Role of Knowledge and Science in Islamic Civilization
It is becoming more widely known that the first university of Europe was established in Spain by Muslims. But how many of us - whether academically inclined or not - know that university professors' formal black gowns originated with the kaftan, the traditional outer robe worn by Arabic men since ancient times?
Six centuries before Christopher Columbus sailed westward to prove the earth was round (only to be "interrupted" by the New World!), Muslim mathematicians of Kufa in Iraq not only knew that our planet is a globe, but had also calculated its circumference with remarkable accuracy. It's no wonder that Crusaders who trekked from Europe to the Holy Land to liberate it from "heathen" Muslims, returned home with many new lessons in civilization, as well as practical inventions and scientific insight.
From the eighth to the tenth centuries, Baghdad flourished as the world's most civilized city. Its university was attended by 6,000 students from all over the world and it boasted an endowment equivalent to millions of dollars. Baghdad streets were also paved, drained by covered sewers, and illuminated - while pigs still roamed the dark and muddy streets of Medieval Paris.
For some four centuries (roughly 700 through 1100 AD) Arabic -- not Latin -- was the international language of knowledge. During this Islamic "golden age," many Christians studied this language and attended Muslim universities.
Aristotle and Plato were rediscovered by Muslim scholars who translated many Greek manuscripts into Arabic. They are the originators of modern chemistry, meteorology, mathematics, sociology, and geography. Muslim surgeons were also the first to dissect the human body, which was forbidden to Christians by the Church.
Muslims during this period had a renowned passion for intellectual and scientific pursuits; the first known telescope was built for a Muslim caliph.
Without the Arabic numbering system, which included decimals and the cipher (zero), modern science and business would be impossible.
Many of today's finest cotton fabrics -- including muslin, damask and cambric -- originated with Muslim agriculturalists and artisans. And in tribute to Muslim metallurgy, Damascus swords and Toledo blades are still highly prized. Sugar, coffee, rice, cherries, citrus fruits and numerous other culinary delicacies and seasonings reached European (and ultimately, Western) tables because of Muslims.
One of the greatest contributions of Islam to the Western world was the art of papermaking, adapted and developed from techniques pioneered by the Chinese. Without good quality affordable paper, the spread of printing and the availability of books for universal education would have been impossible.
The duty of every Muslim to perform the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime brought together scholars from the most distant countries; thus, scientific knowledge spread rapidly and new discoveries were easily shared and exchanged throughout the Muslim world and beyond.
While Christian Europe was still enveloped in darkness, poverty and gloom, overshadowed by ecclesiastical intolerance, Muslims had established a highly advanced and sophisticated civilization that historians to this day have not satisfactorily explained. The Belgian-born American writer May Sarton, referring to Islam, said; "The creation of a new civilization of international and encyclopedic magnitude within less than two centuries is something that we can describe, but not completely explain ... It was the most creative movement of the Middle Ages down to the thirteenth century."
And while the Christian world dealt with those who dared to question established dogmas by burning them alive at the stake, Islam encouraged free thought and developed the rational experimental method, which is the foundation of modern science and philosophy. Before the Prophet Muhammad, people did not dare to conduct experiments, for fear of reprisal by evil spirits. Muhammad dealt a mortal blow to many false superstitions and elemental fears and helped to prepare human society for the great potential of scientific inquiry.
In one of his most memorable sayings on the subject, Prophet Muhammad affirmed that "the ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyr." He taught Muslims that ignorance was humanity's greatest poverty, that a mind without education is like a brave man without arms, and that knowledge brings people -- irrespective of gender, age, race or religion -- into the highest rank of human accomplishment.
The greatest Jewish treatise of the Middle Ages was written by Maimonides, not in Hebrew, but in Arabic. And in another example of interfaith engagement at that time, a Christian served as head of a college in Damascus.
Islam also developed its own distinct architecture, whose influence can be traced through India, to China, Africa, and Russia. While the Tartars transmitted Islamic culture and art to Russia, the Turks brought it to the Balkans, Austria, Poland, and Southern Germany. Bavarian native costumes, Hungarian rugs, and Prussian helmets still reveal their Islamic origins in design.
