The Myth of Islamic Science

In this provocative essay, Waseem Altaf, the author argues that the notion of a golden age of Islamic learning is a myth created to counter the current sorry state of intellectual life in the Islamic world.

Introduced by Dr. N.S. Rajaram
Editor’s introduction

It is widely believed and taught, including in India, that there was a Golden Age of Islamic learning that made a major contribution to science and the arts. In India we are told that this ‘synthesis’ between Hindu and Muslim thought gave rise to a great ‘syncretic’ civilization that was suppressed and eventually destroyed by the British. However, this flies in the face of the fact that not a single name of a major scientist from the five-plus centuries of Islamic rule of India has come down to us. We have to go to pre-Islamic India to invoke names from the past— names like Aryabhata, Varahamihira and the like.

It is a similar story when we look at universities or centers of learning. Pre-Islamic India was renowned for its universities: Takshashila, Vikramashila, Nalanda, Ujjain and other places attracted students and scholars alike from far and wide, much like the United States of today.

After the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, not a single center of learning (other than Islamic seminaries) was established for over seven centuries. The first modern universities came to be established only during the British rule.

Also worth noting is the fact that the so-called ‘synthesis’ of learning took place before Islamic invasions engulfed both India and Persia in a Dark Age. The Sassanid emperor Kosrau I deserves much of the credit for work that is wrongly credited to Islamic rulers and scholars.

Khosrau I (reigned 531–79) known as Anushirvan or ‘the immortal soul’ was a great patron of philosophy and knowledge. He gave refuge to scholars from the Eastern Roman Empire when the bigoted Christian Emperor Justinian closed down the neo-Platonist schools in Athens in 529 AD. Earlier, in 415 AD, Christian goons led by ‘Saint’ Cyril burnt down the great library in Alexandria and murdered the neo-Platonic scholar Hypatia who taught there, because another ‘saint’ Paul had decreed that women must keep their silence.

Khosrau was greatly interested in Indian philosophy, science, mathematics, and medicine. He sent multiple embassies and gifts to the Indian court and requested them to send back philosophers to teach in his court in return. Khosrau made many translations of texts from Greek, Sanskrit, and Syriac into Middle Persian. He was lauded as “Plato’s Philosopher King” by the Greek refugees that he allowed into his empire because of his great interest in Platonic philosophy.

A synthesis of Greek, Persian, Indian, and Armenian learning traditions took place within the Sassanian Empire. One outcome of this synthesis created what is known as bimari-stan (‘home for the ailing’), the first hospital that introduced a concept of segregating wards according to pathology. Greek pharmacology fused with Iranian and Indian traditions resulted in significant advances in medicine.

Regrettably this pre-Islamic era  of learning came to an abrupt end following the Arab (Muslim) invasions and the defeat of Sassanid Persia The reality is that most of this ‘synthesis’ took place in the pre-Islamic period until Islamic invasions sank both Persia and India into a Dark Age lasting centuries.

IndiaFacts is grateful to the author Waseem Altaf and the publication for the article. No photograph of the author is published out of concern for the author’s safety. Here is his essay.

Science in the Islamic world

Rational thought in the Muslim world developed during the reign of liberal Muslim rulers of the Abbasid dynasty. However it was after the rise of scholars like Al-Ghazali that all scientific reasoning came to an end in the 13th century. As we remain enamored by our past achievements in the sciences, we forget that there is very little “original” we as Muslims can celebrate and be proud of.

It was during the reign of the early Abbasid caliphs, particularly Mamun-ur-Rashid (around 813 CE) that in his Dar-ul-Hikmah (the house of wisdom) in Baghdad, Muslim scholars would begin translating the classic Greek works, primarily toeing the Aristotelian tradition. In addition, they were heavily relying on Persian and Indian sources.  They also penned huge commentaries on works by Greek philosophers. However, the Muslim translators were small in number and were primarily driven by curiosity. More than ninety nine percent Arabic translations of works of Greek philosophers were done by either Christian or Jewish scholars. It is interesting to note that Islamic astronomy, based on Ptolemy’s system was geocentric. Algebra was originally a Greek discipline and ‘Arabic’ numbers were actually Indian.

[N.S Rajaram: Indians invented algebra, calling it bija-ganita. Greeks considered some special cases in number theory like Diophantine Equations, also known to the Indians. The cumbersome letter-based notation (like the later Roman numerals) did not lend itself to problems in algebra. The major Greek contributions were the concept of proof (known also to Indians) and above all the axiomatic method at which they excelled. The Arabs themselves never denied their indebtedness to the Hindus in astronomy, medicine and mathematics. They called their numbers ‘Hindu numerals’. As noted in the Editor’s Introduction, much of this took place in pre-Islamic Iran, especially under Khusro I.]

Most of these works were available to the West during 12th century when the first renaissance was taking place. Although Western scholars did travel to Spain to study Arabic versions of classical Greek thought, they soon found out that better versions of original texts in Greek were also available in the libraries of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium.

Notable Muslim scholars

However, it would be unfair not to mention some of those great Muslim scholars, though very few in number, who genuinely contributed in the development of philosophy and science.

Al-Razi  (865 – 925 CE) from Persia, the greatest of all Muslim physicians, philosophers and alchemists wrote 184 articles and books, dismissed revelation and considered religion a dangerous thing. Al-Razi was condemned for blasphemy and almost all his books were destroyed later.

Ibn-e-Sina or Avicinna (980-1037CE), another great physician, philosopher and scientist was an Uzbek. Avicenna held philosophy superior to theology. His views were in sharp contrast to central Islamic doctrines and he rejected the resurrection of the dead in flesh and blood. As a consequence of his views, he became main target of Al-Ghazali and was labeled an apostate.

Ibn-e-Rushd (1126-1198 CE) or Averroes from Spain was a philosopher and scientist who expounded the Quran in Aristotelian terms. He was found guilty of heresy, his books burnt, he was interrogated and banished from Lucena.

Al-Bairuni (973-1048 CE), the father of Indology and a versatile genius, was of the strong view that Quran has its own domain and it does not interfere with the realm of science. [NS Rajaram: Al-Bairuni, or Al-Biruni as he is better known in India, makes it clear that the Islamic invasions made Hindu (and Buddhistic) centers of learning their special targets. In his words: “…Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions. …This is the reason too why Hindu sciences have retired far away from those parts of the country conquered by us, and have fled to places which our (Muslim) hands cannot reach.” The last great center of mathematics was in Kerala, from their reach.]

Al-Khawarazmi (780-850 CE) was another Persian mathematician, astronomer and geographer. The historian Al-Tabari considered him a Zoroastrian while others thought that he was a Muslim. However nowhere in his works has he acknowledged Islam or linked any of his findings to the holy text.

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131 CE), one of the greatest mathematicians, astronomers and poets was highly critical of religion, particularly Islam. He severely criticized the idea that every event and phenomena was the result of divine intervention. [NS Rajaram: Omar Kyayyam is known to the world mainly as the author of the Rubayiyat (in its English translation by Fitzgerald), but native Persians see him as a minor poet but a great scientist. Like all free thinkers he was denounced as a heretic.]

Al-Farabi (872-950 CE), another great Muslim philosopher, highly inspired by Aristotle, considered reason superior to revelation and advocated for the relegation of prophecy to philosophy.

Abu Musa Jabir- bin- Hayan or Geber (721-815 CE) was an accomplished Muslim alchemist cum pharmacist. Although he was inclined towards mysticism, he fully acknowledged the role of experimentation in scientific endeavors.

