With Just 10 Nobel Prizes, Are 1.5 Billion Muslims Really Fratricidal Low Achievers?
It has become fashionable among Muslims and non-Muslims alike to bash followers of the Islamic faith for their lack of achievement and propensity for fratricidal violence. Some criticize Muslims for having won only 10 Nobel prizes since the prize was launched in 1901. Others lambaste Muslims for killing each other. Let's examine both of these charges in some detail below:
Muslims as Low Achievers:
Renowned atheist scholar Richard Dawkins has recently disparaged Muslims by pointing out that the entire Muslim world has had fewer Nobels (10) than Cambridge University's Trinity College (32). He is not alone in attacking Muslims for their lack of achievements; I have heard this from many Muslim critics for many years.
Christian Science Monitor, is the fact that other large (billion-plus) religious, gender and ethnic groups have won even fewer Nobels than ten won by Muslims: Hindus (four), Chinese (eight) and Africans (nine). Or the fact that women have only won 44 Nobel Prizes, compared with 791 for mostly white men.
It is important to note that today's Muslims and other ethnic-religious groups with very few Nobel prizes have grown up under the shadow of colonial and neo-colonial rule which followed the Industrial Revolution and preceded the launch of Nobel prizes in 1901. Going back in history, it was the Industrial Revolution that created technology which led to the ascendance of the West and the colonization of the East. It marked the beginning of a major shift in economic, military and political power from East to West.
Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor explains it as follows:
"Dawkins, as an educated man, should be well aware of the legacy of colonialism and of simple poverty…. When the Nobel Prize was founded in 1901, the vast majority of the world's Muslims lived in countries ruled by foreign powers, and for much of the 20th century Muslims did not have much access to great centres of learning like Cambridge. The ranks of Nobel Prize winners have traditionally been dominated by white, Western men - a reflection of both the economic might of the West in the past century, preferential access to education for that class of people as well as a wonderful intellectual tradition ."
Dawkins' tweet did acknowledge that "they (Muslims) did great things in the middle ages". Clearly, the history of humanity is not just 100 years old. It did not begin with the launch of Nobels in 1901. It stretches much further back. The defining work of Muslims in earlier centuries (8th to 13th century) built the foundation on which modern science and today's Nobel Laureates stand. It included development of decimal number system (still called Arabic numerals), Algebra (Al-Khwarizmi), the concepts of scientific method (Al Biruni) and algorithms (Al Khwarizmi), first camera (Al Haitham), Medicine (Avicenna), first human flight (Ibn Firnas), astrolabe (Al Frazari) etc.
In "Lost Discoveries" by Dick Teresi, the author says, "Clearly, the Arabs served as a conduit, but the math laid on the doorstep of Renaissance Europe cannot be attributed solely to ancient Greece. It incorporates the accomplishments of Sumer, Babylonia, Egypt, India, China and the far reaches of the Medieval Islamic world." Teresi by his description of the work done by Copernicus. Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, a Persian Muslim astronomer and mathematician, developed at least one of Copernicus's theorems, now called The Tusi Couple, three hundred years before Copernicus. Copernicus used the theorem without offering any proof or giving credit to al-Tusi. This was pointed out by Kepler, who looked at Copernicus's work before he developed his own elliptical orbits idea. A second theorem found in Copernican system, called Urdi lemma, was developed by another Muslim scientist Mu'ayyad al-Din al-Urdi, in 1250. Again, Copernicus neither offered proof nor gave credit to al-Urdi. Columbia University's George Saliba believes Copernicus didn't credit him because Muslims were not popular in 16th century Europe, not unlike the situation today."
Fratricidal Tendencies Among Muslims:
Muslims are killing Muslims, say the critics. This begs the question: Is this something unique among Muslims? Who kills 30,000 Americans each year? Is it not Americans? Who is responsible for the 40,000 reported homicides in India (actuals are likely much higher) every year? Is it not fellow Indians? Mostly Hindus?
Who killed Gandhi? Was it not Nathuram Godse, a fellow Hindu? Who killed Yitzhak Rabin? Was it not Yigal Amir, a fellow Jew? Who killed Abraham Lincoln? Was it not John Wilkes Booth, a fellow American?
The fact is that almost every nation-state has had periods of excessive violence such as civil wars. Fratricidal deaths have accounted for the great bulk of deaths in almost every nation since the beginning of time. Such deaths have occurred in great numbers in almost every society since Adam and Eve's son Cain is alleged to have killed his brother Abel. Every period of great change in human history has been almost always been accompanied by massive violence that Muslims are experiencing now.
Dawkins' comments appear to be motivated by growing anti-Muslim bigotry in the West, especially because he prefaced them by saying "Who the hell do these Muslims think they are?" But the fact that he singled out Muslims for criticism and ignored other groups who have achieved even less seems to indicate that he holds Muslims to a higher standard than others, including Blacks, Chinese and Indians who are almost as numerous. I'd prefer that Muslims see as a challenge rather than be offended by it. At the very least, it signals that Muslims are not being subjected to what George W. Bush once described as "soft bigotry of low expectation".
The Challenge for Muslims:
Are Muslims taking the challenge thrown by Dawkins seriously? The answer is a qualified yes. They are beginning to do it.
Pakistan has had an impressive 50 per cent increase in the number of research publications during just the last two years, going up from 3939 to 6200. This has been the second highest increase worldwide. SCimago, the world's leading research database, is forecasting that if this research trend from Pakistan continues, then by 2018, Pakistan will move ahead 16 notches in world ranking, from 43 to 27, and for the first time ever, will cross Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand in Asia, according to a report in The Nation newspaper. Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Malaysia are other Muslim nations which figure prominently on SCimago rankings.
As to the violence, it is likely to continue for a while longer as vast swaths of the Muslim world sort out their differences on fundamental questions of the role of religion in society and government and settle on a model that delivers what the Muslim world needs most: good clean and responsive governance. Fortunately, there are successful models within the Muslim world in countries like Turkey and Malaysia.
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