Revisiting Muslim History

This Article was published in
The Frontier Post (April 26, 2010)

By: Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

Seeking knowledge is obligatory in Islam for every Muslim, man and woman. The main sources of Islam, the Qur'an and the Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad's (P.B.U.H) traditions), encourage Muslims to seek knowledge and be scholars, since this is the best way for people to know Allah (God), to appreciate His wondrous creations and be thankful for them. Muslims were, therefore, eager to seek knowledge, both religious and secular, and within a few years the great civilization sprang up and flourished.

The outcome is shown in the spread of Islamic universities. Al-Zaytunah in Tunis and Al-Azhar in Cairo go back more than 1,000 years and are the oldest existing great seats of learning in the world. Indeed, they were the models for the first European universities such as Bologna, Heidelberg, and the Sorbonne. Even the familiar academic cap and gown originated at Al-Azhar University. Muslims made great advances in many different fields, such as geography, physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, pharmacology, architecture, linguistics and astronomy. Algebra and the Arabic numerals were introduced to the world by Muslim scholars. The astrolabe, the quadrant, and other navigational devices and maps were developed by Muslim scholars and played an important role in world progress, most notably in Europe's age of exploration.

For centuries following the fall of Rome, medieval Europe was benighted backwater, a world of subsistence farming, minimal literacy, and violent conflicts. Meanwhile, from Persia to Spain Islamic culture was thriving, dazzling those Europeans fortunate enough to be aware of it. Muslim Philosophers, Mathematicians and Astronomers were steadily advancing the frontiers of Knowledge, as well as exploring ancient Greeks works lost or forgotten in the west.

While Europe was mired in superstition and feudal chaos, Baghdad was the intellectual centre of the world. It was there that an army of scientists, philosophers, translators and scholars took the wisdom from Quran and Sunnah and combined Greek philosophy with their own culture, traditions, creativity and knowledge to create a scientific, mathematical and philosophical golden age. Their accomplishments were staggering that Muslim philosophers invented the scientific method and paved the way from the Enlightenment.

This article is dedicated to those Muslims whose multi-disciplinary contributions sparked the light of learning and productivity and without whom the European Renaissance would have remained a pipedream and would never have come to maturity. Their contributions to our basic understanding of sciences, mathematics, medicine, technology, sociology, and philosophy have been used without giving proper credit to them. The subject has largely been left to few obscure intellectual discourses on world history and human development. It is rarely mentioned in formal education, and if at all mentioned their names are Latinized or changed with the effect of obscuring their identity and origin, and their association with the Islamic Civilization. Here I am partially listing up some of the leading Muslims. Major Muslim contributions continued beyond the fifteenth century.

Jabir Ibn Haiyan (Geber) Chemistry (Father of Chemistry) Died 803 C.E. Al-Asmai Zoology, Botany, and Animal Husbandry 740 – 828. Al-Khwarizmi (Algorizm) Mathematics, Astronomy, Geography: (Algorithm, Algebra and calculus) 770 – 840.Amr ibn Bahr Al-Jahiz Zoology, Arabic Grammar, Rhetoric, Lexicography 776 – 868. Ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi (Alkindus) Philosophy, Physics, Optics, Medicine, Mathematics and Metallurgy 800 – 873. Thabit Ibn Qurrah (Thebit) Astronomy, Mechanics, Geometry, Anatomy 836 – 901. Abbas Ibn Firnas Mechanics of Flight, Planetarium, And Artificial Crystals Died 888. Ali Ibn Rabban Al-Tabari Medicine, Mathematics, Caligraphy and Literature 838 – 870.Al-Battani (Albategnius) Astronomy, mathematics and Trigonometry 858 – 929. Al-Farghani (Al-Fraganus) Astronomy, and Civil Engineering C. 860. Al-Razi (Rhazes) Medicine, Ophthalmology, Smallpox, Chemistry and Astronomy 864 – 930. Al-Farabi (Al-Pharabius) Sociology, Logic, Philosophy, Political Science and Music 870 – 950. Abul Hasan Ali Al-Masu'di Geography and History Died 957. Al-Sufi (Azophi) Astronomy 903 – 986. Abu Al-Qasim Al-Zahravi (Albucasis) Surgery and Medicine. (Father of Modern Surgery) 936 – 1013. Muhammad Al-Buzjani Mathematics, Astronomy, Geometry and Trigonometry 940 – 997. Abu al-Qasim Maslimah al-Majriti, Astronomy Died 1007. Ibn Yunus Trigonometry and Astronomy Died 1009. Ibn Al-Haitham (Alhazen) Physics, Optics and Mathematics 965 – 1040. Al-Maward (Alboacen) Political Science, Sociology, Jurisprudence, Ethics 972 – 1058. Abu Raihan Al-Biruni Astronomy, and Mathematics. (Determined Earth's Circumference) 973-1048. Ibn Sina (Avicenna) Medicine, Philosophy, Mathematics and Astronomy 981 – 1037. Al-Zarqali (Arzachel) Astronomy (Invented Astrolabe) 1028 – 1087. Omar Al-Khayyam Mathematics and Poetry 1044 – 1123. Al-Ghazali (Algazel) Sociology, Theology and Philosophy 1058 – 1111.

