Archive for the ‘Evolution & Biology’ Category

Islam and Science workshop presentations – London 2013

July 27, 2015

Bismillah. I have been working on the report for the “Islam & Science – The Big Questions” (of science and Islamic theology) Task Force that I convened in Istanbul in February 2015, chaired by Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, by the grace of God.  The Task Force report will be published in a few weeks, God-willing.

This reminded me that we had not sufficiently circulated the presentations from our “Islam & Science” workshop in London from 2013, some of which the current Task Force builds on.  So, here are the presentations from that workshop, as well as the final report. These should be of interest to anyone interested in cutting-edge discussions about Islam and science, religion and science, etc. University students should find these presentations a useful resource, especially for their own dissertations and theses. Enjoy!

front page of Islam Science Workshop

1- Ibn Sina – Ehsan Masood

2- Science and Religion – Jean Staune

3- Islam and Modern Science – Nidhal Guessoum: slides unavailable, but you may view a similar lecture with similar slides here (Faraday Institute, University of Cambridge)

4- 1001 Inventions Exhibition – Yasmin Khan

5- Science Policy and Politics in the Islamic World – Athar Osama

6- Theories of Evolution – Jean Staune

6a- Lying in the Name of God – Jean Staune

7- Evolution and Islam – Nidhal Guessoum: slides unavailable, but you may read one of his articles on the topic here

8- Islam and the Theory-Fact of Evolution – Usama Hasan

9- Islamic Cosmology – Bruno Guiderdoni

10- Islam Science Ethics – Usama Hasan

Islam and Science Workshop 2013 – Final Report

 

Islam and Science Workshop – London 2013 – A Summary

February 22, 2013

Bismillah.  This is a cross-post from http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/events/islam-science-workshop-2013/

Quilliam, in association with the Université Interdisciplinaire de Paris, the American University of Sharjah and Muslim-Science.com, organised and hosted an international workshop entitled “Islam and Science: A Reasoned Approach” for students and young researchers, 18th-20th January 2013 at the Institute of Education, University of London, UK.

The participants consisted of 23 people selected by submission of essays on Science-Religion topics and/or their suitability as “disseminators of ideas” following on from the workshop. These 23 participants included three people from France, the USA and Egypt. There were a total of seven speakers at the workshop: three from the UK, two from France and one each from the UAE and Pakistan.

Introduction – Friday 18th January 2013

The workshop began with a screening of the 1-hour documentary film, Science and Islam – Dialogues for the 21st Century, which was produced by the Université Interdisciplinaire de Paris and featuring interviews with 22 leading scientists, theologians, philosophers and thinkers about the interfaces between religion and science in general, and focusing on Islam in particular.

This was followed by a presentation by Ehsan Masood, author of the BBC series-accompanying book, Islam and Science: A History, a presentation entitled Ibn Sina (Avicenna) – The Man Who Knew Everything, about the life, work and influence throughout Islamic and Christian history of this early Muslim polymath. A lively discussion followed about Ibn Sina’s philosophy and methodology and the scientific rationalisation of miracles.

Saturday 19th January 2013

Prof. Jean Staune (Université Interdisciplinaire de Paris) started with presentation on Science and Religion in the World today & New Paradigms of Science, in which he summarised the major developments in 20th-century science such as relativity and quantum theories in physics, Godel’s theorem in mathematical epistemology, and De Duve and Conway-Morris’ ideas of direction, non-randomness, and convergence in biological evolution. He showed how these “new paradigms” have influenced the discourse in “Science and Religion”, and how this field has become a growing academic discipline in its own right with chairs at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. This was followed by Prof. Nidhal Guessoum (American University of Sharjah), who gave a general overview of the main topic, Islam and Science, showing why “modern science” (particularly “methodological naturalism”) poses a challenge for traditional religious views and discussing the various contemporary Muslim responses to the challenge, ranging from Nasr’s “Sacred Science” and Sardar’s “Islamic/Ethical Science” to Salam’s “Universal Science”, ending with his own “Averroesian Harmonization.”

Yasmin Khan (former curator at both the Science Museum and the British Library) spoke on The 1001 Inventions Exhibition at the Science Museum, London: Engaging the Public in a Multicultural History of Science, a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges of commissioning the most successful touring exhibition in the history of the Science Museum, with a screening of the exhibition’s central 15-minute film, 1001 Inventions and The Library of Secrets, starring Sir Ben Kingsley as Al-Jazari.

Dr. Athar Osama (of Muslim-Science.com) complemented the day’s philosophical, theological, historical, civilisational and public-outreach themes with a sobering presentation on Science Policy in the Muslim World Today: Challenges and Prospects, focusing on governmental public policy and investment in science education and research and an analysis of the funding and work of COMSTECH, the OIC’s arm for science and technology.

