Islam and Science

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Ars Disputandi Volume 6 (2006) : 1566–5399

Roxanne D. Marcotte
  , 

Islam and Science
By Muzaffar Iqbal
(Ashgate Science and Religion Series), Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2002; xxii + 372 pp.; hb. £ 52.50, pb. £ 22.50; : 0–7546–0799–2/0–7546–0800–x.

Islam and Science presents an articulate and concise historical introduction to intellectual developments that have shaped Islamic civilization, both religious and scientific. The work attempts to ‘construct a coherent account of the larger religious and cultural background’ in which the Islamic scientific tradition came into existence and to explore the ‘vexingly complex’ issue of its decline. The main thesis is that scientific traditions ‘arose from the bosom of a tradition of learning that had been grounded in the very heart of the primary sources of Islam: the Qur’an and Hadith.’ The latter are reports of the deeds and statements of the Prophet that became the sunna, or tradition of the Prophet. Before addressing difficulties that such a thesis raises, let us first provide an overview of the structure of the 11 chapters. [2] The first chapter covers the emergence of an Islamic scientific tradition during the first two centuries of Islamic civilization: both the emergence of new religious sciences, with the study of Qur’an and hadiths, and the presence of scientific traditions (atomism of the theologians, astronomy, medicine, alchemy). Chapter two introduces the Qur’anic foundation that linked events occurring in nature to the Qur’an central message and that established a ‘nexus between the physical cosmos and the metaphysical realm’ that was to become the heart of the Islamic scientific tradition. The third chapter describes the advent of the translation movement and the theological (kalam) debates over the rational explanations of Islamic doctrines that helped shape the religion/science connection. Chapter four explores this ‘fundamental nexus’ between the Islamic scientific tradition and the fundamental doctrines of Islam, mainly in metaphysics (cosmology), a nexus that the ‘very structure of learning from which natural sciences emerged’ guaranteed. The work defends the idea that the Islamic worldview permeating society provided the ‘built-in mechanism for wedding these sciences to the heart of Islamic thought,’ such that the ‘reality of Islam’ constituted the vertical axis, while the different ideas and intellectual disciplines constituted the horizontal axis. The fifth chapter sets out to introduce counter-examples (astronomy, medicine, geography) to the decline thesis, proceeds to refute a sociological explanation (Toby E. Huff), and claims that only a scientific tradition grounded in the fundamental doctrines of Islam can explain the existence of a thriving Islamic scientific tradition later than the 12th century. Chapter six reviews the transmission of scientific c July 17, 2006, Ars Disputandi. If you would like to cite this article, please do so as follows: Roxanne D. Marcotte, ‘Review of Islam and Science,’ Ars Disputandi [http://www.ArsDisputandi.org] 6 (2006), paragraph number.

[1]

Roxanne D. Marcotte: Review of Islam and Science

knowledge from the Islamic world via the translation of Arabic scientific works to the West and its capital importance for the development of the Western scientific tradition. [3] The seventh and eight chapters explore the complex, interconnected and diverse forces of the last two centuries, associated primarily with colonization, that changed the Muslim world in four fundamental ways: the disintegration of the umma, or community of Muslims (political transformation), the lost of the primacy of Arabic as lingua franca, the replacement of the traditional system of education with a Western educational system, and the introduction of a Western political system and its institutions. These changes are responsible for the decline of the Islamic scientific tradition. They introduced a new kind of discourse,...
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