This article is not a fiqhi article, nor will any fatwas be issued. What this article is designed to do is make us think.
Scholar 1: Lasers. The word lasers is taken for granted. In reality, Laser is an acronym. It stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Lasers are single wavelength highly concentrated beams of energy. There are four steps in laser action:
- Absorption of Energy;
- Spontaneous Emission;
- Stimulated Emission;
- Population inversion.
At the first stage, energy is absorbed by an atom, the electrons are excited into vacant energy shells. The atom then decays through the emission of a photon in a completely random process. Atoms in an upper energy level can be triggered or stimulated in phase by an incoming photon of a specific energy. The two photos that are produced can then generate more photons and the four generated can generate 8 and thus could result in a cascade of intense monochromatic radiation. This final stage is called stimulated emission.
Now that we have understood how the lasing action occurs we can use this knowledge to build a laser. What we need are a Laser Medium, a pump source and mirrors to form an optical resonator. With these three components we can build a laser that can offer that concentrated beam of energy that can be used effectively in a number of useful functions.
“Scholar” 2: I myself am an experienced laser user. In giving lectures, I have used a laser pen frequently. I have also carried out numerous internet searches that have informed me that exposure to lasers can be dangerous. Also, popular fiction tells me that lasers will eventually be weaponised en masse. Whether this is a reality or not I feel that based on my experience and research, lasers should be made harām. If even the laser pen, when pointed at someone’s eye is dangerous, then imagine future technology developments where laser pens are advanced to the point where they become a portable firearm? Clearly this is harām. I have decided as such to name lasers as harām and any and all associated laser activity is an innovation that will make me question your aqīdah.
It is likely that you may have read the above few paragraphs and not understood any of it until you reached “Scholar” 2. It is also likely, that you appreciated that the tone of the first few paragraphs is that of the studied academic trying to make complex technical processes understood to the layman whilst the tone of the final paragraph is that of the layman who has done some research and is attempting to resolve that research in his own mind. The layman has reached some firm conclusions, some of which are valid. Yes, lasers can be dangerous. Yes, perhaps in the future they will be weaponised en masse. But does the layman also appreciate that lasers can be and are frequently used for a number of manufacturing and medical operations? Laser eye surgery is something we frequently mention and it is likely we know someone who has undergone the operation. Less known however is that lasers are used for drilling, welding, cladding and even shot peening?
If we ignore the ridiculous notion of making lasers harām, does “Scholar” 2 of the final paragraph appreciate or even fathom, that the complex processes described above can be manipulated to carry out these very useful tasks? Of course not. He has no background in engineering and not only does he not appreciate what lasers can be effectively used for but he does not understand how to mitigate for safety when they are used.
I think you can probably guess where I am going with this. The truth is that the first two paragraphs could have been completely made up. The majority of people would likely not have the slightest notion of whether the information is correct or not. In an engineering capacity my credibility as an engineer, with the associated qualifications and experience means that what I say would be taken seriously. The likelihood is that the layman would immediately “pipe down” when the credible engineer puts forward an opinion related to a subject he knows about. Not only that, if he does not stop offering his inutile (and often unasked for) opinion, there would be a significant negative impact on the discussion.
Why is it, then, that the secular scientific scholar can hold a class and put forward researched opinions from credible sources and the students will accept it all at face value? If one student decides the professor is wrong, he is usually laughed down.
However, when the Islamic scholar, again, with years of experience and credible sources, offers an opinion it is immediately subjected to a host of scrutiny from the students. Aside from the lack of respect shown to that scholar, even if the student has gained some knowledge, they have no experience. Islamic sciences are superior to secular sciences, yet our standard in secular sciences is that knowledge without application over a prolonged period of time is practically useless.
I refer now to numerous examples of Islamic Scholars providing opinions based on research and practical application of knowledge and experience. If the opinion is different to what perhaps people are used to, or if the opinion is an Ijtihād, where scholars are perhaps giving opinions on topics that have previously not existed, there is usually a tremendous backlash. The first point to mention is that there is an environment now in modern society where being wrong is considered illegal. Let us consider a hypothetical example of someone, not a scholar, giving an opinion or offering some advice. If that piece of information is incorrect, the hostility of the environment, rather than encourage that person to retract advice, would likely make them more stubborn.
Let us refer to two recent examples on this very website where scholarly Fatwa has been given. The first was the recent article related to Student ‘Loans’, and the second is the explanation of the scholarly approach to defining Fajr, Maghrib and ʿIshā’ times during the Summer. The first article created an uproar of emotion amongst some segments of society. “How could the sheikh provide such an opinion! Doesn’t he know interest is haram?!” Well, much like our lasers analogy, in actual fact, the person giving the explanation and providing conclusions not only has knowledge of this issue, but he has knowledge around the issue. He has knowledge around the knowledge around the issue and, further to this, he has spent a large portion of his life applying his knowledge.
Another, perhaps, has watched Star Wars a few times, decided that light sabres could be dangerous in the future, carried out a few internet searches on lasers and, this is crucial, decided that HE is a scholar and that his opinion is worth the few seconds it took to form.
The second article that was reposted recently on prayer times finished with clear conclusions and advice about the various issues discussed. Inevitably a host of “in my honest opinion” or “this is what we should do really” self-promoted scholars offered their two pence. Self-promoted scholars are virtually non-existent in the world of secular scholars. The amount of qualifications and credibility you need to have to attain the title of professor at a university is staggering.
Consider this: you were about to get into a car and suddenly a helpful bystander knocks on your window and hands you a mechanical component that looks rather critical and says “this fell off your car, before you drive, make sure you put it back in its place.” Now you may suspect that what you are holding in your hand is an engine piston, and even a quick google search might confirm it, will you then put the engine piston back inside the engine and drive off? I suspect that, if you had any sense, you would immediately call a mechanic and would not dare to drive your car until it had been fixed. However, we seem quite happy to take the risk of installing the engine piston in our Dīn and potentially misfiring our ākhira.
Admittedly, this is just a long way of saying that when a reputable Islamic scholar offers an opinion, the first assumption before offering your DIY ijtihād to the world wide web should be that you are more like to be wrong than the scholar.
AbdulRahman El-Nounu is a Mechanical Engineer by profession having completed a MEng and is currently pursuing his doctorate (EngD) as a Manufacturing Research Engineer.
He is actively involved in arranging Islamic structured courses with international Dawah institutes and delivers basic study circles in his locality while attending regular Tafseer classes. AbdulRahman’s research and political activism focuses on international affairs and he is an author to Islam21c on current Middle-Eastern issues.