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‫بسم هللا الرحمن الرحيم‬

3:139 ‫۝ و انتم االعلون إن كنتم مؤمنين ۝‬

Building the Self Confidence among Muslim Researchers

Abstract: The golden age of Islamic science and technology has passed a long time ago. Muslims have
been lagging in technology way behind Western countries. Eventually, the self confidence in Muslim
scholars has disappeared altogether. The first generation of Muslim enlightenment movement gave us
some sort of light by reminding us of how great Muslim scholars were; and it worked. But it is time to
start taking real part in advancing human science and technologies. After all, we have a huge source of
revelations behind us and we are more or less equal to the West in some fields of science. In this paper,
first a personal achievements is presented, then a theoretical base on how can we beat the west is
expressed and at the end some of the fields in which we can work are identified. The paper finally calls for
Muslim researchers to be more creative and subjective, and above all, confident in their researches.

Background:

It is said that in the days before the First World War an Iraqi bedew saw an airplane flying above him. He
was so moved by this technology that recited this verse down looking to his own belief.

88: 17 ‫۝ افال ينظرون الى االبل كيف خلقت؟ ۝‬

“O! They don’t see how the camel is created?” The Holy Qur’an 88:17. This was a common feeling
among Muslims. The days of Golden Age had passed long time ago and the sudden advancement in the
Western technology was so fast and vast that almost everybody lost his faith. So, Muslim scholars
fought back. Many books were written to remind us how great Muslim scientist were and how much
West is indebted to us for what they have now. Even verses of the Holy Qur’an were interpreted
according to latest Western findings; with a difference of course: we found it 14 centuries ago! Several
schools were created with emphasis on Islamic teachings in order to revive the belief in future scientists.
I was lucky enough to be in one of them. This movement was so strong that it created a counter feeling
among students. We were joking: “If sky is blue then Islam is right”, or “if electrons go round nucleus,
then it has something to do with Islam”. The point is, that whatever they told us was not enough to
explain why we are lagging so much in technology. We could feel it. Muslims did not have something to
say in the latest technological advancements for a long time. I mean those who believed in Islam did not
produce any valuable work based on their belief. Yes, there were and there are people from the Muslim
world who are working in a Western establishment that could achieve like any other colleagues they
have, but the point is, that these researchers mostly believe in Western cultural values in their work. No
one has introduced valuable theory based on Islamic teachings. The golden question is: If Muslim
scholars did something valuable before, they should be able to do it again. Why we do not see that?

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On the other hand, even in the Western world, we have not seen any real progress in the theoretical
physics for a century. The theory of relativity has had many critics but the latest experiments in
entangled particles, really challenges the established ideas about our physical world i. We have not yet
found the unified theory of physics. Gravity is yet a strange thing. There are plenty of questions about
physics to be answered. For example, the writer has had great difficulty in finding mathematical models
or behavior of gyroscopes. This may has to do with his negligence, but also shows that this type of
information is not available easily in the Muslim world. Fresh ideas are certainly welcomed in human
sciences and in particularly in the new fields of neuropsychology. By reading the works of Gazzanica et
al, one can see how they miss the seldom knowledge we have in the Islamic traditions and works.
Theory of knowledge is another field and so on.

It is time to encourage Muslim scientists and researchers to believe in themselves. We could create
great results by tapping the enormous source of divine knowledge, and start producing new theories
and technologies in order to contribute our share in this field.

Why Muslims are lagging in technology?


