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Islam’s copernican alchemy

I am not sure if there is an upsurge in what the BBC inaccurately refers to as

part of a popular trend in some Muslim societies of seeking to find Koranic precedents for modern science.

The impact of scientific theories upon Islamic beliefs has not acquired attention from the media. There are strands of creationism in this religion, and an unsurprising bout of natural theology has come to the fore. This differs from arguments concerning design in the nineteenth century, since these accepted and celebrated the successes of natural philosophy, the forerunner of today’s sciences.

Indeed, the attempts of Islamic scholars is to wed Quranic and scientific authority with some perverse results:

Muslim scientists and clerics have called for the adoption of Mecca time to replace GMT, arguing that the Saudi city is the true centre of the Earth.

Mecca is the direction all Muslims face when they perform their daily prayers.

The call was issued at a conference held in the Gulf state of Qatar under the title: Mecca, the Centre of the Earth, Theory and Practice. One geologist argued that unlike other longitudes, Mecca’s was in perfect alignment to magnetic north.

The odd combination of divine jurisprudence and natural authority is welded by the Islamic scholar in a bizarre Copernican alchemy.

A prominent cleric, Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawy, said modern science had at last provided evidence that Mecca was the true centre of the Earth; proof, he said, of the greatness of the Muslim “qibla” – the Arabic word for the direction Muslims turn to when they pray.

These attempts to appropriate and distort the sciences are not the easy option of science versus religion. Let us avoid the old bugbear of faith versus evidence, since most scientists combine the two without difficulty. They do tell us that schools of Islamic jurisprudence recognise science as a source of power and a rival authority.

It is called “Ijaz al-Koran”, which roughly translates as the “miraculous nature of the holy text”.

The underlying belief is that scientific truths were also revealed in the Muslim holy book, and it is the work of scholars to unearth and publicise the textual evidence.

If Islamic scholars attack scientific knowledge, they will sound backward and primitive, reducing their own influence over a society that becomes more literate and educated year after year. The other strategy is to co-opt this power, a power required to strengthen Islam, yet ensure that it does not undermine the truths of the Qu’ran that they perceive as poor.

Science will go hand in hand with awkward manifestations of Islam. But the premutations can amuse:

The meeting also reviewed what has been described as a Mecca watch, the brainchild of a French Muslim.

The watch is said to rotate anti-clockwise and is supposed to help Muslims determine the direction of Mecca from any point on Earth.

35 comments to Islam’s copernican alchemy

  • liminal

    If it means we’ll no longer have to mess about putting our clocks forward and back an hour each summer, then its got my vote.

  • CaptDMO

    Sheesh, one would think discovering zero would be good enough to call it a day.

  • Sam Duncan

    Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawy

    That name rings a bell. Not this guy? Yeah, I’m sure he knows what he’s talking about…

  • “One geologist argued that unlike other longitudes, Mecca’s was in perfect alignment to magnetic north”.

    Given the predilection of the Earth’s magnetic poles to move around, if this statement is accurate today, it won’t be accurate for long.

    “The meeting also reviewed what has been described as a Mecca watch, the brainchild of a French Muslim.”

    I’ll lay good odds on it not keeping time as well as my Breitling.

  • Nick

    “One geologist argued that unlike other longitudes, Mecca’s was in perfect alignment to magnetic north.”

    Any boy Scout could tell you that magnetic north shifts from year to year, so I must be missing something here.

  • Vinegar Joe

    Well……..Al Stewart did sing The World Comes to Riyadh……..

  • Any boy Scout could tell you that magnetic north shifts from year to year, so I must be missing something here.

    Nope, you are missing nothing, try looking here(Link). It is all pseudo scientific gobbledygook whos purpose is to create another non issue with which to beat the kufr.

  • Bod

    At the risk of tainiting my (miniscule) credibility by linking to National Review, Mark Steyn made this point … (Link).

    Everything the muslims claim as their science was pretty much stolen from or inspired by the Persians when Islam overran the decadent, effete Persian Empire. Sound familiar?

  • Andrew X

    hey Youssef….

    Land somebody on the f – < !< ing moon, then we'll talk.

  • Andrew X

    (not sure why it cut off, try again)

    Hey Yousseff,

    Land somebody on the F—ing moon, and then we’ll talk.

    (It was funnier the first time.)

  • nick g.

    CaptDMO, the Hindus invented the zero- to describe the scientific discoveries of the arabs.
    Here’s an argument to try on a muslim (make sure that his sword is out of reach!). Muslims believe in abrogation, the principle that later verses of the Koran abrogate earlier verses. Simply claim that Allah has abrogated the Koran, and gone back to the Bible without telling anyone!

  • renminbi

    The Zero is a hindu invention.

    I guess this whole thing just confirms Ataturk: Islam,this absurd theology of an immoral Bedouin, the rotting corpse which poisons our lives.

    Ain’t no way they can put enough lipstick on that pig to make it presentable.

  • Laird

    “The meeting also reviewed what has been described as a Mecca watch, the brainchild of a French Muslim.”

    Wow! A trifecta! I don’t think I’ve ever seen the words “brain”, “French” and “Muslim” in the same sentence before. Is there a word for a triple oxymoron?

  • Shannon Love

    Funny thing, if you have watch, know your time zone and memorize a few relationships you can calculate the latitude and longitude if you can see the sun. With that you can tell which direction is the shortest distance to Mecca.

    Mecca does lay close to one of the zero lines for magnetic declination but there are several of of those one of which runs through the western U.S. Otherwise, it has no special geographic position.

    I am also interested to know how you define the center of a spherical surface.

  • nick g.