Ibn-ul-haitham or Hazen (965-1040 CE) was an outstanding physicist, mathematician, astronomer and an expert on optics. He was ordered by Fatimid King Al-Hakim to regulate the floods of the Nile, which he knew was not scientifically possible. He feigned madness and was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.

Contribution of unorthodox thinkers

As we go through the life histories of these great men we find that they were influenced by Greek, Babylonian or Indian contributions to philosophy and science, had a critical and reasoning mind and were ‘not good’ Muslims or even atheists. A significant number of them were reluctant to even reveal the status of their beliefs for fear of reprisal from the fanatics. They never ascribed their achievements to Islam or divinity. And they were scholars and scientists because of a critical mind which would think and derive inspiration from observation and not scriptures which set restrictions on free thinking and unhindered pursuit of knowledge.

Hence bringing in Islam to highlight achievements of Muslim scientists is nothing but sheer rhetoric as these men did not derive their achievements out of Islam or flourished due to Islam. And we find that whatever little contribution to science was made can be owed to ‘imperfect Muslims’.

[NS Rajaram: Muslims are not alone in this. Many Hindu scholars also make extravagant claims in the name of ‘Vedic science’ and the like that have no basis. Considering their numbers, the Hindus don’t have a particularly good record, compared to say, the Jews. India and Israel became independent countries around the same time but in science there is no comparison. Retreat into religion in the name of ‘spirituality’ must take its share of the blame. Hindu moneybags spend lavishly on religious endowments and dubious holy men, but are measly when it comes to supporting temples of learning. And the few they do (like the Hindu University of America) are an embarrassment and get bogged down in obscurantism and mismanagement.]

Putting ‘God’s hands in chains’

However it was the ‘perfect Muslim’, the Islamist, from the 12th century who was to give the biggest blow to scientific thought in the Muslim world.

Imam Ghazali (1058-1111 CE) who still occupies a centrestage among Muslim philosophers openly denounced the laws of nature and scientific reasoning. Ghazali argued that any such laws would put God’s hands in chains. He would assert that a piece of cotton burns when put to fire, not because of physical reasons but because God wants it to burn. Ghazali was also a strong supporter of the Ash’arites, the philosophers who would uphold the precedence of divine intervention over physical phenomena and bitterly opposed the Mu’tazillites— or the rationalists who were the true upholders of scientific thought.

In other words Ghazali championed the cause of orthodoxy and dogmatism at the cost of rationality and scientific reasoning. Today we find that all four major schools of Sunni Islam reject the concept of ‘Ijtehad’ which can loosely be translated as ‘freedom of thought’. Hence there is absolutely no room for any innovation or modification in traditional thought patterns.

We also find that as Europe was making use of technology while transforming into a culture of machines, the acceptance of these machines was extremely slow in the Islamic world. One prime example is that of the printing press which reached Muslim lands in 1492. However, printing was banned by Islamic authorities because they believed the Koran would be dishonored by appearing out of a machine. As a result, Arabs did not acquire printing press until the 18th century.

It also stands established that science is born out of secularism and democracy and not religious dogmatism. And science only flourished in places where religion had no role to play in matters of state. Hence there is an inverse relationship between religious orthodoxy and progress in science. Rational thought in the Muslim world developed during the reign of liberal Muslim rulers of the Abbasid dynasty who patronized the Mu’tazillites or rational thinkers.

However it was after the religious zealots’ compilation of the ahadis and the rise of scholars like Al-Ghazali that all scientific reasoning came to an end in the 13th century. As a consequence, Muslims contributed almost nothing to scientific progress and human civilization since the dawn of the 13th century. And while science and technology flourish in the modern world, a vast majority of Muslims, engulfed by obscurantism, still find solace in fantasies of a bygone era——the so called ‘golden age’ of Islam.

Concluding comments by Dr. N.S. Rajaram

Whether one agrees with the author’s radical conclusions or not, it is undeniable that the contributions to science under the great Islamic empires was disproportionately small considering their wealth and power. We already saw that their record in India even during the supposedly ‘great’ Mogul empire was dismal. Part of the problem was that Islamic rulers, instead of encouraging learning, hired foreigners and mercenaries— like Hindus in India and Jews and Christians in the Ottoman Empire.

Indian Muslim historians like Irfan Habib have tried to explain this intellectual vacuum of the Islamic period in India claiming that its rulers were mainly nomadic tribes from Central Asia (like Turks) who were more interested in military exploits than learning or scholarship. But why only under Islam in a belt from India to Turkey and beyond, and that too only after the coming of Islam?

One has to agree with the author Waseem Altaf that Islam (like Medieval Christianity) was mainly responsible for this continuing backwardness. Others, notably Hindus should learn from this and avoid getting trapped in the past.

Why Does the Muslim World Lag in Science?

by Aaron Segal
Middle East Quarterly
June 1996

Aaron Segal, professor of political science at the University of Texas, El Paso, is the author of An Atlas of International Migration (Bowker, 1993) and Learning by Doing: Science, Technology and the Developing World (Westview, 1987).

By any index, the Muslim world produces a disproportionately small amount of scientific output, and much of it relatively low in quality.1 In numerical terms, forty-one predominantly Muslim countries with about 20 percent of the world's total population generate less than 5 percent of its science. This, for example, is the proportion of citations of articles published in internationally circulating science journals.2 Other measures -- annual expenditures on research and development, numbers of research scientists and engineers -- confirm the disparity between populations and scientific research.

This situation leads to some hard questions: Is Islam an obstacle to modern science? If not, how does one explain the huge gap in scientific output between the Muslim world and the West or East Asia? And what must change so that science can flourish in Muslim countries?

While Islam has yet to reconcile faith and reason, other factors such as dictatorial regimes and unstable funding are more important obstacles to science and technology's again flourishing in the Muslim world. Significant progress, in other words, depends on changes in values and institutions -- no small order.


We start with a brief history of science and technology in the Muslim world, the first place to search for clues to these questions. In a nutshell, the Muslim experience consists of a golden age in the tenth through thirteenth centuries, a subsequent collapse, a modest rebirth in the nineteenth century, and a history of frustration in the twentieth century. The deficiency in Muslim science and technology is particularly intriguing given that Muslims were world leaders in science and technology a millennium ago -- something that distinguishes them from, say, the peoples of Latin America or sub-Saharan Africa.

Golden Age. The period 900-1200 A.D. represents the approximate apogee of Muslim science, which flourished in Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, and Cordoba, among other cities. Significant progress was made in such areas as medicine, agronomy, botany, mathematics, chemistry, and optics. As Muslims vied with Chinese for intellectual and scientific leadership, Christian Europe lagged far behind both.3

This golden age was definitely Muslim in that it took place in predominantly Muslim societies, but was it Islamic, that is, connected to the religion of Islam? States were officially Islamic, and intellectual life took place within a self-consciously Islamic environment. Ahmad al-Hassan and Donald R. Hill, two historians of technology, see Islam as "the driving force behind the Muslim scientific revolution when the Muslim state reached its peak."4 But non-Muslims had a major role in this effort, and much of the era's scientific achievements took place in a tolerant and cosmopolitan intellectual atmosphere quite independent of the religious authorities.

