Covid-19 vaccine

Iran’s producing Corona vaccine shatters clichéd conflict between science and religion

It has been more than a year that the world has faced a complex scientific challenge: COVID-19 and how to fight it. First, there was the issue of diagnosing and managing it. After a time, there was the issue of protecting human beings from it. In a short time, the production of COVID-19 vaccines became a scientific challenge for most countries, and a competition began to obtain a vaccine sooner than others did. Every day news of the discovery of a new vaccine in some corner of the world could be heard, but few countries managed to develop their discoveries to the final stage. The centers of capitalism were expected to be the forerunners in vaccine production as usual, but the production of a vaccine in Iran changed the equations. Although this news was less publicized in the beginning, the voluntary participation of the most powerful official in the Islamic Republic, Imam Khamenei, spread everywhere and became the headline of many media outlets. Although this was not the first time that a world leader stood in front of cameras to receive a vaccine, the participation of a politico-religious leader in receiving a vaccine developed inside the country defied the universal conception of the relation between science and religion. This defiance magnified the news even more. Once again, this question was raised in the public’s mind, “How can religion be consistent with science?”

 

The tale of an old conflict

The discussion of the relation between science and religion and their conflict or contradiction, was something seen more in the Judeo-Christian West than having roots in the Islamic world. The famous narrative about the Holy Office of the Roman Catholic Church and its condemnation of Copernican heliocentrism, was the most famous interaction between the empirical sciences and the Christian Holy Scripture along with the Church’s interpretation of it. As the empirical sciences progressed, this conflict continued in their favor, and by the end of the 19th century it was religion that had been marginalized. Bertrand Russell called the period between the 6th and 11th centuries the Dark Ages, which was the period when the Church ruled. He said the chief characteristic of this period was the suppression of scientific thought and inquiry. In this period, discussions and inquiries were either completely disregarded or limited to topics and issues relevant to Christianity. In philosophy too, philosophers such as Hume, Descartes, Kant and others discussed this relation and their efforts eventually led to the isolation of religion. In the Islamic world however, scientific progress started from the 7th century. According to many Muslim thinkers, there is no conflict between science and religion. Avicenna was a physician whose book, “The Canon of Medicine,” was used as a reference book in European academia until not so long ago. He was also a religious thinker who wrote books on mysticism and philosophy. Despite his high regard for Greek philosophy, Avicenna tried to combine it with wisdom based on revelation (hikmat). This same line of thought has endured from the Classical era to the Contemporary era and individuals like Morteza Motahhari, Allameh Tabatabai, Imam Khomeini, Imam Khamenei and… too, have had the same approach to science. But in the West, the view that science and religion are distinct and in conflict with each other has been predominant over the view that they complement one another.

 

Rationality: An inseparable element of Islam

On a deeper level, the conflict between science and religion is about the relation between reason and religion. A religion’s relation with reason determines its relation with science. If we want to discover the relation between Islam and science, we must first inquire into its relation with reason. The history of Islam is full of different narratives and descriptions of it; some of which have been in conflict with each other. Among these narratives, the one that could lead to a theocracy and establish a religious system was the Islamic Revolution’s narrative of Islam. What description of Islam does this movement adopt? The Islam of this movement rejects and is different in both principle and foundation from reactionary Islam on the one hand, which undermines rationality, and from liberal Islam on the other hand, which presents an anti-religious description of rationality. Rather, it is an Islam based on spirituality, rationality, and justice. The soul and basis of this interpretation is spirituality, and rationality is its most important tool. Actually based on this narrative, Islam is a rational religion and reason has wide applications in understanding and discovering its aims and tools.[i] This description is not a novel, unprecedented approach. Rather, it is a revival of the traditions originating from Imam Ali (pbuh) and based on the logic of the Shi’a Imams. Imam Ali (pbuh) considered knowledge to be the beginning and end of all virtues.[ii] This opinion of Imam Ali (pbuh) is in fact a description of a narration from the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) who said:

