Advanced science, Astrophysics, Cultural, International, Life as it is, Religious, Technical

Isn’t black hole a black mystery?

A black hole – hitherto an invisible celestial body – was in cosmological vocabulary even before Einstein’s theory of relativity in 1915. But when the relativity theory predicted with full scientific rigour that a massive stellar body can have such a strong gravitational pull that nothing, no object, not even electromagnetic radiation such as light, can escape from it, the concept of a black hole became firmly established in scientific parlance. But it remained at that time only a mathematical curiosity, as no scientific evidence or mechanism of formation of a black hole was put forward. However, it became a realistic possibility after the detection of pulsars some decades later.   

The detection of pulsars (rotating neutron stars) by Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a research student at the University of Cambridge in 1967, gave renewed spurt to the concept of gravitational collapse and the formation of black holes. A normal star, when it comes to the end of its life due to lack of fusion fuel, collapses under its own gravity and becomes a neutron star. It may be mentioned that an atom consists of neutrons (neutral in charge) and positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. If gravity becomes too strong, protons and electrons are pulled together to merge with each other, neutralise their charges and become neutrons and the whole star becomes a neutron star. (For the detection of neutron star, which was considered as “one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century” by the Nobel Committee, her supervisor and another astronomer were awarded Nobel prize in Physics in 1974, but Jocelyn Bell was not even mentioned in the citation. However, years later, in 2018, she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. She donated the whole of the £2.3 million prize money to the Institute of Physics in the UK to help female, minority, and refugee students become physics researchers.

Not all stars eventually become neutron stars. If the mass of a star is less than 2.6 times the mass of the Sun, the gravity would not be strong enough to turn it into a neutron star. The gravitational pull in a neutron star ultimately becomes so strong that all its mass and its nearby matters are pulled to a small volume and the star becomes a black hole. A black hole can merge with another black hole to become a bigger and stronger black hole.

It is speculated that there are black holes of various sizes in most of the galaxies and in some galaxies, there are supermassive black holes at their centres. The nearest black hole from Earth is quite a few thousand light-years away; but they exert no influence on this planet. The supermassive black hole in our galaxy (the Milky Way) is about 26,000 light-years away.

Despite the name, a black hole is not all black. The gas and dust trapped around the edges of the black hole are compacted so densely and heated up so enormously that there are literally gigantic cauldrons of fire around the periphery of a black hole. The temperatures can be around billions of degrees!

The first direct visual evidence of a black hole had been produced on 10 April 2019 by a team of over 200 international experts working in a number of countries. The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) was used to detect the existence of a colossal black hole in M87 galaxy, in the Virgo galaxy cluster. The computer simulation from data collected in the EHT is shown below. This black hole is located some 55 million light-years from the Earth and its estimated mass is 6.5 billion times that of the Sun! So, this black hole is truly a monster of a black hole.

Computer simulation of black hole from real data

Although it is a monstrous black hole, its size is quite small and it is enormously far away (520 million million million kilometres away) from Earth. To observe directly that elusive black body that far away, astronomers require a telescope with an angular resolution so sharp that it would be like spotting an apple on the surface of Moon from Earth and the aerial dish that would be required for such a detection would be around the size of Earth! Obviously, that is not possible.

Instead, the international team of experts devised a Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) technique, which involves picking up radio signals (wavelength 1.3 mm) by a network of radio telescopes scattered around the globe. The locations of these eight radio-telescopes are shown below. When radio signals from these radio-telescopes are joined up, taking into account their geographical locations, lapsed times for signal detection etc, and processed in a supercomputer, an image can gradually be built up of the bright part of the periphery of the black hole.

Locations of Event Horizon Telescopes (EHT)

The key feature of a black hole is its event horizon – the boundary at which even light cannot escape its gravitational pull. The size of the event horizon depends on the mass of the black hole. Once an object crosses the boundary of the event horizon, there is absolutely no chance of coming back. A lead astronomer from MIT working on this EHT team said, “Black hole is a one-way door out of this universe.”

The general theory of relativity also predicted that a black hole will have a “shadow” around it, which may be around three times larger than the event horizon size. This shadow is caused by gravitational bending of light by the black hole. If something gets nearer the shadow, it can possibly escape the gravitational pull of the black hole, if its speed is sufficiently high (comparable to the speed of light).