Sunday 20th January 2013

Dr. Jean Staune gave a fascinating presentation on the Theories of Evolution. The philosopher of science showed multiple lines of evidence that evolution is an indisputable fact, but one that should not be confused with Darwinism. Based on the research of leading palaeontologists such as Conway-Morris and on the work of Nobel laureate De Duve and others, Staune insisted that the current Darwinian theory of evolution is incompatible at best, and presented ideas implying that evolution is a process leading, sooner or later, to beings like us with a consciousness of their own existence and the ability to seek God.

This was followed by a joint presentation on Islam and the Theory/Fact of Evolution by Prof. Nidhal Guessoum and Dr. Usama Hasan (Quilliam). The presentations included theological and scriptural arguments supporting evolution as well as a history of evolutionary ideas within Muslim civilisation since the 9th century CE from Al-Jahiz and the Brethren of Purity through to Rumi and Ibn Khaldun, a history recognised by a number of historians, Muslim and non-Muslim ones. Also covered was the acceptance of biological evolution by 19th/20th-century Muslim theologians such as Husain al-Jisr (nicknamed “the Ash’ari of our times” by Afghani), and ‘Abd al-Sabur Shahin, a well-known scholar of Al-Azhar. Current Muslim resistance to scientific facts was illustrated with historical precedents of misreading the Qur’an to make inflexible but erroneous assertions about scientific matters, such as Ibn Kathir and Shanqiti’s insistence that the earth was created before the heavens, Suyuti’s insistence that the earth is flat and Ibn Taymiyyah’s assertion that cattle (sheep, goats, cows and camels) were created in heaven (which would imply that modern-day followers of Ibn Taymiyyah who insist that humans were created in heaven and descended from there must also believe the same about those four species of mammals).

The sessions by Staune, Guessoum and Hasan illustrated well the irony that whilst modern biology, built on evolution, has succeeded in mapping the entire human genome as well as the DNA of thousands of other species, and new fields emerge such as astrobiology and the origin-of-life research looking at deep-sea volcanoes, many Muslims (and Christians) continue to debate whether or not evolution (including that of humans) is a fact, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence.

Dr. Bruno Abdelhaq Guiderdoni (Director of the Lyon Observatory) gave a fascinating presentation on Islam & Cosmology: Yesterday and Today, based on the mind-boggling discoveries of modern astronomy, including the existence of exo-planets in earth-like habitable orbits around stars other than the sun. In his lecture, Dr. Guiderdoni stressed the need to read the “Book of Nature” along with the “Book of God” and to maintain the inseparability of science and ethics. The discussion included topics such as the possibility of a multiverse and the question of extra-terrestrial intelligence and life-forms.

Dr. Guiderdoni’s emphasis on ethics led nicely to the session by Dr. Usama Hasan on Islam, Science and Ethics, in which he presented the theory of Maqasid al-Sharia (The Universal, Higher Objectives of Islamic Law) as an Islamic framework for ethics suitable for “Universal Science.” The framework is based on the Islamic principles of justice as minimum, compassion as maximum, promoting benefit and avoiding harm. The theory was illustrated with reference to ethical questions around family planning, abortion and organ transplants.

The workshop concluded with an open and long discussion session involving all participants, further exploring the ideas presented at the workshop and possible next steps to take the exciting conversations forward.

A STATEMENT ABOUT RECENT EVENTS

February 15, 2011

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

A STATEMENT ABOUT RECENT EVENTS

My lecture on “Islam & Evolution” at Al-Tawhid Mosque in Leyton, London, Saturday 22nd January 2011, was disrupted by a small mob of fanatics who added weight to Darwin’s theory by behaving like a bunch of baboons.  They did not allow me to finish what I was saying, and one of them said openly and publicly that I should be killed.

I would like to reiterate the following for the umpteenth time, since many vicious lies and slanderous statements are circulating in some sections of society:

