Scientific Revolution and Muslim World:
Posted by khuram on August 27, 2006
It had been a great misfortune to Muslim Nation when they themselves denied the permissibility of any kind of freethinking (ijtihad etc.) for their own self and preferred the way of blind ‘taqleed’.
Early Islamic history had been characterized by free and open discussions and of making of new and new ijtihads. The existence of four separate and comprehensive schools of Muslim Fiqh is the clear evidence that early Muslim scholars could freely interpret the teachings of Islam and in such way that their interpretations could be different from those of others.
Originally there was no any such concept as ‘blind taqleed’ in Islam. The concept of ‘blind taqleed’ was actually emerged as a reaction to growing number of different Islamic schools of thought. The time when famous four fiqahs had been completed, the leading scholars then made another ‘ijtihad’ and imposed ban on any further ijtihad. So blind taqleed in this way became the destiny of Muslim nation.
The glorious period of Muslim intellectual achievements was due to a well-known early Muslim school of thought known as ‘Al-Mutazillah’. This school of thought flourished during the early Abbasid era. Al-Mutazilities adopted the method of applying rationality in the process of making interpretations of code of religion. They emphasized that humans were free in making choices for their actions. In this way, actually they denied the notion of any pre-determined fate. The belief in pre-determined fate had not emerged in the early history of Islam, but actually had been emerged during the period of Umayyad Caliphate. Umayyad rulers were not popular among the populace and so they used to persecute the masses with the intention to prolong their rule. In order to put a cover on their acts of massive persecutions. They, with the help of ‘political Muslim scholars’ promoted the belief in pre-determined fate. They, in this way, tried to legitimize their rule and acts of persecutions by saying that all what was happening was because it was already so decided by the Will of God. They asked people to not to protest against their rule, as it would be equivalent to the protest against the Will of God because Umayyad rulers had the claim that their rule was due to the Will of God.
With the fall of Umayyad rule, and with the emergence of Al-Mutazillah school of thought, belief on free human will got popularity among the highly educated class of Muslims. Caliph Mamoon Rashid also adopted this Al-Mutazillah faith. It was Caliph Mamoon who established Bait-ul-Hikmah in Baghdad and appointed many learned Jewish, Sabi and Christian scholars to translate the work of Greek and Indian scholars on vast scale. Now ground was ready to produce great intellectual scholars. So first-ever Muslim philosopher Abu Ishaq Yaqoob Al-Kindi was Mutazilie in faith. Later giant Muslim philosophers i.e. Al-Farabi and Ibn-e-Sina just adopted the same approach and extended the views of Al-Kindi into further depths. With the passage of time, the political control shifted in the hands of Al-Asherites (present day Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal-Jamaat) school of thought. Al-Ashrites were against the views of Al-Mutazillah. The leading scholars of Al-Ashrites faith i.e. Imam Abu-Al-Hassan Al-Ashary and Imam Ghazali favored the notion of pre-determined fate and so they rejected the idea of free human will. Imam Ghazali particularly denied the validity of cause-effect principle by saying that events happen not because of any physical underlying cause but because God Himself directs the events to happen in that way.
As Al-Ashrities assumed political power, they forcefully eliminated the views of Al-Mutazillah by adopting such means as torturing Mutazilities scholars as well as burning up their books in fire. Every kind of intellectual activity was openly disregarded and the long era of faith in blind taqleed initiated.
After the time of Imam Ghazali, only two great Muslim scholars came in Muslim History. First was Spanish Ibn-e-Rushd. This person drew profound influence over the intellectual environment of the West. Actually it was Ibn-e-Rushd who has served the role of connecting bridge between the Muslim enlightenment and Western enlightenment. The light of rationality and wisdom has been transferred from Muslim world to Western world via this great Muslim intellectual – Ibn-e-Rushd. But Muslim society disregarded him and he could not get any popularity in Muslim world. Second great scholar was Ibn-e-Khuldun. Muslim society again ignored the work of their last intellectual scholar and it has been the Western Scholars of eighteenth century who eventually ‘discovered’ the great work of Ibn-e-Khuldun and realized the importance of his work.
A Western Scholar Dr. Sakhaw has written that if there were no Ashary and Ghazali in Muslim world, then many Galileos and Newtons would have come from Muslim societies.
