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Muslim Predicament in the post-colonial era - 1
by Dr. Habib Siddiqui
2012-03-10 10:15:02
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The seventh century which saw the rise of Islam also saw Christian Europe enter the Dark Ages. In the western Europe the invading Goths had almost obliterated the culture and technology of the Romans. In the Eastern Roman Empire, centering in Constantinople, the Church had all but suppressed Greek science and philosophy. India was languishing in a period of stagnation; and China, while blossoming richly in the arts, was almost wholly devoid of science.

It was during this period of decline and stagnation that Muslim Arabs, the followers of Muhammad (S) – the Prophet of Islam, became the torchbearers or vanguards of knowledge in our world.  They created an Islamic civilization, driven by inquiry and invention, which was to become the envy of the rest of the world for nearly a millennium.

It is this spirit, the unquenched thirst for knowledge, which made Abu Rayhan al-Biruni to ask a question on inheritance law or some other related issue while he was lying on his deathbed. (Abu Rayhan al-Biruni was a great scientist, physicist, astronomer, sociologist, linguist, historian and mathematician whose true worth may never be known. He is considered the father of unified field theory by Nobel Laureate - late Professor Abdus Salam. He lived nearly a thousand years ago and was a contemporary of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Sultan Mahmoud of Ghazni.)

The jurisprudent was quite amazed that a dying man should show interest in such matters.

Abu Rayhan said, “I should like to ask you: which is better, to die with knowledge or to die without it?”

The man said, “Of course, it is better to know and then die.”

Abu Rayhan said, “That is why I asked my first question.”

Shortly after the jurisprudent had reached his home, the cries of lamentation told him that Abu Rayhan had died. (Murtaza Motahari: Spiritual Discourses)

Speaking about the Islamic civilization, Carli Fiorina, the former (highly talented and visionary) CEO of Hewlett Packard, said, “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. Its writers created thousands of stories; stories of courage, romance and magic. 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 from the year 800 to 1600, which included the Ottoman Empire and the courts of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, and enlightened rulers like Suleiman the Magnificent. 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 Arab mathematicians.”

Truly, there is a hardly a field that is not indebted to these pioneering children of Islam. Here below is a short list (by no means a comprehensive one) of Muslim scientists from the 8th to the 15th century CE:

701 (died) C.E. - Khalid Ibn Yazeed - Alchemy

721-803 - Jabir Ibn Haiyan (Geber) - Alchemy (Great Muslim Alchemist)

740 - Al-Asma’i - Zoology, Botany, Animal Husbandry

780 - Al-Khwarizmi (Algorizm) – Mathematics (Algebra, Calculus) - Astronomy

776-868 - ‘Amr ibn Bahr al-Jajiz – Zoology

787 - Al Balkhi, Ja'far Ibn Muhammas (Albumasar) - Astronomy

796 (died) - Al-Fazari, Ibrahim Ibn Habib - Astronomy

800 - Ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi - (Alkindus) – Medicine, Philosophy, Physics, Optics

815 - Al-Dinawari, Abu-Hanifa Ahmed Ibn Dawood - Mathematics, Linguistics

816 - Al Balkhi – Geography (World Map)

836 (b.) - Thabit Ibn Qurrah (Thebit) - Astronomy, Mechanics, Geometry

838-870 - Ali Ibn Rabban Al-Tabari - Medicine, Mathematics

840 – Abu Kamil ibn Aslam – Algebra, Mathematics

852 - Al Battani Abu Abdillah - Mathematics, Astronomy, Engineering

857 - Ibn Masawaih You'hanna-Medicine

858-929 - Abu Abdullah Al-Battani (Albategnius) - Astronomy, Mathematics

860 - Al-Farghani, Abu al-`Abbas (Al-Fraganus) - Astronomy, Civil Engineering

864-930 - Al-Razi (Rhazes) - Medicine, Ophthalmology, Chemistry

873 (died) - Al-Kindi – Physics, Optics, Metallurgy, Oceanography, Philosophy

880-943 – Sinan ibn Thabit al-Qurra – Mathematics, Astronomy, Medicine, Anatomy

888 (died) – ‘Abbas ibn Firnas – Mechanics, Planetarium, Artificial Crystals

900 (died) - Abu Hamed Al-ustrulabi - Astronomy

903-986 - Al-Sufi (Azophi) - Astronomy

908 (b.) – Ibrahim ibn Sinan ibn Thabit Ibn Qurrah – Optics, Astronomy, Geometry, Engineering

