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Islam and science addresses the relationships between the religion of Islam, its adherents' (Muslims) communities and the activities known collectively as science. As with all other branches of human knowledge, science, from an Islamic standpoint, is the study of nature as stemming from Tawhid, the Islamic conception of the "Oneness" of God. In Islam, nature is not seen as something separate but as an integral part of a holistic outlook on God, humanity, the world and the cosmos. These links imply a sacred aspect to Muslims' pursuit of scientific knowledge, as nature itself is viewed in the Qur'an as a compilation of signs pointing to the Divine. It was with this understanding that the pursuit of science, especially prior to the colonization of the Muslim world, was respected in Islamic civilizations.
Theoretical physicist Jim Al-Khalili believes the modern scientific method was pioneered by Ibn Al-Haytham (known in the Western world as “Alhazen”), whose contributions he likened to those of Isaac Newton. Robert Briffault, in The Making of Humanity, asserts that the very existence of science, as it is understood in the modern sense, is rooted in the scientific thought and knowledge that emerged in Islamic civilizations during this time.
Muslim scientists and scholars have subsequently developed a spectrum of viewpoints on the place of scientific learning within the context of Islam, none of which are universally accepted. However, most maintain the view that the acquisition of knowledge and scientific pursuit in general is not in disaccord with Islamic thought and religious belief.
The religion Islam has its own world view system including beliefs about "ultimate reality, epistemology, ontology, ethics, purpose, etc." Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the final revelation of God for the guidance of humankind.
Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence. It is a system of acquiring knowledge based on empiricism, experimentation and methodological naturalism, as well as to the organized body of knowledge human beings have gained by such research. Scientists maintain that scientific investigation needs to adhere to the scientific method, a process for evaluating empirical knowledge that explains observable events without recourse to supernatural notions.
Classical science in the Muslim world
In the history of science, science in the Muslim world refers to the science developed under Islamic civilization between the 8th and 16th centuries, during what is known as the Islamic Golden Age. It is also known as Arabic science since the majority of texts during this period were written in Arabic, the lingua franca of Islamic civilization. Despite these terms, not all scientists during this period were Muslim or Arab, as there were a number of notable non-Arab scientists (most notably Persians), as well as some non-Muslim scientists, who contributed to scientific studies in the Muslim world.
A number of modern scholars such as Fielding H. Garrison, Abdus Salam and Hossein Nasr consider modern science and the scientific method to have been greatly inspired by Muslim scientists who introduced a modern empirical, experimental and quantitative approach to scientific inquiry. Some scholars, notably Donald Routledge Hill, Ahmad Y Hassan, Abdus Salam, and George Saliba, have referred to their achievements as a Muslim scientific revolution, though this does not contradict the traditional view of the Scientific Revolution which is still supported by most scholars. Certain advances made by medieval Muslim astronomers, geographers and mathematicians were motivated by problems presented in Islamic scripture, such as Al-Khwarizmi's (c. 780-850) development of algebra in order to solve the Islamic inheritance laws, and developments in astronomy, geography, spherical geometry and spherical trigonometry in order to determine the direction of the Qibla, the times of Salah prayers, and the dates of the Islamic calendar.
The increased use of dissection in Islamic medicine during the 12th and 13th centuries was influenced by the writings of the Islamic theologian, Al-Ghazali, who encouraged the study of anatomy and use of dissections as a method of gaining knowledge of God's creation. In al-Bukhari's and Muslim's collection of sahih hadith it is said: "There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment."
(Bukhari 7-71:582). This culminated in the work of Ibn al-Nafis (1213–1288), who discovered the pulmonary circulation in 1242 and used his discovery as evidence for the orthodox Islamic doctrine of bodily resurrection. Ibn al-Nafis also used Islamic scripture as justification for his rejection of wine as self-medication. Criticisms against alchemy and astrology were also motivated by religion, as orthodox Islamic theologians viewed the beliefs of alchemists and astrologers as being superstitious.
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (1149–1209), in dealing with his conception of physics and the physical world in his Matalib, discusses Islamic cosmology, criticizes the Aristotelian notion of the Earth's centrality within the universe, and "explores the notion of the existence of a multiverse in the context of his commentary," based on the Qur'anic verse, "All praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds." He raises the question of whether the term "worlds" in this verse refers to "multiple worlds within this single universe or cosmos, or to many other universes or a multiverse beyond this known universe." On the basis of this verse, he argues that God has created more than "a thousand thousand worlds (alfa alfi 'awalim) beyond this world such that each one of those worlds be bigger and more massive than this world as well as having the like of what this world has." Ali Kuşçu's (1403–1474) support for the Earth's rotation and his rejection of Aristotelian cosmology (which advocates a stationary Earth) was motivated by religious opposition to Aristotle by orthodox Islamic theologians, such as Al-Ghazali.
