Archive for the ‘mathematics’ Category

Islam and Science Workshop – London 2013 – A Summary

February 22, 2013

Bismillah.  This is a cross-post from

Quilliam, in association with the Université Interdisciplinaire de Paris, the American University of Sharjah and, 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 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.

Arabic Arithmetic – the Abjad Numerical System

June 7, 2009

With the Name of Allah

Ever wondered what all that Arabic numerology is based on?  Here is a brief introduction to the Abjad numerical system.

Arabic Arithmetic – the Abjad Numerical System

Here’s another interesting example and puzzle, given with precisely the same wording by both Ibn Kathir (in al-Bidayah wa l-Nihayah, his history of the world) and Suyuti (in his Tarikh al-Khulafa’ or History of the Caliphs, Mu’assasah al-Kutub al-Thaqafiyyah, Beirut, 2nd ed., 1417/1996, p. 394 under the section on Al-Nasir li Din Allah who lived 553-622 and ruled 575-622, his reign including the reconquest of Jerusalem by Saladin in 583/1187).  The verbatim reproduction by Suyuti suggests that he took this from Ibn Kathir:

One of the strange matters [connected to the reconquest of Jerusalem] is that Ibn Barrajan mentioned in tafsir of “Alif Lam Mim: The Romans have been conquered” [Qur’an, 30:1-2] that Jerusalem would remain in the hands of the Crusaders (al-Rum) until the year 583, when they would be vanquished.  Jerusalem would be conquered and remain a Land of Islam until the end of time.  He derived all this from the arithmetic of the ayah, and it is precisely what happened.

Abu Shamah said: What Ibn Barrajan mentioned is a wondrous coincidence, for he died ages before the event, his death having occurred in the year 536.

(End of quote from Ibn Kathir & Suyuti)

Now, Ibn Barrajan’s arithmetic is puzzling.  Here are the Abjad values of the first two ayahs of Surah al-Rum:

1. Alif Lam Mim: 71

2. Ghulibat al-Rum: 1432, 277

The question is, how did he arrive at the year of the reconquest of Jerusalem?

The only way I can get anything to work is to use ayah 2 only, plus the Surah number (30) and the ayah number:

1432 – 277 + 30 + 2 = 1187, the CE date of the reconquest of Jerusalem which can be converted to the equivalent Hijri year.

Note that the subtraction at the beginning might be justified from the words that literally translate as “Conquered – The Romans.”

Would anyone like to comment on the following questions and notes?

(1) Was this indeed Ibn Barrajan’s arithmetic?

(2) Is there another explanation, perhaps involving a different version of the Abjad numbering (there were two different schemes in use historically: Eastern & Western) ?

(3) Did Ibn Barrajan really make this prediction, or was it interpolated into his manuscript after the event?

(4) The prediction as stated was fulfilled and remained true for almost eight centuries, but is no longer true ever since the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem in 1967.

(5) In the end, this is no more than a mathematical distraction, for the Qur’an is primarily a collection of Signs and Guidance for humanity in our journeys towards God.

Another example of numerology

Ibn Kathir quotes from the early authority Abu l-‘Aliyah that the mysterious letters may denote lifetimes of nations: “Alif is one year; Lam is thirty years; Mim is forty years.”[1]

He also quotes a narration that he dismisses as not authentic, to the effect that some Jews at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) speculated that the Prophet’s followers would rule for periods denoted by the mysterious letters.  The narration specifically mentions the following groups of letters: ALM, ALMS, ALR and ALMR, for which the numerical equivalents add up to 734 years of rule.  Ibn Kathir then remarks, “If this method is correct, one would have to add up the values of all fourteen of these letters, which would equate to a large figure.  If you calculate taking into account repetition [of groups of letters at the beginning of different surahs], the value will be even greater, and Allah knows best.”[2]

[1] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir, Maktabah Dar al-Fayha’, Damascus/Beirut, 1413/1992 (4 vols.), vol. 1, p. 39 under Qur’an 2:1

[2] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir, Maktabah Dar al-Fayha’, Damascus/Beirut, 1413/1992 (4 vols.), vol. 1, p. 41 under Qur’an 2:1.  Note that Ibn Kathir miscalculates the value of ALMS, forgetting the L, so he gives the total as 704.  The results of the calculations he suggests at the end are 1757 and 3385 years respectively, as detailed in this table: Numerical Values of the Mysterious Letters of the Quran