Dawkins needs to study the evolution of Indian thought

The recent evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ tweet equating Hinduism and Islam based on the misinformation

| Updated: 09 June, 2023 6:15 pm IST
India has 174 million Muslims.

Controversies are always welcome because currently, it alerts people forcing them to rush towards tools and resources to understand the basics of the raging topic and come out wiser, with a nuanced understanding.

The recent evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ tweet equating Hinduism and Islam based on the misinformation that the topic of evolution had been deleted from the Indian national curriculum was just such instance where even the media dug deeper to get to the truth.

This is what emerged eventually – the chapter on evolution in the NCERT Science textbooks had been rationalised during the COVID pandemic, to lessen the burden on students due to the absence of offline classes. Since not all schools had been able to have online classes, it was decided by the State and Central Boards across the country to rationalise topics in every subject for the current extraordinary situation. These topics would be reinstated in subsequent academic sessions after the pandemic had subsided.

Indian curriculum often repeats topics as the child advances classes with a deeper focus on subtopics eventually culminating in streams of Science, Commerce and Humanities. The new NEP 2020 has also enabled flexibility in choosing subjects across the streams in phases 3 and 4 so that students can gain wholesome knowledge based on their interests, curiosity, intellect, and aptitude.

Post-COVID, while streamlining NCERT textbooks, Evolution was deleted from Class 10, retained in Class 9, and shifted to Class 12 so that students having Science with Biology would benefit from it.

There is some confusion about whether it has been retained in the Middle School curriculum because schools have a free hand in deciding the subjects, topics, and textbooks till Class 8th while under the purview of the State and Central Boards.

The case for teaching evolution is strong in a country that gave so much knowledge to the world, specifically to the Abbasid scholars in the 9th to 12th century for their Age of Translation when Sanskrit texts were translated into the official Arabic language of the Islamic Empire.

British-Iraqi physicist, author, and broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili’s book ‘House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance‘ describes this fascinating era in detail, represented in the Elephant Clock, proof of how knowledge from several civilisations combined advances to benefit humanity.

The Elephant Clock is a historical mechanical device designed to measure time and display various automation. It was invented by the Arab engineer and polymath, Al-Jazari, in the 12th century.

The clock is renowned for its intricate design and its representation of an elephant carrying a howdah (a decorative carriage) on its back. It is a remarkable example of medieval engineering and showcases the ingenuity of the multiculturality of technological advancements of its time. The elephant represents the Indian culture, the two dragons represent Chinese culture, the phoenix represents Persian culture, the water work (Archimedes) represents Greek culture, and the turban of the mahout, as well as the design of the howdah, represents Islamic culture, expressing the Abbasid multicultural mentality.

Today, a replica of the Elephant Clock can be found on display in the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, allowing visitors to admire this remarkable ancient timekeeping device.

Similarly, the theory of evolution isn’t the West’s monopoly only, but Indian and Arab scholars have been known to come up with this concept in their respective civilisations too. The difference is that the Indic Civilisation, despite its Islamic invasions, conquests and Western colonialism, resisted the destruction of its knowledge systems and after Independence built a society with a scientific temperament to include Western knowledge as well as, is now reviving its lost knowledge systems – the crowning glory of which became when we tested our nuclear strength and sent Chandrayan to the Moon.

The Muslim world meanwhile regressed into superstition, insulated from the innovation of thought, ideas, and practice with desperate elements taking over the reins and resorting to terrorism and extremist ideologies.

Dawkins’ tweet reflects this ignorance of reality and bias against Indian Hindus, not acknowledging the fact that Hinduism doesn’t make claims of superiority or perfection and in fact are proud of their atheist traditions in Carvaka or Charvaka or Lokayata, a historical Indian philosophical school. Besides Hinduism has become a soft target in the West, since Islamo-censorship is winning.

To target regressive practices in Islam indirectly to avoid physical harm, the critics now use certain aspects of Hinduism to do it. No religion is perfect but the only one making that claim doesn’t allow space to criticize it ever. So, Hinduism becomes the proverbial shoulder from which to fire the bullet.

His bringing in of Hindu nationalism is a ploy to analyse a political, social, and economic situation, not to mention hypocritical of him since he recently refused to talk about Islamic extremism on the Piers Morgan show when asked to comment on the attack on Salman Rushdie. It is saddening since his phenomenal book, The God Delusion, according to Faisal Said al-Muttar, Iraqi-American, and founder of ‘Ideas Without Borders’, translating and distributing books in the Middle East, is the most downloaded book in Arabic.

India has 174 million Muslims as well with a sizeable number denying the theory of evolution because the Mullahs say so or because they aren’t aware of the work of Muslim scholars on this topic.

During the Arab Renaissance, also known as the Nahda (which means “awakening” or “renaissance” in Arabic) – a period of intellectual, cultural, and social revival that took place in the Arab world during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Darwin was read extensively.

In Reading Darwin in Arabic, Marwa Elshakry questions current ideas about Islam, science, and secularism by exploring the ways in which Darwin was read in Arabic from the late 1860s to the mid-twentieth century. Providing a close textual, political, and institutional analysis of the tremendous interest in Darwin’s ideas and other works on evolution, Elshakry shows how, in an age of massive regional and international political upheaval, these readings were suffused with the anxieties of empire and civilizational decline. The politics of evolution infiltrated Arabic discussions of pedagogy, progress, and the very sense of history. They also led to a literary and conceptual transformation of notions of science and religion themselves.

Similarly, evolution needs to be included in the Indian textbooks mainly for the Muslim population who form an equal audience in the classrooms across India to get them out of the “intellectual suicide” that was committed in the 12th century when Asharites (textual literation) championed over Mutazilites (reasoning) and started a chain of illiberalism, irrationality, supernatural basis for jurisprudence and extremism in adopting the works of Ibn Taimiyya, al Ghazali, Abdul Wahab, Shah Waliullah, Syed Qutb, Hasan al Banna, and Abu Ala Maududi – architect of the Two-Nation Theory.

Indian Muslims never got a chance to study their heroes of science, rationality, logic, reasoning, liberalism, democracy and gender equity such as Jabir (Geber, the alchemist), mentor to al-Razi, the medic, the mathematician al-Khwarizmi, al-Kindi (the Mutazalite), Ibn Al-Haytham, the physicist, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), the Andalusian Ibn Rushd, the sociologist Ibn Khaldun, al-Biruni among others. Forever trapped in the Fatwa-e-Alamgiri from Aurangzeb’s time, deceived by the gaslighting of history by Leftist historians, today they insist on the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board being their spokespersons to chart out their coexistence with the majority Hindus, under sharia laws.

Making the teaching of evolution not just compulsory but extensively in the madrasas too would develop that crucial critical thinking space in which the House of Wisdom (Bayt al Hikmah) once thrived for centuries producing Islam’s scientists, mathematicians, scholars, and intellectuals. This critically needed space would enable the Indian Muslim community to engage with some of the best social, political, and economic scientists when defining their future in India. It would also introduce students to discovery, invention, research, anthropology, and scientific temperament, allowing the Muslim world to catch up with the advancement of their Indian colleagues and the Western pioneers.

Arshia Malik is a Delhi-based writer, blogger and social commentator
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own

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