Christian Europe was admittedly slow in recognizing Islamic culture as the originating source of the Renaissance. But through the influence of Islamic scholarship, especially in Sicily and Spain, European civilization was transformed.
"Let us compare the two civilizations," said Seignobos in his Histoire de la Civilization au Moyen Age (History of Medieval Civilization) "which in the eleventh century divided the Ancient World. In the West - miserable little cities, peasant's huts and great fortresses - a country always troubled by war, where one could not travel ten leagues without running the risk of being robbed; and in the Orient - Constantinople, Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad - all cities of the 'Arabian Nights,' with their marble palaces, their workshops, their schools, their bazaars, their villages and with the incessant movement of merchants who traveled in peace from Spain to Persia.
There is no doubt that the [Muslim] and Byzantine worlds were richer, better policed, better lighted than the Western world. In the eleventh century, these two worlds began to become acquainted; the barbarous Christians came into contact with the civilized [Muslims] in two ways - by war and by commerce. And by contact with the Orientals the Occidentals became civilized."
Today, it would seem that the civilizations of East and West, or the Muslim and non-Muslim world, have become reversed. But perhaps it is more a case of having forgotten those former glories in the pursuit of present-day material and political agendas. A re-discovery and renewed appreciation of Muslim accomplishments would benefit all of humanity, allowing us to see - and hopefully resolve -- present conflicts within the wider spectrum of human history.
Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.
sources cited. Where did all this remarkable knowledge and specific facts come from?
Seems very strange that you would not cite your sources. It was a good read although I am
leaning toward the belief that this is mostly fiction.... Every religion talks about how
superior their culture has been throughout history. I hope you can see why I have to be
skeptical about everything I read. Sources are the most important part of any good article.
facebook and twitter, pls?
You either write facts (Historical, mathematical, etc) and discredit this writting on a reasoned out basis or keep quiet. The use of derogatory language is not going to turn the One God into three like the lost ones believe neither are you going to wish away the facts presented by Dr. ElMasry. Please try to open up your mind to the truth and you will see some sense in this article.
May Allah grant us all full knowledge of the truth - Ameen.
I humby wants 2 say that i really admire the pionts u discussed in the above article-i wants 2 seek ur advise,as a mslim student what responsibilties we should take in cnsidration to overcome of such reversal influence.
This silly things is wallowing in some real or imagined Glorious Past.There is no living witnesses- are there? It is so ignorant of what has been existing in the past of so many centuries of Islam- one of humiliation and in dumps.
Why not talk about the present and future now ?
So get on with the future fellows- to the Future!
i beg to differ with you in your conclusion. it is true that many muslims took from others but they did improve on such knowledge. besides the quran contains no advice/injunction, implied or specific that tells followers not to pursue knowledge. to the contrary the quran tells its followers to seek knowledge, to explore, to ponder, to question and to study unvirsal laws in order to find the truth behind it and come to the conclusion that it is all divinely created. from the miracle of our own bodies to the stars and the universe: the quran asks the believer to ponder and explore BUT only with a 'sultan' which means knowledge and wisdom.
what has been done by muslims are all human trying to follow the divine and sure some have failed miserably and even followed their own desires and still do, yet what contains in the book is fine advice that encourages scientific approach to all physical existence and more. one must make this distinction to be fair.
thus i conclude that quran encourages science and there has been no such practice of sending scientist to the gallows which was the norm in christian dark ages. yet sadly we have persecuted people who have been spiritual but that is for another forum. may be islamicity can do an article on such historical figures who have been persecuted for their spiritual understanding of the divine.
While your arguments all along had some validity to them as Civilization have learned not to reinvent the Wheel everytime , they have built on each other's achievements.This article emphasizes the aspect of improvement but also in a large part the one of innovation .The most remarkable aspect of this propagation is its speed fueled by passion and fervor.And this is where you lost total credibility.If I am Muslim today it is because my religion has compelled me to embrace science and intellectual endeavors and stay away from any form of dogmatism.
