Monday, August 30, 2010

The Most Influential Muslims in Science & Technology

This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah

The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan, has issued its second annual list of the 500 most influential Muslims, which it lists and briefly describes in 15 categories:
1.       Scholarly
2.       Political
3.       Administrative
4.       Lineage
5.       Preachers
6.       Women’s Issues
7.       Youth
8.       Philanthropy
9.       Development
10.    Science, Technology, Medicine, Law
11.    Arts and Culture (with a special subcategory for ‘Qur’an Reciters’)
12.    Media
13.    Radicals
14.    International Islamic Networks
15.    Issues of the Day
The list, and its sub-lists, is (are) highly interesting, surprising in many ways, and would elicit all kinds of comments from any reader/observer. I will focus on the “Science, Technology, Medicine, Law” category (why was ‘Law’ lumped into this group??), but before that I would like to make a few comments.
First, as I’ve just noted, the categories themselves are quite unusual. The authors of the list do offer a few lines of description for each category, for example that ‘Lineage’ refers to “individuals [who] exercise influence in the Muslim world and global society by virtue of their lineage. They are from some of the oldest existing dynasties and thriving scholarly traditions that link directly to the Prophet Muhammad.” Also, if you’re wondering who is supposed to be included in the ‘Issues of the Day’ category, the authors tell you that “Within the past year the world has witnessed natural disasters, international political developments, environmental crises, destructions and revolutions. These are the key figures that have been exceedingly influential on these issues.” Oh, why are ‘Qur’an Reciters’ listed in a special sub-category, you ask? Because, we are told, “The recitation of Qur’an is a special art that is valued by Muslim communities across the world.”

The document also gives us the Top 50 Muslim people of influence across all categories, plus 11 “runners up”. Here are the first 5:
1. King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, King of Saudi Arabia
2. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey
3. Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
4. King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein, King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
5. King Mohammed VI, King of Morocco

and the next 5:

6. Sultan Qaboos bin Sa’id, Sultan of Oman
7. Professor Sheikh Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayeb, Grand Sheikh of the Al Azhar University, Grand Imam of the Al Azhar Mosque
8. Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hussein Sistani, Marja of the Hawza, Najaf, Iraq
9. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of Indonesia
10. Sheikh Dr Ali Goma’a, Grand Mufti of The Arab Republic of Egypt

OK, so 7 political leaders and 3 religious figures make up the Top 10 most influential Muslims in the world today… I invite you to comment on this (and other aspects of the list) and to check out the rest of the Top 50 (spoiler: more of the same…).

Now, interestingly, among the “runners up” are a number of high-caliber and eminently respectable intellectuals (Tariq Ramadan, Ingrid Matteson, Timothy Winter, A. Q. Khan, Mohammad El-Baradei), but I doubt how much influence they can be said to have, especially when put right alongside leaders like Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, vice-president and prime minister of the UAE…

Let us look at the Science, Technology, Medicine, and Law category. First, here’s the full list; interestingly, these scholars are listed by “region” (‘Middle East and North Africa’, ‘Asia’, ‘North America’); no ranking is apparently implied:

