Islamic Science, Modern Science, and Post-Modernity: Towards a New Synthesis through a Tawhidic Epistemology

by Osman Bakar

Source: Revelation and Science, vol. 1, no. 3 (1433H/2011), pp. 13-20.

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Abstract: Synthesis of ideas in all sectors of human life and thought – that is, of human civilization in general – is the very basis of the existence (raison etre) of the religion of Islam. Islam has been revealed as a synthesis of all religions. It created a new civilization which is synthetic in spirit and ingenuity. In civilization-building Islam created a synthesis of the principles, ideals, values, and positive achievements embodied in the previous civilizations in conformity with its own divinely revealed tawhidic character. To be tawhidic means to be both universal and inclusive and particular and exclusive. Consequently, Islamic civilization is at the same time universal and particular as well as inclusive and exclusive in its nature and characteristics. This truth is clearly reflected at the level of its scientific culture and its scientific pursuits and practices. When traditional Islamic science is understood in its entirety we would be in a good position to see its mixed traits: it is both universal and particular and both inclusive and exclusive. Now in this new and challenging twenty-first century the global ummah is again called upon to create a new science and a new scientific culture both for itself and for the whole human community. In undertaking this task the global ummah needs to pay due attention to three things – Islamic science, modern science, and postmodern science. Islam once produced the most advanced science and the most brilliant scientific culture in the whole world. As a matter of principle, we call that science and scientific culture Islamic science. In the last two centuries or so Islamic science came to be eclipsed by the so-called modern science which was largely of Western inspiration. As a result of the powerful influence of modern science and various other factors, the scientific community of the ummah embraced its philosophy and practices. The ruling elites of the ummah embraced its practical philosophy and its technological fruits in their pursuits of material and economic developments. However, since the mid-twentieth century Western intellectuals have been telling the world that the age of modern science has come to an end. The modern scientific worldview has been shattered most of all by the “new physics.” We are now in the era of post-modernity which if pursued to its logical conclusion would require the human community to cultivate a new science. After taking into consideration these three things – Islamic science, modern science, and post-modernity – the ummah must work to produce a new science through a synthesis of ideas embodied in the three intellectual cultures and worldviews. The most important intellectual tool needed for this synthesis is the Qur’anic principle of tawhid. The Islamic tradition of synthesis needs to be understood and revived in our times. Ibn al-Haytham (c. 965 – c. 1040) whose first millennial anniversary partly inspires this conference was himself a major figure in this tradition of synthesis, more precisely in the field of mathematical physics. This paper seeks to suggest ways and means by which Islam’s tawhidic epistemology can help the ummah in producing the new synthesis.

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