It is postulated that the “shadow” comprises a number of rings around the event horizon. The nearer a ring is to the event horizon, the more rigorous and compact it is with extreme pressure-temperature conditions. 

If, hypothetically, an unfortunate human being falls even into the outer ring of a “shadow”, he will be pulled towards the black hole initially slowly and then progressively strongly – his leg will be pulled more vigorously than his upper part and consequently, his body will be deformed into a long thin strip like a spaghetti. And when that spaghetti shape crosses the event horizon, it will be stretched so much that it will become a very thin and very long string of atoms!

Is wormhole the link between a black hole and a white hole?

The general perception of a black hole is that it is a monster vacuum cleaner where everything, even light, is sucked into it through a funnel and nothing, absolutely nothing, can come out. It absorbs enormous amount of matter and squashes them into tiny volumes. What happens to this gigantic amount of matter is a mystery, a black mystery.

There are two parallel streams of pure speculative thoughts. One is that when a black hole becomes too big – either by incessantly swallowing up matters from its surroundings or by merger with other black holes – a super-giant explosion, more like a big bang, may take place. So, a black hole may be the mother of a new big bang, a new generation of universe.

The other thought is that the funnel of a black hole is connected through a neck, called the wormhole, to a different spacetime and hence a different universe at the other end. All the materials that a black hole sucks up at the front end in this universe go through the wormhole to another reverse funnel where all the materials are spewed out into a different spacetime. That funnel is called the white hole. Thus, a black hole and a white hole is a conjugate pair – a connection between two universes!  But the question is, since there are billions of black holes in our universe, then there could be billions of corresponding wormholes and white holes and universes.

One universe is big enough or bad enough for human minds to contemplate, billions of universes will make humans go crazy.

Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist

Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political, Religious

Muslims who stand up to Mullahs are no ‘Islamophobes’

On Sunday March 17, Hassan Sajwani, an active Twitterati in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) quoted a warning his country’s foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan had delivered to Europe at the “Tweeps Forum” in Saudi Arabia in 2017.

The UAE foreign minister had warned Europe about the rise of Islamic extremism within the continent: There will come a day when we will see far more radicals, extremists and terrorists coming from Europe because of lack of decision-making and European politicians trying to be politically correct.

Sajwani’s tweet recollecting the UAE minister’s 2017 warning turned out to be quite prophetic. The very next day, on Monday, Turkish-born gunman Gokmen Tanis brought the Dutch city of Utrecht to a halt when he fired on a tram (streetcar) killing three people and injuring three others. The Dutch prosecutors investigating the attack said, “So far a terrorist motive is being seriously taken into account. Among other things a letter found in the getaway car and the nature of the facts give rise to that,” a statement said (in Dutch), without detailing the contents of the letter.

The Utrecht killing of non-Muslims by a Turkish terror suspect cannot be seen outside the recent massacre of Muslims inside two New Zealand mosques by a white nationalist and earlier massacres carried out against Christians inside and outside churches in The Philippines and Nigeria as well as in Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt.

While the world gave 24/7 coverage to the Christchurch mosque massacre and white folks rightfully denounced one of their own sons, to embrace their Muslim citizens, there was almost no coverage of the Muslim massacre of Christians in Nigeria just a few days earlier on March 4.

Similarly, on Jan. 27, Muslim jihadis bombed a Catholic church in Jolo, Philippines, killing 20 Christians, yet this attack barely caused a ripple. No weeping politicians, no candlelit vigils and no public demonstration by Muslims in Canada denouncing the jihadi terrorists the way whites denounced a white nationalist.

In fact, Islamists in Europe and North America used the outpouring of goodwill towards Muslims to target Muslim critics of Islamism. Death threats called for eliminating me, my friend Maajid Nawaz in the U.K., Imam Muhammad Tawhidi in Australia and scores of secular Muslims were targeted.

These attacks angered Ensaf Haider, the Canadian wife of Saudi prisoner of conscience Raif Badawi. She tweeted: “Don’t be fooled by pro-Sharia Islamists in North America. They may want you to believe they are saddened by the #NewZealandMosqueAttacks, but fact is they can’t disguise the triumphant spring in their step. Now, they’ll milk sympathy and play victim while pushing their Islamist agenda.”

As the 2017 report tracking “violent Islamist extremism” found, jihadi terrorism has resulted in the deaths of 84,000 people last year. There was a total of 7,841 attacks – an average of 21 per day – in 48 countries.

