The Epistemological Rebellion

In the Islamic world there were always limits to how far the speculation and free thought could go. The Muslim textualists, the champions of the ‘Arab sciences’ of the Text, the Qur’ān, the Sīra and the Hadīth, were not to be fooled by the Greek interloper. Unlike the Christians, they had no open-ended philosophical pedigree and heritage of their own and therefore saw the lines more clearly drawn. Their opposition was therefore total, and devastating.

The triumph of the anti-rationalist current

Orthodox Islam emerged victorious and Islam rejected the idea that one could attain truth with unaided human reason in favour of the superior truth of divine revelation. The seeds of orthodox victory are early sown, they are visible as early as the ninth century with the Occasionalist[1] position adopted by Abū al-Hasan al-Ash‘arī, whereby Allah created every moment in time and every particle of matter – thus rendering the operation of cause and effect an illusion. The ‘Golden Age’ of Islamic philosophy held constant dangers for its leading practitioners as they ducked and dived in response to the prevailing currents at the Caliphal court. Al-Kindi (c801-873), the first of the Islamic commentators on Aristotle and a polymath who played important role in introducing Indian numerals to the Islamic world, was denounced by the orthodox to the Caliph al-Mutawakkil, had his library confiscated and suffered the penalty of fifty lashes before a large, approving crowd.[2] The victory of orthodoxy invested the mind of even the most illustrious of Muslim scientists, such as Abū Raihān al-Bīrūnī (973-1048) “one of the very greatest scientists of [the Islamic world], and, all considered, one of the greatest of all times”[3] who condemned al-Razi (865-925) – known to Europe as Rhazes. He complained against his philosophical writings and his metaphysical speculations, saying that he was dabbling in freethought, and even spoke of his blindness as a Divine retribution. [4]

The victory over Hellenism is signaled most of all in the figure of al-Ghazālī or Algazel (1058-1111), who successfully championed revelation over reason and predestination over free will. The consequences of the Occasionalist interpretation of cause and effect – that man cannot know or predict what will happen, only God can – accelerated the fortunes of Voluntarism, the doctrine of the ineffable, unchallengeable Will of God, and the consequent irrelevance of human speculation. The standard Ash‘ari position was that

If Allah the exempted had informed us that he would be punishing us for the acts of others…or for our own obedience, all that would have been right and just, and we should have been obliged to accept it.[5]

The Euthyphro Dilemma

It is, of course, simply the re-run of the famous Euthyphro Dilemma[6] – that is, whether ‘the pious act is loved by the gods because it is pious, or is pious because it is loved by the gods’. The horns of the dilemma were explored by the Greeks centuries before: if that which is right is commanded by God because it is right, this implies that there are independent moral standards and that some actions are right or wrong in themselves, independently of God’s commands; if that which is right is right because it is commanded by God then there can be no moral standards other than God’s will. Under the preoccupation of omnipotence in the Islamic world, the resolution of the Euthyphro dilemma was unfortunately of the most morally primitive. Where the Mu‘tazila school, and rationalist scholars like Ibn Rushd come on the side of natural law, and Aquinas contends that not even God can change the Ten Commandments, the Ash‘arīs embraced the extreme Voluntarist position[7], with al-Ghazali casting what turned out to be his deciding vote behind them, so that in the view of George Hourani, the disastrous victory of Voluntarism “was probably more prominent and widespread in Islam than in any other civilization.”

This resolution of the horn of the dilemma left Islamic doctrine to progress down a disastrous path:

  • There are now no reasons for an independent standard of morality: If there is no moral standard other than God’s will, then God’s commands are arbitrary and not to be evaluated as to their innate justice. Discussions on the ethics of faith are placed second to discussions on authenticity and precedent;
  • Anything goes: The divine arbitrariness means that anything could be seen as good, and anything could be seen as bad, merely upon God’s command as expressed in the scriptural text. An action which is right at one moment could easily become wrong another, if God so decided to ‘abrogate’ it;[8]
  • A tyrannical conception of divinity.  The arbitrariness jeopardizes God’s status as a wise and rational being, one who always acts on good reasons only. This presents an image of a God of power and intolerance, and allows for a barbarous act to be committed in God’s name – if a text can be found to license it.

The war on logic

The crucial debate between rationalism and textual authority was thus unfortunately resolved the wrong way in Islam during the Middle Ages, when the ‘Arab sciences’ came to be granted precedence over the ‘foreign’ or Hellenistic sciences. The loss of human moral agency was paralleled by the loss of his intellectual initiative. Sciences and techniques which we now do not associate closely with the religious sphere were suspect and the cultivation of the ‘un-Arab’ method of logic was considered to be too dangerous to the faithful unless they were deeply immersed in the Qur’ān and the Muslim religious sciences which would act to fortify themselves against its baleful influence. “As for the books of logic”, argued Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328):

they do not contain knowledge that is commanded in the Sacred Law − even if the independent reasoning of some people have led them to the view that learning logic is communally obligatory. Some people have stated that the sciences are not established save with it − this is a gross error both rationally and legally. [9]

Logic continued to be used as an ancillary subject in scholastic theology (‘ilm al-kalām) but there was enough hostility towards it to prompt many practitioners to maintain a low profile. The four major figures in Islamic jurisprudence: Abū Hanīfa, Mālik ibn Anas, Muhammad al-Shāfi‘ī and Ahmad ibn Hanbal all pronounced against it in the strongest of terms.[10]

For a significant period in its history the work of the rationalists was able to maintain a discussion on matters later declared to be unthinkable and beyond debate, matters such as the issue of God’s creative speech which in turn maintained the vitality of Muslim thought and fed the expanding horizons of religious reason through the foundation of dynamic schools of theology and law. But following the proscription of the Mu‘tazila school under Caliph al-Qādir in 1017-18 Sunni Islam’s experiment with Hellenistic philosophy waned. Failure to maintain the pace against the challenges fostered a ‘splendid isolation’ instinct. The growing crisis of confidence in the political and cultural spheres, with the collapse of the Abbasid Caliphate in the 13thcentury under pressure from the Mongols[11] put a halt to the creative period in the development of jurisprudence. In 1258, the Abbasid Caliph al-Musta‘sim announced that, in matters of ijtihād, the Qur’ān and the Hadith would no longer be subject to interpretation. This was a fateful moment in the history of Islam. For the result of this intellectual closure was an accelerated discretionary power at the level of the rulers, and the promotion of the law of the regime, under the growing influence of the state clerics.

The Men of the Pen

Without a figurehead for the soul of the Muslim nation, it was left to the Men of the Pen to fill this role. Islam was now coming to be defined by the vision of a narrower section of the society, the jurisprudents. Their instinctive intellectual focus was on ‘authenticity,’ and this focus fostered a more doctrinal, uncreative, letter-of-the-law, approach. The feeling was that straying from the divine formulas of yesteryear had been responsible for the decline. Arab legal culture henceforth takes on an absolutist course and, for fear of contamination, cuts itself off from history, comparative cultures and learning, from the primacy of logic and human reasoning.[12]

Many of the scientific achievements of Islam’s ‘Golden Age’ had come about in a tolerant and cosmopolitan intellectual atmosphere. With this removed, the tide turned in favour of the divine sciences, building on the work of figures such as al-Ghazali who used the tools of the philosophers to undermine philosophical and scientific inquiry. There followed first the refutation of rationalistic currents, then the suppression of them. Al-Ghazali included even the mathematical sciences within the class of philosophical sciences (that is, mathematics, logic, natural science, theology or metaphysics, politics, and ethics) and concluded that a student who studied these sciences would be

infected with the evil and corruption of the philosophers. Few there are who devote themselves to this study without being stripped of religion and having the bridle of godly fear removed from their heads.[13]

By the 14th century, the cultural tone was set by the classic works of Muslim jurisprudence. ‘The Reliance of the Traveller’ the classic manual of fiqh for the Shāfiʽī school of Islamic jurisprudence, listed the ‘un-Islamic’ arenas of knowledge as: sorcery, philosophy, magic, astrology, the sciences of the materialists and ‘anything that is a means to create doubts’.[14]

The Tunisian scholar Mohamed Talbi explains that the tragedy for Islam was that a luminary such as Ibn Rushd (Averroes), who made a valiant attempt to stem the tide of al-Ghazali’s influence, arrived at just the point when the most conservative current of Muslim theology had vanquished its opponents:

He was thus considered as a troublemaker, a dangerous heretic they had to get rid of. It is not by chance that his works have not been preserved in Arabic but in Hebrew and Latin. The [original] Arabic versions of his work have been consigned to the flames.[15]

