Defending Muslim Scientists – My Response to Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins has been testing my patience for some time (as those who follow me on Twitter will be fully aware). His blinding ignorance, ‘Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter & verse like I can for the Bible. But often say Islam greatest force for evil today.’, and disrespectful comments (he once described the Burka as being like a full bin liner) have left many Muslims – and Atheists – seething.

His latest Twitter stunt – ‘All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.’ had my Twitter timeline in some sort of intellectual cyber war. I read every contention imaginable, and a fair few outbursts of anger and disgust from his fellow Atheists. In light of the backlash, Dawkins clarified what he actually meant, and responded to the criticisms he’d received.

For reference, what he actually meant by the above tweet, was (and I’ve taken this directly from his website), ‘If you (Muslims) are so numerous, and if your science is so great, shouldn’t you be able to point to some pretty spectacular achievements emanating from among those vast numbers? If you can’t today but once could, what has gone wrong for the past 500 years? Whatever it is, is there something to be done about it?’ I personally think this is a somewhat pertinent question, and I shall attempt to answer it in this article. But for now, let’s see if we can unpick some of Dawkins’s responses to the criticism he received.

1) Dawkins claims that a generic criticism and dismissal of Muslims is not racism, as Islam is a religion not a race.

Part of this is correct, Islam is a religion, not a race or a nationality (a claim I’ve seen many people make). However, although it may not be because of skin colour, the insults and discrimination he directs at a particular group of people is still immoral, and is steeped in the same type of bigotry that racism is. The racial element of racism is not what’s being expressed here; it’s the shared fundamental ideology and immorality that’s being propagated. Dawkins, if you’re being accused of racism, you should be very concerned.

2) ‘Educational systems that teach boys only memorisation of one particular book, and teach girls nothing at all, are not calculated to breed success in science.’

This one a little ambiguous, which is why I’ve quoted the sentence he used directly. Dawkins mentions religion in the same paragraph but he doesn’t mention which one, so I’m going to throw caution into the wind and assume he’s talking about Islam.

I’m a born Muslim, and I’m 18 years old. That means I have just under 18 years of Islamic study and experience to draw on. It’s not a lot, I’m still young, but it’s 18 years more experience than Dawkins. I’ve never heard of an Islamic educational institution that teaches boys ONLY to memorise the Quran (I’m assuming it’s the Quran he’s referring to with ‘one particular book’). Some boys (and girls too, but I’ll discuss that later) will eventually become Haafidh (someone who has learnt the entire Quran off by heart), but to state that Islamic education consists entirely of Quranic memorisation is ridiculous, and could not be further from the truth. The religion is deeply nuance, and very pragmatic, there are a vast number of different concepts that a young Muslim is expected to grasp.

Moving swiftly on to the topic of the women’s right to education in Islam. The well known hadith (saying of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH) states, ‘Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.’ EVERY. MUSLIM. I’m not going to insult your intelligence by explaining what I’m trying to get at here; I think it’s blindingly obvious.

Also, before Dawkins makes such accusations, he should maybe study the Islamic tradition. You don’t need to look far to find well respected and educated Muslim women; Khadija and Saudah, both wives of Muhammad PBUH, both ran successful businesses. Aisha, the Prophets most famous wife in the Western world, pioneered the Islamic sciences, including Islamic laws and ethics. She is still known as one of Islam’s greatest scholars, and was often consulted by her male colleagues for advise, along with Shifa’ bint Abdullah (a companion of Muhammad PBUH), who was Caliph Umar’s political advisor. Many female companions also excelled in surgery and the literary arts. I could go on. Dawkins, you really made this one way too easy for me.

3) Muslim medical students in the UK boycott lectures on evolution. Literally all Muslim secondary school children reject evolution.

Dawkins claims that lecturers at British universities have noticed Muslim students boycotting lectures on evolution. I think before we make assumptions here, we’d need more evidence in the form of actual attendance statistics, rather than the suspicion of some university lecturers. Many medical students online explicitly stated this was unheard of to them, and although I’m not a university student yet, I’ve spent a LOT of time in the company of doctors, professors, and Medical students for many of our best medical schools. On my work experience placements, I had many informative discussions with medical professors and professionals, often involving religion and Islam; none of them raised this issue.

The second claim is also hearsay from a teacher, no statistical data has been provided. Admittedly I can’t provide any data either, but again, I’m probably more enlightened on this topic than Dawkins is, as I’m an A level student studying all three of the sciences. I have two main points to make on this. Firstly, I’ve had many biology teachers. Many of them rejected evolution, even though they were all biology graduates at the very least. They came from a range of religious backgrounds. This highlights that a lack of faith in the theory of evolution, is not religiously motivated, but probably stems from the understanding that the theory of evolution is exactly that – a theory. Yes, we have evidence for it, but what is evidence? Evidence is either data or observations that after being interpreted, are believed to have indicated a certain conclusion. But interpretation is vulnerable to both human fallibility and bias. And therefore the theories we make are open to the same problems. Those who have even a slight understanding of the philosophy of science would know this. Dawkins absolutely condemns the study of the philosophy of science. I wonder why.

