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Science in Islamic philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-H016-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 19, 2024, from

Article Summary

Islam attempts to synthesize reason and revelation, knowledge and values, in its approach to the study of nature. Knowledge acquired through rational human efforts and through the Qur’an are seen as complementary: both are ‘signs of God’ that enable humanity to study and understand nature. Between the second and eighth centuries AH (eighth and fifteenth centuries ad), when Muslim civilization was at its zenith, metaphysics, epistemology and empirical studies of nature fused to produce an explosion of ‘scientific spirit’. Scientists and scholars such as Ibn al-Haytham, al-Razi, Ibn Tufayl, Ibn Sina and al-Biruni superimposed Plato’s and Aristotle’s ideas of reason and objectivity on their own Muslim faith, thus producing a unique synthesis of religion and philosophy. They also placed great emphasis on scientific methodology, giving importance to systematic observation, experimentation and theory building.

Initially, scientific inquiry was directed by everyday practices of Islam. For example, developments in astronomy were influenced by the fact that the times of Muslim prayer were defined astronomically and its direction was defined geographically. In the later stage, the quest for truth for its own sake became the norm, leading to numerous new discoveries and innovations. Muslim scientists did not recognize disciplinary boundaries between the ‘two cultures’ of science and humanities, and individual scholars tended as a general rule to be polymaths. Recently, Muslim scholars have started to develop a contemporary Islamic philosophy of science by combining such basic Islamic concepts as ‘ilm (knowledge), khilafa (trusteeship of nature) and istisla (public interest) in an integrated science policy framework.

Citing this article:
Sardar, Ziauddin. Science in Islamic philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-H016-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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