Science and Islam

Islam and Science: do they contradict or confirm one another? Imam Khamenei answers

There is no opposition either to science or to wisdom and intellect on the part of the Islamic faith. In fact, wisdom is considered in Islam to be one of the sources of reasoning in deriving tenets and precepts of religion.


Knowledge is considered sacred and precious in Islam


Islam has sanctified knowledge. Knowledge is sacred in Islam. Going after knowledge is a sacred endeavor. It is not true that knowledge is merely a tool for earning money. Of course, it is possible to earn money through knowledge, but its sanctity should be safeguarded. "Knowledge is light." These characteristics of knowledge should be taken into consideration. This is among the characteristics of an Islamic university. Everybody thinks that when we speak about "Islamic university", we are simply talking about hijab being observed or that male students should not wear short-sleeved shirts and grow long hair. These elements are not [what we mean by] the characteristics of an Islamic university. An Islamic university is Islamic in terms of religious faith, motives, pious enthusiasm, Islamic behavior and pious efforts to acquire knowledge: these are the characteristics of an Islamic university. There is also the matter of orientation and channeling acquisition of knowledge. Specifying the focus of this university as humanities was one of the best things that were done. Humanities is a domain where there are lacks [in Iran], that need to be addressed. If this university—established more than twenty years ago—manages to accomplish the mission of setting an exemplar for an [ideal] Islamic university, then it has made a great achievement. This shows the importance of Imam Sadiq (a.s.) university. There are very high expectations of Imam Sadiq (a.s.) University.


January 19, 2006



I would like to open my speech with two short narrations (hadiths). One of the narrations is from Imam Ali (a.s.) which addresses you. Imam Ali addresses the youth, not with a political perspective; rather, his address is like that of a wise father.

He does not want to employ the youth to develop the economy, or achieve his political goals. He wants to guide the youth on the pathway of growth and righteousness, the symbol of which is Imam Ali (a.s.) himself. He stated two sentences, addressing the youth: "Preserve your human dignity and grace by being courteous; and preserve your faith by acquiring knowledge." This is very important point. Knowledge safeguards religion: this is the logic of Islam. Now let the enemies of Islam constantly talk about Islam's controversy with knowledge.



The world is indebted to the Muslim scientists


Some mistakenly assume that being religious contradicts seeking knowledge. It has been observed during recent years that some individuals—who have certain political intentions [we know their intentions; the majority of the people might not recognize their real purposes, but because we know these individuals better, based on their background, we can guess their intentions beforehand;] or some who might also have no political intentions—advocate implying or try to imply that the people's inclination to religion, which has spread in our society today, is at odds with acquiring knowledge and science; and that by making people attracted to science, it is possible to ruin people's faith! They only wish and they are wrong. These two are by no means contradictory. If religion is faith in Islam as we follow today, it is a religion that creates revolutions; it is a religion that educates soldiers for battlefields; it is a religion that invites to acquiring knowledge. Muslims managed to be in the lead in scientific arenas for several centuries, thanks to the fact that Islam favors science.  From Al-Farabi to Khajeh Nasir al-Din al-Tusi—that is, for about three centuries—Muslims were world’s pioneers in knowledge, at a very high level. Today, Khwarizmi’s theories in mathematics, or Avicenna’s theories in medicine are not outdated; there are complementary theories proposed based on these personalities’ theories, but theirs are not refuted. They are still valid theories that have been complemented. All this scientific grandeur originated from Islam; that is, the main factor that led Muslims to the peak of science is Islam.


You know that in Europe ... there was opposition to religion. Of course, for a while before that, there was opposition to science because of the same religion. Even in Europe, the first prominent scientists were from among religious people—for instance, well-known Roger Bacon was a priest, a Franciscan friar [I do not know if you are familiar with them.] They were a group of very ascetic priests who followed Saint Francis of Assisi: Sacred famous San Francis—after whom the American city of San Francisco was named.


They used to name their cities after religious figures. San Francis was the saint who disclosed the luxurious life of Pope and his associates. As a result, the Pope apparatus were his fervent enemies. He opposed the Pope's apparatus, their luxurious lifestyle and wealth accumulating. He was in favor of piety. To find a similar group in the Islamic communities, we might refer to the Sufi faction Tariqa Khaksariyah who begged and maintained a dervish lifestyle. Roger Bacon is famous for being a prominent figure in science, in the 13th century. In other words, the first instances of science—which led to the Renaissance in Europe, laying the foundation of the scientific revolution—were again initiated by religious figures: broadminded religious individuals, not narrow-minded ones.


