Revive rationalist disciplines, math and science: A possibility of improving madrassa education

Pamelia Khaled:

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. Ateeb Gul.

 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 than their atheist or agnostic counterparts.

The researchers suggest keeping religion out of educational institutions. The strong negative link between religiosity and educational performance, governments might be able to raise educational standardsby keeping religion out of schools and out of educational policy making. Research further suggests that math and science education might benefit from a stronger secular approach.

As there are evidence of science and math were the part of the holistic pedagogy in Islamic teaching, I have a contrast opinion regarding the above study and its findings. In terms of Muslim countries specifically for South Asia where secular and religious stream both are playing role building a whole child in secondary education I consider the opposite ideas, to me inclusion of math, science and world religion are important to build a whole child.

I believe it may be possible to integrate Bangladesh secondary curriculum along with science and math with a concept of peace education, a transcendental form of learning, which is needed for peace building in Bangladesh given the history and diversity of the country and the post -911 World Bank agenda for the religious /madrassa curriculum.

Students in countries with higher levels of religiosity perform lower in science and mathematics which is problematic. Knowing the dilemma of quality education in Bangladesh government offered a degree/honurs recognition for Qoumi madrassa, who do not teach English, math and science, the secular subjects at all. So I feel to write on this critical issue how we can improve the religious stream.

I argue that holistic education (of the science subjects) is worth exploring for peace building. Once Islamic education and its pedagogy was holistic, which included logic, math, science with a special importance on astronomy and knowledge of the internal system human body. Then why and when Islamic science started to decline. Did Islamic civilization, which had a great foundation of science declined in general after the 13th century?

Robert Morison wrote in his article “Islam’s compatibility with science” discuss that Islam’s compatibility with science remains a prominent topic in public discourse. He mention that in a presentation on The Science Network, Neil De Grasse Tyson pointed about the career of the reformer Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 CE) and waning period of Islamic science.He discussed when and reason 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 has appeared that has shown directly that Islam, whether before Ghazali’s lifetime or afterwards, was not at all hostile to science.

Then, how this decline episode started and why it was not revived by the current Islamic scholarships till in 21st century.  Regarding Islamic intellectual and logic Ateeb Gul, the writer is senior editor at the Lums Case Research Centre,  wrote, in his article Islamès 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 & 17th centuries, 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 noted about the great scholar David King, whose entire career has been devoted to show 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 thatthe 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. Mīrzā Muhammad Tāraghay bin Shāhrukh better known as Ulugh Beg (1394 -1449), was a Timurid ruler as well as an astronomermathematician and sultan. His own particular interests concentrated on astronomy, and, in 1428, he built an enormous observatory, called the GurkhaniZij, 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 meters (118 feet) and the optical  separability 180″ (seconds of arc). 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 and Copernicus’s (d. 1543) De Revolutionibus and recent research, appearing after the publication of this book, has suggested a network of Jewish scholars as one route by which these theories might have traveled.

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 mathin Islam continued after the European Renaissance.

Ateeb Gulalso consider that the history of Arabic logic 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 till the 20th century as in the case of the Khayrabadi school of logic 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 enhancing democracy in a war-ravaged country, or a country like Bangladesh where Muslim is the majority. I am inviting you to imagine Bangladesh, an education world whereby science education is instrumental in the peace building endeavor, peace-through-the- curriculum, reviving the rationalist disciplines in religious/ madrassa stream.

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. Email: [email protected]



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