The Muslim World Leaves the Stage

The failure to indigenize Hellenism, the rejection of rationalism and the victorious emergence of orthodoxy from its encounter with the foreign sciences, had serious consequences for Islamic civilization. The situation in the Latin West was radically different. While there were sporadic incidents of attempts to suppress reason, such as the attempt to ban the works of Aristotle at the University of Paris in the mid-thirteenth century, the position of logic and natural philosophy in European learning was assured. It was so thoroughly embraced that it formed the basic curriculum for all students in the faculties of arts of medieval universities. This was a momentous achievement, argues Edward Grant,

it signified that the Catholic Church and its theologians had fully embraced and accepted Greco-Arabic science and natural philosophy. Without this acceptance, natural philosophy could not have become the basis for a liberal arts education in medieval universities and would therefore not have been institutionalized throughout Western Europe … not only did university-trained theologians fully accept and embrace the discipline of natural philosophy, but many, if not most, of them were eager and active contributors … equally at home in both disciplines and were keen to import as much natural philosophy as they could into the resolution of theological problems, while avoiding any temptations to theologize natural philosophy.[16]

At a time when Europe was seeing the rise of legally independent centres of learning in the birth of the universities,[17] the Arab Muslim world was coming to be ruled by a patchwork of Turkic-speaking monarchs uninterested in literature and the arts, or the progression of speculative sciences. Instead, their preoccupation was validation and support from the bearers of ‘authenticity’ – the jurisprudents. Royal patronage was overwhelmingly targeted to the religious sciences, whose focus and aspiration was invariably on past glories, interpreted through a dominating religious filter. Cultural and intellectual energies were therefore directed at treading water, at maintaining the tradition in its purest, authentic, unchanging form.

With the clerical class vindicated as the centre of gravity of Islam, creativity – whether in Islamic law or the broader Islamic culture – was at an end. [18] Later stars in the firmament, such as the historian and pioneer of sociology Ibn Khaldūn (1332-1406), are the exception that proves the rule. The scientific and cultural paralysis was evident in a renewed cultural orphanism, in the rejection, or indifference to cultural and scientific developments outside the Muslim world, a rejection which impeded its capacity to catch up with developments outside its conceptual universe. Ibn Khaldūn’s comments on the outside world are as interesting as they are rare:

We hear now that the philosophical sciences are greatly cultivated in the land of Rome and long the adjacent northern shore of the country of the European Christians. They are said to be studied there again and to be taught in numerous classes. Existing systematic expositions of them are said to be comprehensive, the people who know them numerous, and the students of them very many. God knows better what exists there.[19]

Yet, revealing the Zeitgeist himself, Ibn Khaldūn goes on to dismiss these sciences as worthless, devoting a whole chapter in his Muqaddima to a refutation of philosophy and natural sciences, and their corruptive influence, arguing that

we must refrain from studying these things, since such (restraint) falls under (the duty of) the Muslim not to do what does not concern him. The problems of physics are of no importance for us in our religious affairs or our livelihoods. Therefore, we must leave them alone.[20]

The sentiment appears to be almost a mirror-image of the dismissal written by St. Augustine a millennium earlier. What this means is that a somewhat truncated form of Arab and Islamic culture emerged. The Arab Muslim went into a period of extended crisis as it clung to the barer bones of ‘authenticity’ – a culture in a reductionist form. Retrenchment and truncation of Islamic culture followed, and the result was that the Muslim world fell disastrously behind intellectually, scientifically, and militarily. Lack of interest in the cultural and intellectual life of the infidel had become so ingrained that the Renaissance, the Reformation, even the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, passed largely unnoticed in the world of Islam.[21]

Intellectual quarantine

The ability of Arab Muslims to extricate themselves from stagnation is equally closed off to them by the ultimate application of the authenticity pre-occupation. Spurred by the threat of having the mental grammar stolen away from them, the Islamist educationalists have assiduously applied themselves to expelling the modernity virus from the public’s very perception of knowledge.[22]

Their task is an ambitious one since they are having to challenge an edifice accelerating at a dizzying rate across the globe with a quantitatively weak, and culturally highly specific, legacy of scientific endeavour. The prestige of modern science is problematic. Muslims, to the chagrin of Islamist thinkers are placing their faith in materialistic philosophies like scepticism, agnosticism, rationalism, atheism, profiteering, hedonism, libertinism, permissiveness and evolution theory, and doubt religious beliefs and principles. Even if these people live in Muslim houses and environment, their minds are westernised to the extent that the West haunts their behaviour, thinking and living. This is also a form of apostasy. It can well be termed as ‘mental apostasy’.[23]

Out of a conviction that a science midwifed in the West must forever bear the particularizing cultural stamp of western thought – specifically dispensing with a ‘certainty-based science (‘ilm al-yaqīn) in its instrumentalisation of skepticism and doubt – education on science and technology must be subjected to a filter. It may well be that western sciences “may be recommended to meet the needs of Muslims for their livelihood, or indeed obligatory if it is a question of the means to wage war on the Infidel” but the freethinking that lies at the base of “mathematics, physics, medicine, astronomy, engineering and suchlike mundane sciences” is damaging to the faith.[24] Science and knowledge has to be Islamised.

Legitimate, and illegitimate science

Accordingly the Islamic filter is to be applied to what it is that constitutes ‘legitimate’ research for Muslims to undertake and how knowledge itself is to be acquired. In his treatise Summary of Advice Insisting upon Holding to One’s Faith and Warning of Foreign Schools Shaykh ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Nāṣir al-Saʽdī underlined how:

One must distinguish between useful modern sciences which do not wield any damaging influence upon religious beliefs, and modern sciences which are founded upon erroneous, worthless theories that are not for us, which are built upon ignorance and waywardness, and which contradict the sound teachings of the religion of the Prophets. For so many of these sciences are injurious due to their ugly influences and results, and so many of them have ruined those who are less discerning.[25]

Certain fields of endeavor in particular elicit their suspicion, namely, sociology, philosophy and psychology, but the Muslim teacher, as instructed by a work entitled The Gift of the Monotheists,[26] is to be particularly wary of the secular subversion, and set himself to

demolish atheist theories based on the point of view of experimental science, in which the atheists exclusively place their belief … For it happens that people who are strangers to the Faith set down these materials and methodologies, so that it is the duty of the Muslim teacher not to teach scientific materials merely as such, but to reveal these errors … to link these sciences with Islam and purge them of suspicious elements, so as to be at one and the same time a dā‘ī, a preacher and a guide.[27]

The perception of ‘wrong theories’ has ranged from denials of heliocentrism, as we shall see below, to the aggressive attitude adopted towards evolution – for which there is a fast growing industry of work by Muslims geared to refuting the theory,[28] despite the valiant efforts of Dr. Rana Dajani and others in indigenising evolution theory to the Islamic heritage.[29] Such a prospect, as scientist and Imam Dr. Usama Hasan has discovered to his cost, is still fraught with peril even in the homeland of Charles Darwin.[30] At present, among Muslims in the Middle East brought up in Islamist-dominated education sectors, the prospects of evolution being indigenised are not fully encouraging.[31] Ibrahim al-Buleihi worries about the prospects for the future of Muslims from this pre-occupation, inherited from Sayyid Qutb, with ḥalāl and ḥarām – the permissible and the prohibited – in Arab Muslim intellectual activity. “Our culture” he laments,

has focused now, as in the past, with questions of what is ḥarām and what is ḥalāl, on Belief and Disbelief. The Islamic heritage may have attained to its religious greatness but now, as in the past, we have neglected to nurture our life down here on earth. Our culture has instead occupied a single wing, but after all the unique transformations that have come upon human civilisation, it now needs to occupy another wing so as to embrace the pressing issues of growth.[32]

The wrong theories do not stop there. The entire product of western science is suspicious. As the radical Islamist Bilal Philips describes it in his work The Fundamentals of Tawheed:

Einstein’s theory of relativity (E=mc2, energy is equal to mass times the square of the speed of light) which is taught in all schools, is in fact an expression of shirk in al-Asmā’ waṣ-Ṣifāt. The theory states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it merely transforms into matter and vice versa. However, both matter and energy are created entities and they both will be destroyed, as Allah clearly states: Allah is the creator of all things [Qur’ān XXXIX, 62], Everything [in the world] will perish [Qur’ān XLV, 26]. The theory also implies that mass and energy are eternal having no beginning or end since they are supposed to be uncreated and transform into each other. However, this attribute belongs only to Allah who alone is without beginning or end.[33]

A jihad on epistemology

The fact that this appears in a work entitled ‘Tawḥīd’ is highly significant. As much as the Islamic pre-occupation is with tawḥīd (‘exclusivization’, ‘singularization’) in the matter of theology and the nature of God (in contradistinction to the common Muslim conception that Christianity has compromised this monotheistic unity with the doctrine of the Trinity) the tawḥīd pre-occupation also extends to the physical universe. In this universe there can only be ‘one force’ – not a Prime Mover in the sense of an ‘initial Agent’ that is the cause of all things – but a single, direct force that is the cause of each and everything that initiates, moves, or reacts, at every moment, in every place.