920 (b.) – Abul Hasan al-Uqlidisi – Mathematics

912 (died) - Al-Tamimi Muhammad Ibn Amyal (Attmimi) - Alchemy

923 (died) - Al-Nirizi, AlFadl Ibn Ahmed (Altibrizi) - Mathematics, Astronomy

930 - Ibn Miskawayh, Ahmed Abu-Ali-Medicine, Alchemy

932 - Ahmed Al-Tabari - Medicine

934 - al Istakhr II – Geography (World Map)

936-1013 - Abu Al-Qasim Al-Zahravi (Albucasis) - Surgery, Medicine

940-997 – Abu Wafa Muhammad Al-Buzjani - Mathematics, Astronomy, Geometry

940-1000 (ca.) – Abu Sahl Waijan ibn Rustam al-Quhi (al-Kuhi) – Astronomy, Mathematics, Geometry

953-1029 – Abu Bakr al-Karaji – Mathematics

943 - Ibn Hawqal – Geography (World Map)

950 - Al Majrett'ti Abu-al Qasim - Astronomy, Alchemy, Mathematics

958 (died) – Abul Hasan Ali al-Mas’udi – Geography, History

960 (died) - Ibn Wahshiyh, Abu Baker - Alchemy, Botany

965-1040 - Ibn Al-Haitham (Alhazen) - Physics, Optics, Mathematics

970-1036 – Abu Nasr Mansur ibn Ali ibn Iraqi – Mathematics, Astronomy

973-1048 - Abu Rayhan Al-Biruni - Astronomy, Mathematics, History, Linguistics

976 - Ibn Abil Ashath - Medicine

980 (b.) – Al-Baghdadi – Mathematics, Advanced Numerical Methods

980-1037 - Ibn Sina (Avicenna) - Medicine, Philosophy, Mathematics, Astronomy

983 - Ikhwan A-Safa (Assafa) - (Group of Muslim Scientists)

1001 - Ibn Wardi – Geography (World Map)

1008 (died) - Ibn Yunus - Astronomy, Mathematics

1019 - Al-Hasib Alkarji - Mathematics

1029-1087 - Al-Zarqali (Arzachel) - Astronomy (Invented Astrolabe)

1044 - Omar Al-Khayyam - Mathematics, Astronomy, Poetry

1060 (died) - Ali Ibn Ridwan Abu'Hassan Ali - Medicine

1077 - Ibn Abi-Sadia Abul Qasim - Medicine

1090-1161 - Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) - Surgery, Medicine

1095 - Ibn Bajah, Mohammed Ibn Yahya (Avenpace) - Astronomy, Medicine

1097 - Ibn Al-Baitar Diauddin (Bitar) - Botany, Medicine, Pharmacology

1099 - Al-Idrisi (Dreses) - Geography, Zoology, World Map (First Globe)

