Image credit: wvegter.hivemind.net
I was looking for this article published by Hassan Hassan in Abu Dhabi’s English newspaper ‘The National’ in 2012 and have just found it again. Hassan’s article is a response to a similar one published in The New Atlantis chronicling the decline of Muslim scientific thought after their enlightenment age, especially during the Caliphate era, or what Hassan calls: “Golden Age of Arabic science (800-1100)”. It often frustrates me that a region that gave the world so much in the early sciences, maths, astronomy and medicine would now be struggling with a lack of meaningful scientific research and development or as the New Atlantis article puts it,
..roughly 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, but only two scientists from Muslim countries have won Nobel Prizes in science (one for physics in 1979, the other for chemistry in 1999). Forty-six Muslim countries combined contribute just 1 percent of the world’s scientific literature; Spain and India each contribute more of the world’s scientific literature than those countries taken together. In fact, although Spain is hardly an intellectual superpower, it translates more books in a single year than the entire Arab world has in the past thousand years. “Though there are talented scientists of Muslim origin working productively in the West,” Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg has observed, “for forty years I have not seen a single paper by a physicist or astronomer working in a Muslim country that was worth reading.”
If the historical account is juxtaposed with the current situation of the rise of the brutal so-called Islamic State, the intolerance, increase in poverty and displacement, added to that a noted under-development in the region, then the significance of the decline in scientific research and excellence in education can be seen with a different lens. Now it can be seen as adversely affecting a whole region and compromising millions of young people’s future.
The majority of citizens of this region, the birthplace of Islam, are below the age of 30. A large group of them are uneducated, they struggle to compete for jobs internationally and are falling prey to religious-based recruitment and radicalization. The poor are the most vulnerable prey. A case in point is the recruitment by ISIS of young men from Tripoli, a sleepy city in North Lebanon that has been at the receiving end of deliberate marginalization, shortage of development funding by successive governments and no meaningful schemes that would offer a glimmer of hope to its disgruntled desperate youth.
To counter the phenomenon of radicalization as an escape from the nightmare of desperate abject poverty and hopeless existence, there can be nothing but education, sustainable development and job creation. Countries in the Gulf are leading the way in investing in their citizen’s education, creating jobs, educating women and elevating them to positions of responsibility and policy making. The UAE’s Masdar initiative is a leading example for investment in innovation and research for sustainable energy resources, the country is also hosting IRENA, an international agency which concentrates on renewable energy. Universities with research facilities, albeit not enough funding yet, are sprouting in the GCC region, so is the advancement of scientific research in Qatar. The region needs more, much much more investment in research and development, not only in the Gulf countries, but in the Arab world as a whole. Turning the tide of the scientific decline in the Muslim world is not impossible, it is challenging, but nothing is impossible if there is the political vision and the will to make it happen.