Decline. Things started to go awry in the early thirteenth century, when the Muslim world began to stagnate and Europeans surged ahead. Even revisionist historians who challenge this date as the time that decline set in do accept that decline eventually took place. Thus, Marshall Hodgson -- who argues that the eastern Muslim world flourished until the sixteenth century, when "the Muslim people, taken collectively, were at the peak of their power" -- acknowledges that by the end of the eighteenth century, Muslims "were prostrate."5

Whatever its timing, this decline meant that Muslims failed to learn from Europe. In Bernard Lewis's phrasing, "The Renaissance, Reformation, even the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, passed unnoticed in the Muslim World."6 Instead, Muslims relied on religious minorities -- Armenians, Greeks, Jews -- as intermediaries; they served as court physicians, translators, and in other key posts. With their aid, the Muslim world accomplished what is now known as a limited transfer of science and technology.

Decline in science resulted from many factors, including the erosion of large-scale agriculture and irrigation systems, the Mongol and other Central Asian invasions, political instability, and the rise of religious intolerance. In particular, the great theologian Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (1059-1111) used the tools of the philosophers to undermine philosophical and scientific inquiry.

The revival of science. In combination, the Enlightenment and French Revolution made European science accessible to the Muslim world. The former detached science from Christianity, thereby making it palatable to Muslims. The latter, and especially Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798, with its entourage of scholars and supplementary mission of knowledge, imposed European power on and brought European science to a Muslim people. Within years, some rulers -- led by Muhammad `Ali of Egypt -- recruited European technicians and sent students to Europe.

Technology takes root. An extraordinarily rapid diffusion of Western technologies throughout most of the Middle East took place in the period 1850-1914. With the approval of local elites, European colonial authorities imposed public-health measures to contain cholera, malaria, and other contagious diseases.7 The Suez Canal, opened in 1869, reduced shipping time and distance and generated new trade. Railways, telegraphs, steamships and steam engines, automobiles, and telephones all appeared. Much of this technology transfer took the form of Middle Eastern governments' granting monopoly concessions to European firms. Muslim rulers had little concern about developing indigenous capabilities in technology adaptation, design, or maintenance.

Science was an afterthought, at best embedded in scientific technologies but not transferred explicitly as knowledge or method. Instead, members of minority communities continued to intermediate by providing clerical and skilled labor. Minorities also helped to establish the first Western education institutions in the region, such as the Syrian Protestant College in Beirut (founded in 1866) and the Jesuits' St. Joseph's College (founded in 1875). These schools and others in Istanbul, Tunis, Tehran, Algiers, and elsewhere primarily served minority communities and Europeans, though some elite Muslims also attended. Middle Eastern medical schools quickly accepted and taught the medical discoveries of Pasteur, Koch, and others concerning microbes and bacteria. The schools contributed to the translation and publication in Arabic of major scientific works and to the organization of the first scientific societies in the region. Such societies were founded in Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, and Istanbul in the late nineteenth century, often sponsoring journals that featured translations. Thus, Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, was translated in Arabic journals by 1876, though not in book form until 1918. Throughout this period, Muslim intellectuals presented minimal resistance to the diffusion of Western scientific ideas. For example, the major opposition to Darwinian ideas of evolution came not from Muslim scholars but from Eastern-rite Christians.8

Science stagnates. In the 1914-45 period, Muslims slowly, and often in frustration, attempted to strengthen indigenous science against the imported variety. New universities with an emphasis on engineering and medicine sprang up in Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and the Sudan. During the depression years, however, reduced employment for graduates and increased discontent over the dominant role of expatriates and minorities constrained science and technology.

The nationalist politicians who arose after World War I mainly concentrated on gaining political independence; science and technology hardly concerned them. The one exception was Turkey, which under Kemal Mustafa Atatürk after 1922 launched an ambitious program of industrialization and an expansion of engineering education. Elsewhere -- in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Iran -- politicians made only faltering attempts at industrialization to serve small local markets. Turnkey, off-the-shelf projects prevailed, especially in engineering; this meant that few scientific inputs existed, most technologies were imported, maintenance was a persistent problem, and limited shop-floor learning took place. Only in the petroleum industry, which after 1914 took on major proportions in Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, did the pattern differ, for multinational firms subcontracted locally such tasks as maintenance engineering and geological surveying.


In the aftermath of World War II, for the first time, a perceived need for indigenous science and technology spread in the Muslim world. Such events as the creation of Pakistan and the 1948 Arab-Israeli war made Muslims very acutely aware of their deficiencies in science and technology. The attainment of independence fostered a technological (but not a scientific) nationalism. States took responsibility for managing technology as an instrument of national power and made relatively ample resources available for technology (though, again, not science).

More than sixty new universities and technical schools opened during this period in the Arabic-speaking countries alone9 but none of them has world-class standing. Science and engineering programs received the most resources and so attracted the finest students; further, they have grown to the point that hundreds of thousands of students now graduate annually in the Muslim world. In addition, several hundred thousand Muslim students have since the 1950s studied science and engineering in the West, the former Soviet Union, India, and elsewhere, and a majority have returned home. Trouble is, these results have been more impressive quantitatively than qualitatively.

The implementation of science and technology policy takes place at the national, not regional, level.10 Most governments have established councils to oversee science and technology, drafted some sort of national plan, and made an attempt at implementation. National science policies vary widely. Turkey has achieved the most research cooperation between the public and private sectors, especially in hydrology, textiles, and agriculture. Egypt has a cumbersome, centralized research bureaucracy and policy with little diffusion or practical results. Pakistan pursues a comprehensive, government-directed research effort with a priority for nuclear energy and other highly centralized projects, but implementation has been slow and expensive. Malaysia has a sophisticated applied-research policy focused on getting local private investors to work together to expand the export of electronic items. Indonesia has opted for a high-tech policy based on a national aerospace industry with high-cost risks.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates have poured vast amounts of money into science and technology. But the research output has not matched the state-of-the-art facilities. The prevailing mentality continues to be that of buying science and technology rather than producing it. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia each operates its own modest version of French-style centralized research policies but their lack of linkages to the private sector or ability to diffuse results limits their productivity. Iran and Iraq concentrate on petroleum and weapons research to the detriment of other sectors. Other countries, such as the Sudan, Yemen, or the newly independent Central Asian republics, lack a critical mass of researchers or have experienced extensive emigration, or both. Political repression has crippled science in Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria.

Fundamentalist governments in Iran and the Sudan have shown no interest in developing a specifically Islamic science. They appear more concerned about pornography or women's attire than the teaching of quantum mechanics. Further, the emigration of so many scientists and engineers from Iran after 1979, coupled with the devastating effects of the war with Iraq, meant that the authorities were most concerned with nurturing the remaining research community. Indeed, the priority to reconstruct the war-damaged petroleum and petrochemical industries has dictated generous treatment of scientists and engineers. The science curriculum in the schools and universities has been largely retained along pre-1979 lines. Iranian scientists have preserved international contacts; even Abdus Salam, the Pakistan particle physicist and the only Muslim11 Nobel Prize winner in science, has visited Iran.

The Sudan has experienced one of the most severe instances of brain-drain anywhere in the world. It appears that a half-million Sudanese technicians and professionals have emigrated, primarily to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, since 1960.12 Scientists, engineers, and physicians have left, primarily to the Persian Gulf countries. The military-fundamentalist junta that came to power in 1989 has been concerned to slow down this exodus of talent and to retrieve what remains of Sudanese scientific and technological capabilities. Hasan at-Turabi, philosopher-theologian of the regime, envisions a moral, democratic, Islamic state with ample room for research.13 The Sudanese government, with its enormous internal problems, appears to have no interest in attempting an

Islamization of science.

Nor do fundamentalist movements in opposition aspire to Islamize science. Movements in Algeria and Tunisia, for example, demand the replacement of French with Arabic at all educational levels, but their objectives are political and cultural rather than anti-scientific.

