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Ziauddin Sardar (born 31 October 1951, Pakistan) is a London-based scholar, writer and cultural-critic who specializes in the future of Islam, science and cultural relations. Prospect magazine has named him as one of Britain's top 100 public intellectuals and The Independent newspaper calls him: 'Britain's own Muslim polymath'.


Brief biography

Ziauddin Sardar has written or edited 45 books over a period of 30 years, many with his long-time co-author Merryl Wyn Davies. Recent titles include Balti Britain: a Journey Through the British Asian Experience (Granta, 2008); and How Do You Know: Reading Ziauddin Sardar on Islam, Science and Cultural Relations (Pluto, 2006). The first volume of his memoirs is Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim (Granta, 2006). His recent television work includes a 90-minute documentary for the BBC in 2006 called 'Battle for Islam'. Sardar's online work includes a year-long blog on the Qur'an published in 2008 by The Guardian newspaper.

Sardar is a Visiting Professor of Postcolonial Studies in the Department of Arts Policy and Management at City University London and is Editor of the forecasting and planning journal, Futures. He is also a member of the UK Commission on Equality and Human Rights. His journalism appears most often in The Guardian and The Observer, as well as the UK weekly magazine, New Statesman. In the 1980s, he was among the founders of Inquiry, a magazine of ideas and policy focusing on Muslim countries. His early career includes working as a science correspondent for Nature and New Scientist magazines and as a reporter for London Weekend Television.

Life and thought

Since that time, Sardar has lived the life of a scholar-adventurer and has travelled extensively throughout the world. From 1974 to 1979, he lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he worked for the Hajj Research Centre at the King Abdul Aziz University. During this period he travelled throughout the Islamic world researching his first book, Science, Technology and Development in the Muslim World (Croom Helm, 1977). In the early 1980s, he edited the pioneering Muslim magazine 'Inquiry', before establishing the Centre for Policy and Futures Studies at East-West University in Chicago. During the 1990s, he lived in Kuala Lumpur, where he was an advisor to Anwar Ibrahim, the former Deputy Prime Minister and now the Leader of the Opposition. He has also lived in Chicago and Dan Haag and for short periods in Cairo and Fez.

Sardar describes himself as a 'critical polymath'.[1]. His thought is characterised by a strong accent on diversity, pluralism and dissenting perspectives. Science journalist Ehsan Masood suggests that Sardar 'deliberately cultivates a carefully calculated ambiguity projecting several things at once, yet none of them on their own'.[2]. Futurist Tony Stevenson points out that his 'intellectual aggression' hides a 'sincere and deep humanity': 'while his cultural analysis is surgically incisive, it is largely free of the theoretical correctness of academic thought', while he 'draws on a depth of academic thought', he 'always remains accessible'.[3]

The fundamental principle of Sardar's thought is that 'there is more than one way to be human'. 'I do not regard "the human" either as "the" or as a priori given', he has said. 'The western way of being human is one amongst many. Similarly, the Islamic way of being human is also one amongst many. The Australian aboriginal way of being human is also another way of being human. I see each culture as a complete universe with its own way of knowing, being and doing - and hence, its own way of being human'.[4] The corollary is that there are also different ways of knowing. The question that Sardar has always asked is: 'how do you know? The answer depends a great deal on who 'you' are: 'how you look at the world, how you shape your inquiry, the period and culture that shapes your outlook and the values that frame how you think'.[5]

Sardar's contribution to critical scholarship ranges far and wide, but is particularly relevant in five areas: Islam, Islamic Science, Futures, Postmodernism and Transmodernity, and identity.

Islam, Qur'an and Islamic reform

A believing Muslim, Sardar is one of the strongest internal critics of Islam. He believes that the tendency to fall back comfortably on age-old interpretations is now dangerously obsolete. Islam’s relationship and attitude to women, minorities, and notions of exclusivity and exclusive truth need to change fundamentally. In his work, Reformist Ideas and Muslim Intellectuals, Sardar states that: "Muslims have been on the verge of physical, cultural and intellectual extinction simply because they have allowed parochialism and traditionalism to rule their minds." He adds: "We must break free from the ghetto mentality."[6].

Sardar's most consistent output has been in the area of post-colonial Islamic reform, which is the subject of many of his books, including Islamic Futures: the Shape of Ideas to Come (Mansell, 1985) and The Future of Muslim Civilization (Mansell, 1987). Sardar believes that present-day Islamic societies have allowed creative thinking to fossilize. This is a situation which stands in contrast to Islamic history when scholars and scientists let their minds roam free and created an extraordinary renaissance in ideas, new knowledge and technology.

In Islamic futures, Sardar enunciates several principles that need to be at the heart of all contemporary Islamic societies. These include: the need to recognize and promote plurality and diversity; the need to achieve progress through a consensus; and to engage constructively with the modern world.

