Why Muslim world lagged behind in science

Science and knowledge played an important role in Islam from the very beginning of its existence in our world. Between 8th and 14th centuries, the Islamic civilization owing to its support for education and science was a scientific, cultural and spiritual center of the world. The Islamic culture, inspired by religious dynamics and geographical advancement, accepted scientific achievements of other civilizations and developed them further. At that time, education was one of the main features of religion.

Егемен Қазақстан
10.09.2017 409

Thus, Islamic culture greatly contributed to the development of Western civilization and opened up the way for the development of humankind. The Arabic script was a strong tool of science, philosophy, and logic; as a result, information and knowledge were widespread everywhere like never before in the history of humanity.   

Most importantly, there was no conflict between the mind and the heart in Islam. According to Islamic philosophy, God created the things for human beings to think and conceive them. In addition to religion, God created sciences, which study the nature of things so that a man can perceive those things and gain insight into His purpose.    

In the middle Ages, religion in the West rejected knowledge and fought against science, which leads to religious fanaticism, Inquisition, wars, and rise of imperialism. In the same way, some Muslims are still unable to get rid of ignorance and narrow concepts.  

 From the 15th century, the Muslim world was lagging behind in development because of certain objective reasons. The lack of unity in the Muslim world, triumph of limited, narrow formalism over inclusive rational and profound spiritual principles of Islam, Mongol and Crusades invasions, stagnation of international trade along the Silk Road, demographic growth in Europe, emergence of capitalism and industrial revolution were the main reasons of why Muslims lost in the game. In the new era, almost all of the Muslim countries were dependent on the world geopolitical powers, and therefore, education and science in those countries were not developed.

Many Muslim countries were suffering from unresolved political, legal and socio-economic problems. During colonialism, all of these problems became even worse and instigated continuous uprisings and instability in the Middle East. Religious radicalism in some Muslim countries derived from both poverty and ignorance. It should be noted that development of education, science, and technology in the developed countries is directly related to the protection of political and economic rights of people.  

Muslim countries possess two-thirds of the world's energy resources. For instance, 63% of oil and gas on Earth belongs to Islamic nations. In spite of this, 26% of the population in 57 member states of the OIC are living in the grip of poverty. Most of the Muslim countries are lagging behind civilized countries in socio-economic development. Despite the demographic explosion in the Islamic world in 20th and 21st centuries, Muslim nations have a low level and quality of knowledge and human resources. For example, the number of researchers in Europe is 10 times higher than in the OIC countries. In Europe, the number of scientists per 1 million people is about 5 000, while in Muslim countries this figure is less than 1000 people, except for Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, and Malaysia. Turkey and Iran provide half of the academic works, published in the OIC countries. One-third of scientific publications in the OIC countries were published in Malaysia. As for export of technology, Malaysia provides about 80% of high-tech exports, produced in the OIC countries. In the Arab world, Tunisia and Jordan are leaders. The richest Gulf countries provide substantial financial support to the university and religious education rather than scientific research.  

According to research, made by SESRIC, OIC provides only 2.4% of all funds allocated for science and technology in the world, as well as 1.6% of patients and 6% of publications. OIC countries spend about $ 30 billion a year for scientific researchers. This figure is nearly two times less than the science budget of South Korea alone. Only 1% of GDP of the OIC countries are spent on science. Turkey and Iran have a significant budget, allocated for scientific researchers, so taking the lead in the Muslim countries. The overwhelming majority of OIC countries spend for education and science 0.7% of their GDP. Countries such as Turkey, Tunisia, Iran, and Malaysia spend the highest amount of money on science.

One of the most challenging problems in today's Muslim countries is a stagnation of education and science. Ignorance and illiteracy of people complicate social and security issues in the region. There is a clear need in the world for new concepts and philosophies on the tolerance, inclusiveness, and pluralism of Islam in order to maintain stability in the Muslim world. These changes will help Islamic states to focus on science and education and to get integrated into the global community. For this purpose, Muslim societies must accept universal human values (human rights, justice, dignity, hard-working etc.) as well as the achievements of other civilizations, and learn new knowledge and technology. Given that one-third of the Muslim world is young, it is not difficult to understand that there is a great potential. 

Prospects for resolving the deep crisis in the present Muslim world and addressing its social and poverty issues will depend on the level of education of society. Therefore, it is necessary to return to the broad horizons of Islam, which balances the mind (science, rationalism) and the heart (religion, faith), and form new concepts on man and nature, society, and state in the Muslim world.     

As for Kazakhstan, the country is one of the leading states in the Islamic world in terms of the education index. Kazakhstan is a secular state with strong scientific and industrial foundations among the OIC countries. After all, the country has a high level of literacy, which is due to compatibility of Soviet, national and Western education systems. So, Kazakhstan can offer its own model of development to the Muslim world, promoting the idea of an intellectual revival of the Islamic world by educating young people who are highly motivated with knowledge and high-tech.

Therefore, the First OIC Summit on Science and Technology, which coincided with the closing ceremony of the International Exhibition EXPO-2017 in Astana, is undoubted of a great symbolic significance for the Muslim world. Thus, the intellectual renaissance of Muslim world could be initiated again from Central Asia.   

The First OIC Science and Technology Summit, which held in Astana on September 10-11, 2017 is certainly a historic event in the Muslim world. The next summits on science will help us to elaborate and rethink on the place and role of Muslim countries in the scientific and technological development of the world.   


Political analyst, philosopher     



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