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February 13, 2005



Thanks for that comprehensive yet succinct survey of the issues related to modernization and science in Muslim nations and the attempted responses by various Muslim thinkers.

While there may be numerous individuals struggling with the questions of how to respond in an "Islamic" manner to the accelerated scientific development in the "West", it seems likely that the reality will be that the "science" of a society is destined to evolve and grow in a manner that reflects the structure, philosophy, concerns, and mindsets that exist in the society from which it emerges.

A grafted-on or imported science is either not going to take hold (if the society is not structured, both in terms of institutions and mindset, to accept and nurture the graft) - or if the society's structure and internal mindset is weak, then the imported science and technology may have a powerful effect on modifying or overwhelming the structure and mindset of that society. Science and technology rarely arrive "value-free", and technology in particular can necessitate quite radical changes in a society's institutions and operational structures (changes that emerge partly simply from having to support and manufacture the technology - and partly because using that technology necessitates adopting a particular style and structure of workflow - which in turn has an effect on a society's institutions and it's processes, and ultimately affects a society's mindset).

As well, a healthy science requires something of an open-source environment as far as the exchange (and availability) of ideas and information (relating to science) are concerned. When an open interchange occurs, there will be rapid creation, progress, development, and deployment as well. To the extent that a nation kills or restricts the open internal exchange of information and ideas, it will likely retard and slow its own development. So here is an additional problem - how to open the channels of communication and yet regulate them (in a principled manner) without stifling or hindering the open exchange of information and ideas.

Much is dependant on the individual nation - if a Muslim nation emerges that has an internal political, social, and economic structure that supports an open environment and reflects (in it's institutions and societal philosophy) Islamic principles and ethics, then one would imagine and hope that the science that emerges from such a society would evolve in a direction that reflects or extends the philosophy, concerns, and mindset of that society.

Of course, since the world is an interdependant reality, the actions, powerplays, economic structures, military dominance, cultural influence, technological prowess, political leverage etc. of the various nations and their interplay, greatly complicates the whole enterprise since societies have to act and react within this complex world ecosystem. Whatever direction science takes in any given society (islamic or otherwise) it is influenced by the interaction of this world ecosystem with the internal ecosystem of the society and the respective strength, weakness, resiliance, level of interaction, need etc. of these two systems. Muslim societies, like all societies, have to conduct their struggle within the frame of this reality - we can only hope that someday they do so with the intellectual depth and vigor of a vitalized Islamic society.


Wow, that was impressively interesting. Infact, interesting enough that I read the whole thing. And this coming from a person who's suffering from Adult ADD.(Not really)

You've given me a lot to think about.


Regarding Hoodhboy it may interest you to read a recent article of his posted at chowk. It has more to do with Pakistan specifically and the disaster that is it's current state of higer education: ave


You state: "Science is challenging our core notions on what it means to be human and some might even push science to answer why we are, as opposed to just what we are."

Science may answer the "what's" and the "how's," but the questions it asks, properly phrased, never foray into the realm of "why" because that gets into meaning, which is a human construction. Ultimately, we may explain the entire universe but we will never explain why anyone would have created it without entering disciplines outside of science.


God knows best!?! So much for science.


I see Conrad is upset by the invocation and celebration of humility.

Yusuf Smith

He posted on my blog too, simply calling me a total idiot. Then he gave me salams. Wa 'alaikum, Conrad.

balo balo

why doesnt anyone post on my blog? i want enemies too dammit....


Interesting article....

One point that I think tends to be ignored in the discussion of the scientific pursuit of knowledge is some analysis of the so-called scientific method. There is no clearly defined description of what constitutes "science" among scientists themselves, although among philosophical circles Karl Popper's views seem to be the clearest. Even so, my sense is that there is still some romantic sense that there is some ensconced "scientific method" a la Bacon which is the way that "science works." For sure this is not really the methodology by which significant science proceeds. A more realistic account is offered by significant contributors to science/mathematics such as Poincare.

What I find odd about this is the displacement of faith in the non-scientist secularist's view from actually believing in the theories and facts themselves to the process that generates these theories and facts. That is, you will find quite a few people saying things like "I believe in science." (and therefore I believe in the current theories/facts du jour).

However, the so-called "science" which seems to garner such beliefs clearly does have significant socialogical elements which will have some undetermined influence on the facts/theories produced by the science itself. In the article, you have focused upon the distinction between Western secular humanist and Islamic cultures. However, this is simply one dimension of the impact of human agency on the path that scientific thought progresses. There is a unprovable belief that such influences "will not stand the test of time" and will be overcome by future scientist with differing biases to reach the unblemished truth. For example, the heavy influence of communist thought in dictating Soviet science, or the racially bigotted science used to justify the subjugation of African-Americans.

However, one would do well to consider whether the worldview of the scientist tends to asymptotically approaching the unblemished truth or simply swaying to the zeitgeist of biases in our "scientific" understanding of the world with new biases creeping in as old ones fade away.

Further, the distinction between "good" science and "bad" science is completely subjective and often defered to the opinions of some annointed experts. This is not a bad thing persay, but it bears mentioning. Thus, it is not only concievable but commonplace that a layman will ask Stephen Hawking whether to believe in God (as if he is a person whose opinion will be enlightening on this subject)! Further, I can think of Indian physicists who have disputed a theory heralded by Hawking---the idea that Black Holes constitute physical singularities in space-time---and been completely dismissed (i.e. having their papers rejected on no specific basis). However, when Hawking himself repudiated this theory with no well articulated rationale (and paid off a famous $1 bet with Kip Thorne) it made the national news.