One of my students who was working on mathematical development of early Muslims, came to this
conclusion that Al-Khwarizmi could invent algebra because Muslims believe in unity of one God! Not
only he did not use any statistical methods in his work, he even did not challenge his findings in any way.
His line of thought was simple: Since Al-Khwarizmi mentioned the fact that in his work he found the root
of the solution is the concept of one; and in Islam we have the finest theory of unity of God, then this
must be the answer. He did not even realize the difference between the concept of one in Al-
Khawarizmi work as a digit and the concept of unity as logic in the holy Qur’an. His work was more like a
wishful thinking rather than a research result. Whenever we do not use a proper methodology in our
research, we are bound to fall in pitfalls of our wishes instead of finding the truth out there.
Unfortunately, in many works of Arab writers, wishful thinking is the norm instead of using academic
and ontological methodology. But this is more likely to be a symptom rather than a cause. Then, we
have to ask what the causes of our apathy are? There have been several answers to this question. It
could be the society, the political situation, the lack of freedom, lack of will power, as well as other
minor reasons or a combination of two or more of these factors. However, dealing with these subjects is
out of the scope of this paper. We want to touch only to one of these causes: the self confidence.

It is true that the overall environmental conditions like the ones mentioned above could severely affect
the will power of the researchers, but these conditions could be changed by our will power as well. Only
if we believe in ourselves we can change our immediate environment and become more productive. This
small step will indeed have domino effect on other elements of the society and it will spread to all
individuals and institutions. We should not wait until everything else is OK before we move. We should
do exactly the opposite. Start with what we can do without paying any attention to the success or failure
of our work. We have to be hopeful and enthusiastic. We have a great power behind us: the Almighty
Creator.

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Part I: Personal Achievements of Dr S M A Shahrestani
Since the theme of this conference is to introduce others to some of member achievements, we would
like to briefly list some of the works that has been achieved by this individual all by himself, and the help
of Almighty God of course.

Dr Shahrestani started his research activity by designing a rotary combustion engine. He could
successfully patent this invention in England in 1961. Then he moved to industry in order to have more
hand on experience with the real world. Subsequently he could supervise design or implementation of
several large scale projects. The following is a list of projects that were considered unique in the world at
the time:

 Construction of the largest concrete silo


 Construction of largest sugar cane plant
 Construction of largest steel water tank (120m diameter)

Moreover, he introduced the steel production in different alloyed forms to the Iranian industry at a time
when even government could not produce any steel. Then he moved to the UK to form the
“International Centre for technical Research” (ICTR) in London in 1983. This centre could give advice to
Muslim governments on national projects such as Transmigration project in Indonesia and a similar
project in Ivory Coast, a new method of port construction in Lebanon, and several low cost housing
projects in the Middle East.

But his most ambitious project of all was the formation of the “International Technological University”
(ITU) in 1987 in collaboration with UNESCO, and then the “International Colleges of Islamic Science”
(ICIS) in 1989 in London. ITU soon could compete with all western universities in providing new courses
for the then collapsed Soviet Union countries of eastern Europe. We could run successive TEMPUS
Programmes from 1990 to 2000. These were:

 European Master Degree in Mechanical Engineering at the Technical University of Gdansk,


Poland

 European Master Degree in Eco-Integrated Mechanical Engineering at the Technical University


of Gdansk, Poland

 European Master Degree in Environment Science and Technology at the Technical University of
Budapest, Hungary

 European Master Degree in Energy Management and Mechanical Engineering at the Technical
University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania

 European Master Degree in Environmental Monitoring, Control and Health at the University of
Chemical Technology and Metallurgy, Sofia, Bulgaria

 European Master Degree in Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development at the


University of Chemical Technology and Metallurgy, Sofia, Bulgaria

 European Master Degree in Environmental Management at Ankara University, Turkey


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The success of these programmes encouraged us to repeat it in the Islamic world as well. Therefore, we
proposed a package to the Federation of Universities in the Islamic World (FUIW) and subsequently the
ISESCO Chair Program was developed that was approved by the member universities in its 4th General
Conference in Sharjah.

Part II: Where is Muslim’s Strength?


One of the greatest mistakes of scientists has been their emphasis on logic and their neglect of our
emotions. After all, it is a common knowledge amongst scientists that it is the logic that defines the
reality and emotions have tendency towards individuality. This is true. But by doing so, they have
neglected half of our brain activities. The recent works on brain have established the fact that the right
hemisphere of brain has a totally different role than that of the left one. The Right brain covers the
emotional aspects of human behavior and the left brain covers the logical and intellectual actions.

