06 February 2017
During my undergraduate degree in Science,
I read a lot about Western scientists and their achievements. Their
contributions were immense and booked them an immortal status in the history of
humanity. However, I often wondered if science was an arena open for everyone.
Being a Muslim female, who is easily identified by her name and dress code
makes me ‘odd’ in every scientific gathering I attend.
While I have never suffered from any
serious discrimination, nor was I ever denied any opportunity that I was
equally qualified for, I sometimes, deep within me, wonder if I will be one of
those scientists who manage to succeed in making a difference in our world. And
so, here I am, reflecting on some of the 20th and 21st century’s most renowned
and internationally recognized scientists who just so happen to be Muslims.
The Egyptian-born physicist Ahmed Zewail is
perhaps one of the most well-known Muslim scientists in recent history. Zewail
received his doctoral training in the USA and was appointed a full professor at
the University of California.
He devoted his career to the development of
ultrafast lasers and electrons for studies of dynamics in chemistry and
biology. Most notably, he won the Nobel Award in 1999 due to his scientific
achievement known as the femtosecond, which is the smallest part of the second
to be measured.
Another Egyptian, this time a geologist and
remote sensing professor from the University of Missouri-Rolla. Al-Baz
participated in the Apollo program in which he was the supervisor of Lunar Science
and Lunar Exploration while also chairing the astronaut-training group.
He is known for his pioneering work in the
applications of space photography and the understanding of arid terrain,
particularly the location of groundwater resources, as well as contributing to
interdisciplinary field investigations in all major deserts of the world. He
has received many honours and awards including NASA’s Apollo Achievement Award,
Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal and Special Recognition Award; the Certificate
of Merit of the World Aerospace Education Organization; and the Arab Republic
of Egypt Order of Merit – First Class.
A dermatologist from Turkey, Behçet
received his medical training as well as his specialisation in dermatology and venereal
diseases from his homeland. He coined a disease of inflamed blood vessels as
the Behçet’s disease. His first observations on Behçet’s Disease started with a
patient he met that led him to follow the symptoms of three other patients whom
he had treated for years. Ultimately he decided that they were the symptoms of
a new disease. Today, this disease is universally referred to as Behçet’s
Disease in medical literature.
Hayat Sindi is a Saudi-born medical
scientist who is famous for making major contributions to point-of-care medical
testing and biotechnology. She obtained a PhD in biotechnology from Newnham
College, Cambridge and is currently a visiting scholar at Harvard University.
Sindi has also participated in numerous
events aimed at raising the profile of science amongst females, particularly in
the Muslim World. She received the Makkah Al Mukaramah prize for scientific
innovation, given by Prince Khalid bin Faisal Al Saud. Hayat has received
numerous other accolades and has also been appointed a UNESCO Ambassador. Her
work has created a path for aspiring Muslim women across the Arab and Muslim
The American-born Saudi professor of
pharmaceutical chemistry Ghada al-Mutairi is not only a scientist but also an
inventor and an entrepreneur. She obtained a PhD in material chemistry from the
University of California, Riverside and has been focusing her research since
then on nanomedicine, nanotechnology, chemistry and polymer science. Al-Mutairi
received numerous honours and awards for her work on “Chemically Amplified
Response Strategies for Medical Sciences”. She also holds over ten US and
international patents, of which two are being licensed to pharmaceutical
Al-Sayed is a physicist who received his
PhD from Florida State University, USA. He was a Research Associate at Yale,
Harvard and the California Institute of Technology. He and his group conducted
research in many areas of chemical, biophysical, nano-science and nanotechnology.
Publishing in over 590 peer-reviewed journals and from the citations to their
work in the past decade.
Science Watch ranked him number four among
Academic Chemistry researchers Worldwide. Al-Sayed received the 2007 USA
National Medal of Sciences from the President of the USA and the 2009 Medal of
the Egyptian Republic of the First Class from the President of Egypt.
Going through news bulletins and reading
more about such notable figures, I recall the first verse that was revealed to
our beloved Prophet from the holy Quran. This opening verse came with a direct
message urging us to seek knowledge and keep on challenging ourselves and
surroundings. I no longer have doubts regarding my scientific career as the
Almighty; Allah (swt) has said in His Holy Book that the works of the righteous
people will never go to waste.