If, on the other hand, you accept, for instance, that rain comes from the evaporation of water due to the effect of the sun, are you not suggesting that the sun is the cause of rain? Is this not usurping the role of God as the cause? What makes an arrow propel through the air to hit the target? Is it not God who propels it from first to last, or are we to believe that it is propelled by some ‘force of physics’ and caused by the release of tension from the energy stored up by an archer when he pulls the string of his bow? If it deviates on its course, is this due to God’s momentary intervention, or merely the effect of another rival god, the ‘force of nature’ in the shape of air currents acting on its trajectory?  If A must cause B in the physical world does this not exclude God or at least limit His freedom. [34] For this is the dilemma: If God is not the cause of everything, how can He be considered omnipotent?

The claim to such knowledge is surely therefore ‘blasphemously pretentious’ in the eyes of the Islamist thinker, and it should be noted that this standard Ashʽarite doctrine predominates to this day in Sunni Islam. Consider the comments of the American Muslim Shaykh Nun Ha Mim Keller:

Whoever believes in this causality (as virtually all evolutionists do) is an unbeliever (kafir) without any doubt … A Muslim should pay careful attention to this point, and distance himself from believing either that causes (a) bring about effects in and of themselves; or (b) bring about effects in and of themselves through a capacity Allah has placed in them. Both of these negate the oneness and soleness (wahdaniyya) of Allah. To ascribe efficacy to anything but His action … is to ascribe associates to Allah (shirk). [35]

The transformational nature of Islamism is therefore not merely about power; it is, as it were, a jihad on epistemology too. The duty of the Muslim, according to The Gift of the Monotheists, is equally to

Islamize all methodologies, including scientific, so that all scientific methods are carried out in the framework of the service of Islam, so that the goal is not purely one of science. This should be the sole aim of teaching this science, and given that our faith is from God and nothing false can issue from it, and given the fact that scientific discoveries are created by God, there therefore cannot be a conflict or a contradiction between science and faith.[36]

This tawḥīd-ing of all that is with the Maker of all that is, according to the Islamist theorist Abū al-‘Alā al-Mawdūdī, is to be explicitly rehearsed at every opportunity in order to fend off the encroachments of objective scientific observation and the assumptions of a cause and effect relationship that excludes God. When designing a curriculum for ‘scientific’ education,

no phenomenon or fact should be mentioned without referring to the benevolence of Allah … Effect must not be related to physical cause. To do so leads towards atheism … It is un-Islamic to teach that mixing hydrogen with oxygen automatically produces water. The Islamic way is this: when atoms of hydrogen approach atoms of oxygen, then by the will of God water is produced… No laws should be named after scientists. It is un-Islamic to speak of Newton’s Laws, Boyle’s Law, and so on because this is tantamount to shirk (idolatry) … God should be introduced into science classrooms … A chemistry book should necessarily be entitled: ‘The Holy Qur’an and Chemistry’ … A science textbook should be written only by a man who believes strongly in Islam … The birth of all sciences should be traced to the Muslim period. [37]

Since it is the Islamists’ view that all science and knowledge is essentially Islamic – on the grounds that Islam is held to be the source and conduit of all Truth – the science of the modern world, that pays no heed to the tawḥīd of knowledge and faith, must necessarily be a fraudulent construction, and therefore should be treated with contempt, repudiated and dismantled.

The wariness is not in itself an exclusively Islamist pre-occupation, since there are more progressive scholars that caution about wholesale importation, on the premise that science and technology policies in the contemporary world are heavily influenced by western models, based as they are on a different historical experience. “Muslim countries would do well”, argues Mohd Hazim Shah

to reflect on their own historical experience in the relation between science and Islam, instead of slavishly imitating the west. Even if Muslim countries succeed in achieving similar success by adopting those models, it might be at the expense of cultural stability and authenticity based on Islamic values … because the past is still very much with us. We carry a greater historical and cultural baggage as compared to the west, which has discarded much of that baggage throughout its history.[38]

But there is a difference between on the one hand remaining aware of cultural contours and approaches, deriving potential benefit from alternative viewpoints (an entirely legitimate process in scientific research) and on the other hand attempting to re-construct the acquired empirical experience of centuries and shoe-horn them in to a universal conditioning framework.

The ‘Islamisation of knowledge’

The ‘Islamisation’ of science has become a serious, well-funded and strengthening enterprise as the weight of traditional heritage has made itself felt upon the shoulders of Muslim revivalist scholars seeking to resolve the conundrum of authenticity and modernity. The field shows some considerable disarray. Unlike the globally accepted consistency of scientific methodology, there is no agreed upon ‘Islamic way’ of science. For all the myriad scholarly prescriptions, of varying degrees of sophistication, the practice of scientific endeavour in the Islamic world diverges into three broad disciplines:

  • The Scientific Autonomy approach (what is customarily understood as the arena for scientific research across the globe)
  • The Ethical Science approach (characterised by the writings, for instance, of Ziauddin Sardar who has critiqued the Scientific Autonomy approach and sought to import Islamic ethics to the enterprise of scientific research)
  • The Metaphysical/Traditionalist approach (a fully Islamised science championed by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Syed Naguib al-Attas whereby scientia – human knowledge – is to be regarded as legitimate only so long as it is subordinated to sapientia – divine wisdom, a hierarchical relationship between intellect and reason ‘that prevents the establishment of a rationalism independent of the revelation’ [39]).

A distinguished proponent of the ethical science approach was Ismail al-Faruqi (1921-1986) who presented the conception of tawḥīd as the principle of history, of knowledge, ethics, aesthetics and the political, social, economic order of the umma (and of the world). With the express aim of resolving Muslim concerns about a conflict between religion and science[40] he founded an organisation – the International Institute of Islamic Thought headquartered in Virginia. His ‘plan of action’ – the Islamization of Knowledge, General Principles and Work Plan – set the tone for urgency:

It is our present generation that first discovered this conflict as we live it in our own intellectual lives. The spiritual torture this conflict has inflicted upon us caused us to wake up in panic, fully aware of the rape of the Islamic soul taking place before our very eyes in the Muslim universities.[41]

Fearing the effects of contemporary social sciences and humanities, as products of the western mind that are “in conflict with the Islamic perspective”, the methodology of al-Faruqi’s Work Plan focused on re-examining in depth these western methodologies so as to restore the comprehensive character of Islam and regain contact with the genuine sources of Islamic thought with its roots in revelation and reason.[42] This radical de-construction and re-assembly of the building-blocks of modern science was seen as a fundamental pre-requisite of the programme if it were not to remain a superficial window-dressing:

[For] what purpose is served by breathing Islamic spirit into disciplines that are shaped by other people‘s perceptions, concepts, ideologies, languages and paradigms? Does that constitute Islamization of knowledge or the westernization of Islam? [43]

The task ahead of them, according to Syed Naguib al-Attas, was long:

[it] must involve a critical examination of the methods of modern science; its concepts, presuppositions, and symbols; its empirical and rational aspects, and those impinging on values and ethics; its interpretations of origins; its theory of knowledge; its pre-suppositions on the existence of an external world, of the uniformity of nature, and of the rationality of the natural processes; its theory of the universe; its classifications of the sciences; its limitations and inter-relations with one another of the sciences and its social relations. [44]

To effect this transformation the Work Plan, along with its various emendations and adjustments penned by later scholars, proposed a methodology and a schedule of activities which effectively come down to the following overriding tasks:

  1. The examination and mastery of the nature of modern ‘western’ epistemology and its sciences
  2. A critical assessment of the Islamic legacy (the Qur‘an, hadith and works of scholars) and its defining features
  3. The sifting out of the Islamically acceptable from the unacceptable in modern science through a process of ‘cataloguing, organizing, rearrangement and reinterpretation’, so as to form ‘a unified integral theoretical framework’[45]
  1. Synthesizing the two by the ‘infusion of Islamic elements and key concepts into all branches of knowledge’. [46]

