4.2.5 In the Shadow of Modernity


In this 2008 lecture at Yale University, Professor Ahmad Dallal (Dean of Georgetown University in Qatar) discusses the rejection of Darwinism by Al-Afghani in the late 19th century. Darwinism arrived to South Asia via missionary schools, where the controversy roiling the Christian world regarding the theory of evolution spilled over into the local, Muslim conversation. Professor Dallal also questions the modern approach to Quranic exegesis, which purports to "predict” science.

Listen to the lecture between minutes 32:12 until the end at 58:10. This is a richly sourced discussion–you may need to listen to it twice!


Guiding Questions:

  1. As you listen to this section of the lecture, pay attention to the evidence and sources Professor Dallal uses to support his claims. While recognizing that this is a short lecture (and Dr. Dallal and others have written densely cited books on these subjects), are there any assertions for which you would like more sources? Is Professor Dallal using primary sources written by the people he is describing, and secondary information from people who knew and wrote about the original actors and texts?
  2. Who was Sir Syed Ahmed Khan? What was his relationship with British rule?
  3. Why did Sayyad Jamal al Din Asadabadi, or Al-Afghani, oppose Sir Syed Ahmed Khan?
  4. What objections did Al-Afghani eventually have against Darwinism, according to the sources cited? Did he object to the idea of natural selection?
  5. How does Dr. Dallal trace the origins of the "Scientific Miracle” approach to Quranic exegesis? When does he argue this approach began, and with whom? How does this approach relate to the classical period of Islam?
  6. How does Professor Dallal’s description of this "Scientific Miracle,” or "scientific tafsir,” approach compare to the description in learning material 4.1.4?
  7. What does he argue is the role of the past, through our understanding of history, on "the building of a desired future?”
  8. Recall learning material 2.3.1, and the idea of tradition as a rope. What are the implications of ignoring historical ways of knowing—in this case ignoring classical Islamic approaches to the relationship between scientific discovery and scripture?


Video Credit: Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History – "In the Shadow of Modernity.” Yale University Dwight H. Terry Lectureship, held February 28, 2008.

Thumbnail: "Allama Mashriqi’s followers in Khaksar uniform.” Photo Credit: Nasim Yousaf’s collection: Khaksar Tehrik album ("India,” 1931). CC BY 2.0. Mashriqi applied the concept of "survival of the fittest”—a gross reduction of Darwin’s causal mechanism—to argue that the "righteous” would prevail (see Riexinger, Martin. "