Followers of Hanabilites school of thought like Ibn-e-Hazm, Ibn-e-Tammiyah and the Imam Abdul Wahab etc. all were great anti-rationalists, basically. To them, even any new scientific theory would have been another ‘biddat’, which would deserve forceful rejection or elimination.
The time when West started to accept the importance of rational inquiry into the theoretical matters corresponds to the time when the light of rationality and wisdom had been completely turned off by the combined efforts of Al-Asharites, Hanabilitis and Muslim Sufis.
Role of Al-Asharities and Hanabalies has been discussed. Sufis were also against the method of rational inquiry because they preferred ‘wajad’ to rational thought.
So over-all Muslim intellectual environment had been complete anti-rational in nature throughout the time, which corresponds to the period of renaissance in Western world.
For as long period of time as about 500 years (after the death of Ibn-e-Khuldun in 13th century AD to 18th century AD) Muslim societies either had been stuck in complete blind taqleed or at the most had been trying to figure out or resolve the differences between Sufism and Shriah; where Sufism related to inner aspects (batan) of spiritual life and Shariah related to external compliance (zahir) to the commands of religion as to prayers etc.
In the eighteenth century, Shah Wali Ullah, a prominent Indian Muslim Scholar, after a very long period, accepted the positive role of ijtihad in the modern times and also emphasized the need of presenting Islamic teachings in the shape of rational arguments. Muslim society gave him respect but did not understand his point of view. A century later, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan launched a campaign of introducing rationality in the interpretations of teachings of religion. But mainstream Muslim society rejected his view on religious matters. He however got success in introducing modern Western education in Muslim society.
Allama Iqbal, then, got popularity in Muslims of India but basically he was another anti-rationalist and he did not like that Muslims may study philosophy or literature. After independence, Pakistan produced a Nobel Prize winner scientist Dr. Abdul Salam but he also was disregarded by Pakistani society just because he belonged to a sect, which is considered Kafir by rest of Muslims. A Pakistani writer Mr. Sheikh Ikram writes that we should adopt Western technology but we should not introduce the study of theoretical sciences in the country. What would be its implication? We shall just be a ‘user’ of technology and we shall not be able to invent any technology at our own because of being unfamiliar to theoretical sciences.
There is another poor trend in Muslim societies. This is keeping false pride in the achievements of ancient Muslims in the field of science and technology. There is nothing wrong in keeping this pride, but the wrong element is that contemporary Muslims feel this pride not with any such purpose as to get positive inspirations from their ancestors, but just to get a sort of poor justification for their backwardness in comparison with the Western world. They do not justify their backwardness. They only “justify” the progress of Western world by wrongfully (and passively) thinking that all what West knows today was actually told to them by the ancient Muslim scientists. So contemporary Muslims do not find their happiness in any of their positive achievement, but just in this type of false passive ideas. Another still existing passive attitude of Muslims is that they believe that there is no need to learn about any man made ‘ism’. What they believe is something like that all the possible scientific knowledge is already contained in Muslim sacred books. So the practical meaning of doing ‘scientific research’ for them is that whenever Western scientists shall discover any new scientific truth, they (Muslims) then just again interpret their sacred books in such way as to become able to say that the said new scientific fact was already contained in those books.
Secondly our education system is also incapable of producing any real scientific achievement. It is also worthy to point out that all our education policies are ‘quantity’ oriented and our governments have been just unable to introduce any qualitative policy capable to bring about any intellectual revolution in our education sector. I have my own views over the qualitative aspects of education system and in my work; I have classified our existing education system as ‘static’ understanding improvement model. By the term ‘static’, I mean that maximum goal before our education system is just to convey already existing knowledge to students. This model is ‘static’ because there is no any such goal as to get any intellectual achievement in the form of lets say, formulation of any new theory etc. So under this ‘static’ education system, we cannot expect that any real scientist shall come from it. Only huge number of degree holders shall come from this type of education system. Actually there is need of a comprehensive progressive oriented education philosophy for our education system. But unfortunately there is no awareness, at any level, about this need. There should be ‘ground’ capable enough to produce real intellectual achievements. Our existing education system does not provide this type of ground.