Islam & Science -The road to renewal

After centuries of stagnation science is making a comeback in the Islamic world

Picture No. 10662330

THE sleep has been long and deep. In 2005 Harvard University produced more scientific papers than 17 Arabic-speaking countries combined. The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims have produced only two Nobel laureates in chemistry and physics. Both moved to the West: the only living one, the chemist Ahmed Hassan Zewail, is at the California Institute of Technology. By contrast Jews, outnumbered 100 to one by Muslims, have won 79. The 57 countries in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference spend a puny 0.81% of GDP on research and development, about a third of the world average. America, which has the world’s biggest science budget, spends 2.9%; Israel lavishes 4.4%.

Many blame Islam’s supposed innate hostility to science. Some universities seem keener on prayer than study. Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, for example, has three mosques on campus, with a fourth planned, but no bookshop. Rote learning rather than critical thinking is the hallmark of higher education in many countries. The Saudi government supports books for Islamic schools such as “The Unchallengeable Miracles of the Qur’an: The Facts That Can’t Be Denied By Science” suggesting an inherent conflict between belief and reason.

Many universities are timid about courses that touch even tangentially on politics or look at religion from a non-devotional standpoint. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a renowned Pakistani nuclear scientist, introduced a course on science and world affairs, including Islam’s relationship with science, at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, one of the country’s most progressive universities. Students were keen, but Mr Hoodbhoy’s contract was not renewed when it ran out in December; for no proper reason, he says. (The university insists that the decision had nothing to do with the course content.)

But look more closely and two things are clear. A Muslim scientific awakening is under way. And the roots of scientific backwardness lie not with religious leaders, but with secular rulers, who are as stingy with cash as they are lavish with controls over independent thought.

The long view

The caricature of Islam’s endemic backwardness is easily dispelled. Between the eighth and the 13th centuries, while Europe stumbled through the dark ages, science thrived in Muslim lands. The Abbasid caliphs showered money on learning. The 11th century “Canon of Medicine” by Avicenna (pictured, with modern equipment he would have relished) was a standard medical text in Europe for hundreds of years. In the ninth century Muhammad al-Khwarizmi laid down the principles of algebra, a word derived from the name of his book, “Kitab al-Jabr”. Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham transformed the study of light and optics. Abu Raihan al-Biruni, a Persian, calculated the earth’s circumference to within 1%. And Muslim scholars did much to preserve the intellectual heritage of ancient Greece; centuries later it helped spark Europe’s scientific revolution.

Not only were science and Islam compatible, but religion could even spur scientific innovation. Accurately calculating the beginning of Ramadan (determined by the sighting of the new moon) motivated astronomers. The Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad) exhort believers to seek knowledge, “even as far as China”.

These scholars’ achievements are increasingly celebrated. Tens of thousands flocked to “1001 Inventions”, a touring exhibition about the golden age of Islamic science, in the Qatari capital, Doha, in the autumn. More importantly, however, rulers are realising the economic value of scientific research and have started to splurge accordingly. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, which opened in 2009, has a $20 billion endowment that even rich American universities would envy.

Foreigners are already on their way there. Jean Fréchet, who heads research, is a French chemist tipped to win a Nobel prize. The Saudi newcomer boasts research collaborations with the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and with Imperial College, London. The rulers of neighbouring Qatar are bumping up research spending from 0.8% to a planned 2.8% of GDP: depending on growth, that could reach $5 billion a year. Research spending in Turkey increased by over 10% each year between 2005 and 2010, by which year its cash outlays were twice Norway’s.

The tide of money is bearing a fleet of results. In the 2000 to 2009 period Turkey’s output of scientific papers rose from barely 5,000 to 22,000; with less cash, Iran’s went up 1,300, to nearly 15,000. Quantity does not imply quality, but the papers are getting better, too. Scientific journals, and not just the few based in the Islamic world, are citing these papers more frequently. A study in 2011 by Thomson Reuters, an information firm, shows that in the early 1990s other publishers cited scientific papers from Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey (the most prolific Muslim countries) four times less often than the global average. By 2009 it was only half as often. In the category of best-regarded mathematics papers, Iran now performs well above average, with 1.7% of its papers among the most-cited 1%, with Egypt and Saudi Arabia also doing well. Turkey scores highly on engineering.

