Scientific advances and Technological changes are believed to be driver of economic growth and have become the major source of wealth creation and improvements in quality of life. Knowledge obtained by basic researches in a subject are put to use in applied researches to obtain innovations which may be produts, new ideas, designs, symbols etc. The innovations can be patented. Patents are actually the intellectual property which can be commercially used to generate wealth. Governmental, non-governmental Institutes/ organizations/ agencies , industrial and pharmaceutical companies and private and public universities are involved in the process of producing innovations. A new concept of collaboration between universities and industries has evolved which focusses on learning of science and technology to motivate and enable the learners to produce innovations. A massive economic output of industrial nations is because of advancement in science and technology. Despite having a glorious past in which Science, Technology and Innovations flourished during 8th and 13th century and even continued thereafter but with slower pace for another three centuries in Islamic world, why it failed to understand what was happening in Europe for the advancement of Science, Technology and Innovations which posed serious challenges to the economy and survival of Islamic Empires. Despite quarter of population of the world, several reliable analyses indicate unambiguous science crisis and deficit,the Muslim majority countries are facing. This fact is indicated by some of the parameters such as 06 percent of global scientific publications, 2.4 percent of global research expenditure and meagre 1.6 percent of global patents of Organization of Islamic Co-operation countries.
A brief account of contributions and achievements of Muslims during 8th and 13th century in Science and Technology :
In its early phase of Islam, Quran’s teachings inspired Muslims to seek knowledge and observe nature for signs of Creator so much that they created a society that in the Middle ages was the Scientific Centre of the world.
It is a established fact that early Islamic period under “Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates” (786-1258)is considered “Golden age” due to scientific knowledge and researches in various fields. These activities produced brilliant Muslim scientists in Baghdad and Andalus (Spain). Therefore it can be conveniently said that centuries before “Renaissance and Scientific Revolution” in Europe, Muslim scholars in Arab world were quite familiar with the idea of making observations, experimentation, analysis of results and inductive reasoning and then arriving at conclusions. Many of them were also well versed with documentation of their scientific work and peer review process. Their documented works are still available in Arabic and also in other languages in the form of treatises and text books. Islamic scholars under the patronage of Muslim rulers(Caliphs) translated many of Greek classics into Arabic and also added to them. The dissemination of knowledge was done by translation of the work of Islamic scholars into many languages including Arabic, Latin, Greek, Syriac, Indian dialect, Farsi, and a range of other languages.
Some of the prominent Islamic scholars of this “Golden Age” are:
Ibn-al-Haytham, Albiruni, Al-Rahwi, Abu-Jabir, Ibn Sina(Avicenna), Al- Zahrawi and host of others.
Subjects of scientific researches included:
Medicine, Mathematics, Algebra, Geometry, Chemistry (Alchemia),Physics, Agronomy, Opthalmology, Geography, Pharmacology, Astronomy , Zoology, Botany and cartography.
The status of Arabic was elevated so much during “Golden Age” that it was considered anonymous with science and learning . Islamic Golden Age in which various sciences, technologies and innovations flourished is reported to come to an end at the beginning of the second half of 13 th century (1258) with the Mongol invasion of Baghdad, the capital of Abbasid Caliphate. With the fall in political, economical and administrative power of Abbasid Caliphate which continued in Cairo till 1517, science and learning didn’t cease in Islamic world and was replaced by Turkish Islamic Ottoman Empire ( 1299–1924) which made significant contributions in wide range of areas in science and technology especially during early period of its establishment.
What movements and changes enabled Europe to succeed in getting edge in science and technology over rest of the world including Ottoman Empire?
