The war in Iraq, the price of oil, the deadlock over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the terrorism of al-Qaeda and the tensions surrounding immigrant communities in Europe ensure that Islam is rarely far from the headlines. But you would have to be an avid student of Muslim affairs to come across any discussion of science and technology not linked to the development of nuclear weapons.
In this week’s issue, Nature offers an unprecedented look at the prospects for science and technology in the Muslim world.
In ignoring Muslim science, the West follows the lead of the Muslim world itself. Low investment and a low profile combine to keep the scientific community small, marginalized and unproductive. This is not simply a matter of underdevelopment; the oil-rich Gulf states invest pitifully in R&D. The poor scientific track record of Islamic countries might suggest that there is something about Islam inherently inimical to research. Muslims bristle at this idea, pointing to the major achievements of Muslim scholars under the Islamic caliphate.