Science and technology-related subjects, with their clear practical benefits, do best. Engineering dominates, with agricultural sciences not far behind. Medicine and chemistry are also popular. Value for money matters. Fazeel Mehmood Khan, who recently returned to Pakistan after doing a PhD in Germany on astrophysics and now works at the Government College University in Lahore, was told by his university’s vice-chancellor to stop chasing wild ideas (black holes, in his case) and do something useful.

Science is even crossing the region’s deepest divide. In 2000 SESAME, an international physics laboratory with the Middle East’s first particle accelerator, was set up in Jordan. It is modelled on CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory, which was created to bring together scientists from wartime foes. At SESAME Israeli boffins work with colleagues from places such as Iran and the Palestinian territories.

By the book

Science of the kind practised at SESAME throws up few challenges to Muslim doctrine (and in many cases is so abstruse that religious censors would struggle to understand it). But biology—especially with an evolutionary angle—is different. Many Muslims are troubled by the notion that humans share a common ancestor with apes. Research published in 2008 by Salman Hameed of Hampshire College in Massachusetts, a Pakistani astronomer who now studies Muslim attitudes to science, found that fewer than 20% in Indonesia, Malaysia or Pakistan believed in Darwin’s theories. In Egypt it was just 8%.

Yasir Qadhi, an American chemical engineer turned cleric (who has studied in both the United States and Saudi Arabia), wrestled with this issue at a London conference on Islam and evolution this month. He had no objection to applying evolutionary theory to other lifeforms. But he insisted that Adam and Eve did not have parents and did not evolve from other species. Any alternative argument is “scripturally indefensible,” he said. Some, especially in the diaspora, conflate human evolution with atheism: rejecting it becomes a defining part of being a Muslim. (Some Christians take a similar approach to the Bible.)

Though such disbelief may be couched in religious terms, culture and politics play a bigger role, says Mr Hameed. Poor school education in many countries leaves minds open to misapprehension. A growing Islamic creationist movement is at work too. A controversial Turkish preacher who goes by the name of Harun Yahya is in the forefront. His website spews pamphlets and books decrying Darwin. Unlike his American counterparts, however, he concedes that the universe is billions of years old (not 6,000 years).

But the barrier is not insuperable. Plenty of Muslim biologists have managed to reconcile their faith and their work. Fatimah Jackson, a biological anthropologist who converted to Islam, quotes Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the founders of genetics, saying that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. Science describes how things change; Islam, in a larger sense, explains why, she says.

Others take a similar line. “The Koran is not a science textbook,” says Rana Dajani, a Jordanian molecular biologist. “It provides people with guidelines as to how they should live their lives.” Interpretations of it, she argues, can evolve with new scientific discoveries. Koranic verses about the creation of man, for example, can now be read as providing support for evolution.

Other parts of the life sciences, often tricky for Christians, have proved unproblematic for Muslims. In America researchers wanting to use embryonic stem cells (which, as their name suggests, must be taken from human embryos, usually spares left over from fertility treatments) have had to battle pro-life Christian conservatives and a federal ban on funding for their field. But according to Islam, the soul does not enter the fetus until between 40 and 120 days after conception—so scientists at the Royan Institute in Iran are able to carry out stem-cell research without attracting censure.

But the kind of freedom that science demands is still rare in the Muslim world. With the rise of political Islam, including dogmatic Salafists who espouse a radical version of Islam, in such important countries as Egypt, some fear that it could be eroded further still. Others, however, remain hopeful. Muhammad Morsi, Egypt’s president, is a former professor of engineering at Zagazig University, near Cairo. He has a PhD in materials science from the University of Southern California (his dissertation was entitled “High-Temperature Electrical Conductivity and Defect Structure of Donor-Doped Al2O{-3}”). He has promised that his government will spend more on research.

Released from the restrictive control of the former regimes, scientists in Arab countries see a chance for progress. Scientists in Tunisia say they are already seeing promising reforms in the way university posts are filled. People are being elected, rather than appointed by the regime. The political storms shaking the Middle East could promote not only democracy, but revive scientific freethinking, too.