The focus of no.2 and no.3 is interesting, since it indicates the dilemma of the modern Muslim intellectual who is deemed to lack this assessment as a result of the domination of western education models. “The process of Islamisation cannot occur”, argues al-Attas,

unless the one who is undertaking it knows what needs to be ‘isolated‘ and what needs to be ‘infused’, what are acceptable or not and what alternatives are acceptable or not and why this is so. [47]

For most theorists of the Islamisation of knowledge, this is the sticking point. What is required are scholars who have “a profound grasp of the nature, spirit and attributes of Islam as a religion, culture and civilization as well as western culture and civilization”.[48] Islamic knowledge, therefore, is to be re-constructed by means of western knowledge, and has to be brought to a level of competency comparable to western standards.[49] This fundamental flaw in the ‘starting point’ formed the subject of Ziauddin Sardar’s criticisms of the approach of the Work Plan. He argued for an Islamisation of knowledge that took its point of departure from the Islamic heritage, so that Islam would become the definer. Nevertheless, Sardar has recently registered his disillusionment at this approach, due to the absence of much in the way of a scientific culture in the Muslim world and the fact that ‘Islamic Science’ is coming to be associated either with iʽjāz al-Qur’ān – the idea that modern science exists in the Qur’ān – or that of the mystical version promoted by Seyyed Hossein Nasr.[50]

Lack of a consistent definition for the Islamisation of Knowledge

There remains a persistent confusion as to what is, and what is not, to be ‘Islamised’. Imad al-Din Khalil concedes that the Islamisation of knowledge is more readily applicable to the humanities and cannot imply the construction of rules on “mathematical or chemical equations or interfering with laws of physics or biology or amending atomic theory”  and says that the pure and natural sciences would therefore “escape the scope of Islamization”.[51] All of which would indicate that the purpose of an ‘Islamised’ science appears not primarily to advance science, but to protect Islam from its ‘corrosive effects’. [52]

As opposed to the applied manifestations of that enterprise: the ‘Islamisation’ of educational textbooks by prefacing and illustrating with scriptural texts and the selection of staff according to their Sharīʻa training – with the results we have seen above – what an ‘Islamised knowledge’ exactly is therefore remains opaque. For Ibrahim Ragab it is “some sort of integration of knowledge based on Islamic sources and that generated by modern social science methods” but something more than “a simple-minded addition and subtraction process.”[53] As for al-Faruqi’s Work Plan, this has come to be viewed as “psychologically and intellectually overwhelming” [54] and one of the leading proponents of the programme, Taha Jabir Al-Alwani, admitted that

the [Islamisation of knowledge] school is not blind to the fact that it may take decades before the methodological and epistemological issues involved in this proposition are clarified in a definitive manner.‘[55]

This Islamisation enterprise elicits suspicion from Muslim scientists unimpressed by the obscurity and vagueness of the programme. Pervez Hoodbhoy, [56]  who has made a study of the pretensions to an ‘Islamic science’, argues that the whole exercise is not only un-historical, it is ‘as clear as mud’ and in the case of the Metaphysical/Traditionalist approach obscurely elitist since it is “obviously contingent upon finding interpreters of the Divine intellect, who are presumably to be chosen from among the holy and the pious”.[57]

For the proponents of the Ethical Science approach initiated by al-Faruqi there is a sense in their writings that the project has reached an impasse. The emotive rejection of concepts, theories and views, simply for their western origin, is now discredited as is the approach of either “applying cosmetic surgery to existing bodies of knowledge or to grafting existing bodies into Islamic frameworks.” [58]

The main lesson gained from 40 years of the [Islamisation of knowledge] project is that we have not really discussed and understood the philosophical and methodological issues of the modern disciplines we have been trying to Islamize. Also we have not sufficiently dealt with our own legacy … [Nevertheless] shortcomings and disappointment in the [Islamisation of knowledge] should not make us despair and lose hope. [59]

Failing an intellectually nuanced programme that can negotiate the difficult terrain of indigenising modernity into the Islamic world, on terms that satisfy the Islamist educationalists’ desire for ‘authenticity,’ the isolation of the contemporary Muslim continues. By holding the sciences of modernity at arm’s length the fantasies of the fundamentalist have taken their place. Under this fantasy the sciences (‘ulūm, in the plural) may be expelled, but ʽilm (‘wisdom’ in its comprehensive singularity) is there to fill the gap, with all the ambiguity and immunity from examination that this implies. This ‘ilm has no need to deliver measurable results and absolves the scholars of the Muslim world from over half a millennium of failure. The Islamists’ response to the hiatus is simply to divert the gaze onto some ‘qualitative difference’ from the objective, rational disciplines of western-originated science:

Islamic science, by contrast, seeks ultimately to attain such knowledge as will contribute toward the spiritual perfection and deliverance of anyone capable of studying it; thus its fruits are inward and hidden, its values more difficult to discern. To understand it requires placing oneself within its perspective and accepting as legitimate a science of Nature which has a different end, and uses different means, from those of modern science…. It can only be understood, and should only be judged, in terms of its own aims and its own perspectives. [60]

An Islamisation programme that detaches students from modernity like this by denying its constituent ingredients can only leave contemporary Muslims foreigners to the present, roaming helpless in a state of epistemological alienation,

as if the Muslims were a race apart of mankind with a different mental make-up, one which needs a different reasoning method.[61]

A demonstration of the implications of this occurred with the Coronavirus epidemic of 2020, in which Muslim scholars directly contributed to the spread of the infections by ignoring ‘western’ counter-measures and advice as either conspiratorially motivated or ineffective since they marginalized the role of prayer and supplication for God’s mercy. The heart of the problem is the expectation made upon Muslims as to how to perceive their sense of self: they are to hold themselves as so distinct from non-Muslims that even though the non-Muslim world has one set of responses to the epidemic and that these responses were clearly effective, the Muslim was still enjoined to ask, ‘What should a Muslim do in this situation?’ and do nothing until a ‘scholar’ pronounced what a Muslim should do, as if a Muslim’s physiology were different to that of a non-Muslim. The results were predictably tragic.

The educational results on the ground – the Qur’ān as a science book

For all the nuances of the ‘Islamisation of knowledge’ the manifestation on the ground of this tawḥīd, in the present usage and syllabuses of schools and universities, lacks these nuances. Islamist ideologues now openly proscribe western science on the grounds that it blinds Muslims from discovering the sciences which God has placed in the Qur’ān. The reference to the Qur’ān as a source of knowledge, beyond the dimension of religion and ritual, is significant, since it underlines where Islamist education is perpetrating an egregious abuse of both faith and science. If there is no division but a tawḥīd between religious knowledge and physical laws, under the perception of Islamist educators the student is impelled towards accepting a logic of the identity of the two fields within one and the same volume. The logic is easily imposed since it is already deeply rooted in the Islamic tradition[62] from the doctrine of iʽjāz al-Qur’ān (‘the inimitability and miraculousness of the Qur’ān’) and is effectively the continuation of their medieval predecessors’ war against “the interloping sciences” which “do not accord with God’s Book”.

Given that almost all science fails to accord with God’s Book they have been expelled either from the school system or from the Muslim consciousness through their proscription. Something even more disastrous results upon this: the terrors experienced by a cross-section of young students at the sciences they are studying (even in western universities) in that they are constantly aware that these conflict with ‘scientific’ religious truths. [63]

Conversely, if knowledge derives from the Qur’ān, then the explanation for failure must perforce be a religious explanation. If Qur’ānic truths corresponded absolutely with scientific truths, then what scientific research can do to access these truths Islamic Revelation can do too. The argumentation runs like this:

We were defeated because we dispensed with our faith and so God dispensed with us; now the West took their scientific knowledge from the Qur’ān while we did not, because our leaders deviated from God’s Law, so God punished them by veiling the secrets of the Qur’ān from them … The day when those who govern us apply the Sharī‘a we shall discover in the Qur’ān new sciences far in excess of what the West has taken from it.” [64]

The educational results on the ground  – the denial of heliocentrism

The perception of the Qur’ān as a source of all knowledge – since an omniscient God could not produce otherwise – and the fons et origo of all future Muslim resurgence, generates a number of problems. Several Qur’ānic verses[65] indicate something other than a heliocentric system, but the full force of doctrinal rectitude is brought to bear on the wayward belief. Most notable are the Salafist fatwās hailing from Saudi Arabia, such as Fī jaryān al-shams wa-sukūn al-arḍ wa-takfīr man khālaf kalāmah (‘On the Motion of the Sun and the Stasis of the Earth and on Declaring as Infidel Anyone who Opposes His [i.e. God’s] Words’) by Shaykh ʽAbd al-ʽAzīz ibn Bāz (1910-1999) and that of Al-adilla al-Qur’āniyya ‘alā an al-shams hiyya allatī tadūr ḥawla al-Arḍ wa-laysa al-ʽaks (‘The Qur’ānic Proofs that it is the Sun that Revolves around the Earth and not Vice Versa’) by Shaykh Muḥammad Ibn ‘Uthaymīn (1925-2001).