Only in Pakistan, due to internal political pressures and the particularly influential role of the mullahs (clergy), have fundamentalists attempted to impose a version of Islamic science. The government of Zia-ul-Haq in 1987 introduced fundamentalist doctrines in the teaching of science at all levels, from primary schools to universities. The regime organized international conferences and provided funding for research on such topics as the temperature of hell and the chemical nature of jinns (demons).14 After considerable damage had been done to science education, secularists counterattacked and in 1988 won the right to teach and research modern science. In spite of extensive publications and academic exchanges, Islamic science has not taken hold outside of Pakistan, where its support appears to be on the decline.


Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physicist and science policy writer, identifies three broad Muslim responses to modern science.15 A small number of fundamentalist Muslims reject science for the Muslim world, seeing it as immoral and materialist; for example, a leader of the Muslim Brethren in Egypt declares epidemics to be a form of divine punishment ("God developed the microbe and kept it away from those He wished to spare") and argues against scientific efforts to eradicate the problem.16 A larger number seek, through suitable interpretations of the Qur'an, a reconciliation between revealed truth and physical reality. A third, and perhaps predominant, faction regards religion and faith and modern science as essentially unrelated. This last viewpoint sustains the vague belief that Islam and science are not in conflict, without ever closely examining the specifics.17

Indeed, in keeping with this imprecise approach, it is striking to note how the Muslim world has hardly debated the issue of the reconciliation of Islam with science and technology. Few theologians are versed in science or interested in dealing with this issue. Few scientists wish to incur the wrath of the religious community by publicly raising it. Few institutional forums exist for such a debate, and their dependence on the state further dampens incentive. In most Muslim countries, including Iran, a tacit agreement therefore exists between scientists and theologians not to debate issues that could harm both sides. That Islamic leaders seldom rail against the tenets of science means that scientific doctrines and concepts are mostly free from religious challenge. The teachings of Darwin on evolution, for example, are allowed everywhere but Saudi Arabia.18

Seldom has the debate over reconciling Islam and science addressed the Qur'an itself and the claims made for its infallibility. A work of exalted and unadulterated monotheism, the Qur'an presents God as the Creator bringing into being all material objects and all life. God's will is responsible for earthquakes and other natural events; Nature is a oneness derived from Him. Some scholars find in the Qur'an the prototype of environmental sciences, such as ecology and biology. But finding "proto-science" in a holy book dating from the seventh century A.D. raises all sorts of problems. One verse (6:1)19 reads, "He created the heavens and the earth in six days, and then mounted his throne." Were this verse, borrowed from Genesis I, interpreted literally, it would devastate astrophysics, cosmology, geology, and other disciplines. But Muslims have neither interpreted the verse (as have most Christians and Jews) to understand that a "day" means some length of time to God other than twenty-four earth hours, nor have they given it a metaphorical meaning. For their part, Muslim geologists practice their profession without trying to reconcile the Qur'an with the assumptions of their profession.

Science is curiously missing from the passionate and ongoing debate over Islam and the West. Religious extremists have attacked the social order, corruption, and immorality, but not the minor heresies, of science. No Islamic theological splits or fractures have occurred comparable to that between evolutionists and Christian creationists. Instead, Islamic intellectual history is characterized by loosely grouped individual thinkers attempting single-handedly in their writings to achieve a reconciliation. Technology benefits from often unqualified approval.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-98), for example, devoted much of his life to convincing Muslims in India "that western scientific thought was not antithetical to Islam." He reinterpreted the Qur'an to find passages consistent with reason and nature, and insisted that "Muslims have in the Koran the source of a rational religion attuned to modern man's scientific interests."20 In a bold approach, he stripped the Qur'an and the hadith (anecdotes concerning the Prophet Muhammad) to render them compatible with the science of his time. In perhaps the most influential modernist effort vis-à-vis science, the Egyptian Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) developed a belief system based on reason. He argued that "religion must be accounted as a friend to science, pushing man to investigate the secrets of existence, summoning him to respect the established truths and to depend on them in his moral life and conduct."21

Moving to the present, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Iranian Shi`i and professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, defines contemporary Islamic science in terms of humanist values he finds in the Qur'an and the hadith.22 Inspired by mystical ideals, Nasr articulates less a practical program than a vague Islamic science free of nuclear energy and devoted to environmental harmony. Similarly, Ziauddin Sardar, a Pakistani science-policy specialist, envisions an "Islamic science" rooted in humanistic values. He wants no weapons research (though it is hard to find Islamic support for such a ban). He has written detailed proposals for networks of Muslim scientists, joint projects, and regional cooperation, all based on Muslim solidarity.23 Nasr and Sardar do not address the problems that Islamic doctrine poses to science; nor do they admit the totality of science (for instance, nuclear energy can be used for peaceful purposes). Also, they fail to comprehend the universal, international, and open-ended nature of science.

Abdus Salam is the Muslim world's foremost scientific secularist. In an important collection of essays published in 1987, he insisted that science is universal and international rather than Islamic. Adapting to Islam the nineteenth-century Christian and Jewish reconciliation of faith and reason as separate, complementary paths to knowledge, Salam maintains that "there truly is no disconsonance between Islam and modern science."24 He also asserts that "there is not a single verse in the Qur'an where natural phenomena are described and which contradicts what we know for certain from our discoveries in science." In spite of identifying the roots of science in the Qur'an, Salam insists on separating faith and reason. He calls faith "the timeless, spiritual message of Islam, on matters which physics is silent, and will remain so."25 To flourish, science requires autonomy, freedom to inquire, and assured resources, not the stifling embrace of religion.

Pervez Hoodbhoy joined the ranks of militant secularists with his 1991 book Islam and Science, in which he appealed for tolerance to permit reason and faith to coexist within each sphere. "While recognizing that religion and science are complementary and not contradictory to each other, a clear demarcation between the spheres of the spiritual and the worldly is necessary."26 He also insisted that science is universal, not Western.


Islam contributes to the Muslim world's lagging behind in science insofar as its tenets have not satisfactorily been reconciled with those of science. Islam's most deleterious effect may be to remove most Muslims from direct contact with science. Except for a brief exposure in school, there is little science in Islamic popular culture. Scientists rarely turn up in the media. Pleas by scientists like Abdus Salam to the religious authorities for sermons about elements of science in the Qur'an and hadith go unheard. A modus vivendi has been arrived at in several countries (for example, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Kuwait, Iran, Indonesia, and Malaysia) after informal, low-profile discussions between clergy, academics, and scientists. This works on a practical level without providing the intellectual context, sustained financial commitment, or human resources needed for science again to flourish in the Muslim world.

Islam is not, however, the key problem facing scientific achievement in the Muslim world. Rather, the low level of achievement results from the cumulative effect of multiple factors, and not from a single dominant cause. Here are some ten of those factors:

Demographics. The number of research scientists and engineers remains well below that of rich countries as well as Latin America and South and East Asia. Science and engineering students are drawn primarily from urban middle-income backgrounds; few of the much larger number of poor students can pursue research careers. Participation by women in science remains low, as the disincentives, formal and informal, for women to study science or engineering are formidable. Only a handful of mostly urban, middle-class male students have sufficient exposure to science to even consider making it a career.