We Will Not Go Down (Gaza Tonight) – Micheal Heart

WE WILL NOT GO DOWN (Song for Gaza)
(Composed by Michael Heart)

A blinding flash of white light
Lit up the sky over Gaza tonight
People running for cover
Not knowing whether they’re dead or alive

They came with their tanks and their planes
With ravaging fiery flames
And nothing remains
Just a voice rising up in the smoky haze

We will not go down
In the night, without a fight
You can burn up our mosques and our homes and our schools
But our spirit will never die
We will not go down
In Gaza tonight

Women and children alike
Murdered and massacred night after night
While the so-called leaders of countries afar
Debated on who’s wrong or right

But their powerless words were in vain
And the bombs fell down like acid rain
But through the tears and the blood and the pain
You can still hear that voice through the smoky haze

We will not go down
In the night, without a fight
You can burn up our mosques and our homes and our schools
But our spirit will never die
We will not go down
In Gaza tonight

Conservative Islam Draws Rich Pakistanis

Signs show that growing numbers of wealthier and educated Pakistani women adopt more conservative strands of Islam

CAIRO – In a major religious shift in the south Asian Muslim country, a new trend of conservatism is appearing among wealthy and educated Muslim women in Pakistan.

“Recently there are a lot of young women coming to a very traditional Islam,” Maha Jehangir, a 30-year-old consultant told The Guardian.

“There is a deep desire for learning.”

Though there are no statistics, signs show that growing numbers of wealthier and educated women adopt more conservative strands of Islam.

For instance, in the information technology division of the Bank of Punjab’s headquarters, almost all employees wear hijab.

“I was the first,” said Shumaila, 28, who works in the information technology division.

A year ago, no one was donning the Muslim headscarf in the same office.

“I started reading the Qur’an properly and praying five times a day. No one made me wear the hijab. That would be impossible,” said Shumaila.

“I showed the way to the other girls at work.”

This is not only applied to working women.

Growing number of women are also joining conservative religious groups, such as Jamaat-e-Islami (JI).

“Our women’s wing is doing very well,” said Syed Munawar Hassan, the leader of JI in Pakistan.

He said that women made up an increasing proportion of the organization’s 6 million members and 30,000 organizers.

“They are some of our best organizers.”

Traditionally recruiting among the lower middle class, JI has grown in recent years among the elite in Pakistan by rapid urbanization and economic growth.


Some cite the public anger over Pakistan’s role in the US-led war on terror as a main reason behind the growing conservatism among Pakistani women.

“People who grew up within the war on terror are asking, what does it mean to be a Nato ally? Is India our worst enemy?” Jehangir, who lives in a large house in one of the most exclusive parts of Islamabad, said.

“We are bombarded by all this information and there is a deep need for answers,” she said, adding that many found the answers in conservative strands of religious practice.

“That leads to religious inquiry.”

Others attribute the growing conservatism to Pakistani women who bring their experience in the Gulf countries to their homeland.

“Everything we learn comes from the Qur’an. Maths, computers, banking,” said Amna, a 21-year-old business student whose father was a manager for a major firm in Saudi Arabia.

Amna, who wears a Saudi-style full veil, said it was wrong to think that women who were richer or more educated would inevitably be more secular.

“The Qur’an contains everything,” she said.

Along with JI and Al-Huda organization, interest was also growing for more tolerant varieties of Islamic organizations among the wealthy women in Pakistan.

The al-Mawrid institute is attracting more and more “educated ladies, doctors, professors, housewives who do not know about Islam”, says Kaukab Shehzad, a 43-year-old teacher.

“We read the Qur’an in detail but we discuss other religions too.”

Islam – Ideology that can take over the world

Islam as a world ideology is no more a dream- again. We, Muslim should understand the meaning of Islam itself – Submission to God and Peace. This ideology is very strong but unfortunately it drive by weak driver, Muslim especially born-Muslim. Majority of Muslim today are being poison by racism, secularism, liberty, socialist, fanatic, and other more.

Luckily, there were Muslim community that bring this ideology again to frontline to make sure the survival of the religion. Many studies have forecast Islam will become major religion in another next 10 to 20 years.

What is our strength? Actually it rely on the belief and teaching. Another element is revolution of Islam itself. Many people see Islam is very rigid religion, unfortunately its not. I think this is most flexible religion in todays world. As insider, I have seen many time Islam have evolve. It can and have proven survive through poverty, developing, war, suppression, science age, secularism and etc and still it can not be demolished by others faith or ideology. I do not know if there was any other ideology that so persistent than Islam.

The message is clear – PEACE. If educated non-Muslim can put trust on us, why cant we ourselves belief in our religion.

