ISLAM AND THE MODERN SCIENCES
Education has always played a dominating role in forming the destiny of nations and
people. Muslims saw their prime owing largely to educational and intellectual fields.
Now, considering the present state, top educationists and intellectuals of the Muslim
world have been emphasising upon the importance of educational reforms. Increasing
the priority of educational is the answer to many questions. However, it takes a back
seat when viewed in relation to the immediate steps that every one wants to take
individually to solve the problems in hand at a particular time.
A state of helplessness seems to have set in where the Muslims all over the world
have conformed to and accepted their present value in the eyes of the world. The West
has also endeavoured to undermine and disparage the contributions made by the
Muslims in all the scientific fields. The tendency of terming Islam as a religion that is
out of touch with the realities of the present world has become a norm. To make the
matters worse, there is a constant brain drain in progress where the able Muslims opt
to pursue their goals of prosperity and move in to the clutches of the West to have
their skills exploited at will. Their countries of origin have failed to stop this drainage.
Resultantly, the capabilities of the Muslims are not properly tapped to benefit the very
societies that need them the most. Lack of good governance, mismanagement and lure
of the West has created a vicious cycle that if continued will keep the Muslims at the
mercy of the West and their interpretations.
Undoubtedly, science and technology is the engine of modern development. But to
utilise the engine one needs a perfect and secure vehicle, a proper road to drive and
then traffic laws to reach the destination after a safe and secure journey.
There is a need to understand what and how Muslim Ummah should proceed in
general in order to revive and exploit the universal appeal of their religion in relation
to the scientific education. In order to regain the lost confidence and to inspire the
Muslim youth about their rich heritage, there is a requirement to highlight the truth
about the share of contribution of Islam to the benefit of the humanity. After
analyzing the factors leading to the retardation in the field of education, a remedial
strategy to start a reversal of the state of Muslims can be worked out.
The aim of this paper is to analyse the role of contributions of Muslims in the fields
of science and intellectual development, the factors leading to the downturn of the
Muslim’s progress including the current brain drain phenomenon, in order to
recommend remedial measures.
The sequence of this paper is as following:-
a. Part I. Muslim’s contribution towards scientific and intellectual fields.
b. Part II. Reasons and effects of current brain drain phenomenon
c. Part III. Misrepresentation of Islam being a medieval religion.
d. Part IV. Recommendations.
MUSLIM’S CONTRIBUTION TOWARDS SCIENTIFIC AND
Islamic Concept of Education.
Islam has greatly emphasised on the importance of education to conquer the forces
and resources of nature. That is possible only through the acquisition of adequate
knowledge through a well-balanced, elaborate and all-embracing system of education.
It involves harnessing human potential and then to utilize external forces in
subservience to the Qur’anic values for the benefit of all the mankind. This provides
us “identity, self-discipline and academic pursuits - all of the highest excellence but
our difficulty, without any conspicuous flamboyant grandiloquent style and
scintillating phrase, is that we overpower the forces of nature without being able to
overwhelm the forces which lie within ourselves ”
Contribution of Muslims.
The great and glorious heritage of Muslims can be recalled by briefly surveying what
Islam has already contributed to the world’s civilization, education, culture and to
scientific development. A few of the examples of contributions made by the Muslim
Scientists in the field of science include the following.
a. Numerology. Muhammad Ibn Musa, who was also the first to use the decimal point
notation, invented the zero.
b. Trigonometry / Sine / Tangent / Co - Tangent. The Arabs developed these and Ibn
Musa’s work “Hisab-Al Jab-Wal Muqabala” (meaning the Calculation of Integration
and Equation) presented 800 examples in the eight century. His work was translated
from Arabic into Latin and until the 16th century, it was Europe’s main text book on
c. Geometry / Algebra. Another great mathematician was Omar Khayyam, who
offered to the world geometric as well as algebraic solutions of the second degree.