Fig. 1: The split brain

As can be seen from the above image, the scientific part of the brain is in the left side. But we are not
machines or robots with logic only. We are humans with half of our brain covering other type of
processing that is equally important to human beings. The right brain is the silent one. It is the domain
of our unconscious self. But it is as active as the left part. If we are not aware of its activities, it does not
mean that they do not exist. In fact, it is this part of brain that holds the key to our creativity. And the
base of any scientific work is a vision, a feeling, a new concept, etc. The force and basis of any scientific
work is located in the right side of our brain.

In a paper titled “Role of religions in Science and Technology Today”, the writer emphasised the fact that
in any scientific work carried out by humans, there is an emotional element. The paper argues that every
scientific research has an element of gut feeling in it. These feelings are normally called “assumptions”
or “hypotheses”. Hypotheses are presented in the form of a perspective or view. This perspective holds
a lot of subjective issues as well as some objective ones. It is the subjective part that covers the feelings
and emotional part of the scientific work. It is this part of their work that can be supported by religious
views. Religions can give scientists new visions to move in. The main points in this argument are:

a) Mind or Heart?

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The difference between science and religion is that of mind and heart. We have not yet formed or
devised a comprehensive theory to combine these two aspects of human intelligence to give one
solution for our understandings. In fact, wisdom is a combined process of rational thinking and
feelings. Fortunately, there is a tendency toward finding more about the role of unconsciousness in
our thinking process today. This movement tries to eliminate the habit of relying on rational thinking
only, and advocates that a realistic human thinking is shaped by our emotions too. Goleman gives
light to some aspects of this school of thought in his best-seller book “Emotional Intelligence: why it
can matter more than IQ”ii. The findings of split brain also help us develop a comprehensive model in
which our emotions (we can call it heart or right brain) are linked properly to our logical activities.

b) What are assumptions?


If we have a close look at almost any research, we will find some “assumptions” or “hypotheses” in
their work. These assumptions are in fact a product of our personal experience, or feelings. We
cannot base them on any scientific finding since they are either too general or basic faith really. For
example, in explaining the famous theory of relativity, Einstein writes:

My original considerations on the subject were based on two hypotheses:


1) There exists an average density of matter in the whole of space
which is everywhere the same and different from zero.
2) The magnitude (“radius”) of space is independent of time. iii

He then goes on to explain his thoughts on the development of these assumptions. Careful scrutiny
of these explanations shows the extent of use of emotions in his work. Even the above hypotheses
are obviously arguable assumptions. Indeed one can argue that Einstein started with the idea of
independent space from time but ended with a close relation between them and introduction of a
space-time model instead.

We are human beings and our scientific work is affected by our emotions and unconscious mind.
This does not reduce the authenticity of our scientific work because the unconscious mind is also
part of brain and is affected in turn by our conscious mind as well as our intellectual activities.

c) Human feelings can also be a scientific source


Since realistically speaking all humans use their feelings in their work – sometimes we call them
visions - , secular scientists should be more sensitive to human beliefs. At the same token, religious
scholars should drop their fear of performing experiments on their beliefs. Indeed, we need to
provide a systematic approach to facilitate the proper use of human vision and feelings in the
scientific research. This is the way of future. Today, what we can do is to create new theories based
on our beliefs and encounter them with experiments. If they failed, it does not harm our belief; we
can modify or change the theory altogether and continue the same.

It is here that we can claim a very strong source that the Western World has deprived themselves from
it. It is the revelations from the source of creation. Islam is a perfect guideline for our scientific thinking.
We know now how strong this source was and how it converted the Arab world to a leading world of
knowledge. We can revive that strength again equally if not better than then.