God has not granted His servants anything more superior than the intellect. Thus, the sleep of an intellectual is superior to the vigil of an ignorant person, an intellectual staying at home is superior to an ignorant person traveling (for Hajj or Jihad), and God has not raised a prophet except for the completion of the intellect (and He will not raise him until his intellect has been perfected). His intellect is superior to the intellect of his people (Ummah) and what a prophet knows is superior to the ijtihad of the Mujtahid. And a servant has not performed his obligatory duties until he has realized them with his own intellect. All worshippers together cannot reach the status of an intellectual by virtue of their worship.[iii]

This rationality which Shi’ism has always emphasized[iv] has certain outcomes, among which are the infusion of self-confidence and self-reliance in the nation and on scientific growth.[v] It is on this basis that Imam Khamenei has divided human beings into three groups according to their relation with knowledge. There are intellectuals, there are those who seek knowledge, and there are those who are astray, worthless, and empty.[vi] This kind of knowledge is not only not anti-religious, it is also a divine gift.[vii] But an important point exists here that distinguishes religious and secular sciences and that is the necessity for morality and spirituality. Science without purification and spirituality can become the servant of a man’s animalistic tendencies and eventually bring about atrocities such as Hiroshima as the result of the invention of nuclear weapons. So science must be accompanied by human values.[viii] In this case not only does it not contradict religion, it also strengthens the basis of religious faith.[ix] According to the Shi’a traditions, reason can lead to paradise or to deception and waywardness .[x]

 

The Islamic Revolution: The manifestation of religious rationality

The Islamic Revolution was the result of the discourse of rationality and the rational calculations and analyses of revolutionary people.[xi] The revival of rationality in society was also one of its outcomes.[xii] One of the results of this approach was the accelerated rate of growth of science after the Revolution, which resulted in the highest rate of growth in science and technology in the world in the year 2010.[xiii] While admitting to Iran’s scientific and technological progress despite the sanctions, UNESCO announced that Iran’s experience in this regard was something unique. These reports demonstrate the strong relation between rationality and the Islamic Revolution as a religious system that has proven itself once again on an international level.

At the start of the pandemic, the Supreme Leader declared that he would listen to the medical doctors and their recommendations, and he demonstrated this by canceling his classes and religious ceremonies. The cancelation of his New Year pilgrimages to Mashhad, his constant recommendations to wear masks and observe the health protocols, his announcing full support for Iranian scientists’ ability to produce vaccines, and his resisting the use of foreign vaccines while Iranian vaccines were under production all went hand in hand to bring about an epic in Islamic Iran. The last scene of this epic was the determined face of the Supreme Leader whose raised fists were entrusted to Muslim Iranian scientists in order for them to gloriously show their success in attaining a homegrown vaccine. This success is not just a page from the proud history of Islamic Iran and a harbinger of a major evolution in global affairs. Rather, it is a manifestation of the power of the believers in Islam in trusting themselves and achieving a proud religious system in the world which can stand alongside the great powers without relying on the West or the East. We hope for a future where the cooperation of all Islamic nations substantiates this picture, not just as a nation but as a civilization.

 


[i] Imam Khamenei (8/15/2004).

 

[ii] Mizan al-Hikmah, p. 396.

[iii] Bihar al-Anwar, Allameh Majlisi, vol. 1, p. 91.

[iv] Ibid (Nov. 8, 2006).

[v] Ibid (June 4, 2011).

[vi] Imam Khamenei (Sept. 26, 2004).

[vii] Ibid (Aug. 26, 2008).

[viii] Ibid (June 21, 2004).

[ix] Ibid (July 26, 2000).

[x] Al-Kafi, vol. 1, p. 11.

[xi] Imam Khamenei (Aug. 30, 2005).

[xii] Ibid (June 4, 2011).     

[xiii] https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18546-iran-showing-fastest-scientific-growth-of-any-country/

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  • Corona pandemic
  • vaccines

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