To the Best of Our Knowledge
Public Radio International

Science and the Search for Meaning: Five Questions

Part Four

Can Islam and Science Coexist?

Islamic culture was once the center of the scientific world. During Europe's Dark Ages, Baghdad, Cairo and other Middle Eastern cities were the key repositories of ancient Greek science. Muslim scholars themselves made breakthroughs in medicine, optics, and mathematics. Today the Islamic world lags far behind the West in science and technology. What happened? This hour of To the Best of Our Knowledge looks at the challenges facing Muslim scientists.

Original Air Date: December 12, 2010
Segment 1

Steve Paulson presents a round-up of scholars who track scientific developments in the Muslim world. First he speaks with Taner Edis, a physicist at Truman State University whose books include An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam. Edis says the state of science is dismal in the Muslim world today. Ziauddin Sardar, a London based scholar and cultural critic, agrees, to a point. He tells Steve what's needed now is "an Islamic science" and explains what that is. Sardar's memoir is Desperately seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Skeptical Muslim. And Nidhal Guessoum, an Algerian born astrophysicist who teaches at American University in the United Arab Emirates, agrees that contemporary science in the Arab word is abysmal, but he looks back with great pride at the Golden Age of Islam and talks with Steve about what happened.

Press Play to Listen (Running Time 21:25)

Alternative content

Download Audio Podcast (10.3MB mp3)

Segment 2

Anousheh Ansari became the first Muslim woman to venture into space when she traveled aboard the International Space Station. She talks about her trip with Jim Fleming and writes about it in her book My Dream of Stars: From Daughter of Iran to Space Pioneer. Also, Steve Paulson travels to Turkey to report on Harun Yahya, Islam's leading creationist, who runs a sophisticated media empire and has considerable influence. He also has critics.

Press Play to Listen (Running Time 21:03)

Alternative content

Download Audio Podcast (10.1MB mp3)

Segment 3

After all the debates about the Muslim world, it's refreshing to look back at one of the world's great mystics - the Sufi poet Rumi. Rumi lived in the thirteenth century in what is now Turkey and left a remarkable cache of poetry and spiritual wisdom. He's one of America's best-selling poets, thanks to the efforts of his long-time translator, Coleman Barks. Anne Strainchamps talks with Coleman Barks about Rumi's insights.

Press Play to Listen (Running Time 10:31)

Alternative content

Download Audio Podcast (5.1MB mp3)

Science and the Search for Meaning: Five Questions
Perspectives on the Self: Conversations on Identity and Consciousness
What is Life?
November 21, 2010
What Does Evolution Want?
November 28, 2010
Can Science Be Sacred?
December 19, 2010


The Nour Foundation: Exploring Meaning & Commonality in Human Experience
The John Templeton Foundation
Promega Corporation