In this video, Dr. Joseph Lumbard responds to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s criticism of the Islamic scientific tradition.
Dr. Tyson argued that Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali condemned mathematics as Satanic and a forbidden practice. According to him, this led to a great decline in mathematics and sciences in the Islamic world.
In his response, Dr. Lumbard quotes a statement by Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali in which he says:
“As for the praiseworthy disciplines such as medicine and mathematics, they are associated with worldly benefit. And that category is divided into those that become a communal obligation and those that are of great merit but are not an obligation…
If there are not people who are experts in mathematics within society that it will be a hardship on society and certain aspects of society will suffer from it.”
When Sciences Are Abused
Moreover, Dr. Joseph quotes Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali as saying:
“… This (mathematics) is a praiseworthy discipline; but if somebody will exceed the bounds in it (i.e. use it for corruption and mischief) they should be prevented from studying it.”
Commenting on this quote, Dr. Joseph says that Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali did not seek to limit mathematics itself; in fact he said that about cases of abusing any intellectual discipline; that is, when people employ knowledge to bring corruption to themselves or to society.
Science After Al-Ghazali
But did Islamic scholarship really deteriorate because of Al-Ghazali? Dr. Joseph answers that there is simply nothing in the historical record to substantiate this argument. On the contrary, sciences in the Islamic world went on well into the Ottoman Period.
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For example, Dr. Lumbard mentions Omar Khayyam, a contemporary of Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali. Omar Khayyam is famous in the West for his works in poetry. However, Khayyam also wrote books on Algebra. His works on Algebra continued to be studied for several hundred years. He had systematized approaches on quadratic equations and some higher-level equations.
Moreover, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, who died in 1274, was one of the most important astronomers in history. He wrote 125 works on philosophy and theology, science, mathematics, etc.
In addition, there were other prominent contributors to science such as Al-Birjandi, Ali Qushji, Ibn Nafis. They proved that there was no such alleged negative impact of Al-Ghazali on science in Islam.
Source: Joseph Lumbard Channel