One and half century after the establishment of Ottoman Empire, a cultural movement “Renaissance” began in fifteen century in Italy and by the sixteen century it spread to the rest of of Europe. This movement helped to instill the quality of intellectual enquiry in various fields of human activities including science and technology. Towards the end of the Renaissance period, the Scientific Revolution took place. The development in mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, human anatomy and astronomy laid the foundation for modern sciences. Then came the Age of Enlightenment or simply the Enlightenment that dominated Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Enlightenment was marked by some scientific discoveries, advancement in mathematics and applied mathematics, division of study of science in various disciplines, popularization of science among literate people by active working of scientific societies and academies. These scientific bodies had largely replaced universities as centres of scientific research and development. The researches in science resulted into development of technologies and their application eventually led to Industrial revolution. Ottomans made attempts to organise their science and technology along European lines but their failure to introduce an element of research in science crippled their attempts to have useful technologies especially to produce military equipment. Ottomans were too late in setting up of scientific societies and more modern Universities in the mid 1800. This was the time when economic and military might of Europe had increased multifold because of the plundered wealth, revenues and taxes received from the colonized countries and it had expanded its control over economy and some territories of Ottomans. The colonization of Muslim Mughal ruled India (After the victory of British East India Company in Bengal in 1757 ) and Islamic World ( except Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan )during complete 19thand early 20th centuries provided tremendous impetus to economic growth in European colonizers especially Britain. The economic growth boosted new discoveries in Science and Technology and led to industrial revolution which in turn led to emergence of European colonizers especially that of Britain as superior military and political power in the world.
Historians have noted and pointed out that basically the knowledge of Arab muslim world fueled Renaissance (1450-1630) and later scientific revolution in Europe and America and also served as precursor to modern global universities. This in turn led to Industrial Revolution which tremendously changed the socio-politico-economic conditions of Europe and America. It should be noted that these changes occurred mainly due to the state of art researches in universities and scientific Institutes/Centres for researches.
What the Islamic World must learn from the exellent performance of Europe, America and Australia (in terms of economy, military and political power) who took the basic lessons in Science and Technology from them and why? :
The humans all over the globe are facing some serious challenges like climate change, food security, economical clean energy, access to clean water, sanitation and clean air, accessible treatment to serious diseases such as Cancer, Tuberculosis, Malaria, Diabetes etc, Cyberspace security and many others. It is abundantly obvious that Science and Technology play a very important role in tackling these challenges. Muslims all over the world can take on these challenges in consonance with basic teaching of Islam to serve the humanity and can seek solution to the problems. What the governments of Muslim majority countries are required to do is to increase the expenditure for research and development in Science and Technology which on an average is less than 0.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) compared with five times that in developed countries. Nearly 1.50 to 2.00 percent of GDP should be spent on Research and Development ( R & D) including strengthening Science and Technology infrastructure. Also the efforts should be made to induce the private sector to make adequate investment in R&D . In addition to the above the following efforts need to be made to catch up with the developed countries in Science and Technology —Scientific societies and academies should be created to propagate and promote the culture of debate, discussion and intellectual enquiry among the common masses on line with what happened in Europe during Age of Enlightenment.
Non-profit Organizations should operate to inspire young people to consider careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) can also operate to establish meaningful connections between pupils of 6 to 16 years and scientists.
State of the art facilities in research laboratories is a prerequisite to produce innovative products and patent them. They should be established and efforts should be focussed on producing indigenous technologies instead of borrowing them.
Collaboration with top class Universities and Research Centres in developed countries like USA , UK, Australia, Japan and others should be developed to expose the young researches to world class researches in eminent research centres in Science and Technology.
There should be a provision for big incentives to the genuine researchers. Top-class scientists must be granted high and important positions like Minister of Science and Technology.
There should be a collaboration between the universities and industries. It’s is a sort of symbiotic relationship which is instrumental in advancing researches in the universities in technologies required for the progress of industries and creating skilled workforce for them.Both universities and industries derive benefits out of this relationship.
One appropriate example of contribution of technologies in creating wealth is that of Silicon Valley in California, USA where technologies generated by Stanford University, USA were used to develop it. Silicon Valley is a global centre for high technology and innovations and contributes significantly in the economic growth of USA and world.
If the above mentioned programs, schemes and ideas are put in place by Islamic countries and other developing countries including India in an appropriate and timely manner, these efforts will result into following :
Improvement of Universities’ place in World University Rankings like QS (Quacquarelli Symonds ), THE ( Times Higher Education ), ARWU ( Shanghai Jiao Tang Academic Ranking of World Universities ), etc,
Increase in research publications in standard journals and increase in their citations by other researchers.
Patents may be obtained which may be commercially used.
Increase in job creation Significant reduction in brain drain.
The overall result of all efforts put together would be a significant boost in economy. The significant improvement in researches in Science and Technology will also help developing nations to deal with global problems.
Dr. Aqueel Khan
Former Professor and Head,
University Post-Graduate Teaching Department of Biochemistry,
RTM Nagpur University, Nagpur, Maharashtra,