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Can Islam be Reconciled with Science?

May 13, 2011

A Muslim Scientist says “the current sorry state of science in Islam” can be changed.

Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, preeminent professor of physics at a university in Islamabad, Pakistan, has dared to criticize what he calls “the current sorry state of science in Islam.” You can read his article, “Islam’s Arrested Development,” here.[1] My attempt to summarize Professor Hoodbhoy’s concerns and his suggestion for how to change the world follows below.

Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy

Refuting the Muslim notion that all disasters are the result of divine wrath, Professor Hoodbhoy calls for the re-establishment of reason within Islamic thought.

“It is first necessary,” Hoodbhoy writes, “to accept the key premises underlying science—causality and the absence of divine intervention in physical processes, and a belief in the existence of physical law. Science is all about objective and rational thinking. Science demands a mindset that incessantly questions and challenges assumptions, not one that relies on received wisdom. If this condition is not fulfilled, all the money and machines in the world make no difference.”

Modern science is the product of the European Enlightenment, and is now the essence of a universal human civilization. [But in Islam] the mood has shifted away from empirical inquiry. Fundamentalists insist that the divine hand constantly intervenes, and so individual well-being requires constant supplications to the powers “up above.” On this basis, it would be fair to say that Saudi Islam, or the various Wahhabi-Salafi-Deobandi versions, reject material causality and hence the very basis of modern science.

Scientific progress in Muslim countries requires greater personal and intellectual freedom. Without this there can be no thinking, ideas, innovations, discoveries, or progress. The real challenge is not better equipment or faster internet connectivity. Instead, to move ahead in science, Muslims need freedom from dogmatic beliefs and a culture that questions rather than obeys.

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