Language. With an estimated 80 percent of the world's scientific literature appearing first in English, the literature in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and other languages is inadequate for teaching students as well as researchers. Scientific work, therefore, requires a competence in reading, writing, and comprehending English, an area in which Muslims overall lag behind other peoples, such as Chinese, Thais, and Brazilians. Even though the Arab League has systematically promoted scientific translations and an updated Arab vocabulary, Where English or French are the language of instruction (the former in the Arabic-speaking countries of the Persian Gulf, the latter in North Africa), hostility often develops between students in science, who study in a foreign language, and those in other disciplines, who work in Arabic.27

Education. Effective science education at primary and secondary levels is available in many countries only at a handful of urban private schools. There is too much rote learning, a legacy in part of Qur'anic schools, and far too little support for science education at all levels. Universities and technical schools emphasize teaching rather than research. Few strong doctoral programs or research centers of academic excellence exist. Overcrowded, underfunded, and turbulent universities have been unable to protect space and resources for research.

Research. The Muslim world suffers no shortage of scientists and engineers, but it does have an acute scarcity of career researchers. While several countries boast outstanding individual researchers and projects, there is little mentorship or in-house ability to train young researchers. And many of the few science and engineering graduates being trained in research are then employed in bureaucratic posts. Inadequate equipment and access to data also reduces scientific output per researcher, as do the few incentives to publish and the absence of quality doctoral programs within the region. Attempts to develop research capabilities -- whether in universities, research institutes, government ministries, nonprofit foundations, multinational corporations, or local corporations -- have rarely succeeded.

State-owned corporations. Given the increasing links between science and technology, state-owned corporations have a potentially important role, especially in Algeria and Syria, but they have woefully neglected science. Research by parastatals such as Sonatrach, the state petroleum firm in Algeria, has been plagued by poor management, erratic funding, political instability, and personnel problems. Lack of accountability and inability to diffuse research -- even within the firm -- are persistent problems. Unwilling to build linkages to university researchers or to collaborate with admittedly weak government ministries, the parastatals have wasted resources.

Industrial import substitution often continues to rely on turnkey projects and foreign maintenance. There are signs, especially in Pakistan, Turkey, and Lebanon, of local firms' developing adaptive research capabilities. Multinational firms active in the region prefer to conduct research at European or North American sites. Some adaptive research in the petroleum and petrochemical industries, mostly small-scale quality control, provides few incentives for joint ventures in research with state-owned companies. Except for Algeria, Iran, and Iraq, state oil companies are more managers of concessions than operators with strong technical capabilities.

Professional societies. Professional societies of physicists, engineers, dentists, physicians, and other disciplines generally sponsor journals and meetings but have no structures or resources for research. Sometimes harassed politically (as in Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, and Iraq), the professional societies often opt for the most narrow and technical concept of their mission. Broad-based interdisciplinary professional societies for science and engineering have been slow to develop in the Muslim world. The one exception is the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan, which has monarchical patronage and interdisciplinary participation.

Resources. A lack of financial resources and incentives has been a major barrier to research except in some oil-rich states. Whereas Japan, the United States, Germany, and other Western countries spend 2 percent or more of their gross domestic product (GDP) annually on research, no Muslim country spends more than .50 percent of its (much lower) GDP on research.28 Not only is money scarce but what little is available comes sporadically, further bedeviling long-term research (which requires equally long-term financial commitments). Even where funds are available, research-management capabilities are in short supply. The prospects for stable research funding and effective institution-building are both poor.

Authoritarianism. Authoritarian regimes deny freedom of inquiry or dissent, cripple professional societies, intimidate universities, and limit contacts with the outside world. A horrific detailed account by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences documents the long-term destruction of the scientific community in Syria29 by a nationalist regime, not a fundamentalist one. Authoritarian regimes also reinforce the prevailing pattern of relying on technology transfer. Distrustful of their own elites and institutions, the rulers prefer to buy rather than generate technology. The oil-exporting countries especially see science and technology as commodities to be purchased, an outlook that has a pernicious effect on the development of indigenous research capabilities.

Regional cooperation. Regional cooperation in science and technology has a checkered history in the Muslim world. It makes eminent sense in principle, for a handful of countries (like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) are oil-rich and short of researchers, while other countries (Egypt and Pakistan) export them. Also, the similarity of applied-research needs and priorities, such as solar energy, desertification, and desalination, should produce shared interests. Meetings held over two decades to coordinate regional research have produced much rhetoric and little action.

Government incompetence. Applied-research units in government ministries, such as agriculture or construction, have often become sinecures for political appointees with little or no interest or capabilities for research.

What relative importance do these factors have in terms of impeding science in the Muslim world? The matter of reconciling faith and reason would seem to be among the less consequential. The prevalence of authoritarian regimes counts more. Also, while obscurantists reject science, popular ignorance and indifference to science are far more problematic than fundamentalist hostility. Lastly, science and technology research is not adequately institutionalized: continuity of funding and personnel, long-term goals, and management autonomy are all lacking.


After nearly fifty years of would-be institution-building, the Muslim world has failed to provide a satisfactory home for science. The failure to build viable research institutions at the national level has thwarted most attempts at regional cooperation. Talented researchers must still leave the region to obtain advanced postgraduate training.

In spite of this pessimistic assessment, measures do exist to improve Muslim achievements in the sciences. Fiscal and other incentives can promote shop-floor learning and informal research, especially in locally owned enterprises. Professional societies can, given sufficient autonomy, play an important role in improving science education, scientific communications, and the place of science in popular culture. Small-scale projects can establish links between the public and private sectors and universities and technical schools. The basis exists for fostering regional and subregional cooperation, for there is a consensus on research priorities in much of the Muslim world. These include solar energy, desalination, arid lands agriculture, irrigation, animal sciences, and petrochemicals. While these are applied-research and demonstration-and-development priorities, they do involve a substantial amount of science. With agreement on priorities, long-term funding can be developed.

Yet, these incremental and pragmatic measures must still confront a hostile environment. For science again to flourish in Muslim countries requires a recognition that it requires long-term continuities, the lessening of authoritarianism, and a serious effort to reconcile faith and reason.

