Muslims and Science

THEME OF ESSAY Please read the short book ‘Muslims and Science’ by Pervaiz Hoodhbhoy. Provide your views on the central argument of this book. Building on your knowledge from Bronowski and Sagan, what were the vital characteristics that allowed Western civilization to outpace Muslim civilization in the development of science in the modern period? Muslims and Science By Zara Abbas(11020043) Perspective Ever since the advent of Islam in 7th Century, the Muslim civilization rapidly rose to the forefront of human achievement.
Remarkable progress was made not only in the fields of sciences and philosophy – i. e. mathematics, astrology, astronomy, optics, cartography, medicine, anthropology, logic and literature – but they also became the dominant military and economic power of the world by the 13th Century. These accomplishments were made possible by a number of underlying factors prevailing at that time in Muslim history.
The significant ones being the territorial and commercial expansion of Muslim influence to a vast area where a treasure trove of Greek, Persian and Roman works in science, medicine and philosophy was made available to their intellectuals to build upon; Patronage and encouragement was given to Muslim scholars by the ruling elite of that time, several universities were built in the Muslim lands and a spirit of freedom for inquisitive research across the religious divide was created and encouraged.

But then, owing to a raging and endless conflict between the forces of logic and reason and those of rigid religious fundamentalism, Muslim Science lost its appeal and eventually disappeared into near oblivion. Resultantly, the culture of patronage of those seeking knowledge and the pursuit of excellence in the fields of sciences and the arts also died. The Muslim World today, comprising 57 countries and 1. 57 billion people – which is roughly one fifth of the world population – has made no significant contribution to science or offered anything substantial towards technology[1] during the last 500 years.
It remains in a state of intellectual stagnation while its inept and corrupt leaders rule without any vision or foresight. Budgetary allocations for sciences and general education in most Islamic countries are low resulting in their dependence on the West for survival in vital areas of human activity. Their collective wealth of human capital and vast preserve of natural resources are being wasted on non-development expenditures. The continuing cycle of regressive policy formulation has perpetuated poverty, conflict and instability in most Muslim countries.
This deliberate neglect has not only created frustration and despondency amongst the Muslim youth but has also provided space to the orthodox religious forces to breed a deep rooted hatred for the ‘Christian West’ being a convenient scapegoat. In the context of Pakistan and its regional geo-political environment we find ourselves trapped in a serious internal conflict, socio-economic insecurity, political instability and institutional collapse which have retarded the pace of societal progress. This bleak scenario provides enough motivation to dejected members of the society to join extremist elements for their self actualization.
When the sad decline of Muslims began after almost 5 centuries of world domination, the West started overtaking them in every field of human enterprise ranging from means of warfare, industry, economics, education, governance and culture. This ascendency of European nations is attributed to the collapse of feudal economy, relegation of the Church from socio-political dominance to mere religious preaching, emergence of capitalistic economy, development of a secular and rational approach towards scientific and social education[2] and lastly the productive cum commercial usefulness of science and technology for the human race.
Unfortunately, the gap between both civilizations in the domain of scientific research and technological advancement has steadily widened during the last 400 years. It is therefore imperative upon the Islamic world to take drastic but pragmatic measures to stem the tide; otherwise we are headed towards an impending disaster. This is precisely the ‘Central Argument’ of Dr. Parvez Hoodbhoy’s Book ‘Muslims and Science – Religious Orthodoxy and the Struggle for Rationality”.
Although a nuclear physicist by profession, Dr Hoodbhoy has shown remarkable insight into a subject of academic specialization and contemporary importance and has produced a timely and dispassionate analysis of the causes of decline of the Muslim world in the fields of sciences after remaining in the forefront for centuries. His persuasive and lucid style of argument, which at times seems rather offensive for typical Pakistani (i. e.
