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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  1. You just detailed what was wrong with us, but he asked why these things were wrong with us.

    In the last paragraph you jumped from the Middle ages to 1918 when the Caliphate was destroyed (by Muslims themselves in present day Saudia and by the Turks themselves later and supported by a large majority of Muslims in the Sub Continent). But he asked about what happened in the Middle ages that the downfall started and how come revisiting it is not an important enough issue for Muslims for hundreds of years now (in the context of the highly energized arguments about Islam's insistence on the importance of education).
    You haven't answered that.

    It is one thing to actually "answer" his question, and entirely another to create material for self gratification to soothe the emotional hurt he may have caused. You are 18 and I'm not in any way undermining your effort. But I want to point out to you that what you wrote is useless for us Muslims or rather even harmful. And its not an answer for him either, since you've only played victim.

    You may see that telling someone about Islam's extreme insistence on education makes no sense compared to the actions of billions of "Muslims". Not following the "Islam" you advertised in your article is the norm, not the exception. Compare that with Islam's insistence on killing blasphemers or apostates. All of the billion or so would implement it right now, just point out the blasphemer, anywhere in the world!

    So the question is, what is wrong with Islam that its extreme insistence on education has had no impact on the average Muslim's life for hundreds of years now, and whenever confronted, the average Muslim just shows anger, gets hurt, and then goes on to explain how Islam insists Muslims get education, this with all the billion or so followers. This reaction is what makes us the laughing stock we are.

    Your arguments about being poor are wrong as well. Citizens in a very large part of the Arab world are very rich. Among the richest, Saudi women are forbidden from driving, strictly based on the ideology of segregation in Islam. Malaysians and Indonesians are technologically quite advanced and culturally quite moderate, but do not show any scientific vigor in their education.

    1. Thank you for your comment Salman.

      I think most readers were able to make the assumption that due to geo political reasons, the Ummah have more pressing issues to deal with than our recent lack of scientific breakthroughs. Also, the Caliphate was destroyed by the Allied forces in WW1. It was admittedly degenerating for some time but the West, you could say, put the nail in the coffin. I’d also advise you to read the entirety of Dawkins article and to then read my response again; I mentioned Islams insistence on education because of a separate point he made on the Islamic education system, which has nothing to do with the original question.

      How my article has caused harm is beyond me, the vast majority of my reasonably large audience, and the numerous sites that have published my article. Also, those who play victim generally don’t write controversial articles, then publish them on the internet with their full name.

      In countries that are in similar political and economic situations to my country of residence, ‘my’ Islam IS the norm. It is also the norm in many other countries that don’t share the UK’s dynamic, but the West will never tell you that. Islam doesn’t insist on killing blasphemers or apostates. There is a lot of bureaucracy and clauses to do with those laws, and I think it’s naïve and dangerous of you to pass such judgements when like most people, you haven’t studied the law in enough depth to pass judgement on it.

      Again, in your 4th paragraph, you completely miss the impact imperialism and geo politics plays in many parts of the world.

      VERY few citizens in the Arab world are rich. This is how capitalism and imperialism work. And they’re rich because they focus on business, not science. But the main point is that a small minority of the Arabs are rich. Saudi don’t actually follow Shari’ah, as my article points out, so that point is invalid. Also, most Saudi women don’t mind not being able to drive – they are provided with chauffeurs instead. You’re viewing all of this with an Orientalist viewpoint. Malaysia and Indonesia’s GDP and power doesn’t compare to that of the Wests. Also, Malaysia gained independence from the UK from around 1957, and Indonesia gained independence from the Netherlands soon after WW2. The US has been self governing since the 1700s. Malaysia and Indonesia, as advanced as they look, have a lot of catching up to do.

      1. >>Caliphate…
        The Sauds with the help of Wahabis took over the Kaaba and they certainly took help from the UK. But it would be very dishonest to say that the UK trained the Saudis to take over the Kaaba from the Ottoman empire so they could destroy the joke of an empire it was. The Wahabis were against the empire for not implementing "true Islam", so they had to do Jihad against the empire, like the Taliban in present times. The empire had lost on many military fronts in Europe as well. And an empire is said to be "weak" when local/regional governors stop taking orders from the center. If the Allied forces then moved on to talk to those governors who themselves agreed to form nation states, it would be very dishonest to say anybody "destroyed the caliphate". No outsider did that. It disintegrated. And when that was going on, the majority of Muslims were happy about it. Other than a Hindu sponsored Khilafat Movement in India, there is almost no example of Muslim opposition to the creation of those nation states. Progressive Muslims from India opposed the Khilafat Movement and it died off.