Nasiruddin wrote the treatise on the quadrilateral trigonometry, as well as plain and
d. Physics. Kamaluddin examined the refraction of sun light in raindrops and actually
explained the genesis of primary and secondary rainbows. The story of the invention
of the pendulum and the presentation of a water clock to Emperor Charlemagne by
Harun Al Rashid is well known.
e. Science of Mechanics. The development of science of Mechanics in Islam is an act
of genius. Musa Ibn Shakir described one hundred pieces of mechanical equipment in
his book of artifices. Other outstanding Muslim treatises included “Al Kitab Fi
Marifat Al Hiya Al Handasiyya” (The Book of the Knowledge of Ingenious
Geometrical Contrivances” by Abul Fiaz Ibn Al Raz. He also did work on accurate
weighing, determination of specific Gravity.
f. Camera Obscura. In the field of optics, Camera Obscura was invented by Ibn
Haitham in 1038 AD.
g. Theory of Relativity. Hazrat Qazi Abu Bakr had developed the theory of relativity
in the Eighth Century in terms of time and space by means of mathematical equations
and Astrophysics. Imagine Einstein wasn’t even born in the western world, who
propounded the same theory of relativity in the Twentieth Century.
h. Geography. As far as Geography was concerned, the Muslim Scientists established
in the ninth century that the world was round and under the Caliphate of Mamun, the
first map of the globe was made.
i. Paper Makings. This was one of the earliest skills attained by the Muslims. As early
as the Eighth Century, high quality paper was being manufactured in Samarkand.
Egypt was known to have its first paper mill in the year 900 A.C. The earliest Arabic
manuscript written on paper that has been discovered is the Gharib Al Hadith by Abu
Ubayed, dated 837 A.C. It can be seen in Holland preserved in the Library of
University of Leyden.
j. Advances in the Industry. Spain under the Islamic rule was an industrial centre. It
was one of the wealthiest and thickly populated of European countries. Muslims were
leading in Weaving Wool, Silk, Home Pottery, Jewellery, Leather and Perfume
Industry. In the middle ages, the world trade was commanded by the Muslims and
Baghdad, Bokhara and Samarkand remained centers for world fairs until the 16th
k. Libraries. The Bait Al Hikmah, at Cairo contained 2 Million books, the library at
Tripoli some 3 Millions but the Christians burnt down this library during the first
crusade. Many such libraries were burnt down during the Crusades and it is
interesting to note that where the books on theology were destroyed, those on
scientific subjects were preserved by them for their own use.
It was not science only, which brought Europe back to life. Other and manifold
influence from the civilization of Islam communicated its first glow to European Life.
Although there is not a single aspect of European growth in which the decisive
influence of Islamic Culture is not traceable, nowhere is it so “clear and momentous
as in the genesis of that power which constitutes the permanent distinctive force of the
modern world, and the supreme source of its victory, natural science and the scientific
Important fields like Astronomy and Mathematics were imported by the Greeks and
were never properly absorbed by their culture. The subjects remained generalized in
nature until “the patient ways of investigation, the accumulation of positive
knowledge, the minute method of science, detailed and prolonged observation and
experimental inquiry ” were introduced by the Muslims.
Leaving this aside, let us consider the scientific facts in the Holy Quran. It is indicated
that the earth was previously a part of the sun and after its separation; it became a
habitable place for humanity, as mentioned in Surah 21, Ayat 30. That the matter is
made up of sub atomic particles (Surah, 10, Ayat 61). That the embryo in the mother’s
womb in enclosed by 3 epithelial coverings (Surah 39, Ayat 6). That each human
being has a unique fingerprint (Surah 75, Ayat 4) etc. etc. There are thousands of
other scientific facts in the Holy Quran.
It was under the influence of the Arabs and Moorish revival of culture and not in the
15th century, that a real renaissance took place. Spain, not Italy, was the cradle of the
rebirth of Europe. After steadily sinking lower and lower into barbarism, it had
reached the darkest depths of ignorance and degradation when cities of the Saracen
world, Baghdad, Cairo, Cordova, and Toledo, were growing centres of civilization
and intellectual activity. It was there that the new life arose which was to grow into
new phase of human evolution. From the time when the influence of their culture
made itself felt, began the stirring of new life.
The downfall of Muslims is not due to Islam as the West would have us believe but
due to Muslims themselves for their sheer neglect of Islamic principles. They must
realize that Islam has been and is undeniably the most progressive religion which is in
fact a way of life with a very wide scope.
