It is an undeniable historical fact that before the advent of Islam, the pursuit of Science was condemned as heresy. One does not have to go far to seek the reason for this. At that time, most people could not think in the abstract and they looked upon the elements of Nature (the subject that Science concerns itself with) as sacred objects, possessing supernatural powers. They made idols symbolizing different elements and worshipped them as gods and goddesses, either for protection from evil or for attainment of certain objects. It was in this way that a pantheon was created and the sun, moon, stars, air, water, animals, and even trees and stones, were deified and adored.
It was not unnatural that in such circumstances, any deviation from the prevailing belief in their sanctity should have been branded as sacrilege, and any attempt at a critical examination of their potentiality, for good or evil, stigmatized as profanity. Thus, all that was useful in the heavens and the earth remained altogether unexplored, and for thousands of years man did not realise the sublime utility of the forces of Nature. It was reserved for the untutored son of the desert to open man's eye to the wonderland of Nature by bringing down her elements from the high pedestal of divinity on which they had been placed, to the position of servants of mankind.
The subservience of natural elements to man
The Quran says (what means):
“And He has made subservient to you the night and the day and the sun and moon and the stars are made subservient by His commandment; most surely there are signs in this for people to ponder...” [Quran 16:12]
Thus were the gods of the pre-Islamic people reduced by one stroke to the status of man's servants. For the first time in the history of the world, the Holy Quran declared in unmistakable language that the main purpose for which all objects -- from the mightiest sun to the most insignificant atom -- were created was to minister to man's needs. Everything in the Universe being intended for his use, man has been commanded to use his faculties to investigate their intrinsic properties -- in other words, to cultivate every branch of Science in order to discover the Divine that designed him and the world around him.
In the Quran, man was declared the vicegerent on earth by the Lord of the Universe and everything in it was subservient to him. Thus, the Quran gave a tremendous impetus to the development of scientific research. In fact, the foundation of modern Science was thus laid by acquainting man with the real nature of the forces and laws of Nature and by teaching him how to harness them for the service of human beings.
The initiation of the conquest of Nature leading to the utilisation of its forces for the benefit of humanity is, indeed, one of the greatest blessings Islam has conferred upon mankind.
The Quran clearly indicated the way in which to reduce Nature to human service by contemplation and observation of four kinds, viz., Tafaqquh, Tadabbur, Tafakkur and Ta’aqqul (learning, pondering, contemplation, and meditation). By means of Tafaqquh (learning) a correct idea of things and their different features can be arrived at; by Tadabbur (pondering) the knowledge of how to utilize them properly can be acquired, Tafakkur (contemplation) teaches the ways by which things have come into existence while Ta'aqqul (meditation) gives the knowledge which enables man to make the right use of different things in everyday life.
It was the meditations indicated by Tafakkur and Ta'aqqul that actuated different kinds of scientific research among the early Muslims. This is how the Quran placed in the hands of man the key to the treasures of Nature and Divine Revelation came to show him the way to material progress. Everything in the Universe having been intended for the use of man, it was a virtuous act for him to conduct research into the realms of Nature in order to discover the utility of its various components. Thus the first principle of progress — the exploration and subsequent utilization of the forces of Nature to serve the needs of mankind and help him realize the Greatness of his Creator— became an article of faith with the Muslims, and impelled them to engage in scientific research.
From: A Simple Guide to Islam’s Contribution to Science and Civilisation