1 By science we mean, along with New Merriam-Webster Dictionary (1989), "systemized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principle of what is being studied." This definition specifically excludes such applied fields as technology and engineering; at the same time, advances in technology mean that distinctions between the two are eroding. The dictionary defines technology as "applied science."
2 Abdus Salam, Ideals and Realities: Selected Essays of Abdus Salam (Philadelphia: World Scientific, 1987), p. 109. Seven Muslim countries -- Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Egypt, Iran, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia -- account for 90 percent of this total. Citation counts measure the extent to which articles are read and used by other scientists, and so indicate both output and influence. While subject to the criticism, for example, that journals in lesser-used languages are not tabulated, the citation count is the single most reliable measurement of scientific achievement.
3 Marshall G.S. Hodgson, The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods, vol. 2 of The Venture of Islam (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1974), pp. 329-30.
4 Ahmad Y. al-Hassan and Donald Hill, Islamic Technology: An Illustrated History (Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 282.
5 Marshall G.S. Hodgson, Rethinking World History: Essays on Europe, Islam, and World History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 103-04.
6 Bernard Lewis, Islam and the West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 183.
7 Nancy Gallagher, Egypt's Other Wars: Epidemics and the Politics of Public Health (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1990); idem., Medicine and Power in Tunisia 1780-1900 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1983).
8 Adel A. Ziadat, Western Science and the Arab World: The Impact of Darwinism 1860-1930 (New York: St. Martin's, 1986).
9 Ziauddin Sardar, Science, Technology, and Development in the Middle East (London: Longmans, 1982). This is the latest country-by-country survey of universities and research centers.
10 A.B. Zahlan, Science and Science Policy in the Arab World (London: St. Martin's, 1980) is a thorough, critical survey.
11 Abdus Salam is not a mainstream Muslim, however, but belongs to the Ahmadi sect, which the Pakistan government in 1974 declared to be not Muslim.
12 Africa Contemporary Record, vol. 21 (New York: Holmes & Meiers, 1992), p. B521.
13 Arthur L. Lowrie, ed., Islam, Democracy, the State, and the West: A Roundtable with Dr. Hasan Turabi (Tampa: WISE Monograph Series, University of South Florida, 1992).
14 Hoodbhoy, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality (London: Zed, 1991), pp. 140-54.
15 Ibid., pp. 65-109. Abdus Salam wrote the preface.
16 `Abd al-`Aziz az-Zuhayri, quoted in Gallagher, Egypt's Other Wars, p. 146.
17 Muslim scientists can also opt to ignore Islam or even to dismiss it as irrelevant to the pursuit of science, but if they live in a predominantly Muslim society, they cannot express agnosticism unless willing to pay a high personal price -- ostracism, loss of funding, and unemployment, sometimes leading to exile.
18 Hoodbhoy, Islam and Science, pp. 47-49.
19 All translations are from The Koran, trans. N.J. Dawood (New York: Penguin, 1980). Interestingly, many of the Qur'anic verses most problematic for science derive from Biblical concordants.
20 Ira Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 728. See also Hoodbhoy, Islam and Science, pp. 55-59.
21 Quoted in Albert Hourani, History of the Arab People (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991), p. 308.
22 Sayyed Hossein Nasr, The Need for a Sacred State (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993).
23 Ziauddin Sardar, Science, Technology and Development in the Muslim World (London: Croom and Helm, 1980); idem, Science, Technology, and Development in the Middle East. He defines a prescriptive Islamic science in Explorations in Islamic Science (New York: Mansell, 1989).
24 Abdus Salam, Ideals and Realities, p. 212.
25 Ibid, p. 187.
26 Hoodbhoy, Islam and Science, p. 137.
27 On this general problem, see James Coffman, "Does the Arabic Language Encourage Radical Islam?" Middle East Quarterly, Dec. 1995, pp. 51-57.
28 E. Jeffrey Stann, foreword of Science and Technology in the Americas: Perspectives on Pan-American Collaboration (Washington, D.C.: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993). Ranked globally by regions, the Middle East is ahead of sub-Saharan Africa, slightly behind Latin America, and increasingly behind East Asia in terms of scientific expenditures and output.
29 National Academy of Sciences, Scientists and Human Rights in Syria (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1993).


Europeans Oppose 'Scientific' Debate on Holocaust: Iran


Hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's view that Jews were never massacred during World War II is "scientific", Iran's foreign ministry has insisted.

"The type of response from the Europeans to the theoretical and scientific debate of Mr Ahmadinejad has no place in the civilised world and is totally emotional and illogical," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Sunday.

"What Mr Ahmadinejad expressed was scientific debate, and the reaction surprises me," he told reporters. "The reaction from European officials is a sign of their total, blind support for the Zionists."

Ahmadinejad has caused international outrage with a series of anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish remarks, in the course of which he has said Israel was a "tumour" that should be "wiped off the map" or moved to Europe.

On Thursday he said the Holocaust -- during which an estimated six million Jews were killed under Nazi Germany -- was a "myth", and that Israel should be moved as far away from the Muslim world as Alaska.

"The Europeans should get used to hearing other opinions, even if they don't like them," Asefi said.

(Source: AP)


Saudi teacher sentenced to 750 lashes

Thursday, November 17, 2005


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- A Saudi high-school chemistry teacher accused of discussing religion with his students has been sentenced to 750 lashes and 40 months in prison for blasphemy, officials said Thursday.

The court ruling was condemned by human rights activists, who said Mohammed Salamah al-Harbi was being imprisoned for having an "open discussion" with students.

Al-Harbi was convicted of questioning and ridiculing Islam, discussing the Bible and defending Jews, judicial officials said Thursday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Prosecutors acted after a complaint by students and al-Harbi's fellow teachers, officials said. The court in the northern province of al-Qassim heard the case Saturday in a six-hour trial.

Al-Harbi was in prison Thursday, but the Saudi newspaper Al-Madinah reported him as saying he would appeal the verdict.

"There are charges that the judge read which are unknown to me, such as defending Jews and the Bible, ridiculing Islam and witchcraft. It's strange that the judge ruled so quickly and wanted to end the case so fast," al-Harbi was quoted as saying.

His lawyer, Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, refused to talk to The Associated Press because of the sensitivity of the case, but he was quoted as telling Al-Madinah the judge refused his request to postpone the trial to allow time for a proper defense.

"The judge's refusal to read a statement by witnesses is a violation of the defendant's rights," al-Lahem was quoted as saying in Sunday's edition.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said al-Harbi had been "talking to his pupils about his views on a number of current topics, such as Christianity, Judaism and the causes of terrorism."

"The Saudi government is imprisoning schoolteachers for having open discussions with their students," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the group's Middle East director said in a statement Thursday. "As long as schoolteachers face persecution for doing their job, Saudi children will lose out."

Al-Harbi's sentence likely will be seen as a setback to Saudi moves to reform its education system. Following the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, the government altered the school curriculum to remove passages from textbooks that were offensive to Christians and Jews in an attempt to encourage moderation and tolerance.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in those attacks were Saudis. Local intellectuals and newspaper columnists said the strict Islamic tenets followed in schools and mosques could have played a role in fostering Islamic militancy.


Islam vs. Science

Are Muslim beliefs compatible with critical inquiry? A new study is sparking debate

By Jay Tolson

Posted 9/2/07

Almost every standard world history textbook celebrates Islam's golden age of science. Between the ninth and 13th centuries, Muslim scholars not only translated the great works of Greek medicine, mathematics, and science but also pushed the frontiers of discovery in all of those areas. They improved and named algebra, refined techniques of surgery, advanced the study of optics, and charted the heavens. Then, toward the end of the 13th century, something mysterious happened: The scientific spirit seemed to die almost completely.

Today, most predominantly Muslim countries benefit daily from the fruits of science and technology, and most of the leaders of these nations at least pay lip service to the importance of scientific education. Arab analysts, in recent U.N.-backed reports on the deplorable state of human development in 22 Arab countries, have consistently called for more robust support for "knowledge acquisition" as a crucial step toward catching up with other regions of the world.

Lagging behind. Yet according to the distinguished Pakistani scientist Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, chair of the physics department at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, the news from the Islamic world is not very encouraging. And if his report in the August issue of Physics Today is accurate, it seems that not only science but the critical reasoning that undergirds it is in a precarious state.

Hoodbhoy marshals an array of data to demonstrate that the commitment to real scientific study and research in Muslim nations still lags far behind international averages.

For example, the 57 nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference can boast only 8.5 scientists per 1,000 population, while the world average is 40.7. Of the lowest national producers of scientific articles in 2003, half are members of the OIC. The OIC countries spend about 0.3 percent of their gross national product on research and development, in contrast to the global average of 2.4 percent.

