(File pix) For more than 1,000 years, the Islamic empire was the most advanced and civilised in the world, founded on Islam’s emphasis on learning, education, observation, and the use of reason. Pix by Aizuddin Saad

ROUGHLY one in every 10 people on earth today lives in extreme poverty — defined as less than US$1.90 (less than RM8) per day. Of the 700 million or so people in these dire conditions, many reside in member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Indeed, one in every five citizens of OIC countries — 21 per cent — lives below that US$1.90 per day world poverty line, double the proportion found worldwide. Of the OIC’s 57 member states, 21 appear on a roster of the world’s 48 Least Developed Countries (LDCs).  And yet, OIC nations possess 70 per cent of the world’s energy resources and 40 per cent of its natural resources.  

These statistics are particularly painful when we consider that they apply to a great and proud civilisation.  For more than 1,000 years, the Islamic empire was the most advanced and civilised in the world, founded on Islam’s emphasis on learning, education, observation, and the use of reason.  

Islam stresses the importance and respect of learning, forbids destruction, and develops in Muslims a respect for authority, discipline, and religious tolerance — teachings that inspired and nurtured high accomplishments in both science and medicine. 

During Islam’s Golden Age, Muslims made immense contributions to the arts, sciences and to the cultural growth of humankind.  Today, we can make far fewer such claims. 

Of the three Muslim Nobel Prize recipients, all made their mark while working in industrialised countries. The knowledge-based economy predicated on science, technology and innovation (STI) is still an elusive dream for most parts of the Muslim world.  And, as a consequence, we are relatively poor.

It is against this backdrop that the new president of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), Dr Bandar Hajjar, embarked on a crusade to alleviate poverty when he assumed office in 2016. Poverty alleviation is an essential pre-requisite to achieving at least six of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by world leaders in 2015 for achievement by 2030, namely:

ZERO hunger;

GOOD health and well-being;

QUALITY education;

CLEAN water and sanitation;

AFFORDABLE and clean energy, and,

IMPROVED industry, innovation and infrastructure.

Taking up its part in the vital poverty alleviation effort became the clarion call of the IsDB during its 43rd annual meeting in Tunis last week. Success in implementation is underpinned by the use of science, technology and innovation (STI), seen by the IsDB as “a key catalyst and pivotal driver of development”. 

Bandar is charting a five-year Transformation Roadmap, which aims to turn the bank into a “first-class institution of developers proactively offering comprehensive development solutions”. 

He envisages the Bank “at the frontier of development”, presenting models that blend authenticity and modernity, and supporting member countries as they build a robust and sustainable STI ecosystem.  

Assisting Bandar as his chief scientific adviser is Dr Hayat Sindi, a champion of science and technology in the Middle East, and a member of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council.

A full-fledged STI Roadmap has been devised to develop key strategies and policy frameworks that motivate the creation of new technologies and solutions, foster research and innovation, and play a key role in enabling infrastructure for future growth in developing countries.

The roadmap incorporates ambitious but attainable goals such as  establishing: “Transform Fund” to promote innovation; an STI online platform — “Engage” — to facilitate innovative solutions, and matchmaking STI prizes and scholarships to encourage scientific research; an Intellectual Property (IP) Office to leverage IP in developing countries; and, an STI Policy Framework to align all IsDB policies, and to support member countries with their STI policies. 

The Roadmap also involves holding an annual IsDB-STI Conference where the world’s leading innovators are celebrated.

To facilitate this initiative, a 10-member multidisciplinary Scientific Advisory Board was inaugurated during the Tunis meeting.

The “Transform Fund” launched on April 3 is a massive US$500 million endowment to help member countries improve lives and empower communities using the tools of STI. The aim is to support the Muslim world with the power of innovation, facilitate the commercialisation of technology, promote joint activities among member countries, research institutions, and ensure the development of entrepreneurship.

In its four decades of existence, the IsDB has made a significant contribution towards the socio- economic advancement of the ummah through its various country projects.  It is now timely and appropriate for it to harness the potentials of modern science to restore the glory that shone on the Islamic civilisation once a long time ago.

Zakri Abdul Hamid is Science Adviser to the Prime Minister, and a member of the newly established Scientific Advisory Board to the President of the Islamic Development Bank

[email protected]