The Aligarh School of Islam and Science Studies: Understanding its Background and Distinctive Features, M. Zaki Kirmani

Author Information: M. Zaki Kirmani, Centre for Studies on Science, Aligarh, India,

Kirmani, M. Zaki. “The Aligarh School of Islam and Science Studies: Understanding its Background and Distinctive Features.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 10 (2015): 33-46.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Editor’s Note:

    Please find below the footnotes articles in the exchange on Islam and science appearing on the SERRC. [a] The SEEC thanks Liesl Drew for her editorial assistance with this article.

Image credit: Yasmeen, via flickr


With the intent of providing an introduction of the Aligarh School and its basic approach to Islam and Science studies, this article introduces the intellectual currents that influenced its outlook, its approach and view points with regard to Islam’s response to science and the issues it raises. It explores its distinctive features and factors that have shaped its identity. 

On the one hand, the debate on Islam and science, a relationship that shaped the contours of the Aligarh School, did not include certain questions that were otherwise taken with great interest by the majority of Muslim scientists during the early eighties of the last century. On the other hand, questions such as: Is Islam compatible with science? Should one really invest time and effort in researching this compatibility?—and the question of Darwin’s theory of evolution—kept many Muslim scholars preoccupied, whereas the Aligarh School did not take them seriously. It wasn’t as if these questions were of no interest to the associates of the school; rather, the fact was that the intellectual background they were groomed in and the priorities in the agenda of that time were different. Stefano Bigliardi’s 2013 visit to Aligarh to explore the Aligarh School (unfamiliar at the time to the West) brought these questions to the fore.[1] He enquired about Aligarh School’s similarities and differences with other schools of thought, its identity and its nature. This has prompted me to systematically present the Aligarh School’s position.

The term Aligarh School was for the first time used by Ziauddin Sardar in one of his articles published in 1988.[2] S. H. Nasr also referred to individual works of the scholars of this school but did not use the specific term to describe it. This group included, apart from myself, M. Riaz Kirmani, Rais Ahmad, Kaleemur Rehman and M. Rafat etc. who published most of their work in the erstwhile Journal of Islamic Science. What made their different approaches coherent was an element of similarity in their total approach towards science enhanced by the common platform of the Centre for Studies on Science, (CSOS) which all of them were directly or indirectly associated with. There were other individuals as well who worked along these lines but their work was more individualistic and academic in nature. The Aligarh School was unique in the sense that its associates were intellectually linked with each other in terms of their commitment to an Islamic worldview even before technically associating themselves with CSOS that prompted them for more concerted and directed work. Their major objectives were clear even before the group took shape but the articulation of thoughts and ideas began only under the umbrella of CSOS.

In 1982, when the Aligarh School was initiated, S. H. Nasr and Ziauddin Sardar dominated the international scene on the relationship between Islam and Science. Around this time only Ismail R. al-Faruqi was initiating his grand Islamization of knowledge programme. Before going deeper let us recall that by this time Maurice Bucaille’s much acclaimed scholarly book, The Bible, the Quran and Science[3] and Keith Moore’s The Developing Human with Islamic Additions[4] had already appeared and gained great popularity and appreciation among Muslims and the Islamic world. These books, as a matter of fact, served as a background for almost every work related to Islam and Science carried out during that time. It may not be wrong to say that for a couple of years these two books kept many minds engaged and paralysed from thinking aloud in newer directions. Individuals who later constituted the Aligarh School benefitted from all four.

Bucaille’s and Moore’s Books and their Background

The two books appeared in the eighties and within no time had beaten records of popularity in the Muslim community around the world. Translations of Bucaille’s book into major languages of the Muslim world served a great deal in its popularity. This resulted in an increased interest in research on the compatibility of Islam and Science. Government and private funding and institutional patronage for various projects increased and seminars and conferences on these subjects became the major activity of Muslim intellectuals. One can identify three major reasons for the grand popularity these books enjoyed.

1. In the general environment filled with intellectual backwardness, the Muslim ummah was so helplessly placed and incapacitated that a book ratifying and validating the Quranic contents on the basis of Science, the most trusted and tested tool of time, came as a great moral booster and confidence builder.