Some Muslim nations have recently boosted such spending, but throwing money at the problem is no good unless it is used by well-educated professionals who are capable of quality work. And so far, evidence of such quality is lacking. Of the approximately 1,800 universities in OIC nations, only 312 publish journal articles, and no OIC university was included in the top 500 of the "Academic Ranking of World Universities" that was produced by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Beyond the data, Hoodbhoy's more unsettling observations bear on the culture and attitudes that prevail in much of the Islamic world, even in those citadels of study that are receiving more funding. To say that intellectual freedom is restricted is, as Hoodbhoy tells it, an understatement. His own university, ranked second among OIC academic institutions, has three mosques on its campus but not one bookstore. Like all other Pakistani universities, it barred a Nobel-winning Pakistani physicist from campus because he belonged to a Muslim sect that the government had deemed heretical.

And that's not all. Films, theater, and music are viewed as impious pursuits by religious zealots, some of whom physically attack students who participate or show an interest in those forms of cultural expression. The atmosphere of intimidation has become so menacing, in Hoodbhoy's view, that students in general have become more timid and passive in the classroom.

Heresy. Throughout the Muslim world, there is a widespread suspicion that science is heresy—or at least those parts of science that cannot be used, or twisted, to support literalist interpretations of Islamic scriptures. Needless to say, this suspicion has received support from other varieties of religious fundamentalism, including the Christian and Hindu ones.

Some modern scholars make a more serious intellectual argument for the compatibility of science and traditional Islamic thought. And those thinkers believe that ignorance of an Islamically based understanding of science is what really impedes its pursuit in the contemporary Muslim world.

One of the more articulate proponents of that position is the Iranian-born philosopher of science Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University and the author of, among other books, Science and Civilization in Islam. Educated at MIT and Harvard, Nasr has long argued that Islamic science must be understood "not as a chapter in the history of western science, but as an independent way of looking at the work of nature." Nasr insists that traditional Muslim scientists never went the way of Descartes and Newton in reducing the physical world to its material and mechanistic aspects. Nor did Muslims accept that humans can know this world with certainty only through its quantifiable properties. Instead, traditional Muslim scientists held that a full understanding of nature also required seeing its parts as signs of divine purpose. Furthermore, Nasr holds, this approach to science did not die at the end of the 13th century but inspired work in fields such as medicine through the 16th and 17th centuries.

But change did come during the colonial period. Not only did Europeans impose their approach to science on Muslim elites, but many Muslim reformers themselves advocated the adoption of modern science as the best means of catching up with the West. Yet in their zeal, Nasr says, these reformers carelessly tossed aside the rich perspectives of traditional Islamic thought for more streamlined—and often more literalist—approaches to sacred teaching. "This effort didn't go very far," Nasr says, "because instead of being integrated into Islamic culture, the science was merely tacked on."

Nasr's call for an Islamic approach to modern science has no shortage of critics who see it as spurious (and as politically correct) as appeals for Indian science, Chinese science, or even feminist science. But even scholars who acknowledge that culture may have some effect on how people conceive the practice of science say that, finally, certain standards of scientific practice must be upheld, whether the work is being done in Bombay or Beirut.

And the real problem in most of the Islamic world, Hoodbhoy insists, is an "unresolved tension between traditional and modern modes of thought and social behavior." Muslims who embrace uncritical literalism cannot embrace the scientific method, which requires that facts and hypotheses be tested heedless of any established authority. Hoodbhoy sums up the problem eloquently:

"If the scientific method is trashed, no amount of resources or loud declarations of intent to develop science can compensate. In those circumstances, scientific research becomes, at best, a kind of cataloging or 'butterfly-collecting' activity. It cannot be a creative process of genuine inquiry in which bold hypotheses are made and checked."


Full Text of Ahmadinejad's Remarks at Columbia University

Fars News Agency
September 26, 2007

TEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed students and professors at the US Columbia University during his short sojourn in New York before his address at the 62nd meeting of the UN General Assembly.

His remarks at Columbia University were almost entirely boycotted by western and specially US media; while he spoke of such crucial issues as Iran's nuclear program and the Holocaust which have always been at the center of western media's attention, almost the only point the US press mentioned about Ahmadinejad's address at Columbia university pertained to a few seconds of his answer to a question about the rights of homosexuals in Iran. Thus, we felt bound to present President Ahmadinejad's speech to our dear viewers.

The following is the full text of President Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia University.

In the Name of God,
the Compassionate, the Merciful

"Oh God, hasten the arrival of Imam Al-Mahdi and grant him good health and victory and make us his followers and those who attest to his right fullness"

Distinguished Chancellor and Academicians, Dear Professors and Students,

At the beginning I would like to extend my greetings to you. I thank the Almighty for providing me with the opportunity to be among you the distinguished researchers who are seeking realities for the promotion of science and wisdom.

Professors and Ulamas are shinning torch who shed light in the dark in order to remove darkness and ambiguities guiding the humanity out of ignorance and confusion.

The keys for understanding realities of the world are in the hands of researchers and those who are after knowledge and wisdom. Undiscovered areas and undisclosed and hided world and science are not limited and the windows of realties may be opened only through efforts of scholars and learned people. By every effort one window is opened and one reality is discovered.

Whenever the high status of science and wisdom is maintained and protected and dignity of scholars and researchers are respected, the humanity has been able to take long strides towards his spiritual and physical promotion and evolution. And vice-versa every time the scientific progress and scholars and researchers have been suppressed and neglected, the human being have become stranded in the darkness of ignorance and negligence.

If it was not for the sake of the human nature which tends towards continuous discovery of realties and wisdom, the human being have always been remained stranded in ignorance and no way was discovered and opened for the well being of human beings. Nature of the human being is in fact the present granted by the Almighty to all human beings. The Almighty led the human beings to the world and granted them with wisdom and knowledge as His prime gift in order for them to know Him as best as possible.

In the story of Adam a discussion was made between the Almighty and His Angels. The Angles called the human being as an ambitious and merciless creature and protested against his creation. But the Almighty responded: "I know what you are ignorant of." Then the Almighty taught the human being the realities of the world and at the order of the Almighty he revealed them to the Angles.

The Angels could not understand the realities revealed by the human being. The Almighty said" Did not I say I am aware of the hidden". In this way the Angles bent down before the Human being.

In the mission of all divine prophets firstly the signs of the realities have been revealed and the divine book and wisdom have been represented to all with piety and faithfulness:

"And he was taught wisdom, the divine book, the Old Testament and the New Testament. He is the prophet appointed for the sake of the Children of Israel. And I rightfully brought a sign from the Almighty".

'Holy Quran, Ale Omran Surah'

The first words which were revealed to the Holy Prophet of Islam were calling the prophet for reading:

"Read in the name of your God who supersedes every thing"

"The Almighty who taught the human being with pencil"

"The Almighty taught human beings what they were ignorant of"

You see in the first verses revealed to the Holy Prophet of Islam, words of reading, teaching and pencil are mentioned. These verses in fact introduce the Almighty as the Teacher of human beings. The Teacher who taught human beings what they were ignorant of.

In another part of Quran, on the mission of the Holy Prophet of Islam it is mentioned that the Almighty appointed some one from ordinary people as their prophet in order to;

"Read for them the divine verses
"And purify them from ideological, and ethical contaminations
"And teach them the divine book and wisdom.

All the words of the divine prophets and their efforts were aimed to assist human beings to pass over ignorance, negligence, superstitions, unethical behavior and corrupted ways of thinking towards knowledge, light and rightful ethics.

The word of "Science" has been defined as" "the light". In fact the "Science" means lightness and the real science is the science which saves the human being from ignorance to his own benefit. In one of the widely accepted definitions of the word of "Science" it has been mentioned that "Science" is the light which is shed to hearts of those who have been selected by the Almighty. Therefore according to this definition the "Science" is a divine gift and the heart is its location.

