A Study of Contributions to Science and Technology by Contemporary Muslims.

May 10, 2012 by  


By TO.Shanavas. M.D

Observations:

1. The most prestigious science research competition for US high school seniors is Intel Talent Search. 49, 56, and 46 high school students of Indian-American community were named amongst the 300 semi-finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search in 2010 and 2011, and 2012 respectively. There are many more from Chinese community among the semi-finalists.  However, there are only 1, 3, 5 Muslim sounding names in the list of Intel semi-finalist during the same period.

Based upon the article in Physics today by Pervez Hoodbhoy is chair and professor in the department of physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan:

2. Organization of Islamic cooperation (OIC) countries have 8.5 scientists, engineers, and technicians per 1000 population, compared with a world average of 40.7, and 139.3 for countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

3. Forty-six Muslim countries combined together contributed 1.17% of the world’s science literature, whereas 1.66% came from India and 1.48% from Spain.

4. The US NSF records that of the 28 lowest producers of scientific articles in 2003, half belong to the OIC.

5. The OIC countries produce negligibly few patents. According to official statistics, Pakistan has produced only eight patents in the past 43 years.

6.  According to World Bank data, high –technology export is dismal from OIC. For example,

Microsoft Word - aslam-shanavas-1530-study of contributions to science by Muslims.docx

These data are from the World Bank’s World Development Report 2006.

Muslims blame their own governments and the foreign countries for lack of Muslim scientific productivity and their anemic presence among list of the productive scientists. Out of the above six observations, last 5 observations listed from Pervez Hoodbhoy may be the result of Muslim rulers and colonial powers for argument sake. But anemic presence of US Muslim high school students among the semi-finalists of the Intel Talent Search, by any stretch of imagination, cannot be linked to Muslim rulers or foreigners.

Yet, there is another possibility for Muslim failure in science. The dismal scientific track record of Islamic countries might suggest that there is something about Islam inherently inimical to research.  George Sarton, a professor of History of Science at Harvard University states: “Briefest enumeration of the Arabic contributions to knowledge would be too long to be inserted here…The creation of a new civilization of international and encyclopaedic magnitude within less than two centuries is something that we describe, but cannot explain.”  Therefore, there must be a difference between the Islam practiced in initial history of Muslims and the Islam that practiced today. Therefore, the gloomy plight of Muslims in the scientific field is the outcome from Muslim communal physiology. Nobody else is to be blame except Muslims themselves.

Elements of Muslim Communal physiology: A Barrier against scientific Progress

1. Human progress occurs in places where there is an unrestricted welcoming conduit for new ideas. Unfortunately, Muslim leaders, scholars, and Imams across the world, even in America, feel intimidated by science so that they avoid any honest discussion of science or new ideas in the community and mosques.

2. Productive scientists who invent new technology or discover new laws or propose new theories question the soundness widely accepted concepts, theories, and facts. Islamic centers, Imams, and Muslim scholars, even 99.9 % Muslims at large discourage questioning widely accepted tafsirs, concepts, theories, etc,.

3. Islamic centers and community leaders discourage critical thinking especially when the outcome conflicts with their point of view. The major characteristics of critical thinkers in block print and what happens in Islamic center, Muslim communities, and homes within brackets for easy comparison. Critical thinkers are skeptical [Islamic centers do not allow skeptical enquiries], open-minded [Islamic centers are not open-minded], respect evidence [Islamic centers do not respect scientific or other evidences that may conflict Imams’ opinion] and reasoning [reasoning is rejected if it contradicts Imams’ reasoning], look at different points of view [all Islamic centers are impervious fortresses against different point of view including new approach to the interpretations of the Qur’an], and will change positions when reason leads them to do so [The Islamic centers, and its leadership never allow to change position when reason leads to do so]. This is true with most Muslims parents also. When children grow up in an environment where critical thinking is not appreciated and generally discouraged, they grow up with a fear to think critically (i.e., out of the box thinking) and become non-productive in scientific research.

5. Another reason for the weakness of Muslim scientific productivity is the shameful lack of interest in science displayed by Imams and Muslim leadership. Science is never discussed in mosques and Muslim conferences. Sadly, even Muslim umbrella organizations even in United States avoid discussion of science in their national meetings although science is the driving force for human progress and power.

.6. For most Imams, Islam is both a religion and a complete way of life. Among other things, the way of life for scientists includes investigation of the meaning of the Divine Book in material medium, the Universe. Science is in fact only an interpretation or tafsir of the Universe.  Unfortunately, most Imams as well as many in the Muslim organization leadership have minimal or no training in science.  Islamic scholars refuse to acknowledge it and so, cannot give effective guidance for Muslims’ life in the scientific field in order to escalate productivity in science by Muslims.

5. Science has been defined as, “a continuing effort to discover and increase human knowledge and understanding through disciplined research. Using controlled methods, scientists collect observable evidence of natural or social phenomena, record measurable data relating to the observations, and analyze this information to construct theoretical explanations of how things work.”

Based upon this definition, physicians, engineers, chemists, physicists, pharmacists, sociologists, biologists, and many other professionals who utilize the scientific method are called scientists. Unfortunately, many Muslims among the scientific community have a mental dichotomy and lead a double life. In their professional life they are true believers in science, but, when it comes to their religious lives, they passionately reject many well-established scientific theories such as theories related astronomy and its application for moon-sighting, the theory of evolution and its applications. They have a truth tell in the mosques and another for their external professional lives. The old Latin expressions, “contra evidential credo (I believe despite the evidence)” and credo quia evidentia (I believe because of evidence),” most accurately differentiate their dual lives. Such an attitude has major negative impact on scientific productivity as well as critical thinking among Muslim children.
6. The poor scientific track record of Islamic countries might suggest that there is something about Islam inherently inimical to research.  George Sarton, a professor of History of Science at Harvard University states: “Briefest enumeration of the Arabic contributions to knowledge would be too long to be inserted here…The creation of a new civilization of international and encyclopaedic magnitude within less than two centuries is something that we describe, but cannot explain.”  Therefore, there must be a difference between the Islam practiced in the initial history of Muslims and the Islam that practiced today.

Microsoft Word - aslam-shanavas-1530-study of contributions to science by Muslims.docx

What is practiced today by Muslims is an extremely oppressive orthodoxy that is emanating from a Middle Eastern country. Across Muslim world even the secular among them are compromising more to this orthodoxy that suppress free enquiry and critical-minded scholarship.

Solution for Muslim Renaissance

What are the critical components necessary for any Muslim community with serious ambitions in science?

1. A minimal requirement is an education system and mosques that embraces science as well as a critical approach. If Imams and Muslim leadership are willing to embrace ijtihad — unfettered reasoning — and critical investigation of the natural world, they could help unlock the great human potential of the Muslim world.

2. Muslims at large, Imams, Muslim leadership must accept that the Qur’an and the Universe are twin manifestations of the Divine Act of Self-Revelation. The interpretation of the Qur’an is generally called tafsir and of the Universe is called science. The book of nature in material medium and the Qur’an in human vernacular come from the same divine source. So the interpretations of one divine revelation (the Qur’an) cannot contradict that of the other revelation (the Universe). The truth emerges when the tafsir of both Divine Manifestations merge into one.

3. Muslim leaders. Imams, and Muslims world must understand that their encouragement of science will not escalate Muslim productivity in the scientific field in presence of their simultaneous suppression of free inquiry and critical-minded scholarship.

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