Secondly, are these Muslim students rejecting evolution altogether, or just rejecting the idea that evolution disproves God? Thanks to Atheistic fundamentalism (Dawkins being my main example if you’re wondering what on Earth that means), and the dogmatic way in which science is now taught, many students mistakenly believe that to accept certain theories is tantamount to denouncing your faith. This isn’t the case. I (MOSTLY) accept the theory of evolution, but this in no way undermines my belief in a monotheistic God. When you understand the limits of science’s capabilities (anyone who believes science can provide an answer for everything, is quite simply, a fool.), you don’t need to pick between science and Islam.

4) ‘Might oil wealth be more equitably deployed amongst the populace of those countries that happen to sit on the accidental geological boon of oil. Is this an example of something Muslims might consider to improve the education of their children?’

Guys, mark this day in your calendar. For this is the day Richard Dawkins and I, FULLY agree on something. Believe it or not, in Shari’ah law (yep, I’m referring to that immoral and backward ethical code that Dawkins loves to hate) wealth gained by natural resources is actually owned by all citizens of the state – it cannot be privately owned. So Dawkins, you’re actually spot on with this suggestion, and would you believe it, in total agreement with Shari’ah law! Why these governments don’t then distribute the wealth more fairly is something I’ll touch on at the end when I discuss Dawkins’s original question.

Having said all that, I do find it rather hypocritical that a white, British man, who has done nothing to change Imperialist ideology (in fact his Orientalist viewpoint is obvious, and I think the two go hand in hand) is scolding the Middle East on unfair distribution of wealth.

Alas, the alliance was temporary.

I think that’s it in terms of specific refutations/comments I can make on Dawkins’s response on his website. There are a number of other things I could comment on or discuss, but the aim of this was to protect the intellectual dignity of Muslims, so I’ve narrowed this piece to do just that.

Ok, back to the original question, (now in my own words). Why is scientific achievement in modern times so disproportionately small compared to the number of Muslims? Why has there been a decline in our scientific achievements and what can we do about it?

I think it’s obvious that the issue here isn’t actually Islam (if you disagree, read this article again). Seven out of the top 10 countries with the highest population of Muslims are definitely developing countries. Half of these countries have been victims of the UK’s imperialist strategy alone, if we broaden that to Europe that makes 8 out of the 10 countries. Iran, which is number 7, was never colonised, but lies in between Iraq and Afghanistan. Both countries have recently been victims of US imperialism. The only country that remains unscathed on this list is Turkey, and since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey’s governments have become increasingly secular. There are only 15 black Nobel Prize laureates, and 4 if you remove the Peace Prize. This isn’t a religious issue; this is a geo political one.

Western countries, and therefore their institutions, have a massive economic advantage over most, if not all these countries. Coupled with the lack of funds, many of these countries have been suffering from political unrest and oppressive regimes. Some have endured a long struggle, others have been more recent. And these situations are nearly often always created because governments (or the politicians in power), would rather keep US endorsement than maintain the dignity of their own people. The US’s horrifically immoral trade laws with these countries ensure that these countries always get the worst deal. I’m not going to expand on the economics, otherwise I might as well turn this article into a book.

And before you ask, yes, there is a growing Muslim population in the West, especially in the UK and US (although Muslims still only make around 4% of the UK population). Most Muslims in the UK arrived as immigrants after World War Two, mainly from the Southeast Asian subcontinent. They were uneducated because they were poor. In 2013, most Muslims are still at an economic disadvantage when it comes to education. Having said that, that’s not to say we’re in just a dire a situation as our parents. My grandparents came here with no notable qualifications (to my knowledge anyway), my sister has a masters. That is what I call progression. No, we’re not Nobel Peace Prize laureates, but watch this space.

Lastly, you rightly said Muslims achieved great things in the Middle Ages, which is an excellent point. Muslims were being ruled by a Caliphate (under Shari’ah law) during the Middle Ages. What changed? When the Caliphate was destroyed in 1918, Western Imperialistic influence spread to these areas. So Dawkins, if you are genuinely concerned about the recent lack of scientific achievements by Muslims, I strongly suggest you take a long hard look at our country’s present and past foreign policy.

Oh, and, read the Quran. It might stop you from embarrassing yourself in the future.

Humaira Mayet

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