    Here’s a question to pose to the poseurs- where does the Koran predict that the Christian West will outperform the decadent Muslim Ummah? Where is the sceptical scientific method actually prophesied, and I want Sura and verse!
    And where in the Koran does it predict that the Jews would reclaim Palestine, and bring Israel back from the grave? And claim the whole of Jerusalem as their eternal capital?
    These are the predictions that everyone seems to have missed.

  • the Hindus invented the zero

    Babylonians invented positional notation and the zero. Hindus seem to have picked it up from them.

  • Sorry, Babylonians invented the ‘concept’ of zero. They indicated it with nothing. Literally. They had nothing in that position.

  • Gib

    If it means we’ll no longer have to mess about putting our clocks forward and back an hour each summer, then its got my vote.

    No, it would mean we’d have to set our clocks about 500 years.

  • Gib

    Set our clocks BACK 500 years I meant…

  • Magnetic declination at Mecca is actually about 2°E (and as others have pointed out changes with time). Wikipedia.

    Also Earth time is technically UTC not GMT.

    Apart from that …

  • Zero was invented independently in the Americas, too. The Mayans are well known for having a positional value number system, but it appears that they adopted it rather than invented it, and American use of zero goes back at least two thousand years also.

  • Quentin George

    “And where in the Koran does it predict that the Jews would reclaim Palestine, and bring Israel back from the grave? ”

    Interestingly…the Koran itself is a mildly Zionist work…

    Surah 10:93…

    “And We verily did allot unto the Children of Israel a fixed abode”

    Game Set and match for the Arabs? 😛

  • RAB

    I get a bizzare picture of Youseff
    hovering slightly in the air,
    playing with his O’s
    His perfectly oxygenated blood swirling through his veins, expecting to live forever!

    What’s the life expectancy in Mecca again?
    But I could have sworn I saw this story some where else earlier… 😉


    Besides didn’t time in Britain differ by several minutes East to West, before the coming of the railways, when they consolidated it to make the timetables work?

  • The Quran is perfect. It is the most beautiful work in Arabic. It is because it says it is. It has a huge advantage in this claim. It is pretty much the first written work in that language to survive. The Islamic claim to Quranic perfection is tantamount to saying English literature should have stopped at Beowulf.

    Of course, the Quran claims to predict every bloody thing under the sun including blackholes. You can prove anything with interpretation. It’s like bloody Nostradamus. So it could be construed, vaguely, after the fact to predict the Vietnam War or the bombing of Hiroshima? Of course it can because it’s perfect and the word of God, D’oh!

    If you look into any work as convoluted as the Qu’ran then you can explain anything. But riddle me this? If the Qu’ran is infinitely re-interpretable then how can it be the fixed word of God for all time?

    Science is just telling stories after all. The trick is telling the best ones. It’s this simple. If you were all to believe that the Earth is round because the Great Titmouse decreed it so then that’s fine. That’s a question that has stopped itching you but… it’s not a very useful explanation. An explanation in terms of Universal Gravitation is probably better and certainly provides more scope for further study.

    Or to put it another way. If you were to believe (and are lucky enough to live where it is properly visible) that the Milky Way is milk ejected from Hera’s breast and you’re happy with that then fine. Knock yourself out. If on the other hand you want to know the truth then just ask your friendly local astrophysicist who for the price of a half of lager will bore you senseless about it.

    But it will be the better story because whilst astrophysicists might sometimes get it wrong they aren’t just making it up.

  • windy blow

    Some Muslims believe that everything is already in the Koran, so when someone makes a breaktrough in MP4 players or genetics (and looking ahead, interstellar propulsion drives) the Islamic world can say honestly: “Yeah, saw that in the Koran.”

    Which would also explain how easy it has been for Iran to pursue nuclear ambitions as they only have to open their holy book and read the instructions.

  • RAB

    Jesus saves

    Jehovah invests

    But Mohammed just puts it

    Under the mattress

  • Since the English worked out the method of determining longitude at sea, the prime meridian goes through Greenwich Observatory. π is represented by a Greek letter because Greeks discovered and calculated it. Programming languages and HTML resemble English because that’s what the people who developed them speak. The next time those primitives figure out something important, they can set it up for their convenience. Until then, they are cordially invited to STFU, or whatever that might be in Arabic.

  • renminbi

    What is STFU?Are you calling tem a bunch of zeros?

  • renminbi

    What is STFU? Are you calling them a bunch of zeros?

  • Jim A

    About as silly as the intelligent design movement IMHO.

  • ArtD0dger

    The article repeats the claim that Muslims face Mecca to pray — but actually they are pointing their asses outwards at the infidels.

  • Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawy can jump up and down and praise his sky-fairy all he wants, and claim that his ridiculous and sanguinary ‘holy’ book is the fount of all reason, but it doesn’t alter the fact that attempting to identify a point on a 2-sphere (or any of its homeomorphisms) as being the ‘centre’ is a grave transgression against topology.

  • Laird

    Is a “transgression against topology” a sin?

  • nick g.

    STFU! I think it means ‘Shut The Freaks Up!’, or something like that. Surah 10, verse 93, talking about the Children of Israel, is talking about the past. The rest of the verse talks about how they were punished for falling into schisms! It’s not a prophecy.

  • Forest Gump

    Neither better nor worse than the Christian claims about science — or denials of science — AFAICT.

    Of course all religions, including Atheism, are dependant on special knowledge which is given only to the faithful, or a subset of the faithful, giving them perfect certainty. WIth this as a given, the rest of their arguments can be ignored from a Scientific point of view, though it should be pointed out from time to time that science can neither confirm nor refute these claims, as they fall outside the purview of science.