C4: How Islam has kept us out of the 'Dark Ages'

Discussion in 'Muslim History Video' started by uzeshan, Feb 25, 2007.

  1. uzeshan
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    uzeshan S.O.A

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    How Islam has kept us out of the 'Dark Ages'

    Deborah Rowe
    May 2004


    We in the West know what the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Babylonians have done for us in terms of scientific discovery. Most of us have at least heard of Socrates, Ptolemy, Galen and Pythagoras and of their contributions to philosophy, astronomy, physics and mathematics. But how many of us have heard of Al-Kindi, Ibn Sina, Al-Razi, Ibn Al-Shatir, Ibn Al-Haytham or Al-Tusi? They are all Muslim scientists who made equally great contributions to science, between the 7th and 15th centuries – during the era known as the Dark Ages. Until recently, the era has been glossed over by historians who happily leapt from the fall of the Roman Empire straight to the Renaissance. But it's time for the West to recognize its debt to those Islamic scientists of the past, who forged ahead while Europe stagnated.

    The not-so-Dark Ages

    Possibly one of the best-kept secrets in the history of science is what was going on in the so-called Dark Ages. The time around the fall of the Roman Empire, when nothing new was happening and all was darkness, plague and misery. Nobody seemed particularly interested in learning about the world around them. Perhaps, they were all too busy surviving pestilence and invasions to indulge in the luxury of philosophical thinking.

    But, more seriously, once the Roman Empire started to crumble, with an onslaught of invasions from the likes of the Vandals and Anglo-Saxons, Western Europe became less interested in scientific pursuits. Superstitious beliefs and paganism apparently appealed more than the intellectual treasures of the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Babylonians, which were largely forgotten.

    But just because Western Europe had temporarily lost interest in its scientific knowledge, it didn't mean that all was completely lost. As western civilisation was slipping into a less than auspicious period for science, Islam was just getting started.

    The rise of Islam

    Islam was born around the 7th century, when the prophet Mohammad went to Mecca and the Qur'an first appeared in writing. According to its teachings, the pursuit of knowledge was the duty of every Muslim. As the work of God was everywhere and in everything, to understand the nature of the physical world was to know God. It was therefore the duty of every Muslim to pursue knowledge of the world around them.

    Early Islam was dynamic. Its followers had the vitality of a people freed from a nomadic way of life. Muslim scholars were intensely curious about the world around them and many peoples were keen to share in what it had to offer. All of which helped to provide a strong motivation for Muslims to come together with others in the pursuit of an Islamic science. This they did with an enthusiasm and dedication that would remain unrivalled until the Renaissance period many centuries later.

    The people of the pre-Islamic nations traded with merchants from as far afield as China and India, as well as southern Europe. The practicalities of trading over such long distances, meant that they understood how to tell the time and navigate from the stars. They also had a lay knowledge of geology, plants and animals; all of which helped to boost travel, trade, health and farming.

    Through trade and conquest, the influence of Islam spread across southern Europe, the Near East and Africa. There was a thriving commercial and intellectual interest in the lands that they conquered. Far from wiping out the old or 'foreign' knowledge, Islamic conquerors saw to it that the ancient legacies were treasured and put to good use. Such knowledge, where they found it, was not only preserved but translated and developed.
    At the time, there were great cultural exchanges between East and West, through trade and pilgrimages. These exchanges, although not always peaceful, helped to bring Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus and the Chinese together.

    What did Islam do for science?


    Early Islam probably encouraged the greatest international, cross-cultural, intellectual collaborations, under the banner of science. A phenomenon that has not been recorded in history of science since.

    Early Islamic teaching encouraged new knowledge for largely practical reasons. Anything that improved life in Islamic society was welcomed – better means of determining the direction of Mecca from all points in the empire; improved navigational aids for travellers and traders; better health care and medical knowledge; more accurate ways of measuring, counting and converting currencies when trading with others. Effectively, astronomy, geography, medicine and mathematics were all useful, practical tools and also helped Muslims to understand the work of God.

    Some great Islamic scientists​


    Ibn Sina, philosopher and physician
    Produced a standard medical text in the 10th century that was still in use in the 17th century.

    Al-Tusi, astronomer
    His mathematical models were essential to the work of Copernicus in proving that Earth travelled around the Sun.

    Abu Jafar Muhammad, mathematician
    Gave us algebra and algorithms that were central to the development of modern computing.

    Ibn al-Haytham
    His work on vision and light helped Newton formulate his theories on optics.

    As Islamic civilisation spread further into southern Europe, vast treasuries of long-forgotten knowledge from conquered lands were taken back to cities like Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo and Cordoba where they were translated into Arabic.

    There was no shortage of wealthy sponsors to fund the work, nor institutions to house the translations. In the 9th century, the House of Wisdom was established in Baghdad. In the 10th century, Cairo established a huge library, with 40 rooms and thousands of texts devoted to the ancient sciences. By the 11th century, Muslim rulers had established large institutions in all the major cities to preserve their treasury of knowledge.

    In cities like Gondeshapur in Persia there were international communities of academics and scholars. Some, like the Nestorians, had been forced to flee from Christian lands because of their beliefs. They could speak the ancient languages and found it easy to learn Arabic, so were the ideal choice for much of the translation work.

