Introducing a new discourse on Islam and Science for the 21st Century
By Safiyyah Sabreen Syeed

What is different about the Second Golden Age approach to Science and Islam?

Published in: Science
Date: 14 / 10 / 18

By now, you may have seen some of our recent videos from our Second Golden Age series, focusing on the Quran and our Muslim scientific heritage, and also dispelling myths about modern science and Islam. But what is the philosophy and objective behind this approach, particularly as there have already been a number of attempts at tackling this subject? 

We've had a few questions about this subject so we thought it best to put together this article which may explain things further. 

A look at existing Islam-Science narratives 

In the post modern world, there have essentially been three types of discourses on Islam and Science:

One approach has been that of reconciliation. This is the method where many set out to prove that 'there is no clash' between science and the Quran and the fact we can find some fascinating scientific phenomena within the Quran, thus proves the veracity of the Quran.

Another has been that there is no conflict between the Quran and Science but since the Quran is a book of guidance, we don’t necessarily need to find scientific references within the Quran to validate the Quran. It’s not a book of science, it’s a book of ‘signs’. Also as science keeps changing and the Quranic text has been the same, such an approach would be dangerous and flawed.

The last has been of studying the historical contributions of Islam to Science, with more emphasis on Muslim scientists and their discoveries.

The Problem with these three approaches

The problems with the first approach is that it lacks a methodology and it is quite a serious issue when interpreting something unchanging like the Quran with something like Science that keeps growing and changing over time as its is based on ‘human’ understanding of nature.

The problem with the second approach is that it doesn’t give a solution to how a scientific mind is to read the Quran, when confronted with natural phenomena almost on every page of the Quran. If we are to keep science away from the Quran, then why does two thirds of the Quran talk about nature and ask the reader to reflect over it? Unfortunately, this approach is a Western innovation, which prevailed in Medieval Europe when science and religion were separated as disciplines, never to meet again. The result was a complete abandonment of religion. Do we want that?

The problem with the third approach is that whilst it may be a feel-good subject, it doesn’t conclusively explain why should a desert civilization of the Arabs within a few decades somehow be empowered to collect and enhance all the knowledge of the ancient world and invent new disciplines of trigonometry, algebra, chemistry etc. Why should they come up with the radical notion of the scientific method- something that was not done by the ancient Greeks, Indians or Chinese. Why should they mathematize physics, separate astronomy from astrology, separate chemistry from alchemy. Of course this being a historical approach, it cannot answer the “why” question which is philosophical question and deals with connecting the dots. The other thing that is wrong with this approach is that because of not connecting the dots, often times the readers equate the importance of Islamic Science with other scientific traditions like the Greeks and Indians. So as to think that like the others contributed, so did Islam in its own time, which is nothing special in the wider scheme of things. (this of course is NOT historically accurate!)

How does the Second Golden age address these problems?

Our approach is a completely new and revolutionary one. It resembles the perspective of the Muslim scholars and philosophers of the Golden Age. We wanted to know, how did THEY deal with the question of science?

Solution to the first Problem 

We provide a methodology that is the basic methodology of Muslim Orthodoxy i.e. the Quran is the Furqan - the criterion that sits in judgment over everything - hadith, fiqh, ethics and yes, even science. When reconciling something timeless and unchanging like the Quran with something ever-changing like science, the worst mistake would be to take the dynamic one as the foundation, the criterion. The timeless should sit in judgement of the time bound and the infinite should sit in judgment of the finite. And this is how the earlier generations of Muslim scientists produced the Golden Age. They judged Greek philosophy using the Quran, whatever passed was accepted and whatever failed the test, new disciplines were created in its place.

Solution to the second problem

Because the second approach of keeping scientific interpretations out of the Quran is a new invention, it is something that the earlier generations never did. The Quran also does not support this dualistic, schizophrenic approach that ultimately will lead to a complete irrelevance of faith, hence from the very onset it does not have legs to stand on. And if the only issue the proponents of this idea have with the question of how to reconcile the Quran with the ever growing scientific understanding, then that has already been addressed in the first solution. If their concern is that pinning science to the Quran would stunt the growth of science, the answer would be that the Quran encourages and challenges the reader to discover the truth for themselves, not to blindly accept it. This would further scientific pursuit like it did in the past, not impede it, thus reviving Islamic Science.

Solution to the third problem

We analyse history and put forward the arguments that the Scientific Revolution actually started in the Muslim world in the 9th Century, and not in Europe in the 16th century. What happened in Europe was just an extension of what had been happening in the Muslim world for 800 years. We trace the emergence of Islamic Science back to the Quran, thus proving that it was the Quran that started the Scientific Revolution. And especially the ground breaking Scientific Method can be traced back to the very text of the Quran. Because of this analysis, we conclude that even though other civilisations like those of the Greeks and Indians did contribute to the development of Science, it is Islamic Science truly, in particular that was the world’s first scientific revolution.

Summarising our approach to the Islam and Science Question

What makes us different?

When seen from this perspective, science then is regarded not as being alien to the Quran, rather science then becomes the best and easiest way to draw close to Allah. Just in line with the Qur'anic notion and just the way the Golden Age scientists approached nature, that reflection over it will necessarily draw a person close to the Creator. 

We take science and make it a means of drawing close to God in the modern age in particular. Something that would further Scientific growth as well as fulfill man’s ultimate purpose of communion with God, for which we were created!

May Allah accept it from us and put barakah in the project, ameen.  

Safiyyah Sabreen Syeed

About the author

Safiyyah Sabreen studied Mechanical Engineering and is currently pursuing her Master's in Philosophy. She is the Content Director for KNOW. Being interested in the field of Islam and Science and Islamic Eschatology, she produced a documentary on the Golden Age of Islam and directs the Second Golden Age series.

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