[Prof. Abdus Salam was deeply proud and conscious of his Islamic heritage.
In his Nobel Lecture, not only he presented his Islamic background and
heritage that inspired his scientific pursuit, but also he proudly
displayed his ethnic heritage in terms of his attire. See the photo
In the Nobel Lecture, he reminds the world that Islam has
made pivotal contribution to the heritage of science and civilization of
mankind. Indeed, western science is critically indebted to the
contributions made by the Islamic civilization.
Only this introductory part is excerpted here. The full
text of the lecture, with its technical annotations, is quite long and it
is available as a large file in pdf format from the Nobel site. See the
link at the end of the following excerpt.]
Introduction: In June 1938, Sir George Thomson, then
Professor of Physics at Imperial College, London, delivered his 1937 Nobel
Lecture. Speaking of Alfred Nobel, he said: "The idealism which permeated
his character led him to . . . (being) as much concerned with helping
science as a whole, as individual scientists. . . . The Swedish people
under the leadership of the Royal Family and through the medium of the
Royal Academy of Sciences have made Nobel Prizes one of the chief causes
of the growth of the prestige of science in the eyes of the world . . . As
a recipient of Nobel’s generosity, I owe sincerest thanks to them as well
as to him."
I am sure I am echoing my colleagues’ feelings as well as
my own, in reinforcing what Sir George Thomson said - in respect of
Nobel’s generosity and its influence on the growth of the prestige of
science. Nowhere is this more true than in the developing world. And it is
in this context that I have been encouraged by the Permanent Secretary of
the Academy - Professor Carl Gustaf Bernhard - to say a few words before I
turn to the scientific part of my lecture.
Scientific thought and its creation is the common and
shared heritage of mankind. In this respect, the history of science, like
the history of all civilization, has gone through cycles. Perhaps I can
illustrate this with an actual example.
Seven hundred and sixty years ago, a young Scotsman left
his native glens to travel south to Toledo in Spain. His name was Michael,
his goal to live and work at the Arab Universities of Toledo and Cordova,
where the greatest of Jewish scholars, Moses bin Maimoun, had taught a
Michael reached Toledo in 1217 AD. Once in Toledo, Michael
formed the ambitious project of introducing Aristotle to Latin Europe,
translating not from the original Greek, which he did not know, but from
the Arabic translation then taught in Spain. From Toledo, Michael
travelled to Sicily, to the Court of Emperor Frederick II.
Visiting the medical school at Salerno, chartered by
Frederick in 1231, Michael met the Danish physician, Henrik Harpestraeng -
later to become Court Physician of King Erik Plovpenning. Henrik had come
to Salerno to compose his treatise on blood-letting and surgery. Henrik’s
sources were the medical canons of the great clinicians of Islam, Al-Razi
and Avicenna, which only Michael the Scot could translate for him.
Toledo’s and Salerno’s schools, representing as they did
the finest synthesis of Arabic, Greek, Latin and Hebrew scholarship, were
some of the most memorable of international assays in scientific
collaboration. To Toledo and Salerno came scholars not only from the rich
countries of the East and the South, like Syria, Egypt, Iran and
Afghanistan, but also from developing lands of the West and the North like
Scotland and Scandinavia.
Then, as now, there were obstacles to this international
scientific concourse, with an economic and intellectual disparity between
different parts of the world. Men like Michael the Scot or Henrik
Harpestraeng were singularities. They did not represent any flourishing
schools of research in their own countries. With all the best will in the
world their teachers at Toledo and Salerno doubted the wisdom and value of
training them for advanced scientific research. At least one of his
masters counselled young Michael the Scot to go back to clipping sheep and
to the weaving of woolen cloth.
In respect of this cycle of scientific disparity, perhaps
I can be more quantitative. George Sarton, in his monumental five-volume
History of Science chose to divide his story of achievement in sciences
into ages, each age lasting half a century. With each half century he
associated one central figure. Thus 450 BC - 400 BC Sarton calls the Age
of Plato; this is followed by half centuries of Aristotle, of Euclid, of
Archimedes and so on.
From 600 AD to 650 AD is the Chinese half century of
Hsiian Tsang, from 650 to 700 AD that of I-Ching, and
then from 750 AD to
1100 AD - 350 years continuously - it is the unbroken succession of the
Ages of Jabir, Khwarizmi, Razi, Masudi, Wafa, Biruni and Avicenna, and
then Omar Khayam - Arabs, Turks, Afghans and Persians - men belonging to
the culture of Islam. After 1100 appear the first Western names; Gerard of Cremona, Roger Bacon - but the honours are still shared with the names of
Ibn-Rushd (Averroes), Moses Bin Maimoun, Tusi and Ibn-Nafi-the man who
anticipated Harvey’s theory of circulation of blood. No Sarton has yet
chronicled the history of scientific creativity among the
pre-Spanish Mayas and Aztecs, with their invention of the zero, of the
calendars of the ‘moon and Venus and of their diverse pharmacological
discoveries, including quinine, but the outline of the story is the same -
one of undoubted superiority to the Western contemporary correlates.
After 1350, however, the developing world loses out except
for the occasional flash of scientific work, like that of Ulugh Beg - the
grandson of Timurlane, in Samarkand in 1400 AD; or of Maharaja Jai Singh
of Jaipur in 1720 - who corrected the serious errors of the then Western
tables of eclipses of the sun and the moon by as much as six minutes of
arc. As it was, Jai Singh’s techniques were surpassed soon after with the
development of the telescope in Europe. As a contemporary Indian
chronicler wrote: "With him on the funeral pyre, expired also all science
in the East."
And this brings us to this century when the cycle begun by
Michael the Scot turns full circle, and it is we in the developing world
who turn to the Westwards for science. As Al-Kindi wrote 1100 years ago:
"It is fitting then for us not to be ashamed to acknowledge and to
assimilate it from whatever source it comes to us. For him who scales the
truth there is nothing of higher value than truth itself; it never
cheapens nor abases him."
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is in the spirit of Al-Kindi that I start my lecture
with a sincere expression of gratitude to the modern equivalents of the
Universities of Toledo and Cordova, which I have been privileged to be
associated with - Cambridge, Imperial College, and the Centre at Trieste.
[For the rest of the lecture following the part
presented above, see
here. Be patient, while it loads.]