Islam and Science: Responding to a False Approach

Article excerpt

In this response article, some of the most challenging aspects of Islam and science discourse are discussed. Responding to the specific issues of the relationship between Islam and science and the normative Islamic tradition, the article explores the claims of a secular view that there is no such thing as essential Islam and that there is no relationship between Islam and the scientific tradition that arose in the Islamic civilization. This view is refuted on the basis of historical, logical and internal evidence.

Keywords: Islam and science relationship; refutation of secularist viewpoint; Islamic tradition; normative practice; early history of Islam.

Ignoring the mocking tone of Dimitri Gutas' article, "Islam and Science: A False Statement of the Problem", which appears in this issue of Islam & Science, and focusing on his essential arguments, one is left with an abundance of personal opinions based on misconstrued "evidence", misinterpreted historical data, misused terminology and a reasoning steeped in intellectual aberration of the first order. But despite the incoherence of his arguments, some of the objections he has raised in his sarcastic article are so much in the air these days that this frontal attack on Islam and Islamic tradition needs a response. Setting aside the attempt made by Gutas to arrogate the right to define the raison d'etre of the journal (..."the problem that this journal is established to discuss with the hope that eventually some solutions may emerge, is stated in terms which themselves are part of the problem"), simply because it is obvious that it is not the right of a contributor to a journal to define its scope, what is of interest to us here is the broad spectrum of essential arguments which Gutas has used in a sarcastic manner, and not his self-assuming role. Let us begin by summarizing his views on Islam and the relationship between Islam and science. He holds that:

(i) There is nothing that can be called essential Islam; there are many different understandings of Islam, each identified by its historical time and locality, and with multiple contents, not always in harmony with each other.

(ii) There is no link whatsoever between Islam as a religion and the great scientific efflorescence that was seen during the ['Abbasid period]. "Or, to put it differently, there is no discernible evidence in the sources that the set of beliefs adhered to by the 'Abbasid elite at that time and place, and which comprised Islam in their view, was in any way instrumental in their promotion of scientific and philosophical activity; religion was quite neutral in these historical developments" (216). (1) He adds that "the same kind of neutrality of Islam as a religion vis-a-vis scientific developments has been also observed for later centuries and different localities in the Islamic world" (217).

(iii) "Islam, as a religion, and at whatever historical moment it is taken, is a specific ideology of a particular, historically determined society. As such, like all other social ideologies that command adherence and respect by the majority of the population because of their emotive content, it is inert in itself and has no historical agency but depends completely on who is using it and to what ends. In other words, like all ideologies, it is an instrument that can cut both ways, good and bad, and as such it lends itself to manipulation by the managers of society who may use it for whatever purposes their interest dictates" (217).

This response deals with these three essential points. Gutas has also made several parenthetical derisive remarks which refer to other substantial issues; some of these will also be dealt with in the course of this response along with a reply to his final point about the status of science in the contemporary Muslim world.

Is There Anything That Can Be Called Normative Islam?

Although not couched in a post-modern narrative, Gutas' attempt to deconstruct Islam and Islamic tradition not only stems from a false understanding of revelation-based religions, but is also fraught with many illogical internal flaws. …