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Pro-active approach to science needed in Islam: Indian historian

Published: 31/10/2012 06:09:00 AM GMT
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New Delhi: There is need of fast and practical approach to science in Islam as the faith is seen as inflexible. This scenario demands and creates space for the rational science in Islam which is shrinking in contemporary times.

By Farhan Iqbal


New Delhi: There is need of fast and practical approach to science in Islam as the faith is seen as inflexible. This scenario demands and creates space for the rational science in Islam which is shrinking in contemporary times.

These views were shared by a well-renowned Indian historian, S. Irfan Habib, who strongly believes in advocating a more pro-active approach to science in Islam.

He said, “In developing economies like India, where most Muslims are part of the economy of the marginalized, thinking against science is encouraged, resulting in superstition.”

While giving an interview at the launch of his new book “Jihad, Itjihad: Religious Orthodoxy and Modern Science in Contemporary Islam,” Habib said, “Islam, which has become inflexible and rigid in contemporary times, needs to engage more with the spirit of science. Earlier, it could accommodate all knowledge systems.”

“For me Islam, as it is now, is the problem. The idea of the book is to engage with people (Muslims) who define science differently in Islam,” he added.

The historian said, “They say modern science is Eurocentric... I have written five other books on science. We often see modern science as part of a colonial imperialistic project. Who can agree with an Islam-centric science?”

He added, “For me, there is no separate science for different religions. Islam should not look for a science compatible with Islam.”

He referred to former Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as an example, saying, “Abdul Kalam believes in Islam, but is open about science.”

“I wanted to question this in the book,” said the historian, who currently holds the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Chair at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration in the capital.

According to Habib, believers of Islam need not look at modern science as something alien but as part of Islamic civilization.

“Strangely, Islam is rigid about science, but not in the area of technology. Islamists use technology, but they feel that science affects the mind. It brings democratization of knowledge and they (custodians of faith) want to deny people access to knowledge,” he said.

Habib said, “Anti-government propaganda, global politics, the general outlook and anything associated with the West is the enemy of Islam have led to the gradual slide of a pragmatic scientific mindset within Islam.”

“In mosques, the lectures (sermons) delivered by the imam after the Friday prayers have become political - more of covert propaganda. Earlier, the lectures used to be theological,” he added.

Habib observed that science often comes under criticism during these sermons.

He said, “There is a concerted campaign to widen the gap between Islam and its believers and modernity and its proponents.”

He added, “In the post-colonial context, the problem gets all the more complex as the decades of colonization and its trauma comes in handy to foment antagonism. I think Islamic science is also an outcome of such skewered thinking among intellectuals and thinkers within South Asia and elsewhere.”

“I don’t think we need to depend on the clergy at all. Barely 6 to 7 percent of the Muslims in India send their children to a madrassa. I am not concerned about them. I am more concerned about the 94 per cent of Muslim children who are either in mainstream education or have no education at all,” Habib concluded.



S. Irfan Habib

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