What kind of impact do you think science and technology will continue to impart in future?
Dr. Anwar Nasim: Scientific approach or methodology is to look at the things in a more rational and analytical manner. The science and technology education makes your approach more rational. If you are so, then you are more tolerant. Science is a symbol of knowledge and information to understand and it will continue to have a significant impact on civilization and human relations in future. The more people become scientific oriented, the better they will be able to relate to each other. That is apart from its pivotal role of enhancing economic development.
How can the Islamic world come out of the backwardness? You’ve been a Science Advisor to OIC. What will you say?
Yes. I have even written on it. Even in the ranking of the world’s top 500 universities, the Islamic world has only two which much lower. Both these universities are in Turkey. Education and science and technology are snever given a high priority in the Islamic world. So this is the reason why the state of universities in the Islamic world has remained pathetic. It’s true that some of the Islamic countries have a lot of money but I am not sure if they are serious in this regard. Their past record has been dismal. The rate of illiteracy in the Islamic countries is very high. The money that is being spent on research and development and education is very dismal. The figure that is often quoted is 1 per cent of GDP in the Islamic world as a total. But our own estimate is that it is much lower at about 0.25 per cent. In Pakistan, however, there have been significant increases in the budget for higher education. Prof. Atta-ur-Rehman has repeatedly said that the present standard of our universities are at best that of colleges, and not universities in the real sense of the word. What I feel needs to be done is a political commitment and that has to come from the leadership. There are always verbal promises.
What is the reason for wide gap between the Arab Muslim world and rest of the Islamic world?
I think the difference is the attitude of the ruling classes. In a number of countries like Saudi Arabia and others, there is monarchy, they have largely ignored education. Some people have even attributed it to some sort of conspiracy theory that these countries do not want their people to become well educated. Because, they say, with education, political enlightenment and awareness could come. Malaysia’s example is very true. But don’t forget that it’s largely because of Prime Minister Mahathir’s leadership in the last 20 years or so. Turkey is also an example where there has been less extremism. Iran is another example. Within the 57 Islamic countries, there are several classes of countries. I think I can only name ten or twelve within the Muslim world that has at least some potential. Pakistan is one of them.
Do you think the Islamic community can regain the strong connection it once had with science and technology?
That’s a very pertinent point, something we all have been worrying about. There is no point in talking about the past glory. First of all, it was 800 years ago. The time has now come for the Muslim world to once again take the initiative and do something. No one will deny that this is the need of the hour. The real problem is that whether we will have the commitment from the ruling classes.
Can innovation play some role in revival of science and technology in the Islamic world?
Yes, it can, but it needs promotion especially from the media, as at present many leading discoveries did not get proper coverage in Islamic World. If you want to promote science and technology, then the media has to focus more on such kind of issues to start debate and discussion. The Muslim World needs strong awareness of science and technological issues as future is being woven around them. I think a slight tilt of media can create a conducive environment for the promotion of science and technology. I think OIC should focus on this aspect.
You are a renowned geneticist. At the molecular level, are all humans the same?
Laughingly yes, we are all the same. The work on human genome has shown that the entire human race, realistically, that 99 per cent of our DNA is the same, no matter where you come from. Only 1 per cent makes all the difference. If that message gets through to everyone, it’ll be a better world for all of us.
Why did you leave Canada in 1989?
Canada provided me with the opportunity to do research in biotechnology. I owe a lot to Canadian universities and institutions. And I am still a Canadian citizen. And I might come back and live there whenever I feel my work there has been done. At the time I moved, I must say frankly it was due to monetary reasons, plus the opportunity to do something beneficial in the Muslim world. Not for one moment do I regret it. Because in my own modest way, what I have done I believe will help, not just Pakistan, but also other Islamic countries.
What is happening in biotechnology in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region?
One of the major developments in this region is that biotechnology is being recognized as a major science in the Islamic countries. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications or ISAAA with head office in Manila, Philippines, started a programme for setting up BICs, Biotechnology Information Centers. When I went to a meeting in Singapore several years ago, I learnt that within the Islamic world BICs were established in four countries, namely Egypt, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia. So I felt that Pakistan must also have such a center which now is referred to as PABIC, Pakistan Biotechnology Information Center. It is based in the University of Karachi in Latif Ibrahim Jamal Institute. PABIC is now very much active and has held media briefings, seminars, etc. Since Biotechnology is an important discipline, efforts are underway to set up BICs in other Islamic countries also. The major function of these centers will be to disseminate information related to biotechnology with emphasis on interaction with media.
What are your views on GM foods being Halal or Haram?
A: The criterion in my view should be the same as is held in the matter of any food, edible or medicine. If a food item or medicines contains constituents from a non permissible source, it is Haram. Like pig fat in any edible. I was invited to a meeting in Philippine and later to another in Malaysia this year on the question of GM food. A major problem is that there is no authority which can issue a Fatwaa that would be acceptable throughout the Muslim World. The view that I gave in my presentation was that it all depends on the donor gene. If the donor gene is from a permissible or Halal source then the product may be considered Halal. But if the donor gene is taken for instance from the cell of a pig, then of course the product resulting from it cannot be Halal. Later there was a major international seminar on the same subject. They invited one Islamic scholar and one scientist from different Islamic countries. I had gone there as a scientist from Pakistan and Professor Dr. Anis Ahmad, Vice Chancellor, Riphah International University, Islamabad, as an Islamic scholar. He made a very good presentation on the fundamental principles based on which you can take a decision. There were delegates from Bangladesh, Malaysia, India, etc. and the proceedings were published at the end of the year. The consensus was more or less the same and it was agreed that the products should be labeled very carefully with proper certifications.