On the subject of Hadith and Qur'an, Sardar believes strongly that each generation must "reinterpret the textual sources in the light of its own experience", as happened throughout Islamic history and in each of the world's Islamic cultures. Sardar says that scripture needs to be seen as a product of its time and, therefore, must be periodically re-examined. If this process ceases to happen, sacred texts, according to Sardar, will lose their relevance to those who use and love them.[7][8]

Science and empires

As a child of parents who lived under colonial rule in what was British-India, much of Sardar's writings are about what happens to people, languages and institutions when one country is taken over by another country or empire. These ideas form the backbone to the second volume of his memors: Balti Britain (Granta, 2008). He has also written extensively on the relationship between knowledge and power, and on the development of scholarship that was designed to serve the needs of empire. Sardar argues that many advances in modern science and technology happened because of the needs of the military of European nation-states, or the many priorities of colonial authorities. In that sense he can be seen as a social-constructivist: someone who believes that the direction of science is dictated to a large extent by the social, political, cultural and financial priorities of societies and of those who fund science.

During the 1980s, while working for Nature and New Scientist, Sardar wrote and lectured on how an Islamic science for the modern world might look like. In his book Explorations in Islamic Science, He described ‘Islamic science’ as: “a subjectively objective enterprise”. By this, he meant that it can be both rationalist and traditionalist at the same time. Islamic science for Sardar would be shaped around an Islamic world view. It will be a science in which humans will see themselves as trustees of the Earth (khilafa) and they will act with justice (adl). What is lawful and what is prohibited (halal and haram) will be based, both on a consensus of the community (ijma) and public benefit (istislah).

At the same time, Islamic science for Sardar is a universal science—grounded in empiricism and rationality. It is an experimental science that can be duplicated and repeated by all, regardless of faith and culture. Its nature and contents will reflect the foundations, as well as the needs, requirements and concerns of those living in Muslim cultures. Many Muslims see science as a way of discovering absolute truths, or finding proof of the existence of God. For Sardar, it is a way of highlighting the complex and interconnected nature of reality, and hence a form of worship. But it is also an organized way of solving problems and fulfilling the needs of individuals and society.[9][10]


Sardar is editor of the journal Futures and has explored what a viable future for Muslim civilisation will look like in his two studies, The Future of Muslim Civilisation and Islamic Futures: The Shape of Ideas to Come.

In the former he argues that Muslim societies are obsessed with looking at their past and that the way forward is to reconstruct Muslim civilisation, intellectually and culturally, "brick by brick". Sardar suggests in this book what a Muslim future could look like. In the latter book, he offers a critique of ideas such as the notion of an "Islamic state" and "Islamic economics".

Sardar also argues that the future has already been colonised to a very large extent. Forecasting, prediction and other methods of studying are often used by larger nations in their attempts to control smaller ones. Sardar says: "To keep the future open to all potentials, alternatives and dissenting possibilities, Sardar believes that it is necessary to envisage alternative futures from different civilisational and cultural perspectives."[11].

Later, he went on to develop a new discipline: that of ‘Islamic futures’. This was based on five principles: 1: Islam must engage with the contemporary world not just as a religion, but as a way of shaping and understanding the world. Islam can provide a matrix and methodology for tackling problems and generating future choices and possibilities for Muslim societies. 2: Muslims must perceive themselves as being a civilisation, rather than members of a set of fragmented nation states. This is the only way to avoid stagnation and marginalisation. 3: Plurality and diversity must become the cornerstones of Islam. 4: Shaping viable and desirable futures for a Muslim civilization must involve the active participation of communities and conscious effort at consultation (shura) at all levels of society with the aim of achieving a broad consensus (ijma). 5: To shape desirable alternative futures, Muslims must engage constructively with the contemporary world in all its dimensions.[12]

Identity and multiculturalism

Sardar has written extensively on identity. He shares with the psychologist and philosopher from India, Ashis Nandy, the idea that humans do not have one but multiple identities. Identity, he argues, is not monolithic and static; but multiple and ever-changing.

He has said: "Many categories of identity that we have conventionally projected on others – such as the ‘evil Orientals’, the ‘inferior races of the colonies’, the immigrants, the Blacks, the refugees, the gypsies, the homosexuals - are now an integral part of ourselves. It is not just that they are our neighbours but their ideas, concepts, lifestyles, food, clothes now play a central part in shaping ‘us’ and ‘our society’. We thus have no yardstick to measure our difference and define ourselves."[citation needed]

In his book Orientalism and in Why Do People Hate America and American Dream, Global Nightmare, co-written with Merryl Wyn Davies, he explores how Muslims are perceived in books, films, television series and advertisements. He argues that the image of Muslims as "the darker side of Europe" seems to be a fixture of western consciousness and is recycled from generation to generation. In Aliens R Us, he says that Orientalist imagery has become an integral part of science fiction cinema.

