Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blogging from Sharjah: Belief in Dialogue - Day 2

by Salman Hameed

Sometimes it is good to have a provocateur. The conference really came alive on day 2 when one of the speakers took on to criticize several of the earlier speakers, and to the absence of serious critique of the science-religion dialogue. The provocateur was Ziauddin Sardar from UK. In the 1980s, he was part of a movement of "Islamic Science" that critiqued science from 'science-studies' perspective and wanted to bring in Islamic ethics to the practice of science. His views were criticized from many different quarters, including from scientists. However, at the conference he mentioned that one of the major reasons for him to give up on his ideas was the absence of much scientific culture in the Muslim world. He was dismayed by the fact the "Islamic Science" began to be associated with either I'jaz - the idea that modern science exists in the Qur'an - or that of the mystical version promoted by Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

But Sardar was irked by, among other things, a video-talk by Tariq Ramadan (he claimed that cultural contexts of Muslims vary, and that culture and Islam interact in a multi-dimensional way), the inaugural lecture by Ihsanoglu (he had emphasized the Golden Age of Islam), and by some bizarre apologist statements regarding Saudi Arabia by Qanta Ahmed (she lauded the progressive theocracy of Saudi Arabia and some incredible developments in science in the Kingdom - and no - she was not being ironic). So Sardar decided to provoke everyone at the same time. His main point was that Muslims today really don't have a culture. That they been only left with belief (he pointed to Dubai as a one of his examples). Plus, he lamented the fact that philosophy as a subject was excluded in much of the Muslim world until very recently. This looks like a straight-forwad presentation, but it was his particular style that made it quite effective.

As expected, that generated some strong reaction. In fact, the first person in the Q&A characterized his talk as  a "bitter old man reflecting on his past failures" (Sardar responded that he is not old, "only 60" and that he "has a long ways to go").

Well, at any conference, it is moments like this that loosens up the participants. I think the conference had been going in almost a too deferential style - and this changed the tenor a bit. In fact, I got heckled in the middle of my talk in the very next session. It wasn't too bad, but one of the participants decided to comment on a point during my talk rather than wait for the Q&A.

More coming up later...

Read post from day 1 of the conference here


ahmedn8 said...


Can you write some more about what Ziauddin Sardar said, especially about the presence of belief and absence of (scientific?) culture amongst Muslims. (Wish I had been there.) It is also interesting to hear that he has moved beyond promoting "Islamic Science". The June 19 (2011) Paulson article in the Chronicle cited by Nidhal a few days ago seemed to imply that Sardar is still promoting it: "The banner for "Islamic science" has also been taken up by the London-based social critic Ziauddin Sardar [...]". (//

Great to get your straight-foreward assessments about which talks were good or bad. That helps in figuring out were to focus attention.



Salman Hameed said...

Will do. Currently I'm at another conference - so it may take a day or two. Thanks!