Our Avicenna was the same; he was a religious scholar; a mystic in a sense. Al-Biruni was also a religious scholar who wrote the book “Critical Study of What India Says”. You know the name of this book is derived from an Arabic poem which means:


Critical study of what India says,

whether accepted by reason or refused.


He was an expert in mathematics, astronomy, and various other sciences in his time. Sheikh Baha'i is another figure, an accomplished Islamic scholar. At the time of Sheikh Baha'i, religious studies were the only studies of Islamic scholars.  Before that, it was not like that. A religious scholar was an expert in various sciences; including Avicenna who had students in philosophy, but also in medicine. However, Sheikh Baha'i is from an era when being an Islamic scholar was an occupation. That is, scholars are professionals of making speeches and leading prayers. So the religious spirit is not contradictory with the scientific spirit. Rather, the religious spirit helps and supports the scientific spirit.


February 4, 1992


In our country, science and religion were side by side for a thousand years. Great scholars, physicians, astronomers, and mathematicians of our history-- those whose names and discoveries are still well known throughout the world-- were also religious scholars, experts and thinkers. Avicenna was another prominent religious scholar whose Book of Medicine is still well known in the world, and he has been recognized as a distinguished personality of human history on many areas of science over the past thousand years. Some achievements in the field of the history of sciences have been recorded in his name. Muhammad Ibn Zakaria Razi, Abureyhan Al-Biruni, and other men of science, thinkers, explorers, and inventors of the Islamic world were also like that. This was the situation in our country, and the whole Islamic world.

December 20, 1989


Church's mistakes must not be attributed to Islam

We, as Muslims faithful to our religion, are duty-bound to make every effort to reach the peak of science both individually and also within the framework of group projects devised and implemented by relevant government organizations. You should consider this to be your main duty.

However, it should be noted that the situation was different in the West and Europe in the earlier times. In Christian Europe, the initiation of scientific movement was accompanied by the weakening and terminating of religious tendencies.


Perhaps this was quite fair, since their religious faith [at that time] was mixed with superstitions and prejudice, which absolutely contradicted scientific knowledge.


For several centuries in Europe, scholars were persecuted for their scientific views or discoveries. They were imprisoned, whipped or even burned alive over accusations of practicing black magic. When religious authorities and patrons of religion treat scientists in such a manner in a religious atmosphere, it is quite clear that if science gains power, it will annihilate [such] religious beliefs and do away with religious tendencies. This is something clear.


The situation is quite different with regard to Islam.


September 26, 2004


The 4th century in the Islamic calendar, in particular, was the time when the Islamic civilization thrived and flourished to a great extent. If you read the book "the Islamic Civilization in the 4th century", you will notice that in this century, which corresponds to the 10th century and early 11th century in the Gregorian calendar—namely the time when ignorance and backwardness predominated over medieval Europe—considerable scientific progress was made in the Islamic world, especially in Iran. In fact, the Islamic scholars and scientists who were in the vanguard of this scientific progress were, except few, all Iranian.


The point that should be stressed here is that the Iranians were even more religious than the Europeans, since they adhered to the principles of their religion with more eagerness and enthusiasm. Therefore, this proves that religion poses no obstacle to scientific progress, but that there were other factors that hindered the flourishing of science in medieval Europe.


What were those factors? The main factors were ignorance and various superstitions stemming from distorted versions of Christianity that were prevalent in Europe during the Middle Ages.


In the Islamic world, a scholar was never even insulted for his scientific views. However, in medieval Europe one scholar was killed, another was stoned, one was hanged and some other scholars were set on fire because of their scientific beliefs!


Therefore, Europeans have overgeneralized—from the plight and suffering that they experienced during the Middle Ages—the defective conclusion they came to: that religion and science cannot get along with each other!



The value and status of reason in delineating religious laws

There is no opposition either to science or to wisdom and intellect on the part of the Islamic faith. In fact, wisdom is considered in Islam to be one of the sources of reasoning in deriving tenets and precepts of religion. If you take a look at our religious books, for instance at the book entitled "Kafi"—which was written a thousand years ago and deals with Hadith— you will notice that the first chapter of the book appears under the heading "Wisdom and Ignorance". This chapter talks about wisdom, its value and significance and the importance of sagacity and rationality.


Pertaining to Islam's attitude toward science, it should be noted that Islam has been the main patron and promoter of science. The Islamic civilization was established thanks to a scientific movement that was launched right after the advent of Islam. This scientific movement gained great momentum in less than two centuries since its inception.


In order to get a better idea and understanding of this Islamic scientific movement and its great achievements, just imagine that there is a country in a remote part of today's world that has no signs of modern civilization. However, the people of that country start to follow the path of civilization and after some 100 or 150 years, they surpass all other countries of the world in the field of science. You may only describe this happening as a miracle. It is really difficult to imagine the greatness of this accomplishment.


