19 September 2018

Islamic science

There is a notable tendency in Muslim circles to claim precedence for Islam in matters of science and discovery. I'm not talking here of the wilder claims of Islamic science - the healing powers of Koranic holy water, for instance, or camel urine as a cure for cancer - but of more mainstream, more credible beliefs. That, for instance, an Ottoman admiral was the first to discover America.

Nir Shafir, a historian of the Ottoman Empire, was alerted to a problem when he was preparing to teach a course on "Science and Islam". A book he was about to assign to his students had on its cover what purported to be a miniature from the ancient Muslim world, showing men in turbans examining the night sky through telescopes. A closer examination revealed that this was - of course - a fake:

.... Shafir sees the production of these fake miniatures - which have found their way into a number of august collections - as fundamentally well-intentioned, as a "desire to integrate Muslims into a global political community through the universal narrative of science". That seems extraordinarily generous of him.

Might it not be, rather, an entirely duplicitous effort to falsify the historical record, by attempting to show that the world of Islam, far from being backward and hampered by an inflexible belief in the correctness of everything in the Koran and the hadiths, has in fact been in the forefront of scientific discovery through the ages, and has only been denied its deserved recognition by the perfidy and dishonesty of the West? [Mick Hartley] Read more