In this most conservative of Islamic societies the quarantining process is at its most extreme and resilient in the face of physical evidence, as can be seen from the following ‘question-and-answer exchanges from concerned believers: [66]

Question: I know someone who lives in Norway and he speaks of a country where the sun shines at midnight, and says that during the summer it never sets and in winter it never rises. What is the ruling of the Sharīʽa on someone afflicted with this madness?

Shaykh ʽAbd al-Raḥmān al-Barrāk’s response: Muslims should be wary of these ignorant people. How can anyone believe that the sun appears at midnight? And where does it go to throughout the winter? – Unless it departs to some other planet to illuminate its inhabitants and returns after finishing its task!

Question: My younger brother has enrolled in the faculty of science and has started to learn strange things about a ‘big bang’ and ‘galaxies’ and ‘millions’ of stars. He startled us by saying that the earth we are living on is very small, a finite speck wandering about in the universe, spinning around itself and revolving around the sun. What are we to do about him?

Shaykh ʽAbd al-ʽAzīz Ibn Baz’s response: You should remove your brother from the faculty and enroll him in the Sharīʽa faculty before he gets embroiled in more fantasies. For the earth is the centre of the universe and is larger than any planet or star. It is supported on two horns of a bull and shakes whenever the demons sneeze. As for the sun, it descends from the sky to the sea floor and is soaked through. When it rises from the opposite direction it is initially weak until it dries off.

The recent celebrated dismissal of the heliocentric system by the younger generation of Muslim Shaykhs, such as Bandar al-Khaibari (otherwise planes could not catch up with the airport) shows how the quarantining remains in full vigour. [67]

Science – is it a corpus of learning or a method?

The implications of this tawḥīd are therefore important for research and knowledge-acquisition. It places the spotlight on what the scientific enterprise is perceived to be. Is it, for instance, the search for new knowledge or new approaches to knowledge?  Or is it a process of uncovering through a pious, assiduous discovery of the Divine Will? Is knowledge a finite body of data to be ingested, or is it an attitude of mind? It is something that contemporary Arab Muslim scholars have pinpointed as the centre of the crisis. Dr. Munā Abū al-Faḍl sums up the issue:

What has escaped us is that science is a method before it is a result or a content, and that the content and the subject of the methodology in the field of social and human sciences are made up partly of personal and cultural experiences which can have meaning and significance for all humanity, and partly of individual specialism in a specific branch and something whose validity is limited to the stage of its own development. … The balance between the relative and absolute dimensions of the human sciences is a fine, difficult one, on which one avoids saying the last word. [68]

This is the fundamental difference. Modern education follows the latter course, seeking to inculcate habits of analysis and questioning, to replace the deadening weight of ‘ilm al-yaqīn or ‘certainty-based science,’ with a combative and productive diversity and a constructive doubt. But it is precisely this currency of constructive doubt that accounts for the ambiguity – if not outright hostility – of Islamist educationalists towards modern systems of education and their entirely different demands on the intellect.

In Islamist-dominated education skepticism is considered inappropriate, since Islam is seen to be the origin of knowledge. The teacher therefore does not see his role as one of inculcating doubt, but rather of inculcating certainty, the certainty of absolute truth. Since this knowledge ultimately has a divine origin, the student is therefore better employed to ingest the words of the teacher – often literally in the sense of the rote learning of Qur’ānic texts in Arabic irrespective of the whether the student has been taught its language and grammar. One either knows these absolutes, or one does not. Speaking at the January 2016 conference Forum on the Future of Islam, Dr. Imad ad-Dean Ahmad lamented how

knowledge is seen in the Muslim world as memorization, not as research. Even in the fields where Muslims are becoming really good in modern sciences, in medicine or engineering these are fields of practice not of research … You have to break out of that context to think that knowledge is just memorization, and to think if I want to learn about the West then I go and look at what the Qur’an says about the other and that would apply.[69]

Good scientific pedagogy requires the deliberate inculcation of a spirit of healthy questioning in the classroom, particularly questions of method such as: How do we know? What is the evidence? What is important to measure? How can we check the correctness of our measurements? How are we to make sense out of our results? What would invalidate our findings? Is there a counter-explanation, or a simpler one? Islamist education has yet to grasp these fundamental concepts of questioning and constructive doubt.

Intellectual isolation

The formula that no knowledge exists outside the realm of religious thought, has set the Arab Muslim world on a curious trajectory and is the reason that the Arab peoples remain passive spectators of the progress made by the rest of the world.[70] As Hoodbhoy observes, “you will seldom encounter a Muslim name as you flip through scientific journals, and if you do the chances are that this person lives in the West.” The UN Arab Human Development reports highlight how an unchallenged and fossilised Arab intellectual heritage is raising basic knowledge problems due to a collective ‘disregard of reality’ and ‘an abandonment of the scientific and intellectual basis that underpinned the Arab classical cultural experience.’[71] This anachronism will have serious consequences not only on the level of science, but on the products of rationalism: political pluralism, social cohesion and the rule of rational, man-made law. At issue, warns Bassam Tibi, is a state of mind inculcated by Islamist educationalists that can only promote the perpetuation of backwardness and isolation:

In the name of authenticity, Qur’ānic instructions are called upon to replace all scholarly methodology… This effort results in a cultural self-isolation of the Islamic world under the conditions of globalization…. The call for “Islamic social science” resembles – as anti-science – the call for a “German physics” under Nazi rule.[72] This expression of “anti-science” not only hampers any effort by Muslims to come to terms with the Islamic predicament with modernity, but also alienates them for the rest of humanity. [73]

The scientific failure in the Arab Middle East can therefore not be written off merely as a quantitative problem. It is the very nature of the Islamist-dominated syllabus (which all Muslim reform organizations seek to establish) that is setting up, unapologetically, the barriers to knowledge transfer and isolating the Muslim student from his future.

The implications of the epistemological rebellion

The implications of the religious undermining of the cause-and-effect relationship that underpin the fields of natural science – and all science – are not merely academic. They have real, bloody consequences. For if there is no natural cause-and-effect order in the world, no rational, reasonable order, but instead everything is subject to God’s will irrespective of this order (on the grounds that belief in this order would impinge upon His omnipotence), then there is no ‘naturally’ based order to support moral behaviour either.

The debasement of ethics

On what grounds, this argument runs, should ‘reasonableness’ become the standard for what is moral and immoral? How are mere humans to decide this? For what appears to the individual as moral and justified, or immoral and to be condemned on the basis purely of his view of the world or what is logically right or wrong, has no value. All that does have value is what the omnipotent God has so ordered. And how do we know what God has ordered? – through reading His words as revealed in the Qur’ān and the Ḥadīth. If it is not there, there is no instruction, no guidance to be had. An individual, on the other hand, cannot make his own deduction based on what he ‘feels’ is right or wrong, or by judging from his own human experience – all must rather be based exclusively on what the Text indicates, or on what certain scholars have deduced the Text would indicate by analogy from what the scholar can see written down in front of him. As agents applying the will of God, the letter of the divine Text as they understand it – not humanity, not human-determined ‘reasonableness’ – is what determines or justifies one’s actions.

The ‘ethical quarantine’ that this epistemology permits is, in essence, a form of moral abdication, from the active exercise of an individual’s conscience to the passive consultation of a written text. It is responsible for the pitiless violence that the radicals can inflict upon their enemy – whether they are innocent civilians or security symbols of the state.

The removal of positive law

One of the basic requirements of the ‘re-sacralisation’ of knowledge is to remove secondary causes. But if there are no secondary causes, God not only creates man He created his acts too. Man creates or initiates nothing. In which case, how can man determine what ought to be obligatory or forbidden, on the basis of his own evaluation? Only God can do this.

Since, for the Islamist thinkers, it is impious nonsense for humans to erect objective standards of good or evil, and since there are no such standards, even with God, nor any place for the exercise of the rational faculties (since God Himself is not to be limited in His power through being comprehended rationally), there can be no role at all for rationality in legislation. Western legislators understand Law as based on reason, which is why they debate the ‘reason’ for a law. But if the exercise of reason is expelled from the legislative process, the only foundation left for authority is a Superior Will, a Superior Force.

