By Tayiba Ahmad
Since the formation of the university, the faculty members at American University of Sharjah (AUS) have time and again expressed the talents they possess through the work they do, both at AUS and outside of it. Dr. Nidhal Guessoum, Professor in the Department of Physics at the AUS College of Arts and Sciences, is one such professor. Recently, Dr. Guessoum wrote a book, tentatively named The Young Muslim’s Guide to Modern Science, which tries to harmonize the teachings of Islam with the study of modern science. The book, which is aimed at youth, such as high school students and freshmen, has been completed and Dr. Guessoum is hopeful of publishing it soon.
Topics related to the interface between modern science and Islam, have appealed to Dr. Guessoum’s interest for more than 20 years. According to him, part of the appeal was on practical grounds. Being an astronomer, he always wondered if astronomy could help determine Islamic events or dates— the start of Ramadan or the events of Eid or Hajj, for instance. He said he wondered if determining them through astronomy could help stop the disagreements that arise from time to time. But also, some of the appeal of the topic of interface was on a more intellectual and philosophical ground. He asked, “When we learn more about the universe and nature, whether it is from the big bang theory or the biological evolution theory or a number of other discoveries, how do we relate all of this to our religious upbringing and education, our faith, whether it is Islamic or other?”
Initially, his interest developed to influence what he read, some of the articles that he wrote, and the talks that he gave at different events and platforms. Then gradually, for the past 10 years or so, he became involved with the US-based John Templeton Foundation, which supports research, activities and initiatives that fall under the category of “the big questions.” They’re not necessarily all religious questions, but they are questions such as the philosophical implications of cosmology or philosophical implications of the quantum world or of biological evolution. What do they mean, what do they imply for us, and how do we relate philosophy, religion, ethics, education and all of these topics together?
Dr. Guessoum submitted a grant to the John Templeton Foundation requesting to be funded for three years to do a series of activities, such as conducting workshops for students internationally. Once the grant was approved, a number of workshops were conducted around the world for students who were highly interested in these topics, lectures were given to the students, and they were given some topics to conduct research on for themselves. One of the workshops was held here at AUS, while some were conducted in Malaysia, in Jordan, Algeria, France, Morocco and London. There were a number of other activities, such as an essay competition which was conducted for the students internationally, and a summer school in Paris for about 20 students from around the world. Dr. Guessoum helped organize and conduct all these activities, which he felt were very much needed, and the students, wherever these activities were announced, responded very enthusiastically. Once that project ended in 2014 after three successful years, Dr. Guessoum embarked on a project of his own, which was recently supported by one of the affiliates of the John Templeton Foundation, and that was to write his own short book about modern science and Islam.
Dr. Guessoum’s book is aimed at students who want to understand what modern science says, just to get the clearest and most correct information, and also put it into context of their Islamic background and education. He doesn’t want students to be lost in the science aspect of things, and then wonder how this relates to them, or that what they were told doesn’t fit with what they’re being taught.
“We don’t want them to have two minds, so I’ve written a short book that I’ve pitched to some publishers lately. Hopefully it’ll be published in the next few months. The book is also trying to help in the education arena with the young generation, to try to give them some reference that they can read and can benefit from and go back to, to try to make sense of all these things at the same time. In a nutshell, my philosophy is what I call harmonization. I try to harmonize between the religious teachings and the learning we get from modern science, without sacrificing one or the other. How to put them together is not always obvious, and I am hoping to sort of present a template, a way to do it in an accessible and reasonable manner for the younger generation,” said Dr. Guessoum.
We are fortunate to have faculty members at AUS who continue to inspire us outside the classrooms as well, through the tremendous work they do and through their remarkable achievements. Good luck to Dr. Nidhal Guessoum with his current and upcoming projects.
Tayiba Ahmed is a student at American University of Sharjah.
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