The Muslims faced the first wave of devastation following Fall of Muslim Toledo (1085), Corsica and Malta (1090), Provence (1050), Sicily (1091) and Jerusalem (1099). With decline of political power came the downfall in the realms of science and technology. So much so that the lives, resources, properties, institutions and infrastructure of the Muslims, which they had built up after decades of toil were destroyed within a short span of one hundred years.

Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Yahya (Ibn Bajjah) Philosophy, Medicine, Mathematics, Astronomy, Poetry and Music 1080 – 1138. Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) Surgery and Medicine 1091 – 1161. Al-Idrisi (Dreses) Geography (World Map, First Globe) 1099 – 1166. Ibn Tufayl, Abdubacer Philosophy, Medicine and Poetry 1110 – 1185. Ibn Rushd (Averroes) Philosophy, Law, Medicine, Astronomy and Theology 1128 – 1198. Al-Bitruji (Alpetragius) Astronomy Died 1204.

The second wave of devastation swept across the Muslim lands during Crusader invasions (1217-1291) and Mongol invasions (1219-1329). Crusaders remained active throughout the Mediterranean from Jerusalem and west to Muslim Spain. Mongols wreaked havoc from the eastern most Muslim frontier, Central and Western Asia, India, Persia to Arab heartland. Fall of Baghdad (1258) and the subsequent end of Abbasid Caliphate represents the most traumatic period in the Muslim history. The aftereffects of political downfall were so horrific that the Muslims came be gripped by the feelings of impotence and helplessness. Two million Muslims were massacred in Baghdad. Major scientific institutions, laboratories, and infrastructure were destroyed in leading Muslim centers of civilization besides merciless raping of resources, lives, properties, institutions, and infrastructure over a period of one hundred and twelve years.

Ibn Al-Baitar Pharmacy and Botany Died 1248. Nasir Al-Din Al-Tusi Astronomy, Non-Euclidean and Geometry 1201 – 1274. Ibn Al-Nafis Damishqui Anatomy 1213 – 1288. Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi, Trigonometry, Astronomy and Physics 1236 – 1311. Al-Fida (Abdulfeda) Astronomy, Geography and History 1273 – 1331. Muhammad Ibn Abdullah (Ibn Battuta) World Traveler. 75,000 mile voyage from Morocco to China and back 1304 – 1369. Ibn Khaldun Sociology, Philosophy of History and Political Science 1332 – 1395. Ulugh Beg Astronomy 1393 – 1449. Baha al-Din al-Amili, 1540 – 1621.

The end of Muslim rule in Spain (1492) marks the closure of a glorious chapter in the history of not only Muslims but also of humanity. More than one million volumes of Muslim works on science, arts, philosophy and culture were burnt in the public square of Vivarrambla in Granada. Colonization began in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The cycle of downfall of Muslim supremacy in the domains of culture, knowledge and politics was complete. Defeatism became the order of the day. The ship of the Muslims was rendered rudderless with depleting faith to set it back on track. So penetrating has been the impact of Muslim downfall that the despite passage of many centuries, Muslims still remain unsure of themselves.

Two hundred years before a comparable development elsewhere, Turkish scientist Hazarfen Ahmet Celebi took off from Galata tower and flew over the Bosphorus. Fifty years later Logari Hasan Celebi, another member of the Celebi family, sent the first manned rocket into upper atmosphere, using 150 okka (about 300 pounds) of gunpowder as the firing fuel.

Tipu, Sultan of Mysore [1783-1799] in the south of India, was the innovator of the world's first war rocket. Two of his rockets, captured by the British at Srirangapatana, are displayed in the Woolwich Museum Artillery in London. The rocket motor casing was made of steel with multiple nozzles. The rocket, 50mm in diameter and 250mm long, had a range performance of 900 meters to 1.5 km.

At the dawn of Renaissance, Christian Europe was wearing Persian Clothes, singing Arab songs, reading Spanish Muslim philosophy and eating off Mamluk Turkish brassware. This is the story of how Muslims taught Europe to live well and think clearly. It is the story of how Islam Created the Modern World.

The writer is a PhD candidate in Economics at an Australian University