Introduction to Muslim Science
This short article is taken from the full article (by Dr Salah Zaimeche) which is available here as 6 page PDF file. The references and footnotes are found in the full article.
The Greek civilisation that sprang into existence centuries before Jesus (PUH) was a brilliant civilisation that encompassed subjects such as philosophy, mathematics, geography, astronomy and medicine. Archimedes, Aristotle, Euclid, Socrates, Galen, and Ptolemy are some well known names from such a civilisation. Then, the Romans took over, a large empire extending from the doors of Asia to England, and that also included North Africa and much of today's Middle East. Christianity appeared in Roman times, the Roman civilisation thus straddling both sides of the Christian calendar: BC and A.D. The Roman Empire collapsed in the fifth century AD after the invasions of `barbarian' people: Vandals, Anglo-Saxons, Franks... who gave the foundations to today's European nations (the Franks to France, the Anglo-Saxons to England etc.) Following the fall of the Roman empire began what are generally known as the dark ages, which elapsed from roughly the late fifth century to the late fifteen century (when America was discovered by Columbus, and the Renaissance (or Revival) began.
Whilst the period of Antiquity, the time of Greco-Roman civilisation, and the Renaissance (late fifteenth-sixteenth,) receive high praise, the period in between (late fifth to the late fifteenth) is highly obscured. Indeed, the amount of works of all sorts on the Greek civilisation, for instance, is absolutely staggering, millions of books, articles, web sites, institutes, courses, conferences, seminars, films, documentaries, etc.. The Renaissance, needless to say, is even more publicised, possibly whatever has been and still is being devoted to it being beyond whatever any human can count. The centuries termed as `the dark ages,' however, are the missing centuries in history. It is not, though, as one would think that there is nothing about such centuries; that's far from the truth. There are millions of works on the dark ages, and many departments and thousands of scholars dealing with that period. Such a focus, however, is mainly on the successive ruling dynasties, religion, warfare, the feudal system, the crusades etc.. Science and civilisation, until fairly recently, on the other hand, have received little attention. Somehow, the picture that has dominated scholarship, and opinion, was that Europe went from the brilliance of antiquity straight into ten centuries of darkness, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, into the Revival; that very Revival that gave the West the power and lead it still keeps today. This means, basically, that Western civilisation owes all and everything to Greece. In other words, Greek learning was dormant for ten centuries (during the dark ages), then, one day, it was recovered, for no reason, just like that, and Europe blossomed again; somehow, the mathematics, the astronomy, the optics, the medicine left by the Greeks being absolutely the same, untouched in ten centuries, just dusted off. To explain this theory, however devoid of any sense or logic, or scientific or historical truth, thousands upon thousands of `historians', and opinion makers assembled spurious facts and fiction and concocted history. This `history' is reproduced in books, classes, films, magazines, on television, daily, all the time; the truth, unchallenged (except by the highly intellectual books, for the initiated). Just recently, thus, on the BBC , was the programme `The Greeks', narrated by an actor (Liam Neeson), turned historian for the occasion, pursuing on the same theme that all modern civilisation owes to Greece.
Western history as generally presented is a big distortion, though. Daily, nowadays, everything about such a history is questioned. No need to go into every single matter here. Just on the subject that matters here, as Wickens puts it, `In the broadest sense, the West's borrowings from the Middle East form practically the whole basic fabric of civilisation.' `Without such fundamental borrowings from the Middle East,' he adds, `we should lack the following sorts of things among others (unless, of course, we had been quick and inventive enough to devise them all for ourselves): agriculture; the domestication of animals, for food, clothing and transportation; spinning and weaving; building; drainage and irrigation; road-making and the wheel; metal-working, and standard tools and weapons of all kinds; sailing ships; astronomical observation and the calendar; writing and the keeping of records; laws and civic life; coinage; abstract thought and mathematics; most of our religious ideas and symbols. And he concludes that `there is virtually no evidence for any of these basic things and processes and ideas being actually invented in the West.'
Also is a major fallacy the concept of the `Dark Ages.' Haskins, followed by scores of other scholars, amply demonstrated that Europe experienced its revival in the twelfth century, and not in that `magic' period of the so called Renaissance (late 15th-early 17th). Sarton , in his voluminous Introduction to the History of science shows both the continuity in scientific progress, the crucial importance of the middle ages, and also the decisive Muslim contribution. Lynn White JR (by no means a fervent admirer of Muslim science,) recognises that
`The traditional picture of the Middle Ages (5th to the 15th) has been one of historical decline, particularly in early Middle Ages, the so called dark Ages. Yet such a view of the Middle Ages is false when viewed from the standpoint of the history of technology.'
He further adds `The very creative new Islamic civilisation incorporated and perpetuated the technical achievements of Greece and Rome... The idea of so called dark Ages was only applicable to the western portion of the Roman Empire.' Whilst Whipple states:`To many students of medical history and medical science the Middle Ages, or Dark Ages as they have been called, implies a period of regression, of endless controversy, of fruitless arguments of scholasticism; and the mention of this period is met with disinterest if not antagonism.'
That period of the `Dark ages' coincides, and exactly, with the Muslim apogee. This alone explains very much the hostility to it. Indeed, in the midst of Europe's darkness, almost immediately after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Muslim civilisation came into being. It was in the year 622 that the Hijra took place, and in the year 630, that the Prophet (pbuh) entered Mekkah.
Following the death of the Prophet (pbuh), Islam spread to the neighbouring lands, embraced rapidly by the various local populations. And by the year 750, the Muslim lands stretched from Spain to the borders of China. Rising with the spread of Islam was a grandiose civilisation. Unlike Europe gripped by darkness, the Muslim scientific revolution took place exactly during the apogee of Islam, from roughly the late 8th century (2 Hijra) to the thirteenth (7th H). Islam, according to Draper, `had all along been the patron of physical science; paganising Christianity not only repudiated it, but exhibited towards it sentiments of contemptuous disdain and hatred.' It was, indeed, between the 8th-13th centuries that most decisive scientific inventions were made, and the foundations of modern civilisation were laid. Scientists and scientific discoveries in their thousands, artistic creativity, great architecture, huge libraries, hospitals, universities, mapping of the world, the discovery of the sky and its secrets, a
by: FSTC Limited