Academic Colloquium: Reading is Believing? Sacred texts in a Scientific Age Cambridge, March 2018


A three-day colloquium on science and scripture in Christianity and Islam was held at the end of March, at Clare College, Cambridge by the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion and the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. The larger project, on Science and Scripture in Christianity and Islam, examines the extent to which understandings of textual hermeneutics shape the relationship between science and religion, and aims to understand how Christian and Muslim scientists relate their scriptures and traditions to the scientific worlds in which they operate.

The colloquium included several papers on how scientific knowledge relates to the Qur’ān and Islam, and a closing keynote speech by Professor Salman Hameed (Hampshire College MA), on “The Role of Qur’ān in the Acceptance or Rejection of Biological Evolution”.

Before this, Dr Shoaib Ahmed Malik, (Zayed University, Dubai) spoke about the “Hermeneutics of New Atheism: Qur’ān and Hadiths on Trial”, noting the almost complete absence of literature on atheism and Islam, and stressed the need for research from both insider and outsider perspectives. Following a general introduction to New Atheism, Dr Malik discussed its links with Islam, finding that while New Atheism has become linked to Islamophobia, it has also become a form of identity for some former Muslims. Dr Malik identified four different ways in which New Atheists approach Islamic literature as (i) Sciencism, which believes that all components of science are culturally constructed valid references and intellectual filters, which Islamic authorities will have to (eventually, if not now) compete with; (ii) Naturalism; (iii) Secularism and (iv) a Simplistic approach.

He concluded that Islam is a central concern for New Atheists, who employ the same acontextual, literal, cherry-picking methodology, as fundamentalists, in staking their claims about the Qur’ān and hadith. Collectively, these are intended to undermine authoritative Islamic hermeneutics, and Muslim thinkers must therefore deconstruct these atheist hermeneutics and amplify authentic/traditional Islamic ones in responding to them.

Dr Shuruq Naguib (Lancaster, “Reading is Understanding: Bint al-Shāṭi’ on Scientific Exegesis of the Qur’ān”), discussed Professor al-Shāṭi’s life and legacy, as the first woman to author a commentary on the Qur’an, outlining her approach to the text and use of pre-modern tafsīr in developing her own exegetical methodology, while objecting to a scientific interpretation of the Qur’ān.

The colloquium concluded with the keynote address by Professor Salman Hameed (Hampshire College MA), on “The Role of Qur’ān in the Acceptance or Rejection of Biological Evolution”, presenting the results of research amongst medical professionals in Pakistan and Malaysia, which asked to what degree respondents accepted the theory of evolution and how this sat with their Islamic beliefs. Professor Hameed also discussed the reception of evolution in these two countries against the background of the legacy of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817 – 1898). A former geocentrist, Khan eventually concluded that science did not contradict the Qur’ān or religious belief and went on to defend evolution. He dedicated the latter half of his life to instigating internal reform in Islam, through the combination of both scientific and religious education, founding the institution that today is Aligarh University, in India.


© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2018. All rights reserved.