According to many historians, science in the Muslim civilization flourished during the Middle Ages, but began declining at some time around the 14th to 16th centuries. At least some scholars blame this on the "rise of a clerical faction which froze this same science and withered its progress." Examples of conflicts with prevailing interpretations of Islam and science - or at least the fruits of science - thereafter include the demolition of Taqi al-Din's great Istanbul observatory of Taqi al-Din in Galata, "comparable in its technical equipment and its specialist personnel with that of his celebrated contemporary, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe." But while Brahe's observatory "opened the way to a vast new development of astronomical science," Taqi al-Din's was demolished by a squad of Janissaries, "by order of the sultan, on the recommendation of the Chief Mufti," sometime after 1577 AD.
Arrival of modern science in the Muslim world
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, modern science arrived in the Muslim world but it was not the science itself that affected Muslim scholars. Rather, it "was the transfer of various philosophical currents entangled with science that had a profound effect on the minds of Muslim scientists and intellectuals. Schools like Positivism and Darwinism penetrated the Muslim world and dominated its academic circles and had a noticeable impact on some Islamic theological doctrines." There were different responses to this among the Muslim scholars: These reactions, in words of Professor Mehdi Golshani, were the following:
- Some rejected modern science as corrupt foreign thought, considering it incompatible with Islamic teachings, and in their view, the only remedy for the stagnancy of Islamic societies would be the strict following of Islamic teachings.
- Other thinkers in the Muslim world saw science as the only source of real enlightenment and advocated the complete adoption of modern science. In their view, the only remedy for the stagnation of Muslim societies would be the mastery of modern science and the replacement of the religious worldview by the scientific worldview.
- The majority of faithful Muslim scientists tried to adapt Islam to the findings of modern science; they can be categorized in the following subgroups: (a) Some Muslim thinkers attempted to justify modern science on religious grounds. Their motivation was to encourage Muslim societies to acquire modern knowledge and to safeguard their societies from the criticism of Orientalists and Muslim intellectuals. (b) Others tried to show that all important scientific discoveries had been predicted in the Qur'an and Islamic tradition and appealed to modern science to explain various aspects of faith. (c) Yet other scholars advocated a re-interpretation of Islam. In their view, one must try to construct a new theology that can establish a viable relation between Islam and modern science. The Indian scholar, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, sought a theology of nature through which one could re-interpret the basic principles of Islam in the light of modern science. (d) Then there were some Muslim scholars who believed that empirical science had reached the same conclusions that prophets had been advocating several thousand years ago. The revelation had only the privilege of prophecy.
- Finally, some Muslim philosophers separated the findings of modern science from its philosophical attachments. Thus, while they praised the attempts of Western scientists for the discovery of the secrets of nature, they warned against various empiricist and materialistic interpretations of scientific findings. Scientific knowledge can reveal certain aspects of the physical world, but it should not be identified with the alpha and omega of knowledge. Rather, it has to be integrated into a metaphysical framework—consistent with the Muslim worldview—in which higher levels of knowledge are recognized and the role of science in bringing us closer to God is fulfilled.
In the early twentieth century, ulema forbade the learning of foreign languages and dissection of human bodies in the medical school in Iran.
In recent years, the lagging of the Muslim world in science is manifest in the disproportionately small amount of scientific output as measured by citations of articles published in internationally circulating science journals, annual expenditures on research and development, and numbers of research scientists and engineers. Skepticism of science among some Muslims is reflected in issues such as resistance in Muslim northern Nigeria to polio inoculation, which some believe is "an imaginary thing created in the West or it is a ploy to get us to submit to this evil agenda."
The relative lack of Muslim Nobel laureates in sciences in comparison to their population has been attributed to more insular modern interpretations of the religion, in comparison to how in the Middle Ages it was open to foreign ideas. However, six predominantly Muslim countries had more Nobel laureates in sciences per capita than e.g. Brazil, India and China (excl. Hong Kong).
The relative lack of high ranking universities can be observed in most non-western or newly industrialised countries with exceptions in Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong.
Islamic attitudes toward science
Whether Islamic culture has promoted or hindered scientific advancement is disputed. Islamists such as Sayyid Qutb argue that since "Islam appointed" Muslims "as representatives of God and made them responsible for learning all the sciences," science cannot but prosper in a society of true Muslims. Many "classical and modern [sources] agree that the Qur'an condones, even encourages the acquisition of science and scientific knowledge, and urges humans to reflect on the natural phenomena as signs of God's creation." Some scientific instruments produced in classical times in the Islamic world were inscribed with Qur'anic citations. Many Muslims agree that doing science is an act of religious merit, even a collective duty of the Muslim community.
Others claim traditional interpretations of Islam are not compatible with the development of science. Author Rodney Stark argues that Islam's lag behind the West in scientific advancement after (roughly) 1500 AD was due to opposition by traditional ulema to efforts to formulate systematic explanation of natural phenomenon with "natural laws." He claims that they believed such laws were blasphemous because they limit "Allah's freedom to act" as He wishes, a principle enshired in aya 14:4: "Allah sendeth whom He will astray, and guideth whom He will," which (they believed) applied to all of creation not just humanity.
Abdus Salam, who won a Nobel Prize in Physics for his electroweak theory, is among those who argue that the quest for reflecting upon and studying nature is a duty upon Muslims, stating that 750 verses of the Quran (almost one-eighth of the book) exhort believers to do so.
