Muhammad: the Light for the Dark Ages of Europe!

Authors

Cave of Hira where the prophet had his first revelation!

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

Abstract

An honest study of the causes of the Dark Ages and European renaissance will lead to the inevitable conclusion that Muhammad, may peace be on him, was the light for the Dark Ages. John Davenport writes in, An apology for Mohammed and the Koran: “It is in the compositions of Friar Bacon, who was born in 1214, and who learned the Oriental languages, that we discover the most extensive acquaintance with the Arabian authors. He quotes Albumazar, Thabet-Ebu-Corah, Ali Alhacer, Alkandi, Alfraganus and Arzakeb; and seems to have been as familiar with them as with the Greek and Latin classics, especially with Avicenna, whom he calls ‘the chief and prince of philosophy.’ The great Lord Bacon, it is well known, imbibed and borrowed the first principles of his famous experimental philosophy from his predecessor and namesake Roger Bacon, a fact which indisputably establishes the derivation of the Baconian philosophical system from the descendants of Ishmael and disciples of Mohammed.” In a short paragraph, John Davenport has very precisely identified all the links in the human intellectual evolution. Additionally, his book, which is available in Google books, is a master piece in the defense of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him. Read his two page Preface and he is standing shoulder to shoulder with other great defenders of the Prophet Muhammad in the Western world, like Thomas Carlyle. Unfortunately, some Western scientists and historians propose the European science to be some sort of magical wand and what preceded it as not good enough or label it as pre-science or mystical science etc.!

My task here is twofold, first to show that European science was built on the Latin translations of the works of the great Muslim pioneers and secondly that the Muslim learning from 8th-12th centuries was heavily influenced by the teachings of the Holy Quran, the literal word of God, revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him.

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“If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and outstanding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad?”  Alphonse de Lamartine, Foreign Minister of France, 1848

Allow me to make the lion’s share of my case by quoting a classic book History of the Moorish Empire in Europe published in 1904 in three volumes and extending over more than 2000 pages.  The insightful writer, Samuel Parsons Scott, a lawyer from Hillsboro Ohio  writes, as he attributes all the success of Europe to the Prophet Muhammad:

Unlike most theological systems to which men, in all ages, have rendered their obedient and pious homage, no mystery obscures the origin and foundation of Islam. The purity and simplicity of its principles have undergone no change. Its history has been preserved by the diligence of innumerable writers. The life and characteristics of its Prophet, even to the smallest detail, are accessible to the curiosity of every enterprising scholar.

The austere character of a faith which, at its inception, exacts a rigid compliance with the minutest formalities of its ritual, naturally becomes relaxed and modified after that system has attained to worldly importance and imperial authority; or, in the language of one of the greatest of modern writers, ‘a dominant religion is never ascetic.’ It is strange that Islam, which, in this respect, as in many others, has conformed to the general law of humanity, and now acknowledges tenets and allows practices that would have struck the subjects of Abu-Bekr and Omar with amazement, has been able to preserve in such perfection the observance of its ceremonial; especially when it had no organized sacerdotal power to sustain it. The absence of an ecclesiastical order which could dictate the policy of the throne, and humble the pride of the ermine and purple with the dust in the presence of some audacious zealot, also left untrammelled the way for scientific investigation and research, and, more than all else, contributed to dispel the darkness of mediaeval times. The doctrine of toleration enunciated by Mohammed gave no encouragement to that system of repression whose activity has exhausted every means of checking the growth of philosophical knowledge, by imposing the most direful spiritual and temporal penalties upon every teacher who ventures to publicly explain its principles; and it is a matter of far deeper import to the civilization of the twentieth century, than is implied by the mere performance of an act of devotion, when the Temple of Mecca—the seat of a time-honored faith, from whose shrine emanated the spirit of learning that redeemed degraded Europe—is saluted five times every day by the reverent homage of concentric circles of believers, one hundred and fifty million in number, from Tangier to Pekin, from the borders of Siberia to the Equinoctial Line.

