Thought for the Day - 13/02/2014 - Professor Mona Siddiqui

Having had a family member survive cancer and a close mentor and friend die of cancer, I'm probably one of thousands of people whose lives have been affected by this illness. It seems that cancer more than many other diseases of the modern age has captured people’s hearts and minds in a particular way. Every new advancement in earlier diagnosis or prevention is met with caution but renewed hope that one day cancer will be no more. So the recent development in detecting tumours is welcome news. Researchers from Washington university school of medicine in St Louis have developed a pair of smart-glasses which will help surgeons see the cancerous cells as they operate because these cells will glow blue when seen through this high tech visor. The ability to distinguish cancerous cells from healthy ones will then allow surgeons to remove all the infected tissue out of the body at the one time without need for repeat surgery and the stress this causes to patients.

Scientific progress such as this reminds us of the ingenuity and diligence of the human spirit. The desire to make things better for human life in this world is matched only with the spirit of inquiry which can be neither restricted nor abated. In Islamic history, the ultimate testimony to the best of human freethinking lay between the 9th to the 11 centuries. The combination of a religious faith working alongside an almost obsession for knowledge is found in the reign of the 9th century Muslim ruler, al Ma`mun under whose reign we find a golden age of Arabic science. The scientists, writers and philosophers Mamun brought together were not all Muslim but it was precisely this cross fertilisation of ideas, discoveries and sheer experimentation by people from all backgrounds which created this unrivalled period in Islamic civilisation. The scientific revolution of this age paved the way for many later European discoveries but it also sat comfortably with the emergence of deep theological and mystical writing. There were no crude opposites in this world between science and religion because both in their own ways gave hope.

Today much of the Islamic world continues to have sophisticated conversations about bioethical issues but at a time when the overall religious rhetoric of Islam has become more insular, it’s important to project this past intellectual spirit into the world. When the Qur'an repeats `reflect on the world' it sets no limit to where this reflection can take you. Religious faith often challenges science but science also challenges faith on the deepest question of what it means to be human. Science and religion are difficult terms to define but when we resort to simplistic opposites we reduce the power and potential of both. We may not be searching for answers in life but we're always looking for hope.

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