Saturday, May 26, 2012

Explorations in Islamic Science - 2

Part 1

By the time the first tentative essay by ZS on the topic of Islam and science came out in the New Scientist in 1980 there was already a small following of the trend as well as interest from western intelligentsia. He organized a seminar on the topic of comparative study of western and Islamic approaches to science and this resulted in his second essay on the topic in the New Scientist. The curtain raiser first chapter, called The Return of Islamic Science,  of the book under review is based on these two articles.

In the meanwhile the author published a book, The Midas Touch, and combined with the two articles the discussion, according to him,  turned into an irrational direction. For one people could not converge on the definition of Islamic science and on the other hand there was old type shallow discussion - people who thought they knew about Islam and science but did not. Latter betrayed the inferiority complex engendered by decay of Muslim civilization followed by colonization. It was difficult to shake off the colonial conditioning and it manifested in two ways. One trend was of reading science into the Noble Qur'an and in the other trend science was being equated with gnosis. Author discusses these in second chapter called the Anatomy of a Confusion.

This is the time around which the author coined the term Bucaillism - the tendency to find every scientific fact in the Noble Qur'an, a coinage that created its own controversy.

Consequently two research groups appeared on the topic, one each in Pakistan and India. Pakistani group offered Islamic solutions to problems of ethics and values in science. The author asserted that it is science that gives specific character to Islamic polity, term not defined at the moment, and not the other way round. The third essay of the book, Islamic Science or Science in Islamic Polity? argues that latter position is untenable.

According to the author Islamic Science was on the roll and the 1984 seminar by Centre for Science Studies, Aligarh made a case for it. The author made the keynote address to the seminar based on four points. These are the subject matter of the fourth chapter, the Argument for Islamic Science.

Strangely this is contrary to the assertions of third chapter - so what is author's actual stand?

In the last chapter, Where is Where,  the author takes stock of the situation and analyzes the positions of major players and makes his position clear. He discusses four schools of thought. (1) Syed Hossein Nasr : Science is gnosis. He is the major contributor as well as the creator of confusion. (2) Abdus Salam : Muslim nations need more science rather than futile discussion on morals and ethics. (3) Aligarh School (Centre for Studies in Science): Critical of ZS. (4) Ijmali School: ZS, Munawwar Ahmed and S.Pervez Ahmed.

This essay clarifies the relation of above schools as well as western views about the topic.