Where are all the Muslim scientists? It seems history books have betrayed them. The great contributions in science by Arabs, Persians, and Indians are hardly mentioned in our textbooks.
While we hear about Newton’s law of motions, Euclidean geometry, and Hawking radiation, Middle-Eastern scientists have largely lacked this privilege of being eternally named.
They largely remain faceless and their works camouflaged under the cover of contemporary Western discoveries. It is only when we anatomize history, we begin to see that Western contributions are, by-far, derived from knowledge and ideas germinated elsewhere.
As the world succumbs to Islamophobic trends it becomes our duty to set the record straight and, in the process, invite greater acceptance of varied ideologies.
Children reading science textbooks are, inevitably and understandably, disposed to develop certain beliefs about their racial and ethnic standing. Those in the West are tempted into an elevated sense of self-esteem. Imagine what message we are giving to children by attributing all major scientific discoveries to Europe and America alone? There is bound to be antagonism.
On the other side of the globe, youngsters reading the same textbooks are confronted with the uneasiness of knowing that their historic roots are devoid of heroism. An inferiority complex ensues. They are driven to be disappointed by their origins and ashamed of their heritage. They grow up in psychological servitude. The antagonism is bolstered from both ends.
Hollywood has demonstrated that change is possible. Today the largest film industry is actively, deliberately, and sometimes desperately creating measures to ensure greater racial and ethnic inclusivity. With the advent of #OscarsSoWhite we have seen, albeit slowly, greater number of people of color being nominated for Oscars.
More women are now seen clutching the Academy Awards and proudly reflecting their talents to the world audience. Sexism is now being meticulously scraped off. We have come to witness that talent has no race, gender, language, and nationality.
In the academic realm, the hashtag OscarsSoWhite needs to resurface, perhaps with a slightly different identity. A campaign to initiate ethnic inclusivity should now commence with a new hashtag #EducationSoWhite. While we have grown to witness that all of the world’s greatest thinkers, philosophers, painters, and scientist have been, by far, associated with the western part of the world, it is not too late to act. An active social media campaign promoting indigenous knowledge and indigenous thinkers should be inaugurated.
Its success might be akin to the success of numerous online chronicles celebrating Pakistan’s beauty and its status as an international tourist hub. The digital media has proved time and again that hashtags do work. They work by anchoring themselves on massive waves of collective public sentiments. They help unite people against common enemies. In this case it is the persistent politicization of knowledge delivery that needs to be dismantled.
Such campaigns should be initiated by universities across the country and, before going digital, all learning institutes in the country need to actively review the contents of their teaching materials. A ‘balanced’ perspective of history should be inculcated in the fabric of teaching methodology. Entire curriculums should be revised to pay homage to native contributors when applicable.
Universities and schools can revitalize our pride for our heritage. By doing so they will energize our youth, bolster their confidence, and create an environment where acceptance, tolerance, and liberalism permeates all.
Carrying out this campaign just requires that we state all the raw facts and present an unadulterated version of history without enriching certain parts and stories with seasoning. The idea is to capture the scientific contributions of thinkers like Ibn Sīnā who emerged as one of the leading figures in the Islamic Golden Age.
We also need to talk about the magnificent contributions of Al-Khawarizmi from Uzbekistan who invented modern algebra. Reading Mohamed ibn Zakaria Al-Razi’s “diet therapy” book is still relevant for readers today even though his work was published in the 10th century. And then there are also numerous contributions by Arabs in understanding medicine and biology. Notable names include Ibn Hubal Al-Baghdadi and Ibn al-Nafis who did extensive research on obesity and related disorders. Ancient Muslim scientists have also contributed towards understanding the nature of light.
There are literally thousands of names of Arabic thinkers who contributed towards our understanding of the world. Their stories have so far been shrouded in politics. They have remained hidden and unacknowledged. It is time to relive their works and savor their amazing gifts of knowledge. They created the modern world we live in and the world has every right to know about this fact. In fact, it is the need of the hour.
The article was originally published in TheWeeklyPakistan on April 16, 2019. For original content click here.