We may well consider with admiration the rapid progress and enduring effects of this extraordinary religion which everywhere brought order, wealth, and happiness in its train; which, in destroying the deities of the Kaaba, swept away the traditions of thirty centuries; which adopted those pagan rites that it could not abolish; which seized and retained the birthplace of Christianity; which dispersed over so wide a territory alike the theocracy of the Jews and the ritual of Rome; which drove the Magi from the blazing altars of Persia; which usurped the throne and sceptre of the Byzantine Church; which supplanted the fetichism of the African desert; which trampled upon the mysteries of Isis, Osiris, and Horus, and revealed to the wondering Egyptians the secret of the Most High God; which invaded the Councils of Catholicism, and suggested a fundamental article of its belief; which fashioned the graceful arches of our most famous cathedrals; which placed its seal upon the earth in the measurement of a degree, and inscribed its characters in living light amidst the glittering constellations of the heavens; which has left its traces in the most familiar terms of the languages of Europe; which affords daily proof of its beneficent offices in the garments that we wear, in the books that we read, in the grains of our harvests, in the fruits of our orchards, in the flowers of our gardens; and which gave rise to successive dynasties of sovereigns, whose supreme ambition seemed to be to exalt the character of their subjects, to transmit unimpaired to posterity the inestimable treasures of knowledge, and to extend and perpetuate the intellectual empire of man. These signal and unparallelled results were effected by the inflexible constancy, the lofty genius, the political sagacity, of an Arabian shepherd, deficient in the very rudiments of learning, reared among a barbarous people divided into tribes whose mutual hostility had been intensified by centuries of warfare, who had no organized system of government, who considered the mechanical and mercantile arts degrading, who recognized no law but that of force, and knew no gods but a herd of grotesque and monstrous idols. Robbery was their profession, murder their pastime. Except within the precincts of their camp, no friend, unless connected by the sacred ties of blood, was secure. They devoured the flesh of enemies slain in battle. Deceit always excepted, cruelty was their most prominent national characteristic. Their offensive arrogance, relentless enmity, and obstinate tenacity of purpose were, in a direct ratio to their ignorance and their brutalizing superstition, confirmed by the prodigies, the omens, and the legends of ages.

To undertake the radical amelioration of such political and social conditions was a task of appalling, of apparently insuperable difficulty. Its fortunate accomplishment may not indicate the active interposition of Divine authority. The glories which invest the history of Islam may be entirely derived from the valor, the virtue, the intelligence, the genius, of man. If this be conceded, the largest measure of credit is due to him who conceived its plan, promoted its impulse, and formulated the rules which insured its success. In any event, if the object of religion be the inculcation of morals, the diminution of evil, the promotion of human happiness, the expansion of the human intellect; if the performance of good works will avail in that great day when mankind shall be summoned to its final reckoning, it is neither irreverent nor unreasonable to admit that Mohammed was indeed an Apostle of God.[1]

Alhambra in Granada Spain

Mark Graham is the Edgar award-winning author of ‘Black Maria,’ third in a series of historical novels which have been translated into several languages. He studied medieval history and religious studies at Connecticut College and has a master’s degree in English literature from Kutztown University. He writes in How Islam Created the Modern World:

This is how the tale is still often told in the West, from grade school through college. The rise of Islam is mentioned just long enough to explain why there are so many Muslims in the world. After that Islam fades from the historical record until the Franks encounter the ‘Saracens’ in the l090s. The success of the First Crusade is recounted with pride, while later failures are quickly glossed over. With the Renaissance wrapping up the account, one might safely conclude that the Europeans could do what the Muslims could not: turn Greek wis­dom into something useful.
This is the story of the Middle Ages, the one that every school kid learns. It is the story of how the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome were lost for a time but found again-how Europe wandered in the wilderness for forty years (actually more like six or seven hundred) but eventually redeemed itself by throwing out the superstitious world­view of the Catholic Church and embracing the humanistic ideals of the Greek philosophers. What may come as a surprise to the millions of people of all generations who have been forced to learn this version of events is that it is sheer myth.
After all, what could be more mythological than the idea of a hero (Europe), the son of Gods (Greece and Rome), discovering its birthright (civilization and power), after going through a quest (the Crusades) and fighting various monsters (Muslims) who have been hoarding the treas­ure (philosophy, science, mathematics) for ages? Read it in Ovid, the Nibelungenlied, or J. R. R. Tolkien. But if you really want your heroic fantasy straight up, all you have to do is read a social studies textbook.
Looking through the pages of a standard high school text on Western civilization (or world cultures or whatever other euphe­mism), you will be hard pressed to find mention of any Muslim other than Muhammad. Perhaps you will come across the names of Saladin or Suleiman the Magnificent, brilliant rulers who, it is begrudgingly admitted, actually defeated the West from time to time. But after that.. .nothing. No mention of scientists, writers, artists, philosophers-in short, no reference to anyone or anything that would lead you to believe that the Islamic world ever had any culture worth speaking about.
Truth, unlike myth, is frequently what we do not want to hear. And perhaps the most heretical thing to say is that Europe ever had anything to learn from Islam. But learn it did, sitting at the foot of its Muslim teachers for half a millennium. Far from being incubators or preservers, Muslims were all the things those textbooks deny them being: artists, poets, philosophers, mathematicians, chemists, astronomers, physicists. In short, they were civilized at a time when Europe was wallowing in barbarism. Muslim civilization was the greatest in size and technology that the world had ever seen. And far from existing in a vacuum, it directly impinged on the creation of Europe as a cultural entity and as a scientific and political power. As much as some are loathe to admit it, the Islamic world is the giant on whose shoulders the European Renaissance stood.[2]

