Response of Muslim Scholars to Modern Science

SHAFAQNA – There were four kinds of reactions in the Islamic world to modern science:

(1) Some Muslim scholars rejected modern science as foreign (corrupt) thought, considering it incompatible with Islamic teachings. In their view, the only remedy for the stagnancy of Islamic societies is the strict following of Islamic teachings.

(2) Some thinkers in the Islamic world, advocated the complete adoption of modern science. In their view, the only remedy for the stagnant Muslim societies is the mastery of modern science and the replacement of religious world-view by scientific world-view. They saw science as the only source of real enlightenment.

(3) Some Muslim scholars tried to adapt Islam to the findings of modern science. This group formed the majority of faithful Muslim scientists, and one can categorize them in the following subgroups:

■ Some Muslim thinkers attempted to justify modern science on religious grounds. Their motivation was to encourage Muslim societies to acquire modern knowledge and to safeguard their societies from the criticism of Orientalists and Muslim intellectuals.

■ Some people tried to show that all important scientific discoveries had been predicted in the Qur’an and Islamic tradition, and by appeal to modern science one can explain various aspects of his faith.

■ Some scholars advocated a re-interpretation of Islam. In their view, one must try to construct a new theology that can establish a viable relation between Islam and modern science. The Indian scholar, Sir Seyyed Ahmad Khan, was after a theology of nature through which one could re-interpret the basic principles of Islam in the light of modern science.

■ Some Muslim scholars believed that empirical science had reached the same conclusions that prophets were advocating several thousands years ago. The revelation had only the privilege of prophecy.

(4) Finally, some Muslim philosophers separated the findings of modern science from its philosophical attachments. Thus, while they praised the attempts of Western scientists for the discovery of the secrets of nature, they warned against various empiricistic and materialistic interpretations of scientific findings. Scientific knowledge can reveal certain aspects of the physical world, but, it should not be identified with the alpha and omega of knowledge.

Rather, it has to be integrated into a metaphysical framework – consistent with the Islamic world-view – in which higher levels of knowledge are recognized and the role of science in bringing us closer to God is fulfilled.

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