What if it’s possible to adhere to both religious beliefs and scientific teachings? What if YouTube is a new way to bring religion and science together?
It’s an often-forgotten fact. From the 9th to the 16th century, Islamic astronomy enjoyed a golden age. Observatories in the Arab world charted the sky to set dates for religious and civil festivals, and sophisticated calculations and models led to mathematical advances.
And yet, when it comes to so many other topics, there’s often conflict between Islam and science. For instance, surveys within the past decade have shown that Muslims mostly reject the main concepts and results of evolution, particularly as it applies to humans. Instead, they argue for a literal reading of the Qur’an – that is, that God created Adam from clay.
According to Nidhal Guesssoum, Ph.D., “Even educated Muslims – and this is where today’s Muslim culture stands out – consider evolution as ‘only a theory’ and refuse to accept that we humans share common ancestors with apes.”
An astrophysicist and professor at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, he is a passionate advocate of integrating modern science into the Islamic worldview. Muslims, he contends, must open their minds to all new ideas and be confident that their faith and worldview are robust enough to deal with modern discoveries.
He’s convinced that the integration of knowledge and belief is especially urgent for young Muslims. Many are often torn between the traditional teachings they receive at home and in mosques and the education they acquire in schools and colleges — teachings that seem to clash or at least not easily fit together.
After publishing the 400+-page “Islam’s Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science” in 2011, Guessoum realized that the book was too big, too deep and detailed for young Muslims. This led him to publish “The Young Muslim’s Guide to Modern Science” in 2017. It was simply written and a mere 178 pages. However, given today’s youth culture of shorter attention spans and expanding reliance on technology, he realized it was time to take his message to new, nonprint media.
Guesssoum turned to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Soon, thousands of viewers and subscribers confirmed it was a good move. His digital foray included a new series on YouTube that focused on broad topics of science and culture called Ta’ammal Ma`i (Reflect with Me). It’s the only YouTube series that uses simple classical Arabic language and addresses scientific topics that have serious cultural, philosophical or theological content, such as:
All of this was accomplished with a budget of zero and zero advertising. Still, Guesssoum and his team quickly concluded that digital is a demanding media. Viewer expectations are always rising.
With support from Templeton Religion Trust, he’s been able to take his YouTube channel to a new level of excellence. This includes improving the technical quality, advertising on social media and adding English subtitles to reach a broader audience. He’s also been funded to turn the transcripts of the 40 best episodes so far into a book.
Covering a wide range of topics, Ta’ammal Ma`i is showing young Muslims and interested others how science fits with their beliefs and cultural background. It’s helping viewers understand how it’s possible to uphold both religious teachings and the scientific education acquired in schools — in total harmony, without sacrificing one for the other.
“The Qur’an is a book of spiritual, moral, and social guidance. While it encourages people to explore the world and derive from it a worldview that conforms to its theistic teachings, it does not claim to present descriptions, much less explanations, for how the world works,” Guesssoum says.
“Islam not only does not forbid studying evolution or any other theory. It welcomes new knowledge and deals with it objectively. Muslims are called upon to engage with science, philosophy and art with confidence and open minds.”
As the pace of discovery continues to accelerate, taking science seriously, Guesssoum believes, is essential for people of all faiths. And evidence needs to play a larger role.
“Modern science has changed our view of the world and of our existence and place in the cosmos,” he says. “Successive scientific revolutions, from heliocentrism to genetic engineering and artificial intelligence not to mention Darwinian evolution, have challenged our conceptions and understanding of the world and of ourselves, particularly in deeply religious societies and cultures.”
As mutually reinforcing views, bringing the two worlds together in harmonious ways, he believes, is more essential than ever for the youngest generations. For them, he says, turning a blind eye to science is no longer an option.