Monday, April 18, 2011

A Bold Editorial and Journal from IMASE

This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah and is the author of Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science.
A few days ago, someone sent me a copy of the latest issue of Constellations, the journal produced by the International Muslim Association of Scientists and Engineers (IMASE). I must admit that I had never heard of either the association or its journal. The copy was sent to me because it contains several interesting items: a bold editorial regarding the Usama Hasan affair; an interesting two-page article titled ‘On Evolution’; a commentary titled ‘Is GMF Shari‘ah Compliant?’; an article titled ‘The Futility of Fatwas’; and a number of other interesting pieces.
I’ll get to those articles, or at least to some of them, further down, but let me first introduce IMASE, since I doubt that many readers of Irtiqa will be familiar with it.
In the ‘About Us’ section of the IMASE website, we can read the following statements, which give a general idea of the aims and scope of this association:
Our overarching aim is to develop and raise the level of Islamic, and scientific, thought and practice amongst people, especially scientists and engineers.
This will involve the proactive partnership of a range of communities, including students, researchers, religious scholars, thinkers, policy makers, development practitioners and technologists, to work towards delivering ideas and results.
Among the functions of our organisation is a virtual forum that will enable members to exchange ideas and disseminate technical information throughout the world. One of our long-term projects is to become a portal for those interested in connecting with contemporary works on science and technology.
In its ‘IMASE Initiatives’ section, one can find: a) an Islam and Science Forum, described as aiming “to nurture, encourage and employ attitudes and practices of an Islamic character towards science… to research and deliver coherent and realistic seminars, discussions and studies on matters related to science, technology, society and development”; b) an Environment initiative; c) a Professional Development initiative; and others.
An interesting product of IMASE is its ‘Constellations’ quarterly journal, of which the fifth issue (first of the second year) has just been released. Issues are structured as follows (according to the descriptions given by IMASE): Articles (descriptions of current original research or material), Review Articles and Papers (not original research but results of other works), Trends and Current Opinion (presenting an accurate and unbiased view of current issues in a scientific and technical manner), Journal Papers (original works in the areas of concern for IMASE). All issues can be downloaded in pdf format, the latest one, 97 pages in total, can be found here.

I would now like to comment a bit on the bold pieces addressing the Evolution controversy that recently surrounded Dr. Usama Hasan and his ordeal (see here for links to previous Irtiqa posts on this affair).
In its editorial, titled ‘IMASE Statement on Dr Usama Hasan, Evolution and Masjid Tawhid’, signed by “The IMASE Team”, one can read the following:
This is a statement in support of Dr Usama Hasan's right to safety, dignity and expression. IMASE raises this matter to protect the wellbeing of a Muslim scientist and contribute to a just and collective response to undignified and arrogant behaviour within our community. …
We reject the malicious campaigns of takfir (declaration of apostasy) levelled against Usama…
Events at the mosque on 22nd January were a sad reminder of how degraded the Ummah (Muslim community) has become. Remedial action is our joint responsibility.
IMASE calls on:
·     Muslims to resist and overcome those who declare Muslims with whom they disagree to be apostates.
·     Muslim scholars of all disciplines and persuasions to seriously and practically grapple with narrow mindedness and thuggishness in our communities.
·     Those with responsibility in Islamic institutions to exercise their leadership and take firm and just action against malicious, rowdy and gangster-like elements within and surrounding their organisations.
I found this editorial worthy of note for the following reasons: a) it speaks very clearly in support of Dr. Hasan and gives strong reasons for it (dignity and freedom of expression); b) it does not shy away from identifying the communal ills reflected in that sorry affair; c) it calls upon Islamic institutions to exercise the responsibility that falls upon them in addressing these serious situations.
Following the editorial, a short article was appropriately dealing with Evolution. It was written by Abu Tariq, from Melbourne, Australia, who tells us first that he used to be an atheist, that he converted to Islam 25 years ago, and has had the chance to study Biology and to work “in a scientific field which provided solid evidence in support of evolution”.
Abu Tariq’s short article was interesting in more than one way. First, he relates his own encounter with the Islam-Evolution issue, telling us that initially not only did he find nothing in the Qur’an to disturb his acceptance of Evolution, he encountered only one anti-evolution book (by a Pakistani-trained biology teacher who had “absorbed the nonsense promulgated as science by Christian creationists”), then discovered all the great works of the Golden-Age Muslim scholars, many of whom had described evolutionary trends in nature. But, in recent years, “the poison has taken hold”, as he put it: “We see the Christian creationist nonsense recycled by the likes of Harun Yahya, considered as scientific truth by Muslims… A generation of Muslims is having its minds closed to scientific understanding by this.”
Wow! How often does one read such statements in a Muslim publication?
Abu Tariq goes on to justify his assessment (poison, ignorance, etc.); he relates cases of professors and students who faced ordeals because of their evolutionary convictions, ordeals reaching up to torture! He concludes his article with the following statement:
A victory by the closed-minded thugs who have threatened Dr Usama would sentence all of us to a new Dark Age and leave us looking backwards […] and think of what might have been. They cannot be allowed to succeed.


Mohamed said...

It’s great to hear of Muslim scientists and engineers coming out in support of evolution and opposing thuggish and narrow-minded behavior. I believe there are some Christian and Jewish clergy who endorse evolution and it’ll be wonderful if some Muslim religious scholars and imams would do the same---since they yield more influence with the average Muslim than any scientist does.

fugstar said...

Salam folks,

Its not about celebrating certain contingent and powerful ideas to create a war of position. Nor is it about getting bogged down by triumphalistic evolutionary dogmatism.

Thats not how we roll.

Its about promoting dignity, demoting thuggishness avoiding narcissism and positively making the space to understand matters.