What was wrong with the Middle or the Dark ages

Encyclopedia Britannica defines the dark ages, which is the early medieval period of western European history as “the time (476–800) when there was no Roman (or Holy Roman) emperor in the West; or, more generally, to the period between about 500 and 1000, which was marked by frequent warfare and a virtual disappearance of urban life. It is now rarely used by historians because of the value judgment it implies. Though sometimes taken to derive its meaning from the fact that little was then known about the period, the term’s more usual and pejorative sense is of a period of intellectual darkness and barbarity.”[3]
Mark Graham explains the situation using the example of medical field in a chapter titled, Hippocrates wears a turban: 
In medieval Europe, whatever medical knowledge had survived from the Roman era was largely forgotten. Hospitals as we conceive of them did not exist. If you had money you could hire the servic­es of a barber-surgeon and his bottle of leeches. If you were hopeless and homeless, you wound up in a monastery, nursed by well-meaning monks. Some monasteries devoted themselves to caring for victims of specific incurable diseases like St. Anthony’s fire, leprosy or blindness.
Caring, however, did not mean curing. The compassionate monks were merely nurses of the divine Doctor. Their primary duty, as always, was to pray for others, imploring God to grant them better health. Surgery, banned by the church in the seventh century, was not even an option. Most often the monastic ‘hospitals’ were convenient places for indigent people to die in relative dignity and comfort.
Things might have been different if Christian monarchs had continued their support of Greek and Roman learning. But two events within one hundred years of each other effectively doomed Europe to medical ignorance for half a millennium. The first was the closing of Edessa’s school of Hippocratic medicine in 489 by the Byzantine emper­or Zeno. Next came the Academy of Athens, founded by Plato himself Its faculty of Neoplatonists was devoted to a mystical and philosophical search for truth that challenged church doctrine. This was a threat to orthodoxy that could not be tolerated. The Emperor Justinian closed the Academy in 529.
With the champions of Christendom effectively putting an end to learning in the West, scholars headed for the only other great empire available: Sassanian Persia. Here, at Jundishapur, Nestorian Christian doctors and Neoplatonist philosophers laid the foundation for the Islamic revolution in medicine.
Contrary to popular conception, Greek learning was not ‘lost’ by the Europeans. It was deliberately exiled due to religious fundamental­ism. And, not too surprisingly, it was heartily welcomed by Muslims. For the next two hundred years, the Islamic world sat at the feet of Plato’s last disciples. By the time Hunayn ibn Ishaq’s translations of Galen were completed, Muslims had made Greek and Roman medicine their own.[4]

A convenient place to start the discussion of the Dark Ages is to start with Clovis I. First watch a short clip from the documentary The Dark Ages, to set the tempo that we need to understand Clovis I:

Next we move onto Charlemagne, after Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, the second Caliph of Islam, was establishing religious freedoms and interfaith communication in Jerusalem by penning the Treaty of Jerusalem, Charlemagne was converting people to Christianity on the point of sword.  Encyclopedia Britannica documents it for us:

Charlemagne’s most demanding military undertaking pitted him against the Saxons, longtime adversaries of the Franks whose conquest required more than 30 years of campaigning (772 to 804). This long struggle, which led to the annexation of a large block of territory between the Rhine and the Elbe rivers, was marked by pillaging, broken truces, hostage taking, mass killings, deportation of rebellious Saxons, draconian measures to compel acceptance of Christianity, and occasional Frankish defeats. The Frisians, Saxon allies living along the North Sea east of the Rhine, were also forced into submission.[5]
But, how do the Christian apologists deal with the situation, can perhaps be best gauged from a quote from his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, as he hides behind verbose non-explanation camouflage, he writes in a book, Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam:
The process of forming a new historical and cultural identity took place in a fully conscious manner under the reign of Charlemagne, when the ancient name of Europe returned to circulation, but with a new meaning. It came to define the kingdom of Charlemagne and to express an awareness of both the continuity and the novelty of this new aggregate of states, which appeared as a force that had a great future.  A great future because it could be perceived as a continuation of a world history that until then had been rooted in the permanent.  The awareness of a definitive nature and of a mission was expressed through emerging sense of self-consciousness.[6]

A history channel documentary about Dark ages gives us a fairly insightful account of this period. It suggests that during the Crusades that were fought over eight generations countless Crusaders brought back with them the books from the Muslims in the Holy land in Jerusalem. That is what kick started the Renaissance.

More than a hundred years after the Treaty of Jerusalem was signed by Hadhrat Umar, Charlemagne was converting populations of his neighboring countries on the point of sword to Christianity. This is not only outlined clearly in the documentary but also in the Wikipedia which records: “He also campaigned against the peoples to his east, especially the Saxons, and after a protracted war subjected them to his rule. By forcibly converting them to Christianity, he integrated them into his realm and thus paved the way for the later Ottonian dynasty.”

