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Islamic Civilization

Overview

The Qur’an encourages humanity to reflect upon our existence. Muslims are instructed to use their intelligence and observe how the heavens and earth function. In the second chapter of the Qur’an, we find the following:

“Indeed in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, and the ships which sail through the sea with that which benefits humanity, and the rain which God sends down from the sky thereby reviving the earth after its death, and scatters about in it creatures of every kind, and in the varying direction of the winds and clouds subservient between the sky and the earth, are indeed proofs for people of understanding.” (2:164).

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) motivated his followers to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave. Their greatest asset was something unheard of in the 7th century: open minds.

When Europe was in the midst of almost a 1000 years of ignorance known as “the Dark Ages” (from around 400-1500 A.D.) the world of Islam entered a “Golden Age” that lasted more than a millennium (from the 7th to16th centuries A.D.). As Islam’s message of a single human family under the One and Only God spread rapidly in the 7th century, Muslims came across storehouses of knowledge in the libraries of the world.  Within a short period of time they were able to recover much of the earliest sources of wisdom of human civilization. They assembled the writings of the ancient Egyptians, Indians, Syrians, Persians, Greeks, Chinese and other people.

The scholarly writings of the ancients were translated and often assimilated into Islamic thought. Most of this translation occurred in a 200 year period from the 9th to 11th centuries. Prestigious centers of learning were founded in major cities of the Muslim world where scholars from all religions and nationalities were invited to conduct research. Scholars were offered the weight of their books and inventions in gold. An unprecedented explosion of knowledge gave light to an age that had once been stricken with darkness. Muslim scholars developed the scientific method and perfected it by performing precise experiments based on their own understanding and the theories of the ancient scholars.

New applied methods of science in just about every field were developed to respond to the needs of the growing Muslim world. This knowledge became the stimulus for the European Renaissance and the revival of ancient civilization in much of the known world. To learn about specific achievements by scholars in the Muslim world, continue reading.

Further Reading

As the world of Islam expanded from Arabia to China in the east, the Atlantic Ocean in the west, the Russian steppes in the north and the East African coast in the south, new challenges faced those in authority. Muslims had to confront complex issues around law, finance, medicine, and so much more.

The Caliphs turned to the sharpest minds in the land to find solutions to emerging problems. An example of this is found in the writings of the great Muslim scholar Al-Khwarizmi. In Latin he was known as “Algorithm” – a word that is indispensable in our digital age. Al-Khwarizmi also gave us the word algebra. In his book “Al-Kitab al Mukhtasar fi Hisab al-Jabr wa al-Muqabala” Al-Khwarizmi stated:

“That fondness for science, by which God has distinguished … the Leader of the faithful…has encouraged me to compose a short work on ‘Calculating by (the rules of) Completion and Reduction,’ confining it to what is easiest and most useful in arithmetic, such as men constantly require in cases of inheritance, legacies, partition, law suits, and trade and in all their dealings with one another, or where the measuring of lands, the digging of canals, geometrical computations, and other objects of various sorts and kind are concerned.”

Most western history books entirely omit the contributions made by Muslim scholars during this period but an objective look at the roots of modern science and scholarship will show that not only did the Muslims preserve ancient knowledge but they also laid the foundations for modern thought.

Major Fields Originated by Muslims

Major Fields Advanced by Muslims

Algebra

Acoustics

Anesthesia

Agronomy

Biology

Anatomy

Botany

Architecture

Cardiology

Astronomy

Chemistry

Calculus

Dermatology

Electrochemistry

Embryology

Engineering

Geology

Genetics

Metallurgy

Geometry

Modern History

Geophysics

Modern Surgery

 Mathematics

Modern Medicine

Meteorology

Optics

Philosophy

 Parasitology

Physics

Pediatrics

Trigonometry

Pharmacology

Taxonomy

Toxicology

Thermodynamics

Urology

Zoology

These tremendous achievements led to thousands of innovations and inventions. Some of the substances and devices introduced into Europe by Muslims include: coffee, cotton, paper, glass, mirrors, crystal, street lamps, satin, pepper, paper money, postage stamps, pendulums, book binding, clocks, astrolabes, compasses, slide rules, flasks, surgical instruments, windmills, artificial teeth, globes, citrus fruits, eye glasses, velvet, almanacs, encyclopedias, and saddles.

Scholars in Europe recognized the achievements of Muslims and began to earnestly translate their works. Thousands of Latin renditions were produced, mainly in the 13-15th centuries. This period of translation was the basis of the European Renaissance and not a direct transfer of knowledge from the Greeks and Romans.

Undoubtedly European scholars made great contributions to science and literature but to omit the Islamic achievements of this age is one of the greatest errors in history.

Recommended Resources:

Web

www.1001inventions.com

www.muslimheritage.com

Film

PBS Documentary Series: Empire of Faith

Short Film: 1001 Inventions and the Library of Secrets (starring Ben Kingsley)

Books

“1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization” published by National Geographic

“Science in History” by J.D.Bernal

“Introduction to the History of Science” by G. Sarton

“The Hidden Debt to Islamic Civilisation” by S.E. Al-Djazairi

“The Miracles of Islamic Science” by K. Ajram.

“Science and Civilisation” by S.H. Nasr

“Development of Science and Technology in Islamic History” by Shabeer Ahmad.