Muslim) sensibilities, takes the reader through the entire spectrum of factors affecting the Muslim loss of world leadership and retreat from modernity. Simultaneously, he also highlights the special characteristics of the Western nations that propelled them towards human excellence and accomplishment not only in sciences but also in societal activity. Finally, he also suggests some functional and sensible measures to progressively take the Muslims onto the path of modernity and scientific enterprise in harmony with our Islamic ethos. Aim
The aim of this essay is to enunciate my own reflections on the decline of Muslim society after leading the world for centuries as against the ascendency of Western powers through their superior human actualization with a view to proposing a realistic way forward for the Muslims in light of the notions expressed by Hoodbhoy, Bronowski and Sagan. What Ails The Muslim World Over the past five centuries people in Islamic societies have tried to come to terms with the reality of their relegation to being the world’s ‘followers’ after remaining its ‘leading light’ for an equally long period in the medieval ages.
The crucial but relevant question of, ‘What went wrong? ’ agitates the minds of Muslim intellectuals and youth alike. But beyond seeking scapegoats the question remains unanswered. There seems to be no common agreement and honest acknowledgement of our own failings that led to our sad but steady decay, particularly so in the arena of scientific development. However, armed with my study of the subject ‘Science and Civilization’ I shall briefly put forward an objective view of the malaise afflicting the Muslims. 1. Historical Causes of Muslim Decline a.
Orthodoxy versus Rationality. The long drawn clash (801 – 1406 AD) between the supporters of Pre destination/Revelation and other Orthodox/Conservative scholars of Sharia, Theology and Islamic jurisprudence (represented by Al Ghazali, Ahmad Bin Hanbal, Al Ashari, Ibn e Taymia, Al Maalik) and the Qadarites/Mutazlites (i. e. the proponents of Free Will, Ethics and Reason represented by Al Kindi, Al Razi, Ibn e Sina, Ibn e Rushd and Ibn e Khaldun)[3] eventually led to the victory of the forces of ossified religiosity and swept rational thought away from Islamic intellectualism.
Thus the hitherto patronage, respect and support extended to the scholars by the nobility of the times were also withdrawn under pressure from the conservatives. Sadly, the separation between the fundamentalists and secular/rational Muslims became complete and exists till the present times. Thereafter, no one could dare combine reason with revelation in Islam. The edifice of Islamic science and intellectual glory was reduced to ruin and could not be rebuilt. b. Non Scientific Attitude.
As a logical corollary of the aforementioned rigidity of thought amongst the Muslim Orthodoxy, the attitudinal notions required for the nurture and development of sciences did not evolve in the Muslim world after the defeat of rationality. The arrival of dogma and rigidity in Muslim intellectual thought led them to the rejection of ‘prediction’, ‘imagination’, ‘curiosity or the spirit of inquiry’ and ‘the will or urge to control one’s physical environment to human advantage’- essential ingredients of scientific knowledge – resulting in the death of creative activity.
Likewise, Muslims of the ‘post golden age’ inherited a general lack of spirit and interest in ‘theoretical’ learning of various sciences owing to their insignificant material reward or utility. They would rather opt for acquisition of practical knowledge for ‘utilitarian’ ends instead of developing a general atmosphere of learning where ‘abstract thought’ and ‘spiritual values could be nurtured. [4] This general apathy towards academic learning steadily became a societal attitude amongst the Muslim generations which exists even today. c. Muslim Educational System.
The traditional concept and orientation of education in Muslim societies aims at harmonizing all knowledge with Islamic thought whereby the student remains wedded to his/her Islamic ethos. This develops an attitude of ‘acquiring revealed knowledge’ being a Divine command rather than ‘discovering’ it through inquisitive and participative means. The traditional mode of education followed over centuries in the Muslim world led them to nurture the values of ‘rote learning’, ‘historical and conceptual continuity’,[5] ‘self righteousness’ and ‘rigidity’ in their psyche.
Their consequent inability to respond and adjust to a constantly changing world denied them the chance to progress and achieve scientific excellence. d. Capitalism versus Islamic Law. The scientific and industrial revolution in Europe transformed a hitherto feudal society into a modern capitalistic culture. This was achieved through the creation of a bourgeois class capable of investments, innovations and structural changes to coordinate the new means of production and technical progress with the new complex economic challenges.