Acknowledgement by Western Scholars. A few Western Scientists, historians and
intellectuals acknowledged the contribution of Muslims in various fields of science
and their effects on Western advancements. Some of the remarks are quoted below.
a. Historian Gibbons. He wrote in his fifth volume of “Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire” that the science of Chemistry owes its origin and improvements to the
b. George Sarton . “It will suffice here to evoke a few glorious names without
contemporary equivalents in the West: Jabir ibn Haiyan, al-Kindi, al-Khwarizmi, al-
Fargani, al-Razi, Thabit ibn Qurra, al-Battani, Hunain ibn Ishaq, al-Farabi, Ibrahim
ibn Sinan, al-Masudi, al-Tabari, Abul Wafa, ‘Ali ibn Abbas, Abul Qasim, Ibn al-
Jazzar, al-Biruni, Ibn Sina, Ibn Yunus, al-Kashi, Ibn al-Haitham, ‘Ali Ibn ‘Isa al-
Ghazali, al-zarqab, Omar Khayyam. A magnificent array of names which it would not
be difficult to extend. If anyone tells you that the Middle Ages were scientifically
sterile, just quote these men to him, all of whom flourished within a short period, 750
to 1100 A.D.”
c. Carra de Vaux. “Arithmetic and algebra also flourished alongside of astronomy.
This was the period of the cerebrated al-Khwarizmi whose name, corrupted by the
Latin writers of the West, gave us, it so believed, the term Algorism (sometimes
written Algorithm) .”
d. Silberberg. “Anyhow it is astonishing enough that the entire botanical literature of
antiquity furnishes us only two parallels to our book (of ad-Dinawari, died 895 C.E.).
How was it that the Muslim people could, during so early a period of its literary life,
attain the level of the people of such a genius as the Hellenic one, and even surpass it
in this respect? [Ad-Dinari wrote ‘Kitab an-Nabat’ (Encyclopaedia Botanica) in six
thick volumes. It was written before any translation of Greek works into Arabic “.
e. Joseph Hell . “In the domain of trigonometry, the theory of Sine, Cosine and
tangent is an heirloom of the Arabs. The brilliant epochs of Peurbach, of
Regiomontanus, of Copernicus, cannot be recalled without reminding us of the
fundamental and preparatory labour of the Arab Mathematician (Al-Battani, 858-929
REASONS AND EFFECTS OF CURRENT BRAIN DRAIN PHENOMENON
Understanding Brain Drain
Brain Drain Defined. It can be defined as an emigration of students who do not return
home after training. To a lesser (though growing) extent, it is “highly-qualified people
leaving their home-country after finishing their education” . The exodus of educated
people has become the epitome of wasted resources for advanced countries.
Developing countries are at special risk because they lose highly skilled individuals.
The migration of students from poor countries is now a long-term trend that
educational improvements in the countries-of-origin have not yet managed to alter.
Statistical Analysis. One of the main problems of analyzing brain-drains is the lack of
data. There are many gaps. It is hard to say who the migrants are. There are no
statistical tools and the flow of people is little understood. The only overall figures
available are those of UNESCO for students, along with a few country-of-origin
studies which do not include any country-comparative figures. Ironically, there is no
separate data available on the magnitude of brain drain in the Muslim World.
Historical Perspective. The world saw the brain drain phenomenon in Europe, where
many scientists and scholars left their insecure environments to live in the United
States. The same scientists helped the host country in dominating the world during
and after the World War II. Thus, the nation that produced excellent brains suffered
where as another benefited merely by exploiting the opportunities available with her
due to good governance and social values.
Cost Effects. Immigration out of and in to a country has its cost effects. These costs
run in millions and billions. The cost of investment in postsecondary education, loss
of tax revenue and the costs of settlement, language training and skills upgrading are
distributed among the host countries and countries of origin. The countries of origin
loose more due to weaker economic and social infrastructure.
Reasons Leading to Brain Drain
Quality of Education. One of the main reasons is the perceived value, career-wise, of
a diploma obtained in a rich country. Looking at the issue of development in science
and technology areas, we see that industrial and technological development largely
depends on financial and economic stability and growth. The economic stability
depends on social and political environment.
