Entries from August 2007 ↓

LNL on Islam and Science

The ABC’s Late Night Live yesterday featured an interview with Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy on the state of science in the Muslim world:

The Islamic world was once the unrivalled centre of science and philosophy. The early breakthroughs in optics, astronomy, mathematics and medicine were made by Muslim scholars.

Today, Muslim countries are open to using modern technology, especially in military and commercial areas, but as Pervez Hoodbhoy points out, no major invention or discovery has emerged from the Muslim world for well over seven centuries now.

What happened? What led to the decline of Islam’s scientific greatness? And what might be done to resurrect it?

Ed Husain: this week’s Prester John

Ed Hussein Prester John was a fabulous Christian King of the East, famed for his power and wisdom. European Christendom could be saved from the vast ascendant armies of the Islamic world, if only word could be got to him to attack the Islamic empire from behind. Together the eastern Nestorian king John and Western knights would defeat Islam and save Europe. A letter from John, widely circulated in Europe by the clergy, added fuel to the fire. John’s kingdom of 72 states, was a crime free paradise surrounded by the Muslim horde. The small matter of John being an entirely fictitious creation of the fevered imagination of European Christianity prevented this Baldric-esque “cunning plan”.

One thousand years later, little has changed in the dynamic between the Rum and the Muslims. Now however, the western consensus is that it is the Islam at the heart of the Muslim world that is antithetical to “progress”, that Muslims must therefore be separated from a coherent understanding of Islam, and that the only person who can achieve this is someone from within the faith. A theological Saracen version of the Prester John fable.

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Australian government funds 2,000 new Islamic schools

This all sounds a bit far fetched, right? 2,000 Islamic schools?

But this is exactly what the government has been doing in Indonesia; building and opening Islamic schools with a target of 2,000 such schools being established by 2009.  It’s all part of the War against Terror.

Antara reports on the first 46 that have been opened recently:

The Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, Bill Farmer, and Indonesian Minister for Religious Affairs Muhammad M Basyuni here on Wednesday attended a ceremony at MTs PSA Al Fauzan in Labruk Lor, Lumajang District, East Java Province, to mark the opening of 46 Islamic junior secondary schools (Madrasah Tsanawiyah) that have been built with Australian assistance.

The construction of the 46 schools commenced in 2006 and are ready for the 2007 school year, which began last month. Work is due to commence in coming weeks on further 275 Islamic schools that will open to students in mid 2008.

Farmer said the schools were part of the Rp2.5 trillion Australian Government program which is funding the construction or expansion of 2000 schools in 20 Indonesian provinces until 2009.

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The Pen: The Role of Writing and Calligraphy in Islamic Art and Science

The following is a guest post by Dr Waleed Kadous. It is an edited version of a speech given at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on its exhibition of the Nasser D. Khalili Collection called The Arts of Islam on 15th August, 2007.

Hamza Yusuf Hanson, an American Islamic Scholar who studied Islam in Mauritania in his twenties, a small country in northwest Africa, where Islam is taught very traditionally using the traditional reed pens, was one day cleaning his nails with the end of the reed while waiting for the class to start. All of a sudden he feels a stinging pain on his head. He looks around and sees his teacher looking at him. He said why? What did I do wrong? He said, “this is the pen that God has made an oath by, and you’re using it to clean your nails?”

This story gives us a flavour of the respect and veneration of writing within Islam. What I’d like to share with you are some thoughts on the place of writing and calligraphy in Islamic Art and really I wanted to look at a three questions: firstly, why is it that writing is so venerated in Islam and in Islamic art? Secondly, what impact did writing have on Islam’s development and what impact does it have on Muslims even today? And finally, what can it tell us about how communities relate in the modern world and in Australia?

In order to understand the place of writing in Islam, we first need to understand a little about Islam itself. Compared to other religions, there are two things that I would argue that distinguish Islam from other religions, and both of them – in one way or another – relate to the place of writing in Islamic Art.

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The “race” flag

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Harun Yahya versus Wordpress

We’ve written before about creationist spam king Harun Yahya and some of the weird stuff in his books. But nothing really compares to this: he has apparently applied to a Turkish court to have all Wordpress blogs blocked across the entire country. And won.

Here’s the official announcement to all Wordpress.com users and there’s more discussion at Matt’s blog.

And here’s the letter his lawyer sent to Wordpress.com:

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Haneef v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship

Dr Haneef, the Indian doctor accused of terrorism offenses and subsequently released after the DPP dropped all charges, has had his visa reinstated. You can read the judgement here.

Update: The government is appealing.

The Jewish Question

I recently bumped into a friend in the city who had just returned from visiting a medical specialist. After discussing what he had been told by the doctor, he said that he would be seeking another opinion because he suspected the specialist was a Jew. He went on to lament that so many of the specialists in that field were also Jews and that there were not too many Arabs or Muslims — hinting, of course, at some sort of conspiracy. Although I wasn’t impressed that he would be seeking a second opinion based purely on some imported ethno-religious hangups rather than out of prudence alone, I suggested, somewhat tongue in cheek, that maybe it was because Jews were just very intelligent and so they excelled in these sorts of professions.

There is, however, a kernel of truth to that. Indeed, as these interesting statistics on the intellectual excellence of Ashkenazi Jews suggest:

Ashkenazim have earned 27% of the Nobel Prizes awarded to Americans, 25% of ACM Turing Awards, and 26% of the Fields Medals. They account for more than half the world chess champions. Ashkenazic Jews, 2 percent of the US population, make up 30% of elite-college faculty, 30% of Supreme Court law clerks, and 27% of Ivy Leaguers.

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Masjids and Middle Class Da’wah

A few weeks ago, Baybers and I had a discussion about whether there was any organisation or mosque to which one could bring one of their non-Muslim work colleagues and know, with some certainty, that their colleague wouldn’t be accosted, bothered or experience something that would be the source of embarrassment for his host. Or a mosque where a visit to the bathroom wouldn’t be a sort of cultural TARDIS for your colleague; transporting him to an earlier time and place where basic standards of hygiene were yet to be discovered.

I’ve taken non-Muslims to mosques and Islamic organisations on two or three occasions after they expressed an interest in learning about Muslims — possibly more but post-traumatic stress syndrome has blocked them out — and it has always been an uncomfortable and difficult situation. On the first occasion, I left my guest to get something from the car and returned to find him being aggressively interrogated by an Australian-born Muslim about his religious beliefs; and, on the second occasion, my guest was asked whether he believed the “lies” about September 11 having been carried out by Muslims.

The experience with the so-called da’wah organisations hasn’t been much better: a friend of mine contacted one of them here in Melbourne and requested a copy of the Qu’ran — just the Qu’ran — to be sent to a colleague of his from work who had requested a copy. The organisation sent a copy of the Qu’ran but also a torrent of Harun Yahya literature and the usual aggressively evangelical material. Likewise, I remember visiting my doctor and being told that he had been sent — unsolicited — a bunch of Islamic literature outlining various “miracles” such as Allah’s name inside fruit and vegetables and so on; all of this in the apparent expectation that a man who has spent many years studying medicine might be convinced to embrace Islam after seeing what appears to be Arabic writing on the insides of a water melon.

So here’s the question: is there any mosque or Islamic organisation where you could take a normal, educated middle class non-Muslim colleague and be confident that your co-religionists won’t embarrass you or make your colleague feel uncomfortable?

Cheney ‘94: Invading Iraq would create a quagmire

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