2. The validation that was purely knowledge based and scientific, coming from the Western “non-believers”, became a great source of satisfaction and delight for the ummah. Keith Moore, who incidentally came in touch with the Quran and astonishingly declared that embryology-related statements in the Quran were scientifically accurate, was an eminent scientist of international repute. Bucaille was not a scientist in the strict sense of the term, he was a medical practitioner and he wrote his book with neither the purpose to honor the holy Quran nor to disgrace the Bible. What he did was objective and intellectual and this made the statement even more strong and powerful.

3. The third reason was purely psychological. The West dominated the world in political, economic and Science and Technology (S&T) realms. Every other nation, Muslims especially, considered their civilization inferior and in a depressed state showing no genuine desire to rise. Western scholars, with the help of their own most modern tools, demolished the truth of their sacred book, the Bible, and validated those contained in the Quran which became a great moral booster for the Muslims.

Even earlier such work had been done. Some scholars from Turkey, India, and Egypt had attempted to understand the Quran in the light of the scientific knowledge of their time. Tantawi of Egypt[5] and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan[6] of India writing their tafseer (exegesis), were seized with this approach in the nineteenth century but were not accepted in mainstream scholarship. However, Bucaille and Moore were different. Being from the West as Christian scholars respectively from France and Canada, their work was different all together. The style was typical Western scientific, and unchallengeable even by modern scientific standards. After Maurice Bucaille, Keith Moore, some Bangaldeshi scientists,[7] and before them Nurbaki[8] of Turkey produced interesting work along these lines.

This approach of reaching out to the Quran continued even after Maurice Bucaille and Keith Moore and it was enthusiastically received on a popular level. However, except for stirring emotions it did nothing, and particularly it did nothing to bring the Muslims’ mindset out of the intellectual imperialism of the West. It rather furthered it and remained highly controversial. In the following, a brief analysis is presented.

❧ The Quran occupies a central and highly important position in the Muslim mindset. The position it holds in their intellectual, academic, spiritual and practical aspects of life has no parallel in any other community. That its every instruction, view point and guidance should stand to the true intellectual standard, experience and knowledge of the time is a very genuine desire. This desire is a direct result of Muslims’ unwavering belief in the Quran. However, being a book revealed to a prophet (pbuh) 1400 years ago, in a language that is no more a vehicle of knowledge or science today, and also because the record of the circumstances and background of some revelations, one finds it difficult to comprehend and fathom the meaning at many instances. The tension so created is further compounded by the apparent incompatibility of modern knowledge with some pieces of the Quran. Releasing this tension and restoration of the harmony being a genuine requirement, a large cross-section of Muslims welcomed this approach merely on its tension releasing merit.

❧ Modern knowledge, particularly S&T, dominates every other knowledge system today and for all types of development and growth S&T is the only dependable source. Also, its achievements, breakthroughs, innovations and creations are here for everybody to witness and use, its validation from the Quran overwhelms and fills the Muslim ummah with a great sense of self confidence and furthers their belief in the Quran. Therefore, sections of the Quran that appear to be beyond human normal comprehension, become understandable when considered in terms of the scientific knowledge obtained, resulting in an   increase in confidence.  Such was the case with Bucaille’s and Moore’s approaches.

❧ However, the biggest drawback of this approach is that it renders the Islamic belief dependent on science for validation and cogent evidence. The belief is no more a belief therefore. This approach was first named Bucailleism[9] by Ziaduddin Sardar who said that one who holds it wants, for all practical purposes, to be bonded to and under the subjugation of two masters at a time, as they can neither detach from the Quran nor can they deny science. It does not mean that while following the scientific approaches one has to necessarily go against Quranic instructions. If at all such situation arises, it is likely that with more advancement of knowledge, the discrepancy will be resolved and one will be in a better position to understand the Quranic viewpoint. But unfortunately, this leads one to depend on science for interpreting the Quran. This is what Bucailleism stands for and obviously renders the approach inappropriate. Science is essentially an observation and experiment based knowledge, whereas the knowledge of the Quran appeals to human intellect and reason. The truth of the belief cannot be mathematically justified and validated. While validating the Quran with Science we are committing a blunder of validating the non-material realm with the help of a material method. By doing so we in fact belittle one or the other knowledge and help diminish its growth.

One must realize that Bucailleism has contributed little to the growth of scholarships be it in the understanding of the Quran or promoting science. Nurbaki or Harun Yahya created no enthusiasm for thinking and reflection on the phenomena in the expanding universe. Rather, the fact of the matter is that this pseudo-scholarship has discouraged contemplation, analysis and evaluations of the universe and its phenomena that are necessary for innovation and creativity.

