online: 1 November 2006; | doi:10.1038/444019a
Science: Ambition & neglect
Science in the Muslim world
Islam and Science special is available
The war in Iraq, the price of oil,
the deadlock over Iran's nuclear ambitions, the terrorism of al-Qaeda and the
tensions surrounding immigrant communities in Europe ensure that Islam is rarely
far from the headlines. But you would have to be an avid student of Muslim
affairs to come across any discussion of science and technology not linked to
the development of nuclear weapons.
week's issue, Nature
offers an unprecedented look at the prospects for science and technology in the
Muslim world (see 'Islam
and Science: The Islamic world'). We have never before collected
together such a range of voices and analysis in one issue.
ignoring Muslim science, the West follows the lead of the Muslim world itself.
Low investment and a low profile combine to keep the scientific community small,
marginalized and unproductive. This is not simply a matter of underdevelopment;
the oil-rich Gulf states invest pitifully in R&D (see 'Islam
and Science: Oil rich, science poor'). In our Commentary section, on
Islam and Science: Steps towards reform
Islam and science: Where are the new patrons of
science?, Nader Fergany, the lead author of the Arab Human
Development Reports, and Herwig Schopper, president of the council for the
Middle East laboratory SESAME, offer their own critical analyses of what needs
to change to allow science to take off in Muslim countries.
scientific track record of Islamic countries might suggest that there is
something about Islam inherently inimical to research. Muslims bristle at this
idea, pointing to the major achievements of Muslim scholars under the Islamic
caliphate (see timeline,
ISLAMIC ERA SCIENCE). But what of the
present? Our News Feature on
Islam and Science: An Islamist revolution
looks at the attitudes to science in the various Islamist organizations growing
in power in key states ranging from the Occupied Palestinian Territory to
Malaysia. The secular regimes and one-party states that have ruled many Muslim
countries are being replaced, or directly challenged, by voices calling for a
more directly political Islam.
conditions in which knowledge flowered a millennium ago are hardly those that
today's Islamists say they favour. Back then, support for scientific enquiry was
matched by an openness to other cultures and sources of knowledge. But when
Islamists come to power the picture is more nuanced than it may first appear.
Restrictions on freedom of speech and a high level of investment in military
technology are distressing to outsiders, but greater attention to higher
education is a trend that could offer hope. Mostafa Moin, an Iranian reformer
and scientist, lays out his hopes and fears for the future on
Islam and Science: Q&A The reformer.
attention to the challenges of the present is sorely needed. Too few Muslim
governments collect data on the status of science and innovation (as our
Islam and Science: The data gap shows),
and so the problems facing scientists are not even on their agenda. Muslim
nations wanting to invest in science as a broad cultural activity need to
extract the right lessons from their glorious past and their politically charged
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