Charlemagne, Carolus Magnus or Karolus Magnus, meaning Charles the Great was King of the Franks from 768 AD to his death in 814 AD. He expanded the Frankish kingdoms into a Frankish Empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800 as a rival of the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople. Today he is regarded not only as the founding father of both French and German monarchies, but also as the father of Europe: his empire united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Romans. The documentary Dark Ages, says about him, “Over the course of 46 year reign, Charlemagne would launch more than 50 military campaigns, designed to expand his empire and save souls.  As his armies seized countless new territories, they gave the conquered a simple choice, embrace the Christian God or meet that God immediately.” To watch the documentary:

What was going on during those same centuries in the Islamic Empire is beautifully encapsulated in this short 10 minute documentary

The responsibility of the Dark Ages lay on the Catholic Church, if not wholly, at least partially.  In the words of Encyclopedia Britannica:

“After the dissolution of the Roman Empire, the idea arose of Europe as one large church-state, called Christendom. Christendom was thought to consist of two distinct groups of functionaries: the sacerdotium, or ecclesiastical hierarchy, and the imperium, or secular leaders. In theory, these two groups complemented each other, attending to people’s spiritual and temporal needs, respectively. Supreme authority was wielded by the pope in the first of these areas and by the emperor in the second. In practice, the two institutions were constantly sparring, disagreeing, or openly warring with each other. The emperors often tried to regulate church activities by claiming the right to appoint church officials and to intervene in doctrinal matters. The church, in turn, not only owned cities and armies but often attempted to regulate affairs of state.”[7]

The blame of Dark Ages should be placed squarely on the irrationality and coercion preached by the Church, as is stated, “The only force capable of providing a basis for social unity was the Roman Catholic Church.”[8]

Link between Islam and the developments in the eighth through tenth centuries

How did the Holy Quran trigger the development of science and mathematics among the early Muslims? The best way to understand this is to note the close relation between astronomy and mathematics.  The Holy Quran inspired the believers to study the phenomena of nature and showed them the connections between astronomy and mathematics, for example:
And We (Allah) have made the night and the day two Signs, and the Sign of night We have made dark, and the Sign of day We have made sight giving, that you may seek bounty from your Lord, and that you may know the computation of years and the science of reckoning and mathematics. And everything We have explained with a detailed explanation.  (Al Quran 17:13)
And:

He (Allah) it is Who made the sun radiate a brilliant light and the moon reflect a lustre, and ordained for it stages, that you might know the number of years and the reckoning of time. Allah has not created this but in truth. He details the Signs for a people who have knowledge. Indeed, in the alternation of night and day, and in all that Allah has created in the heavens and the earth there are Signs for a God-fearing people. (Al Quran 10:6-7)

Prof. David M Bressoud explains the close relationship between astronomy and mathematics in his lecture series, The Queen of Sciences: a History of Mathematics:

A third source of the patterns of mathematics is astronomy or astrology.

The ancients made no clear distinction between these two fields. They studied the heavens to try to understand what was likely to happen on Earth.
Some of the greatest astronomers, including Johannes Kepler were also astrologers. Kepler’s work in both astronomy and astrology would lay the foundations for much of the development of calculus.
This lack of distinction between astronomers and astrologers carried over to mathematicians. The emperor Tiberius is said to have banished all ‘mathematicians’ from Rome. In fact he banished the astrologers, who were predicting his downfall.
Some of this confusion stems from the fact that important advances in mathematics came directly out of astronomy. By looking at the heavens, mathematicians were able to pick out patterns in much purer form than they could in the world around them.[9]
Astronomy was one of the dominant forces behind the development of mathematics.  Most people think of trigonometry in connection with land measurement and today it is used in surveying, but it was originally applied to the study of astronomical phenomena.[10]

There are about 750 verses in Quran urging Muslims to make use of reason to understand nature and thus reach their understanding of the Creator, in contrast to just 250 verses about legislation. The Holy Quran states:

In the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation of the night and the day there are indeed Signs for men of understanding; Those who remember Allah while standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and ponder over the creation of the heavens and the earth: “Our Lord, Thou hast not created this in vain.’ (Al Quran 3:191-192)

Many of the 750 verses in the Holy Quran inspire believers to study the phenomena of nature, some are pertaining to the study of astronomy and a few emphasize quantitive study, for example, “The sun and the moon run their courses according to a fixed reckoning and calculation.” (Al Quran 55:6)  The word used in this verse is بِحُسْبَانٍۙ the Arabic word for mathematics is derived from the same root as this word.  Now, let me quote from a wikipedia article, Mathematics in medieval Islam:

