Books and Documents

Islam and Science

The golden age of Muslim learning (900 - 1100 CE) produced a bulk of the contributions of Muslims, especially in the field of sciences. The renowned Persian physician Al Razi (Rhazes, 10th century) is credited with collating over a hundred Greek treatises on medicine to which he added his own observations. Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 11th century), another Persian scholar, put together a vast canon in which all then known medical knowledge derived from Greek and Muslim sources was systematically organized. …


“The task before the modern Muslim is, therefore, immense. He has to re-think the whole system of Islam without completely breaking with the past”, and furthermore, “The only course open to us is to approach modern knowledge with a respectful but independent attitude and to appreciate the teachings of Islam in the light of that knowledge, even though we may be led to differ from those who have gone before us.”…

The Quran is a miracle of Allah, a cornerstone of a Muslim’s faith. It is a tool that can be used and has been used to lay the grounds for future mathematic, scientific, and religious research from the little gems of wisdom found in even its smallest ayas. A Muslim’s destiny lies in understanding and incorporating the Quran’s teachings in every aspect of his or her life, and analysing the hidden meanings Allah has set before us in depth. One could call these miracles just mere coincidences, yet if this is to be the case, it may as well be one of the most astonishing and unimaginable coincidences, ever to exist. -- Hina Iqbal

On Neutrinos and Angels
Pervez Hoodbhoy

Speed of light issues have often moved sections of religious people in rather strange ways. Way back in 1973, as a young physics lecturer at Quaid-i-Azam University, I had been fascinated by the calculation done by the head of our department. Seeking the grand synthesis of science and faith, this pious gentleman — who left on his final journey last month — had published calculations that proved Heaven (jannat) was running away from Earth at one centimeter per second less than the speed of light. His reasoning centred around a particular verse of the Holy Quran that states worship on the night of Lailat-ul-Qadr (Night of Revelation) is equivalent to a thousand nights of ordinary worship. Indeed, if you input the factor of 1,000 into Einstein’s famous formula for time dilatation, this yields a number: one centimeter per second less than the speed of light! -- Pervez Hoodbhoy

A few weeks ago, a story broke in the media about British Muslim students "increasingly" refusing to attend biological evolution classes. Even medical students, it was reported, were part of that worrisome development. …..the Qur'an should not be a reference against which any scientific theory or result is checked; the Qur'an is a book of spiritual, moral, and social guidance, and while it encourages people to explore the world and derive from it a worldview, one which conforms to its theistic teachings, it does not claim to present descriptions, much less explanations for how the world works. The openness of the Qur'an to (re-)interpretation was recently underlined by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, perhaps the most influential Muslim scholar of the past few decades, who stated that: "If Darwin's theory is proven, we can find Qur'anic verses that will fit with it..."-- Nidhal Guessoum

The irony is compounded by the fact that their said assertion itself is in conflict with the Qur’anic message. That is to say, the classical Evolution theory pioneered by Charles Darwin is not outside the broad spectrum of the Qur’an’s creative insights. No doubt, as is well known, the Qur’an speaks of the creation of Adam and Eve in the primordial plane in several places, but it also features clear verses listed below that are in complete harmony with Darwinism.

“He is the One who created you (khalaqnakum) from clay (tin) (inorganic matter), then decreed a term, and there is a determined term with Him. Yet you remain doubtful” (6:2). “He is the One who created (khalaqa) human being from water and established for him relations of blood and marriage...” (25:54). “What’s wrong with you: you do not contemplate the glory of God (71:13), who created you (khalaqnakum) in stages (atwara) (71:14). “... He (caused) you to grow (ansha-akum) from the earth (ard) and settled you in it...” (11:61). “Don’t those who deny (God) see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (before), and We split them apart? We made (ja‘alna) every living thing from water. Won’t they still believe” (21:30). “God evolved you (ambatakum) from the earth as a living organism (nabata) (71:17); then He will return you into it, and raise you again” (71:18).

