Saturday, April 24, 2010

Claims of stunning medical "discoveries" by Muslims - Today

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

A few days ago (April 20, 2010), the
Algerian daily Echorouk (with the largest circulation in the country, and some say in the Arab world: over a million copies sold each day), published a story titled “An Algerian (female) researcher discovers a plant-based cure for cancer”. This in itself was a stunning announcement, though it would not have shocked me so much, did it not come just three days after a Lebanese media outlet published a story titled “Obstruction to the Invention of the Century: a gift from Lebanon to the whole world – discovery of a cure for cancer”. All of this reminded me that other Arabs/Muslims have also been making the greatest of medical breakthroughs, with, in particular, the announcement by Sheikh Al-Zindani (not an obscure figure by any measure) a few years ago of the discovery of a cure for AIDS Sheikh Al-Zindani, along (as a bonus) that for Hepatitis B and C

Let’s look at these claims in a bit more detail now, just to make clear that we are not talking about some obscure assertions by fringe crackpots somewhere in the wilderness of the web.

The Algerian researcher, Echorouk tells us, received a B.Sc. in Biology in 1982 (in Algeria, it is implied) and then went to the UK and the US (we are not told whether she received Master’s or Doctorate degrees) where “she trained in the largest labs and worked with the greatest European biologists”. As the story goes, she went back home where, after 20 years of work at the Pasteur Institute in Algiers (the most renowned medical center in Algeria), she was able to “decode cancer in all its forms”, and she has now “helped cure hundreds of Algerians from various cancers, including leukemia, breast cancer, and stomach cancer”… She adds that in addition to producing a cancer-preventing potion, she successfully treats patients of various infections, neurological disorders, etc.

The newspaper tells us that she has filed a patent in Switzerland and in Algeria for her plants-based cure, which has made her “the focus of strong interests and requests of many European pharmaceutical labs, not to mention offers from the most important hospitals in France and Belgium to have her participate in the treatment of cancer patients”. But she insists that she is only interested in helping the poor and the stricken, and so she will remain in Algeria and do her humanitarian medical work there.

The Lebanese case is even more startling. First, the claimant is not a medical doctor or even a biologist; he is a chemical engineer, albeit with a Ph. D. degree. He too has come up with a potion, which, he tells us, “in 2005 he registered in the USA according to the norms, then had it ‘corrected’ by American experts and published in final form in Switzerland in 2007”… We are given no reference to such “expert corrections” and “publications”; in fact, the claimant refuses to divulge his formula or have it examined by the community at large. Instead, he has called for an “in-camera” (private) debate with Lebanese cancer doctors before he makes public his discovery/invention as a gift to humanity…

But the biggest such story has got to be Sheikh Al-Zindani, the Yemeni fundamentalist leader, who is both a politician and head of a militia and a proponent of I`jaz (“miraculous scientific content of the Qur’an”), the president of the Al-Eman University, and whose two years of pharmaceutical studies many years ago have allowed him to claim some “expertise” on science issues, both conceptual and practical.

A few years ago he stunned the world by announcing that his team of researchers at Al-Eman University had discovered the cure for AIDS... by correctly interpreting a hadith (a statement by Prophet Muhammad)! In fact he runs a “Prophetic Medicine Center” at his university - “prophetic medicine” referring to the belief by many Muslims that some of statements made by the Prophet (over 1400 years ago) contain much important and still useful medical information; Al-Zindani’s center is thus dedicated to doing medical research by analyzing… statements!

Like the other two “discoverers”, Al-Zindani has refused to divulge his cure formula, stating only that it is from “floral extracts”. (Most Muslims, including many highly educated people, strongly believe that plants and flowers are much better bases of medicines than chemical compounds…)

I remember watching – totally dazed –Al-Zindani being interviewed at length on Al-Jazeera, hearing him claim that his team had “completely cured” at least 13 AIDS patients and that he would not even submit his formula for examination for fear of having it stolen through some back-door legal procedures by the big pharmaceutical companies. (Here is an English-subtitled excerpt of one of the Al-Jazeera interviews he gave on the subject.) It has been a few years now, and he has yet to divulge any further information on his historic claim…

What conclusions can we draw from these stunning stories? That there are some crackpots, charlatans, or at least self-deluded people in the Arab-Muslim world? That would hardly be worth reporting on; there are impostors and fools everywhere in the world, including – perhaps particularly – on medical and serious-illness “discoveries”. No, two things shock me most in these stories: (a) the fact these are matter-of-factly reported on by the mainstream media with no attempt to critically examine the claims (not one bona fide expert was interviewed or cited on the above stories); (b) that such claims are coming from both influential leaders and (presumed) members of the scientific community… Clearly we still have much work to do in the field of science education and in promoting and ingraining critical thinking even among educated people…


Jena said...

Much work is still definitely needed. Thanks for these facts and great insights. More power! By the way, this group of medical research assistants might interest and help you in some ways. More power!

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