Three Views of Science in the Islamic World
There is hardly any subject as vexed and vital for the contemporary Islamic world as the question of modern science. Since its earliest encounter with modern Western science in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Islamic world has had to deal with science for practical and intellectual reasons. At the level of practical needs, modern science was seen as the sine qua non o f the advancement and defense o f Muslim countries in the field o f military technology. The Ottoman political body, which unlike the other parts of the Islamic world was in direct contact with European powers, was convinced that its political and military decline was due to the lack of proper defense mechanisms against the European armies. To fill this gap, a number of massive reforms were introduced by Mahmud II with the hope o f stopping the rapid decline o f the Empire, and a new class o f military officers and bureaucrats, who became the first point o f contact between the traditional world of Islam and the modern secular West, was created.1 A similar project, in fact a more successful one, was introduced in Egypt by Muhammad Ali whose aspirations were later given a new voice by Taha Hussain and his generation. The leitmotif o f this period was that o f extreme practicality: the Muslim world needed power, especially military power, to stand back on its feet and new technologies powered by modern science were the only way to have it.2 The modern conception o f science as a medium o f power was to have a profound impact on the relations between the Muslim world and modern science, which was then already equated with technology,
progress, power, and prosperity - a mode o f perception still prevalent among the masses in the Islamic world.