Wijdan and Makashifah (Intuition) in Science

S.H. Nasr is most acclaimed and well known for developing an Islamic critique of modern science. His critique on Scientific thinking is basically concerning those aspects of science that have been responsible for causing great losses in the realm of human thinking, social behavior and social living. The way Scientific thinking has dethroned traditional values, views of knowledge, tools and sources of knowledge and replaced them with material thoughts and values has totally severed the humans from their roots resulting in a great social disruption and chaos. Nasr criticizes founding principles of Science. He does not address the authentication of religious facts through science or vice versa. He is basically a critic and analyst of the impact of science on human thoughts and action and the kind of change it brings about in the society. Along with this he also identifies Islamic terms, concepts and values that can help remedy the problem, resulting from science and its implications.[10]

Nasr’s critique is deeply rooted in that strong tradition-based approach that was initiated by René Guénon in the very early twentieth century. He recognized the extreme materialism of science and its likely impact on the individual and society when its development was just taking shape.  Guénon noted its impact on civilization and its multi-dimensional expression and made a wonderful attempt to recognize a common thread that ran through all religions. Naming it tradition, he said that scientific approach is against it and is responsible for the schism and disturbance in the religion based societies and civilizations seen today. Nasr’s narrative shows a great deal of indebtedness to René Guénon’s thoughts and ideas. Important points on which he has based his criticism are discussed:

❧ Reality in modern Science is material. Science initially keeps itself unconcerned with other forms of reality and then ultimately denies their existence. If not denied then it is condemned as insignificant and useless for all practical purposes. In Nasr’s thought this aspect of science is very clearly and unambiguously stated. He very emphatically expresses the role of this aspect in the formation of modern societies and individual personalities. In Nasr’s criticism this impact of science on the individual and society is unequivocally placed.[11]

❧ Nasr believes in multiple levels of Reality and proposes a principle of plurality of methods for studying these levels. Thus for material objects and phenomenon, the scientific method is reliable and for non-material forms, possibility of non-scientific methods, it becomes a genuine proposition. Nasr’s major contribution in this realm is the proposition of plurality of methods for the study of non-material forms of existence of which the scientific method is incapable. [12]

❧ For non-material realities, one method of study is revelation (wahi) that includes intuition (wijdan and kashf). Nasr attaches great significance to intuition in the context of the scientific method. The role of intuition in scientific research is undeniable but considering it as a method requires further considerations. The reason is that intuition helps only the involved minds and the hints so obtained remain hints unless an experiment justifies them. Thus in science, in the final analysis, experiment and observation rather than intuition are important.

In Nasr’s criticism of science, those aspects that include recognition of multiple layers of reality, influence of scientific materialism on individual and collective aspects of life, and recognition of plurality of methods in the context of multiple layers of reality are of great significance.

By far, this is the best possible criticism of science from an Islamic perspective. However, Nasr’s overemphasis on intuition has rendered this rather brilliant criticism controversial. Since intuition is laced with tasawwuf,[13] Nasr’s advocacy for its recognition as a source of knowledge is seen as an exercise to extend tasawwuf into science. This renders the problem solving face of science less important and attractive. Similarly, reproducibility, which is the hallmark of science, is also at stake in tasawwuf-tinged scientific activity. Above all, the intuition does not allow unhindered growth of intellect and as a result makes it difficult for science and similar creative disciplines to prosper and flourish. Therefore, the tasawwuf-based scientific tradition can at best be a heartening discourse on science totally bereft of potential to further the growth of civilization. This criticism does show glimpses of Islamic scientific culture (saqafa)[14]14 rather than the civilization.

Nasr’s criticisms of environmental issues are a wonderful example of an Islamic approach to the issue. Pointing out to the web of relation that binds humans, Nature and Creator, he has developed a very sound intellectual base for framing healthy environmental policies.[15] Among the holders of the traditional approach to science includes Osman Bakar of Malaysia, who deploys Nasr’s arguments and techniques in his analysis.

Debate of Islamization of Knowledge

This debate began in the eighties of the twentieth century by Ismail Raj al-Faruqi. Being a very organized move, it essentially aimed at regaining the power and glory that had dethroned Muslims. The conviction was that to achieve this objective of freedom from Western political, civilizational and intellectual hegemony, knowledge was a pre-requisite. The knowledge is power dictum which owes its origin to Francis Bacon was accepted in toto by the Muslim intellectuals of the 20th century. Therefore, almost all the Islamic movements that grew in the early 20th century took power and domination as their basic motto and the struggle to acquire knowledge was seen in this perspective. Said Nursi of Turkey, Addul Qadir of Egypt and Jamaluddin Afghani from the Indian subcontinent and founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, Syed Abdul Aala Maududi from amongst the late thinkers all considered science and other classes of knowledge as a source of power and path to domination.

