A new era of dialogue between Islam and modern science is based more on the harmony between these fields compared to past attempts to “Islamicize” science, writes Nidhal Guessoum in the journal Zygon (December). The 1970s and 80s saw the growth of a number of schools of Islamic thought seeking to reconcile science and the faith, which included attempts to mine the miraculous scientific content of the Koran and to merge classical Islamist thought with the philosophy of science by the thinker Seyyed Hossein Nasr (known as traditionalism). The most ambitious program was what is called the Islamicization of knowledge, which sought to rewrite science from an Islamic perspective and is largely based in Malaysia and at the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Washington. While most of these schools lost momentum since the 1990s, the endeavor to find modern scientific concepts prefigured in the Koran continues to find a strong following in Islamic schools, media, and academic conferences throughout the world. But, a “new generation of thinkers” has recently emerged that stresses affinity with modern scientific developments, such as evolution, and is conversant with philosophy.
The fact that several of these thinkers stressing harmony with science are practicing scientists and are open to Islamic and non-Islamic philosophical/religious traditions may lend them more influence among educated Muslim and non-Muslims. The thinkers, including Mehdi Golshani, Basil Altaie, Guessoum himself, and Usama Hasan, tend to criticize Islamic creationism and intelligent design and accept theistic evolution and big bang cosmology, even if some may not follow the implications of these views for traditional Islamic teachings (such as on the existence of miracles and the historicity of Adam). The issue remains that the new generation of Islam-science thinkers are from a dominant movement and, as practicing scientists, they may have to initially make their contribution as authorities on more practical issues in the Islamic community. This includes matters such as the role of Islamic astronomy (determining holy days and months, and the calculation of prayer times), as well as in the growing field of bioethics—from abortion and euthanasia to cloning and transhumanism.