The articles below is written by Sir Bernard Shaw in 1936 predicted that the only ideology that can rule over Europe in next 25 years Islam. Can we take his challenge? I think we can.

“If any religion had the chance of ruling over England, nay Europe within the next hundred years, it could be Islam.”

“I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him – the wonderful man and in my opinion for from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Savior of Humanity.”

“I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.” [Sir George Bernard Shaw in ‘The Genuine Islam,’ Vol. 1, No. 8, 1936.]

Reblog: The Failed Countries

1. At the beginning of America’s war on terror, President Bush categorized several developing countries as failed countries.

2. I wonder whether Bush thinks a country like Greece, which is totally incapable of paying its debts after irresponsible financial management, is a successful country.

3. The debt of Greece has not only destroyed the country but it has dragged down all the European countries as well. Such is the disaster brought on by Greece’s impecunious ways that Europe is threatened with the possibility of financial collapse. So far the great economic and financial minds of Europe have not found any real solution. Instead there is the possibility that the failure would spread to Italy, Spain and Portugal.

4. Why has this happened to Europe? To find the answer one has to look into the European economic history, to look at how the European countries became so rich.

5. In the days of European imperialism, only Europe could make use of their engineering and technological skills to export manufactured goods to the rest of the world.

6. Feeling secure that they would be able to sustain this superiority in industry and trade and often benefitting from cheap raw material from their colonies and captive imperial markets, they allowed wages and profits to spiral up. Accordingly their GDP and per capita appeared to be high and they enjoyed ever higher standards of living. They classify their countries as developed.

7. Democracy and socialism forced the introduction of all kinds of social benefits. They acceded to demands for less work and more pay. They introduced pension schemes, paid leaves and holidays, double and quadruple pay for overtime, costly medical benefits and unemployment benefits. Very early workers were given the right to form unions and to strike. These were to prevent exploitation. But the rights were abused so that the remunerations and perks demanded had nothing to do with being exploited.

8. Soon the demand for higher remunerations and perks spread to the higher grades of workers and then to the executives. Bonuses for all were no longer related to profits made. They became actually delayed salaries, paid half-yearly or yearly.

9. The top executives were given stock options, bonuses exceeding their yearly pay, cars, houses and numerous allowances including golden handshakes even when they failed.

10. Naturally all these cause all their products and services to become very costly. With this comes an increasingly higher cost of living. Wages and perks were revised every now and again. With each round of wages and perks increase, there would be increased cost of living which in turn lead to demands for more increase in wages and perks.

11. All these would have gone on indefinitely but for the emergence of new industrial countries in the East. Japan, followed by Korea and then China industrialised and their low-cost high quality products pushed practically all the manufactured goods of the West off the shelf.

12. Threatened with the possibility of lower standard of living they created a financial market. Non-tangible products were invented for them to speculate and gamble. And they or at least the moneyed people and the game-theory experts made considerable amounts of money. With this no more capital was invested in the real business of producing goods and supplying services.

13. Then, they became very greedy. They started creating money to finance their gambling. To cut a long story short, the bubble burst. They lost all their money. Unable to go back to doing real business, to producing goods and supplying services, they began to fiddle with the monetary and banking systems.

14. They succeeded with Iceland and Ireland. But Greece proves intractable. This country enjoyed high life on borrowed money. Less work, more pay and more social benefits ate into Government revenue. Unwilling to face the wrath of the people the Government borrowed to finance the national budget. Unable to pay or service debts the lenders refused to give any more loans.

15. Actually the country became bankrupt. There is no way for the country to become solvent again. Its bankruptcy would in turn bankrupt European banks. This would be disastrous for Europe.

16. Basically the countries of Europe have failed. Their claim to be the showpiece of capitalism and democracy becomes hollow after they are forced to look at socialist undemocratic China for help.

17. But all efforts will fail unless they admit that they, like the developing countries, are poor. Poor people must live like poor people. Their bonuses, share options, perks, high pay and less work creed etc must be given up. The gambling in the financial market must also be stopped.

18. They have to go back to working, to producing goods and supplying service with lowered wages. They must sell off most of their assets (Greece is trying to do this now). But industrial discipline would be needed for foreign investors to buy the assets and run them.

19. Printing money and writing cheques will not help. They must cease to be in denial. They must admit they have failed, their creed and their systems have failed.

20. Many developing countries have failed. But many European countries including the United States of America have also failed.

Credit to : (4th Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad)