Monday, April 12, 2010

Guest Post: “Science in the Qur’an”… in Algiers

This is a guest post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics atAmerican University of Sharjah.

The Algerian High Islamic Council organized a conference on “Islam and the Rational Sciences, past and present” in Algiers (Algeria) from March 29 to 31. Most of the talks revolved around the scientific contributions of Muslim scientists during the Golden Age of the Islamic Civilization (roughly between the 10th and the 14th centuries). A few presenters attempted to examine the present state of affairs in the area of overlap or interaction between Science and Islam.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had proposed to the organizers to (critically) review the current very popular idea of “scientific miraculousness of the Qur’an” (known as I`jaz); I was not sure at all whether they’d accept for me to discuss this topic, as my abstract was clearly stating that I was going to be very critical of that “theory”; to my surprise, the organizers not only welcomed it but gave it a prominent place in the program, putting it in the very first session, right after the official opening ceremony, which was attended by the minister of religious affairs and other dignitaries, and reported on by the state TV channel and dozens of media outlets.

As soon as I finished my presentation (unfortunately, all talks were given only 20 minutes), the next speaker (an established scholar of the mathematics of the Islamic era) whispered quick praises for my “bold” talk but predicted a strong reaction later, during the discussion period. He was not wrong. I was stunned by how much my 20 minutes of bullet points, condensed and pitched at a tone that I thought was mild and non-aggressive, how much those ideas and examples had struck a sensitive chord and ignited a wide range of reactions. These ranged from the meekly supportive to the strongly negative, including a warning to me not to “go down that path” (someone surreptiously pointed to Nasr H. Abu Zayd, the Egyptian scholar who was declared an apostate for his views on the “historicity” of the Qur’an and who has since lived in exile in Holland). Still a few attempted to engage me in respectful arguments, agreeing with me that much of what has been written on the “scientific miraculousness of the Qur’an” is wildly wrong, but insisting that some verses do contain “quite clear” references to facts that only now do we know to be true…

I was also surprised at the flood of requests for media interviews, with at least two long (30 and 60-minute) TV-guest appearances, a short sound bite for the evening news, a long leading-newspaper interview that appeared the day after next, and countless long recorded interviews with newspapers and magazines, to be published later. In one of those interviews, the reporter, not clearly registering my strong critique of the I`jaz theory, kept asking me for examples of “the latest scientific discoveries that we can indeed find in the Qur’an”… In another interview, the last question the reporter asked me was “how has the International Commission on Scientific Signs in the Qur'an and the Sunnah (here the English website, alongside the huge Arabic website and others in 8 additional languages) reacted to your critique?” When I said “I don’t think they have heard or read my critiques”, he replied “I’ll make sure they are aware of that; I am their representative in Algeria…”

All in all, I thought it was a highly successful appearance, certainly in terms of media impact, but also to some extent in the stir that I produced in the many minds that listened to me. At least now the general acceptance of that trend has been strongly shaken. Someone who used to fully accept that theory told me that I had “hit the brake” on the (fast) drive that the proponents of the “scientific miraculousness of the Qur’an” theory had been having…


Anonymous said...

In my humble opinion, anyone who has read the Qur'anic verses with an unbiased mind cannot deny that Qur’an is the word of God. There are several verses in Qur’an that can prove this.

ahmedn8 said...

Would you be kind enough to post here the bullet points/slide from your talk? Thanks.

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