in different period of time have made remarkable contributions to
science and technology. The scientific knowledge which originated in
India, China and Hellenistic world (Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia) was
sought after by different Arab scholars and then translated,
refined, synthesized and augmented at different centers of learning
starting in Persia and moving to Baghdad, Cairo and finally to
Toledo and Cordoba in Spain. The Islam and Arabic language unified
an empire that reached its zenith in single century after 622 AD.
In this article, I
elaborate and analyze the role played by the Islamic religion in the
renaissance of Arabic civilization. The Arabic, the language of
Quran and the language of the people, made a great impact on
learning of science. I discuss the impact of Arabic language in the
rise of Islamic science and culture.
And lastly, the
factors of decline and future of Islamic technology are also
We have come
across various civilizations in different period of time in human
history which have left everlasting impact on society. No society
has ever lacked basic curiosity but on contrary has contributed to
the all round development of mankind. The cultures and religions, no
doubt, have influenced the developments and added to the world’s
stock of scientific knowledge.
of faith after 622 AD blew the word of Prophet Mohammad (SAW) across
North Africa to Spain and most parts of Asia. It brought about a
great political, cultural and intellectual upheaval in these lands.
The contributions of the scholars of Islamic countries are most
significant in science and medicine. In this article, I analyze the
factors which played important role in the growth of science,
highlight the contributions of some eminent scholars, discuss the
causes of down fall of Arab science and its future prospects.
The verses of
Quran dealing with the nature of heavenly bodies, celestial
organizations, the water cycles and the sea, the earth’s atmosphere,
the origins of life, human reproduction, the animal and vegetable
kingdom etc. are dispersed through out the book. The Quran and the
sayings of prophet (called Hadith) would have been certainly the
motivating factors behind the development and creation of science
during the period. I quote here few verses from the holy Quran:
Chapter 27, verse 61, Chapter 25, verse 53.
description of certain stages in the development of embryo
corresponds exactly to what we know today. The following news
appeared in various news papers in 1984 under the headings: “Ancient
holy book 1300 years ahead of its time” the Citizen, Ottawa
(Canada), Nov. 22, 1984 and “Koran scores over modern science”,
the Times of India (New Delhi), Dec. 10, 1984.
of Toronto embryologist has made several trips to Saudi Arabia to
help explain some of the verses from the Koran relating to human
embryo development. Dr Keith Moore’s findings, corroborated by test
tube baby pioneer Dr. Robert Edwards, reveal the verses contain an
accurate description of the stage by stage development of the human
embryo, something which was proposed by western experts only in 1940
and most of which has been proved only in the past decade and a
The prophet of
Islam inspired love and passion for learning among Muslims and
called the mankind to develop its faculties and intellect. He was
particularly concerned for arousing general interest in medicine and
drugs as is clear from his sayings in this regard:
“There is no
ailment created by God for which He has not created a
treatment” (Bukahri (a), vol. iv, p. 7).
medicine for every ailment, when it is taken for any ailment; it
cures by the order of God”
(Muslim, vol. ii, p. 225).
encourage both the physicians and the patients; trigger a ray of
hope and zeal for research in medicine in order to bring diseases
contributed to the growth of Arab sciences
Let us consider
the state of knowledge on the eve of Islam in the countries that
were about to be transformed into the Muslim world. The works of
Hellenistic period which lasted from 323 BC until the advent of
Islam could have been transmitted to Arab scholars.
science incorporated the works of Greek scientists of the classical
period, while making considerable advances in theory and practice.
It embraced almost the entire corpus of scientific knowledge
available because Greek science had itself embodied the results
obtained by Babylonian, Egyptian and Indian scientists .
mathematics had a number of great exponents, including Euclid,
Archimedes, Apollonius, Diophantos and Ptolemy. Euclid’s Elements
was the foundation of systematic geometry and remained the
cornerstone for the teaching of the subject until recent times.
Ptolemy’s Mathematical Treatise (al-Majisti in Arabic and
Almagest in Latin) is the most complex account of geocentric
system, which places the earth at the centre of universe.
The Arab scholars
inherited the Hellenistic Sciences and they would have been
certainly benefited out of this treasure. The teachings of Prophet
and passion and egalitarianism of Islam further rejuvenated them and
infact it became a positive force in all the developments in the
Arab world. The vast region came under one government thus paved the
way for the cultural unity of Muslim countries. Islam abolished the
barriers which had isolated the countries from each other, so that
the whole area had one religion and one literary and scientific
language. The Islamic religion and the Arabic language were the two
unifying forces of the Islamic state. Arabic, the language of Quran,
was held in respect by all Muslims. But the real miracle of Islamic
civilization was that the Arabic became the language of all the
people who lived between Baghdad and Cordoba. It became both the
language of daily life and the language of science and literature,
replacing completely Coptic, Aramaic, Greek and Latin . Thus the
people of ancient civilizations of the Near East and the
Mediterranean spoke and wrote one common language for the first time
Caliph al-Mansur (
754-775) built a Bait al-Hikma (House of wisdom) at Baghdad
which contained a large library for the manuscripts that had been
collected from the various sources; an observatory which became a
meeting place of Indian, Babylonian and Hellenistic scientists; and
a university where scientific researches continued apace . It was
an intellectual center of the Arab world and within its walls lived
some of the greatest scientists of the period.