This automatically led to the development of a comprehensive legal system for regulation and dispute resolution of the new socio economic realities. [6] As against this the Islamic jurisprudence, being derived from Quranic injunctions and Prophetic traditions, has a fixed set of rules and defining principles within which justice is to be provided and these laws cannot not be altered or modified to suit changing situations. Therefore, capitalist economy could not take root and develop in its classical sense in Muslim societies. . Economic Causes. When the colonization of Muslim lands in began in the 18th Century, Muslim civilization was urban based with the city dwellers depending on the continuous and assured supply of means of subsistence from the rural peasantry. Such supplies would continue even during conditions of famine or strife with state assistance. Therefore, Muslim economies of that time remained immune from Europe’s revolutionary advancement.
Likewise, Muslim urban centers never developed municipal or corporate institutions meant for stimulation of economic growth through industry and trade. [7] As a result the Muslim economic order of that era could not compete with Europe’s phenomenal economic growth. f. Means of Warfare. The steady European advancement in the means of warfare (concepts and weaponry) along with the progress made in industry and technology after the 15th Century was also an important factor in causing European victories on the battlefield.
By comparison the Muslims could not generate comparable military muscle/prowess. This incompatibility increased substantially by the 18th Century resulting in the occupation of Muslim territories in North Africa, Spain, Balkans, Russia, India and Iran culminating into the colonization of almost the entire Muslim world by the 19th Century. [8] g. Non Existence of a Power Structure. The power structure of a society determines its dominant attitudes towards scientific enquiry and acquisition of knowledge.
In the absence of a central authority wielding politico-religious and military power as against the Church in medieval Europe, the Islamic world did not possess the means of exercising control over its territories/subjects and resolving disputes. This inherent weakness laid bare the possibility of insurrection by powerful religious factions/sects, seizing control of distant lands by usurpers or mobilization of the majority sect against minority viewpoint on liberal religious groups. 9] This was a serious organizational weakness that eventually proved detrimental to the political, economic and intellectual ascendency of the Islamic society. 2. Present State of Muslim Science/Education a. Scientific Progress. A recent study of the World Bank indicates that the quality of scientific as well as general education in the Muslim World is rapidly falling behind the rest of the World and needs urgent attention if it is to cope with the demands of the future.
While some Islamic countries – like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Malaysia, Iran and Nigeria – have drastically increased their respective resource allocations to boost general education and the Sciences, their traditional attitudes towards the education of women, non separation of religious thought from the secular nature of scientific education and discouraging a scientific culture based upon innovation, quantification and empirical verification remain uncompromising to this date. b. Science in the Productive Sector.
Despite a universal recognition of the importance of industrial sector for a nation’s economic growth, value added production of contemporary Muslim economies is woefully low. Barring Malaysia, the nature of economy of key Muslim countries remains basically agro and mineral extraction. [10] Therefore their accumulated economic strength/capacity is comparatively lower than other developing economies. This indicates that the ‘science to production’ ratio is negligible with little indications of improvement. c. Scientific Output.
The overall scientific output of Muslim countries, as indicated by the number of science research papers published together with the citations to them, indicates that we stand alarmingly low in comparison with others like India, Brazil, China and USA. Likewise, we find that 46 Muslim countries contributed 1. 17 % of the world’s science literature as against 1. 66% and 1. 48% respectively from India and Spain alone. Interestingly, 20 Arab countries contributed 0. 55% in comparison to 0. 89 % by Israel. Moreover, the scientific worth or quality of a fairly large number of these papers was not only below par but some were even plagiarized.
A study by academics at the International Islamic University Malaysia showed that OIC countries have 8. 5 scientists, engineers, and technicians per 1000 population, compared with a world average of 40. 7, and 139. 3 for countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. [11] It is also a known fact that the number of Muslim Nobel Laureates is still in single digit in comparison to hundreds from Israel alone. This state of affairs does not augur well for the future of Muslim science. d. Scientific Enterprises.
