Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Complexity of a Simple Cell

"Complexity is a property that is evident when encountered, but difficult to describe. For the present, we can think of complexity in terms of order and consistency. The more complex a structure, the greater the number of parts that must be in their proper place, the less tolerance of errors in the nature and interactions of the parts, and the more regulation or control that must be exerted to maintain the system. Cellular activities can be remarkably precise. DNA duplication, for example, occurs with an error rate of less than one mistake every ten million nucleotides incorporated—and most of these are quickly corrected by an elaborate repair mechanism that recognizes the defect."

(Source: Karp, Cell and Molecular Biology: Concepts and Experiments, 6e, Unit 1.2)

The paragraph above was taken from my Biology textbook. I was struck with awe at how something so minuscule could be so complex. If one reads with an eye of faith, one can't help but to think of God when contemplating on this scientific fact.

Many have asked how do we remember God while learning secular knowledge. To answer that, we need to begin by addressing the idea that knowledge is somehow compartmentalized into religious and secular knowledge.

In actuality, there is no compartmentalization These compartments are man-made and one can assume that it is done for a good reason. Compartmentalization is one way we organize things and this compartmentalization of knowledge may be a way that we organize knowledge.

Perhaps an indirect consequence of this compartmentalization is that the things we organize become separated without links, or to be more precise, the links have become hidden from plain sight. What was once only one, became many but many can still come from one.

For example, a tree consists of many branches but all the branches point to only one tree. The same concept can be applied to knowledge. Knowledge, like a tree, has many branches but they all point towards the same tree.

For all branches of knowledge, the tree is Tawheed (the Oneness of God). They all point to that reality.

This is by necessity, because if any of the branches is severed from the tree, then it will eventually die. In a way, severing the branches of knowledge from its main tree will slowly take the life out of the branches of knowledge itself.

Perhaps that is why so many Muslims asked the question of how to relate what they are learning in university with Islam, because they feel a sense of emptiness in what they are learning. The can't seem to read in between the lines of the paragraphs in their textbooks and see the bigger picture.

This seeing of the bigger picture requires a bit of practice. Considering that we have lived with this compartmentalization idea in our minds for so long, one can only imagine that it must be difficult to unravel this mindset and set it straight.

Difficult, but not impossible.

For me, it starts with the intention. If I intend to see God in what I am learning, then God-Willing, I will see it. This doesn't mean that I insert God in what I am learning. Since the branches of knowledge already point to God, I don't have to.

Tawheed is already there, so I don't have to insert anything. I just have to notice it. Having the right intention is the first step to noticing the right thing. But it is not enough. I need some sort of a navigational tool to guide me to the place I intend to go.

If I am traveling and I intend to go to a particular place, my intention alone will not get me there. I need a map or some other reliable tool of navigation. Similarly, I need a reliable tool to navigate myself along the branches of knowledge, heading towards the main tree of Tawheed.

Spirituality is not only a spiritual endeavour, it is also an intellectual one. So, one of the most important navigational tools is right inside our head - our mind. We shouldn't undermine the importance of the mind in our spiritual quest.

In his paper entitled Living Islam with Purpose, Dr. Umar Faruq Abd' Allah stated, "God endowed human beings with dignity, and the capacity to reason is one of the principal grounds of their unique distinction among beings. The rational order of the universe makes it accessible to human reason and transforms it from a world of random phenomena into a marvelous sign of God and an object of speculation and scientific investigation."

He stated the quote above under the first sub-heading of his paper, appropriately entitling it as "Trusting Reason".

The Islamic concept of spirituality puts sound reasoning as one of its core principles. One cannot be spiritually mature without being intellectually mature at the same time. The mind is a gift from God, and it should be utilized properly.

Otherwise, it would be waste of something so valuable.

One should exercise one's mind to its full capacity, while at the same time realizing that the mind has a limit. This is where so many people cross the line between sound reasoning and no reasoning. The mind is incapable of conceptualizing everything about everything.

For Muslims, this is where we start to fully rely on Revelation. We shouldn't tread in territories where the mind can't go. As great as the mind truly is, there are certain questions that it cannot answer by itself.

That is the reason why so many great scholars of Islam, after exercising their intellect to its full capacity, they always end their reasoning process with the statement "Allahua'lam" or as it is normally translated in English, "Allah knows best."

This awareness is central to the Islamic faith and it keeps Muslims grounded in humility. We don't claim to know everything and we don't claim to have the capacity to know everything. We realize and acknowledge our limitations as human beings and as slaves of the Almighty.

Having said that, it doesn't mean that we remain intellectually idle. Despite having limitations, it is amazing how far the mind can go within those limitations. So, to acknowledge the reality of its limitations is by no means to undermine its powerful reasoning abilities.

The use of these two main navigational tools, the mind and the Revelation, is our guide to get us to the place we intend to go. With the right intention, the right attitude, and the right use of these tools, we can train our eyes to see Tawheed, in all its manifestations within any branch of knowledge.