Education Used as an Industry. Higher education has become a lucrative and
competitive market in the rich countries, where economic and financial considerations
sometimes clash with academic and human ones. In this market, universities are
behaving these days according to how many foreign students they can take. Due to the
lack of educational institutions with equivalent facilities and repute, Muslim youth
with the resources to pursue higher education prefer to spend billions for getting the
quality education from the West. During their stay in Western countries they are
introduced to and attracted by the Western social values and lifestyle that in turn
motivates them in to staying there on completion of their education.
Socio-Political Stability. Social and political stability in any society depends on the
degree of social values, justice and supremacy of law and order. These are all inter-
related and inter-dependent factors. Hence, the bottom-line is, a country cannot
succeed in any sector without achieving the prerequisites and without setting her
priorities for the rest of the sectors. The progress can not be started from the middle
but needs a strong base to start working on. Strong nations started from scratch and
though it took time for them to reach where they are today, the resulting prosperity
and strength are firm and less likely to be affected by minor irritants.
Pursuit of Better Opportunities. This quest for opportunity is part of the human
experience. It is part of culture and sociology. It is a reality enshrined in the spirit of
man that he is a mobile, migratory creature. He moves, when there is no grass on the
prairie, to a greener pasture.
Immigration Policies of the Western Countries. The Western countries want
immigrants presumably, to replenish an aging and diminishing population in order to
sustain economic growth. They want economic growth to retain a competitive edge in
the global economy. They want to retain this edge because they want to maintain a
high standard of living for their population.
a. Preferences. They “prefer the scientists and engineers with further emphasis on
research and development activities” . These sectors are indeed considered as the new
major source of wealth and indicate the stage at which a particular society has
b. Environments. The expatriate scientists and engineers work in an environment,
which is far better than the one of their peers in the country of origin. They indeed
have access to funding, technical support, equipment, scientific networks,
experimental conditions, and many other resources, which are much more limited at
Globalization and the Movement of Intellectual Capital and Skills. In the age of
globalization and new information technologies that facilitate the rapid transfer of
ideas and money, a global concept of intellectual capital is emerging. An international
community is developing that connects people based on shared interests and values,
with less concern for where ideas are generated. In this era of competitiveness,
companies are after the best and the brightest ideas and people regardless of where
they come from.
MISREPRESENTATION OF ISLAM BEING A MEDIEVAL RELIGION
Portraying Islam as a medieval religion today is continuation of an extensive
campaign to weaken the Muslim’s commitment and attachment to Islam. This
campaign started when the light of Islam was still being spread in Europe. After many
failed attempts to check the advance of Islam, the enemies set out to investigate
carefully for more devious and long lasting. They concluded that the strength of
Muslims stemmed from their religion and belief. They set out to change their
understanding and application of the Shariah and to turn the great principles in Islam
from active to passive and uninspiring elements.
Intellectual Incursions. It was through process of introducing (under the guise of logic
and common sense) certain philosophical concepts that led to much controversy. The
results were disastrous for Muslims with emergence of sects and defeats in the wars
against Christian crusaders. The intellectual onslaught was at its height during the
17th century. Slow but steady weakening of Muslims continued till they were at the
mercy of the westerns at the end of the 18th century resulting in colonialism. During
the colonial rule, Muslims were deliberately prevented from progress and their
educational system was systematically devastated. Muslims saw colonialists grab their
property and resources, degrading their character and ridicule their religion.
After the Second World War several independent Muslim states appeared on the map
of the world, and it seemed that the Muslims would soon take strides leading to a
fresh efflorescence of its culture and civilization. But in the post-independence period,
one could clearly see dearth of creative energy and lack of intellectual courage. This
led many to conclude that perhaps the Islam as a religion was the basic cause of this
decay. This misrepresentation of Islam that has found new height after the September
11 can be summarized in the following paragraphs:-
a. Extremism. Extremism and unaccommodating attitude towards other religions or
communities as taught in the madrassas and so called Islamic organizations in
countries like Yemen, Sudan, Algeria, Afghanistan etc present a wrong image of
Islam to the world. The Islamic world faces a monolithic wall of suspicion and fear
regarding the alleged nature of Islamic resurgence and activism, which is distorted as
fundamentalism and terrorism. This is partly due to disinformation campaign fostered
world wide against Islam and partly due to our own misinterpretation of Islam.
