Sir Isaac Newton said, “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people”. There is no disputing physics; it is a science that involves the analysis of matter and its motion through both space and time. Motion is a human propensity, embedded in our genetic code. Humans are always on the move, migrating and evolving, whether pushing the limits of physical prowess or rocketing a probe to Mars. The right to mobility is considered a basic human entitlement, enshrined in the constitutions of many sovereign states. This right asserts that citizens have the liberty to travel, reside and work in a place of their choosing.
On the issue of motion, Usain Bolt is widely recognised as the world’s fastest man. Bolt grew up in Jamaica, a country historically reliant and populated by a legacy of indentured slaves. Slavery was our collective, incalculable madness. Slaves were stripped of the most fundamental of human rights. At the starting blocks of the 100-metre sprint final at the London Olympics, Bolt looked up into the sky and pursed his lips against an extended index finger. It is my assertion that Bolt hushed an Anglophone god, a gesture reminding the host country, that as a Jamaican he has the right to run fast and win. It was an act of supreme confidence shown from a top-flight athlete, symbolically on a par with the human rights salute given by two black athletes at the 1968 Olympics Games in Mexico.
Winning an Olympic gold, like most endeavours, is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration. Science, in its many forms, plays an important role in securing success. Bolt does not subscribe to superstitious rituals but rather uses biomedical kinesiology to better understand the phases of his race helping him overcome scoliosis — the abnormal curvature of his lower spine — to help him run faster. And like most elite athletes, Bolt uses a strict regimen of rehydrating drinks to his benefit. The science behind these drinks ensures athletes have adequate energy throughout the day, replenishing their bodily systems and aiding in recovery.
Just as water does not serve the rehydration needs of elite athletes, water is also not a fuel for cars as was recently claimed by a Pakistani scientist, Agha Waqar Ahmad, to have invented a water-fuelled car. Experts in the field ridiculed his assertion as it violated the laws of thermodynamics. Centuries ago, medieval alchemists convinced the world they could transmute base materials into something of value. They failed in their attempts but this did not stop both alchemists and their clergy patrons from fleecing the public. Ahmad’s claim was deceitful and was supported by the minister for religious affairs who righteously stated that the ministry of science and technology will fully support Ahmad’s endeavours.
Our world is quickly moving forward. This past month, Nasa scientists who have been navigating Curiosity rover, the robotic space probe for nine months, landed it on Mars; slavery in the West is relegated to but a sad chapter; while Bolt has now won six gold medals in two successive Olympics. In contrast, Muslim contributions to science have reduced over the years, losing ground to anti-rationalists. Here lies the tragic story of science in many Muslim countries — a dysfunctional relationship between faith and modernity.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2012.