Analysing Muslims’ downfall (I)
By Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri
In our formal and informal debates and discussions on the plight of Muslims, there is always an unmistakable reference to the glorious past. In a way, past characterized by the real and supposed heroics and achievements has become a reference point and identity for the Muslims. Such is the level and depth of despondency currently ruling the roost among different strata of the Muslims that they derive their sense of worth from the past allowing it to define their present.
Today the Muslim world presents a classic picture of a house divided against itself. There are more divisions in their ranks today than was the case in the past. Rather than allowing religion to define their collective identity, Muslims have allowed sectarian, lingual, ethnic, and racial parameters to define them. Little wonder if the binding force amongst them is on the decline. Another reason which explains their present-day predicaments and is responsible for sharp divides in the Muslim world is the de-linking of religious knowledge from the secular sciences. When the Muslims were the masters of the all they surveyed in the good old days, there was no split between religious and secular sciences and both were taught at the seminaries or Madaris. The word ‘Madrussa’ referred to an educational institution contrary to what it is used to mean today. The reason why the Muslims held the sway over large continents is discernible from just this example.
During the reign of Mamoon-ur-Rashid, the Muslim empire established a grand think tank known as Dar-ul-Hikma for translation of Greek philosophy into the Arabic language for the consumption of the Arab readers. The ideas used to be modified in the light of the Holy Quran and Hadith. Such a forum presented an opportunity for sharing of ideas and exchange of views. There was no division between the religious and the secular, which defined the Muslim political thought. The experts of the Holy Quran and Hadith were also the experts of modern sciences such as physics, chemistry, biology, and sociology etc. At a time when the European world was mired in darkness, Spain under Muslims was a bright star on the horizon of the world civilization. The Arabian Peninsula was known for fighting and bloodshed amongst antagonist tribes before the advent of Islam. With the arrival of Islam came emancipation of a people previously bound in shackles of exploitation.
Through Islam they entered into an unbreakable relationship of brotherhood and rendered disparate people into an irresistible and unified force. This is because of the deep and penetrating influence of Islam on the Arab psyche, culture, and ethos, that former Bedouins of Arab turned out to be the masters of one-third of the known world in a short span of three decades. Such was the overwhelming power of the Muslims that the contemporary mighty Persian and the great Roman empires chose to submit themselves before the new-found Muslim glory and prowess. In the words of Ibrahim Madkour: “In any society, culture is the offspring of many factors: human potential, creative consciousness, intellectual and spiritual vitality, real achievement and progress and freedom, among others.” Early eighth century A.D. showed that the Arab society was set for extraordinary cultural achievements unknown to the civilized world hitherto. Blessed with creative activity generated by the advent of Islam, the Arab consciousness registered phenomenal progress in various fields.
The Muslims laid the foundations of a glorious civilization in Spain which still embellishes the pages of medieval history. In the words of Philip K. Hitti: “Muslim Spain wrote one of the brightest chapters in the history of medieval Europe.” The Arabs founded astronomy during the early period of the Abbasid Caliphate. During the middle of the 10th century A.D. the Muslim rulers of Spain patronised astronomical studies in particular. Khwarizmi had written a valuable treatise on astronomy and compiled his tables (Zij) which after two centuries were revised by a Spanish astronomer Al-Majriti which was later on translated into Latin by Adelard of Bath. This remarkable work laid the foundation-stone upon which was raised the edifice of later astronomical pursuits both in the East and the West. Moreover, it replaced all earlier tables of the Greek and Indian astronomers. Al-Zarqali (Azrachel: 1029-1087 A.D.) was a renowned Spanish astronomer. Jabar Ibni Aflah was another illustrious Spanish astronomer of the 12th century, whose famous book “Kitab ul Hayat” (Book of Astronomy) was later on translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona. In the words of Philip K.Hitti: “Finally it was through Spanish channels that the Latin West found its oriental inspiration in astronomy and astrology. The leading Muslim astronomical works were translated in Spain into Latin, and the Alfonsine tables compiled under the aegis of Alfonso X in the 13th century were but a development of Arab astronomy.”
The Arabs in Spain revolutionized the field of agriculture and developed it on an unprecedented scale. According to K. Jamil Ahmed: “Hardly any country of medieval times enjoyed greater agricultural prosperity than Muslim Spain.” The Spanish Muslims made great strides in the field of Botany and developed horticulture to a high degree of perfection. According to G. Sarton: “Al Ghafiqi was the greatest expert of his time on samples. His description of the plants was the most precise ever made in Islam; he gave the names of each in Arabic, Latin and Berber.” Medicine was another area which interested the Spanish Arabs a great deal and they took to its study very assiduously. In the words of Hitti: “Most of the Spanish Arab physicians were physicians by avocation and something else by vocation.” The credit for greatest achievements in medieval surgery goes to Az-Zaharawi of Moorish Spain. This is an area, which was almost a neglected field with the Muslim physicians who did not pay much attention to it. As in the words of K. Jamil Ahmad: “It was translated into several European languages and the famous French surgeon Guy de Chauliac benefited from one of its Latin translations.” (To be concluded)