The only method, therefore, of determining and maintaining an ethical response to challenges to public order is to establish and enforce a rulebook – of divine authorship – whose dispensations are not to be questioned, altered or adapted. This rulebook is to be superior to rationality, not constructed upon it. It is to be superior to a personal active engagement in the moral decision, and man’s ‘ethical’ compass is measured in terms of obedience to this code, this Sharīʻa.[74]  This is why the reinstitution of Sharīʻa is so critical to the Islamist agenda. Under this Sharīʻa, as is well known, the rights of man are gradated, with non-Muslims accorded inferior status as dhimmī or ‘protected’ communities. This is because there is no ontological foundation for equal human rights in Islam, which formally divides men and women, believer and unbeliever, and freeman and slave. The implications of this on the ground were spelled out by the Arab Human Development Report[75] which noted how, in the Muslim signatory states to international human rights conventions, the fundamental constituent freedoms

have neither entered the legal culture nor have they been incorporated into the substantive legislation of those states. The conventions have remained nominal, as is apparent from the fact that they are rarely raised before the judiciary for implementation. [76]

The prohibition of democracy

There is a further knock-on effect from this epistemological position. For if man lives in a world which he can make no sense of himself, where there are no essential causes for things, if he cannot develop natural law, he cannot conceive of a constitutional political order in which man, through his reason, creates laws to govern himself and behave freely. The American scholar Robert Reilly explains the implications:

If man is not a political creature endowed with reason in a world accessible to his mind, why attempt to order political life based upon deliberation and representation? In such circumstances, man will not go about writing constitutions, for constitutions by their very nature imply a belief in a stable external order, in man’s reasonability, and in his ability to formulate and establish a rational mode of government. [77]

He thus cannot engage in constructing anything that requires the functioning of a stable external order. Better surely, to invest instead in one’s client status to an Almighty protector, a celestial, divine chieftain. Unsurprisingly, this celestial despotism finds its mirror reflection on Earth, in the form of autocracies that dominate the Muslim world. If God is pure Will, pure force, then on what should Muslim rulers model themselves, as representatives and defenders of His world order? The Muslim world does not have an indigenous vocabulary for ‘citizen,’ ‘democracy,’  or ‘secularism’ – other than modern neologisms – because there is nothing in the political traditions of the Muslim world which might make familiar, or indeed intelligible, the organizing ideas of constitutional and representative government.

Where one wing of the Islamic spectrum pays lip-service to this modern vocabulary, another wing supplies a vocabulary all of its own. The Jordanian radical Islamist Abū Muḥammad al-Maqdisī encapsulates this in his book entitled Al-Dīmuqrāṭiyya Dīn (‘Democracy is a Religion’).[78]  The title is not merely a metaphorical turn of phrase for the book demonstrates, point for point, why democracy is more than a political system and is in fact an open defiance of God, as a competing, false religion. Al-Maqdisī seeks to awaken the Muslim’s consciousness to his unwitting jāhiliyya, by the way he identifies this false god:

  • God is the only true Legislator
  • Democracies impiously do not apply the law, the Sharī‘a, as given to mankind by God
  • Worse still, democracies instead legislate other systems in place of this Sharī‘a
  • This means they arrogate to themselves the functions of God
  • They therefore invent and serve another ‘god’
  • Democracies are therefore by definition polytheistic cultures.

Despotism is therefore hard-wired into societies that have yet to shake off the damage wrought by al-Ghazālī’s championing of the anti-rational Ashʽarite school of thought.


Example: An epistemological jihad in the field

(extract from S. Ulph, Boko Haram: Investigating the ideological background to the rise of an Islamist militant organisation, The Westminster Institute, Maclean VA, February 2014.)[79]

The motivation to reverse what is considered to be the occupation and colonialism of the mind and the derailment from an Islamically authentic trajectory, can be observed on the ground in the pronouncements of jihadist leaders, even though many analysts fail to accord their true significance. For example, in a state security interrogation in Nigeria, the one-time leader of the Boko Haram (‘Western Civilisation is forbidden’[80]) movement Muhammad Yusuf proclaimed: “All knowledge that contradicts Islam is prohibited by the Almighty.” What did he mean by this? What kind of knowledge might this be? In an interview with the BBC just before his death in 2009, Yusuf clarified his position:

There are prominent Islamic preachers who have seen and understood that the present Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam. Like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain. Like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism.

This is not the individual delusion of a half-educated youth, but the consistent reflection of an epistemological position of considerable authority and pedigree, albeit an anachronistic one in the contemporary era. His explanation of the western conception shows his familiarity with the scientific explanation for rain, but he goes on to state that he must reject it for religious reasons.[81] These reasons are Islamically sound for a conception of Islam that seeks its soundness exclusively in Islamically ‘authentic’ doctrines – which is what Boko Haram claims it is doing.

The issue of the origin of rain brought up by Muhammad Yusuf has much to do with the explanation given by the Qur’ānic verse: We send the fecundating winds, then cause the rain to descend from the sky, therewith providing you with water. [Sura XV,22]. As for Darwinism, there is a fast growing industry of work by Muslims geared to refuting the theory.[82]

The problem is that the verses of the Qur’ān which touch on scientific matters, that is, on the physical universe, match with Aristotle and with the Ptolemaic geocentric theories of the world or, in the field of medicine and the origins of life, with Galen (particularly in theories of embryology) – theories which had become established almost 1,000 years before the Qur’ān appeared. Subsequently all these theories have been disproved or substantially altered by modern scientific observation.

However, the implications of calling the Qur’ān’s knowledge into question are religiously weighty, and therefore the solution to this conundrum has been searched for either by having recourse to the argument of the Qur’ān featuring ‘metaphorical’ language on these issues or, more troublesomely, by denying the validity of modern science altogether (generally employing the argument of the unsafe, false ‘human’ origins of scientific knowledge).

Boko Haram, as a constituent sub-section of traditionalist Islam, has clearly taken the second path.

[1] Occasionalism is the belief that in the natural world, what is perceived as cause and effect between objects is mere appearance, not reality. Instead, only Allah truly acts with real effect; all seemingly natural observances of causation are merely manifestations of Allah’s habits (not rules, since He may change them at any time), for Allah simultaneously creates both the cause and the effect according to his arbitrary will.

[2] Pervez Hoodbhoy Islam and Science, Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality, p.111.

[3] George Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, Vol. 1, p. 707.

[4] “Orthodox and unorthodox were alike shocked most of all by Rhazes’ book On Prophecy—which, needless to say, has not survived—in which he seems to have maintained the thesis that reason is superior to inspiration.” A. J. Arberry, The Spiritual Physick of Rhazes, London: John Murray, 1950, p.8.

[5] Ibn Hazm, الفصل في الملل والاهواء والنحل, 5 vols. (Cairo, 1890-1903), 3:92. More discussion on this can be found in Albert Hourani, Reason and Tradition in Islamic Ethics, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p174.

[6] So named from Socrates’ question in Plato’s dialogue the Euthyphro (10A): “Is the pious act loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” (ἐννόησον γὰρ τὸ τοιόνδε· ἆρα τὸ ὅσιον ὅτι ὅσιόν ἐστιν φιλεῖται ὑπὸ τῶν θεῶν, ἢ ὅτι φιλεῖται ὅσιόν ἐστιν;) This was addressed to one who was maintaining that his act to prosecute his father for the commission of a crime was a noble, pious deed. The dilemma has had a major impact upon the philosophical theism of the monotheistic religions, since it throws up on the one hand the question of God’s omnipotence, sovereignty and freedom to act; and on the other hand the arbitrariness of God which would negate the existence of independent moral standards, or morality’s essential necessity.

[7] Associated with Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, voluntarism holds that morality comes from God’s will and choice rather than his intellect or knowledge. Accordingly, God should be defined as an omnipotent being whose actions should not and cannot be explained through reason. As such, voluntarism is usually contrasted with intellectualism, championed by the scholastic Thomas Aquinas.

[8] Ibn Hazm (ob.1064) describes the standard Ash‘ari position thus: “If Allah the exempted had informed us that he would be punishing us for the acts of others…or for our own obedience, all that would have been right and just, and we should have been obliged to accept it.” See Ibn Hazm, الفصل في الملل والاهواء والنحل, 5 vols. (Cairo, 1890-1903), 3:92. More discussion on this can be found in Albert Hourani, Reason and Tradition in Islamic Ethics, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p174.

[9] Shaykh Sa‘īd Foudah,تدعيم المنطق  , Dār al-Rāzī, 47.

