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Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu: Bediuzzaman establishes the balance between science and religion

20 Ocak 2021, Çarşamba 12:40
“Neither Islam rejects science nor does science deny Islam.” said Said Nursi establishes such a balance. This point is significant as his scope is pretty inclusive. He was against the claim that “religion hinders advancement”. The main focus of Bediuzzaman is the issue of faith; the most important thing for him is faith, uttered Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Honorary President of Turkish Society for History of Science.


Photos: ERHAN AKKAYA – YeniAsya

Translation: Sueda Çakır

Prof. Ihsanoglu, has answered several questions of Yeni Asya. 

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Honorary President of Turkish Society for History of Science and the 9th Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which was the second largest international organization after the United Nations, between 2004 and 2014, has answered several questions of Yeni Asya. Today, we present the part about Bediuzzaman in our interview with Ihsanoglu. The rest of the interview will be broadcasted tomorrow… 

You said in your latest book titled as “Medreseler Neydi, Ne Değildi?” published by Kronik Publishers that Said Nursi offered remarkable answers to the materialist and anti-religious claims of secular perspectives. Can you explain this issue a bit more?

This issue which refers to Bediuzzaman, is elaborated under the chapter of a book published by Oxford University Press titled as “Science and Religion Around the World”. In that chapter, I tried to analyze the attitude of Muslim scholars visavis the introduction of Western science in the Muslim world. Then, I drew a big picture of the Ottoman attitudes towards modern science developing in Europe since 16thcentury up to 20th century. There seems no such a thing as a conflict between science and religion in that picture.  

One can clearly see in thatchapter, towards the end of the 19th century, the seeds of a conflict between Islam and science were sown. Ottoman intellectuals, who were under the influence of Western ideas such as positivism and social-Darwinism, knew neither the West nor Islam properly. In other words, Ottoman intellectuals in this period were influenced by a book written by American scholar on the conflict between Catholic Church and pioneers of modern science, which has nothing to do with Islam yet some of those intellectuals started to draw parallels through reading the translation of that book by Ahmet Mithat Efendi. 

The cover of Ihsanbook titled “MedreselerNeydi, Ne Değildi?”

Said Nursi was a scholar who received a very solid classical madrasa education, was also someone who reads and grasps modern science works written in Turkish or Arabic in the early years of the 20th century and realizes that there is no contradiction between the two. Bediuzzaman advocated the compatibility of science and religion in terms of Islam, taking into account his unique character, scholarly competence and his influence on people. This point is significant as he promoted this understanding among his students and followers in the first half of the 20th century Turkey. Taking these qualities in consideration he promoted his ideas on compatibility in Islam and modern science, in other words there is no contradiction between modern science and the verses of Holy Quran. Consequently, “Neither Islam rejects science nor does science deny Islam.” said Said Nursi who establishes such a balance. This point is significant as his scope is pretty inclusive. He was against the claim that “religion hinders advancement”. The main focus of Bediuzzaman is the issue of faith; the most important thing for him is faith.

Based on your book, how would you evaluate Bediuzzaman’s proposal Madrasah al-Zahra to teach the modern sciences and religious sciences together?

Well, of course, this was the right thing to do. There are two points about modernization. The first is the relation between religion and science. Modern science does not deny faith, on the contrary, it supports faith, and there is a compatibility between the facts revealed by science and the cosmic truths in the Quran. Second point is related to the social context where religion does not prevent progress, on the contrary, religion is progressive. So, it encourages progress. 

As you can see in this book, madrasahs emerged in the lands of the Ghaznavids in the 4thHijri, in the 10thcentury A.D. and spread from there. Seljuks supported the foundation of these madrasas, developed their traditions and established a system called Nizamiye Madrasahs and this spread, too. 

After that, it spreads to Central Asia, the Middle East and Anatolia. And since the 4th century A.H. and the 10thcentury A.D., educational activities take a certain form and academic traditions where deep-rooted. These traditions continue as they were commonly adhered to. This is a great tradition that started in the 10thcentury A.D. and continued until the 20thcentury using almost the same textbooks. However, in a new study I have recently finished and is under print, I established that 1/4 of the books taught in the 18thcentury are works by Ottoman authors, however ¾ of them are from pre-Ottoman time.