In the second half of the twentieth century, particularly before the beginning of the Islamization of knowledge movement by Ismail al-Faruqi in the eighties, the Malayasian scholar S. Naqeeb al-Attas had used this term and hinted at the objective which al-Faruqi spearheaded later. al-Attas’ efforts remained confined to academics but al-Faruqi took it as a mission and mustered support of world academics and philanthropists. Now, because of the debate on Islamization, these two scholars occupy positions of eminence and we will restrict our analysis to these two only. Other names mentioned were essentially freedom fighters or leaders of Islamic movements and wanted to free their countries from the yoke of European occupation and establish Islam as a system of governance.

Any reference to knowledge and need to Islamize it in their main discourse was an appendix to the objective of political change. Their central concern was Islamic change and reform in society, and change in the political and economic system prevalent in their lands at that time.  Up until that time the role of world-view and values involved in scientific thinking and performance were not yet clear. Science and technology were of auxiliary importance in their scheme of things and were considered as mere supportive tools for higher objectives. However in al-Attas’ discourse one finds frequent usage of the term adab and his elaboration of the terms indicates that he was fully aware of the nature of scientific world view, the values involved, the culture it had created and the huge impact it had already made on life.

His concern for increasing domination of science on other classes of knowledge, negligence and elimination of methods of knowing other than the scientific method, and it becoming a national goal show a great deal of understanding of the direction science had begun to take and the ensuing decay of society and culture. al-Attas states that adab stands for letting things and behavior occupy the place they rightly deserve. In the present context the term refers to a state of the human life in which when science is appropriately placed it is a part of the higher objective of life. Otherwise, it dominates other forms of knowledge. Thus various forms of knowledge pertaining to different needs and aspects of life should be placed with respect to their need and importance. The development of science, al-Attas very rightly understands, has taken an inappropriate direction and has become dominant in every dimension of life and society. This has resulted in a great crisis in human life and disrupted its balances. The principle of adab has thus been violated.[16]

Ismail al-Faruqi managed many resources both material and human necessary to make it a movement world-wide. He himself, being a professor at an American university and an eminent scholar, was already a respected figure in the field in the Western world of scholarship. Apart from his strong academic background, his own Islamic commitment paved the way for a large cross-section of scholars and Islamic activists from different nations to forge an alliance with him and coordinate an effort for the Islamization of knowledge. It was more so because it supplemented their desire to see Islam as culturally and politically dominant in their countries. The Islamization of Knowledge[17] is emphatic in stating that the Islamization of knowledge is basic to achieving the objective of iqamat-e-deen, a Quranic term for establishing Islam in life, society and civilization. Notwithstanding this conviction in science as a source of necessary power, they had no problem as to whether it was compatible with Islam and had ideological or value oriented overtones. In their view, their worldview, values and priorities of research had nothing to do with Islam. He pointed out twelve steps in his book that are all related to social sciences only.

In his entire narrative, does Ismail al-Faruqi even come close to pointing out what is un-Islamic in the knowledge that he is striving to Islamize? 18 As important a question as it is,he is completely silent regarding it.[18] For one who intends to participate in the Islamization of knowledge programme, a two dimensional expertise is sufficient according to him. First, one must know and understand the progress in different forms of knowledge during the past Islamic civilization. Second, one must develop insight into the modern knowledge. Why it is necessary to develop insight into the knowledge of the past is not clear. al-Faruqi does want to Islamize the knowledge one way or another but fails to clarify how it will be shaped after Islamization and after Islamization how new knowledge will be created. There is no answer to these questions. If knowledge does not grow, how will civilization grow?  If there is no growth, then why is Islamization needed? These are some important questions and because they have not been given convincing answers, the movement seems to have lost steam.

