Rabu, 30 Januari 2013

[daarut-tauhiid] Islam and science: The road to renewal

AsSalaamu alaikum waRahmatuLlaahi waBarakatuh.

Artikel di bawah mengupas kemajuan sains masa lalu, kemudian pudar,
dan akan kembali bersinar di negara-negara Islam.

Insya Allah.

WaSsalaamu alaikum waRahmatuLlaahi waBarakatuh

Ahmad Syamil
Associate Professor
Arkansas State University



The Economist


Islam and science: The road to renewal
After centuries of stagnation science is making a comeback in the Islamic world

Jan 26th 2013

THE sleep has been long and deep. In 2005 Harvard University produced
more scientific papers than 17 Arabic-speaking countries combined. The
world's 1.6 billion Muslims have produced only two Nobel laureates in
chemistry and physics. Both moved to the West: the only living one,
the chemist Ahmed Hassan Zewail, is at the California Institute of
Technology. By contrast Jews, outnumbered 100 to one by Muslims, have
won 79. The 57 countries in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference
spend a puny 0.81% of GDP on research and development, about a third
of the world average. America, which has the world's biggest science
budget, spends 2.9%; Israel lavishes 4.4%.

Many blame Islam's supposed innate hostility to science. Some
universities seem keener on prayer than study. Quaid-i-Azam University
in Islamabad, for example, has three mosques on campus, with a fourth
planned, but no bookshop. Rote learning rather than critical thinking
is the hallmark of higher education in many countries. The Saudi
government supports books for Islamic schools such as "The
Unchallengeable Miracles of the Qur'an: The Facts That Can't Be Denied
By Science" suggesting an inherent conflict between belief and reason.

Many universities are timid about courses that touch even tangentially
on politics or look at religion from a non-devotional standpoint.
Pervez Hoodbhoy, a renowned Pakistani nuclear scientist, introduced a
course on science and world affairs, including Islam's relationship
with science, at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, one of
the country's most progressive universities. Students were keen, but
Mr Hoodbhoy's contract was not renewed when it ran out in December;
for no proper reason, he says. (The university insists that the
decision had nothing to do with the course content.)

But look more closely and two things are clear. A Muslim scientific
awakening is under way. And the roots of scientific backwardness lie
not with religious leaders, but with secular rulers, who are as stingy
with cash as they are lavish with controls over independent thought.

The long view

The caricature of Islam's endemic backwardness is easily dispelled.
Between the eighth and the 13th centuries, while Europe stumbled
through the dark ages, science thrived in Muslim lands. The Abbasid
caliphs showered money on learning. The 11th century "Canon of
Medicine" by Avicenna (pictured, with modern equipment he would have
relished) was a standard medical text in Europe for hundreds of years.
In the ninth century Muhammad al-Khwarizmi laid down the principles of
algebra, a word derived from the name of his book, "Kitab al-Jabr".
Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham transformed the study of light and optics. Abu
Raihan al-Biruni, a Persian, calculated the earth's circumference to
within 1%. And Muslim scholars did much to preserve the intellectual
heritage of ancient Greece; centuries later it helped spark Europe's
scientific revolution.

Not only were science and Islam compatible, but religion could even
spur scientific innovation. Accurately calculating the beginning of
Ramadan (determined by the sighting of the new moon) motivated
astronomers. The Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad) exhort believers to
seek knowledge, "even as far as China".

These scholars' achievements are increasingly celebrated. Tens of
thousands flocked to "1001 Inventions", a touring exhibition about the
golden age of Islamic science, in the Qatari capital, Doha, in the
autumn. More importantly, however, rulers are realising the economic
value of scientific research and have started to splurge accordingly.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University of Science and Technology,
which opened in 2009, has a $20 billion endowment that even rich
American universities would envy.

Foreigners are already on their way there. Jean Fréchet, who heads
research, is a French chemist tipped to win a Nobel prize. The Saudi
newcomer boasts research collaborations with the universities of
Oxford and Cambridge, and with Imperial College, London. The rulers of
neighbouring Qatar are bumping up research spending from 0.8% to a
planned 2.8% of GDP: depending on growth, that could reach $5 billion
a year. Research spending in Turkey increased by over 10% each year
between 2005 and 2010, by which year its cash outlays were twice

The tide of money is bearing a fleet of results. In the 2000 to 2009
period Turkey's output of scientific papers rose from barely 5,000 to
22,000; with less cash, Iran's went up 1,300, to nearly 15,000.
Quantity does not imply quality, but the papers are getting better,
too. Scientific journals, and not just the few based in the Islamic
world, are citing these papers more frequently. A study in 2011 by
Thomson Reuters, an information firm, shows that in the early 1990s
other publishers cited scientific papers from Egypt, Iran, Jordan,
Saudi Arabia and Turkey (the most prolific Muslim countries) four
times less often than the global average. By 2009 it was only half as
often. In the category of best-regarded mathematics papers, Iran now
performs well above average, with 1.7% of its papers among the
most-cited 1%, with Egypt and Saudi Arabia also doing well. Turkey
scores highly on engineering.

