Leading a discussion on the ‘Forgotten Legacy of Arabic Science’ at the World Government Summit 2016, Jim Al-Kalili, an Iraqi-born British professor of physics at the University of Surrey, presented a talk on the Golden Age of Islam and the era’s important contributions to science, mathematics, medicine, engineering, geography and the world.
Ancient Arab scholars were known to enhance and enlighten the Western world of philosophy. Professor Al-Khalili highlighted the current scientific curiosity in the Arab world and discussed the need for greater openness to adopting new ideas, creativity and exploration.
Today, with Arab countries spending less than half a percent of their GDP on R&D, Al-Khalili expressed keenness for the Arab world to regain its previous role as leaders in scientific advancement and innovation.
Commenting on the Golden Age of Islam, Al-Kalili said: “The Arabic Islamic civilization was curious, tolerant, inclusive and open to all ideas, cultures, and movements. Acknowledging the contributions of the Islamic world, Western scholars and philosophers would gather in Baghdad to learn and share knowledge. Scientific achievement meant asking questions and being inquisitive about the world around us, not limited by what we saw.”
Al-Khalili discussed the important contributions of leading Arabic scholars including Al-Haytham, the first scholar to describe optics, Jabir ibn Hayyan, a leader of the translation movement, Al-Kindi, an academic who wrote one of the first revered textbooks on medicine, Al-Kwarizmi, a scholar who discovered Algebra and Al-Razi, a chemist who was the first to classify physical and chemical properties. These leading scholars influenced many of the Western scholars and academics we read about today, including Nicolaus Copernicus and Sir Isaac Newton.
“The age of international language of science was Arabic. The pure ingenuity, curiosity and thirst for knowledge of these scholars is something the scientific world should aspire to achieve.” ”
Not confining himself to the past, Al-Khalili went on to discuss the current progress of scientific advancements in the Arab world. With far fewer number of scientists per capita compared to the developed world, Al-Khalili spoke of the importance of enhancing the Arabic contribution to science.
Sounding an optimistic note, Al Khalili, expounded on the many leading and pioneering scientific institutions in the region, including KAUST in Saudi Arabia and SESAME in Jordan, a lab which hosts a particular accelerator that emits light, where delegates and researchers from different countries work together to disseminate cutting-edge scientific research.
“We need to regain this sense of curiosity and encourage a spirit of open and rational inquiry, one that was depicted in the Golden Age of Islam. We must remain open to new ideas even if they don’t fit into our current world. We also need to encourage R&D for the betterment of humanity. Science must continue to cross political and cultural boundaries.”
This session is only one of the many though-provoking sessions at the World Government Summit. The summit has convened 3,000 thought leaders, CEOS, academics and government officials from over 125 countries to explore current and future global challenges and share knowledge, ideas and experiences that can help governments evolve and become more efficient.