“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.
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
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