[10] Abū Hanīfa: those who practice it are from the “retarded ones” (al-Makkī, مناقب ابي حنيفة, pp. 183-184); Mālik ibn Anas: “whoever seeks faith through kalām will deviate” ذم الكلام B/194); Muhammad al-Shāfi‘ī: “It is better for a man to spend his whole life doing whatever Allah has prohibited – with the exception of shirk – rather than pass his whole life engaged in kalām” (Ibn Abī Hātim, مناقب الشافعي, p.182); Ibn Hanbal: “The partisan of ‘ilm al-kalām will never prosper. No one is ever seen who has studied speculative theology, but that there is a corrupt quality to his mind.” Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, جامع بيان العلم 2/942, ed. Abu al-Ashbal, Dar Ibn al-Jawzi 1998.

[11] Hulagu Khan sacked Baghdad in 1258.

[12] Cf. Ibn Taymiyya: “As for the books of logic, they do not contain knowledge that is commanded in the Sacred Law − even if the independent reasoning of some people have led them to the view that learning logic is communally obligatory. Some people have stated that the sciences are not established save with it − this is a gross error both rationally and legally.” Shaykh Sa‘īd Foudah,تدعيم المنطق  , Dār al-Rāzī, 47.

[13] Citation from Edward Grant, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages, Their religious, Institutional and Intellectual Contexts, Cambridge University Press, 1998, p.180.

[14] Aḥmad ibn Naqīb al-Miṣrī:  عمدة السالك وعدة الناسك (‘Reliance of the Traveller and Tools of the Worshipper’), Book A, Section a7.2 ‘Unlawful Knowledge’. The work quotes al-Nawawī on ‘fields of knowledge extraneous to legitimate knowledge’: يقول النّوويّ، بعد ذكره أقسام العلم الشّرعيّ: “ومن العلوم الخارجة عنه [أي عن العلم الشرعي] ما هو محرم أو مكروه أو مباح، فالمحرم، كتعلم السحر، فإنه حرام على المذهب الصحيح وبه قطع الجمهور، وكالفلسفة والشعبذة (الشعوذة) والتنجيم وعلوم الطبائعيين، وكلّ ما كان سببًا لإثارة الشكوك”.

[15] Mohamed Talbi, Plaidoyer pour un Islam moderne, Cérès Éditions, Tunis, 1998, p.42.

[16] Edward Grant, Science and Religion, From Aristotle to Copernicus, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004, p.244.

[17] “Without the separation of church and state, and the developments that proceeded as a consequence, the West would not have produced a deeply rooted natural philosophy that was disseminated through Europe by virtue of an extensive network of universities, which laid the foundation for the great scientific advances made in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, advances that have continued to the present day.”  (Grant 2004), p.248.

[18] In 1192 the Cordoba library, which in the 10th century contained some 400,000 volumes – more books than were in France and quite possibly all of Western Europe at that time, was purged of its Mu‘tazilite works, which advocated the primacy of Reason.

[19] كذلك بلغنا لهذا العهد ان هذه العلوم الفلسفية في ببلاد الإفرنجة من ارض رومة وما إليها من العدوة الشمالية نافقة الاسواق وان رسومها هناك متجددة ومجالس تعليمها متعددة ودواوينها جامعة متوفرة وطلبتها متكثرة والله أعلم بما هنالك  Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddima, Section 13, On the Various Kinds of Intellectual Sciences.

[20]  إلا انه ينبغي لنا الإعراض عن النظر فيها إذ هو من ترك المسلم لما لا يعنيه فإن مسائل الطبيعيات لا تهمنا في ديننا ولا معاشنا فوجب علينا تركها  Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddima, Section 24, On the Refutation of Philosophy and the Corruption of those Studying it.

[21] Bernard Lewis notes how Muslims almost exclusively relied on religious minorities (Armenians, Greeks, Jews) as intermediaries with the West. See his Islam and the West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 183.

[22] The argumentation for this is taken from S. Ulph, Towards a Model Curriculum for the Reform of the Educational Syllabus in the Teaching of the Humanities.

[23] Sheikh Mohammed Shihabuddin Nadvi, Rise and Fall of Muslims in Science,

[24] “As for learning the other sciences, such as mathematics, physics, medicine, astronomy, engineering and suchlike mundane sciences, they are founded upon freethinking (lit. ‘permissiveness’), although they may be recommended to meet the needs of Muslims for their livelihood, or indeed obligatory if it is a question of the means to wage war on the Infidel … But the view that everything the Infidel achieve in the sciences must be learned and mastered by the Muslims, this is mistaken, since what is incumbent upon man is that he places all his concern in the afterlife, not in the pleasures and sciences of this world.”

Shaykh Samīr al-Mālikī,  الرد على من عظم الفلاسفة الملاحدة، ابن سينا، الرازي، الفارابي … وأشياعهم  (‘A Response to Those Who Extol the Atheist Philosophers, Ibn Sina, al-Razi, al-Farabi and their Followers’) n.d. Section ‘On Learning the Mundane Sciences’, p.17.

[25] ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Nāṣir al-Saʽdī: نصيحة مختصرة في الحث على التمسك بالدين والتحذير من المدارس الأجنبية (‘Summary of Advice Insisting upon Holding to One’s Faith and Warning of Foreign Schools’), ed. Dr. ‘Abd al-Salām ibn Barjas Āl ‘Abd al-Karīm, Dār al-Imām Ahmad, 1st Ed. 1426 (2005), p.18.

[26] تحفة الموحدين في أهم مسائل أصول الدين , The Gift of the Monotheists on the Most Important Questions concerning the Fundamentals of the Faith, prepared by the Gazan ‘Jurisprudential Committee in the Jamā‘at al-Tawhīd wal-Jihād’, with an introduction by Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and published by Minbar al-Tawhīd wal-Jihād, September/October 2009.

[27]  Gift of the Monotheists, p.71.

[28] The most notorious being Harun Yahya, author of the glossy Creationist encyclopedia: Atlas of Creation.

[29] Dr. Rana Dajani is Associate Professor of Biology at the Hashemite University, Jordan. Her position on evolution is detailed in U. Hasan and A. Osama (Edd), Islam & Science, Muslim Responses to Science’s Big Questions, Muslim World Science Initiative, 2016, pp.  142-150.

[30] ‘Imam who believes in evolution retracts statements’, BBC News website (, March 7th 2011.

[31] The PEW research conducted in 2013 revealed a mixed tally for support of evolution: “At least six-in-ten Muslims in Lebanon (78%), the Palestinian territories (67%) and Morocco (63%) think humans and other living things have evolved over time, but Jordanian and Tunisian Muslims are more divided on the issue. About half in Jordan (52%) believe in evolution, while 47% say humans have always existed in their present form. And in Tunisia, 45% say humans have evolved, 36% say they have always existed in their present form, and 19% are unsure. Iraq is the only country surveyed in the Middle East-North Africa region where a majority rejects the theory of evolution (67%).” See The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society, The Pew Forum on Religions & Public Life, April 30, 2013, p.132.

[32] Ibrahim al-Buleihi, ‘Castles of Backwardness’, p.63.

[33] Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, The Fundamentals of Tawḥeed, International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh, 2005, pp.51-2.

[34] R. Reilly, ‘Causes of Rain and Sources of Violence in Nigeria’, The Catholic Thing, January 14, 2012.

[35] Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Islam and Evolution, a letter to Suleman Ali, 1996.

[36]  Gift of the Monotheists, p.70.

[37] Abdus Sami, M and Sajjad, M, Planning Curricula for Natural Sciences: The Islamic Perspective, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad, 1983, p.31.

[38] Mohd Hazim Shah, The Relationship between Science and Islam: Islamic Perspectives and Frameworks, Muslim Science, August 10th 2015.

[39] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Science and Civilization in Islam.ABC International Group, Inc., Chicago, 2001, p.39. As “a culture whose spiritual values are inextricably tied up with mathematics and with metaphysics of a high order”, the epistemological challenge of this Metaphysical/Traditionalist approach extends to the field of mathematics, which must now accommodate not only the ‘syllogistic-rationalistic school of the followers of Aristotle’ but also the ‘Hermetic-Pythagorean school’ whereby the natural sciences are to depend also upon the symbolic and mystic interpretation of numbers and phenomena.”

[40] J. Esposito and J. Voll, Makers of Contemporary Islam, Oxford, 2001, p.30.

[41] Ismail al-Faruqi, Islamization of Knowledge, General Principles and Work Plan, 2nd Edition, Revised and Expanded, International Institute of Islamic Thought, Herndon, Virginia, 1988, p.19.

[42] Islamization of Knowledge, p 73.

[43] Muhammad Aslam Haneef, A Critical Survey of Islamization of Knowledge, Kuala Lumpur: International Islamic University Press, 2005. p.27.

