The Western world has since concentrated its intellectual energies upon the study of the quantitative aspects of things, thus developing a science of Nature, whose all too obvious fruits in the physical domain have won for it the greatest esteem among people everywhere, for most of whom "science" is identified with technology and its applications. Islamic science, by contrast, seeks ultimately to attain such knowledge as will contribute toward the spiritual perfection and deliverance of anyone capable of studying it; thus its fruits are inward and hidden, its values more difficult to discern. To understand it requires placing oneself within its perspective and accepting as legitimate a science of Nature that has a different end, and uses different means, from those of modern science. If it is unjust to identify Western science solely with its material results, it is even more unjust to judge medieval science by its outward "usefulness" alone. However important its uses may have been in calendarial work, in irrigation, in architecture, its ultimate aim has always been to relate the corporeal world to its basic spiritual principle, through the knowledge of those symbols that unite the various orders of reality. It can only be understood, and should only be judged, in terms of its own aims and its own perspectives.


This article is taken from the Introduction to Seyyed Hossein Nasr's Science and Civilization in Islam (New American Library, 1968).

Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a leading expert on Islamic science and spirituality. He is the University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University and the author of numerous books on Islam and philosophy. For more information, visit the Seyyed Hossein Nasr Foundation.