Innovation in the Islamic World: Learning from the Past to Design the Future

by Salim Al-Hassani Published on: 5th June 2008

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The seat of the World Bank in Paris hosted on May 22-23, 2008 an important meeting: the fourth edition of The World Conference on Intellectual Capital for Communities. The conference was attended by eminent scholars and leaders, among whom Professor Salim Al-Hassani, FSTC Chairman of the Board, who presented a keynote lecture on Innovation in the Islamic World: Learning from the Past to Design the Future. We present hereafter the abstract of this lecture to share with our readers this illuminating concept of assessing the value of Muslim Heritage as intellectual capital in a historical perspective. The complete text of the lecture will be published in the proceedings of the meeting.

Professor Salim T S Al-Hassani*

In the frame of The World Conference on Intellectual Capital for Communities, Professor Salim Al-Hassani, FSTC Chairman of the Board, presented a keynote lecture on the theme:

Innovation in the Islamic World: What can we learn from the past, to design the future.

The fourth edition of this series of conferences organised by the World Bank was held at the World Bank Office in Paris on May 22-23, 2008. It was co-organised by The European Chair on Intellectual Capital/PESOR, the University of Paris-Sud And The World Bank.

Below we give a summary of the lecture that Prof. Al-Hassani’s presented in this conference:

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This presentation will demonstrate, using 3D animations of past key S&T inventions reconstructed in virtual space from manuscripts, how knowledge revolution of early Islam was the result of a self propelling organically growing culture which combined economic and religious incentives. A vibrant knowledge-based society lasted for hundreds of years despite political and religious turbulence. The concept of faith (Iman) as input and beneficial knowledge and deeds (‘Amal saleh) as output became the engine driving individuals, male and female, to invent, innovate and achieve scientific and economic progress.

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Figure 1: One side of the meeting on Intellectual Capital.

Examples of such achievements which still influence our modern homes, schools, hospitals, towns, markets and other aspects of our lives, were researched in the UK and some findings are demonstrated by the 1001 inventions project (see

Unfortunately, in contrast with this highly original creation of science, technology and culture in Islam for several centuries, there is a period of about 1000 years missing from Western educational systems. Almost in every subject taught in schools, there exists a jump from the Greeks to the Renaissance, usually referred to as the “Dark Ages” (see Fig. 3-4).

Figure 2: History of science and civilisation as taught in educational systems.

Figure 3: History of science and civilisation as it should be taught.

This amnesia affects the minds of present and future generations and distorts their attitudes and perceptions of the role of other cultures, particularly the Muslim one, in designing and building the present civilisation.

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Figure 4: Professor Salim Al-Hassani speaking next to Jean-Eric Aubert, Chairman of World Bank Institute.

It is hoped that this presentation, will inspire communities, the young generation in particular, to emulate the great men and women inventors of the past to express their, personal and national aspirations by doing useful work to improve the quality of life on this earth.

For Muslim communities, the concept of “Beneficial Deeds” (‘Amal saleh) suggests itself as the gate through which a new “Islamically compliant” Knowledge-Based Paradigm may emerge. Some suggestions for the Muslim communities and countries to take in their drive towards a Knowledge-Based Society:

Figure 5: Another view of the meeting.

Figure 6: Front view of the meeting.

  1. The development of a strategy for a paradigm shift towards a Knowledge-Based Society requires resolution of a number of challenges. One major challenge would be to understand the “Socio-Genetics” of the society and then to suitably customise concepts like commercial value to knowledge, knowledge economy, science-based society, innovation, intellectual capital and property, entrepreneurship, value of intangible assets and life-long learning economy.
  2. Start a cultural movement amongst the youth to celebrate the great past inventors and knowledge scholars, in theological, social and physical sciences and to express their religiousness through useful deeds in society. The theological scholars (Ulema) need to expand the concept of ‘Amal saleh (Benficiail Deeds) to incorporate all acts which improve the quality of life.
  3. Enhance and expand the traditional charitable (Waqf) and social philanthropy institutions from confinement in religious and relief programs to embracing wide educational reform, life-long socio-economic entrepreneurship projects, science and technology activities and expanding mosque buildings to incorporate activities of learning, IT provisions, and recreational socially beneficial activities.
  4. Enrich all subjects in the schools curriculum with material from such sources as the 1001 Inventions book, posters and websites such as and
  5. Celebrate past Muslim inventions and inventors by establishing Knowledge Discovery Centres, Knowledge Corridors, Thematic Shopping Malls, Thematic Parks, Edu-tainment Centres, Thematic Towns, Villages and Accommodation Centres and Hotels, Healthy Internet Social Networks, Thematic Clubs, Knowledge Clubs, participation in knowledge international competitions, Prize awarding bodies to reward excellence in beneficial deeds and to promote social entrepreneurship.
  6. Ensure that Universities have an integrated function within the society in teaching, research, consulting and life-long learning. In particular, introduce university venture companies to take research findings into the market with appropriate and administrative legal structures.

* Professor Salim T. S. Al-Hassani is the Chairman of the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation (FSCT), Manchester, UK.

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