Ibn al-Shatir, whom historian David King calls 'the most distinguished Muslim astronomer of the 14th century', is someone whose astronomical model is believed by historians to have been taken over by none other than Copernicus.
Countries with a strong religious culture are poorer in maths and science, one study claims. The research was a joint effort between psychologists at Leeds Beckett University and the University of Missouri. Researchers looked at 82 countries and ranked them by 'religiosity'. Their study found a negative correlation between religion and education. Study indicates that children raised in religious societies perform worse in maths and science at school.
As there are evidences that science and math were part of the holistic pedagogy in Islamic teaching, I have an opinion about the above study and its findings. For Muslim countries, particularly South Asia, where both secular and religious streams are playing an important part in educating a child at the secondary level, inclusion of math, science and world religion can make a big difference.
It may be possible to integrate science and math in Bangladesh's secondary education curriculum with peace education in sight, a transcendental form of learning, which is needed for peace-building in Bangladesh, given the history and diversity of the country and the post-9/11 World Bank agenda targeting religious or madrasa curriculum.
Students in countries with higher levels of religiosity perform worse in science and mathematics which is problematic. Knowing the dilemma of quality education in Bangladesh the government offered the degree or honors level recognition for Qoumi madrasas, where English, math and science are not taught.
Holistic education (science subjects) is worth exploring for the sake of peace. Once Islamic education and pedagogy were holistic, which included logics, math and science with special importance attached to astronomy and knowledge about the internal system of the human body. Then why and when did the study of Islamic science start declining. Did Islamic civilisation, which had a strong foundation for science, start declining in general after the 13th century?
Robert Morison wrote in his article "Islam's compatibility with science" that Islam's compatibility with science remains a prominent topic in public discourse. He mentioned that in a presentation on The Science Network, Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out the career of reformer Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 CE) and the waning period of Islamic science. He discussed when and why science in Islamic societies began to decline.
According to Morison, "Frank Griffel argues that Ghazali actually accepted versions of scientific causal explanations. And in the past several decades, a great deal of scholarship appeared showing directly that Islam, whether before Ghazali's lifetime or afterwards, was not at all hostile to science.
Then, how had this decline episode started and why was it not revived by the current Islamic scholarships in the 21st century. AteebGul, senior editor at the Lums Case Research Centre, wrote in his article Islam's golden age that some scholars believe that there was no progress in rationalist disciplines in the Islamic world after the 13th century, which is not true. The evidence shows that rationalist disciplines in Islam not only survived well into the 16th and 17th centuries but also it survived through independent works and also through commentaries and glosses.
Gul mentioned that "the works of Emilie-Savage Smith, Syed Nomanul Haq, Nahyan Fancy, Andrew Newman and others prove that the study of medicine flourished even after the 13th century." Robert Morison also referred to great scholar David King, whose entire career has been devoted to showing the productive relationship between Islam and science.
And in the case of astronomy, the works of George Saliba, David King, F. Jamil Ragep, Ahmad Dallal, Morrison and others indicate that the development of anatomy and astronomy was at the peak during this period but it continued after the 13th century. Astronomical works by Ibn al-Shatir, al-Shirazi, al-Qushji, al-Khafrietc - all appearing after the 13th century - proved of vital importance to the study of astronomy in the subsequent centuries.
Morison mentioned in his article: "the rise of Islamic astronomy was linked not to a passive "download" of information from ancient Greece, Persia, and India, but to how, by the rise of the Abbasid Caliphate in 750, interest in astronomy and astrology helped initiate the Translation Movement, an enterprise in which astronomical texts first from Sanskrit and Persian, and then from Greek, were translated into Arabic.
He asserts that "science served the nascent empire's purposes, whether calendar calculations, determining prayer times, taxation, or political legitimacy. In addition, the Qur'an contains plentiful references to the natural world, including the heavens, and discussions of the natural world played a role in Islamic thought, even before the Translation Movement."
These developments led to the innovative models devised by the astronomers connected to the Maragha Observatory near Tabriz under the Ilkhanids, descendants of Genghis Khan, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It was established in 1259 CE under the patronage of the Ilkhanid Hulagu and the directorship of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, a Persian scientist and astronomer. Mirza Muhammad Taraghay bin Shahrukh, better known as Ulugh Beg (1394 -1449), was a Timurid ruler as well as an astronomer, mathematician and sultan. His own particular interests concentrated on astronomy, and, in 1428, he built an enormous observatory, called the Gurkhani Zij, similar to Tycho Brahe's later Uraniborg as well as Taqi al-Din's observatory in Istanbul.
Lacking telescopes to work with, he increased his accuracy by increasing the length of his sextant; the so-called Fakhri sextant had a radius of about 36 metres (118 feet) and the optical separability. In mathematics, Ulugh Beg wrote accurate trigonometric tables of sine and tangent values correct to at least eight decimal places.
Morison notes that there are extensive similarities between the astronomy in the tradition of the Maragha Observatory. He considers that theoretical astronomy in Islamic societies continued to innovate into the 16th century. It assures that Islamic astronomy was the product of Islamic intellectuals and exploration of science and math in Islam continued after the European Renaissance.
Ateeb Gul also considers that the history of Arabic logics and other rationalist discipline did not come to an end in the 13th, 14th, or 16th century, rather in some cases they continued and survived until the 20th century as in the case of the Khayrabadi school of logics in pre-Partition India.
Looking at the past and strength of holistic education which includes science and math education, Bangladesh curriculum planners have to identify what educational curriculum should do to develop a culture of peace, tolerance and solidarity in a multicultural classroom as well as bolsters democracy in a war-ravaged country, or a country like Bangladesh where Muslims are the majority. They need to think of a Bangladesh where science education will be instrumental in establishing peace with revival of rationalist disciplines in the religious or madrasa stream of education.
The writer is an Anthropologist, Sociologist and Environmentalist. Currently she is conducting her PhD research in Curriculum Studies and Teacher Development at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto.
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