If we accept that the science "means the light" then its scope supersedes the experimental sciences. And it includes every hidden disclosed reality. One of the main oppressions exercised against the science is to limit it to experimental and physical sciences.

This occurs while it extends far beyond this scope. Realities of the world are not limited to physical realities and material is just a shadow of supreme realities and physical creation is just one of the stories of the creation of the world.

The Human being is an example of the creation who is a combination of material and spirit. And spirit and nature of the human being supersedes his physical and materialistic aspect. Another important point is the relationship of the science with purity of spirit, life, behavior and ethics of the human being. In the teachings of the divine prophets one reality shall always be attached to the science. The reality of purity of spirit and good behavior.

Knowledge or wisdom based on the extensive meaning I have already mentioned, is a pure and clear reality. Science is light. It is discovery of reality. And only a pure scholar and researcher, free from wrong ideologies, superstitions, selfishness and material trappings can reach the reality.

Beloved Friends and Scholars, Distinguished Participants, of course science and wisdom may be misused. The misuse caused by selfishness, corruption, carnal desires and material interests.

Carnal desires of the human being place him contrary to the realities of the world. Corrupted and dependent human being resists against acceptance of realities of the world. And even if he accepts, he does not obey them. There are lots of scholars who know the realities but do not accept them. Their selfishness does not allow them to accept the realities.

Whether those who, in the course of human history, imposed wars have not been able to understand the reality that lives, properties, households, territories and rights of all human being shall be respected? Or they understood but not accepted it.

As long as the human heart is not free from, hatred, envy and selfishness he does not obey and comply the reality, lightness and science. Science is the light which shall be shed by a pure subject.

If the humanity could achieve highest level of physical and spiritual knowledge but its scholars and scientists are not pure then this knowledge can not be served in the interest of the humanity and therefore some unpleasant incidents make take place.

1- The wrong doers reveal only a part of the realities which are to their own benefit and hide another part. As we have witnessed with respect to even and number of Ulamas of divine religions in the past. Unfortunately today we see that certain researchers and scientist are doing the same.

2- Science, scientists and scholars are misused for the sake of interests of some people, parties and groups. As we can see today bullying powers are misusing many scholars and scientists of different scientific fields with the purpose to strip nations off their wealth and use all opportunities only for their own sake. Please pay attention to the following:

- They deceit people by use of scientific methods and tools. They in fact wish to justify their own wrongdoings. By creating unreal enemies and insecure atmosphere, they try to control every thing in the name of combating insecurity and terrorism. They even violate individual and social freedoms of their own nations. They do not respect privacy of their own people. They wire tapping telephone calls and control people. They create insecure physiological atmosphere in order to justify their war mongering acts in different parts of the world.

- Using precise scientific methods and planning they onslaught domestic cultures of nations which are result of the thousands of years of interaction, creativity and artistic activities. They try to eliminate these cultures in order to strip the people off their identity and cut their bonds with their own history and values. They prepare the ground for looting people form their spiritual and material wealth by instilling feelings of intimidation, imitation and mere consumption, submission to oppressive powers, and disability into them.

- Making nuclear, chemical and biological bombs and weapons of mass destruction is another result of misuse of science and research by great powers. With out cooperation of certain scientists and scholars we would not have witnessed production of different nuclear, chemical, biological weapons.

Whether these weapons can be used to protect the global security? What Nuclear Umbrella can achieve for the sake of the humanity.

If nuclear war wages between nuclear powers what human catastrophe will take place?

Today we can see nuclear effects in even new generations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima residents which may be witnessed in the next generations as well. Presently effects of the weakened uranium used in weapons since the beginning of war inside Iraq can be examined and investigated accordingly. These catastrophes take place only when scientists and scholars are misused by the oppressors.

Distinguished academicians, the Almighty appointed the pure people and prophets as those who deserve to be revealed with divine knowledge and wisdom only because He knew that science and knowledge can be served for the good of he humanity and also be used as weapon against the people of the world. Therefore the Almighty recommended that learning shall be combined with purity and sincerity. And with respect to the mission of the divine prophets He stressed purity and faithfulness as well as removal of selfishness and material seeking behavior and propagation of divine books and knowledge.

If science comes with purity, the scholars can better understand the science and knowledge and the people can use their knowledge as best as possible. If you go through the history you can see that all the goods revealed to the humanity have come form pious and pure scholars. These scholars are considered as those who use their knowledge and wisdom for the sake of the humanity and those whose prime target is to discover realities in favor of the well being of human beings. The more knowledge these scholars get the more humble they become vis-à-vis the people.

Usually, all pure and pious scholars have turned into saviors of human beings. They turned into symbol of good morality for their own people, and all saviors of the human beings firstly have been good scholars and teachers for the people. In a quotation from one of the great religious figures we read: "whenever scholars and learned people become corrupted, corruption will be extended to whole world. But pure and pious scholars can bring pious and pure world. Science is a window towards the Almighty. Crop of the science is action. All scholars and scientists shall consider themselves responsible vis-à-vis their knowledge.

Scholars and learned people without action are tantamount to plants without crop. Real scholars and scientists do not remain silent vis-à-vis injustice, sufferings and social problems and they use their knowledge for the people and inform them on various issues accordingly, They stand against oppressors and bullying powers and do not allow the ignorant to tell lies to people and deceit them and disregard their rights.

Status of science and knowledge is sacred and divine science is the gift of the Almighty to the world. Therefore misuse of science by wrongdoers is considered as oppression against the humanity.

Bullying powers of the world confiscate science in their interests and with bullying attitude and do not allow scholars and scientists enter areas in which disclosures of realities will reveal their real ill intentions. This is so shameful that we are witnessing adoption of those rules and regulations according to which making any study or investigation on historical events become prohibited and the researchers who try to enter such activities are charged, put in jail or financially punished.

The greatest and the clearest reality of the world is the Almighty. All beings in the universe are signs of His existence. But it is interesting that all people are permitted to discuss and study His existence and then become His worshippers. In the Islamic school of thought it has been mentioned that suspicion (Shak) is the preamble of faithfulness if the human being does not stop in his drive for further understanding.

Questioning is something which is inherent to human being for good. Other wise we could not image any progress and advancement in his life.

Another unfortunate incident is the monopoly of science by certain big powers and their opposition to the scientific progress of others.

This is so strange that today certain big powers do not wish to witness advancement of other nations. Under false pretexts and charges and with political and economic pressures they wish to prevent scientific advancement of other people. All these happen because of their distance from human and ethical values as well as divine schools of thought. They are not educated to serve the humanity.

Distinguished Ulamas and Scientist, in short we shall say that knowledge or wisdom is the most precious gift of the Almighty given to the human being and justice-seeking nature of the human being has always made him to be after further knowledge and discovery of the hidden.

Science and knowledge shall be accompanied by morality and piety. In this way the scholar and scientist will understand the knowledge better and the humanity can use the resulted achievements as best as possible. Pure and pious scholar and scientist not only sheds light to the way of well being of the humanity but will play role of savior of the human beings as well.

Therefore we shall not allow bullying powers to mishandle the science and knowledge. We shall not allow them to confiscate the science in their own illegitimate interests and use it against humanity or restrict research activities and create a monopoly in their own favor in this respect.

Scope of science is sacred which shall remain clean and pure. The Almighty knows every thing and He loves scholars, researchers and teachers.

We wish for the day when pious and pure scholars and scientists run the world and the pious ruler who shall be divine one rules over the world.