  1. As Allah revealed to us in the Qur’an, He created Adam, peace be upon him, the first human, from earth, or clay and water.  He created Him with His Two Hands, breathed His Spirit into him, taught him the Names of everything and asked the angels to bow down to him, thus confirming Adam’s pre-eminent status in creation.  All of humanity is honoured by being descendants of such a noble and dignified soul.  The creation of Adam, peace be upon him, was miraculous like that of ‘Isa b. Maryam (Jesus Christ), peace be upon him. There is a consensus of the Muslims on these matters.
  2. Science only deals with the “how” of creation, based on empirical evidence.  The theory of evolution, like any scientific theory, cannot be conclusively proved, but is open to falsification.  Scientists may adduce evidence in favour of one theory or the other.  Such issues remain a matter of debate amongst scientists.  It should be noted that, as asserted by Professor Jim al-Khalili in his newly-released book Pathfinders, the father of the scientific method is probably the great Muslim scientist al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham (known to Mediaeval Europe as Alhazen) rather than Roger Bacon who came centuries after him.  Muslims should be aware of the arguments about the scientific method and the philosopy of science that have continued ever since, including empiricism, positivism, Popper’s falsification test and Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts.
  3. Therefore, since any scientific theory must be debated on its own merits, the above disagreement is about interpretation or exegesis (tafsir) of the Qur’an, and not about fundamental matters of iman or ‘aqidah.  It is not a matter of iman or kufr, and people are free to accept or reject a particular scientific theory.  In particular, theologians who have no grounding in science, have no right to pronounce upon scientific subjects.  Any such fatwas about science from people ignorant of the subject matter are null and void.
  4. I have never rejected the Qur’anic concept of Hijab (Veiling), contrary to certain lies, and have always argued that men and women must dress decently and modestly in public.  I have devoted at least one Friday sermon at Al-Tawhid Mosque to the subject in recent years.  When the Foreign Secretary of the time Mr. Jack Straw made inflammatory remarks about the niqab (face-veil) some years ago, I penned (roughly, quoting from memory) the following tongue-in-cheek poem, touching on the issue of Hijab (Veiling) at many levels, that was published by The Muslim Weekly, based in London:

    I say to the minister with a brain of straw,
    Complicit in Iraq’s blood-bath:
    Already devoid of any moral law,
    Now you stray even more from the path.

    You wish the women to remove their veils?
    By God, this is really rather dim:
    For the problem is not that they’re veiled from you,
    The problem is that we’re all veiled from Him.

May Allah guide us all to The Truth, which is one of His Beautiful Names.  Let Allah be our Witness.

Usama Hasan

London, 15th February 2011

MECO conference 2010, Oxford

June 15, 2010

Bismillah.  I attended this on Saturday 12th June 2010 and spoke on “Does the Muslim World Need A Scientific Revolution?”  Main points: we need to be more analytical/contextual about tafsir, hadith, fiqh etc. Plus reflections from a Muslim viewpoint on the 9 main effects of the Scientific Revolution in the West according to Prof. John Henry in his book, The Scientific Revolution & the Origins of Modern Science, Palgrave, 3rd ed, 2008. These 9 points are in the 1st two pages of the book and are enough, you can skip the rest of the book if you wish. And you can read those two pages & more for free on Amazon’s Look Inside feature!

Other speakers

Amina Wadud spoke via video-link in the morning before I got there. Merryl-Wynn Davies was there, nice to finally meet a childhood heroine who is often confused with Mariam Davis, another convert from the same era.  Merryl-Wynn is currently running the relaunch of the Muslim Institute as a Fellowship / Learned Society with journals, conferences, workshops etc.  Jeff Mirza the comedian was there: Jeff is his stage name & he’s an East Londoner. No relative of Shazia Mirza.

Asghar Ali Engineer: India passed a new law against domestic violence recently; a senior Muslim leader said that they’d “…  deprived us of our God-given right to hit our wives.”

There was a fascinating presentation on evolution by Dr. Shanavas of the USA. Darwin must have known of William Draper’s work, the US chemist, & of the evolutionary novel Hayy b. Yaqzan by Ibn Tufayl, since several English translations were widespread at that time. Draper wrote roughly that Christian theologians were too constrained, and should learn from “Mohammedan societies that developed & are comfortable with evolutionary ideas.”  If this analysis is correct, Darwin’s theory had many ingredients from Muslim thinkers (Ibn Miskawayh, Jahiz, Rumi, Ibn Tufayl, etc.) and is effectively an Islamic theory.  Rather ironic!

Hassan Mahmoud the Bangladeshi film-maker gave away DVDs of his film Hila about the oppression of women in the name of Sharia.

The “hijabis” there thanked me for defending their right to wear the headscarf, since a veiled woman can be a symbol of God. (God is veiled by creation & our egos.) Several of the revert sisters there had removed the headscarf after many years of wearing it since they felt it was counterproductive.

I politely challenged the total Hadith-rejecters there such as Edip Yuksel. His view is strongly based on seeing his mum, who he feels was buried alive in Turkey by being forced to wear a burqa, not having a real life & totally dependent on her husband. There are many weak, fabricated & problematic ahadith but the Hadith-rejecters throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I told them that.  They are keen to assert the primacy of the Qur’an over the Sunnah.  At the other extreme, some of the Ahl al-Hadith said things like, “The Sunnah rules over the Qur’an, and not vice-versa.”  (They meant in the sense of the Sunnah conditioning the general verses of the Qur’an, usually in fiqh matters.)