The Importance of Values and Worldview in Science [19]

Science being the study of things and phenomena and application of derived conclusions, the role and significance of worldview and values in its application needs no emphasis. The effigy of science’s neutrality having been shattered, it is now considered a value-friendly enterprise and its face is determined by the values that prevail in society. Science is known to grow in the crucible of civilization and what goes into making a civilization also cultivates science. Thus, study of the history of science in a civilization also gives information on the world view, values and concepts operative in that civilization. This view was vehemently proposed and advocated by Ziauddin Sardar who identified the Islamic concepts and values that shaped science in Islamic civility and also kept it burgeoning.[20] He also identifies the values that keep scientific activity growing in a healthy direction while keeping it from becoming deleterious.

Science in Islam, according to Ziauddin Sardar, was an internal activity. In fact he seems to believe in science as an aspect of Islamic thought. His evaluation of Western science is rooted in this perspective and this prompts him to take stock of the Muslim situation and backwardness in science and technology today.[21] The concepts and values on the one hand shape the human attitude towards things and phenomena, and offer guidance for interaction and application on the other. However, this is not enough. Creation and articulation of questions is also important.

We know that the growth of science proceeds with questions which, if they fail to come up, halt its progress. Yet, be they questions or answers, both are shaped by the worldview. For this reason, worldview is frequently referred to in Ziauddin Sardar’s work. In his scheme of things, worldview occupies top position that shapes civilization and constructs concepts and values.

This viewpoint came up strongly from 1960-1970 when some important findings in the history and sociology of science began to appear. Prior to that, in 1927 some preliminary thoughts on this issue had already begun to develop, appearing in George Sarton’s book Introduction to the History of Science.[22] It was first with scholarly recognition in the West that a strong growth of science was seen in Muslim civilizations. In the second half of 20th century, Fuat Sezgin came up with astonishing results on medieval Islamic history of science.[23]

Today it is a very interesting and challenging field of research with great promise to break several old notions. History’s support for the role of Islamic worldview and values in the growth of science in medieval Muslim society settled some issues, but it gave rise to even more intriguing questions. One such question was how, on the basis of Islamic concept of Nature, knowledge, harmony of values and the concept of public interest, a modern science can grow today? In 1984 Ziauddin Sardar, in his book Touch of Midas,[24] presented a modern format of Islamic science that was further elaborated in his book Explorations in Islamic Science.[25] This format is based on Quranic concepts which have potential for a vibrant Islamic scientific culture to take root. He points out ten such concepts including towheed (unity of God), khilafah (trusteeship), ibadah (worship), ilm (knowledge), halal (permitted), haram (forbidden), adl  (justice), zulm (tyranny), istaslah (public interest) and dhiya (waste) which when transformed into values give rise to a scientific culture evolving into a movement for scientific research. The facts and values so integrated give rise to such institutions that are marked for their accountability and sense of responsibility towards the society. How do these concepts impact science and technology?  The answer is that when towheed, theologically standing for unity of God, impacts society it unifies humanity and individuals with nature and integrates knowledge and value. This results in such a development of science and technology in which interconnectedness and interrelatedness are taken care of, making some products permitted and other forbidden.

Similarly, the concept of khilafah employs the sense of accountability that enters into human activities. What purpose science and technology are serving cannot be overlooked by its creator, the scientist, if the concept of khilafah is seated deep into his mindset. Khilafah also means that humans can’t exercise their right to ownership of worldly things and resources or use them carelessly. In fact they are to develop the world in keeping with the inter relations of resources and maintain growth without causing disturbances in the natural process. This makes the scientific activity ibadah (worship) and protects Nature from violence, which has become part and parcel of research techniques and methods applied today.

The scientists are conscious of what they do. Their concentration and contemplation can become ibadah and lead them to scale higher intellectual standards. Also, they can’t claim immunity to pressures and can deliberately adopt objectives that are forbidden and injurious to humans, lending themselves to the domains of haram. All halal, i.e. permitted, activities are beneficial for human beings and serve to provide justice at social, economic and cultural levels of life.

These are the views of Ziauddin Sardar who has been advocating them for decades and named the group Ijmalis, i.e. the holists.

Aligarh School

This background discussion was essential to understand true nature of the Aligarh School and also the environment in which it grew and took shape. However, as mentioned earlier, the formation of the Centre of Studies on Science (CSOS) was crucial in bringing together individual scholars, initiating debate and discussion on scientific, cultural and religious interaction in general and Islam in particular. Some background information on CSOS is also necessary for this purpose. The decision to create CSOS, and other similar decisions, was taken in 1981 in the consultative committee meeting of the erstwhile Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) held at Luckow (India). SIMI was an unofficial youth wing of the well known Jamaat-e-Isami Hind and enjoyed its every possible cooperation. Since Jamaat-e-Islami was founded on the basis of thoughts and ideas of the eminent scholar S.A.A. Moudoodi, SIMI also considered Moudoodi their mentor.

