Traditional Islamic teaching differentiates between two types of knowledge, transmitted (naqlī) and intellectual (ʿaqlī) knowledge. The transmitted knowledge is the one we acquire from books or through teachers, while intellectual knowledge is the knowledge that we find by digging within our souls to reach for the Truth, and which can only be reached through training the intellect and purifying the heart. Accordingly, there are two basic paths of acquiring knowledge, following authority (taqlīd) and verification (taḥqīq). In practice, transmitted and intellectual knowledge, and taqlīd and taḥqīq, should always be interweaved yet it is usually the intellectual science that builds on the transmitted one. For Muslim scientists in the Islamic Golden Age, intellectual understanding has been regarded as an advanced level whereas transmitted science is an essential foundation and scaffolding that initiates and sustains intellectual inquiry.
If we apply this to our modern-day healthcare and medical practice, intellectual knowledge would be the skills and wisdom of the practitioner. It is the heart-based, dynamic, and ever-unfolding truth that depends on the practitioner’s expertise as well as on the client’s needs, hopes, and context. This intellectual knowledge could be reached not only through the sound training and transmitted learning, that is to say, through the evidence-based research, the body of knowledge, and accumulated data from previous teachers, researchers, experts and authorities (in both the conventional medicine and traditional fields), but also through the inner work (the purification of the heart) that the practitioner needs to perform. Science, from a traditional Islamic perspective, has one goal: to draw us closer to the Truth, to God.
But, this is not the case anymore… in our modern-day, we relinquished the pursuit for the essence, for the Truth and became content with the physical matter, with what we can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell… what we can sense: what you see is what you get, basically. We forgot that the first page of our Sacred Book praises the believers for being “those who believe in the unseen (al-ghayb),” (Q. 2: 3). We dismissed this ghayb (unseen) for the “certainty” of conventional scientific dogma. But, what we failed to acknowledge is that there is no certainty in scientific dogma – there are theories, hypotheses, and speculations many of which do not hold the test of time and crumble under the weight of new scientific discoveries, the weight of new idols that we choose to worship.
Let’s be clear here. I am in no way against science. I am a scientist, a pharmacist who researched and taught pharmaceutics, pharmaceutical medications, biochemistry, and body metabolism for years; and who is still fascinated by science and chemistry. Yet, for me, these are tools not a destination. Professor Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, the Hungarian biochemist who won the Nobel Prize in physiology/ medicine in 1937, wrote in his autobiography,
“I wanted to understand life but found the complexity of physiology overwhelming. So I shifted to pharmacology. This, I found, did not relieve the difficulty. So, I went into bacteriology, but found bacteria too complex, too. I shifted on, to physicochemistry and then to chemistry, that is, to molecules, the smallest units in those days. Ten years ago I found molecules too complex and shifted to electrons, hoping to have reached bottom. But Nature has no bottom. If Nature puts two things together she produces something new with new qualities, which cannot be expressed in terms of qualities of the components. When going from electrons and protons to atoms, from here to molecules, molecular aggregates, etc., up to the cell or the whole animal, at every level we find something new, a new breathtaking vista. So now, at 68, I am to work my way up again following electrons in their motion through more extensive systems, hoping to arrive, someday, at an understanding of the cellular level of organization.”
For all traditional cultures, science has always been a tool that helps human beings in their pursuit for the Truth, for the Sacred. Somehow, in our modern world, we managed to turn this tool into a tyrant whose only goal is to conquer the world and subdue nature. When I decided to study pharmacy, years ago, I was fascinated by my grandmother’s pantry full of home remedies for every conceivable illness; I loved herbs and was enchanted by their natural powers of healing… I was disillusioned… the way pharmacists and modern-day conventional scientists approach herbs robs them of their soul, of their essence, and reduces them into Latin names and chemical formulas. We extract the one ingredient that “science” proves to be effective and discard the remaining of the herb considering it useless. But, who are we to judge?
There are some therapeutic classes that we can only find in traditional herbal medicine like:
- Adaptogens: These are herbs that help the body adapt to whatever stressful condition it faces;
- Alteratives: These are herbs that alter unfavorable conditions in the body whether by increasing or decreasing certain functions.
Years back, when scientists discovered the calming effect of Kava Kava, a herb used by Native Americans for anxiety, they did what they do best – reduced it into one chemical ingredient they thought responsible for the pharmaceutical action: Kavalactones. The Kavalactones were extracted, purified, refined, stuffed into capsules, and mass-marketed. Soon enough, cases of liver failure started to be reported… It did not make sense; Native Americans have been using this herb for centuries with no reported side effects… It turned out that God who created the Kava lactones, also created another ingredient in the same plant, a powerful antioxidant that helps the liver detoxify and break down the lactones once their job is done. When we reduced the plant to only the anti-anxiety chemical, our body failed to eliminate it so it accumulated in the liver and caused more harm than good.
Reductionist Newtonian physics works just fine with technology and machines, but it stands at a loss before the miracle of our microcosm… Our body is not mere flesh, blood, and bones; our brain cannot be reduced to mere neurons and neurotransmitters; our heart cannot be concluded into a mere pump; and our intellect and consciousness could not be bound by the Cartesian bifurcation.
We Need A Paradigm Shift
We cannot understand and acknowledge our human complexity without integrating science and theology, physics and metaphysics. And, if we are to effectively integrate them, we need a paradigm shift. In the modern Western biomedical model, the scientific research is still based on and undergirded by the Cartesian-Newtonian dualistic, linear, and reductionist approach to life. This view “not only presents an inaccurate vision of human existence but also contributes to the disease of modern society.”
Nowadays, evidence-based healthcare relies heavily on statistical analysis of collected data. The use of statistics, which began in the 1800s by eugenicists, aimed, and in most cases is still aiming, at establishing the “normal distribution” of human beings in an attempt to reduce deviation from the norm. But who gets to decide what “norm” is? This idea of the norm in itself is a tyranny that ignores many aspects of the human experience. Besides, “the delusion that […] the accumulation of a large number of facts can be of use by itself as a proof of a theory,” is another oversimplification feature of our modern-day scientific inquiries that focus on quantities missing the real essence. Even studies concerning spirituality and health “must conform to the canons of scientific research which focus primarily on the relationship of behavior and outcome,” overlooking:
- The multifactorial nature of causation (instead they focus on linear causation);
- The interconnectedness of mind, body, and soul (instead they see life through the dualistic Cartesian lens of separation); and
- The interrelated holistic nature of life (versus the isolation, compartmentalization, and individualization view of modern thinking).
 William Chittick, Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul
 Wofgang Smith, Science and Myth.
 Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Lost in the 20th century
 Epperly, B. G. (2000). Prayer, Process, and the Future of Medicine
 Lennard Davis, The Disability Studies Reader
 René Guénon, The Reign of Quantity.
 Epperly, B. G. (2000). Prayer, Process, and the Future of Medicine. Journal of Religion and Health 39, 23–37.
 William Dembski, Intelligent Design.