Did the German-born Albert Einstein, a non-observant Jew, convert to Shi’a Islam following an alleged correspondence with an Iranian religious leader in the 1950s? The remarkable question was posed by Shi’a News — a website dedicated to reporting on the global Shi’a community — to the grandson of the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Borujerdi.
The unnamed grandson’s answers are no less remarkable than the question posed. He admits that he has “no precise and demonstrable proof of Mr. Einstein’s conversion to Islam and Shi’ism,” and stresses that Grand Ayatollah Borujerdi had no direct relationship with Einstein but corresponded through the Iranian scientist Professor Mahmoud Hessaby, whose alleged relationship with Einstein has never been proven either. The grandson also admits that a search into his grandfather’s archives has not produced any example of correspondence between Grand Ayatollah Borujerdi and Einstein.
However, the grandson goes to great lengths to explain that a relationship between the Grand Ayatollah and Einstein is not “refutable,” and argues: “I have studied Mr. Einstein’s personality. He was a polyhistor whose thinking was not restricted to physics. He studied other disciplines, including Islamic philosophy and study of words [elm-e kalaam].”
What has motivated Shi’a News to publish such obvious nonsense? The answer can hardly be anything but inferiority complexes of the editors of the website.
Ashamed of the fact that Islamic civilization has not managed to produce a single scientist of Einstein’s stature in the modern age, Shi’a News makes a Muslim out of Einstein. In the short term, such acts of self-deception may make the unbearable burden of underdevelopment and backwardness more bearable to the target audience, but deep inside the readers of Shi’a News know better.
Shi’a News should pose a different question: How can Islamic civilization reach the scientific level of the West? In less abstract terms, Shi’a News should speculate what career prospects Einstein would have if he lived in present day Iran. Such speculation is admittedly not easy, but had Einstein been a physics professor at the time of the revolution of 1979, he would have been purged during the ensuing “cultural revolution” that cleansed Iranian universities of “non-Islamic elements.” In that case, Einstein would have followed the example of other Iranian academics by emigrating to the United States. If Einstein was a young student of physics in today’s Iran, his fate would not have been any different: Einstein would have applied for scholarships at universities in North America, just like thousands of other talented Iranian students who are leaving Iran.