A major impetus for the flowering of mathematics as well as astronomy in medieval Islam came from religious observances, which presented an assortment of problems in astronomy and mathematics, specifically in trigonometry, spherical geometry, algebra and arithmetic. The Islamic law of inheritance served as an impetus behind the development of algebra (derived from the Arabic al-jabr) by Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī and other medieval Islamic mathematicians. Al-Khwārizmī’s Hisab al-jabr w’al-muqabala devoted a chapter on the solution to the Islamic law of inheritance using algebra. He formulated the rules of inheritance as linear equations, hence his knowledge of quadratic equations was not required. Later mathematicians who specialized in the Islamic law of inheritance included Al-Hassār, who developed the modern symbolic mathematical notation for fractions in the 12th century.[11]

Mathematics for renaissance

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was a mathematician and an astronomer whose major works introduced Arabic numerals and the concepts of algebra into European mathematics. Al-Khwarizmi lived in Baghdad, where he worked at the “House of Wisdom” under Caliph al-Ma’mun. The House of Wisdom acquired and translated scientific and philosophic treatises, particularly the ones in Greek. It also published original research. Al-Khwarizmi’s work on elementary algebra, Al-kitab al-mukhtasar fi hisab al-jabr wa’l-muqabala was translated into Latin in the 12th century, from which the title and term Algebra derives. The English translation for the name of the book is “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing.”

Al-Khwarizmi made many contributions to mathematics and gave mankind the concept of zero and Arab numerals. Before him the Roman numerals were followed that are actually alphabets like X, C, L, XII etc. It was not possible to make simple additions. It was Al-Khwarizmi and other Arab mathematicians who showed that if we line up 1000, 100,005 and 101 in proper order it is easy to add these three numbers.

1000
100,005
101
_____________
101106

Contrast the simplicity of this addition to adding relatively smaller numbers XXIV and LXXVI to get C. Roman numbers were used in Europe until the middle ages. Today simple additions appear as common sense to us but in the past vast majority of population could not do simple calculations. There used to be specialists like modern day accountants who were in charge of the tedious tasks of addition and subtraction, and earned their living as such.  The very first step in the development of science was accurate quantification of different parameters. Mathematics and Algebra were absolutely essential for the young tree of science in Europe to blossom. Carly Firoina, Ex CEO of Hewlett-Packard, had this to say in 2001, “Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to Islamic civilization, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians.”

Sciences like astronomy and physics could not have developed without the foundation of mathematics and algebra. Mark Graham writes:

Throughout the Middle Ages, Europe used Roman numerals. Like the Greeks before them, Romans based their numerical system on letters. It was a relatively small stock of symbols, seven in total: I, V, X, L, C, D, M, representing 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 and 1000. Despite its simplicity, some problems remained. Writing out larger numbers could be cumbersome. For example, 1938 is MCMXXXVI­II. In multiplication it was even worse: 57 X 38 = 2166 becomes LVII by XXXVIII = MMCLXVI. This unwieldy system made calculation of large numbers a tedious and time-consuming affair. Arithmetic was largely left to a few specialists who had plenty of time on their hands.
That was until Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi joined the House of Wisdom in the early ninth century. A great astronomer who also created an early table cataloguing the latitude and longitude of over 2,000 cities, al-Khwarizmi is primarily known today as one of the most influential mathematicians of all time. His seminal book Calculation of Integration and Equation changed mathematics forever.
If you’re wondering how, a clue is in the Arabic title: Hisab al-Jabr w-al-Muqabalah. Look closely and you’ll notice an English word hiding in there.
AI-jabr-or in English, algebra.
Al-Khwarizmi may not have invented algebra in the modern sense.
The credit goes to the Hindus for first practicing this mathematical art. But it was al- Khwarizmi who introduced algebra to the West. His style was so clear and authoritative that his volume became the standard mathematical text in Europe for four hundred years.
When the book was translated into Latin three hundred years later as Liber Algorismi, it made al-Khwarizmi’s Latinized name a household word synonymous with arithmetic itself .  Our English word “algorithm” is a tribute to this greatest of Muslim mathematicians.
Al-Khwarizmi was dazzled by Hindu mathematics. Seeing the vast potential of its numeric and decimal systems, he wrote several works that introduced Hindu math to Islam. The numbers were so easy to use that they soon became the standard throughout the Muslim world. With the publication of his Liber Algorismi in Europe these Hindu numerals became known as Arabic numerals, a gift of the Islamic world to Christendom.
The most astounding number the Arabs showed them was not a number at all, but the lack of one: zero. Muslim mathematicians represented this lack of number by a dot or small circle. They called it sifr, an empty object. This word was the source of the English ‘zero’ as well as “cipher.” Sift solved a lot of problems in mathematics. It allowed for the expression of difference between two equal quantities as well as positional notation, where the digit’s position has a value itself which, combining with the value of the digit, creates the number’s value. It was a bold new step in abstraction that led to the higher mathematics of the Renaissance.

