Muslims and technology


Except for some defiant holdouts, most Muslims have come to accept the printing press, loudspeaker, weather forecasts, cameras and television, blood transfusions, organ transplants, and in-vitro fertilisation. Earlier fears that technology will destroy their faith are disappearing. Although religious extremists have killed polio vaccine workers by the dozens, Pakistanis are likely to accept the Covid vaccine more easily than Americans. This is progress.

Technology for religious rituals is also becoming popular. For example, you may buy a small gadget called the SalatCard which uses proximity sensors to count the number of rakats performed during prayers. Also available online is an environmentally friendly wuzu (ablution) machine using visual sensors. Responding to public complaints of muezzins with rasping voices or bad pronunciations, Egypt’s government is carrying out an experimental airing in 113 mosques of Cairo where a computer will initiate the standardised azan at exact times. A few years ago multiple fatwas would have lambasted such innovations. But not anymore.

What of science, the fount of technology? Consuming technology does not, of course, resolve conflicts between science and religion. Nor does it necessarily mean that science as a way of looking at the world is gaining ascendancy. The latter motivated the 2020 Task Force Report on Culture of Science in the Islamic World. Led by Prof Nidhal Guessoum (Sharjah) and Dr Moneef Zou’bi (Jordan), with input from Dr Athar Osama (Pakistan), their online survey gives some hints.

At one level the results are encouraging. Their survey of 3,500 respondents, chosen mostly from Arab countries and Pakistan, shows knowledge of basic scientific facts as slightly better than in developed countries. The authors concede that this surprising result is probably because relatively educated and internet-savvy respondents were chosen. Still, one hopes that this is not too inaccurate.

But even if true, knowing facts about science is unconnected with having a scientific mindset. The difference is like that between a USB memory stick (where you dump data) and a CPU chip (which is the decision-making brain of your laptop or smartphone). The first is passive, relatively simple and cheap. The second is active, extremely complex and costly.

Eqbal Ahmad Centre for Public Education for more

Comments are closed.