Science, Divisions and Hope under Islam

Science under Islam: Rise, Decline and Revival’ provided Professor S M Deen’s excellent 2007 analysis of the rise of science (and technology) in the Islamic Golden Age, examined the causes that led to its decline and the failed later attempts for its revival, and finally discussed the social and religious reformations needed for it to flourish in contemporary Muslim societies. (It is a unique, highly relevant and well-written book which is still selling and hugely pertinent to today’s situation and definitely worth a read – see Social reformation would need to include the rule of law, democratic infra-structure and human-rights, while religious reformation would involve the interpretation of scripture. Without such reformations, it was argued, the Muslim quarter of world population would be constrained from full participation in the science-driven 21st century world. That would be despite the magnificent Arabic and Muslim contributions to philosophy, arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry, astronomy, optics, chemistry, geography, mechanics and medicine achieved during the Golden Age.

Now, almost a decade later, Professor Deen provides further analysis of the divisions in Islam, tracing the historic origins of dissention, including an analysis of the birth of the extreme doctrine of Takfirism, the development of the Sunni/Shia division and the problematic creation of Sharia, based originally on unreliable oral accounts of sayings and deeds of the Prophet. The analysis also includes further examination of the present day sources of financial strength and influence in the conflicted Islamic world and the implications for Muslim and non-Muslim societies. There is hope for a better future, but it will take more resources, understanding and patience for its achievement.


By Professor S M Deen

Origin of Division and its Expansion

In most major religions, the source of division can be traced back to their origin, and in the case of Islam, to division in the Prophet’s own household. The successful group in that household was led by the Prophet’s favourite wife Ayesha, daughter of Abu Bakr who later became the first Khalifa, and the other group led by the Prophet’s daughter Fatima, married to Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and adopted son, who later became the 4th Khalifa. Ali, seeming not to have political acumen, was overwhelmed by grief at the death of the Prophet in 632 CE. He simply sat with Prophet’s dead body for over two days before burying him. In the meanwhile Umar, friend of Abu Bakr and the future second Khalifa, sensed a dangerous political vacuum and negotiated, just in time, a deal with the Medinan tribal leaders, to declare Abu Bakr as the Khalifa, i.e. the successor to the Prophet. This news came to Ali too late. Shortly before his death, the Prophet had acquired a property as war booty, which he had promised to his impoverished daughter Fatima. But the new Khalifa, Abu Bakr, unnecessarily antagonised Fatima (and Ali) by refusing to pass this property to her, pronouncing that the Prophet had no heir. Fatima, who died six months later, never recognised Abu Bakr as the Khalifa, though Ali did so after her death. Some Muslims, particularly Shias, would disagree with the idea that Ali was politically naïve and would view perhaps the election of Abu Bakr as the Khalifa, as a conspiracy against Ali.

Ali failed to succeed Abu Bakr or even Umar. The third Khalifa Usman was assassinated, after which Ali became the 4th Khalifa in 656 CE, but Ayesha opposed and led an army against Ali (battle of Jamal, Nov, 656 CE) in which apparently 20,000 Muslims, many of them revered Companions of the Prophet died. A battle for succession between Prophet’s favourite wife and his adopted son in which 20,000 revered Muslims died does not bring glory to Islam. This battle somehow legitimised in the Muslim psyche that the killing of each other for political power is somehow acceptable in Islam, Ayesha lost the battle and escorted out of the battlefield to safety on Ali’s order by Muhammad, Ayesha’s favourite half-brother, and Ali’s adopted son and supporter. She retired unharmed in Medina where she remained until her death some 20 years later. It is very likely that Ayesha unwittingly found herself leading an army against Ali, which she regretted deeply later, saying “I wish I was never born”. However, for the Muslims worse to follow.
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