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Part III: Samples of works we can do
In the last century, it was really difficult for the universities in the Islamic world to compete with the
Western counterparts. Everything needed high quality lab equipments. Today, computers have replaced
many of these high tech lab equipments by providing simulation software. We can obtain some of these
software easier than their equipments. Moreover, we can write the simulation software ourselves and
this gives us an equal edge with that of Western universities. Moreover, universities in the Muslim
countries are diverse in their resources. This means that those who have the required resources could
share them with those who can provide ideas. In this combination, both universities could benefit from
a joint research.

In this paper, and only for the purpose of encouraging others by giving samples, we have listed some of
the works that we have done in our small but very productive university. Our President, Dr Seyed
Mohammad Ali Shahrestani has patented several inventions by himself in the past. Some of these are:

 A rotary combustion engine design

 Special roof construction panels

 Special foundation techniques for weak soils

 Special Jetty design

But the following works are anew and in the level of Western university researches of today.

a) Waveputer
This is essentially a processor design. But it is not a normal processor. In this design, instead of using
normal transistor switching mechanism, we are going to use neuron based networks. So, it uses the
fuzzy logic alongside the rule based algorithms. It is also a combination of analog computers with
digital ones. The analog side are in the form of filters that provide the speed; and the structure
provides the programming capability. Thus, it is a breakthrough in digital computing and computer
technology as we know it.

Moreover, the main ingenuity in this idea is to use the complex mathematical rules of modulation
and demodulation of sine waves. Data can be stored in amplitude, frequency, and even phase
parameters of a sine wave (hence comes the term Waveputer). Yet, this processor is really a
"Symbolic Rule Base" processor. It is the primary calculation blocks in the structure that makes it
possible to perform low-level calculation commands. All symbolic commands that are used in the
process of deduction are constructed on the basis of fuzzy logic and association similarity.

Main advantages of this processor are as follows:

 This processor can support supervised and unsupervised learning to improve rules in its
main Rule Base.

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 This processor with only 100 nodes can perform up to 10 4 times faster than normal digital
processors in order to run the same rule based problems. If the design of filters improves in
the near future, this speed can get even 100 times faster to become 10 6 faster than current
processors.

 It can be used as a stand alone processor or as a co-processor in normal computers.

A block diagram of this processor is given in Fig. 2 below.

Learning Block

Observed event
(data)

Rule
Firin New set of Approved
+
Base g symbols
Rules

Approved Check goal(s)


symbols

Figure 2: Main block diagram of the symbolic processor

b) Shape Processor
This is a simpler version of the above processor. The algorithms used are the same, but the analog
part is simpler. The signal processing is done by direct physical characteristics of light. This
processor is mainly designed for signal processing and specially matrix data processing such as
images, video signals, and multi-dimensional data. The core of this processor is a “Pattern Matching”
unit that compares two signals in a matrix form. This unit performs the following functions in one
cycle: Addition, subtraction, fixed Integral, OR, AND, NOT.

This processor uses the ability of turning on or off of each pixel in a grid of “smart glass”. As shown
in Fig. 3, the first smart glass matrix passes the signal of the original data either in direct form or in
negative position. The second smart glass is connected to the second signal, again it can hold the
data in both forms of positive or negative. At the end, there is a light sensitive receiver matrix that
can sense the result of physical combination of both light sources.

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Fig. 3: The signal comparison (core part) of the Shape Processor

The core unit uses one layer of light source, 2 layers of Smart Glass technology matrix , and one
layer of CCD type photo censor. Data is fed to the 2 layers of smart glass matrices depending on the
function required. Therefore, the core unit can compare two images in one go as required in
movement recognition, or image compressions. If we dedicate a character for each cell of this
matrix, we can compare a large text with another one. And by allocating a rule base function for
each cell, we will have a powerful cryptography machine.

