Monday, 4 November 2013
(78): Where are the Muslim Scientists?
Last week at the World Islamic Economic Forum in London, the first time such Forum took place outside the Muslim World, showcases how Islamic financing is growing around the world. According to the British Prime Minister David Cameron, Islamic finance is growing fifty percent faster than conventional financing. Of course more needs to be done to strengthening what is gradually appearing to be an alternative to the conventional model.
But my take while listening to the speeches of different world leaders was a statement from the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Nawaz Sheriff. Mr Sheriff briefly lamented on the state of the Muslim world, and how far the Muslim world is left behind, and what needs to be done to revive its hitherto compelling spirit, which greatly contributed in scientific and technological advancement of the world. According to the speech by Mr Sheriff, in the middle ages Muslim scientists produced ninety percent of the literature the world over, yet at the moment, Muslim scientists produced just one percent.
The message of Mr Sheriff was clear, for the Muslim world to regain its position globally; it has to revert to what made it ahead of its contemporaries in the past. Just have a quick look at the list of Muslim scientists and their inventions as listed by the website www.famousscientists.org, you are talking about the likes of Abu Nasr Al-Farabi, known as Alpharabius, Albattani known as Albatenius, a famous mathematician and astronomer, Ibn Sina or Avesina famous for his contribution to medicine and philiosphy, Ibn Battuta, Ibn Rushd also called Averroes, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khawarazimi, famous for the invention of Arabic numerals and Algebra, Omar Alkhayyam, Abubakar Alrazi “considered one of the greatest physicians in history” according to the famous scientists website; Jabir ibn Alhayyan “the father of Arab chemistry known for his highly influential works on alchemy and metallurgy”, Ibn Ishaq Alkindi, also called Alkindus “who is known as the first of the Muslim peripatetic philosophers.”, Ibn Alhaytham (Alhazen), “Arab astronomer and mathematician known for his important contributions to the principles of optics and the use of scientific experiments.”
The remaining scientists include Ibn Zhur (Avezoar) “Arab physician and surgeon, known for his influential book Al-Taisir Fil-Mudawat Wal-Tadbeer (Book of Simplification Concerning Therapeutics and Diet)”, Ibn Khaldun, a historian, sociologist and economist and the author of Muqaddima, an important work thought to have influenced the work of later Western philosophers like Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and Herbert Spencer, and Ibn Albaitar “botanist and physician who systematically recorded the discoveries made by Islamic physicians in the Middle Ages”.
These are just a selection of the famous Muslim scientists who contributed to the development of science and technology that is sometimes ignored or even assumed such contribution never existed. It does not even included such giants like Imam Attabari, who is both a scholar of Tafseer (Quranic exegesis) and a medical doctor, or the likes of Imam Al-Ghazali whose contribution would make you hide your face in shame when you see what some of our universities are producing as professors.
But this is the past; we have to think about the present. The Muslim world does not lack the people who will conduct research and regain the glory of the civilization that was once the leading light of the world. What the Muslim world lacks are the institutions that support the development of these scientists to produce the knowledge that our world will continue to desire. The Muslim scientists of the past were successful because of the support they receive from the State and through philanthropists who understand that for a civilization to stand on its feet, it has to be mounted on the pedestal of knowledge.
Research has shown that the Muslim world led the way in the past, because of how endowment funds (Awqaaf) and other philanthropic activities support people to study and produce the best literature without worrying about the hassles of life, which may take away their attention. In fact other civilizations learned about the institution of Waqf from the Muslim world, a point that was made clearly by Tim Wallace-Murphy in his book “What Islam Did for Us: Understanding Islam's Contribution to Western Civilization”. Wallace-Murphy explained how the West learned from the Muslim world how to establish these endowment funds, a factor that critically contributed in the development of institutions like Oxford and Cambridge.
Unfortunately, the institution of Waqf has been neglected or at best left to the background in the Muslim world, and reviving it, and making it to function in line with current challenges will contribute greatly in producing the Muslim scientists that can bring back the lost glory of the Muslim world.
(Views expressed in this and other opinion articles are strictly personal)
4th November, 2013