Muslims’ contributions to science

The remarkable achievements of the early Muslim period are acknowledged by many historians of repute. For example, George Sarton’s encyclopedic treatise on the history of science – which is considered as the definitive work on the subject forcefully emphasizes this fact:
From the second half of the eighth to the end of the eleventh century, Arabic was the scientific, the progressive language of mankind. …  It will suffice here to evoke a few glorious names without contemporary equivalents in the West: Jabir ibn Hayyan, al-Kindi, al-Khwarizmi, al-Farghani, al-Razi, Thabit ibn Qurra, al-Battani, Hunain ibn Ishaq,, al-Farabi, lbrahim ibn Sinan, al-Masudi, al Tabari, Abul-Wafa, Ali ibn Abbas, Abul-Qasim, Ibn al-Jazzar, al-Biruni, Ibn Sina, Ibn Yunus, al-Karkhi, Ibn al-Haytham, Ali ibn Isa, al-Ghazalli, al-Zarqali, Omar Khayyam !  … If anyone tells you that the Middle Ages were scientifically sterile, just quote these men to him, all of whom flourished within a relatively short period, between 750 and 1100.[12]
A similar point of view is expressed in a 1983 issue of the prestigious scientific journal, ‘Nature’:
At its peak about one thousand years ago, the Muslim world made a remarkable contribution to science, notably mathematics and medicine. Baghdad in its heyday and southern Spain built universities to which thousands flocked. Rulers surrounded themselves with scientists and artists. A spirit of freedom allowed Jews, Christians, and Muslim to work side by side. Today all this is but a memory.[13]

According to Robert Briffault in his book the making of humanity‎:

What we call science arose as a result of new methods of experiment, observation, and measurement, which were introduced into Europe by the Arabs. […] Science is the most momentous contribution of Arab civilization to the modern world, but its fruits were slow in ripening. […]
The debt of our science to that of the Arabs does not consist in startling discoveries or revolutionary theories; science owes a great deal more to Arab culture, it owes its existence. The ancient world was, as we saw, pre-scientific. The astronomy and mathematics of the Greeks were a foreign importation never thoroughly acclimatized in Greek culture. The Greeks systematized, generalized and theorized, but the patient ways of investigation, the accumulation of positive knowledge, the minute methods of science, detailed and prolonged observation, experimental inquiry, were altogether alien to the Greek temperament. Only in Hellenistic Alexandria was any; approach to scientific work conducted in the ancient classical world. What we call science arose in Europe as a result of a new spirit of inquiry, of new methods of investigation, of the method of experiment, observation, measurement, of the development of mathematics in a form unknown to the Greeks. That spirit and those methods were introduced into the European world by the Arabs.
Greek manuscripts were collected and translated at the court of the ‘Abbassids with an ardour even more enthusiastic than that which inspired the Aurispas and Filelfos of fifteenth-century Italy. But the choice of the Arab’ collectors and the object of their interest were very different. Of the poets and historians of Greece, beyond satisfying their curiosity by a few samples, they took little account. Their object was information ; and besides the writings of the philosophers from Thales to Apollonius of Tyana, and the textbooks of medical science, it was above all to the writings of the Alexandrian Academy, the astronomy and geography of Ptolemy, the mathematical works of Euclid, Archimedes, Diophantes, Theon, Apollonius of Perga, that they devoted their attention. For speculative theories and broad generalizations they showed little aptitude, valuing as they did information for its own sake and as a means to the extension of knowledge, rather than as the basis of generalizing induction. They accepted the conclusions of the Greeks as working theories necessary to the pursuit of scientific inquiry, only venturing to criticize or modify them as the expansion of knowledge forced them to adapt them to new facts. They have been reproached with imposing a dogmatic spirit in science upon Europe. Christian Europe had little to learn in the way of dogmatism; and those theories, such as the Ptolemaic system, the geographical doctrine of ‘climates,’ the doctrine of alchemical transmutation, which it received from the Arabs, were not Arabic, but Greek. But the spirit in which the Arabs made use of existing materials was the exact opposite of that of the Greeks. It supplied precisely what had been the weak and defective aspect of Greek genius. For the Greeks it was in theory and generalization that the interest lay, they were neglectful and careless of fact; the Arabian inquirers’ zeal, on the contrary, was careless of theory, and directed to the accumulation of concrete facts, and to giving to their knowledge a precise and quantitative form. What makes all the difference between fruitful, enduring science and mere loose scientific curiosity, is the quantitative as against the qualitative statement, the anxiety for the utmost attainable accuracy in measurement. In that spirit  of objective research and quantitative accuracy the whole of the vast scientific work of the Arabs was conducted. They accepted Ptolemy’s cosmology, but not his catalogue of stars or his planetary table, or his measurements. They drew up numerous new star catalogues, correcting and greatly amplifying the Ptolemaic one; they compiled new sets of planetary tables, obtained more accurate values for the obliquity of the ecliptic and the precession of equinoxes, checked by two independent measurements of a meridian the estimates of the size of the earth. They devised for the carrying out of those observations elaborate instruments superior to those of the Greeks and exceeding in accuracy those manufactured in the fifteenth century at the famous Nuremberg factory. Each observer took up the, work independently, sought to eliminate the personal equation, and the method of continuous observation was systematically carried out—some observations extending over twelve years—at the observatories of Damascus, Baghdad, and Cairo. So much importance did they attach to accuracy in their records that those of special interest were formally signed on oath in legal form.