The central idea was that Islam, being a system of life, takes care of every aspect including intellectual, political, social, economic and others, if any. In fact, the concept of deen (system of life as underscored by Moudoodi) was to play a domineering role and the Jamaat objective was to strive for its establishment. The target of SIMI was similar with particular emphasis on students and youth. However, SIMI had gradually grown into an air of independence i.e. not totally subordinate to Jamaat in thinking and doing and had begun to make some new moves which were not considered worthy by the Jamaat. Thus it was decided that while cooperating with Jamaat in general fields of activities, attempts would be made to identify those areas of modern life and activity which make the modern system powerful and ongoing. In this process science was identified as one and it was thought that efforts were needed to integrate it with the ethics of Islam. Responsibility for managing science affairs was given to the present author who was then national president of SIMI and had finished his Ph.D. in Chemistry at the IIT Delhi in 1979. Initially called Science cell, it later became the Centre for Studies on Science and registered in 1987 as an independent body.

This brings forth an important point. The Aligarh School had activist leanings from the beginning itself and was committed to the motto that Science was a source of power that required ownership and internalization in order to bring Islam to a position of dominance. This brings them in close intellectual proximity with the Islamization of knowledge ideologues. Activities and programmes were framed to reflect this mindset. While organizing seminars and training programmes, priority was given to criticism on science from various perspectives and angles. Basically it was the mind making stage and the audience was to understand that science is not a neutral activity but had been enthusiastically presented as such in the Western circles. It was argued that with science come particular social norms that encourage and give way to particular ways of doing and thinking, gradually replacing the prevalent methods.

When research and studies began under the Centre for Studies on Science three viewpoints were instrumental in shaping the intellectual behavior of the associate scholars.

1. The Quran appeals to reason and encourages science;

2. Science does work for the welfare of human beings, but it has also become a source of power, domination and violence; and

3. The way and the environment in which modern science has grown has become unsupportive and antagonistic to the values originating from religion.

In April, 1984 CSOS organized seminars about the Quest for New Science in which Ziauddin Sardar, Iqbal Asaria and Osman Bakar participated from outside India. Osman Bakar being from S.H. Nasr’s School of thought paved the way for direct interaction with the two important schools of that time. Furthermore, in 1996 CSOS came out with a statement now known as the Khandala Declaration that later appeared in the Journal of Islamic Science.[26] It clearly reflects the impact of S.H. Nasr and Ziauddin Sardar on the development of the Aligarh School’s viewpoint. Basically, it is a statement of Islamic worldview that gives direction to the growth of science in Islamic society and can do the same even today. Thus the significance of Islamic paradigm for science, emerging from the world view, was clear to the Aligarh School even in the initial stage of its shaping. Its associates differed in certain aspects but the points of agreement that made it a coherent group and imparted a specific identity are quite remarkable. A brief introduction of these points is given here.

❧ Science is a social activity and is influenced by the social customs and values that are dominant in the society. Values that go into the foundation of a society and construct its institutions and shape the behavior of its individuals also go into shaping the science in that society. Thus science is an institution for achieving collective goals and also a means of realizing an individual’s projects and tasks. As a matter of fact denying the role of values in science is a denial of a big and apparent reality.

❧ In the form acquired by modern Western science, the impact of a Western social environment is quite deep seated. This is apparent in its antagonism to religion, indifference to values (known to have originated from religion) and overemphasis on the scientific method for obtaining knowledge. No doubt this attitude towards values is illogical, however it leads one to ask that if science can grow in an illogical environment why can’t it grow in a reason based environment sought after by the advocates of Islam?

❧ The Quran being central to matters of individual guidance and also the most important source of values for social construction and reform, it also provides values for the creation and distribution of the fruits of science and technological growth.

Further, the Quran provides a framework for interaction with nature and enforces human interaction with it. Similarly, other Quranic instructions influence science on individual and social levels. However, the important thing in the whole scenario is that in all such issues the interpretation of Quranic instructions will be the individual’s as there is no such institution in Islam that can claim to give an authentic and official interpretation.  In this way independence in thinking and freedom of thought and expression is safeguarded. In addition, as is true in other intellectual and academic traditions, one is expected to interact with other opinions and benefit from their thinking in such matters.