For me, the relationship between Q&S is best understood by Imam Shafi’i’s statement, “Everything that the Prophet SAWS said or did is what he understood from the Qur’an.” (I first read this in a book by the late Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazzali rahimahullah.)  Furthermore, others amongst the Salaf said that “Every sound hadith can be traced back to the Qur’an.”  Only people well-grounded in the Qur’an and the Sunnah can understand this in detail.  A clear grasp of the Spirit of Islam and its general principles is also required.  This is also why some of the early Malikis said that “Ahadith were misleading for all except the people of understanding (fuqaha’).”

Yuksel was wearing a “www.19.org” T-shirt and I told him that I, like many of my generation, were initially very excited by Rashad Khalifa’s “Numerical Miracle of the Qur’an” theory based around the number 19 in the 1980’s.  He guessed that we became disillusioned later.  Yuksel is currently based in Tucson, Arizona and had known RK for a year.  He confirmed that RK had indeed claimed to be a Messenger of Allah, and that it was a jihadi cell that had assassinated him in 1990.  This cell seemed to have links to the first WTC bombing, and therefore some in the FBI regard the killing of RK as the first jihadi attack in the US.

The young revert sisters from Atlanta, Melissa Robinson & Kelly of the American Islamic Fellowship were interesting. “Going to gender-segregated mosques perpetuates misogyny. An expensive new mosque there has a lattice screen for the sisters, whose prayer-area is effectively a birdcage.”

Raheela Raza was there from Toronto, a grey-haired woman from Toronto.  She’d led the Friday prayers at MECO the day before.  Highly-controversial, of course, since the overwhelming majority of jurists have been opposed to women leading a mixed congregation.  However, exceptions have been Imams Tabari & Abu Thawr, and it is even said, one of Imam Shafi’i’s (female?) teachers and Ibn Taymiyyah.

Raza grew up in Pakistan and owes much to that country, although she is worried that Islam there is dominated by extremism.  She recited a moving poem about women’s rights in Islam at the conference – “I am a woman. Celebrate me.”  In conversation, she mentioned that the TV series, “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” had helped  enormously to shatter misconceptions about Muslims in Canada and show them as decent human beings with a sense of humour.  (Muslims in the UK should take note, especially given the results of the YouGov survey last week about public perception of Muslims here.)  She also said that the actress who plays the “gorgeous hijabi” in the series appeared in a game-show wearing a micro-skirt, to the total confusion of many kids watching.

Milan Sulc was there.  I remember his presentation at the Islam & Science conference @ Wembley Arena around 1995. Science in the Qur’an stuff. He saw deep-sea oceanic waves in the ayah of “waves upon waves” in Surah Nur. Also Prophet Solomon’s winds that “travel a month’s distance every morning & evening.” His explanation was that if you compare earth & moon circumferences and motions, you find that our atmosphere travels the same distance in half (or quarter?) of a day as the moon does in a month. I’m not too convinced by the latter explanation.

On the way back, I got to Oxford train station at 10.45pm.  The train stopped at Didcot due to engineering works.  A rail replacement bus took us to Reading.  There were two beautiful Arabian horses from Thames Valley Mounted Police outside Reading train station.  Got on the 12.13am Reading-London train but it didn’t move because the train in front had hit someone, a suspected fatality (a drunk, suicide or kid playing on the line?) and the Reading-London line was closed.  We eventually reached Paddington at 2am after the reopening of the line and two night buses later, I was at Leytonstone station.  An ambulance was parked outside, probably from our Whipps Cross Hospital nearby.  The two-man crew asked me if I had seen anyone lying on the floor in the street or the station subway, since they’d had a call for someone.  I hadn’t.   An invigorating walk later, I got home with dawn spreading (past 3am), birds singing & foxes loitering.  After such a journey, it was easier to do the dawn prayer with a feeling of gratitude rather than simply duty.  Alhamdulillah.

BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day: Islam and Evolution

June 7, 2009

from 7th January, 2009 …

I met Abdel-Bari Atwan of Al-Quds newspaper in the BBC studio that morning.  He did several interviews over the Gaza crisis that was raging at the time.  The Israeli ambassador in London was also interviewed on the programme.

BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day 7-Jan-09 (Islam and Evolution)

Islam & The Theory of Evolution

June 7, 2009

Presentation delivered at The Times’ Cheltenham Science Festival, 3-7 June 2009, Session: Faith in Evolution, Thursday 4th June 2009.

Islam and Evolution