'Room to Work' In the July issue of Discover magazine, Philadelphia-area freelancer Todd Pitock took a long, hard look at "Science and Islam," as his article was titled, and gave voice to one of scholar Bernard Lewis' major contentions — that something went drastically wrong somewhere in Islamic history. At one point, the Middle East was the source of great advances in science and mathematics — far surpassing the West — until there was a massive sea change in social thinking, and followers of Islam turned their back on the advances that they had themselves initiated.
Pitock began his extensive and thorough investigation in Cairo, Egypt, which was once the seat of scientific inquiry in the Islamic world. Even today, he noted, "Islam is in many ways more tolerant of scientific study than is Christian fundamentalism. It does not, for example, argue that the world is only 6,000 years old. Cloning research that does not involve people is becoming more widely accepted. In recent times, though, knowledge in Egypt has waned."
Why has this occurred? Pitock spoke first with Zaghloul El-Naggar, author, newspaper columnist and TV personality, who also happens to be a geologist, and he provided a ready answer to his interviewer's query. Without a moment's hesitation, he said, "We are not behind because of Islam. We are behind because of what the Americans and the British have done to us."
El-Naggar often summoned up what Pitock called "the evil West" as the culprit. For El-Naggar also made it clear in his comments that there is no conflict between Islam and science. "Science is inquisition," he explained. "It's running after the unknown. Islam encourages seeking knowledge. It's considered an act of worship."
He insisted that what people call the scientific method is, in actuality, "the Islamic method."
"All the wealth of knowledge in the world has actually emanated from Muslim civilization," said El-Naggar. "The Prophet Muhammad said to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave. The very first verse came down: 'Read.' You are required to try to know something about your creator through meditation, through analysis, experimentation and observation."
According to the geologist, there are scientific signs in more than 1,000 verses of the Koran, as well as in the sayings of the Prophet, though these signs may not speak in any direct scientific fashion.
"Instead," wrote Pitock, "the verses give man's mind the room to work until it arrives at certain conclusions. A common device of Islamic science is to cite examples of how the Koran anticipated modern science, intuiting hard facts without modern equipment or technology."
Pitock's piece provided an eye-opening journey into another world and another way of thinking — and I've only scratched the surface of his findings here.