These figures should alarm Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, opposition leader Andrew Scheer and the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh, but all three parroted the Islamist agenda of legitimizing the most regressive segment of Muslims in Canada while abandoning Muslims who have stood up against Sharia and the doctrine of armed Jihad.

Which begs the question: Why do Christians have the right to laugh at a Ricky Gervais take on God and Jesus, but we Muslims dare not criticize the 17-times-a-day(1) deriding of Christians and Jews that takes place in our mosques across the world?

Just as Martin Luther was no Christianophobe when he stood up to the Roman Catholic Church, Muslims who stand up to Mullahs are no “Islamophobes.”

  • The 17-times a day deriding of Christians and Jews derives from Sura Fatiha which is recited at every raqah of the prayer. Through Sura Fatiha, a Muslim asks Allah to ‘show the right path, not the path of those who earned your wrath or those who went astray’. The Quran does not say who those people are, who earned Allah’s wrath, but according to Tafseers of the Quran and Sharia Law as well as Hadith, the reference is to Jews and Christians. If the Mullahs (Imams) denounced this man-made Tafseer and Hadith as incorrect and rejected, the 17 references would turn into a positive form of prayer. But not a singe Mullah (Imam) is willing to denounce this man-made intrusion into the meaning of Surah Fatiha.

Tarek Fatah, a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress and columnist at the Toronto Sun, is a Robert J. and Abby B. Levine Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Cultural, Economic, Human Rights, International, Political, Religious

Has U.S./Saudi relation outlived its economic and strategic significance?

An analysis by the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CDHR):

One of the world’s best kept secrets,the lucrativecontracts between the democratic America and autocratic Saudi Arabia, is crumbling due to varieties of reasons, including cunning manoeuvres (manipulations due to cultural differences and business practices,) to heightened tensions, to new energy sources and to a wide range of more stable, profitable and relevant economic and strategic options. From its formalised inception in 1945, the U.S./Saudi relationship has been based on mistrust and, on the Saudi side, lack of both viable protectors and concern for evolving human ingenuity with its consequential political, economic and social impacts.

Despite its original specific objectives – U.S. companies’ domination over Saudi oil and construction of the state’s infrastructure in exchange for U.S. government protection for the Saudi oligarchs – the contract was expanded to cover a wide range of political and strategic areas, which successive monarchs cleverly utilized to spread, strengthen and export their religious zealotry and political repression, which resulted in anti-American reactions in the Arab East and beyond.

However, due to its financial lucrativeness, the U.S./Saudi pact survived regional threats, such as Arab nationalism and the devastating economic and social fallout from the Saudi-led oil embargo in 1973. It also survived the traumas of the mortifying terrorist attacks carried out by mostly Saudi nationals on September 11, 2001 (9/11) – an event that not only permanently changed American society, but affected the international community.  Furthermore, the relationship could not escape the fallout of the unforeseen Arab masses’ pro-democracy and anti-autocracy uprising (the Arab Spring) where the U.S. and its Western allies had to take sides.

Due to economic and energy exigencies and fewer options for the U.S., the U.S./Saudi relationship weathered the battering events mentioned above. However, the accumulative fallout from these events has profoundly destabilised and exposed the tacit trade-off upon which the eight-decade old profit-driven pact was founded: sacrificing American democratic and moral values to protect a cruel system founded on social injustice, religious intolerance and a sectarian law (Shariah,) which considers the individual’s right to choose antithetical to God’s will, thus blasphemous.

Badly scarred and weakened by prior events, the U.S./Saudi relationship hit rock bottom after the gruesome murder of The Washington Post Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. Although unspeakable punishment for critics and human rights advocates is standard procedure of the Saudi regime, the brazenness of Khashoggi’s extrajudicial assassination generated unprecedented condemnation of the Saudi monarchy by foes and friends alike, including the Saudis’ closest ally, the U.S. Combined with ongoing U.S. support for the Saudi-led onslaught against Yemen, Khashoggi’s murder coalesced unparalleled anti-Saudi support globally, especially in the U.S. media, among the public and, more ominously, in the U.S. Congress, where a significant number of powerful bipartisan lawmakers not only condemned Saudi behaviour and branded the future king as “dangerous, unstable, crazy and a wrecking ball,” but further alienated the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government from each other.