Sardar is a strong supporter of multiculturalism. He argues that multiculturalism is concerned about transforming power to non-western cultures and allowing these cultures to speak for themselves.

In the first volume of his memoirs, Desperately Seeking Paradise, he explores different facets of Muslim identity. In Balti Britain, he explores what it means to be British and Asian in contemporary Britain. He has said: "The challenge of the 21st century is learning to cope with our multiple selves and see how much of ‘Others’ we incorporate in ourselves."[citation needed]

Postmodernism and transmodernity

Sardar is regarded by some as a 'postmodern' thinker. But he is at the same time a strong critic of what is called postmodernism. In his book Postmodernism and the Other, he describes postmodernism as "the new imperialism of Western culture". He argues that postmodernism is a continuation of colonialism and modernity and, as such, it further marginalises non-western cultures and tramples on their hopes and aspirations.

He says: "By pretending to give voice to the marginalised, postmodernism in fact undermines the histories, tradition, morality, religions and worldviews – everything that provides meaning and sense of direction to non-western cultures and societies. As such, postmodernism is a linear projection, a natural conclusion to modernity; and by privileging secularism it has become an arch ideology."

Sardar's alternative to postmodernism is what he calls "transmodernity". He describes this as: "the transfer of modernity and postmodernism from the edge of chaos to a new order of society". Transmodernity for Sardar is about finding a synthesis between "life enhancing tradition" - tradition that is amenable to change and transition - and a new form of modernity that respects the values and lifestyles of traditional cultures.[13]


  • Breaking the Mould: Essays, Articles and Columns on Islam, India, Terror and Other Things That Annoy Me, ImprintOne, Delhi, 2008
  • Balti Britain: A Journey Through the British Asian Experience, Granta, London, 2008
  • How Do You Know? Reading Ziauddin Sardar on Islam, Science and Cultural Relations, Pluto Press 2006 (Introduced and edited by Ehsan Masood)
  • What Do Muslims Believe? Granta, London, 2006.
  • Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim, Granta, London, 2005
  • Islam, Postmodernism and Other Futures: a Ziauddin Sardar reader, Pluto Press, London 2004 (introduced and edited by Sohail Inayatullah and Gail Boxwell).
  • The A to Z of Postmodern Life: Essays on Global Culture in the Noughties, Vision, 2002
  • Aliens R Us: The Other in Science Fiction Cinema, Pluto Press, London, 2002 (Edited with Sean Cubitt)
  • The Third Text Reader on Art, Culture & Theory, Continuum, London, 2002 (Edited with Rasheed Araeen and Sean Cubitt)
  • The Consumption of Kuala Lumpur, Reaktion Books, London, 2000.
  • Thomas Kuhn and the Science Wars, Icon Books, Cambridge, 2000
  • Orientalism (Concepts in the Social Sciences Series), Open University Press, 1999
  • Postmodernism and the Other: New Imperialism of Western Culture, Pluto Press, London, 1997
  • Explorations in Islamic Science, Mansell, London, 1989; Centre for the Studies on Science, Aligarh, 1996
  • Muslim Minorities in The West, Grey Seal, London, 1995 (edited with S. Z. Abedin)
  • An Early Crescent: The Future of Knowledge and Environment in Islam, Mansell, London, 1989
  • The Revenge of Athena: Science, Exploitation and the Third World, Mansell, London, 1988
  • The Touch of Midas: Science, Values and the Environment in Islam and the West, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1982
  • Information and the Muslim World: A Strategy for the Twenty-first Century, Islamic Futures and Policy Studies, Mansell Publishing Limited, London and New York 1988
  • Islamic Futures: The Shape of Ideas to Come, Mansell, London, 1986
  • The Future of Muslim Civilisation, Mansell, London, 1979
  • Islam: Outline of a classification scheme, Clive Bingley, London, 1979
  • Muhammad: Aspects of a Biography, Islamic Foundation, Leicester, 1978
  • Science, Technology and Development in the Muslim World, Croom Helm, London; Humanities Press, New Jersey; 1977
  • Sardar has also contributed a number of books to the Introducing... series published by Icon Books, including Introducing Islam, Introducing Chaos, Introducing Cultural Studies, Introducing Media Studies, Introducing Science Studies, Introducing Mathematics and Introducing Postmodernism.

