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The Missing Scientific Renaissance


Mshari Al-Zaydi has an interesting column in today’s Asharq Alawsat, exploring the possible reasons that Islamic—and particularly Arab—civilizations have fallen so far behind the West when it comes to science. Definitely worth reading.

Answering Zeweil’s Question?
Mshari Al-Zaydi

“Does the problem lie in the fact that we are Arabs or is it because we are Muslims?”

This depressing and puzzling question was posed by the Egyptian scientist Ahmed Zeweil who, in 1991, won the Noble Prize in Chemistry. The question was put forward at the Al Yamamah University in Riyadh, during his recent visit to the Saudi capital.

Zeweil asked this question in search of a convincing explanation for the failures of Arabs and Muslims to participate, even slightly, in the scientific renaissance that is taking place from East to West, from Japan to the United States bypassing Arab and Muslim regions.

Dr. Zeweil took the initiative to answer stating that the Arab individual is successful in the West since he is granted the elements required for success. He said, “It is wrong to associate problems with Islam since our Muslim ancestors were the most prominent in the field of science,” as quoted by Al Hayat newspaper, 6 January 2008.

Zeweil, who was engulfed by the number of requests from Arab governments to assist them in launching scientific revival from Saudi Arabia to Egypt and other countries, is completely focused on this problem: why is it that we are lagging so far behind in the field of science? He continues to assert upon the fact that the appropriate environment for scientific research is absent in the Arab world. Out of appreciation, he explained that had it not been for the freedom of creativity in the United States he would never have progressed in the field of science to such an extent.

January:12:2008 - 10:15 | | Permalink Share This

5 Responses to “The Missing Scientific Renaissance”

1olivetheoil Said:
11:55 am

I would suggest reading Arthur Koestler’s The Sleepwalkers. He makes some harsh judgments on why science failed to flourish in Asia and Middle East though much of the advanced theory had already been developed by them (concept of zero etc) long before Europe.

2Solomon2 Said:
7:42 pm

I think Yusuf al Samaan got it right, and I’ve witnessed “the lack of a critical mentality” in action among science and engineering students of different nationalities. I consider the phenomenon is more Arab than Muslim, for it seems especially pronounced when Arab students have an Arab professor. OTO, have you seen the same thing?

Thanks to the commentaries of Ibn Rushd (also known as Averroes) on Aristotle, particularly his attempts at rapprochement between philosophy and Shariah, in addition to Ibn Seena, Ibn al Nafees and other great astronomers, Latin thinkers were placed back on track…Why were these figures able to have such a great influence upon the West but not upon their own peoples?

I feel Al-Zaydi knows the answer, for he mentions the imam one Western historian, Will Durant, considers the chief culprit in the next paragraph. But Al-Zaydi can’t bring himself to criticize the man directly. That itself is a symptom of the disease!

3olivetheoil Said:
3:35 am

My teaching experience is very limited. But as a student educated in South Asia, my biggest gripe was the focus on learning by rote. Professors (including those in science) actively discouraged questioning and criticism. I think I learned to aggressively ask questions only after I moved to the US.

4Kashmiri Nomad Trackbacked With:
3:08 pm

Islam And The West Accelerated Links For 13 Januar

Crossroads Arabia explores the issue of why Muslim civilisation has fallen behind western civilisation in the field of science.

5Solomon2 Said:
4:41 pm

I think I learned to aggressively ask questions only after I moved to the US.

But in the US did you have Arab and Muslim professors or were they Western ones?

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