In the 2nd Constitutional Period (1908-1920), a very important reforms took place. During the time of the Shaykh al-Islam Musa Kâzım Efendi, significant decisions were made regarding the improvement of madrasahs. All Ottoman madrasas were formally given a centralized structure which was previously not exiting, but more important than that, modern sciences started to be taught alongside classical sciences. If this had continued, the trivialities and simplicities made in the name of religion today would have not be possible. Today, many mistakes are made in the name of religion. Therefore, the point you have raised is significant. 

Bediuzzaman attributes the main reasons of the ongoing decline and collapse in the Islamic World to “ignorance, necessity and conflict,” namely “three great enemies.” And in return, He offers a prescription as art, knowledge and solidarity. How can Bediuzzaman's approach and thought be transferred to practical areas?

Indeed, this judgement is very well spelled out in the expression of his time and his personality. I’ve just said something like this in response to your question. This judgement is quite accurate. In order to progress, it is necessary to ensure development in material, spiritual, economic, scientific and technological domains. Theissue is how to get these ideas into reality.

*Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c.mult. EKMELEDDIN IHSANOGLU: has been a pioneering figure in the studies and researches in the field of History of Science in Islam. He has been working on three main subjects since late 70’s that never quote the attention of scholars either from the Muslim world or Western world. The first is about the scientific activities of late centuries (14-19) and the second is very important subject of the introduction of the modern science and technology to the Muslim world and the attitude of the Muslim scholars which is still a vital question and the third is about the history of institutions of science in Islam. 

Prof. Ihsanoglu supervised many international projects sponsored by UNESCO and IRCICA; Master and PhD thesis’s on History of Science in Islam particularly. His publications and academic activities were appreciated by many international awards. Among them Alexandre Koyre Medal in History of Science given by the International Academy of History of Science (Paris, 2008). 

He also has been awarded by 20 honorary doctorates and professorships from different European, American, Russian and Islamic universities. Most significant among these honorary doctorates in History of Science is from Galileo Chair at Padua University in Italy. 

The International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology established for the first time, an international award in the name of Prof. Ihsanoglu to given to the best PhD in the field of History of Science in Islam since 2009. 

Prof. Ihsanoglu was a founder and co-founder of many institutions in this field:

1- Founder of the first independent department in History of Science in Istanbul University, Turkey, 1984.

2- Founder and first Director General of IRCICA between 1980-2004 where he established and edited series of research projects on science in Islam including 18 volumes of Ottoman Scientific Literature. 

3- Founder and Honorary President of Turkish Society for History of Science established in 1989. 

4- Co-founder of the Commission on History of Science and Technology in Islamic Societies in 1989 Hamburg under the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. 

5- President of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology between 2001-2005. 

Prof. Ihsanoglu has authored, co-authored and edited many volumes on different aspect of culture and science in Islam which has been published in many languages; English Turkish, Arabic, Russian, Persian, Bosnian, Albanian, etc. 

(Selected Publications)

1. Ekmeleddin İhsanoglu and et.al, Ottoman Scientific Literature (scientific disciplines such as Astronomy, Mathematics, Geography, Music, Medicine, natural and applied sciences, military art and science, astrology etc.) 18 volume

2. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and B. Rosenfeld, Mathematicians, Astronomers, and Other Scholars of Islamic Civilization and Their Works (7th – 19th v.). İstanbul: IRCICA, 2003.

3. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, The House of Sciences: The First Modern University in the Muslim World, Oxford University Press, 2019.

4. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, Ottoman Scientific Heritage, (in Arabic), Al-Furqan Foundation, London, 2020

5. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu (ed.). Transfer of Modern Science and Technology to the Muslim World. İstanbul: IRCICA, 1992.

6. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu. Science, Technology and Learning in the Ottoman Empire: Western Influence, Local Institutions, and the Transfer of Knowledge. Oxon: Ashgate, 2003. 

7. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu (chief ed. & co-author). History of the Ottoman State, Society and Civilisation, 2 vols. İstanbul: IRCICA, 2001-2002. (Including detailed two chapters on scientific institutions and literature) (available in Turkish, English, Arabic, Russian, Persian, Albanian & Bosnian languages).

a. Ottoman Educational and Scholarly Scientific Institutions, p.357-515

b. Ottoman Scientific Scholarly Literature, p. 517-603

8. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu (edited & introduction by), Cultural contacts in building a universal civilisation: Islamic Contributions, İstanbul: IRCICA, 2005.

9. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu (chief ed. & co-author). The Different Aspects of Islamic Culture, Volume Five: Culture and Learning in Islam. (English Edition), Paris: UNESCO, 2003; Ankara: Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, 2008 (Turkish Edition).

10. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, "Introduction of Western Science to the Ottoman World: A Case Study of Modern Astronomy (1660-1860)", Transfer of Modern Science and Technology to the Muslim World: Proceedings of the International Symposium on "Modern Science and the Muslim World", editör (edite dby), Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, İstanbul: ResearchCentrefor Islamic History, Art andCulture, 1992'nin içinde, 67-120.

11. “Science in the Ottoman Empire”, Ottoman Civilization / edited by), Halil İnalcık ve Günsel Renda.- Ankara: Milli Kütüphane Yayınları, 2003, c.1, 318-343.

12. "Ottomans and European Science", Science and Empires, edited by Patrick Petitjean... et al., Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992, 37-48.

13. “Scholars of Andalusian Origin and Their Contribution to Ottoman Science”, Suhayl: International Journal for the History of the Exact and Natural Sciences in Islamic Civilization, vol.14, 2015, 9-48. 

14. “Orthodox Christian Physicians and Scholars in the Ottoman Court”, Orthodox Christianity and Modern Science Tensions, Ambiguities, Potential, V. N. Makrides, G. E. Woloschak (eds.), Brepols Publisher, 2019 

15. “Modernization Efforts in Science, Technology and Industry in the Ottoman Empire (18th and 19th Centuries),” The Introduction of Modern Science and Technology to Turkey and Japan: International Symposium October 7-11, 1996, edited by Feza Günergun ve Kuriyama Shigehisa, Tokyo: International Research Center for Japanese Studies, p.15-35. (9570) 

16. “Institutions of Science Education: Classical” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Science, and Technology in Islam, edited by İbrahim Kalın, cilt 2, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 386-397

17. “Emergence of the Ottoman Medrese Tradition” Archivum Ottomanicum.- cilt: 25 (2008), [283]-338. 

18. “Institutionalisation of Science in the Medreses of pre-Ottoman and Ottoman Turkey” Turkish Studies in History and Philosophy of Science / edited by, Gürol Irzık and Güven Güzeldere.- Netherlands: Springer, 2005, 265-283. 

19. “Ottoman Educational Institutions”, Ottoman Civilization / editör (edited by), Halil İnalcık ve Günsel Renda.- Ankara: Milli Kütüphane Yayınları, 2003’ün içinde, c.1, 344-385. 

20. “The Birth of the Tradition of Printed Books in the Ottoman Empire: Transition from Manuscript to Print 1729-1848, (Hatice Aynur ile birlikte), Archivum Ottomanicum, 24 (2007): 165-196. 

21. “Islam and Modern Science” Science and Religion around the World /edited by John Hedley Brookeand Ronald L. Numbers, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, pp.148-174. 

22. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu (Edited andI ntroduction by), an Arabic biographical dictionary of 17th century by Katip Çelebi, سلمالوصولإلىطبقاتالفحول Sullam al-Wusul ila Tabaqat al-Fuhul (TheLadder of Elevation to the Lives of the Great and Famous by Generation) Istanbul: IRCICA, 2010, 6 volumes. 

23. John Brooke & Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu(ed.). Religious Values and the Rise of Science in Europe. Istanbul: IRCICA, 2005.


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  • İsmail Özgür

    21.2.2021 05:14:04

    Awesome...!Thank you for enlightening information.. For people who have long been suffering from intentionally created misperceptions by Zionists and Seculars.

  • ibrahim bayhan

    23.1.2021 04:49:38

    merhaba, bu yazıda neden Türkçe açılama yapılmamış

  • Mehmet Türeli

    21.1.2021 00:18:37

    thank very much


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