b. Islam and Muslims in the Media. Media coverage of Islam is on the rise. The tone
and substance of such coverage, however, leaves many Muslims concerned about the
negative image that is being relayed to Western public. However, it is important to
note that, in almost all cases, negative coverage takes the form of sensational
reporting on “exotic or violent behavioural attributes of individuals or groups of
individuals” . Objective analyses are usually lacking and whenever Islam’s teachings
and dictates are cited, in order to give the appearance of objectivity, they are taken out
of context. The real damage is done when the writer, with superficial and sometimes
biased notion of Islam, claims authority and seeks justification through misguided
reading or interpretation of Quran or Hadith.
c. Generalising Islamic Label. At present the major flash points happen to be in
Muslim majority areas. The violence in Muslim countries is mostly related to internal
problems; their struggles are not over any religious issue. In Dagestan, Grozny, and
Kashmir, the fighters are being called Muslim rebels though their cause is not just
based on religion. In Afghanistan in-groups struggle for control of the country has
nothing to do with Islam; they fight among themselves because they are hostile to one
another but still, they are portrayed as fighters for Islam.
d. Western Culture/Values. The fallacy of the west regarding their own civilization as
the yardstick to judge the whole world has led them to believe anything not western to
e. Civilisation Clash. In the words of Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard University,
“the next world war, if there is one, will be a war between civilisations ”. He
maintains that differences among civilizations are basic, involving history, language,
culture, tradition and, most importantly, religion. The united efforts of other
civilisations are likely to be directed in abolishing Islam as a religion and civilisation.
f. Backwardness. Muslim world as a whole suffers from lack of development and
backwardness, particularly in the fields of Industry, management and science. Despite
their vast natural wealth, talent and 30-50 years of independence many Muslim
countries could not progress at the desired pace. Though these conditions are after
effects of the colonial misrule, the results are wrongly related by the West to the
Will to Struggle. The vibrant societies have a will to live and struggle for a better
place in the world. Choosing the right direction with appropriate methodology to
direct the struggle is important. Being a Muslim the only way to solve our problems
and also to achieve progress is to revive our true faith in Islam, to reduce our
dependence on the West. We should concentrate our efforts on implementing the
complete code of Islam in every walk of life, and in all spheres of social life. So we
can say with conviction that the survival of Muslims lies in their religion itself and not
in denying its universal appeal.
Role of Organisations. As already mentioned, most of the Muslim world organisations
are regional interest oriented. Organisation of Islamic Conference is also doing little
in the larger interest of the Ummah. Most of its declarations of intent are a mere lip
service. There is a need to forge the political will to accelerate economic cooperation,
which is a sine qua non for establishing mutuality of interests.
Role of Media. Media has played a negative role in portraying Islam as a medieval
religion. It can also be used to help create understanding between Islam and the West.
The effort needs to come from both sides.
a. Media need to take a more balanced and more understanding position.
b. More Muslims need to be visible in the Western media - in films, on discussion
programmes, on the radio and TV and so on. It would allow them to project their
point of view as well as to counter their exotic and alien image.
c. Major problems that cause so much anger and distress among Muslims need to be
addressed: those of the Bosnians in Europe, the Palestinians in the Middle East and
the Kashmiris in South Asia
The Concept of Twin Cities and Universities. Sharing and transferring of information
among Muslim countries is possible through collaboration of universities and
establishing the concept of twin cities. The same concept is working advantageously
in the western world as well.
Sponsorship of Students and Scientists. Promising Muslim students should be
recognised and sponsored by governments to provide them high quality education in
affiliated universities round the Muslim world. These students will also be
indoctrinated to serve their nation rather than falling for a dreamy world away from
Strengthening the Industrial Base. Till the time Muslims have their own strong
industrial base, their security concerns, poverty and over dependence on the West will
continue. Serious efforts must be made to undertake joint industrial ventures.
Technical expertise must be canalised from within the Islamic countries. This will
help alleviate poverty and ensure best utilisation of technical knowledge.