    At the same time, in medieval Europe, there was a parallel pursuit of translation of the ancient texts, this time from Greek into Latin. The activity was sponsored largely by the monasteries but the effort was nothing like as intense or as productive as that of the Islamic scholars who had greater resources at their disposal and, at that time, greater intellectual freedom. In the early days of Islam, knowledge was actively encouraged and scholars could do more than just translate the manuscripts that came to them, they could develop the ideas further.

    Less than 400 years after the first Islamic conquests, all kinds of scientists were at work throughout the vast Islamic Empire. They picked apart, catalogued and developed a huge intellectual legacy from the ancient civilisations. From the broadest ideas of the physical Universe, to the invisible workings of the human body, they organised and made sense of it all. They managed to simplify much of what the Greeks and other ancients had started and then improved on it.

    Islamic science in a nutshell

    • When Western Europe was at its lowest intellectual peak, from the 5th to the 15th centuries, Islamic civilisation was rising rapidly. A thirst for knowledge, including science, was encouraged by the religious leaders of early Islam.

    • The works of the ancients, including Aristotle, Socrates, Ptolemy, Galen, Pythagoras and Euclid were collected, safeguarded and translated into Arabic.

    • The chemical properties of alkalis and acids were discovered by Islamic scientists.

    • The process of distillation was formulated and used to produce petrol from crude oil.

    • Islamic scientists contributed to algebra, algorithms, trigonometry, geometry, chemistry, cosmology, astronomy, medicine and optics.

    • Islamic scholars developed the concepts of modern hospitals, universities, observatories and civil systems.

    • The concept of zero reached medieval Europe through the Arab nations who had probably learned of it from ancient Hindu and Chinese cultures. Prior to this Europe struggled with a system of Roman numerals, in which large numbers would consist of huge strings of letters. Once zero was incorporated, numbers took on the more manageable decimal system that we use today.

    So what happened?

    In early Islam, the caliphs (religious leaders) supported learning in the broadest sense; particularly when it related to useful subjects like arithmetic, geometry, medicine and cosmology. But later, the more traditional religious leaders and scholars began to worry about the limitations and dangers of knowledge. They declared that knowledge for its own sake could not be legitimate for Muslims. Knowledge had to be for the greater understanding of God or the good of Islamic society – anything else was considered potentially destructive and un-Islamic.

    As they gained influence, the caliphs took control of what could be taught and where. At elementary schools, madrasas (mosque schools) and universities, students were allowed to learn arithmetic, cosmology, medicine and some natural sciences, as long as they stayed within the framework of Qur'anic teaching. Original thought was not encouraged and philosophy was frowned upon. Philosophers were seen as wasting their time on questions already dealt with by the Qur'an and holy law. Scholars who wanted to study subjects like philosophy or physics had to go to smaller more obscure private schools and institutions that were generally sponsored by Royalty and the wealthier members of intellectual society.

    Around the 11th century, the sciences were divided into 'Islamic' sciences and 'foreign' sciences. Islamic sciences were approved because they connected with religion and centred on the teachings of the Qur'an. Foreign sciences were increasingly viewed with suspicion by Islamic religious leaders and consequently sidelined.

    The growing inflexibility of Islamic leaders led to the slowing of broader Islamic scientific study and a squeeze on original thought. Having said that, Islamic scientific endeavour continued up to the 15th century. By the time the last great Islamic dynasty, the Ottoman Empire, was on the wane in the late 16th century, Islamic science was largely a passive learning process in which there were few original texts being produced. And as Muslim society became more isolated from its neighbours, the exchange of ideas with other cultures became more difficult.

    The reawakening of the West


    Ironically, as Islamic scientific invention started to decline, Western science was beginning to wake up.

    Western scholars began translating the treasury of Islamic science into Latin. They had rediscovered their thirst for learning and were well on their way to the Renaissance – the re-discovery and assimilation of the knowledge and philosophy of the ancients. It is interesting and just a bit scary to think that if it weren't for the foresight and creativity of Islamic scientists, we might just be arriving at that point today. Having caught up on the 500 years we've borrowed from Islam, we'd be just heading for the Renaissance now. The Western world has a lot to thank Islamic scientists for.

    http://www.channel4.com/science/microsites/S/science/society/islamicscience.html
  2. Basicofislam
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    Basicofislam sister

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    :salam2: Excellent article
  3. uzeshan
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    uzeshan S.O.A

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    Salaam Alaykum

    I am looking for the video.. There is Video as well, but i couldn't find on net..
  4. Ahmed_2000
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    Ahmed_2000 Servant of Allah

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    Asalaam Allaikum


    are you lookiing fro What the Ancients did for us - muslims

    Asalaam Allaikum
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    heehee New Member

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    Video link to Islamic History

    I always find western accounts of Islamic history distorted even when they are attempting to praise it.....shows how much history has been systematically destroyed and distorted....check this objective video out about Islamic history right upto Christopher Columbus and his inspirations:


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBsDDGCIFLQ
  6. Proud_2b_Muslim
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    Proud_2b_Muslim Ahmad M. Al-Marshoud

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    :salam2:
    jazak Allah khayran insha`Allah
  7. OsMaN_93
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    OsMaN_93 Here to help

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    I read that article and it was very interesting, and learned some new things too, that I never knew :ma:,
    and i watched the full documentary.
    jazakom allah khairan for both of you, for posting :)
    :salam2:
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    shari Brother

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    nice article

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