What I learned from my father about math and religion

The large wooden dining table had lost its function completely due to the lack of use for several months. A pen, a book and the pressure of my father’s hand was all it carried. He studied while the house was eerie quiet.

“There are always three steps you need to take,” My father gave me a stern look, but chose his words carefully.

“First you take notes, then you study them and finally you comprehend it. That is the only chronological sequence.”

“Everything in this life has a certain structure. A solid structure. The trick is to figure out those deeply-rooted structures, even when you would think there are none. You do not need to understand the structure at first, but you do have to be able to envision it. The second step is to take notes as clearly as you possibly could. Then you’ll study it. The whole purpose is to have your notes live on in your head as a copy. That deep, that you will never forget them, nor make mistakes in them. You need to know them perfectly.” He drew a few little circles and figurines on white sheets to diminish the abstraction of his idea. I took a close look at him, hoping that I could repeat what he had said if he would ask me to.

“After you know it perfectly, you can think about it. Philosophize about it, seek for a good interpretation. You see, you cannot give meaning to something when you do not understand the structure of it. Never!”

I smiled. He was master of the formal sciences, math was his approach for the most ordinary things.

“When I was a student, I studied so hard that I knew my math handbook by heart. First, I learned the definitions by heart flawlessly. Afterwards, I made the exercises over and over again, so often that I even knew my exercises by heart.” I was dazzled by the thought of him literally being able to reproduce all those numbers from his manual.

Not so long after that, he focused his attention back on the book in front of him. The Arabic letters filled the golden pages gracefully. My father brought the Quran closer to him and wrote the words in his little notebook. He wrote and wrote and kept writing and I knew that each time he copied a word on the page, the word was stuck in his head. Forever.

He applied his mathematical method to the words of God and studied their structure thoroughly, so much that he would not make a mistake in them. Only afterwards, when he had memorized the chapters al Baqara, al Imran and al Nisa, he interpreted them. My father kept using the verses from the chapters he knew until the end of his life, for both religious and secular matters.

I was brought up with the idea that science is more than just reconcilable with religion, moreover the two are intertwined. They cannot be separated from each other, without tearing an important part of the other into pieces.

Just like he asked me to do, I am trying my best to follow those three steps. It is a difficult task to look at things from a rational perspective instead of an emotional one, think about topics like politics or culture, but it definitely ensured that I can take a more objective position. This way I can interpret actions or events in a different way, so that I can understand something without necessarily supporting it.

Written by Mayada Srouji

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Mayada Srouji is a 23-year-old student Gender and Diversity at the UGent and has a bachelor in Arabic and Islamic Sciences, with a minor in political and social sciences. She is interested in women rights, philosophy, literature and history.