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Does the science weakness of Muslim countries predict a Haredi Israel’s future?

Can religious fundamentalism - regardless of the religion - impede scientific progress? And what does this mean for Israel?
Ultra-Orthodox students seen learning in the classroom of a Haredi 'Talmud Torah' in the settlement of Beitar Illit. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox students seen learning in the classroom of a Haredi 'Talmud Torah' in the settlement of Beitar Illit. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Although three scientists belonging to the countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have received Nobel Prizes in the sciences: Prof. Abdus Salam from Pakistan (1979), Prof. Ahmed Zewail from Egypt (1999) and Aziz Sancar from Turkey (2015) all of these men lived and did the work that won them the Nobel Prize in countries outside the Muslim World.

While representing nearly 25% of the world’s population, the Muslim world contributes only 6% of the world’s academic publications, 2.4% of the global research expenditure, and only 1.6% of the world’s patents.

Muslim countries on average invest less than 0.5% of their GDP on R&D. Only Malaysia spends slightly more than 1% (the world average is 1.78%, while most advanced countries spend 2-3%).

Muslim-majority countries have on average about 600 science researchers per million of population, and only Tunisia and Malaysia present solid and increasing numbers, at about 2,000. For comparison, Brazil has 1,000, Spain has 4,000, and Israel has 9,000.

There is some good news for Muslims. From the period 1996-2005 to 2006-15, most Muslim countries doubled or tripled their production of science papers; with some countries showing far more striking increases such as: multiples of 7.7 (Qatar), 7.6 (Iran), 6.5 (Pakistan), and 5.8 (Malaysia and Iraq), even though numbers remain below the average of countries with similar GDP per capita.

But papers from the Muslim world are cited less frequently than those from other nations. The average was 5.7 citations per paper for 2006-15, compared with 9.7 for South Africa and 13.8 for Israel.

The Muslim World has made a lot of progress on parity between gender for science enrollments with several Muslim countries having significantly more women than men enrolled in tertiary education (such as Qatar 7:1, Bahrain 2:1, and Algeria 1.5:1).

In this Muslim countries leave behind both the US and the UK. Haredi education in Israel has made no gender parity progress at all.

Before Israelis congratulate themselves on Israel’s scientific advantages they should pay attention to the following observations.

Students from the Muslim World tested on international pre-tertiary Math and Science tests fare very poorly, mostly on as low a level as Haredi yeshivah students, who are a growing percentage of all Israeli students.

Most Muslim countries, like Israel’s Haredi yeshivah students, have made no progress at all in math and science over the last decade or so, except for Qatar, Turkey, and to some extent Iran, though they all have remained well below average. Jordan and Malaysia registered considerable declines.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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