Possible Solutions to the Brain Drain Problem. The national and international policies
until the late 1980s focused on preventing or regulating flow of skills. Later the flow
of skills was accepted as a norm and organising the skill abroad was added as a new
option. The policies applied in the Muslim countries-of-origin to tackle the brain-
drain should involve following two options:-
a. Recuperating people (persuading individuals to return home i.e. Brain Gain)
b. Recuperating skills (organising those abroad into a network i.e. Diaspora Option).
c. Conditions. There are definitely no quick fixes to stop brain drains because success
depends very much indeed on the level of economic, scientific and technological
development of each country and on political leaders taking a long-term view of the
whole thing. These conditions are so far absent in most of the Muslim countries. The
return-home policies are very long-term operations that can only work when the
country-of-origin can offer prospective returnees satisfactory career conditions in
their field. This supposes a high level of development. The solutions can only work
under certain conditions.
(1) First, there has to be a sizeable scientific and technical or industrial community in
(2) There has to be long-term political backing for the idea.
(3) Finally, the administrative and financial resources to organise such networks and
keep them going must be available.
Development of Socio-Cognitive Communities. There are numerous examples of
talented scientists or engineers being misused or underutilised when they go back to
their country of origin. Their abilities are disconnected from what used to make them
powerful. This leads to an approach emphasizing connectivity and which departs from
the traditional brain drain assumptions.
Brain Gain. For the last two decades, the conception about the migration of skills has
evolved, putting stronger emphasis on brain gain, which is based on the idea that the
expatriate skilled population may be considered as a potential asset instead of a
definite loss. The scientists and engineers abroad appear as human resources
educated, trained through professional practice, and employed in much better
conditions than those the country of origin could have provided to them. If such a
country is able to use these resources largely shaped through others’ investments, it
would then gain a lot.
The Diaspora Option. The diaspora option is more recent and proceeds from a
different strategy. It takes for granted that many of the expatriates are not likely to
return. They have often settled abroad and built their professional as well as their
personal life there. However, they may still be very concerned with the development
of their country of origin, because of cultural, family or other ties. The objective, then,
is to create the links through which they could effectively and productively be
connected to its development, without any physical, temporary or permanent, return.
Advantages of the Diaspora Option.
a. It does not rely on a prior infrastructural massive investment.
b. Through the expatriates, the country may have access not only to their individual
embodied knowledge but also to the socio-professional networks in which they are
c. It is quite an extensive version of a connectivity approach. This is what is at stake
in such initiatives around the world today.
d. The time thus gained will reduce the effects of present precarious situation
These networks need to emphasise on knowledge as well to gain more out of the
experience of the Muslim scientists abroad. These networks should have better
meaning and practicable measures added to their charter of duties that are listed
a. Student/Scholarly Networks. They should facilitate studies abroad and/or
reintegration into the highly qualified labour at home market afterwards. They need to
expand the scope in terms of activities and contributions to the country of origin.
b. Local Associations of Skilled Expatriates. Groups of highly skilled professionals
who should meet regularly on both a professional and social level. The aim is to
promote the professional interests of members as well as to socialise on a more
c. Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals (TOKTEN) Programme. The
Muslim countries need to set up permanent structures to tap their expatriate human
resources through the TOKTEN programme more systematically. The list of
databases of people, organised by area for example, can constitute embryos of real
d. Developing Intellectual/Scientific Diaspora Networks. Their aim should be to make
use of the highly skilled expatriate pool of their countries to contribute to the
development process of the home country.
Database. Technically, through the databases or information system of diaspora
network, it focuses on the information, which is useful, especially for building
Muslims need to regain their past glory through an organised and consistent
methodology. Only then the West will feel encouraged to trust the Muslims in spite of
hatred and mistrust sown by their forefathers over a long period. The onus of proving
the authenticity and credibility of Islam as a modern religion lies with the Muslims.
Instead of suffering from inferiority complex and giving in to the harsh realities of the
present time, Muslims must to trust their capabilities to master their destiny as their
predecessors did under far worse conditions. Importance of education and morals are
ordained for the Muslims and the rewards are far reaching for the coming generations.
Inaction in this aspect will only strengthen the misconceptions of non-Muslims about
It is obvious that no religion with 14 centuries of history can be fairly reduced to the
one-line analysis of bigotry, be it past or present. It is therefore time for the people of
vision, both Muslim and Christian, to transcend their positions and aim to build
bridges towards each other. We need to understand one another dispassionately, with
a view to living together as good neighbours.
The glorious past of Islam needs to be recalled with pride by all Muslims to derive
faith from the religion. If this reminiscence is not renewed and revived often, it is
likely to face the danger of receding into oblivion.
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