Can masjids and laboratories co-exist?

Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Isolating science and religion is one way, but what if one believes in both?

Sarah Munir November 05, 2012
At a small gathering of students and science enthusiasts in Karachi, Pervez Hoodbhoy was asked why he lost his temper at Agha Waqar- the scientist who claims he can successfully run a car engine on water.

Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy responded that nothing irked him more than bad physics. He went on to say that we had become so disgruntled as a society, that we were constantly looking for short cuts and miracles to solve our problems. And he was completely justified in making that claim. Very few, if any can question Dr Hoodbhoy’s work and consequentially his authority on the subject.

He later made a statement saying that science and religion cannot go together. If both were allowed to function in isolation, without constantly seeking Divine truths in science and vice versa, it would save our society a lot of trouble. To me, that seemed like a short cut in understanding religion.

The debate between the incompatibility of science and religion is not a new one. And it is certainly not an easy one either. There are extremes. One extreme believes in discarding everything, which cannot be explained by religious principles and truths. The other extreme believes in discarding everything that cannot be explained by logic, reason and a scientific method. Both these extremes are becoming increasingly prevalent because extremes are easy. What we tend to forget is that, they are also exclusionary of other viewpoints. It is finding a middle ground, a meeting point between faith and logic, a union of miracle and discovery, a consensus of science and theology, which is the main challenge in our society. It is unfortunately also missing from our academic and public discourse.

Yes, isolating science and religion is one way of doing things. But what if one is a believer of both? Is it necessary to pick sides?

One look at Islamic history will tell you otherwise. In the words of the famous scholar Ziauddin Sardar, "Muslims have been on the verge of physical, cultural and intellectual extinction simply because they have allowed parochialism and traditionalism to rule their minds." The solution he suggests is to break free from the ‘ghetto mentality.’ The problem with our society today is just that  - we have lost the courage or spirit to extract the real essence of Islam from the version that we see being practised around us today. We shun the ‘West’ and their methods but at the same time have become lazy and unwilling to form our own unique world-view. A world-view that allows us to evolve, to look ahead and embrace the challenges of the modern world without loosing grips on our history and Islamic principles.

Instead we turn to quick fixes and easy solutions. We dabble between extremism and escapism.

Unfortunately, a look at our history will tell you that it has not helped us become better at neither religion nor science. Not only has Muslim civilization watched from the sidelines while the rest of the world made exponential progress in scientific realms, we have also lost the essence of our religion to militants and extremists who have now become the poster-children of Muslim identity globally. In this tug of war between the ‘Islamists’ and the ‘liberals’, we have forgone the opportunity to produce thousands of potential Ibn-e-Sinas.

Something needs to be done to end this polarisation of faith and reason, which begins at academics and eventually seeps into every aspect of our lives. Something needs to be done soon before the path to the masjid and the path to laboratories become mutually exclusive of each other. And the first step towards achieving that would be to stop propagating and endorsing short cuts in both science and religion.

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Sarah Munir A graduate from the Columbia Journalism School and is currently heading the Magazine Desk at The Express Tribune. She tweets @SarahMunir1 (
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