Over the last decade or so Muslim Governments have been steadily increasing their S & T budgets with a view to inducing greater scientific activity. The existing average spending of 57 Islamic countries on R & D is 0. 3% of their GNP which remains far below the global average of 2. 4%. [12] Nonetheless, the there is a perceptible trend of higher spending in major Muslim countries. But bigger budgets alone would not arrest the deteriorating standards unless the capacity to spend these monies is also built simultaneously on developing a critical mass of scientists, engineers and technicians besides improving their quality and professionalism.
Recent surveys also indicate that spending on higher education has increased significantly resulting in a sharp rise in the number of institutions, students and infrastructural improvements. But these centers of learning still lack the qualitative edge that could make them rank amongst the foremost 500 in the world which is not the case at the moment. e. Educational Paradox – Pakistan’s Context. Ever since Pakistan’s independence no government has ever given education any status in the list of its national priorities.
The public sector expenditure on this vital sector has remained abysmally low (i. e. ranging between 2. 16% to 2. 42 % of GDP from 2003-08 but was reduced to a paltry 2% in 2010 budget)[13] which compares poorly with other South Asian countries. This has left Pakistan’s literacy rates as the lowest in the region (i. e. 57% – which is 69% males and 45% females). [14] The poor quality of the learning environment is evident from the fact that a large number of schools lack basic infrastructure — 37. per cent of the schools up to the elementary level don’t have boundary walls, 33. 9 per cent lack drinking water facility, 37 per cent don’t have latrines and 60 per cent are without electricity. [15] Owing to the criminal neglect of various successive governments in formulating coherent and sustainable education policies for the people by investing in this vital sector, we have not only ended up losing precious generations to the vicissitudes of time but have also denied them the opportunity to improve their lot through acquisition and development of skills.
Apart from this, the general apathy and indifference shown towards education by our rulers has led to the creation of a stratified system of educational prejudice. In that the ‘rich and the elite’ go to the private ‘English medium’ schools while the ‘commoner class’ attends the government run ‘Urdu medium’ schools. This puts the common citizen at an unfair disadvantage against the well to do child when both aspire and compete for admission into professional institutions. Recommendations In the words from Dr. Hoodbhoy borrowed from one of his recent papers, ‘Progress will require behavioral changes.
If Muslim societies are to develop technology instead of just using it, the ruthlessly competitive global marketplace will insist on not only high skill levels but also intense social work habits. Science can prosper among Muslims once again, but only with a willingness to accept certain basic philosophical and attitudinal changes—i. e. shrug off the dead hand of tradition, reject fatalism and absolute belief in authority, accept the legitimacy of temporal laws, value intellectual rigor and scientific honesty, and respect cultural and personal freedoms.
The struggle to usher in science will have to go side-by-side with a much wider campaign to elbow out rigid orthodoxy and bring in modern thought, arts, philosophy, democracy, and pluralism’. Within this forthright observation lies an abstract framework of our future plan of action based on common sense and principles of logic and reason. However, we would need to tread this path with farsighted prudence and devise our strategic thinking in harmony with the obtaining socio political realities of the Islamic world.
Such an approach warrants a judicious and systematic execution but profound application so that the reform process permeates into the Muslim soul without agitating its impassioned sensibilities. The new model of our education philosophy should recognize and affirm that science and religion are complementary and not contradictory to each other. Therefore, the revised concept of scientific education should clearly state that both disciplines are separate domains which do not overlap; and that there can never be a conflict between the two as long as their protagonists do not stoke public passions for self aggrandizement.
