Einstein and Zuwail: A tale of two cultures

Ahmed Al-Moslemany , Sunday 21 Apr 2019

While Einstein's name is remembered the world over, the Arab world's geniuses have been forgotten, even in their own countries

Einstein and Zuwail

Moustafa Mosharafa was the father of physics in Egypt. Mosharafa met Albert Einstein in Port Said. Although the Mosharafa-Einstein meeting was a very significant event indeed, soon some reduced the genius of Mosharafa just to that event. Overlooking his entire grand scientific career and his efforts in constructing contemporary science in Egypt, they saw that one sentence as being sufficient to sum up his career.

Einstein was a real legend, but the Western media succeeded in augmenting the size of that legend and setting him apart from other giants of science by light years.

Ahmed Zuwail was a living legend — the greatest chemist in the world for long decades. He won the Nobel Prize alone and was nominated for another Nobel. He was singular in theorising and inventive in application. He founded single-handedly a new science: femtochemistry. However, the media in our country succeeded in destroying a part of the legend, keeping Einstein on the pedestal of fame and driving the don of chemistry in his final years to the abyss of disputing over a piece of land for the sake of building a university.

The age of legends started with the death of Einstein and the age of silence began with the death of Zuwail. Zuwail doesn’t exist among us as the greatest scientist in our history. But the volume of legends and myths which enhances Einstein’s genius is brought up day after day. Much of what is mentioned about Einstein isn’t right and many of the sayings and wise quotes are inaccurate. Much of what’s said about dissecting his body, brain and head is baseless. The entire world is ready to listen to a thousand legends about Einstein every day. Every moment Einstein lived became historic and every word he uttered – even if it were nonsense – became a source of thought and analysis. When Princeton University in 2018 published Einstein’s travel diaries to the Far East and the Middle East, every word in it was media talk everywhere.

The science of physics was fortunate to have Einstein and Einstein was fortunate to have the media by his side. Einstein pushed science forward and the media kept Einstein in the record of the immortals. Not a single day passes in the world without mention of him.

Zuwail doesn’t exist anymore in our media institutions, nor in people’s talk. Our nation seems to be bearing a great history and a meagre memory. We became the nation of oblivion; destroying our homelands through lethargy and casting stones on our heroes.

I am one of those who follows what’s published about Einstein, whether fact or legend, what concerns science and what concerns thought and religion. I was astonished at the volume of articles published about Einstein and Islam, then Einstein and Shias, and whether Einstein converted to Shia Islam. Reading about the Iranian physicist Mahmoud Hessabi drove me to read about the probability of Einstein being Shia after studying Islamic sects.

The sites Elaph and Al-Arabiya and hundreds of other Arabic and Persian sites published many stories regarding correspondences between the Iranian Shia cleric Ayatollah Hossein Borujerdi and Einstein through Mahmoud Hessabi. Stories say there were correspondences between the man of religion and the man of science and that the Iranian scientist Ebrahim Mahdavi tried to buy the correspondence from a Jewish manuscript middleman for three million dollars, but the deal wasn’t finalised.

According to Mohammad Baqer Majlesi, in his book, Seas of Lights, translated by Hamid Reda Pahlavi, the Iranian Shah’s brother: “Relativity appeared first in Shia traces during the Prophet’s (PBUH) Ascension journey. When he ascended from the ground his leg or his cloak hit a pot of water and it fell and the water was spilt. Upon his return (PBUH) from the Ascension, he witnessed the water spilling from the pot despite the passage of time. This is evidence on the relativity of space and time."

Again according to Seas of Lights, the resurrection doctrine of the dead body and soul, and what had been mentioned in the Prophet’s (PBUH) family sciences hundreds of years ago, regarding the movement of light and the body, was confirmed by Einstein in the possibility of turning matter into energy and energy into matter. This was the reason behind Einstein’s conversion into the Twelver Shia sect of Islam! Nothing substantiates this — not correspondence, not Islam and not Einstein being Shia. However, Einstein’s legend succeeded in extending across geography and through cultures, religions and sects, to preoccupy people’s minds throughout the world.

Every single letter uttered by Einstein became as if a holy text. Every slip of the tongue issued by Einstein was as if it were a wise saying. Even his picture where he stuck his tongue out in front of the camera became one of the most famous pictures worldwide. The legendary scientist Albert Einstein didn’t have considerable knowledge outside science while he was portrayed as the person who knows everything about everything, and he was omniscient.

In our country, every letter uttered by the legendary Ahmed Zuwail was filtered in search of faults, every slip of the tongue augmented and every move incriminated. Some have stooped so low as to describe him as just a science teacher who was lucky to travel to the United States. I was fortunate to edit Ahmed Zuwail’s memoirs, entitled The Age of Science, whose introduction was written by Naguib Mahfouz. I saw with my own eyes how figures such as Naguib Mahfouz, Farouk El-Baz, Mostafa El-Sayed and Mohamed Ghoneim treated Dr Zuwail. I was also fortunate to see how the American and European scientific community treated Dr Zuwail.

Dr Zuwail was more than a legend, but the legend met with that absurd Arab ondition which builds its existence around and exerts its utmost for one objective: living at level ground zero.

Our nation has succeeded in killing every legend that emerged among us, so as to – proudly – join in the aggrandisement of the other’s legends. Geniuses are theirs; we have none. Presence and continuity are theirs and absence is ours. Their countries are countries of glory and ours are countries of nothingness.

It’s high time to restore our self-esteem, for our scientists and our great men, and to those who gave us prestige and status. It’s high time to stop neglecting the sources of pride in our countries. Science is the solution.

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