❧ About knowledge and sense perception as source of knowledge the Quran is clear and unambiguous. Knowledge becomes knowledge when it comes through listening, observing and thinking, the Quran testifies time and time again. Further the Quran exhorts man to think, reflect and contemplate, the traits which go into giving an identity to individual behavior and characteristics to the society of believers.[27] Sharing observations, experiences and thinking with others is reflected in the term shura (consultation) which again is an individual and social characteristic of the believers.[28] Similarly the term taskheer [29] standing for subservience of the Universe and things in it invites human attention to research them. However it also tends to make humans realize that in their individual and social life, the domain where guidance is needed, they are not in a position to successfully intervene with the help of sensory tools.

This deficiency has been supplied by wahi, which interestingly needs these tools for understanding. The Quran develops a worldview on the basis of certain beliefs coming down through wahi and as a result creates harmony in research and study in the realm of society and Nature. The Quran points out several times that as Nature never goes against the normal course and never rebels the laws it is following, human beings should likewise adopt such an attitude and behavior. This will assuredly save them from disturbance and conflict that the Quran refers to as fasad. The harmony so produced is a consequence of the worldview which some thinkers explain in terms of eco-action in an eco-functioning universe.[30] When one submits their interests and conscience to the Quran, it means that they have taken a grand decision to think and work in terms of the Quranic world view. Be it human dealing with the world or human interaction with and intervention in Nature, the results are likely to be free from conflict and in total mutual harmony.

❧ It is a firm opinion of the Aligarh School that along with equipping the human mind with a point of view, the Quran occasionally gives some hints that may sometimes initiate research. These hints may be regarding Nature, natural phenomena and human behavior. Such hints may develop into paradigms in the Aligarh Schools’ system of thought, and it considers such research legitimate and genuine. Such hints are not limited to Science & Technology only, even social and human science can grow likewise.

❧ For the Aligarh School all such research and studies accomplished with the help of human intellect and sensory means are, in principle, Islamic and if something appears to be non-conforming, the school thinks it may be due to lack of understanding the intent of the Quran. However, the School also thinks that these apparently antagonistic research efforts may turn out to be wrong with enhanced means and tools of research in time to come. Until such time, it will remain valid for all practical purposes.  In fact the Aligarh School considers all the scientific facts as suspended facts that may change with time and space but remain facts until time and space bring about a change.

❧ For the Aligarh School, science and scientific facts are considered just as importantly as others considered them, but in matters related to science policies application and utilization of science produces Islamic values that are sources of guidance.

❧ For the Aligarh School, the search for harmony between science and Islam has no significance. In fact science is an offshoot and logical result of Islam and a consequence of the Quranic wisdom and intellect. It finds its place as fard-e-kifayah (socially obligatory) in the Islamic system of thought and action. Any inaction i.e. not complying with fard-e-kifaya activity is an act of ungratefulness and ingratitude. Some scientific facts may appear to be ‘unislamic’ but just because they are suspended facts, they do not deserve contempt and rejection. Critical evaluation notwithstanding and Darwin’s theory of evolution among other such theories and view points, occupy this status in the Aligarh School’s viewpoint.

❧ Intuition, which occupies an important place in Nasr’s school of thought, is not taken as a source of knowledge by the Aligarh School. Any hint so obtained gains the status of knowledge only when this hint in certified by observation or experiment. Therefore, intuition is a sensory perception dependent on the source of knowledge.

The debate on Islam and science is essentially intellectual in nature and a reflection of an academic viewpoint. In the Aligarh School, which amalgamates knowledge with activism, the dimensions related to propagation and mobilizations are equally important. This is unique in the Aligarh School and gives it a distinct identity that can be seen between the lines in its initial introduction also. It can also be seen as operative in the multi-dimensional activities of its associates who love to see these concepts and values functional in the society. Most of the associates of the Aligarh School are involved in activities aimed at establishing Islamic scientific culture and as a consequence they appear more as polymaths rather than experts of Islam and Science Studies.

What has been said above explains the identity of the Aligarh School and expresses its distinction over the others. However, the Aligarh School is highly indebted to two schools represented by Hussein Nasr and Ziauddin Sardar.

