Divided World

Islam and the Threat of Curiosity

curiosity mars robot Chris Butler-Agentur Focus_effect
Endless curiosity drives innovation and progress.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The search for new ideas and questioning of long-held beliefs are considered dangerous in many Islamic societies – and a source of conflict in the world today.

  • Facts


    • The Muslim world has produced only two Nobel Prize winners in the past 100 years, Abdus Salam (physics, 1979) and Ahmed Zewail (chemistry, 1999).
    • Islamic countries account for about one-fifth of the global population.
    • Science was once big in the Islamic world, producing the Arabic numerals and the invention of zero.
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Albert Einstein was a master of understatement. “I don’t have any special talent,” the great physicist once said. “I’m just passionately curious.”

That seems not just humble, but downright banal for a man whose theory of relativity revolutionized science. Yet his statement is absolutely true. Curiosity is the prerequisite for science, for progress. Indeed, it is at the core of German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s observation: “Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-imposed immaturity.”

It is precisely this concept that Islamist fundamentalists oppose. The search for new ideas and rigorous examination of what we believe to be true – without reference to any authority, even religious – are the most important building blocks for progress in Western democracies.

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