The truth is, the Qur’an does not restrict itself to a monolithic model of creation. Thus, apart from 1) the populist Creational and 2) the above patently evolutionary models, the Qur’an also offers other insights into God’s creative scheme. -- Muhammad Yunus, NewAgeIslam.com

The upheaval in multiple Arab countries, known as the "Arab Spring", is certain to lead to new political structures in a part of the world hitherto dominated by monarchies and dictatorships. But this revolution against autocratic stability and despotism, which are largely responsible for keeping the Arab world in darkness, does not by itself guarantee that a scientific revival is around the corner. An Arab renaissance will happen only if appropriate cultural and attitudinal changes follow the political changes. How fast, or slow, these countries move into the 21st century will depend on how Arabs choose to reinvent their way of life. Muslim Arabs will have to cast off the false, but widely held belief, that science is somehow contained within their religion. They must reject the notion that supplications to the powers "up above" can actually change material outcomes. The existing "inshallah" culture - which denies causality and puts the onus on God for everything - is unsupportive of science and, in fact, antithetical to it. -- Pervez Hoodbhoy

I was surprised and saddened to find the article, “THE QURAN AND MOTIONS OF THE SUN AND MOON” by Prof. Zafar Ahsan of Aligarh Muslim University in your most recent mailing (19 Apr 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com), and to learn that it was written exclusively for New Age Islam. It is not a scientific article—more an article of faith—and its logic is full of holes. Below I shall show how, using just a few passages from it. I shall put in bold the passage from the article; my own comments will be otherwise. …

For those interested in the question of Science in Muslim societies, the initial step should be Pervez Hoodbhoy’s pointed study, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality (with a foreword by Dr. Abdus Salam), published in 1991. But the two may not be acceptable as “true” Muslims. -- C M Naim for NewAgeIslam.com

Prof. Zafar Ahsan for NewAgeIslam.com

Allah is the Creator of everything that is present in the universe, so what are the philosophical reasons behind this creation.  We have to think about these reasons.  Verse 2 above states the process of creation of human being; and the truth and exact knowledge involved in any process of creation is just the definition of science.  Thus verse 2 (above) clearly indicates that if we want to know the factuality, genuineness and reality of a creation, we then have to study science.  Moreover, in these verses the Arabic word Iqra appears twice, while the Arabic word Qalam is mentioned only once.  This means that one has to read more than once.  -- Prof. Zafar Ahsan for NewAgeIslam.com

A Case Of Bogus Science
Pervez Hoodbhoy

Comstech is the Organization of Islamic Countries' highest scientific body. It has received millions of dollars from OIC countries, including Pakistan. Comstech's opulent headquarters are located on Constitution Avenue in Islamabad. It has been headed by Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman since 1996. Although its performance has been consistently mediocre, the organization has now descended to an all-time low.

Recently Dr. Rahman published an eye-popping article entitled "HAARP" (Dawn, 17-10-2010). The article claims that a physics research project, based in Alaska, may have been used by the United States to trigger earthquakes globally, and could also have caused the catastrophic floods in Pakistan. -- Pervez Hoodbhoy

Science ends here
Nadeem F. Paracha

Johannes Heinrich’s Scientific vindication of Christianity (1887) is one example, while Mohan Roy’s Vedic Physics: Scientific Origin of Hinduism (1999) is a good way of observing how this thought has evolved among followers of other faiths. It is interesting to note how a number of Muslim ‘scientists’ have laboured hard to come up with convoluted interpretations of certain scriptures. Ironically, their ancient counterparts, especially between the 8th and 13th centuries in Baghdad and Persia, had put all effort in trying to understand natural phenomena and the human body and mind through hardcore science and philosophy. -- Nadeem F. Paracha 

Let me explain and provide some context. I'm an evolutionary biologist, and I believe that science is an incredibly powerful way of understanding the natural world. Unfortunately, we live in a society that is largely scientifically illiterate. By that I don't mean that most people don't understand the specifics of any particular science, which is unquestionably true, but rather that most people don't understand the nature of science. They are unable to distinguish between science and pseudoscience or, as I like to say, among science, nonscience, and nonsense. Collectively, we regularly suffer the consequences of scientific illiteracy, from poorly conceived public policies to atrocious educational practices.

Scientific investigation is a process that depends upon hypothesis testing and demands that scientific claims be offered in a manner that permits them to be falsified. Simply put, if you can't phrase your hypothesis in a falsifiable manner, it falls outside the bounds of science. Science is, therefore, one of the few fields of human endeavor that has opted to limit its own scope -- and it's that limitation that makes it so useful. -- Michael Zimmerman

How ironic, I thought to myself as I stood there looking at the display honouring her contributions to religious instruction as well as political and natural sciences education: more than a millennium later some ignorant souls who claim to share her religion want to deny women an education and employment. Have these individuals even heard about Fatima al Fihri?
The truth is that secularism played a large role in the advancement of science in Islam. Because religion was seen as a tool in life -- not the objective, as it is often preached today -- people were free to create, imagine, and dream without the imposition of artificial boundaries. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars conducted research side by side and thus both Islam and humanity were enriched. – Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi
Photo: Abu al Qasim al Zahrawi

