Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ceritera 134

The first major Muslim intellectual figure of the nineteenth century to respond positively to the challenge of modern science was Hasan al-'Attar al-Khalwati. Born in Cairo around 1766, he was a contemporary of teafamous Egyptian historian, 'Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti, and a teacher of the more famous Rifa'a al-Tahtawi. His intellectual response was perhaps more significant tan that of many of his contemporaries. He was not only important religious figure, being Shaykh al-Azhar from 1831 until his death in 1835, but also a scientist of great ability. He wrote many works, among others, on metapysics, astronomy, mathematics and medicine.

Al-'Attar obtained his scientific education in Turkey where he had the opportunity of meeting several European scientists, particularly in the field of medicine. It was trough this acquaintance that he came to know of advances made by contemporary western science. He was certainly in favour of Muslim learning western science. But bound as much as he was to the scientific worldview of the Islamic tradition in which he was brought up, his whole approach to European science was primarily guided by the desire to integrate its accomplishments into that worldview. This was best illustrated by his attitude to western medicine. While he was perceptive and bold enough to make use of western medical advances to criticize Ibn Sina's medical works, hhe remained faithful to te traditional philosophical framework of Islamic medicine perfected by the "Prince of the Physicians" himself. Because of much infighting among the 'ulama' at al-Azhar, al-Attar never had the opportunity to translate his progressive traditional intellectual views on modern science into concrete educational programmes during his rectorship at that prestigious institution.

Al-'Attar's intellectual perspective very much resembles that of present-day Muslim scholar who argue for the Islamization philosophy, on which he, in fact, wrote numerous treatises, and the underlying philosophy of western science.

Bakar, Osman, Tawhid and Science: Islamic Perpectives on Religion and Science (Shah Alam: Arah Pendidikan sdn Bhd, 2008)

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