While the West invested in innovation, Muslims did not
“All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though”.
When I read this headline from an article by Richard Dawkins, I realised that he was at his Islam bashing best. I was at first offended, thinking that perhaps this was yet another attempt at denigrating Islam. However when considered that it is a fact that cannot be denied, then perhaps one should look deeper into the cause of such a lapse in the educational achievements between the Islamic culture versus the West.
The last bit was rather patronising, but unfortunately factual.
Over the last millennia the Muslims were way ahead of the west in their culture, and education. And stayed ahead till the renaissance, when art and science took root, in Europe. Till that time the West were hunter gatherers too busy in just surviving. After the Renaissance, the Europeans picked up the pace, and their interest and investment in education grew.
Then the invention of the steam engine by James Watt and then Stephenson in 1830 was used by the coal industry, and by steamers. This source of power was used in industry, textiles was the first to go from spinning wool by hand to spinning machines, designed and operated by engineers in the midlands. There was a close link between the inventors and the engineers —- education. The quantum leap was after steam power was applied to Industry, and—as they say, the rest is history. The discovery of oil, made the engine mobile, and the automobile was on its way. Aeroplanes were not far behind, in fact aircraft and automobiles were invented at the same time. After the induction of oil as the supply of power, and the mobility of oil as a power source.
In these years the west kept increasing their investment in education, adding to their inventions. Indeed Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and went on to make his fortune, and then created his Nobel Prize to benefit inventors, and thinkers. This is an example of the benefits of money being passed on to deserving recipients. There is no comparable example in the Muslim world.
In the same period, the Ottoman Empire built many beautiful mosques, but no schools of higher learning. The Muslims were kept at their primitive level of education, and even the great libraries of Baghdad were routinely destroyed. The value of education that the Holy Prophet had prescribed was ignored and wantonly destroyed. The west continued on its march of progress while the Muslims carried on in their pursuit of pleasure, spending their amassed wealth in frivolous and wanton excesses.
In the 19th century, with the advent of the automobile and aeroplanes, the pace of growth was exponential, with Nobel prizes a yearly addition acknowledging invention and innovation.
The two World Wars changed the players, catapulting the Americans and Russians to the front with the Cold War fuelling a cutthroat competition. While the huge amounts of oil money that came the Arab way was mostly frittered away into the pursuit of physical comforts and carnal pleasures, not much was put into education. In fact a lot of money was invested in the colleges of the US like Harvard and MIT which have huge endowments from the Arab oil wealth.
Now, of course just the invention and spread of the internet has created probably the biggest leap in man’s knowledge – more than all the years preceding it. It is education alone that can expand the human horizon, into the huge unknown, creating knowledge for the coming generations. The internet has also freed mankind from all religious constraints.