[44] Muhammad Aslam Haneef, op.cit, p.19.

[45] Ibrahim Ragab, ‘Creative Engagement of Modern Social Science Scholarship: A Significant Component of the Islamization of Knowledge Effort’, Intellectual Discourse 5, No. 1 (1997): pp.35-49.

[46] Thus al-Attas in Muhammad Aslam Haneef, A Critical Survey, p.38.

[47] Muhammad Aslam Haneef, op. cit., p.19. According to Ibrahim Ragab (On the Methodology of Islamizing Social Science. Intellectual Discourse 7, No. 1 (1999):  “Modern western trained Muslim social scientists are not able to appreciate these philosophical and methodological issues underlying their own disciplines, let alone having any meaningful exposure to the Islamic legacy. Their training has created, in many cases, ‘second class‘ western scientists, who sometimes even fail to grasp the essence of their disciplines, not to mention any ambition of mastering their disciplines. In other cases, their training may have created ‘masters‘ of modern disciplines, who have also, maybe unconsciously, become entrapped in the existing frameworks of those disciplines, i.e. they may not see things from an Islamic perspective.”

[48] Wan Mohd, Islamization of Contemporary Knowledge: Theoretical Dimensions and Practical Contributions  in The Educational Philosophy and Practice of Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas. Kuala Lumpur: ISTAC, 1998, 291-369.

[49] Ziauddin Sardar Rediscovery of Islamic Epistemology in Islamic Futures: The Shape of Ideas to Come, Kuala Lumpur: Pelanduk 1988, p.4.

[50] Commenting at the 1st Sharja Conference on Islam and Science, June 2011.

[51] ‘Imad al-Din Khalil. Islamization of Knowledge: A Methodology. Herndon: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1991.

[52] “Whatever devout Muslim scientists may believe as individuals, they cannot prevent their activity as modern scientists from emptying the Islamic intellectual universe of its content unless this science is shorn away from its secular and humanistic matrix where it has been placed since the Renaissance.” See S. Nasr in S. Azzam (ed), Islam and Contemporary Society, London, Longman, 1982, p.180.

[53] Ibrahim Ragab, ‘On the Nature and Scope of the Islamization Process: Toward Conceptual Clarification’,‖Intellectual Discourse 3, No. 2 (1995): 113-122.

[54] Louay Safi, ‘The Quest for an Islamic Methodology: The Islamization of Knowledge Project in Its Second Decade’, The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences (AJISS) 10, No. 1, 1993, pp.23-48.

[55] Taha Jabir al-Alwani, ‘Islamization of Knowledge: Yesterday and Today’, The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences (AJISS) 12, No. 1 (1995): pp.81-101.

[56] Pervez Hoodbhoy is professor of nuclear and high-energy physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan and has written extensively on the plight of science in the Muslim world. See his excellent work, Islam and Science, Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality, Zed Books, 1991.

[57] Pervez Hoodbhoy, op.cit., p.73.

[58] Muhammad Aslam Haneef, op.cit, p.66

[59] Muhammad Aslam Haneef, op.cit, p.70.

[60]  Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Science and Civilization in Islam, p.39.

[61] M. al-Sanduk, The Islamization of science and its intellectual problem,

[62] The authority for this type of thinking goes back to pre-modern thinkers such as Ibn al-Qayyim and al-Suyūtī who sought to demonstrate that all science that exists is contained in the body of the Qur’ān. In his work: Al-Itqān fi ‘Ulūm al-Qur’ān (‘Mastering the Sciences of the Qur’ān’) al-Suyūtī (1445-1505) devoted a whole section to ‘sciences extracted from the Qur’ān’, and states there: “As for the types of sciences (in the Qur’ān) there is no chapter nor issue that the Qur’ān does not give indications of.”

[63] Lafif Lakhdar, Is the Qur’ān an encyclopædia of science?     

[64] Ibid.

[65] For instance the following Qur’ānic verses: XV,19; XX:53; XLIII:10; L:7: LI:48; LXXI:19; LXXVIII:6; LXXIX:30; LXXXVIII:20; and XCI:6.

[66] ‘Alī ‘Ujayl Manhal, الجنس و القبر والكفن – لماذ – تركز عليهما الفتاوى الدينية الوهابية السعودية ؟ , (‘Sex, Graves and Coffins: Why have Saudi Wahhabist religious Fatwas concentrated on these?’) Al-Ḥiwār al-Mutamaddin, April 26, 2011.

[67] The video of Sheikh Bandar al-Khaibari is available here: . Sheikh Bandar has previously stated that NASA never sent humans to the moon, rejecting the lunar landing videos as a Hollywood fabrication. .

[68] Dr. M. Abu al-Faḍl, الإحياء – مفهوم الأمة وأزمة الفصام بين العلوم الإسلامية والإنسانية  , Vol. 29, January 2009, p.88.

[69] Imad ad-Dean Ahmad, speaking at the conference Forum on the Future of Islam, Muslim Perspectives on Islamic Extremism, Rethink Institute, Washington, January 2016, p. 47.

[70] Mohammed al-Sanduk, ‘Intellectual self-isolation and the prospects of constructing a culture’,

[71] AHDR 2003, p.118.

[72] The parallelism could also be made to the efforts of the politicisation of science in the Soviet Union under the dominating influence of Trofim Lysenko. Here too the dismissal of pure and theoretical research as ‘an indulgence’, and that scientists had to serve pragmatic ends alone, ended up creating deformities every bit as illusory as ‘calculating the speed of Heaven’ (it is receding from the earth at one centimetre per second less than the speed of light based on Qur’ānic verses), ‘calculating the angle of God with respect to the earth’ (it is π/N, where π=3.1415927 with N not defined), ‘calculating the formula of reward / prayer’ and ‘establishing the chemical origins of Jinns’ (probably ‘methane’). See, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Islam and Science, Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality, pp. 140-150.

[73] Bassam Tibi, Islam’s predicament with modernity: religious reform and cultural change, Routledge, Oxford and New York, 2009, p.92.

[74] Cf the comments by the 18th scholar Muhammad al-Sanūsī (1787-1859): “It is impossible for the Most High to determine an act as obligatory or forbidden… for the sake of any objective, since all acts are equal in that they are His creation and production. Therefore the specification of certain acts as obligatory and others as forbidden or with any other determination takes place by His pure choice, which has no cause. Intelligibility has no place at all in it, rather it can be known only by revealed law – Sharīʻa.”

[75] Prepared by Arabs for a readership of Arabs, the litany of failures conscientiously evaluated in these reports led one Arab columnist to urge “a serious, deep reading” since “no changes will occur without Arabs first facing the facts, however unpalatable they may be.”  Salama A. Salama, ‘Facing Up to Unpleasant Facts,’ Al-Ahram Weekly, July 11-17, 2002.

[76] UNDP, Arab Human Development Report 2003 (New York: United Nations, 2003), p.152. It should be noted that The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, signed by 45 foreign ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on August 5, 1990, was issued as an appendix to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights in order to make explicit Muslim differences with the UN Declaration.

[77] Robert Reilly, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, ISIS Books, Wilmington, Delaware, 2010, p.

[78] الديـمقراطـيّة ديـن  Minbar al-Tawhīd wal-Jihād al-Tawhīd wal-Jihād, n.d. Translation by Abu Mohammad al-Maleki, November 2004.

[79] Available online:

[80] This is the signifiance of the term as given by Mallam Sanni Umary: “Boko Haram does not in any way mean ‘Western education is a sin’ as the infidel media continue to portray us. Boko Haram actually means ‘Western Civilisation is forbidden’.” The focus of Boko Haram is therefore more correctly upon those who operate within western-style frameworks and institutions or who are in some way representatives of western culture or even westernized people or westernized elites.

[81] R. Reilly, ‘Causes of Rain and Sources of Violence in Nigeria’, The Catholic Thing, January 14, 2012. An example of a religious reason for the rejection is Hadīth no.1039 from Book 15 of the Ṣaḥīḥ of al-Bukhārī: “Allah’s Messenger said, “Keys of the unseen knowledge are five which nobody knows but Allah: nobody knows what will happen tomorrow; nobody knows what is in the womb; nobody knows what he will gain tomorrow; nobody knows at what place he will die; and nobody knows when it will rain”.

[82] The most notorious being Harun Yahya, author of the glossy Creationist encyclopedia: Atlas of Creation. There are, however, some rare cases of Islamists who have accepted the theory after taking the trouble to study it. See, for example, Inayat Bunglawala, ‘Darwin and God: Can they co-exist?’ The Guardian, July 3 2006.  .

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