The religious state of Islamic science

Posted on August 13, 2007

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Source: Salon.com
Steve Paulson

HIGHLIGHT: Turkish-American physicist Taner Edis explains why science in Muslim lands remains stuck in the past — and why the Golden Age of Mesopotamia wasn’t so golden after all.

In October, Malaysia’s first astronaut will join a Russian crew and blast off into space. The news of a Muslim astronaut was cause for celebration in the Islamic world, but then certain questions started popping up. How will he face Mecca during his five daily prayers while his space ship is whizzing around the Earth? How can he hold the prayer position in zero gravity? Such concerns may sound absurd to us, but the Malaysian space chief is taking them quite seriously. A team of Muslim scholars and scientists has spent more than a year drawing up an Islamic code of conduct for space travel.

This story illustrates the obstacles that face scientists in Muslim countries. While it’s always risky to draw generalizations about Islam, even conservative Muslims admit that the Islamic world lags far behind the West in science and technology. This is a big problem for Muslims who envy the economic and military power of the United States.

What’s so striking about the Muslim predicament is that the Islamic world was once the unrivaled center of science and philosophy. During Europe’s Dark Ages, Baghdad, Cairo and other Middle Eastern cities were the key repositories of ancient Greek and Roman science. Muslim scholars themselves made breakthroughs in medicine, optics and mathematics. So what happened? Did strict Islamic orthodoxy crush the spirit of scientific inquiry? Why did Christian Europe, for so long a backwater of science, later launch the scientific revolution? […]
How would you assess the state of scientific knowledge in the Islamic world? [more]

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