1. El-Naggar, Zaghloul (Egyptian geologist and scholar who writes and speaks on science and the Qur’an)
2. Ansari, Anousheh (the first privately-funded woman, and the first Iranian, to explore space in 2006; businesswoman who co-sponsored the ‘Ansari X Prize’…)
3. Salehi, Ali Akbar (head of the Atomic Energy Organization in Iran since July 2009)
4. Abdul Kalam, A P J (engineer and former president of India)
5. Mumpuni, Tri (She and her husband have promoted a system that combines heat and power as a basis for more sustainable sources of electricity in rural Indonesia.)
6. Khan, Abdul Qadeer (the father of the ‘Islamic Bomb’ in Pakistan)
7. Rahman, Atta-ur (coordinator general of COMSTECH—the Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation for the promotion and cooperation of science and technology activities among the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference)
8. Marsoof, Saleem (a judge of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, prolific author and proponent of legal reform)
9. Shukor, Muszaphar (orthopedic surgeon, first Malaysian astronaut)
10. Dahlan, Winai (director of the Halal Science Center in Thailand, has written more than 30 original research articles published internationally and locally, and produced more than 2000 scientific and nutritional articles; writing weekly in 3 magazines since 1989)
11. El-Fatatry, Mohamed (Finland-based Egyptian entrepreneur, chairman and CEO of, the social networking website for Muslims)
12. Guiderdoni, Bruno Abd Al-Haqq (French astrophysicist, director of the Lyon Observatory)
13. Al-Hassani, Salim (former professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, and the celebrated author of 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World)
14. Khalid, Fazlun (founder and director of the Birmingham-based Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences)
15. Qureshi, Khawar (one of the world’s leading experts on public international law, the youngest advocate ever to have appeared before the International Court of Justice in 1993 for Bosnia’s genocide case against Yugoslavia)
16. Kutty, Faisal (outspoken lawyer on issues of human rights, Islamic thought and anti-terror legislation)
17. Oz, Mehmet (cardiothoracic surgeon who was made famous by regularly appearing on Oprah’s show and now has his own TV show)
18. Qazi, Mahmood Ahmad (chemical engineer, entrepreneur, writer, and founder of Kazi publications)
19. Zewail, Ahmed (1999 Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry)

First, I must confess that I had never heard of 9 of these 19 “most influential Muslims” in Science, Technology, Medicine, and Law. (How about you, Salman, and our dear readers; please tell us!) Secondly, I have added next to the names a very brief description of the person’s credentials, as given by the Center’s document. 

The list is surprising? It was to me, but that may just reflect my personal lack of knowledge of Muslim achievers far and wide. And hey, at least this year they did not include Harun Yahya, who was on the list (of 14 names) last year – and is no doubt influential in some unwanted ways!
Are there any names that you would have included, and which of the listed ones would you take out if, let’s say, we wish to have no more than 20 names?


M. Akbar Hussain said...

This list is as insignificant and non-influential as the Royal Society in Amman itself.

Nidhal Guessoum said...

M. Akbar Hussain,

Do you mean the general Top-50 list or the "Science, Technology, etc." one?

As the title of this piece implies, I am more interested in the second one, and though I don't want to influence anyone's judgment, I find it not so crazy. But I am highly interested in hearing about specific names (those that are on the list and those that are not)...

Ali said...

I don't know how the people are selected for this list. But I think the top 10 of the main list is believable.

About the people on science and technology list, I have not heard of 12 out of the 19. Impressive eh? :) But then, i am not in a position to know of all these people either. So it hardly matters.

Insignificant or not, I am happy that they make this list because now at least we have something we can consult should the need arise. Moreover, I think if we need to know more about Muslims and their work, this is a good way of knowing them.

The selection process must be tiring and it cannot satisfy everyone, i am sure. There might be better candidates for all categories, but I don't mind.

Nidhal Guessoum said...

Dear Ali,
Your words and viewpoint are quite wise. I too don't know the selection process in any detail, but I am sure there's a committee, there are nominations, they are discussed, etc. As always, there must be some more deserving candidates, but on average, I am sure that those who make it to the final list are not bad. Errors and misjudgments are always made, but oftentimes they are corrected in follow-up editions.

For the main list, it all depends what one means by "influential"... In terms of general impact on populations, heads of state are quite "influential". But I would have preferred to see people who will have impacts on longer timescales (thinkers, scholars, etc.).

Ali said...

Dear Nidhal,

Thank you for your kind words.

I am thinking they might even ask to submit CVs, etc for the selection process. If so, they will have an open invitation for that. It might be worthwhile to find out about it and submit yours for the 2011 list. Despite any negative criticisms it may have, I would consider getting the name included in that list an honour.

"In terms of general impact on populations, heads of state are quite "influential". But I would have preferred to see people who will have impacts on longer timescales (thinkers, scholars, etc.)."

