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Summer School 2021

Islam and science: yesterday, today and the future


Emeritus Professor Anwar Suleman Mall, University of Cape Town

In 2006 the prestigious scientific journal Nature published four articles in a news feature column on the state of science in the Islamic world, with a focus on the ‘oil rich’ Middle East. These reports and subsequent ones raised concern regarding the ‘scant support for science and technology’ in the Arab states. Mindful of the words of the physicist Jim Al-Khalili that Western cultural and scientific thought is indebted to the work, more than a thousand years ago, of ‘The Golden Age of Arabic Science’, this course is designed to chart the history and analyse the reasons for the decline of science in the Muslim world over centuries up to very recent times. The final lecture will show that there seems to be some reason for optimism from the late twentieth century onwards. 



1. Introduction: a historical background to Islam

2. Early history of scientific thought in the Arab world

3. Some scientific personalities in the Arab Golden Age of Science

4. What modern historians and academics have to say

5. The New Islamic Enlightenment and concluding remarks


This course will be offered on the Microsoft Teams platform. Participants will be sent a link.


Recommended reading

Al-Khalili, J. 2010. Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science. London: Penguin Books. 

Hoodbhoy, P. 1992. Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: S. Abdul Majeed and Company.

 Ansary, M.T. 2010. Destiny Disrupted: a History of the World through Islamic Eyes. New York: PublicAffairs. 

de Bellaigue, C. 2017. The Islamic Enlightenment. The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason New York: Penguin Random House 

Armstrong, K. I. 2000. Islam, A Short History. Burlington, Vermont: Phoenix Books.


Date: 11–15 January
Time: 3.00 pm