Anyhow, this is a mere detail, and I don't have any particular problem with Hawking himself, or his own performance as a scientist, though the idolatry of science personified by a man is a bit hard to swallow.
The main point is that science as a overall methodology for gathering facts and finding ways to describe and abstract these facts is a fine process, but extending this into some sort of belief system is kind of sketchy. This is even true for whatever empirical method, including Islamic science. A major point here is that the unknown and unknowable is infinite, while the known is finite. Therefore, any attempt to construct a truth by simply circumscribing the known is an approximation and nothing more.


the role of islam in development of science and technology



interesting summary, but i disagree on a number of accounts. Would be nice if we could speak at length about this as im thinking about muslim Science Policy and research sensibilities of muslims with taqwa. There is a lot of work to be done in this area and we arent going to get anywhere my pontificating

Dr Hoodhboys particular inclination about islam, science and the Ummah is more limited than the Islamisation of education and the ijmali project, dr Hoodhboy is not an accomplished scientists, and teaching undergrad physics in a university like his isnt a particularly important factor.

Prof Nasr, Al-Attas, and Dr Faruqi were very well aquainted with their branches of learning, or islam and the postcolonial predicament of muslim knowledge societys. These folks set up istitutions guided research and were very well aquainted with their intellectual histories. Their experiences at the coal face of learning in muslim countries is related through a series of conference books and periodicals if you have access to them. Analysis of the area without this is incomplete.

This is not something i could say from reading dr Hoodhboys writings.

in his book, published by Zed Publications, i sensed no real apprehension of what islam was, but a lot of frustration i wish him luck resolving that.

prof sardars experience is also interesting, he tried a number of things and had some opportunities to deploy an islamic scientific mindset.

Lets remember that these are iterations mind you, not guaranteed to be the blue print for ummahtic revival!

I'd like to think that the onus is on muslim scientists and engineers to create options and knowledge research adventures for themselves.

My own self centred wonderings have taken me away from the hard sciences into a research area of direct and emerging benefit to muslims. Its harder to see the case for Islamic sceince sensibility through the physical side, because the historical social constructions of the various self reinforcing precepts are more difficult to discern and to be honest its costs (time, people, patience, BS detection and money) are too high for us to indivudualy realise.

Muslim nations, teachers, entrepreneurs, students and charities are all actors in this challenge. If our problem solving and perceptual capacities govern our potential to live on this earth in the best way, i guess contemporary Islamic learning communities, fluent with various disciplines should pull their socks up.

that is i spossose if they actually do help us to not starve and kill eachother right?


Well, I think you're right regarding Hoodbhoy. He has a particular view of "history" and "science", where we are forever in a linear progression. There is some truth to this: for example, "Muslim science" will not reinvent the television, car or aeroplane (though it may make them more energy efficient, if we view our role in this world as a trust from God). I cannot dismiss his views, wholesale, for he sees first hand examples of "science" in _Muslim countries_.

But I agree with all the people above, and yourself, that the "positivist" acocunt of science is no longer tennable, and that there is a certain arrogance in assuming "science will explain all". This is no different to the classical philosophers who were confident in their own methods to find "the truth". It is epistemological suidice to suggest abstract thought does not play a role in science, and so potentially confuse and cloud issues, as it does in a whole host of other disciplines.

Nonetheless, this does not mean I am in favour of, or comfortable with, reducing science to _merely_ a "sociological text" or the experience of a few elect mystics. Ismail al-Faruqi, while doing admirable service to Muslims in attempting to understand problems of epistemology, actually glossed over "the hard sciences". Instead, the position that is drawn up might be more complicated than this. Perhaps someone like the contemporary philosopher of science, Ian Hacking, offers a way forward (this debate isn't limited to Muslims, of course; instead, we seem absent from it).

Personally, I am still trying to find my own path in this matter. On instinct (and by training as an engineer) I am inclined to the universality of "the scientific method" (though there is no one such method). But there are obvious flaws in such a view and we should investigate these unapologetically and with full vigour. My post was not meant to be a "proof" of one side or the other, but rather a journey through Muslims and science in our age. On reflection, perhaps it came across that I was cheerleading for one side in the debate.

One valid criticism I could think of my post is that most of the people I discuss (if not all) write in English. There scientists in Iran, Pakistan and Egypt (for example) who write in their own languages. These too require investigation, although given that today English is the medium of "science" (and this brings its own philosophical baggage) this is fair methodology to take. Then again (and seeing that I like to view a problem from n-angles) perhaps it needs Muslims to discuss "science" in "our" languages and so make it accessible to more Muslims?

I hope I confused the issue even more!

And God knows best.



Thank you for an interesting discussion. Any insights from (the few) Muslim philosophers of science such as Abdelkarim Soroush?



randomly googled myslef here. intersting piece.

What i am intersted in is any primary experience vyou might vhabhe about 'doing science' in debheloping countries, Muslim ones.

I think you might find that on the ground things are happening, but corruption is corroding much of the mobhement being made.

I too was interested in what you talk about, sitting in london pondering about the state of muslim intellectual power, reading 'secondary literature'.

what we need isnt pontification, its work and sterling work to translate and refine our knowledge springs.

get in touch if your interested in taking this discussion to reality.. iA

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My upcoming Political Science professor is a liberal Palestinian Muslim & I'm a pro-Iraq war ex-Muslim atheist?
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