[1] Stefano Bigliardi is an Italian scholar who conducted his postdoctoral work on Islam and science at Lund University, Sweden. In March 2013 he visited Aligarh in connection with a research project related to Islamic Science Studies and stayed for a few days to explore the genesis of the Aligarh School of Islam and science. A detailed interview with M. Zaki Kirmani and a meeting with the available associates of Aligarh School at Darul Fikr paved the way for an introductory article about this school that is likely to appear in a book to be published soon.

[2] Ziauddin Sardar. “Where’s Where? Mapping out the Future of Islamic Science” (Part I). Journal of Islamic Science 4, no. 2 (1988): 37-38, 141. M. Zaki Kirmani. The Quran and Future of Science. New Delhi: Global Vision Publishing House, 2001.

[3] M. Bucaille, The Bible the Quran and Science. Aligarh, India: Crescent Publishing Co., 1980.

[4] Keith L. Moore and Abdul-Majeed al Zindani. The Developing Human with Islamic Editions Philadelphia: W. B. Sanders Co, 1982; Jared, Saudi Arabia: Parod-Quibla for Islamic Literature, 1983.

[5] Tafseer Al Jawahir, Allama Tantawi.

[6] Sayyid H. Kahn. “Principles of Exegesis.” In Muslim Self Statement in India and Pakistan. Edited by Aziz Ahmad  and Gustav. E. von Grunebaum. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1970.

[7] Scientific Indications in the Holy Quran. Dhaka; Islamic Foundation Bangladesh, 1995.

[8] H. Nurbaki. Verses from the Holy Quran and the Facts of Science. Karachi: Indus Publishing Corporation, 1992.

[9] Ziauddin Sardar. “Between Two Masters: The Quran or Science” Inquiry 2, no. 8 (1985): 37-41.

[10] S.H. Nasr, Man and Nature, London, 1976.

[11] S.H. Nasr. “Islam and the Position of Modern Science.” Journal of Islamic Science 1 (1988): 3-31.

[12] S.H. Nasr. “Plurality of Methods: Reflections on Methodology in Islamic Science”, Hamdard Islamicus, Karachi 3, no. 3 (1980): 3-13.

[13] Ziauddin Sardar. “Where’s Where? Mapping Out the Future of Islamic Science.” Journal of Islamic Science Part One: 4, no. 2 (1988): 35-64; Part Two: 5, no. 1 (1989): 69-110.

[14] M. Zaki Kirmani. “Reflections on Science at the Interface of Islamization of the Knowledge Debate.” American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 28, no. 3 (2011): 113-137.

[15] S.H. Nasr. “Islam and Environmental Crisis.” Journal of Islamic Science 6, no. 2 (1990): 31-52.

[16] Syed Naqib-al-Attas. Islam and Secularism. Kualalumpur, 1978.

[17] Ismail R. al-Faruqui. Islamization of Knowledge. Herndon, VA: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1982.

[18] M. Zaki Kirmani. “Uloom ka Islamization: Jawaz aur Tanazur” Ayat (Urdu) 12, no. 1 (2014).

[19] M. Zaki Kirmani. “Science aur Iqdar ka Masla” Ayat (Urdu) 12, no. 2 (2014).

[20] Ziauddin Sardar. “Arguments for Islamic Science.” In The Quest for New Science edited by Rais Ahmad and S. Naseem Ahmadm. Aligarh: Centre for Studies on Science, (1984): 31-75

[21] Ziauddin Sardar. “Islam and Science: Beyond the Troubled Relationship.” Journal of Islamic Science 22, no. 1-2 (2006): 63-82.

[22] George Sarton. An Introduction to the History of Science. 5 vols. Baltimore: Williams and Williams, 1927.

[23] Fuat Sezgin. Natural Science in Islam. Frankfurt: Institute for the History Arabic-Islamic Science at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, 2002.

[24] Ziauddin Sardar. The Touch of Midas. Manchester University Press, U.K., 1984.

[25] Ziauddin Sardar. Explorations in Islamic Science (Islamic Futures and Policy Studies). London: Mansell Publishing, 1999.

[26] “Khandala Declaration.” Journal of Islamic Science, 10, no. 1 (1994): 115.

[27] See reference in M. Zaki Kirmani The Quran and Future of Science. Delhi: Global Vision Publishing House, 2001, 33.

[28] Al-Quran 42: 38.

[29] See al-Quran 45: 13, 14: 32,39: 52.

[30] Fritjof Capra. The Turning Point. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.

[a] Articles in the exchange on Islam and science on the SERRC:

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6 replies


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