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Muslim Scientists and Thinkers

November 29, 2007 by  


By Syed Aslam

There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world, it was able to create a continental super-state that stretched from ocean to ocean and from northern climates to tropics and deserts. Within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins. And this civilization was driven more than anything, by inventions. Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. Its doctors examined the human body, and found new cures for disease.

Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration. When other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilization thrived on them, and kept them alive. When censors threatened to wipe out knowledge from past civilizations, this civilization kept the knowledge alive, and passed it on to others. While modern Western civilization shares many of these traits, the civilization I’m talking about was the Islamic world. Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to this other civilization, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Muslim mathematicians, chemists, astronomers, geologists and physicians. This is the abstract from the speech of Carly Fiorina CEO of Hewlett-Packard delivered on September 26, 2001 in Minneapolis Minnesota at a conference.

The abstract above is not a fiction but a hard fact. Four hundred years of the golden age of Islamic civilization, starting from eight century to thirteenth century was the most splendid eras of human creativity. At its pinnacle during the thirteenth century the Cairo library had some two million books and millions of books could be found in the libraries of Spain, Baghdad, Bukhara and Damascus. During this period many brilliant scientists were born and flourished. They paved the way to the modern science and technology.

Yet if you read the Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, you will find a few pages about the contribution of Muslim scientists. It is sad to say that we Muslims buried those grate achievement under the rug and totally forgot about it.

Those Muslims celebrated the power of reason and human intellect and also believed that knowledge can be achieved from any source and from any where, which was the essence of Ijtehad. This idea is not contrary to the teaching of Islam, where Qur’an commands the believer to seek rational knowledge by observation and logic.

The Prophet (s) said “seek knowledge even if you have to go to China,” showing the vital importance of aggressively pursuing knowledge.

The Europeans translated the works of Muslim scientists and thinkers into their language and there schools and university flourished – finally they pulled themselves out of drake age of dogmatic Christian era into the age of Enlightenment.
By the end of seventeenth century their innovations and discoveries simply overwhelmed the Muslim world. Though late, the mighty Ottoman Empire could have caught up with the Industrial Revolution and the modern scientific knowledge from the next door European countries, but they simply ignored it.

I myself knew much more about Copernicus, Galileo and many scientists of the western world when I completed my Masters degree, but was absolutely ignorant of our own heritage and their achievement –what a sad situation.
In this series of articles I will introduce the Muslim scientists and thinkers to our readers and try to highlight their work.

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