Scientific topics in the Qur'an and Hadith
The belief that the Qur'an had prophesied scientific theories and discoveries has become a strong and widespread belief in the contemporary Islamic world; these prophecies are often offered as evidence of the divine origin of the Qur'an; see scientific foreknowledge in sacred texts for further discussion of this issue.
In 1976 Maurice Bucaille published his book, The Bible, The Qur'an and Science, which argued that the Quran contains no statements contradicting established scientific facts. Bucaille argued that the Quran is in agreement with scientific facts, while the Bible is not. He states that in Islam, science and religion have always been “twin sisters” (vii). According to Bucaille, there are monumental errors of science in the Bible and not a single error in the Quran. Bucaille's belief is that the Quran's descriptions of natural phenomena make it compatible with modern science
According to The Wall Street Journal, Bucailleism is "in some ways the Muslim counterpart to Christian creationism" although "while creationism rejects much of modern science, Bucailleism embraces it". It described Bucailleism as being "disdained by most mainstream scholars" but said it has fostered pride in Muslim heritage and played an important role in attracting converts.
Taner Edis wrote An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam. Edis worries that secularism in Turkey, one of the most westernized Muslim nations, is on its way out; he points out that Turkey rejects evolution by a large majority. To Edis, many Muslims appreciate technology and respect the role that science plays in its creation. As a result, he says there is a great deal of Islamic pseudoscience attempting to reconcile this respect with other respected religious beliefs. Edis maintains that the motivation to read modern scientific truths into holy books is also stronger for Muslims than Christians. This is because, according to Edis, true criticism of the Qur'an is almost non-existent in the Muslim world. While Christianity is less prone to see its Holy Book as the direct word of God, fewer Muslims will compromise on this idea - causing them to believe that scientific truths simply must appear in the Qur'an. However, Edis opines that there are endless examples of scientific discoveries that could be read into the Bible or Qur'an if one would like to. Edis qualifies that 'Muslim thought' certainly cannot be understood by looking at the Qur'an alone - cultural and political factors play large roles.
Conception and inherited characteristics
Islamic sources like the Qur'an and Hadith emphasize the role of God as a creator, and thus frequently refer to the creation of new individuals. Medieval Muslims relied heavily on their scientific tradition to interpret these statements, which vary in explicitness and clarity. The most prominent of the ancient Greek thinkers who wrote on medicine were Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen. Hippocrates and Galen, in contrast with Aristotle, wrote that the contribution of females to children is equal to that of males, and the vehicle for it is a substance similar to the semen of males. Basim Musallam writes that the ideas of these men were widespread through the pre-modern Middle East: "Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen were as much a part of Middle Eastern Arabic culture as anything else in it." The sayings in the Qur'an and those attributed to Muhammad in the Hadith influenced generations of Muslim scientists by siding with Galen and Hippocrates. Basim Musallam writes: "... the statements about parental contribution to generation in the hadith paralleled the Hippocratic writings, and the view of fetal development in the Qur'an agreed in detail with Galen's scientific writings." He reports that the highly influential medieval Hanbali scholar Ibn Qayyim, in his book Kitab al-tibyan fi aqsam al-qur'an, cites the following statement of the prophet (found in Musnad Ahmad), when asked the question "from what is man created,":
|| He is created of both, the semen [nutfati] of the man and the semen [nutfati] of the woman. The man's semen [nutfatu] is thick and forms the bones and the tendons. The woman's semen [nutfatu] is fine and forms the flesh and blood.
Modern hadith scholars and some early ones consider the chain of transmission of this hadith to be weak.
Creation and evolution
The Quran contains many verses describing creation of the universe; Muslims believe God created the heavens and earth in six separate eras;[7:54] the earth was created in two eras[41:9], and in two other eras (into a total of four) God furnished the creation of the earth with mountains, rivers and fruit-gardens[41:10]. The heavens and earth formed from one mass which had to be split[21:30], the heavens used to be smoke[41:11], and form layers, one above the other[67:3]. The angels inhabit the seventh heavens. The lowest heaven is adorned with lights[41:12], the sun and the moon (which follow a regular path)[71:16][14:33], the stars[37:6] and the constellations of the Zodiac[15:16].
As in many other religions, a majority of Muslims are at odds with current scientific theories about biological evolution and the origin of man. According to a recent Pew study large fractions of Muslim countries do not accept that humans have evolved over time. For instance, a relatively large fraction of people accept human evolution in Kazakhstan (79%) and Lebanon (78%), but relatively few in Afghanistan (26%), Iraq (27%), and Pakistan (30%), with most of the other Muslim countries somewhere in between.
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"Let us begin with a neutral and innocent definition of Arabic, or what also may be called Islamic, science in terms of time and space: the term Arabic (or Islamic) science the scientific activities of individuals who lived in a region that might extended chronologically from the eighth century A.D. to the beginning of the modern era, and geographically from the Iberian Peninsula and north Africa to the Indus valley and from the Southern Arabia to the Caspian Sea—that is, the region covered for most of that period by what we call Islamic Civilization, and in which the results of the activities referred to were for the most part expressed in the Arabic Language. We need not be concerned over the refinements that obviously need to be introduced over this seemingly neutral definition."
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