We have no evidence whatsoever for any life beyond Earth, let alone intelligent life. It could be that life's origin was a stupendous fluke, and that we are alone after all. But the consequences of discovering that other intelligences exist, or have existed, are so momentous it seems worth taking a penetrating look at how we could uncover evidence for it….. For many nonscientists, the fascination with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is its tantalizing promise of wisdom in the sky. Frank Drake has said that the search for alien intelligence is really a search for ourselves, and how we fit into the great cosmic scheme. To know that we are not the only sentient beings in a mysterious and sometimes frightening universe—that an alien community had endured for eons, overcoming multiple problems—would represent a powerful symbol of hope for mankind. --PAUL DAVIES


Thus it is not true that Islam ever came in the way of development of modern knowledge or science. In fact it was the springboard, if we believe Prof. Raju, of development of modern science. Prof. H.G. Wells, in his The Short History of the World calls the Arabs as foster fathers of modern knowledge. But it is only partly true. The Arabs were much more than foster fathers. Their own contribution was quite rich as we will discuss shortly.

 It is true after 13th century there was stagnation in the Muslims world and for reasons not to be discussed here, the Muslim world was taken over by superstitious beliefs until the western colonization again awoke them from their slumber. The Muslim theologians also contributed to this stagnation a great deal. In order to maintain their hegemony they opposed great philosophers and scientists like Farabi, Ibn Sina (Avicena) or (Averos) (Ibn Rushd) and others and even condemned them as heretics.

 Also, persons like Ghazzali, had very different approach to knowledge which was based on certainty rather than uncertainties of philosophy and constant quest for knowledge of science and hence he also opposed philosophers like Averros and there was great debate between the two. -- Asghar Ali Engineer

KPA keeps a comprehensive database of HIV-AIDS-related statistics, but has no comprehensive data on how many condom outlets are currently operating. According to a KPA study they have conducted, less than half the women working in brothels and massage parlors report having access to condoms and only 15 percent of sex workers who sell on the street say condoms are available in their areas. That poses a problem as the source of the transmission of new HIV infections in Indonesia shifts from drug use to sex, said UNAIDS country coordinator Nancy Fee, with an office in Jakarta. "We're at a danger point in the spread of the epidemic. A lot more people have sex than do drugs, so that's where we see the numbers growing," she said. -- Sara Schonhardt


Hoodboy presents as “heroes” (p. 107) some Muslim scientists and philosophers who supposedly held very unconventional views about Islam such as al-Kindi, al-Razi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, and Ibn Khaldun while he turns other brilliant leaders and thinkers such as ‘Umar bin al-Khattab and al-Ghazali into villains. This strict division between villains and heroes, as is often the case, proves to be mistaken under scrutiny. Thus one “orthodox villain” Ibn Taymiyyah considered another “orthodox villain” al-Ghazali as misguided. Similarly, Ibn Khaldun, one of Hoodbhoy’s heroes, condemns another of his heroes Ibn Sina as anti-religious. Furthermore, if “villains” like al-Ghazali seem to discourage the study of some sciences, then so do “heroes” like Ibn Khaldun who opposed the science of chemistry and Ibn Rushd who said: “books written by scholars should be forbidden to the ordinary person by the rulers.” Clearly, Hoodbhoy has not learnt very much over the past ten years, since his criticism of al-Ghazali and religious orthodoxy reflects the same lack of understanding of the writings of al-Ghazali and the complexity of the issues connected with predestination, free will, and cause-effect relationship that he manifested in his book. -- Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

Maulana Nadeemul Wajidi takes the lead










As we celebrate Darwin, let's not forget the unsung champions of evolution from the Muslim world

These ideas were later taken up in the writings of Indian-born philosopher-poet Muhammad Iqbal in the early 20th century. We also know that Iqbal had been reading Darwin and wanted to find a way of synthesising the latest ideas from biological science with earlier Islamic-era philosophy. Iqbal today is revered throughout South Asia and also happens to be Pakistan's national poet. Why is it important to emphasise links between Darwin, and thinking on evolution in other cultures? One reason is that in many developing countries today, Darwin – and by extension evolution – are seen as being in the service of imperialism. -- Ehsan Masood

Darwin and God: can they co-exist?

Muslim scientists must ensure that Islam's encounter with evolution does not turn out to be its Galileo moment. -- Inayat Bunglawala

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