Where did Europe get her religious freedom and pluralism from?

For starters let me mention one of my other articles titled, the Constitution of Medina: the First written Constitution of the World.

Next, let me introduce to you magnum opus of Abdul Haq Compier from Netherlands, titled, ‘Let the Muslim be my Master in Outward Things!’ References to Islam in the Promotion of Religious Tolerance in Christian Europe:He suggests that religious tolerance may seem very self-evident to the modern reader, who is educated to believe that tolerance is one of the fundamental values upon which Europe was built. However, up until the 16th century, religious tolerance was not seen anywhere in Europe. Ever since the Roman Empire, Christian rulers governed by the phrase ‘One Empire, One Law, One Faith.’ Christian theology regarded Christ as the only way to salvation, and the Church as the only way to Christ. Disbelievers were regarded to be exempted from salvation, and hence criminals, ‘children of Satan.’ The Church argued that it was the responsibility of the ruler to cleanse the community of corruption, or he would be held responsible. When persecutions became unbearable, Christians looked to Islam for help.

French author Voltaire, well known for his appeals to tolerance just before the French Revolution. His ‘Treatise on Tolerance’ shows how little indeed France had progressed since the Huguenots had requested tolerance back in the 1560s. Two hundred years later, in 1763, Voltaire has to argue again that Christ never ordered persecution and has to devote a whole chapter to the question ‘Whether tolerance can be dangerous, and in which countries it is permitted’. Voltaire first mentions some meager examples from the sphere of Europe itself, such as a bishop in Poland tolerating an Anabaptist farmer and a Socinian tax-collector, whilst saying that ‘though they would both surely be damned to eternity in the next world, in this one they were still very useful’. Voltaire then continues to look abroad, and the first stop he takes is, as expected, the Ottoman Empire and other Muslim dominions:

Let us reach out from our narrow little sphere for a moment, and examine what goes on in the rest of the globe. The Turkish prince, for example, rules peacefully over twenty races of different religious conviction; two hundred thousand Greeks live in Constantinople in perfect safety, and the Mufti himself nominates and presents the Greek patriarch to his emperor; there is even a Roman Catholic patriarch living there. The Sultan nominates Catholic bishops to some of the Greek islands, with the following words: ‘I commend him to go and reside as bishop on the isle of Chios in accordance with its ancient customs and vain ceremonies’. This empire is stuffed with Jacobites, Nestorians, Monothelites, Coptics, Christians of St John, Jews, Gebers and Banians. The annals of Turkey bear no record of a revolt raised by any of these religious communities. Go to India, to Persia, to Tartary, and you will find the same evidence of tolerance and mutual respect.

To read the rest of the story, click here.

Epilogue

Every blessing is from Muhammad on whom be peace and blessings of Allah.  Blessed is He Who taught and he who was taught. [Divine Revelation]

The conventional wisdom in the West is to not acknowledge any contribution from the Muslim world towards renaissance:
“The breakup of feudal structures, the strengthening of city-states in Italy, and the emergence of national monarchies in Spain, France, and England, as well as such cultural developments as the rise of secular education, culminated in the birth of a self-consciously new age with a new spirit, one that looked all the way back to Classical learning for its inspiration and that came to be known as the Renaissance.”[14]
But, let me conclude in the same vein as I started with some forceful testimonies of some historians about the Muslims’ contribution to Europe at the time of renaissance. Mark Graham concludes his book, How Islam Created the Modern World, with the following words:
Muslims gave Western Christians their science, their medicine, their music, their food, their clothes, their poetry, their philosophy and their mathematics. They were the ones who thrust Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the Enlightenment. This is the terrible secret that the Renaissance myth tries to hide.
We must begin learning history by unlearning the cultural ‘truths’ we have been taught about Islam. These paradigms have nestled in the muck of our collective unconscious for centuries. Born of religious intolerance, they slowly cemented themselves as Islam became an increasing political and cultural threat. It was because Islam was so successful that our culture made it seem like a failure. It was because we owed Muslims so much that we pretended we owed them nothing. For without this myth of a superior religion and a superior culture, what did we have that we could call our own?
Only something far greater, far more complex and transcendent–a shared history of faith and culture. The Islamic world and the ‘West’ are (and always have been) an intricately-bound system of cultural and religious interaction. They are not separate entities as much as they are parts of an ongoing process of debate and exchange.
It is time for memory to triumph over collective amnesia. Islam belongs to the West as much as the Egyptians or the Greeks. We are the heirs of Ibn Rushd and al-Razi as much as we are the heirs of Plato and Hippocrates. And the West belongs to Islam, a rich part of its own history that has only begun to be written. It is in the writing of that new history that we might finally unlearn what has pulled us apart and learn anew what we share as children of Abraham and Aristotle.

