Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Next Fall, the Nobel Prize Foundation will honor exceptional minds in Chemistry, Physics, Medicine, Literature, Economics, and Peace. More recently though the focus has shifted to the lack of diversity in the winners, overshadowing the accomplishments of those being recognized.
And it’s true: throughout its 120-year+ history, the majority of winners have been White men who speak English. Despite vague promises to encourage a more diverse selection of laureates, little progress has been made.
While much of the debate is directed towards the underrepresentation of women and black Nobel Laureates, the Foundation has also fallen short in other aspects of diversity, particularly in recognizing the contributions of the Muslim world.
From 1901 to 2022, a total of 954 individual Nobel laureates were awarded, with only 13 of them being Muslims. This amounts to a mere 1.3% of the overall winners, despite Muslims constituting approximately 24% of the global population. In stark contrast, Jewish laureates, who make up a mere 0.2% of the global population, account for 22% of the Nobel winners.
Of course, the Foundation is not entirely to blame. It is undeniable that the lion’s share of power, wealth, and prestige is concentrated in the Global North, where esteemed Western institutions renowned for scientific breakthroughs hold sway. Nevertheless, a paradigm shift is imperative, particularly if the world aims to equip itself adequately for the formidable challenges that lie ahead.
For example, the Muslim world is facing a concoction of distressing challenges. Climate change is poised to devastate the Global South. Already escalating temperatures, economic instability, droughts, and severe food shortages afflict the most vulnerable populations on Earth. Climate-related challenges have already played their part in instigating conflicts, from the new violence in Sudan to the old conflict in Syria. Consequently, these conflicts contribute to an overwhelming influx of refugees, posing a significant challenge that the international community is failing on.
By extending recognition to thought leaders, scientists, and activists from the Muslim world, the Nobel Foundation would not only provide vital financial support for their ongoing work but also offer a transformative platform of prestige to amplify their impact on inspiring movements across the Muslim world.
Consider, for instance, the remarkable contributions of Dr. Mohammed Al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League, the largest Muslim non-governmental organization in the world. Dr. Al-Issa has played a pivotal role in establishing ground-breaking interfaith alliances spanning the Global South and Global North. His resolute efforts in countering Holocaust denialism were truly noteworthy, as evidenced by his historic leadership of a delegation to Auschwitz in 2020, marking him as the most senior Islamic figure to undertake such a mission.
However, Dr. Al-Issa’s endeavors extend far beyond combatting extremism and promoting religious tolerance. He has assumed a moral obligation to confront the pressing challenge of climate change. Notably, he initiated Faith For Our Planet, the planet’s first climate interfaith non-governmental organization. This pioneering initiative is revolutionizing climate action through an unprecedented partnership between global climate scientists and faith leaders.
But he is just one of many in the Muslim world overlooked by the Nobel Foundation.
Regrettably, prominent figures like Kawkaba Nowruzi, a courageous Afghan midwife who has risked her life for two decades to provide vital medical care to expectant mothers, and organizations such as The White Helmets, an intrepid network of Syrian search and rescue workers who have fearlessly confronted the Syrian Army and Russian airstrikes to save lives from the ruins, have fallen victim to oversight by the Nobel Committee.
Unfortunately, the path to change remains uncertain.
At present, the Nobel prize nominators benefit from a statute that shields the disclosure of nomination details, an approach that undermines diversity. By relying on this statute, the Foundation can assert that nominators consider diversity without being held accountable to prove it. If the Foundation were to shed this archaic rule that belongs to a bygone era, nominators would face intensified pressure to substantiate their commitment to promoting diversity and inclusivity. Top of Form
Alarming as it may be, the year 2021 witnessed a disheartening absence of diversity among the Nobel Prize winners, with each laureate being of White descent. Adding to the concern, the Foundation dismissed the necessity of implementing diversity quotas. However, embracing diversity quotas would undeniably render the Foundation more representative of the contemporary world, where numerous fields boast an increase in women, minorities, and peoples of different faiths. Bottom of Form
The Muslim world stands at the center of multiple crises, but it also holds the key to a multitude of solutions.
Undoubtedly, the Nobel Prize retains its remarkable prestige, capturing international attention year after year. Yet, if the Nobel Foundation persists in overlooking the dedicated individuals striving to address the pressing challenges plaguing the Muslim world, it risks relegating itself to the annals of history, devoid of the meaningful impact it could have achieved.