Can geologists bridge the gap between Islamic countries and the western world?

October 25, 2002

Osman Shinaishin, a National Science Foundation senior program officer who funds geoscience projects, thinks so. A native of Egypt who came to the U.S. in the late 1950s to attend graduate school, Shinaishin believes geoscientists have a unique opportunity to improve understanding across cultures - because of the nature of their science. He will present his views at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver, CO, on Monday, Oct. 28.

Emphasizing that his opinions are his own and not those of the National Science Foundation, Shinaishin says there are valid reasons for the difficulties experienced between western and Islamic cultures. But geoscientists, and especially those who work in the field, have a unique opportunity to know both the land and the people who live on it when working in other countries. According to Shinaishin, "Geoscientists are among the most keen regarding respect for nature and the desire to learn about it. They study its interaction with the people who live and depend on it regardless of how technologically advanced they are."

It's interaction with both land and people that makes geoscientists great ambassadors. Most of the people in Islamic countries live in rural areas and have a strong dependency on the land they inhabit. As western geoscientists work in Islamic countries - often with Islamic scientists - they can help increase understanding and break down preconceived notions.

Shinaishin points out that modern science and technology have profoundly shaped the evolution and development of the western world. Religious ideology and tradition have given way to freedom of thinking and the right to experiment. This is not always the case in modern Islamic cultures, where scientific thinking and analysis are frequently misunderstood, and scientific knowledge is often cast in a religious context.

At the same time Islamic countries cannot be dismissed as inherently anti-science, says Shinaishin. "Muslims in countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Iran, India, Spain, and Turkey have a heritage of scientific work from the 7th to the 14th centuries. Their scientists bridged the flow of scientific knowledge between the Greco-Roman era and the western Renaissance. They paved the way for the explosion in scientific knowledge that followed and which continues today. And today they feel they can contribute to human development and participate in the civilized world on equal footing with other countries."

There is ample opportunity to pursue geoscience in this geographically large and well- populated part of the world. Hydrogeology, petroleum geology, geochemistry, and mineralogy are enormously important in Islamic countries. Western scientists also have considerable interest in topics ranging from tectonics of the Himalayas to the geophysics of the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea.

Shinaishin reports that geologists are among the most eager of scientists to collaborate with scientists in the region. "The enthusiasm of geologists who worked in this region, with colleagues from these countries, has been inspiring to me and I am sure much more inspiring to their foreign collaborators. I am convinced that the interaction between these scientists and the help they provide to these countries is of great benefit both to science and diplomacy."

Shinainshin would like to see scientists, particularly geologists who know the land and people, speak up both at home and while visiting foreign countries to promote the concept of the unity of the Earth as they know it and the unity of its inhabitants. In his view, "Their strength is their knowledge of the Earth, its resources and its limitations. I have little doubt that their message will be heard and well received in the Islamic countries. They can help promote a sense of confidence and mutual respect by researchers and leaders."

During the GSA Annual Meeting, Oct. 27-30, contact Christa Stratton at the GSA Newsroom in the Colorado Convention Center, Denver, Colorado, for assistance and to arrange for interviews: 303-228-8565.

Note: Photos available of Nangapratab Mountain and western and Islamic geoscientists collaborating in the field.

The abstract for this presentation is available at:

Post-meeting contact information:

Osman A. Shinaishin
Office of International Science and Engineering
National Science Foundation
Arlington, VA 22230

Ann Cairns
Director of Communications
Geological Society of America

Geological Society of America

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