The main reason for this great achievement is the emphasis that is placed by Islam on knowledge and acquiring and imparting it to others. Even there is one tradition which states that there are three types of people: knowledgeable individuals and scholars who convey their knowledge to others, those seeking knowledge - they are considered to be treading on the right path, and others who follow no objective and lead a useless life.


It is clear from this tradition that Islam attaches great significance to knowledge and, thus, to the individuals who are knowledgeable or are trying to obtain knowledge. An Islamic society is characterized by such qualities.


September 26, 2004.


Why do we say religion is an accelerator of knowledge?


There is another quality in our country—which is a very positive one— and that is the attention given to the religion. In recent decades, especially since the 19th century till now, it has been attempted to indicate that religion is an obstacle in the way of science and scientific progress. However, the reality is exactly the opposite.

Nevertheless, a pure religion encourages the pursuit of knowledge. This is why almost all the prominent and renowned scholars and scientists in the Islamic world have had great faith in Almighty Allah.


For instance, Avicenna—an eminent Iranian physician whose book "the Canon of Medicine" was a prototypical medical text in European universities until just a few centuries ago—was a very religious figure. He also wrote some valuable treatises on philosophy and mysticism. Other famous scientists and scholars like Al-Farabi also had strong religious beliefs.


This all proves that science and religion not only get along with each other very well, but religion also helps the advance and progress of science. We can clearly observe that in our country even today, since our educational elite and our outstanding students have strong religious beliefs and practice their religion with great enthusiasm.


October 11, 1999



The West mobilized against Islam the sell-outs among elites in Islamic countries

I would say that today the most important need of the Islamic world is that the brilliant essence of pure Islam should achieve its goals in a way that it cannot be accused of promoting lack of knowledge, rigidity, sanctimonious attitudes and backwardness. This is what we need in the world of Islam. Only then will the movement of peoples towards these noble values become reasonable, and outstanding personalities in all societies will become soldiers on this path.


You know that huge amounts of money have been spent in the world of Islam. In recent years, the arrogant powers have made certain moves to bribe outstanding personalities of the world of Islam. They easily bribed the outstanding personalities who were eminent from a political or scholarly perspective but whose [observance of] spiritual values was very low. They sold out their pens and tongues. They even sold out their minds and themselves—their entire being. This process started a long time ago - that is to say, from the early contemporary era, from the time Western intellectualism emerged in our country. I once said that intellectualism in our country was born with birth deficiencies. From that day, they went after outstanding personalities and bribed them. Those outstanding personalities were wretched, weak and enslaved and so they agreed to sell themselves out in exchange for money. Around forty years ago, the late Ale Ahmad wrote: "If you are going to sell yourself, it is better to sell your hands, but never sell your pen." Ale Ahmad wrote this in one of his books in the 1340s [1960s]. One may sell out one's hands and body, but never one's pen - namely, one's mind and soul. Nonetheless, they sold their pen and there were people who paid them. They bribed outstanding personalities. For this reason, not only did outstanding personalities fail to support popular movements in many places, but they also stood in the way of such movements. On what pretext did they stand up in the way of Islamic movements? They said that such movements were outdated and narrow-minded, that they were games started by clerics.


If you manage to exhibit the essence of pure Islam and its brilliance, in a way that it could prove itself in a knowledgeable society, you have made a great achievement and you have paved the way for outstanding personalities to enter such areas. Combining science with spirituality, religious faith and ethics is what is missing in the contemporary world.

The value of coupling science with religion; and the danger of science void of religion

 I always emphasize knowledge. This emphasis is serious. It is not just a formal gesture. It is not rooted in a passing urge to conform to some ceremonial routines. Rather, it is rooted in a deep and sophisticated understanding. There is a lot of coercion in the world. The global bullies are relying on their power. Their power, wealth and facilities are the results of their knowledge. It is not possible to confront them without knowledge. "Knowledge is authoritative power." I have read that in a narration. Knowledge is a source of power. Anybody who enjoys this source of power can move forward. Anybody, any nation or any society that does not have it will be forced to give in to the power of others. Therefore, this emphasis on science is based on an accurate calculation.


