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Book Review: Jihad or Ijtihad by S Irfan Habib

“While Europe was still stuck in the Dark Ages, scientists in the Islamic world were translating Aristotle, and making huge strides in astronomy, mathematics and philosophy. Two thousand years later, the idea of ‘scientific progress’ seems to be locked in a hopeless war with Islam. When and how did Islam lose its enthusiasm for the workings of the natural world?”

S Irfan Habib, the celebrated Historian, has gifted us a great book with meaningful insight into the history of Islam and has tried to question the ambiguous idea of ‘Islamic science’ as a category distinct from ‘modern’, ‘Eurocentric’ science. Jihad or Ijtihad challenges stereotypes, as well as propaganda.

The author traces the evolution of the myth of Islam being pitted against modernism and challenges the idea by dwelling upon the life and works of the visionaries of the nineteenth century and continuing with the modern day ideologues. He cites the lives and works of famous men like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, for rejecting the myth that Islam and its followers are ‘anti-modern’.

The book attempts to make sound observations on Islam’s contribution to “modern science and education” and establish the idea that Islam is in no way delinked to modernism. The book questions ‘Eurocentrism’ of modern science but does not contribute to the propaganda of Islamic science. Instead the validity of the same is put to question.


Book Review

Jihad or Ijtihad by S Irfan Habib


Political Islam has been responsible for purging Islam of all humanitarian and pluralist values. Muslims made seminal contributions to science during the 8th and 9th centuries and most of the scientists belonged to Mua’tazila, a people who belonged to school of freethinkers and rationalists. Ijtihad, or independent reasoning was the prerogative of the lay believer during the era, rather than conformism.

At the root of the project ‘Islamic science’ is the fear of secularism, rationalism and its (science’s) total rejection of orthodoxy. But even while loathing science, the very same Islamists do not feel qualms in using technology and employing it for dissemination of their obscurantist ideology. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan likened this attitude to fanaticism and taassub which blinds the Muslim society from accepting anything from others and considering all nations except their own inferior.

The book exposes the hollowness of some of the postulates of the ‘Islamic Science’. For instance, the Journal of Islamic Science, from Muslim Association of Advancement in Science, at Aligarh says, “In Islamic science, rationality is not denied but in case of contradiction it is revelation that will prevail.” The author questions, “How does it fit into the definition of science which is nothing other than pursuit of the unknown?”

Overall, the book is a useful read and serves to tear the deceptive veils the naïve followers of political Islam are covering themselves with, apart from enlightening the cynics about the modernism inherent in Islam.

My Rating: 4/5 stars


 DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

Cast(e) in Science

Blood Groups

Courtesy ScienceQuiz Dot Net

A few days ago someone on Twitter posted a query, asking whether it was necessary to match the caste of a donor with the recipient in case of blood transfusion or bone marrow transplant. Of course i was outraged at the very proposition, reason being the blatant misuse of Science to carry out unreasonable propaganda.

The thought of even using the guise of tissue graft rejection to feed people cock and bull stories about caste and reinforce prejudices into ill-informed minds, filled me with anathema.

Our body is a collective repertoire of several systems which work together to ensure we lead a healthy, disease free life. However, just like cross border terrorists trying to infiltrate our country, our body plays host to rather large number of microbes, which often can lead to diseases. Our army of blood cells (which constitute the immune system) protects against such attacks.

For our body, anything that comes from outside is treated as a “foreign particle” and the immune system unleashes its wrath on it. This makes organ transplant or blood transfusion very difficult process. Unless there is a “match”, there are chances the recipient’s system will reject the donor’s organ/blood.


Courtesy BBC

For blood transfusion, we know, the blood group match is essential. The human species is divided into four blood groups according to the ABO convention – A, B, O, AB. This classification is purely based on the presence of a certain type of carbohydrate on the red blood cell surface. Along with the ABO, presence (or the lack of) Rhesus factor adds finesse to the matching process.

Tissue transplant is a more complex process. For grafting, the level of “match” is at the level of “Major Histocompatibility Complex” in the leucocytes. These complexes carry the “Human Leucocyte Antigen” which determines the degree of “match” and chances of graft rejection. Tissue grafting is of four major types –

a. A tissue is taken from the body of the recipient itself (autograft)

b. The tissue is taken from a genetically identical person (isograft)

c. The donor and recipient belong to the same species (allograft)

d. Tissue/Organ from a member of different species is given to the patient (xenograft)

This basic knowledge of tissue grafting is enough for any rational person to refute the suggestion that caste plays any role is success of tissue grafting or organ transplantation. As long as one belongs to the same species, caste or any other such considerations make hardly any difference.

So my sincere request to all those who sign up for a blood donation or organ transplant program would be to desist  from fanning caste considerations and let your scientific prudence prevail.

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