I too would like to believe that scholars, thinkers, academics, and others from the educated world will be more influential than the heads of states. But the thing is, in the real world, education is not on the top. Generally what matters most when it comes to influencing people seems to be wealth and the power that is associated with it.

The pen may be mightier than the sword but the mightiest of all seems to be money.

The works of scholars and thinkers will be hidden inside libraries and book shelves. They will affect only the few who will take pains to read them. Any any influence produced by them will be too mild and too scattered. But money dissolves many boundaries and tend to reach everyone enabling to move the masses.

Nidhal Guessoum said...

Dear Ali,

I am really flattered that you would encourage me to nominate myself for the list of most influential Muslims (in Science and related field) -- thank you so much! Well, let's wait until Irtiqa becomes really influential... :-) Salman tells me the blog is progressing well, but I don't think we are really "influential" yet... Of course, blogging is just one way to impacting society, and there are other important ways, including publishing, appearing on the media, teaching, etc...

I agree with you on everything you wrote. And, very sincerely, you write very nicely. Best wishes.

Ali said...

Dear Nidhal,

Thanks again. :)

Best wishes,


Salman Hameed said...

I'm not sure what to make of this list - especially when somebody like Zaghloul el Naggar is listed in glowing terms (check his bizarre pronouncements about Ardi here - also, Nidhal - you had a TV encounter with him at the Darwin conference in Alexandria).

I was also intrigued by the definition of "Ideological Divisions Within Islam". Who would have guessed that the divisions are:
Traditional Islam (96% of the World's Muslims)
Islamic Modernism (1% of the Worlds' Muslims)
Islamic Fundamentalism (3% of the World's Muslims).

And here is how they start to define Islamic Modernism:

"Islamic modernism is a reform movement started by politically-minded urbanites with scant knowledge of traditional Islam."

In case you are wondering if they pass similar judgements - say against the Wahabis/Salafis ... well, think again. They are quite neutral about that:

"Wahhabism/Salafism are terms used interchangeably to refer to a particular brand of Islam. Salaf, meaning predecessors in Arabic, refers to the very early practice of Islam by Muhammad and his immediate successors. Salafism proposes to revive the practice of Islam as it was at the time of the Prophet and is critical of emphasis being placed on thinkers from after this period. Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al Wahhab (1703-1792 CE) was the central figure in the formulation of this ideology therefore Salafism is often simply known as Wahhabism."

Oh - but it seems that Ayaollah Khomenei was a Marxist :
"Revolutionary Shi‘ism is an ideology based on the teachings of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-1989 CE), which shares many similarities with Marxist revolutionary thought."

This looks like a political group with its own axe to grind. We should look at this list with some of the astonishment that Nidhal referred to...

Ali said...

Sorry Salman. Could not find any "Bizarre prononucements about Ardi" by Dr Najjar through the links you gave.

And I would any day trust Al Jazeera more than any woman's (or man's for that matter) translation of bits and pieces of what Al Jazeera said.

Just because the same item is not there in the English version will not make me discredit them.

Nidhal Guessoum said...


Thanks for your important comments. You did well to read those early pages of the document, where they set out to describe Islam and its "diversity" ('doctrinal' and 'ideological' divisions). I had not read those pages, as I jumped and focused on the rest (bulk) of the document: the lists (whichever themselves were quite stunning).
I agree with you that those descriptions of "Islamic Modernism", "Wahhabism", etc., leave to doubt that this is a very conservative group, clearly supported (probably funded) by the "traditional Islam" (either official or private Saudi groups).
Yes, the list on Science (etc.) was surprising, as I mentioned. El-Naggar, about whom I've blogged on "miraculous science in the Qur'an" is also famous for his creationism (he is a geologist!). I had a loud TV debate with him in Alexandria less than a year ago. (BTW, his comments about Ardi were, as far as I recall, published only in Arabic on the Aljazeera website -- I can get you the link and my own translation of what he said if you want...)
But you would not believe how popular he is everywhere in the Arab world. I see him on TV every day. And each time I say something about Science nowadays, one of the replies I get contain a reference to him...
We still have a lot of work to do...