Saturday, December 9, 2006

55)Ismaili or other Muslim Nobel laureates.

Someone asked(on another website) if there have been any Ismaili or other Muslim Nobel laureates. My answer:

There have been no Ismaili muslims who have won the Nobel prize. As far as I know, the only muslim to have won a Nobel prize was Ahmediyya muslim Abdus Salaam, who won it along with the American Weinberg for discoveries relating to the Electroweak theory, that which postulates a common precursor unit of force that leads to both electromagnetism and the radioactive weak force of beta decay. Abdus Salaam was not celebrated in his native predominantly sunni Pakistan for his discoveries and was never allowed to set foot in wahhabi Saudi Arabia; when he died, there were no government officials expressing a wish to attend his funeral. For all we know he may even have been buried in an unmarked grave the way Edward G. Fox was in the Day of the Jackal. Contrast that to Sir Isaac Newton, who was buried along with Kings and Queens in Westminster Abbey. It says a lot about a society the way it treats those members who have reached the pinnacle of rational knowledge in a particular field. Hamid Al-Ghazali:

is mostly responsible for this societal re-orientation. About a millenium ago he set in motion theological doctrines along with some of the sunni schools of theology which were anti-philosophical and, in effect, gradually led to the end of the pursuit of rational knowledge, especially in the fields of philosophy and science, concomitant with the creation of the doctrine of the eternal, uncreated, written Quran, in which revelational knowledge as stated in the written scripture was the only valid form of knowledge. Prior to this time existed the fabled golden age of Islam, wherein rationally-acquired knowledge was constantly kept in delicate balance with revelational knowledge, when a raft of luminaries of both Shia and Sunni persuasions made their names and marks in high intellectual achievement.

The Shia Ismailis, as far as my readings tell me, have always taken a different course right from Islam's inception. Early muslims took very seriously exhortations from the scripture(some have estimated that as much as 25% of the Quran talks about phenomena of nature, referring to them equivalently as 'ayats' or 'signs' just as the actual verses are known as 'ayats') as well as various well-authenticated utterances of the Prophet Mohammed, such has 'Seek knowledge, even if you have to go to China' and 'One hour of contemplation on the works of the Creator is better than a thousand hours of prayer', and acted on them.

A close study of Ismaili history reveals that they have woven a rich tapestry of involvement with the acquisition of rational knowledge, in harmonious balance with that of the revelational, that has its original inspiration from both the scriptural and prophetic exhortations mentioned above. The record shows that, when the Ismailis were not trying to protect themselves from the genocidal impulses of the twelver shiites and the sunnis, they got busy building institutions of learning and wisdom to entrench this delicate, harmonious balance between knowledge that comes down from revelation and that which man acquires through the use of his own rational intellect. Hence we have the world's first ever university, Al-Azhar, built in Cairo by the Fatimid Ismaili Caliph-Imam Al-Muiz in 980AD(as opposed to the first ever university in the west, the University of Bologna in 1088AD). The Ismaili ethos has always placed the greatest emphasis on the development of intellect in both rational and transcendant realms of knowledge:

We can, in fact, trace a thread that begins with the Prophet Mohammed and the first Shia Imam Ali and it will take us first to the Mutazila, early proponents of rational knowledge:

then on to the Ikhwan Al-Safa, the original encyclopedists, who flourished predominantly during the times of the 4th and 5th Ismaili Imams Muhammad Al-Baqir and Jafar Al-Sadiq(around 750 AD) and later. These were a group of predominantly Ismaili thinkers, operating in secret to avoid the said genocide described above, who wrote a 52-volume encyclopedia cataloguing all the types of knowledge available to man, ranging from the divine to the secular:

and they represented one of the first attempts to create a harmonious balance between revelation and reason in Islam. The thread continues onwards to the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt(909AD-1171AD) during the times of the 11th to 18th Ismaili Imams, during which flourished philosophers, cosmologists and scientists like Al-Sijistani:


Nasir Khusraw:

Ibn Sina, aka Avicenna:

among others, such as Ibn Rushd, aka Averroes, who was not Ismaili and flourished in Umayad Islamic Spain along with Jewish Neoplatonic philosopher Moses Maimonides

Al-Shahrastani from Central Asia:

and Nasir-ud Din Tusi, a theologian, philosopher and astronomer who flourished during the times of the 19th to 23rd Ismaili Imams(circa 1236AD) during the post-Fatimid Alamut period in the Elburz mountain fortresses of Northern Iran:

As the thread continues we eventually come into the modern era, typified by the mandates of the 48th and 49th Imams(the present Imam and his predecessor), occupying the period 1885 to 2006, during which time they have spearheaded the creation of 3 universities(Aligarh University in India, The Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, with satellite campuses in East Africa, and the University of Central Asia, with campuses in Tajikistan, Kyrgistan and Kazhakstan, the latter university to serve the needs of high mountain societies in the region). There have been the creation of hundreds of elementary and secondary schools in the developing world as well as, recently, highly specialised academies of excellence along the eastern seaboard of Africa from South to East Africa, the Middle East and Asia. These academies of excellence are secondary schools that offer the International Baccalaureate(IB) Diploma and therefore have joined the academic sisterhood of IB Canadian high schools like Pearson College in Victoria, Upper Canada College and the Toronto French School in Toronto, among others. The tradition of the search for knowledge of all types in the Shia Ismaili interpretation, ranging from rationally acquired knowledge to the transcendental knowledge of the divine, has a history that goes back to the very beginnings of Islam. Perhaps we may yet get an Ismaili Nobel laureate who emerges from one of these institutions. Or, because these educational institutions have always been available to anyone irrespective of race, religion or culture, we may also get a non-Ismaili Nobel laureate who studied at these Ismaili institutions.


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3