The knowledge deficit
The pursuit of knowledge occupies a central place in Islam. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) declared that the acquisition of knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim. He exhorted his followers to carry the torch of knowledge and learning far and wide. Islam opened the portals of knowledge to all and sundry, men and women, rich and poor, king and slave. This refreshingly open, dynamic and egalitarian approach brought about revolutionary consequences for not only Muslims but human civilization as a whole.
One of the gravest ailments affecting large sections of Muslims is the abysmally low level of literacy and their endemic indifference to education. Almost two-thirds of Muslims in the world today are illiterate, far below world average. Nearly three-fourths of Muslim women across the world can neither read nor write. The Arab Human Development Report 2002 identified three major deficits in the Arab world today: knowledge, freedom and women's rights. The report reveals that illiteracy rates in the Arab world are still higher than the international average and even higher than the average in the developing countries.
The education of females has a particularly significant bearing on nutrition, healthcare and hygiene. It greatly improves the family's ability to manage basic child care, increase the nutritional content of diet, ensure a more effective diagnosis of disease, and improve elementary healthcare. Several studies suggest that the education of females is positively correlated with a significant increase in immunization and child mortality rates. It has been estimated that mothers who have completed primary school have 20% less malnutrition in their children than illiterate mothers.
It is now universally recognized that education is the key to human development, progress and global competitiveness. No people or country can hope to reap the harvest of globalization without making a heavy investment in human development, especially education. Unfortunately, the Muslim and Arab world lags far behind in this crucial area. The Second Arab Human Development Report 2003 concludes that the status of knowledge in the Arab world in terms of demand, production and dissemination is grossly inadequate and ineffectual. The Third Arab Human Development Report 2004 points out that scientific research in Arab countries is seriously hampered by weak basic research and the almost total absence of advanced research in fields such as information technology and molecular biology. Arab countries, according to the report, have one of the lowest levels of research funding in the world. Investment in research and development in Arab countries is less than one-seventh of the world average. The average number of scientists and engineers working in research and development in Arab countries is 371 per million people, while the world average, including countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, is 979.
The number of books published in the Arab world does not exceed 1.1 per cent of world production. The number of books translated from foreign languages into Arabic is negligible.