Muslim scientists of the past influenced you?
DSAJ: No doubt, during the Islamic Golden age, history is filled with stories of great Muslim scientists and thinkers, as well as non-Muslim academics who thrived in Muslim societies because of how tolerant and diverse they were. But you have to keep in mind that was about 1000 years ago. Those ideas were foundational for science in many ways, and it’s good to appreciate them. But science has incorporated those ideas and there have been many breakthroughs by non-Muslims thinkers and scientists since then. So to be honest, while it’s interesting to read about Ibn Sina, Al Khawarizmi, Ibn Battuta, Ibn Khaldun and others, as a scientist, I try to look forward, not backward.
MN: Can you tell our readers how Islam has influenced your career and made you successful?
DSAJ: Well, I heard a lot of stories from my aunts and uncles who were more religious than my parents about how the Qur’an was scientifically accurate, and miraculous. This made me want to read a lot of books about science and literature and history, so I could compare and see. This exercise instilled in me a love of learning which I carry with me to this day.
MN: It is inspiring to hear how you credit the Qur’an for launching your career and inspiring all of these scientific discoveries. And yet so many critics of Islam think that it is incompatible with science? Why do you think this erroneous notion has arisen?
DSAJ: Islam does not have to be incompatible with science. It depends on how you define Islam, really. What is incompatible with science is the idea that we should not question things, that questions are bad or that God will be angry if you ask the wrong ones. And what is even more incompatible with science is that we have a class of people who are called “scholars” who think they can talk about the mysteries of the universe authoritatively because they have studied Qur’an and Hadith.
MN: Correct, and this is where science has gone off track, this is how we at Mufti News feel also. Muslim scientists should ask questions, but it would be silly to question the word of Allah, because human sciences are flawed and always changing, whereas the word of the Creator is perfect and unchanging. Scientists should question, but it would be ludicrous to question the word of God, is that what you are saying?
DSAJ: No, I am saying the opposite. I am not saying that this is where science has gone off track; I am saying that this is where Islam has gone off track. Too often these days, Islam emphasizes revelations in the Qur’an over reason. Science in the Muslim world will never progress if we cannot challenge the ideas in the Qur’an and Hadith without being accused of blasphemy and apostasy. There is much to learn from the Qur’an and Hadith of course, but there is much also that is mainly for the 7th century, that would make no sense at all for us to follow today. The idea that the Qur’an and Hadith are authoritative guides to knowledge is what is incompatible with science. That is the idea in today’s Islam that has to be challenged.
After Dr. Junaid committed apostasy in front of us, we were not sure what to do. We were shocked at how a person who had been so blessed by Allah could be so ungrateful to Him, and how such a seemingly intelligent man could be so ignorant about the Truth. We ended the interview shortly thereafter. A few weeks after this interview, we tried to contact Dr. Junaid to find out if Islam had led him to any other scientific breakthroughs that we could write about. But Mufti News was informed that Dr. Junaid had abruptly left the university and gone into hiding. Most likely, this is a result of his embarrassment over his ignorant comments against Islam that we have reprinted here. Truly, Dr. Junaid’s story is one all Muslims should heed, of what happens when a Muslim is given blessings by Allah and fails to appreciate them.