Wednesday, July 8

Muslim Nobel Prize winners

I have written many times about why I think the idea of trying to link religion to science is evidence that the argument is very very weak. If you are indeed trying to say that there is something called as Muslim science or one should be proud of any medieval Muslim scientist just because they were Muslim (and ignoring any other scientist from another religion), then we have a bit of an issue. I discussed this on a list which had sent around a typical email talking about why people should be proud of Muslim scientists.

My first response:

Only if their respective achievements were primarily due to them belonging to Islam. If there is no connection or causality, then the fact that they were Muslims is about as important as them having hair or living in the northern hemisphere. ;)

My second response:

I am afraid then I am bit confused with Mike's original point. If he is saying that we should celebrate their success because they are Muslims, then yes, definitely.�
But he goes on to talk about Muslim Science & Technology which is frankly silly. One might as well as make the argument that so many Muslim Scientists have actually have had to face opposition from the Muslim jurists and theologians who presumably would know what Islam is. Reminds me of the emails I see about Jewish nobel prize winners. As it their religion had anything to do with the pursuit of science as Jack mentions. Hence the confusion.�

Then when i was asked about the opposition, this is what I wrote:


I didnt mean to refer to the article itself, but we do not have to go that far back to prove that point. We were talking about nobel prizes earlier. Out of the handful of Muslim nobel prize winners, we have Mahfouz who was given death threats, nearly assasinated and frankly because of the attack, his golden pen was almost silenced. The man who wrote for days on end, forgetting to eat, sitting at that souk cafe and churning out wonderful prose was condemned to just be able to write for few minutes per day.

How about Abdus Salam? A man, who was by all accounts a brilliant teacher and researcher, who wanted to setup educational institutions in his country, was buried in a cold and lonely grave without any official recognition. His grave stone first said, the First Muslim Nobel Laureate, and then amazingly enough, on government orders pushed by clerics, the word Muslim was chiselled off. Guess what the gravestone says now? First Nobel Laureate.

A lesser case can be thought of for Pamuk who was castigated and a criminal case launched against him. While you cannot say this was for strictly religious reasons, there is that strand in that nationalistic framework which got him into trouble. Zewail seems to be the only person who escaped this, perhaps because he never worked in a muslim country or perhaps the extremists did not understood his work :)

sighs, this argument is really silly. Think about ibn Rushd or our man Omar Khayyam who got into trouble. When luminaries of that ilk can get into trouble…

1 comment:

Ganesh Hegde said...

I agree with you on this,
Omar Khayyam was positively vitriolic in his attitude towards mullahs and religion in general.
One more thing. I think it is coincidental that all of these big guns were Muslims. If one probes into ethnicity of the scholars of the golden age of islam, then one notices that the majority of the scholars were Persian. It has nothing to do with religion IMO. More to do with opportunities provided w.r.t education, which was already well established by then amongst Persians. With the exception of Al-Ghazali, I find few Arabs of mention. Al-Ghazali again, was weird in that he held that everything was due to God, a paper burnt because the angels made it, but he was a scholar nevertheless. I find this to be common amongst Jews and Brahmins too, this emphasis on education. Naturally you're going to have more achievers coming from these communities.