        The point of this discussion was that we are not backward because of outside forces. Outside forces are there to stay and take advantage of our weakness all the time. And they are there not out of spite for us, but simply for survival, to take over resources we are not using ourselves. When Muslims were once powerful, they sent off expeditions to wage wars against neighboring nations and took over in a very similar manner (imperialism), and so did Christianity.

        >>How my article has caused harm …
        By explaining in detail and with such conviction how poor victims we are. This is a very popular theme unfortunately, almost to the point of self-reflection being haraam.

        >>‘my’ Islam IS the norm
        No its not. Education is among the last of priorities throughout the Muslim world, equally among the rich and poor, compared to the allegedly extreme insistence of Islam on education.

        >>Islam doesn’t insist on killing blasphemers or apostates
        I wasn't talking about the law. I was talking of the impact the law has on Muslims. Which is so strong that almost each and every Muslim will be ready to implement the killing, just an identification of the "criminal" is required, and all concentration will focus on that one "criminal" in some corner of the world. Riots over last year's video on Youtube, or those over the cartoons, are embarrassing proofs.
        And I'm not saying that response, no matter how extreme it looks from a 21st century perspective, is wrong. Its exactly the right thing to do, because Islam calls for the killing. It must be implemented.
        I am not talking about the procedural details. And I am well aware of them.

        But its the importance of a law that you claim to be too complex and mired in bureaucracy to be easily implemented, compared to the "extreme insistence" of Islam on education, which has zero impact on the lives of Muslims.

        >>VERY few citizens in the Arab world are rich.
        You understand per capita income?

        Saudi Arabia and Israel are almost equal. Given the turmoil in Israel, there is absolutely no justification of Saudi Arabia being Muslim and with Islam's extreme insistence on Education and the Quran's extreme insistence on observation and inquiry ("science"), to be miles apart from Israel. Israel is probably the highest in producing scientific research per capita.

        And just marvel at what Qatar is doing at the top of the list! And what is UAE doing next to Denmark and Germany!

        So please name the world renowned scientists from Qatar, Saudia and UAE.

        >>And they’re rich because they focus on business, not science.
        I don't understand this.
        Science related business investment is the most profitable. China has become the power it is only through investment in science and education. Just to conduct the Olympics, China had heavily invested in Sports science, within its own universities, and sending students to USA/Europe for study.

        You're just looking for reasons to blame.

        >>Saudi don’t actually follow Shari’ah, as my article points out, so that point is invalid
        I didn't even say that.
        Saudi's, being 100% Muslim, and one of the richest populations in the world, do not allow their women to drive! They can kill for apostasy, but they can't invest in scientific inquiry!
        Now please read this carefully:
        Islam tells women to cover up –> Saudis go All hail Islam! and forbid their women from driving
        Islam insists on education and science –> Saudis don't seem to even find any such instruction in Islam!

        I'm not talking about Shariah. I'm talking about the impact Islamic edicts have on the average Muslim, no matter he is rich or poor, commoner or elite.

        — continued..

      2. >>Malaysia and Indonesia …
        Again you just specified some "causes" for their backwardness.
        Whereas China, Japan, Vietnam have been through not only colonization but severe human crises due to war, FAR greater than any Muslim nation has faced, at anytime in history!

        But they haven't waited for creative religious followers among them to bring out their holy books to tell them how to do 21st century scientific inquiry and acquire education, or how to reinterpret the holy books to make them compatible with the UN Human Rights charter.

        After Japan was bombed, instead of becoming victims and producing and exporting terrorists, they abandoned nuclear war altogether because it was so disastrous! They could have decided to play victim for HUNDREDS of years, but I guess only if they were Muslims.

        Your article is harmful because you proudly explained how defeatist Muslims are. You will get cheers for that, sure. Just be neutral, without letting emotions come in, and you'll see that being defeatist is just a perspective. Its a harmful one though. Its a symptom of weak faith.

        The Prophet in the early days once became depressed about the Message not being spread much, and not many people converting. In response, Allah did not tell him it was "because" of the kufaar and their imperialism! :) Instead, he was instructed to do what he was supposed to!

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