Science and objectivity

‘Science’, i.e. the new mathematical physical sciences of Galileo, Descartes, and Newton et al which were to serve as the inspiration and model for all the other sciences, arose during the horrific civil strife of the Reformation during a part of which, the Thirty Years War, a third of the population of Europe died. More disturbing than the killing, ‘and fitnah is more severe than killing’, were the intense intellectual, political and theological disagreements that split Europe totally. The scientists turned away from these issues and concentrated on the motions of the planets and of objects. But those issues have never gone away.

Commerce lay at the root of the Reformation and the earlier Renaissance. The rise of banks such as the Medici caused a crisis for them and for others. Usury was a mortal sin. Troubled by this, Cosimo de Medici asked a cardinal if it was true and what he could do in that case. The cardinal said he had to stop his banking activities and make restoration of everything he had gained to those he had taken it from. Cosimo tried to square the circle. He continued to bank, but he started on the path of philanthropy on a gargantuan scale, arguably, along with others, bringing about the Renaissance. It was a descendant of his who – as pope and utilising the travelling friars on an industrial scale to sell indulgences to raise funds to satisfy his extraordinary appetites – drove Martin Luther to such fury, and the rest, as they say, is history. The scientific and philosophical tradition thrown up by the Renaissance was to regard usury not merely as something defensible but as a positive and something praiseworthy. The scientists, as usual, didn’t think it was their business.

Many Europeans fell into atheism out of disgust at the behaviour of the Protestants and Catholics and out of dismay at the complex arguments of both. Religion had been inextricably connected to politics, i.e. monarchy. Political theorising during the Reformation about the rights and limits of monarchs and the rights of man served to undermine the idea of monarchy at all culminating in the British execution of Charlies I and later the French Revolution, and to bring about the rise of the commercial class whose instrument was parliament. Thus commerce came to dominate politics. And banking continued its inexorable rise to global sovereignty.

To look at any issue today as if it is possible to separate science from politics, religion and commerce is to be the heir to all of this.

Now, at the root of these religious and political events, what was unleashed was tremendous emotion, a great deal of hatred, but also mixes of conflicting emotions: loved ones were transformed into enemies overnight. (By the way, Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’ were echoes of this event in Europe.) Science offered a cool, dispassionate and unemotional objectivity, which was its main attraction, even though scientists were to engage in a number of heated controversies then and ever since. Nevertheless, among the many end points that science reached, including Gödel’s work and quantum theory, the most recent was neurophysiology, where Antonio Damasio showed that there is no such thing as a thought without emotion.

Perhaps that goes some way to explaining how discussion of issues such as the pandemic and vaccines can express such dreadful animosity from those who hold different positions.

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Abdassamad Clarke is from Ulster and was formally educated at Edinburgh University in Mathematics and Physics, and in Cairo in Arabic and tajwid and other Islamic sciences. He accepted Islam at the hands of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi in 1973. In the 80s he was secretary to the imam of the Dublin Mosque, and in the early 90s imam khatib of the Norwich Mosque, where he is currently an imam and teacher. He has translated the Muwatta of Imam Muhammad by Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ash-Shaybani (jointly with Muhammad Abdarrahman), which was published by Turath Publishing at the end of July 2004 and a number of other works from Arabic: al-Qawl al-mu'tamad fi mashru'iyyat adh-dhikr bi'l-ism al-mufrad by Shaykh al-Alawi on the standing in Shari’ah of using the divine name in dhikr, which was published by Diwan Press as first part of The Two Invocations and since republished by Madinah Press, The History of the Khalifahs (the chapters on the Khulafa ar-Rashidun from as-Suyuti’s Tarikh al-Khulafa), the Complete Forty Hadith (translation of Imam an-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith along with the Imam’s explanation of their fiqh and linquistic usages) and Kitab al-Jami’ by Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (published as A Madinan View), Rijal – narrators of the Muwatta of Imam Muhammad, all published by Ta-Ha Publishers of London, Kitab al-athar by Imam Abu Hanifah and transmitted by Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ash-Shaybani (Turath Publishing 2006), The Compendium of Knowledge and Wisdom (a translation of Jami' al-'ulum wa'l-hikam by Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, published by Turath Publishing 2007). In addition he has edited Aisha Bewley's translation of Ibn Hajar's abridgement of at-Targhib wa't-Tarhib, Ibn Taymiyyah's al-Kalim at-Tayyib both published by the UK Islamic Academy, Dr Asadullah Yate's translation of al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah, published by Ta-Ha Publishing and a number of other works. He is currently engaged with Suád Østergaard on a translation of the Qur’an into Danish, the first volume of which translated in collaboration with Jakob Werdelin, comprising Surat al-Fatihah, Surat al-Baqarah and Surah Ali ‘Imran, was recently published as Den gavmilde Qur’an: en fremlægning of de tre første suraer by Havens Forlag of Copenhagen. Translations yet to be published include Traditions of the Sunnah (Athar as-sunan) by Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Ali an-Nimawi (jointly with Mawlana In'amuddin), to be published by Turath Publishing Ltd. Among his unpublished translations are the Sciences of Tafsir comprising portions of Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi’s Qur’anic commentary at-Tashil li ‘ulum at-tanzil, in particular his introductory sections on the essential elements of the sciences necessary for tafsir. He is author of a number of children’s books, The Year of the Elephant, The Great Victory and The Last Battle all of which are on the sirah of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, as well as The Story of Stories about the Prophet Yusuf, peace be upon him, in which he drew a great deal on the commentary of Ibn Juzayy, may Allah be merciful to him. He has also a poem God is Dead published in the Minaret journal of Stockholm, Sweden, and an as-yet unpublished collection of short stories called Tales Are Like That, and a novel called The Wings of the Butterfly. Abdassamad is a teacher of both adults and children in Qur’an recitation (tajwid) and meanings, Arabic language and the deen in general, most recently having organised and taken part in a conference under the auspices of Islamic Events of London on the History of the Islamic Khalifate, and having given discourses in London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Jena, Weimar, Copenhagen and the Midlands. 18 April, 2007 0:03

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