Caliphs, notably Harun al-Rashid (786-809) and al-Mamun (809-833)
also promoted the science in Baghdad. The patronage of scientists
and engineers was always the deliberate policy of State. In all the
Academies, Libraries, Madrasas, Hospitals and Observatories,
financial means were provided to enable scientists to devote all
their time to study and research. They were paid salaries and
granted pensions. The economic prosperity of state helped the
scientific growth in these regions. The strategic geographical
position of Arab countries between the east and the west, whereby
they control important land and sea routes also enabled them to
dominate international trade. The trade was one of the largest
sources of national income.
Thus teachings of
Islam together with the state policy of Caliphs, international trade
and Arabic language were the factors played important role in the
growth of one of the greatest civilizations on earth.
Arab Scholars and their Contributions
scientific work was in the fields of algebra, arithmetic, astronomy
and geography. He wrote a number of books, of which the two most
influential are Hisab al-jabr w’al-muqabla (calculation by
restoration and reduction), the Arabic text still in existence, and
Algorithmi de numero indorum (calculation with Indian
numerals), the original Arabic version no longer exists – we know it
only in Latin translation. The first book, later called Algebra, was
the starting point for Arab word in algebra. It is a subtle blend of
a variety of mathematical traditions including the Babylonian,
Indian and Greek. The second book, known as Arithmetic, served to
introduce the decimal positional number system which was developed
in India a few hundred years earlier . Thus al-Khwarizmi whose
name reduced the word ‘algorithm’ (a corruption of his name)
must be credited for laying the foundation of Algebra.
Omar Khayyam (1048-1126)
famous as the poet Omar Khayyam, has made considerable progress in
the field of Mathematics. He classified equations of the third
degree into 25 categories and then attempted to solve them, giving
numerical solutions for equations of the fist and second degree, and
geometrical solution (by means of conic section) for those of the
known in Latin as Alhazen, wrote more than 200 books on
mathematics, physics, astronomy and medicine, and commentaries on
Aristotle and Galen. His major work “Kitab al-Manazir” (book
on optics) was translated into Latin and exercised a profound
influence in the Middle Ages, inspiring the studies of Roger Bacon
and Johann Kepler. In this and other works he studied mirror and
lenses, and the nature of light. He established that rays of light
start from the object and travel towards the eye, not the reverse as
the Greeks had believed.
Ibn Sina (980-1037)
He is known as
Avicenna in Europe and regarded as the most able of the Arab
philosopher-scientists. He was reputed to have mastered all the
sciences by the age of eighteen . He was a man of enormous energy
who in spite of pre-occupations with state affairs managed to
produce about 200 books, some dictated on horse back as he rode with
his ruler to battle. His best known work is the ‘Canon of
Medicine’ translated into Latin and other European languages,
and used for centuries as a prime text in Arab and European
opinion given by Ibn Sina about the treatment of cancer is rather
astonishing in the light of present day medical knowledge regarding
cancer. Ibn sina wrote in the 11th century that all the
tissues and blood vessels of the affected part and its adjoining
areas must be removed. He also remarked that even after the removal
of tissues, complete cure can not be guaranteed .
Al-Razi, known in
Latin as Rhazes was the greatest clinical physician of the
Arab world. He was also a good surgeon.
Al-Razi wrote a
treatise on fracture and a monograph on surgery. It was also al-Razi
who, for the first time, described the suturing of wounds by using
silk thread and alcohol. For the details of the contributions of al-Razi,
al-Zahrawi (936-1013), known as abulcasis in west, and Ibn
Zuhr (1091-1162), known as Avenzoar, see .
Causes of Decline and
As a result of
political disintegration of the state and deterioration of national
economy many individual states and independent emirates came up. The
scientific temper and the quest for knowledge that characterized the
Muslims earlier started receding. The first signs of fall from
global dominance were discernible around the year 1500 AD. It was
only a few years earlier that Columbus (1492) discovered America and
Vasco da Gamma (1498) landed at Calicut. These geographical
discoveries spelt the replacement of Muslims by European powers as
the master of high sea.
While Islamic religion was the main impulse behind the renaissance
of science in Arab world, it was the rise of clerical faction in
post sixteenth century which froze this same science and withered
its progress. The tragedy of the demolition of the last observatory
in Islam, established in Constantinopole by Taqi al-Dinn, in 1580,
exemplified this victory of the clerical faction over science. It
is therefore clear that one of the major reasons for the down fall
of Muslims is their withdrawal from the realm of science and
experience of the so called small giants (S. Korea, Taiwan,
Singapore, Malaysia) in the last three decades had shown that it is
not difficult to transform a third world country into an advanced
industrial one in a short time and with reasonable funding. The Arab
world is rich in natural and human resources, which is fortunate
because the future of science and technology depends upon the
successful utilization of a combination of these two ingredients.
Therefore, there should be an economic cooperation and integration
among them on the regional basis. They must evolve a master plan for
scientific and applied research with specific goals, realistic
implementation and continuous evaluation. The research
infrastructure should be built to help researchers to attain the
The creation of an
Arab Common Market (ACM) which can utilize the oil revenues and the
surplus capital would make it possible for the Arab world to meet
most of its individual requirements through domestic production.
Dr. Md. Kalimuddin Ahmad is Associate
Department of Mathematics Aligarh Muslim University
and DAAD Fellow (Germany) 96-98.
This article appeared in “Dialog der
Kulturen” (Dialog of the Cultures),
the proceedings of a workshop on
“Influence of culture and religion on Science’, held in TU
Kaiserslautern, Germany, October 2002, pages 24-31.
The workshop was organized after 9/11
attack on WTC and Dr. Ahmad was invited to speak under the category
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