Science and technology-related subjects, with their clear practical
benefits, do best. Engineering dominates, with agricultural sciences
not far behind. Medicine and chemistry are also popular. Value for
money matters. Fazeel Mehmood Khan, who recently returned to Pakistan
after doing a PhD in Germany on astrophysics and now works at the
Government College University in Lahore, was told by his university's
vice-chancellor to stop chasing wild ideas (black holes, in his case)
and do something useful.

Science is even crossing the region's deepest divide. In 2000 SESAME,
an international physics laboratory with the Middle East's first
particle accelerator, was set up in Jordan. It is modelled on CERN,
Europe's particle-physics laboratory, which was created to bring
together scientists from wartime foes. At SESAME Israeli boffins work
with colleagues from places such as Iran and the Palestinian

By the book

Science of the kind practised at SESAME throws up few challenges to
Muslim doctrine (and in many cases is so abstruse that religious
censors would struggle to understand it). But biology—especially with
an evolutionary angle—is different. Many Muslims are troubled by the
notion that humans share a common ancestor with apes. Research
published in 2008 by Salman Hameed of Hampshire College in
Massachusetts, a Pakistani astronomer who now studies Muslim attitudes
to science, found that fewer than 20% in Indonesia, Malaysia or
Pakistan believed in Darwin's theories. In Egypt it was just 8%.

Yasir Qadhi, an American chemical engineer turned cleric (who has
studied in both the United States and Saudi Arabia), wrestled with
this issue at a London conference on Islam and evolution this month.
He had no objection to applying evolutionary theory to other
lifeforms. But he insisted that Adam and Eve did not have parents and
did not evolve from other species. Any alternative argument is
"scripturally indefensible," he said. Some, especially in the
diaspora, conflate human evolution with atheism: rejecting it becomes
a defining part of being a Muslim. (Some Christians take a similar
approach to the Bible.)

Though such disbelief may be couched in religious terms, culture and
politics play a bigger role, says Mr Hameed. Poor school education in
many countries leaves minds open to misapprehension. A growing Islamic
creationist movement is at work too. A controversial Turkish preacher
who goes by the name of Harun Yahya is in the forefront. His website
spews pamphlets and books decrying Darwin. Unlike his American
counterparts, however, he concedes that the universe is billions of
years old (not 6,000 years).

But the barrier is not insuperable. Plenty of Muslim biologists have
managed to reconcile their faith and their work. Fatimah Jackson, a
biological anthropologist who converted to Islam, quotes Theodosius
Dobzhansky, one of the founders of genetics, saying that "nothing in
biology makes sense except in the light of evolution". Science
describes how things change; Islam, in a larger sense, explains why,
she says.

Others take a similar line. "The Koran is not a science textbook,"
says Rana Dajani, a Jordanian molecular biologist. "It provides people
with guidelines as to how they should live their lives."
Interpretations of it, she argues, can evolve with new scientific
discoveries. Koranic verses about the creation of man, for example,
can now be read as providing support for evolution.

Other parts of the life sciences, often tricky for Christians, have
proved unproblematic for Muslims. In America researchers wanting to
use embryonic stem cells (which, as their name suggests, must be taken
from human embryos, usually spares left over from fertility
treatments) have had to battle pro-life Christian conservatives and a
federal ban on funding for their field. But according to Islam, the
soul does not enter the fetus until between 40 and 120 days after
conception—so scientists at the Royan Institute in Iran are able to
carry out stem-cell research without attracting censure.

But the kind of freedom that science demands is still rare in the
Muslim world. With the rise of political Islam, including dogmatic
Salafists who espouse a radical version of Islam, in such important
countries as Egypt, some fear that it could be eroded further still.
Others, however, remain hopeful. Muhammad Morsi, Egypt's president, is
a former professor of engineering at Zagazig University, near Cairo.
He has a PhD in materials science from the University of Southern
California (his dissertation was entitled "High-Temperature Electrical
Conductivity and Defect Structure of Donor-Doped Al2O{-3}"). He has
promised that his government will spend more on research.

Released from the restrictive control of the former regimes,
scientists in Arab countries see a chance for progress. Scientists in
Tunisia say they are already seeing promising reforms in the way
university posts are filled. People are being elected, rather than
appointed by the regime. The political storms shaking the Middle East
could promote not only democracy, but revive scientific freethinking,


Pesantren Daarut Tauhiid - Bandung - Jakarta - Batam
Menuju Ahli Dzikir, Ahli Fikir, dan Ahli Ikhtiar
website: http://dtjakarta.or.id/
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