Very interesting article about the state of science in Islamic countries over at Salon.com. Here’s a snippet:
Aug. 13, 2007 | In October, Malaysia’s first astronaut will join a Russian crew and blast off into space. The news of a Muslim astronaut was cause for celebration in the Islamic world, but then certain questions started popping up. How will he face Mecca during his five daily prayers while his space ship is whizzing around the Earth? How can he hold the prayer position in zero gravity? Such concerns may sound absurd to us, but the Malaysian space chief is taking them quite seriously. A team of Muslim scholars and scientists has spent more than a year drawing up an Islamic code of conduct for space travel.
This story illustrates the obstacles that face scientists in Muslim countries. While it’s always risky to draw generalizations about Islam, even conservative Muslims admit that the Islamic world lags far behind the West in science and technology. This is a big problem for Muslims who envy the economic and military power of the United States.
What’s so striking about the Muslim predicament is that the Islamic world was once the unrivaled center of science and philosophy. During Europe’s Dark Ages, Baghdad, Cairo and other Middle Eastern cities were the key repositories of ancient Greek and Roman science. Muslim scholars themselves made breakthroughs in medicine, optics and mathematics. So what happened? Did strict Islamic orthodoxy crush the spirit of scientific inquiry? Why did Christian Europe, for so long a backwater of science, later launch the scientific revolution?
The article is a Q&A with Taner Edis, author of An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam, and it covers his viewpoints on the troubles Islamic countries have had with keeping up with Western science. I’ve often heard that Islamic countries were once far and ahead in the study of science and often wondered why they seem to have lagged behind and at least part of the reason appears to be their inability to separate science and religion. What’s amazing isn’t so much that Islamic science has lagged behind, but that Western science somehow managed to break free from religion’s yoke allowing it to advance as far as it has.