In his book Desperately Seeking Paradise, Ziauddin Sardar, Pakistani origin scientist and intellectual, describes his brief affair with ‘Islamic Science’ as a ‘political project funded and fuelled by Islamists from Saudi Arabia’. The era he writes about (1960-70s) was witnessing massive peasant and working class unrest in the Muslim world and different shades of socialist thought as well as revolutionary nationalism were gaining momentum among the people.
The ultra-conservative Islamist intellectuals and ruling classes identified modern science and the accompanying scientific temper as important tools which were providing ammunition to the political assertion of the masses. The oil rich Saudi Arabian monarchy, that legitimised its power using the narrative of theocracy, was particularly threatened. To tackle this, the petrodollar being pumped into Saudi and the rest of West Asia was used to denigrate secular science by establishing the hegemony of the ‘Islamic Science’. This ‘Islamic Science’ is not to be confused with the outstanding body of universal scientific knowledge produced by scholars in the Muslim world in various fields such as astronomy, mathematics and geometry. This conception of science negated the basic methodology of the secular science and replaced it with unquestionable claims derived from the Holy Quran and other texts for a specific political purpose.
This new branch of knowledge regularly came up with hilarious theories and discoveries. ‘Islamic scientists’ from Pakistan, who received generous support from Saudi Arabia, were chosen to lead in this frontal assault on science. Some of them came with mathematical equations which proved the existence of god. Some formulated theories that ‘proved’ that all modern scientific explanations had already been predicted by the Quran.
Arshad Ali Beg, a scientist in the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, even came up with scientific formulae to calculate the “hypocrisy ratio of a given society”. Unaware of the motive behind such a project and lured by a fat paycheck, Ziauddin Sardar also landed up in Saudi to work as a scientist. He decided to quit after he realised that his employers were merely interested in “cranks who were masquerading as scientists”.
Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy has documented that this offensive on science in the 1970-80s played a major role in making Pakistan a breeding ground of religious fanaticism and terrorism.
Today, a similar ‘scientific’ propaganda seems to be taking wing in India. The recently concluded 103rd Indian Science Congress held in Mysore accepted a paper that treats the Hindu God Shiva as a historical figure and argues that he was the “world’s greatest environmentalist”. Several among the Indian scientists feel that the present scenario in the country is not too different than the times of Zia-ul-Haq’s regime in Pakistan, which saw an unprecedented attack on the values of modern science.
Similar to Zia’s Pakistan, apart from creating an atmosphere where those who uphold a scientific temper are physically attacked and even killed (for instance the murder of anti-superstition activist Govind Pansare in Maharashtra in February last year), the government has also appointed Hindutva supporters with questionable academic credentials as heads of scientific institutions. There have also been instances of public funds used for researching ‘Hindutva science’. This raises the important question that many are asking: Is the Hindutva brigade aiming for the creation of a ‘Hindu Pakistan’?
“By contaminating science with absurd claims based on an ultra-nationalist political project, these self-proclaimed scientists are out to make the society regressive,” says Gauhar Raza, a scientist and poet based in Delhi. “Religious epics are narrated to younger generations as historical truths. This is exactly what happened in Pakistan.”