Islam and Modern Science: A Lecture by Seyyid Hossein Nasr
The following is a lecture by Seyyid Hossein Nasr entitled, ``Islam and Modern Science'', which was co-sponsored by the Pakistan Study Group, the MIT Muslim Students Association and other groups. Professor Nasr, currently University Professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, is a physics and mathematics alumnus of MIT. He received a PhD in the philosophy of science, with emphasis on Islamic science, from Harvard University. From 1958 to 1979, he was a professor of history of science and philosophy at Tehran University and was also the Vice-Chancellor of the University over 1970-71. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard and Princeton Universities. He has delivered many famous lectures including the Gifford Lecture at Edinburgh University and the Iqbal Lecture at the Punjab University. He is the author of over twenty books including "Science and Civilization in Islam", "Traditional Islam in the Modern World", "Knowledge and the Sacred", and "Man and Nature: the Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man". The verbatim transcript of the lecture was edited to enhance clarity and remove redundancies. We have tried our best to preserve the spirit of what was said. Any errors are solely the responsibility of the Pakistan Study Group. * and ** indicates places where either a phrase or sentence was indecipherable. Words in [ ] were added to improve continuity.
Bismillah hir rahmanir rahim
First of all, let me begin by saying how happy I am to be able to accept an invitation of the MIT Islamic Students Association, and that of other universities and other organizations nearby, to give this lecture here today at my alma mater. I feel very much at home not only at this university, but being the first muslim student ever to establish a muslim students' association at Harvard in 1954, to see that these organizations are now growing, and are becoming culturally significant. I am sure they play a very important role in three ways. Most importantly, in turning the hearts of good muslims towards God, Allah ta'allah. At a more human level to be able to afford the possibility for muslims from various countries to have a discourse amongst themselves, and third to represent the views of muslims on American campuses where there is so much need to understand what is going on at the other side of the world. That world which seems to remain forever the Other for the West, no matter what happens. The Otherness, somehow, is not overcome so easily.
Now today, I shall limit my discourse to Islam and its relation to modern science. This is a very touchy and extremely difficult subject to deal with. It is not a subject with any kind of, we might say, dangerous pitfalls or subterfuges under way because it is not a political subject. It does not arouse passions as, let's say, questions that are being discussed in Madrid, or the great tragedy of Kashmir or other places. But nevertheless, it is of very great consequence because it will affect one way or the other, the future of the Islamic world as a whole.
Many people feel that that in fact there is no such thing as the Islamic problem of science. They say science is science, whatever it happens to be, and Islam has always encouraged knowledge, al-ilm in Arabic, and therefore we should encourage science and what's the problem? -there's no problem. But the problem is there because ever since children began to learn Lavoiser's Law that water is composed of oxygen and hydrogen, in many Islamic countries they came home that evening and stopped saying their prayers. There is no country in the Islamic World which has not been witness in one way or another, to the impact, in fact, of the study of Western Science upon the ideological system of its youth. Parallel with that however, because science is related first of all to prestige, and secondly, to power, and thirdly, without [science] the solution of certain problems within Islamic society [is difficult], from all kinds of political backgrounds and regimes, all the way from revolutionary regimes to monarchies, all [governments] the way from semi-democracies to totalitarian regimes, all spend their money in teaching their young Western science. I see many muslims in the audience today, many of you, your education is paid for by your parents or your government or some university in order precisely to bring Western science back into the muslim world. And therefore we are dealing with a subject which is quite central to the concerns of the Islamic world. In the last twenty years [this subject] has begun to attract some of the best minds in the Islamic world to the various dimensions of this problem.
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