The Brain Drain Phenomenon in the Muslim World

By Mohd Abbas Abdul Razak & Machouche Salah

For many decades the Muslim world has been plagued by a number of national issues. Poverty, illiteracy, leadership crisis, political instability, economic crisis, etc. The brain drain phenomenon which is one of the many unsolved issues in most Muslim countries has not been given serious attention. Unless the Muslim world tackles this issue, it will not be able to witness any great development in the areas of science and technology. In a simplified manner, what is defined as a brain drain phenomenon, is the migration of experts, professionals and intelligentsia from Muslim countries to the developed nations in Europe and America. Research into this topic explains that brain drain happens for a number of reasons. We would like to highlight some of the underlying factors that cause the brain drain phenomenon to happen in the Muslim world such as economic crisis, political instability and opportunity for growth.  

Economic Crisis

Poor economic conditions in many Muslim countries encourage the intelligentsia group from Muslim lands to migrate to countries in the West that are more affluent. Metaphorically stated as the ‘cream of the society’ these intelligent people migrate to First World countries in the West in search of better salaries and other perks for themselves and their families. With the increase in their source of income, this smart category of people will be able to enjoy a good quality of life in the West. Things like good education and a good living environment for their families allure them to migrate. Other than that, the idea of enjoying four different seasons in a year also makes it appealing for their migration

Political Instability

The chaotic situation in politics has brought a huge problem in many Muslim countries, particularly in the Middle East. Leadership crisis that erupts into wars and sectarian violence with bomb blasts terrorizes not only the lives of the ordinary people on the street but also the highly professional group in many major cities in the Muslim world. In seeing no end to these chaotic conditions in their countries, the highly educated, business community, and scientists migrate to a safer haven for their families in the West. Besides the safety and security, countries in the West are able to provide a more lucrative salary compared to what they used to earn in their homelands. Not only that, the majority of them are given citizenship to stay in those countries in the West. As a result of this, any of their latest finding in the areas of science and technology will be accredited to their new homeland and not to their native lands in the Muslim world.

Opportunity for Growth

The poor economic conditions in the Muslim world somehow fails the governments to provide the much-needed infrastructure like research centres, a good collection of books in the libraries, and well-equipped science laboratories for conducting experiments. To facilitate these great minds from the Muslim world, countries in the West make available their existing research centres, laboratories and sufficient grants for research purposes. These privileges enjoyed by the Muslim professionals and scientists would allow them to further advance in their areas of specialization and research.

Preventive Measures

If the brain drain phenomenon is left unattended, Muslim countries will be losing their science intelligentsia to the West. In their effort to curb the brain drain phenomenon in their countries, Muslim governments must take preventive measures: Below we have listed a few of such measures that can be taken:  

  1. In order to prevent the brain drain phenomenon from happening, Muslim countries must come out with some strategic plans. One of the things, that Muslim countries must do, is to stop all wars and terror attacks that destabilize their countries. When war stops, a large sum of the national budget now spent on buying armaments can be used on education and scientific research. We strongly believe that is possible as many Muslim countries in the Middle East are affluent with the sale of oil and gas.    
  2. In the effort to stop the young and talented minds in the Muslim world from being allured by the West, governments in the Muslim countries should start a “brain retention” program. Through this program, brilliant students should be identified at the university level and be given scholarships. Governments need to ensure such students that upon finishing their various specializations, they will be provided with jobs with good salaries and facilitate them with good research centres to conduct their “research and development”. Perhaps with such assurances, the governments in Muslim countries would be able to stop their students from fleeing away from their native homelands.
  3. As for those who have settled in advanced countries in the West, Muslim governments should entice the professionals who have been working there to come back and utilize the experience gained in their own countries. For that to happen, Muslim governments should come up with a program called ‘brain gain’. Through this program, the governments should allow all professionals and scientists to return back with their families. If they have wives and children from the West, they should be granted first a PR status and later given citizenship in their countries of domicile. Furthermore, they should be allowed a tax exemption for their savings, vehicles and other valuable household items to be transferred from the West to their native homelands. The returning professionals should be guaranteed job opportunities with good salaries.  

Ethical Issues in Brain Drain

Muslim scholars and professionals who for some valid reasons have chosen to settle down in the West, need to abide by some ethical principles. As Muslims, they should not render their knowledge, expertise and services to the establishment to which they are attached in the West in producing weapons of mass destruction; nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Such weapons can be lethal in killing a large number of people instantaneously. History has proven to us that at times of war, the West had unscrupulously used such destructive weapons against humanity. A case to highlight here will be the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Atomic bombs that were dropped killed between 129,000-226,000 people, mainly civilians. An avid reader of history will discover that during the First and Second World Wars, roughly 60 million died and again many of them were helpless ordinary people on the streets. Not only that, the damage caused to infrastructures and the environment was horrendous. On the contrary, it should be okay for Muslim professionals and scientists to indulge in finding a new drug that can prevent deadly diseases and on how to prolong the life expectancy of those suffering from cancer and other serious ailments. Such a meritorious effort on the part of Muslim scientists to save humanity is a highly welcomed one in Islam.  

Another ethical issue that deserves mentioning here is Muslim students who are studying in Western universities. If they were receiving scholarships from their countries, then they have an obligation to return back to serve the people in their homeland for the ethical reason that the money they received came from their taxpayers in their respective countries. It will be unethical on the part of such students if they chose to stay in the West while there is a greater need for their expertise in their own motherland.     

Brain Drain from the West to the Third World 

Since the West had colonized countries in the East and Africa in the past, it has a moral obligation to rectify many of its wrongdoings. As compensation to its former colonies, the West should not only think of aiding monetarily but also by transferring technology. Under the transfer of technology program, the West should send volunteers who are scholars, scientists, biologists, botanists, environmentalists, etc. to the Third World and Muslim countries. If this happens, such an act should be considered a praiseworthy one on the part of the West. In a way, by sharing their knowledge and expertise Western experts can narrow the economic disparities found in the West and East. Not only that, people in the East will benefit in terms of getting access to good drinking water, turning barren lands into fertile farming lands, in the preservation and conservation of the environment, etc.

Besides that, Western countries should bring young students from their former colonies and train them to be professionals in the areas of their choice. Upon experiencing life and completing their training in the West, these professionals and scientists can return back to their countries to implement the knowledge gained in the West in their own countries. If this happens then in years to come we will be able to see great changes and prosperity taking place in the East and Africa.

At the moment, the brain drain phenomenon that happens in most Muslim countries benefits the West. If governments in the Muslim countries fail to attend to the brain drain issues, most likely their countries will be like what it is now for many more decades to come. It will be a smart move on the part of the Muslim countries if they could take vigorous actions to tackle the brain drain issue. Implementing the “brain gain” and “brain retention” programs will definitely benefit the Muslim world. ***

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