Dialogue: Humanist vs Islamic perspectives on science and the modern world

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Source: The Guardian

By Yasmin Khan, who is the producer of Sindbad Sci-Fi. Follow her on Twitter @Ya5min_BL

Jim Al-Khalili, physicist and Ziauddin Sardar, chair of the Muslim Institute, talk science, western colonialism and religious rigidity

Two important figures came head-to-head at Conway Hall, to discuss Islamic versus Humanist perspectives on science and the modern world. Jim Al-Khalili made the final public appearance of his term as president of the British Humanist Association during this stimulating, and at times provoking, debate with Ziauddin Sardar, chair of the Muslim Institute.

Al-Khalili advocated the values of the European Enlightenment, arguing that ever since the “Age of Reason” took hold during the 18th century, Humanists have looked to science instead of religion to explore and comprehend the world. Sardar upheld the view that it is the combination of faith and reason that offers a fuller understanding of the world, maintaining that it was this worldview that enabled the development of science in the Islamic golden Age.

Jim Al-Khalili and Ziauddin Sardar in Conversation

Jim Al-Khalili and Ziauddin Sardar in Conversation

A practising Muslim, Sardar is on an independent mission to promote rational, considered thought in interpreting the Qur’an. He explained that when he came to the UK from Pakistan, he found comfort in the familiar language of mathematics, which set him on a trajectory to train as a physicist: “God doesn’t need me, I need him. It makes me a better person and a better scientist”, he said.

He described the way in which, as a child, his dissatisfaction with rudimentary religious guidance at home instilled a strong urge for self-enquiry: “Science forces you to ask questions. The more you think, the [fewer] answers you find”.

Sardar asserted that religion and reason are two sides of the same coin and feels that conflict between the two is deliberately manufactured. He argued that problems arise when Muslims adopt a narrow, reductionist interpretation regarding the holistic concept of ilm – whereas in fact there are many facets to knowledge.


Suggested Reading

From the Muslim Sunrise: Truth and Science

Shariah and Constitution: A Personal Journey

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