According to Wikipedia in an article titled, Islamic contributions to Medieval Europe:

“Islamic contributions to Medieval Europe were numerous, affecting such varied areas as art, architecture, medicine, agriculture, music, language, education, law, and technology. From the 11th to the 13th century, Europe absorbed knowledge from the Islamic civilization. In the early 20th century the musicologist Henry George Farmer wrote that a ‘growing number of scholars … recognize(d) that the influence of the Muslim civilization as a whole on medieval Europe was enormous in such fields as science, philosophy, theology, literature, aesthetics, than has been recognized.’ For many historians the contributions from the Islamic world have had a considerable effect on the development of Western civilization and contributed to the achievements of the Renaissance. Their contributions included the rediscovery of ancient classic texts, notably the work of the Greek natural philosopher Aristotle, through retranslations and commentaries from Arabic.”[15]

Seyyed Hossain Nasr comments:
“[Ibn Sina] possessed much clinical insight, and is given credit for the first description of several drugs and diseases, such as meningitis, which he was the first to describe correctly. But it is essentially for his penetration and for his understanding of the philosophical principles of medicine, on the one hand, and his mastery of the psychological treatment of physical ailments, or of ‘psychosomatic medicine’ as it is called today, on the other hand, that he is celebrated.”[16]
A reader may well ask why the information presented here is not commonly known?  This will make for a separate knol but let me suggest a theme for this new knol here.  The human condition is, as Plato would make Socrates say in the Republic (7.514a ff.), comparable to that of prisoners of an underground cave, whose unfortunate fate is to confuse reality with passing shadows created by a fire inside their miserable abode and kept in motion by clever manipulators, who in the name of politics, religion, science, and tradition control the human herd.
Information about contributions of Islam has been camouflaged by the political interests of the European Empires and the religious interests of the Catholic Church, more on this in future!

Sequel

By Abdul Haq Compier

References

  1. Samuel Parsons Scott. History of the Moorish Empire in Europe. Published by J B Lippincot Company in 1904. p. 124-127.
  2. Mark Graham. How Islam Created the Modern World. Amana Publications, 2006. Pages 37-39.
  3. “Dark Ages.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 Dec. 2010 ca.com/EBchecked/topic/151663/Dark-Ages>.
  4. “Dark Ages.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 Dec. 2010 ca.com/EBchecked/topic/151663/Dark-Ages>.
  5. “Charlemagne.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 Aug. 2009 ca.com/EBchecked/topic/106546/Charlemagne>.
  6. Joseph Ratzinger Now Pope Benedict XVI, and Marcello Pera. Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam. Basic Books, 2006. Page 54.
  7. “Middle Ages.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 Dec. 2010 ca.com/EBchecked/topic/380873/Middle-Ages>.
  8. “Middle Ages.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 Dec. 2010 ca.com/EBchecked/topic/380873/Middle-Ages>.
  9. Mark Graham. How Islam Created the Modern World. Amana Publications, 2006. Pages 51-52.
  10. Prof. David M Bressoud. The Queen of Sciences: a History of Mathematics. The Teaching Company Guidebook on this lecture series, 2008. Page 5.
  11. Prof. David M Bressoud. The Queen of Sciences: a History of Mathematics. The Teaching Company Guidebook on this lecture series, 2008. Page 29.
  12. George Sarton. Introduction To The History Of Science, Vol 1. New York, Krieger, 1975. Page 17.
  13. Francis Ghiles, “What is Wrong With Muslim Science” Nature, 24 March 1983.
  14. “Middle Ages.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 Dec. 2010 ca.com/EBchecked/topic/380873/Middle-Ages>.
  15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_contributions_to_Medieval_Europe
  16. Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Science and civilization in Islam. New American Library, 1970. Page 384.
  17. Mark Graham. How Islam Created the Modern World. Amana Publications, 2006. Pages 182.
  18. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematics_in_medieval_Islam
  19. George Sarton. Introduction to The History of Science, Vol 1. New York, Krieger, 1975. Page 17.
  20. Mark Graham. How Islam Created the Modern World. Amana Publications, 2006. Pages 182.
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