Islam's quantum question talk

So I went to the city circle event this friday for a bit to take my mind of my toofache and hear what  Nidhal Guessoum had to say about the Islam and Science debate. His book ' Islam's Quantum Question' is out now.

Nidhal is an astro physicist  from Algeria, with a US PhD and a little NASA Lab post doc experience. Presently he is a prof at the American university of sharjah, is academically quite published, teaches and appears a lot of Gulf TV channels. It was chaired by Ehsan Masood, who knows and writes in the space quite well.

He observed that Islam and science comes up in a couple of variants.

  • The Historical Civilisational Navel Gaze
  • Philosophically natured debates on the Nature of Knowledge
  • Practical applications of science to ritual issues.
  • Modernist-Iman-bolstering Its-in-the-Quranism

I liked his walk though previous serious contributions in the area (Sardar- Ethical, Salam- Universal, Nasr -Sacred) and his problematisation of the Harun Yahya/scientific Miracles in the Quran brigade.

Perhaps he over-egged this last issue as a hat tip to Usamafest. Shades of Hoodhboy Syndrome, 'These ridiculous natives and their ridiculous beliefs' came through at the audience level. I think this is an unfair and naive characterisation of Our collective curiosity but he was talking from his experience and quite a positivist type mind set.

We need tools to move thinking forward on this issue otherwise the level of dialogue and epistemological negotiation will remain at a very post graduate common room/prayer room level. this book is one of those devices I hope.

So far the encounter has me wondering how arab/gulf centric, indicator fed  and blind to politics, dignity and need the presentation was.

If Muslims have a 'childlike' approach to science, especially evolution, then the one I heard was adolescent. I say this because it wasn't a sense of inspiration and wonder that I got, but an 'I am imprisoned by the small mindedness of my people' frustration. Its just not an optimal position from which to speak.

When he reduced the envelope of possibilities of 'Islamic Science' to 'optional interpretive layer'  I felt that he'd dropped the can at the point of the creative step. Just like when Jasser Auda disappointingly dovetails into UN human rights and millennium development goals after beautifully excavating the history of maqasid al sharia thinking.

In today's situation, Islamic social movements  must approach the Islam and Science space with a better approach than any that are readily on offer.  Our politics and programmes must have an epistemic quality. We also mustn't divorce art from science ( from religion ) when bringing up our children as well as when identifying and thinking through our problems .

this is long.


The Tailor said...

Suggestions for something other than an optional interpretive layer?

I get what you are saying about art and science and religion.

I've also heard that perhaps philosophy (theological basis for science) might be a kind of solution. I've gone over this myself: if Islam is the Religion of Reading then Reading ought to inform science.

But perhaps putting it differently, Islamic science really ought to re-introduce an occult, emotional and revelatory aspect to global scientific progress.

My old PhD supervisor was coming from this kind of angle when I was learning the ropes:

And my father spent some time working with the physics department at Melbourne University after experiencing what he claims is a Divine vision, helping them in their work on quasi-crystals.

Where're the Muslim scientists finding a cure for cancer or grasping the secret of the genome after experiencing a Muhammedean fainting sweat? That's where Islamic Science is at for me.

(Disclaimer: Tailorite Sufic perspective of course -- a great many Muslims would dispute the idea that the sunnah can encompass Muhammedean sweats ... which are like perfume btw.)

Narrated 'Aisha:

(the mother of the faithful believers) Al-Harith bin Hisham asked Allah's Apostle "O Allah's Apostle! How is the Divine Inspiration revealed to you?" Allah's Apostle replied, "Sometimes it is (revealed) like the ringing of a bell, this form of Inspiration is the hardest of all and then this state passes ' off after I have grasped what is inspired. Sometimes the Angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me and I grasp whatever he says." 'Aisha added: Verily I saw the Prophet being inspired Divinely on a very cold day and noticed the Sweat dropping from his forehead (as the Inspiration was over).

fug said...

Alternatives, got plenty but need to demonstrate stuff first before pontification.

AK Soroush gave me some advice back in the day when i was dreaming during undergrad. he was amused by my fixation of Islamic science (sardarian, ashrafian, utilitarian hojpoj).

i cant remember what he said, something about ethics, purpose, content, design.... practical type matters.

The Tailor said...

... but nothing about working up a Muhammedean sweat? I'm sure sweat has to be in there someplace ...ethics, content design and so on are key ... but they themselves follow sweat ... because surely his sweetest sweat precedes all these things:

Narrated Anas:
I have never touched silk or Dibaj (i.e. thick silk) softer than the palm of the Prophet nor have I smelt a perfume nicer than the sweat of the Prophet

(I guess we ought to add Muhammedean hand moisturiser.)

fugstar said...

The effort it takes to get to the point of understanding, a painful state of partly self conditioned but also trained witnessing of truth.

obvious, but shouldnt be ommitted from any discussion in the situation.

theres something about research programmes and lines of inquire that cut across maqasids though i think.

The Banker said...

Hey I just came across a point made some time ago in the TLS regarding Jabar that might support your earlier point during our library conversation on ummatic forms of research.

In particular, the notion that Jabar was not a single, brilliant individual, but rather a pen name for an ummatic collective.

(Of course, some folk have said the same thing about Jesus and Muhammed ... in a very particular sense, they are absolutely correct regarding the former but infinitely false regarding the latter. But sticking with science and (ruh)ummatism here ... )


Iqbal is unwise to rely so heavily on the alleged writings of Jabir ibn Hayyan (whose notional dates are c721–815).

People who are only aware of Jabir (or Geber as he was known in the medieval West) as the name of an early scientist, may not be aware of what richly bizarre treasures are to be found in his strangely diverse writings: sperm is a crucial ingredient in the elixir of life; bird sperm is needed for producing a man with wings; the effigy of a Chinaman in bed will keep one awake at night; a picture of a man killing snakes done in magical ink will actually kill snakes; there is a fish called “the doctor of the sea” that carries a stone in its head that has the power to cure all ills; putrefied hair generates serpents; demons can be usefully trapped in statues. In the monumental Jabir ibn Hayyan: Contribution à l’histoire des idées scientifiques dans l’Islam, Paul Kraus (1904–44), a genius who committed suicide at an early age, surveyed the Jabirian corpus, which covered sexology, alchemy, the art of warfare, the manufacture of talismans, artisanal techniques, religious polemic, grammar, music, invisible inks, the artificial generation of human beings and much else. Kraus showed that the corpus was not the work of a single hand. Moreover, most of the treatises dated from the late ninth and early tenth centuries and contained radical Shia propaganda. Iqbal is aware of Kraus’s findings but oddly refuses to engage with them and continues to treat Jabir as a real person who lived when he is supposed to have done and who wrote several hundred miscellaneous treatises. In general, Iqbal elides the pervasiveness of occult thinking in Islamic science. Also when writing about cosmology, he refers en passant to a genre of literature known as the “Wonders of Creation” (in Arabic aja’ib al-makhluqat), but the treatises in this genre that I have consulted have more in common with Ripley’s Believe It or Not! than anything seriously scientific.