The other areas where reform is proposed are listed below: • Remodel the entire concept/ philosophy of general education at the primary /secondary levels with a view to developing the traits of inquisitiveness, empirical and deductive thought process and the ability to challenge/question precepts and assumptions. • Basic education up to Matriculation (or equivalent standard) should be made compulsory for all citizens (both genders) in all Muslim countries. • Budgetary allocation for education be brought at par with laid down UNESCO standards. Revitalize the tertiary and post graduate education system by improving the infrastructure and facilities, provision of high quality teaching staff and improving the quality/worth of scientific research. • Current standards of vocational training for skill development of technicians should be refined, upgraded and rejuvenated to match the ongoing technological advancement. • The syllabi of Deeni Madaris (religious schools) should be suitably revamped and harmonized with the current trends in modern education. • The existing disparity between the standards of education/syllabi of Public and private schools be minimized at priority.
BIBLIOGRAPHY • Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, “Muslims & Science – Religious Orthodoxy and the Struggle for Rationality” (Vanguard Books , 1991) • Bernard Lewis , “What Went Wrong? ” (Perennial Harper Collins 2002) • Jacob Bronowski, “The Ascent of Man” (1973) • Carl Sagan, “Cosmos” (1980) • Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, “Science and the Islamic World – The Quest for Rapprochement” , “Physics Today” August 2007 pg 49 < http://ptonline. aip. org/journals/doc/PHTOAD-ft/vol_60/iss_8/49_1. shtml? bypassSSO=1 > • “Muslim World Education – Falling Behind”, ‘Khilafah. Com’ , 24 Feb 2008 < http://www. khilafah. com/index. hp/the-khilafah/education/2019-muslim-world-education-falling-behind > • Dr. Ahmad shafaat, “a review of Pervez Hoodbhoy, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and Battle for Rationality” November 2002 < http://www. islamicperspectives. com/ReviewPervezHoodbhoy. htm > • Khawar Ghumman, “Only two percent of GDP Spent on Education”, Dawn. Com, (5 Jun 2010) , < http://www. dawn. com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/front-page/21-only-2pc-of-gdp-spent-on-education-560-sk-09 > ———————– [1] “Muslim World Education – Falling Behind”, ‘Khilafah. Com’ , 24 Feb 2008 < http://www. khilafah. om/index. php/the-khilafah/education/2019-muslim-world-education-falling-behind > [2] Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, “Muslims & Science – Religious Orthodoxy and the Struggle for Rationality” (Vanguard Books ,1991) pg 2 &161. [3]Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, “Muslims & Science – Religious Orthodoxy and the Struggle for Rationality” (Vanguard Books ,1991),pg 115 – 141. [4]Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, “Muslims & Science – Religious Orthodoxy and the Struggle for Rationality” (Vanguard Books ,1991) pg 145 – 149. [5] Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, “Muslims & Science – Religious Orthodoxy and the Struggle for Rationality” (Vanguard Books ,1991), pg 149 – 154. 6] Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, “Muslims & Science – Religious Orthodoxy and the Struggle for Rationality” (Vanguard Books ,1991), pg 154 – 156. [7] Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, “Muslims & Science – Religious Orthodoxy and the Struggle for Rationality” (Vanguard Books ,1991), pg 157 – 160. [8] Bernard Lewis , “What Went Wrong? ” (Perennial Harper Collins 2002), pg 18 – 34. [9]Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, “Muslims & Science – Religious Orthodoxy and the Struggle for Rationality” (Vanguard Books , 1991), pg 161. [10]Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, “Muslims & Science – Religious Orthodoxy and the Struggle for Rationality” (Vanguard Books , 1991), pg 34 – 37. 11] Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy(2007), “Science and the Islamic World – The Quest for Rapprochement” ,Physics today’ August 2007 pg 49 < http://ptonline. aip. org/journals/doc/PHTOAD-ft/vol_60/iss_8/49_1. shtml? bypassSSO=1 > [12] Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, “Science and the Islamic World – The Quest for Rapprochement” ,Physics Today’ August 2007 pg 49 < http://ptonline. aip. org/journals/doc/PHTOAD-ft/vol_60/iss_8/49_1. shtml? bypassSSO=1 > [13] Government of Pakistan – Ministries of Finance and Education –

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