You should stay away from those rhetorics where half truth and half ignorance coexist .
The obvious correlation is that Muslim scientific advancement stopped with the cessation of the advancement of Islamic conquest. Once there were no more new ideas to assimilate, the Muslim world stagnated. It seems the rest of the world continued to discover new scientific ideas, but not the Muslim world. I wonder why that was?
I do understand the contoversy with the article's title, but i don't think we should ignore the importance of scholars,especially when they are muslims.The Rassul MUHAMMAD(SAW) did say to preserve knowledge by writing it and the fact that the 1st Surah talks about the ability of writing.So in this sense we should give the scholars some credit.
However the best blood goes to the one who gives up his life and soul to protect ISLAM and what it stands for.Wasalaam
My problem is what is "Islamic science"? Should it not be correctly called "Muslim science"? To be called Islamic, scientific advancements must originate from Islam (i.e., Koran) otherwise scientific advances should be considered as human endeavours (i.e., called Muslim Sciences). Did any scientific advancements originate from reading of Koran? I doubt it.
Funny, muslims always like to bask in past glory, whereas the world is moving ahead to create new glories. Hindu civilization / sciences were very advanced one time; but Hindus don't worry about their past glories, only the present and future glories.
My problem with all these articles is the emphasis on the "Islam" in "Islamic Science." How much of science achievement in the Islamic world can be attributed to Islam? Context is, as Muslims love to tell non-Muslims who quote the Koran, all important. Remember that the context of the golden ages of Islamic science was that of a civilization which sat on the primary crossroads between all humaman trade in Europe-Asia-Africa. Thus they had access to the advances of people from all directions. In fact many so-called "Islamic" advances can be traced to India and China. Islam had also recently conquered two of the most scientifically advanced empires of the time: Byzantine Rome and Persia. To the conquerer's credit they absorbed as well as destroyed empires. These advantages were humongous in a time when communication - the lifeblood of scientific advancement - was limited to the time and spatial scales of human travel.
When did Muslims start to lose the lead in science? While al-Ghazali's focusing Islamic scholarship on religious rather than scientific learning may have played a role, it should also be noted that the lead started to dwindle around the same time European seafaring allowed them to bypass the Muslim world - thus negating much of the Muslim world's geographical advantage.
Historical Muslim accomplishment in science only proves Islam and science are not incompatible. It does not at all prove that there is any inherent scientific advantage in Islam. In fact, I suspect that a reading of modern and ancient history combined with a study of the effects of rigid, comprehensive faith on scientific inquiry might suggest that Islam is somewhat inimical to sciene.
its only the west who needs to realize that they have lost this game quite some time ago.
giving equal lawful rights to both a prostitute and a nun. wont work, does not work.
another crazy example is they are introducing same sex marriages viz changing the natural phenomenon.
calling it a wedding between same sex people is any thing but sane.
promoting trash life style via media wont work, mate. in the name of being liberal. crazy stuff does not work.
Don't be too quick to declare the title to be so shallow. Pay attention to the fact that it was not the author's creation, it is a Hadith.
We should not quibble about the title of this article since those who paid with their lives in the early stages of Islam surely have their rewards with God. But those who have followed are also the ones who have kept Islam alive through their writings.
At some stage this religion which professes to represent peace and blessing (rahma lil alameen) has to reflect its motto through the conduct of those who profess to represent it. It is futile to go on holding to the sword whilst preaching peace and love.
At some point in time the adherents must take on knowledge, wisdom and beautiful dialogue to convince their adversaries as Quran advises us. Hence the saying of the Prophet is meant for a time of peace that followed his own battles. It is also evident that he himself preferred to spread Islam through peaceful means than by offering blood of martyrs if we truly believe that he loved his sincere followers which also includes us.
It is very clear to me that he meant what he said by making the wise men of knowledge as a preferred form of introducing this religion to the rest of humanity. The mode of introducing Islam was reconfirmed in order to make this deen an attractive form of life for ALL humanity thus fulfilling the Quranic verse of having been sent as "a rahma lil alameen".