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While acknowledging the disproportionate role of Islamic jurisprudence in studies of Islam generally, as a body of texts it provides a valuable site to trace the ways in which the natural sciences were on the one hand instrumentalized and appropriated by jurists to address ritual and social issues, and on the other demonstrates how these sciences provided the basis for legal thinking. The case of the Great Smoking Debate of the seventeenth–eighteenth centuries is discussed at length to show in detail how medicine shaped legal categories.
For the Muslim world, telling the history of science as the achievements of a series of remarkable men has remained a viable approach for much longer than in Europe. This excursus retraces the traditional narrative of the natural and rational sciences in the Muslim world, and argues that a focus on the diffusion of knowledge throughout society provides a more productive understanding of the role of the natural sciences than a focus on individuals.
Much of the current scholarship on Sufism has glossed the phenomenon as otherworldly mysticism, and its spread through the Arab Ottoman lands in the post formative period as having contributed to intellectual decline or extreme scholasticism. The evidence from seventeenth-century Morocco, however, speaks to Sufism providing a productive institutional and social force for the study of the natural sciences in the Early Modern period.
Many commentators on the natural sciences in Islamic history have posited that the doctrine of occasionalism set out by the widespread Ash'ari school of theology was an impediment to an understanding of nature due to its rejection of secondary causality. This excursus reviews the attention paid by Ash'ari thinkers to both God's habitual action in the world and His wisdom in ordering this habitual action to argue that occasionalism can be understood as an equally viable basis for studying natural phenomena.
How was knowledge transmitted in Morocco, what was transmitted in the Early Modern period, and what was the history of Moroccan institutions of learning? This chapter provides the book's social, political, and intellectual context, paying careful attention to the importance of Sufi lodges and rural centers of learning.
The majority of works written in Early Modern Morocco in the natural sciences remain in manuscript, which has made them difficult to access and evaluate. The chapter takes up astronomical, medical, and alchemical works to discuss the types of approaches scholars in Morocco used and the nature of the questions in which they were interested. Drawing on recent work in the field, it demonstrates that the occult sciences, including lettrism, were part and parcel of this project and that Moroccan scholars produced innovative syntheses and commentaries throughout the period in consideration.
How did we come to think of the Early Modern period as one of intellectual decline in the Middle East? This Introduction reviews how narratives of the development of the natural sciences have been previously constructed and lays out an alternative history of intellectual vibrancy in Early Modern Morocco in which the natural sciences were considered revealed and divinely sanctioned.
In order to reconstruct the nature and place of the natural sciences in Early Modern Moroccan thought, this chapter reviews biobiogragraphical dictionaries, intellectual autobiographies, and works on the categorization and transmission of the sciences from the sixteenth–eighteenth centuries. This survey reveals that the natural sciences were an accepted, if minority pursuit, and that prominent scholars such as al-Yūsī saw them as divinely revealed and playing an important role in furthering the good of the Muslim community.
Despite the evidence advanced in this book, its main historiographical contributions will fail to be effective it we cannot rethink our understandings of intellectual vibrancy and engagement with the natural sciences, both of which continued beyond the seventeenth century into the eighteenth century.