Muslim Nobel Prize Winner Ahmed Hassan Zewail

By Bernie on 05 May 2008

Ahmed Hassan Zewail Nobel Prize Chemistry
Photo Credit: World chemistsDB

Two years ago I noted that hundreds of blogs and websites mistakenly offer up the statistic that there are 10 or 11 Muslim Nobel Prize Laureates. Excluding the Nobel Peace Prize which does not reward intellectual achievement (after all, Yasser Arafat got one) I wrote that there were only three Muslims (out of 1.5 billion) who have won Nobel Prizes. Two in Science (Abdus Salam, and Ahmed Zewail) and one in Literature (Naguib Mahfouz).

Seven months after I wrote that article I should have updated the total to 4. So please add Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature. Pamuk, it should be mentioned, is hardly a Muslim having been brought up in a secular, westernized family. He is what I call a MINO, a Muslim in Name only.

Another MINO is Ahmed Zewail, a most busy scientist to whom many Muslim websites like to proudly point as an example that a Muslim can indeed achieve scientific success. However, Zewail himself has written that one of the barriers to scientific and technological success in backward Islamic developing countries is the mixing of Shariah state laws and Muslim religious beliefs. That certain cultures, nations, religions (without naming them) lack appreciation for science and technology. There is more detail in his commentary given to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican, "Science for the Have-nots" [PDF].

If you're wondering about the strikes-out, Zewail recalls what happened to a fellow Egyptian Nobel Laureate, Naguib Mahfouz, who got himself stabbed in the neck with a kitchen knife by Egyptian Islamic militants, so Zawail knows to keep his name off a fatwa by not saying bad things about Islam.

Readers who read my article at the top of the fold know that Ahmed Hassan Zewail is an Egyptian American chemist, and the winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering work in femtochemistry. The operative word here is American.

Femtochemistry, in case you skipped your post doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley, is the study of chemical reactions across femtoseconds. That clear it up for you? Let me get to the politics here: I have no doubt that Arabs would have as many Nobel Prizes as Jews if only they were freed from the grip of Islam. Zewail, rather than an example of how Muslims can achieve scientific success is actually the opposite lesson.

Zewail succeeded in spite of being Muslim.

As I noted in How Many Muslims have won Nobel Prizes, anyway?:

So it becomes a bit clearer why most Muslims are so backward. It's their religion. As I've said all along, Islam keeps its subjects as backward as the religion itself. If Muslims in America seem educated, it is because Islam has less an influence on their lives than in Muslim countries. None of the Muslims who were Nobel Laureates lived under the stultifying cloud of Islam, except for the dead terrorist Yasser Arafat.


  • Ahmed Hassan Zewail was born on 26 Feb 1946 in Damanhur, Egypt. He has a wife, Dema and two daughters (Maha and Amani) and two sons (Nabeel and Hani).

  • He graduated from the University of Alexandria (BS 1967, MS 1969) and University of Pennsylvania (PhD 1974).

  • Wolf Prize in Chemistry 1993

  • Guggenheim Fellowship 1987

  • Naturalized US Citizen 1982

  • American Physical Society 1982

  • National Academy of Sciences 1989

  • Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society 1992

  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1993

  • American Philosophical Society

  • Egypt's highest state honour, the Grand Collar of the Nile 1999

  • Cambridge University Honorary Doctorate in Science 2006

  • Member of Pontifical Academy of Sciences

  • ArabianBusiness, Power 100, The World's Most Influential Arabs, Rank List 2007

    56# Ahmed Hassan Zewail
    This key work has enabled scientists to analyse transition states in selected chemical reactions, as the technique allows the description of reactions on very short time scales.

    He received his first degree from the University of Alexandria, before moving from Egypt to the United States to complete his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania.

    After post doctorate work at the University of California, Berkeley, he was awarded a faculty appointment at Caltech in 1976, where he has remained ever since.

    He became a naturalised citizen of the United States in 1982, and in 1990, he was made the first Linus Pauling Chair in Chemical Physics.

    In 1999, Zewail became the third ethnic Egyptian to receive the Nobel Prize, following in the footsteps of Egyptians Anwar Sadat and Naguib Mahfouz.

  • One of the original editors of the Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

  • Caltech Media Relations, Zewail wins Nobel Prize

    His international awards include the Welch Prize, King Faisal Prize, the Wolf Prize, the Carl Zeiss Award, the Leonardo da Vinci Award of Excellence, the Bonner Chemiepreis Award, and the Medal of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

    Among his national prizes are many from the American Chemical Society, including the Harrison-Howe Award, the Peter Debye Award, the E. Bright Wilson Award, and the Buck-Whitney Award. The American Physical Society has honored Dr. Zewail with the Earle K. Plyler Prize and the Herbert P. Broida Prize. He has also received the Chemical Sciences Award from the National Academy of Sciences. In 1995, the president of Egypt, H. Mubarak, honored Dr. Zewail with the Order of Merit, First Class.T

As I said, a most busy scientist. Ahmed Zawail has an excellent Website.

Anyone may republish this article for non-commercial use without asking my permission. I make it easy, see details here.

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