This knowledge can pursue two different goals. One goal is what current owners of knowledge used to seek. This goal is dishonorable and unholy. Do not pay attention to their claims. The truth behind the scientific progress of the West is extremely bitter and pitiful, the kind of progress that one would not go after under any circumstances. Scientific activities of the western world—since the 16th century and also since the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century England—undertook at the cost of destroying the freedom of many nations, threatening their identity and imposing great oppression and brutality on them. More specifically, it was their intellectual activities that prepared the ground for scientific activities. The Industrial Revolution led to the establishment of huge factories and the introduction of huge machinery, unfolding gradually over several decades and resulting in the production of wealth. This science and technology gradually spread to other European countries. I do not want to speak about what happened in those places, what rights were trampled upon, how many poor people were wiped out, the new social class which was formed as a result of introducing these huge pieces of machinery, the kinds of oppression they imposed on people and so on and so forth. They felt that they had the necessary means. They felt they needed a market to sell their products. Then the English, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the French and some other European countries started a journey around the world. Using science and technology as a tool, they created enough disasters in the world that would pile into a giant encyclopedia with tens of volumes. [One member of the audience shouts, "Death to the U.S.A.".] It was not just the U.S.A. Actually, the U.S. joined them later on.


Just see what they did in India and in China. In the 19th century, the English gave rise to innumerable tragedies. I am sure that you dear youth - who pay little attention to history and other such things - have not even heard one-thousandth of what they did during the 19th century. Jawaharlal Nehru writes in his book that the English entered India. According to Nehru, before the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of huge machineries, the Indian subcontinent was one of the most industrially advanced countries in the world. In order to prepare the ground for what they wanted to do, they destroyed India's industry. They wiped out India's middle class. They thwarted the emergence of a movement towards knowledge and industrial progress by creating different kinds of obstacles for India. They infected the Indian nation with a chronic malady. Even after the passage of about 150 years since the start of their actions in India, this malady has not yet been cured in that country. They did something similar in China. They gave rise to tragedies and exerted pressure on the people of China. These things date back to the 19th century. They did similar things in Africa. They created great tragedies in the Americas through the use of science, too. Many people were enslaved and many families were massacred in Africa and Latin America. This was how they acquired their knowledge.


Therefore, the orientation of their knowledge was towards wealth, without any concern for ethics, faith, and spirituality. Even at that time, Europeans used to claim they were civilized, but their actions were more savage than what the most savage tribes did during their attacks on other tribes. These things are not slogans. There is evidence to support every comment I made, but there is not enough time to explain now. If I mention only a part of what they did, you will realize what these Europeans, Westerners and their knowledge have caused in East Asia, in Africa and in different other parts of the world. Because the purpose was to gain wealth, there was no concern for ethics, religion or God.


We do not want this kind of knowledge. When this kind of knowledge grows and reaches its greatest extent, it becomes what western countries currently have. It results in atomic bombs. It results in oppression. It results in the destruction of democracy in a country that claims to be the most democratic country in the world - namely, the U.S. It turns into increasing class conflicts and differences. There are millions of homeless people and millions of people who live below the poverty line in wealthy and advanced countries. This kind of knowledge is useless. We are not after this kind of knowledge. Neither the teachings of divine prophets, nor Islamic teachings, nor our human conscience encourage us to move in that direction. It does not create any enthusiasm in us.


The kind of knowledge that we want is accompanied by purification. The Quranic verses that were recited at the beginning of this meeting refer to the same point. "He is Who raised among the inhabitants of Mecca a Messenger from among themselves, who recites to them His communications and purifies them, and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom." [The Holy Quran, 62: 2] Purification is the first priority. This is what religious, Quranic and Islamic education says. Why is purification the first priority? This is because knowledge strays away from the right path in the absence of purification. Knowledge is a means. It is a tool. If this tool falls into the hands of a spiteful and evil murderer, it will create nothing but tragedies. But the same tool can be used by a righteous person as a means to safeguard families and the rights of human beings. This knowledge should be utilized only when it is accompanied by purification. This is my advice to you.

October 6, 2010


In our country, for a thousand years science and religion were next to one another. Great scholars, medical doctors, astrologists and mathematicians of our history-- whose names and discoveries are still mentioned throughout the world--were among religious scholars and thinkers. Avicenna, his book of Healing is still a current popular and prominent resource, and he has been and still is an eminent figure in all areas of science in the history of humanity in the past thousand years; and some discoveries are recorded in his name in the history of science, was a religious scholar.  Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, Abū Rayḥān Al-Birunim and other scientists and thinkers and inventors of the Muslim world have been the same. This was the situation of our country and the Muslim world.

As long as the religion was predominant, and the people's life was not void of religion and its spiritual influence, the situation was the same. Ever since the Europeans and Zionist politicians and thinkers—who plotted for destroying the Muslim world—brought science along with politics to our country, and separated science from religion, and as a result, religion became void of science and science became void of religion.


December 20, 1989





  • Islam
  • Islamic civilization
  • Science