1001 Inventions vs. 1001 nights: Thoughts on the Renaissance of Science in the Modern Arab World
Professor Rafid Alkhaddar*
Note of the editor
Professor Rafid Al-Khaddar, Head of Construction and Civil Engineering Department at John Moores University, Liverpool, and Key Associate and Fellow of FSTC on Environment in Muslim Heritage, presented a lecture in the symposium hosted by the Cambridge University Arab Society (CUAS) on Science and Research in the Arab World: Obstacles, Challenges and Future Perspectives on 14th March 2009. Hereafter, we publish the abstract of Professor Al Khaddar's lecture, a short biography, a notice on the Cambridge University Arab Society and some resources for further reading.
The Symposium was well attended by a young generation of Arab scholars studying at Cambridge. It was also attended by some Professors and Academics from Cambridge who are interested in the history of the Arab World and its policy, education and development. Also in attendance were representatives of Arab universities, members of non-governmental organizations, diplomats, and participants from businesses and charitable organizations. The presenters were from different parts of the Middle East and informed the conference of their different activities with regards to the development of science and technology within their own fields of work. This included a presentation of the activities of the Kuwaiti Institute for Scientific Research, the Arab Science and Technology Foundation and an insight of scientific research in Syria. The audience was very well informed and contributed to the conference with a number of testing questions to the presenters. A workshop followed the presentation and this was focused on discussing the proposed formation of the Arab Scientific League where the experiences of the attendees were shared and discussed in order to formulate and agree a mission statement for the proposal. A memorandum of understanding was signed by all the attendees committing themselves to helping the organising committee in their work for developing the proposal and the formation of the Arab Scientific League.
Click here for the list of speakers and the timetable of the Symposium.
Figure 2: Rafid Al-Khaddar with members of the Cambridge University Arab Society during the symposium.
1. 1001 inventions v.1001 nights
The state of our education is such that it shows a gap summarising the Amnesia of 1000 years where it is termed as the ‘Dark Ages'. During that period science and education was flourishing in the Muslim world. None of the 40 great scientist/ inventors during that gap can be found in the popular literature or school curricula nor in street names of laboratories. Each of these is as important as Newton. Take Al-Biruni for example who authored 200 books, theoretical predictions and verifications through field experiments on various subjects such as Astronomy, Mathematics, Geodesy, Observatories, Astrolabes, etc. The House of Wisdom in Baghdad (in activity the early 8th Century) was the first Institute of Learning and scholarly work. It had Muslims and non-Muslims as well male and female scholars working together.
A large number of Scholars worked on Environmental aspects from the early days and contributed with a number of inventions. The preservation of the Environment and water is part of the belief of Muslims and it is referred to in many versus of the holy Quran.
So what happened? The Arabs started to fight within themselves. The Crusaders used this weakness to defeat them and remove them from the Andalus (Muslim Spain). The Mongols and the Tatars invaded the Islamic World and drove it backwards. The Islamic World never recovered from this and got involved in many wars and struggles since. This resulted in centralised governments, diminished individuality and independence. All these factors significantly reduced and affected scholarship and innovation. It also increased dependence on the state. In this context, the state was blamed for everything and no one took responsibility.
What is the way forward then? Muslims need to stop looking backwards and instead of asking how did we get into the hole, they should start looking for ways to get out of it. We need to use the strong foundation that was built by our ancestors to rise and rebuild the glory. Muslims need to get involved in debates to highlight the role that they can play which is based on their background and heritage.
Many current scholars have attempted to form organisations and institutions for this very purpose. The author and a number of other colleagues formed ARABTECH. This is intended as a non profit organisation. One of the main objectives is to establish contacts with the Muslim world and Arab World to offer their services to ensure the correct transfer of technology to these countries. There is a high calibre Arab professionals in the West and they occupy senior positions in Industry and academia. They are also highly involved in the decision making process. These expe
by: FSTC Limited