With Merryl Wyn Davies

  • Will America Change? Icon Books, Cambridge, 2008
  • American Dream, Global Nightmare, Icon Books, Cambridge, 2004
  • The No Nonsense Guide to Islam, Verso, London, 2004
  • Why Do People Hate America?, Icon Books, London, 2003
  • Barbaric Others: A Manifesto on Western Racism, Pluto Press, London, 1993 (also with Ashis Nandy)
  • Distorted Imagination: Lessons from the Rushdie Affair, Grey Seal/Berita Publishing, London/Kuala Lumpur, 1990


  1. ^
  2. ^ Ehsan Masood, ‘Introduction: the Ambiguous Intellectual’, in Ehsan Masood, editor, How Do You Know: Reading Ziauddin Sardar on Islam, Science and Cultural Relations Pluto Press, London, 2006, p1
  3. ^ Tony Stevenson, ‘Ziauddin Sardar: Explaining Islam to the West’ in Profiles in Courage: Political Actors and Ideas in Contemporary Asia, editors, Gloria Davies, JV D’Cruz and Nathan Hollier, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2008,page 80.
  4. ^ Ziauddin Sardar interviewed by Tony Fry, ‘On Erasure, Appropriation, Transmodernity, What’s Wrong with Human Rights and What’s Lies Beyond Difference’, Design Philosophy Papers Collection Four, edited by Anne-Marie Wallis, Team D/E/S Publications, Ravensbourne, Australia, 2008, 83-91.
  5. ^ Ehsan Masood, ‘Introduction: the Ambiguous Intellectual’, in Ehsan Masood, editor, How Do You Know: Reading Ziauddin Sardar on Islam, Science and Cultural Relations, Pluto Press, London, 2006.
  6. ^ Ziauddin Sardar, ‘Reformist Ideas and Muslim Intellectuals’ in Abdullah Omar Naseef (Editor), Today's Problems, Tomorrow's Solutions: Future Thoughts on the Structure of Muslim Society, Mansell, London, 1988, p166.
  7. ^ Ziauddin Sardar, ‘The Shariah as Problem-Solving Methodology’ in Islam, Postmodernism and Other Futures: A Ziauddin Sardar Reader, edited by Sohail Inayatullah and Gail Boxwell, Pluto Press, London, 2003.
  8. ^ Ziauddin Sardar, ‘Rethinking Islam’ in Islam, Postmodernism and Other Futures: A Ziauddin Sardar Reader, edited by Sohail Inayatullah and Gail Boxwell, Pluto Press, London, 2003.
  9. ^ Ziauddin Sardar, Explorations in Islamic Science, Mansell, London, 1989. P163-164.
  10. ^ Ziauddin Sardar, ‘Waiting for Rain’ New Scientist No 2321 15 December 2001.
  11. ^ Ziauddin Sardar,"‘The problem of futures studies", in Ziauddin Sardar, editor, Rescuing All Our Futures: The Future of Future Studies, Adamantine Press, London; Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT; 1998, pages 9-18
  12. ^ Ziauddin Sardar, 'What do we mean by Islamic Futures?’ in Ibrahim M Abu-Rabi, editor, The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought, Blackwell, Oxford, 2006, 562-586.
  13. ^ Ziauddin Sardar, ‘Beyond Difference: Cultural Relations in a New Century’, in How Do You Know: Reading Ziauddin Sardar on Islam, Science and Cultural Relations edited by Ehsan Masood, Pluto Press, London, 2006.

Selected journalism and essays

Further reading

  • Tony Stevenson, ‘Ziauddin Sardar: Explaining Islam to the West’ in Profiles in Courage: Political Actors and Ideas in Contemporary Asia, editors, Gloria Davies, JV D’Cruz and Nathan Hollier, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2008.
  • Anne Marie Dalton, ‘The Contribution of Ziauddin Sardar’s Work to the Religion-Science Conversation’ World Futures: Journal of General Evolution, Volume 63, Issue 8, 2007, Pages 599 – 610.
  • John Watson, editor, Listening to Islam with Thomas Merton, Sayyid Qutb, Kenneth Cragg and Ziauddin Sardar: Praise, Reason and Reflection, (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2005).
  • Jose Maria Ramos, ‘Memories and method: conversations with Ashis Nandy, Ziauddin Sardar and Richard Slaughter’ Futures 37 (5) 433-444 (June 2005).
  • Leif Stenberg, ‘Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Ziauddin Sardar on Islam and science: marginalization or modernization of a religious tradition’, Social Epistemology 10 (3-4) 273-287 July-December 1996.
  • Tomas Gerholm, ‘Two Muslim intellectuals in the postmodern world: Akbar Ahmed and Ziauddin Sardar’ in Akbar Ahmed and Hastings Donnan (Editors), Islam, Globalization and Postmodernity, Routledge, London, 1994.
  • Ernest Hahn, ‘Ziauddin Sardar’, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 4 (1) 139-143 (June 1993).
  • Nasim Butt, 'Al-Faruqi and Ziauddin Sardar: Islamization of Knowledge or the Social Construction of New Disciplines', Journal of Islamic Science 5 (2) 79-98 (1989)


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