In light of these developments, including destabilizing Saudi foreign policies, erratic leadership and unprecedented public denunciations by powerful American politicians, it is inconceivable that the U.S./Saudi relationship can be restored to its pre-Khashoggi-assassination status. 

Regardless of the future status of the U.S./Saudi relationship, the American government and businesses are in superior positions and have more profitable economic and strategic options to choose from now than they had during the Saudi-led oil embargo in 1973 and when ideologically inspired Saudi nationals attacked the symbols of American economic and military power in September 2001. On the other hand, the Saudi rulers are struggling to maintain economic and political stability resulting from a far-reaching decline in oil revenues, unprecedented discordance within the ruling family, costly regional conflicts and rising expectations of an increasingly restless population, most of which is below the age of 30.

Irrespective of the current U.S. Administration’s disputes with countries like China, Mexico and Canada over “tariffs and imbalanced trade,” the American economy needs global markets and natural resources, without which the American standard of living could plummet and U.S. influence economically, politically and militarily could be overcome by undemocratic competitors like expansionist China. This potential possibility can be avoided if seen for what it is, a race against time. There is no shortage of opportunities for American companies’ ingenuity and investment in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where untapped human potential and natural resources abound.

The deterioration of the U.S./Saudi relationship is representative of a larger gloomy future for the Middle East. Caught up in raging self-inflicted violence, political instability, social unrest, rampant corruption, unwillingness to operate within globally recognized and practised business and political norms, the Middle East (with the exception of Israel) is not only becoming an increasingly undesirable region for business, but a global pariah. 

Dr Ali H Alyami, Director of CDHR

Bangladesh, Cultural, International, Life as it is, Literary, Political

February 21: International Mother Language Day

Ekushey February (21 February) was the forerunner to Bengali nationalist movements against the political and economic domination of the then West Pakistan, including the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971

More than 78 years ago, Sir Winston Churchill famously said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” It was a tribute to the men and women of the Royal Air Force who valiantly defended England from the relentless bombing by the Nazis during World War II.

Churchill’s tribute is equally applicable to the martyrs of the Language Movement, with the 260 million Bangla speaking people as the “so many” and Salam, Rafiq, Jabbar, Barkat and others as the “so few.” The so few were killed on February 21, 1952 near Dhaka Medical College when the Pakistani police opened fire on Bengali protesters who were demanding official status for their mother tongue.

The song ‘Amar Bhaier Rokte Rangano Ekushey February, Ami Ki Bhulite Pari’ (My brothers’ blood spattered 21 February/How can I forget it?) says it all. It epitomizes the supreme sacrifice made by these few men.

A few months after the killing, a young poet and political activist from Chittagong named Mahbubul Alam expressed the grief and anger of every Bangali in a poem: Kandte ashini – phanshir dabi niye eshechhi―I have not come to weep, I have come to demand them hanged. The English translation of the last few lines is:

Today I am not deranged with anger,

Today I am not overwhelmed by grief,

Today I am only unflinching

in my determination . . . .

The demand that those who perpetrated the crime be hanged.

Every year on February 21, people from all walks of life head to the Shaheed Minar―the Martyr’s Monument built as a tribute to the martyrs of the language movement―singing the song “Amar Bhaier Rokte Rangano Ekushey February” in the probhat feri, a barefoot procession starting at one minute past midnight. The monument stood tall until March 26, 1971, when it was demolished by the Pakistan army during Operation Searchlight. It was rebuilt after Bangladesh gained independence.

The seeds of the language movement were sown in 1948, when on February 25, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and its first Governor-General, said in the Constituent Assembly that Pakistan being a Muslim state, Urdu would be its state language. Four weeks later, on March 21, at the Dhaka University convocation, Jinnah once again said, “While the language of the province [East Pakistan] can be Bengali, the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Anyone who tries to mislead you is really an enemy of Pakistan.” These statements by Jinnah evoked angry protests from the Bengalis who took it as an affront to their language. After all, Bangla (Bengali) was spoken by fifty-four percent of the population of Pakistan.  

On January 26, 1952, the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan recommended that Urdu should be the only state language of Pakistan. On the same day, in a public meeting at Paltan Maidan in Dhaka, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Khawaja Nazimuddin, a Bengali who wouldn’t speak in Bangla, declared that Urdu alone would be the state language of Pakistan.

Both the developments were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. They sparked off a wave of agitation leading to the police firing on February 21. Bangla finally gained official status in Pakistan, alongside Urdu, in 1956.

Why do we feel so passionately about Bangla language? Bangla is an Indo-European language spoken mostly in the East Indian subcontinent. It has evolved circa 650 A.D. from Sanskrit and Magadhi Prakrit, believed to be the language spoken by Gautama Buddha, and was the language of the ancient kingdom of Magadha.

Nineteenth century was the period when the actual literary renaissance of Bangla started. Literary stalwarts, such as Michael Madhusudan Datta (1834-1873) and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (1838-1898) were the founders of modern Bangla literature. Madhusudan was the first Bengali poet to write in amitrakshar chhanda (blank verse) and combined western influences into the essence of Bengla literature.

Then came Rabindranath Thakur (Tagore), a Bengali polymath, who gave new meaning to Bangla literature. As we all know, he was a poet, novelist, short storywriter, dramatist, essayist, lyricist, painter and literary critic all rolled into one. In short, he is the Shakespeare and more of Bangla literature. He won the 1913 Literature Nobel Prize for his epic Geetanjali. The other Bengali poets and writers who made our literature superbly rich were Kazi Nazrul Islam, a poet, dramatist, writer, musician and a revolutionary, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Jibananda Das and Bibutibhushan Bandopadhyay, to name a few.

Why are we so emotional about February 21, also known as Ekushey ? We are emotional because:

Ekushey ignited a movement where language took precedence over religion.

Ekushey was the forerunner to Bengali nationalist movements against the political and economic domination of the then West Pakistan, including the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.

Ekushey is a symbol of our freedom, emancipation and independence from a repressive regime. Ekushey is the day we pay homage to the brave, young souls who laid down their life for the Bengla language. It is also a day of remembrance of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who sacrificed their lives for our independence.

Ekushey is a symbol of Bangali culture.

Ekushey means keeping our head high.

Ekushey teaches us to fight social injustice, inequality and oppression.

Ekushey is our guiding light towards a better future.

More importantly, Ekushey makes us feel proud to be a Bengali.

Every nation loves its mother tongue and so do we. We are proud of our literature, our music, our culture, our heritage. We love our poetry because the verses are so mellifluous for which there are no parallels. Examples are: Tagore’s Banglar maati, Banglar jol, Banglar baayo, Banglar phol, punnyo hauk, punnyo hauk, hey bhagoban. (The soil of Bengal, the water of Bengal, the air of Bengal, the fruits of Bengal, may be blessed, may be blessed, O’ my Lord.)

Dijendra Lal Rai’s O Ma Tomar Charan Duti Bokshe Aamar Dhori, Aamar Ei Deshete Janmo Jeno Ei Deshe Te Mori (Oh my Mother, I hold your feet in my heart. I was born in this land and I want to die here too.)

That is why we gave blood for our mother tongue. And that invariably justifies our quintessential emotion for Bangla.  In November 1999, UNESCO declared February 21 as the International Mother Language Day. This is a matter of great pride for the Bangla speaking people all over the world, because it is a recognition by the United Nations of the supreme sacrifice we made in 1952 to defend our rights to read, write and speak in mother tongue – Bangla. Since then, the day is observed worldwide to promote peace, awareness of linguistic and cultural heritage, multiculturism and multilingualism.

The writer is a professor of physics at Fordham University, New York

Cultural, International, Life as it is, Political, Religious, Technical

Science and Islam

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, considered to be the inventor of Algebra (780-850AD)

The title of this write-up may seem a little incongruous as common perception presents science and religion as essentially two distinct and incompatible disciplines. That may be true, but there was a time, some centuries ago, when Islam and science were intermingled ushering in what is now graciously called the “Golden Age” of Islam. Sometimes this Golden Age is flashed around to claim credit for Islam and subliminally proclaim that Islam can attain once again the same greatness in this modern world. The die hard Islamists insist that to achieve greatness once more one has to go back to the period when this was achieved and hence they hark back to the 7th century conditions including the reintroduction of Sharia laws.

