Physics professor says he's on a mission to draw attention to positive face of Islam





[Jim Al-Khalili is a professor of physics at the University of Surrey; he is the 2007 recipient of the Royal Society's Michael Faraday Prize.]

Watching the daily news stories of never-ending troubles, hardship, misery and violence across the Arab world and central Asia, it is not surprising that many in the west view the culture of these countries as backward, and their religion as at best conservative and often as violent and extremist.

I am on a mission to dismiss a crude and inaccurate historical hegemony and present the positive face of Islam. It has never been more timely or more resonant to explore the extent to which western cultural and scientific thought is indebted to the work, a thousand years ago, of Arab and Muslim thinkers.

What is remarkable, for instance, is that for over 700 years the international language of science was Arabic (which is why I describe it as "Arabic science"). More surprising, maybe, is the fact that one of the most fertile periods of scholarship and scientific progress in history would not have taken place without the spread of Islam across the Middle East, Persia, north Africa and Spain. I have no religious or political axe to grind. As the son of a Protestant Christian mother and a Shia Muslim father, I have nevertheless ended up without a religious bone in my body. However, having spent a happy and comfortable childhood in Iraq in the 60s and 70s, I confess to strong nostalgic motives for my fascination in the history of Arabic science....


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