The News Feature “An Islamist revolution” (Nature 444, 22–25; 2006) and other articles in Nature's “Islam and science” special issue make interesting reading. As a former executive director of the Pakistan Medical Research Council, I note that the current lack of capacity for science in Islamic countries is well highlighted, and the great uncertainty in predicting its future (despite some recent positive developments) is rightly underscored.
Islamic countries do not currently have the right environment or culture for science. They lack all the critical ingredients required: policies, institutions, critical mass of productive and vocal scientists and an aware and appreciative population. Despite some lip-service being paid, science and research are not valued. Therefore, it is debatable whether the form of government — secular or Islamist — is going to make much difference to the current situation in these countries.
Your News Feature rightly points out that Islam is interpreted differently in different countries and even in different parts of the same country. Therefore, religion cannot be the reason for the current science deficit — and a look at the history of Islamic-era science will support this view.
Paternalistic cultures in the Islamic countries can more reasonably be blamed. Under these cultures, inquiry and freedom of expression are actively discouraged in the home, at school, at work and in response to government policies. The capacity for critical analysis is a fundamental requirement for science, but where it has no chance of developing under lifelong suppression, how can science and research be expected to flourish? Money alone cannot address the problem: a more fundamental change in thinking and behaviour is needed.
Readers are encouraged to add their comments to the Islam and Science commentary on Nature's News Blog at: http://blogs.nature.com/news/blog/2006/11/islam_and_science.html