So, what is this “Golden Age”? In essence, the Islamic kingdom from the beginning of 8th century to the middle of 13th century is assigned as the glorious period when science and technology, art and culture, music and medicine and so forth all flourished under the patronage of the state. The Arab kingdom, under the Umayyad Caliphate from 661AD to 750AD having Damascus as the capital and then the Abbasid Caliphate from 751AD to 1258AD having Baghdad as the capital, was the melting pot of all human knowledge. The reason for such an epoch rise in human culture and knowledge within just a few decades of the establishment of Islam was that the kingdom that encompassed Persia on the East to Lebanon on the West, Egypt and North Africa on the South to the steeps of Asia Minor on the North brought together the talents from all corners of the kingdom and beyond. Greek science and technology, arts and literature were all translated into Arabic and ilm or knowledge was actively encouraged by the state. All great minds of the kingdom were offered the collective knowledge of other cultures – translated from Greek, Latin etc. – and encouraged to pursue knowledge unencumbered by theological constraints. “Go even unto China to seek knowledge” was the guiding philosophy of that period.

Unprecedented progress was made in many scientific fields, many new disciplines had been invented. Algebra was invented by Muhammad al-Khwarizmi (780 – 850AD) – a Khorasani (which included Persia, part of Afghanistan and part of Central Asia) working in Baghdad, who not only introduced Indian decimal concept and numeral system but also put forward logical thinking in a form which came to be known as Algorithm. This algorithm is used even now as the starting point of computer programming. Another Khorasani, Muhammad al-Farabi (872 – 950AD) was the most prominent scientist and philosopher of the day and wrote on physics, cosmology, psychology, philosophy and on many more. Yet another Persian scholar Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (973 – 1048AD) was regarded as one of the greatest scholars of the medieval Islamic era and was well versed in physics, mathematics and other natural sciences. He was a prolific scientific writer and wrote 146 treatises. His major accomplishment was that he estimated the circumference of the earth using his trigonometric methods and that estimation came within 200 miles of the actual circumference of 24,900 miles! He was a great linguist too – he could converse in Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit, and knew Greek, Hebrew and Syriac. Muhammad Zakariya al-Razi (854 – 925AD) of Persia was the pioneer in medical sciences who invented distillation of alcohol and its use in medicine, identified measles and small pox and wrote a treatise on them which remained the guiding light for centuries. He was the author of the encyclopaedia of medicine spanning over twenty three volumes. Abu al-Husayn ibn-Sina was a philosopher and the most authoritative physician of the day (980 -1037 AD) and produced multi-volume medical survey which was translated into Latin. The initial transfer of knowledge from Latin to Arabic had by now reversed its direction and knowledge started to flow from Arabic to Latin.  

Another physicist by the name Ibn al-Haytham (965 – 1040AD) from Basra may be considered to be the father of modern optics, centuries before Newton, he had figured out that objects were seen because they reflected light which was then received by the retina of human eyes, not the previously misconceived notion that eyes emitted light which then hit the objects. He was credited with the development of scientific methods such as the experiment, hypothesis, modification, theory etc. He wrote a “Book of Optics” (kitab al-Manazir) that is still admired by historians of physics. There were many more physicists, mathematicians, astronomers and medical professionals who contributed to the great achievements of that “Golden Age”.

Now, how did that great assimilation of knowledge in the “Golden Age” disappear almost overnight following the collapse of Abbasid Caliphate as a result of Mongol invasion in 1258? Could an empire as well as the human achievement and intellectual progress disappear so suddenly? Admittedly, other civilisations of the past such as the Greek Civilisation, Indian Civilisation, Chinese Civilisation etc. all came and gone, but none did disappear without a trace of intellectual heritage for future generations to pursue as in the case of Islamic “Golden Age”.

To seek out the answer one has to look back at what was happening at the dying days or years of the Abbasid Caliphate. Like any great empire in decline, Abbasid Caliphate was disintegrating for quite some time. In Spain, Christians reconquered Cordoba in 1236 and then Seville in 1248. But the last nail in the coffin was the siege and occupation of Baghdad by Mongols in 1258, thereby bringing an end to the dying empire. For decades or even a century or over, there were internal tension and conflict between the Mu’tazilites who embraced rational thinking and inquisitiveness and the Ash’arités who were anti rationalists. This Ash’arités movement was dogmatic Sunni Muslim movement which held the view that rationalist view was anti-Islamic. Things do happen as God wishes to happen, not as a priori or a posteriori.

Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058 – 1111AD) argued that rationalism was incompatible with Islamic teaching. As God’s will is completely free and unencumbered, His wishes are supreme and cannot be compromised by human rationalisation of causes and effects. A storm takes place because God wishes it that way to punish the sinners for their misdeeds, not as a result of any meteorological condition. Rain falls not as a result of precipitation and condensation of moisture, but due to God’s will. By his dogmatic interpretation of Islam he gave a philosophical underpinning of religion, far removed from scientific explanation, and brought Sunni Islam very close to Sufi philosophy.

