Is there an essential conflict between Islam and Science? Some people certainly believe so. But then, there are also some Christians who have a hard time dealing with particular branches of Science, the Theory of Evolution among them.

Economist magazine takes a look at a new burgeoning of science and research taking place in the Islamic world. It finds that over the past decade, published research from universities in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Iran, and other states has increased significantly. State funding for research indicates that the governments — if not all the people — are realizing that if they are to flourish, or even survive, in the future, they must consider Science an important part of life. Worth reading in its entirety.

The road to renewal
After centuries of stagnation science is making a comeback in the Islamic world

THE sleep has been long and deep. In 2005 Harvard University produced more scientific papers than 17 Arabic-speaking countries combined. The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims have produced only two Nobel laureates in chemistry and physics. Both moved to the West: the only living one, the chemist Ahmed Hassan Zewail, is at the California Institute of Technology. By contrast Jews, outnumbered 100 to one by Muslims, have won 79. The 57 countries in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference spend a puny 0.81% of GDP on research and development, about a third of the world average. America, which has the world’s biggest science budget, spends 2.9%; Israel lavishes 4.4%.

Many blame Islam’s supposed innate hostility to science. Some universities seem keener on prayer than study. Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, for example, has three mosques on campus, with a fourth planned, but no bookshop. Rote learning rather than critical thinking is the hallmark of higher education in many countries. The Saudi government supports books for Islamic schools such as “The Unchallengeable Miracles of the Qur’an: The Facts That Can’t Be Denied By Science” suggesting an inherent conflict between belief and reason.

Many universities are timid about courses that touch even tangentially on politics or look at religion from a non-devotional standpoint. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a renowned Pakistani nuclear scientist, introduced a course on science and world affairs, including Islam’s relationship with science, at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, one of the country’s most progressive universities. Students were keen, but Mr Hoodbhoy’s contract was not renewed when it ran out in December; for no proper reason, he says. (The university insists that the decision had nothing to do with the course content.)

But look more closely and two things are clear. A Muslim scientific awakening is under way. And the roots of scientific backwardness lie not with religious leaders, but with secular rulers, who are as stingy with cash as they are lavish with controls over independent thought.


January:28:2013 - 12:16 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink
4 Responses to “Islam & Science”
  1. 1
    Jerry M Said:
    January:28:2013 - 15:10 

    If Islamic countries and in particular Arab countries need science they will figure out a way to resolve the conflict. The reason Islamic countries didn’t advance in science is that they didn’t need it to survive.

    There is a video by Neil Degrasse Tyson in which he blames Al-Ghazali as the source of scientific rejection in the Muslim world. That is an over-simplification. Certainly the Muslim world didn’t reject technology completely at least at first. In the 15th century Constantinople was conquered by an army with at least one gun that could fire a projectile over a mile. That is good casting technology and good chemistry in making the gunpowder. Technology isn’t science but in the West the need for technology drove science. The Ottomans were enough ahead of their adversaries that they didn’t need to progress. It was only at the end of the 17th century that the Ottoman Empire expansion into Europe was finally ended.

    If one looks at China a similar lack of progress can be seen. One doesn’t need to blame religion as the primary factor for scientific backwardness.

    There is a conservative element that rejects some science, but I cannot see the wealthy oil states letting doctrine win over practicality. After all Saudi Arabia has been allied with the US for generations. It may take a generation or two for their less education citizens to accept this but it will happen.

  2. 2
    John Burgess Said:
    January:28:2013 - 23:43 

    @Jerry M: I think there’s a wish that technology could be imported without all the cultural baggage that made that technology possible. The Ottomans could make good guns, but they actually had non-Turks and non-Muslims (at least by birth) actually doing it. Sort of like having foreigners running your oil production.

    I think the Saudi government, though not a majority of the population, realizes that it must invest in domestically-produced technology, even if that means expanding the realms of intellectual inquiry into areas they’d just as soon avoid.

  3. 3
    LM Said:
    January:29:2013 - 02:48 

    Hello,

    Actually Islam promotes thinking. There are many verses in the Holy Quran that ask believers to ponder science & nature. [ref1, ref2] Those who make such thoughtful observations are called “ulul absar” (those who have vision).

    ??? ???? ?????? ??????

    Do you not see that Allah drives clouds? Then He brings them together, then He makes them into a mass, and you see the rain emerge from within it. And He sends down from the sky, mountains (of clouds) within which is hail, and He strikes with it whom He wills and averts it from whom He wills. The flash of its lightening almost takes away the eyesight.

    Allah alternates the night and the day. Indeed in that is a lesson for those who have vision. [Quran 24:43-44]

    This verse is also a miracle, as it revealed about ice causing lightning strikes. I myself wondered about many things in nature as I read it in the Holy Quran. BTW, in the Golden Age of Islam, muslims were top scientists. E.g: Al-Khawarizmi (father of algebra), Ibnu Sina (father of modern medicine), Ibnu Haitham (father of optics) etc. I hope you enjoy this video! [1001 inventions, [Baghdad]

  4. 4
    G Jeff Said:
    January:29:2013 - 05:03 

    Jerry said it well, but I’d like to add that from my perspective, it’s not Islam, it’s the Wingnuts and all religions have them. LM above mentions some pretty interesting things although some of the math/algebra/numbering/medical advances get debated, Muslim scholars in the ancient world were at very least capable. I’m quite sure they will have increasingly more days in the sun.

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