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Insightful examination of Islam and the search for truth,
This review is from: Science Under Islam (Paperback)
`Science under Islam: rise, decline and revival' is written clearly and accessibly and is of huge interest to secular scholars as well as to Moslem readers. It is both a history and a clear sighted explanation of the reasons why Muslim societies, even today, are prevented from achieving the scientific successes promised by their Golden Age in the 8th and 9th centuries. The book records the development of Islamic thought and how open progressive attitudes to science, exampled by the Prophet's exhortation: `go even to China to seek knowledge', were in conflict with what became the strict Islamic orthodoxy.
Clearly, the concern is not just about science. The magnificent Arabic and Muslim contributions to philosophy, arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry, astronomy, optics, chemistry, geography, mechanics and medicine achieved during the Golden Age were prevented from blossoming into a modern scientific revolution. These areas of study are the manifestations of science. But science is a method, a philosophy and an attitude which privileges openness, objectivity, experimentation and continual challenge to achieve greater truth. And it is this which the Islamic orthodox fear as threatening their (unfalsifiable) religious belief.
The book clarifies the distinction made by orthodox religious teachers of Islam between useful and useless knowledge. Useful knowledge was essentially religious knowledge. Science was useless except where it contributed to religion. For example, astronomy was only useful inasmuch as it could set the times of prayers, find the direction of Mecca and determine the start and end of Ramadan. Beyond this astronomy was useless, and therefore forbidden. Similar repression applied across all areas of knowledge and still widely applies today. Many bloody and lurid examples of the treatment meted out to those who pursued `useless' knowledge are recounted.
A scientific revival under Islam is possible but will take time. Imperatives include some opening up of the orthodox strand of Islamic belief, the development of the rule of law based on human rights, fairness and justice, as well as universal secular and scientific education and the development of more democratic forms of governance.
Professor Deen's approach to this ambitious project is both accessible and concise. Also within the broad sweep of the text there are many delightful gems of information. For example, did you know that the shape of arabic numerals which we still use today is determined by the number of angles in each digit (None in 0, one in 1, two in Z, etc)?
`Science under Islam' is a timely and courageous contribution to an important debate. The focus on how science first flowered and then declined under Islamic rule, encourages objective debate rather than angry and violent argument. There are alternative futures for Muslims in Islamic societies in our globalised 21st century world.