Following the collapse of Abbasid Caliphate, Ash’arités movement supported by Ghazalites took hold in the Islamic world. From that time on, Islam had been going in the reverse direction to the Western civilisation and Christianity which embraced Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment. Admittedly, Christianity had its turbulent periods when different theological strands vied against each other and did everything to eliminate each other, but eventually rationality prevailed over darkness. Christianity came out of the dark ages bruised and battered, but with its theology intact as long as its boundary is properly demarcated and ring fenced. In other words, in Christianity theology is numinous undertaking segregated from the workings of the nation state.

Islam does not want to accept such segregation of duties and responsibilities. It wants to encroach on the state responsibilities covering politics, economics, education and every other facet of human endeavour. How could a state function when religion tells that there is no rationality, no cause and effect; everything moves as God desires? How could state advance economically or intellectually when faith based religion puts an overarching umbrella over its development plan? A simple practical incident will exemplify this dysfunctional relationship.

Some years ago, when I went from Britain to Saudi Arabia as a Consultant on Radiological Protection, I was invited to present a paper on ‘Effects of radiation on human beings’ at an international conference in Riyadh. The conference was very well attended with many British, American, German, Swedish and Finnish experts. There were high level Saudi presence too including the Saudi Interior Minister, Health Minister and Saudi Atomic Energy Commission’s chairman and so forth. As I presented my paper in English, it had to be translated into Arabic as I spoke. During the presentation, I said that there was a contemporary scientific view that radiation might have caused mutation in human genes that helped the process of evolution. My translator, an intelligent Egyptian man, stopped translating at that point and then came over to me and said, “Sir, I cannot translate this line. If I do, not only I but also you would be arrested for blasphemy.” Then it dawned on me that this was a fundamentalist state where there was no evolution, God made everything. We proceeded without this sentence and any other reference to Darwinism.

In most of the fundamentalist Muslim countries, education at schools, colleges and universities proceed without any reference to evolution, natural selection etc. Islamic teaching takes precedence over scientific developments – God created earth, sun, moon and everything else some 10,000 years ago; everything happens as God wishes; human beings must pray to God to please Him and He will give things as He pleases. With such mental blocks, it is no wonder that science and technology have taken leave from the Islamic world.

Physics Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg (who shared the prize with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow in 1979) said, “Though there are talented scientists of Muslim origin working productively in the West, for forty years I have not seen a single paper by a physicist or an astronomer working in a Muslim country that was worth reading.”

Prof. Abdus Salam, First Muslim Nobel Laureate in Physics 1979

Even Prof Abdus Salam, a Muslim of Pakistani origin, who carried out his ground-breaking research in the UK, had to suffer the ignominy of being declared non-Muslim by the Pakistani authorities as he was from the Ahmadi sect. Before his death in 1996, he wished to be buried at his home country, Pakistan. On his burial, his graveyard was desecrated by Muslim zealots, as the headstone at his burial site had the inscription ‘Prof Abdus Salam – First Muslim Nobel Laureate’. As he was declared non-Muslim, the word ‘Muslim’ had been covered-up by an order of the Lahore Court. But then, as he could not claim ‘First Nobel Laureate’; so the whole inscription was covered-up.  

From time to time, Western leaders patronisingly speak of Muslim heritage and scientific and intellectual contributions to civilisations by Islam, but the fact remains that those contributions were nearly 1,000 or more years ago and mostly by people (Shias) who are now considered either non-Muslims or renegade Muslims by Wahhabi Sunnis.

Now, going back to the fundamental question, what caused the catastrophic collapse of “Golden Age” of Islam after the fall of Abbasid Caliphate? Why it could not have been revived in any of the 56 Muslim majority states of the world? The answer is quite simple. Islam, or its fundamental version of it, is not compatible with science and technology. Prof. Steven Weinberg claimed that after Ghazali there was no more science worth mentioning in Islamic countries. Only way Islamic countries can revive the culture of scientific studies is to relegate Islam to back burners, far away from the state functions. The religion of Islam should be totally segregated from all branches of science. Otherwise, Islam will keep creeping back to damage scientific disciplines.

  • Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.  (This article was published in bdnews24.com in 2014)