If we use a matrix of n X n cell (pixel), and consider the frequency response of smart glass to be f 1,
and that of CCD receiver as f2, then the processing speed of this processor will be:

No of flops = Min {n2 . f1 . f2}

For a matrix of only 3000 X 3000 pixel, and an f 1=f2= 240Hz, we will have a speed of 2.16 Gflops.

This processor is a natural solution for cryptography, finding patterns in a string of text, locating
specific shapes within an image, shape differentiation, reduction or increase the luminance for the
whole image or for certain parts of it, compression and decompression of images (specially for
MP4); because it does all the above functions in one cycle only.

c) Modelling & Simulation


Following several years of experience in writing artificial intelligence software, we are now capable
of modeling human behavior in a community. This can be their habits in the stock market, how
people react to media, in social behavior , training habits, and so on. Our software consists of two
major parts: The engine and the character. The engine deals with human interface and a very
complex fuzzy logic. The character part should be modified according to each community. It includes
psychology tests, interviews with samples of community members, obtaining statistical information,
etc.

We are now working to develop the software even further to help us solve complex mathematical
models. In tis approach, we went back from human science to physics and applied the above
modeling technique to complex physical features such as geophysics, pollution, environment,
weather forecast, etc. We think we have achieved something in the highest levels of cutting edge

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technology in this field. This is a field that - if used properly- can boost Muslim scholars’ confidence
because it is fairly easy to develop and does not need high tech equipment.

d) Neuropsychology
The advancements made in fMRI in the last two decades have paved the way for new researches in
the subject of mind and how it works possible. We now know that right part of brain is different in
functioning with that of the left. But researchers are not sure how to explain their findings and also
how to proceed further in this field. We as Muslims have abundant experience and literature in this
field and can grab the show very easily. If universities in the Muslim world have access to fMRI then
there are plenty of researches that we can suggest. They are mainly focused around the concept of
“I”, the consciousness, awareness, unconscious mind, and human character.

e) Theoretical Physics
In this field, we have to be very brave since the world defined by Islamic traditions is almost totally
different from that we know it today. What follows here is certainly a controversial issue even
among Muslim scholars because most of us carry the Western cultures and concepts deeply with us
and resist new concepts. But this is exactly what we need to take us out of the local minimum we
are in. The main differences between Islamic perspective and today’s concepts are in the following:

 Time. Stephen Hawking in his best seller book “History of Time” suggests that if we replace the
time with imagery time, then we can sort out everything. From Islamic perspective this is more
likely to be the case. Our initial works suggests that the real time is a repetitive function.

 Information (knowledge). There are strong indications that we have to add information to the
essence of materials. For example, in the entangled particles experiment, what is created in
distance is the information and not the substance. There is an Islamic “vision” that claims the
creation and everything in it has a goal. We have to add the concept of “goal” as a new
dimension to other material dimensions.

 Hereafter. Many of us may think that the subject of hereafter is purely a metaphysical thing. But
traditions are clear about it that it is part of this world. We might have been created out of a
singularity and return to another singularity to come out in the hereafter. This is a strong
possibility that is acceptable even by today’s theories. But we have much more information on
this to keep us busy introducing new concepts or at least select the ones that are closer to our
beliefs.

Conclusions:
It is true that universities in the Muslim world are well lagging in their scientific research. But some
countries like Iran and Malaysia are catching up. But we can do much better. What we need is not better
laboratories or even better co-operation among member universities. We should have these
equipments, but if we have a stronger element, these resources will follow. What we need is a
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confidence in ourselves. We should believe that we can be – in fact Qura’n uses the present tense
meaning we are – the strongest, only and only if we believe in our faith. It is this concept that needs to
be emphasised and publicised by universities. The rest will follow.

S E Shahrestani, PhD
Vice President,
International Colleges of Islamic Science - London

References:

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i
Scientific American, March, 2009. Also see http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=bells-theorem

ii
Goleman, Daniel, Emotional Intelligence why it can matter more than IQ, Bloomsburg, 1996

iii
Einstein, Albert, Relativity, page 133

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