1110-1185 - Ibn Tufayl, Abubacer Al-Qaysi - Philosophy, Medicine

1120 (died) -Al-Tuhra-ee, Al-Husain Ibn Ali - Alchemy, Poem

1128 - Ibn Rushd (Averroe's) - Philosophy, Medicine, Astronomy

1130 (b.) – Al-Samawal - Algebra

1135 - Ibn Maymun, Musa (Maimonides) - Medicine, Philosophy

1135 (b.) – Sharaf al-Din – Algebra, Geometry

1140 - Al-Badee Al-Ustralabi - Astronomy, Mathematics

1155 (died) - Abdel-al Rahman Al Khazin-Astronomy

1162 - Al Baghdadi, Abdel-Lateef Muwaffaq - Medicine, Geography

1165 - Ibn A-Rumiyyah Abul'Abbas (Annabati) - Botany

1173 - Rasheed Al-Deen Al-Suri - Botany

1180 - Al-Samawal - Algebra

1184 - Al-Tifashi, Shihabud-Deen (Attifashi) - Metallurgy, Stones

1201-1274 - Nasir Al-Din Al-Tusi - Astronomy, Non-Euclidean Geometry

1203 - Ibn Abi-Usaibi'ah, Muwaffaq Al-Din - Medicine

1204 (died) - Al-Bitruji (Alpetragius) - Astronomy

1213-1288 - Ibn Al-Nafis Damishqui - Anatomy

1236 - Kutb Aldeen Al-Shirazi - Astronomy, Geography

1248 (died) - Ibn Al-Baitar - Pharmacy, Botany

1258 (b.) - Ibn Al-Banna (Al Murrakishi), Azdi - Medicine, Mathematics

1260 (b.) – Al-Farisi - Mathematics

1262 (died) - Al-Hassan Al-Murarakishi - Mathematics, Astronomy, Geography

1270 - Abu al-Fath Abd al-Rahman al-Khazini – Physics, Astronomy

1273-1331 - Al-Fida (Abdulfeda) - Astronomy, Geography

1306 - Ibn Al-Shater Al Dimashqi - Astronomy, Mathematics

1320 (died)-Al Farisi Kamalud-deen Abul-Hassan - Astronomy, Physics

1341 (died) - Al-Jildaki, Muhammad Ibn Aidamer - Alchemy

1351 - Ibn Al-Majdi, Abu Abbas Ibn Tanbugha - Mathematics, Astronomy

1359 - Ibn Al-Magdi, Shihab-Udden Ibn Tanbugha - Mathematic, Astronomy

1369 (died) – Ibn Katina – Medicine

1375 (died) - Ibn Shatir – Astronomy

1380-1424 - Ghiyath al-Din al Kashani – Numerical Analysis, Computation

1393-1449 – Ulugh Beg – Trigonometry, Astronomy

1412 (b.) – Abul Hasan ibn Ali al-Qalasadi - Algebra

(References: Hamed Abdel-Reheem Ead, Professor of Chemistry at Faculty of Science, University of Cairo Giza-Egypt and Director of Science Heritage Center, http://www.frcu.eun.eg/www/universities/html/shc/index.htm; See also the books: 100 Muslim Scientists by Abdur Rahman Sharif, Al-Khoui Pub., N.Y; Muslim Contribution to Science by Muhammad R. Mirza and Muhammad Iqbal Siddiqi, Chicago: Kazi Publications, 1986.)

With such a train of Muslim scholars, it is not difficult to understand why George Sarton said, "The main task of mankind was accomplished by Muslims. The greatest philosopher Al-Farabi was a Muslim; the greatest mathematicians Abul Kamil and Ibrahim Ibn Sinan were Muslims; the greatest geographer and encyclopaedist Al-Masudi was a Muslim; the greatest historian, Al-Tabari was still a Muslim." The Oxford History of Technology sums it up as follows: "There are few major technological innovations between 500 A.D. and 1500 that do not show some traces of the Islamic culture." Dr. Murad Wilfried Hofmann, an ex-German diplomat and author, similarly writes, “The European intellectual exploits of the Renaissance would have been unthinkable without Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, al-Biruni, al-Khawarizmi, ar-Razi, lbn al-Haytham, Ibn Battuta and Ibn Khaldun.” [9]

History before Islam was a jumble of conjectures, myths and rumors. It was left to the Muslim historians who introduced for the first time the method of matn and sanad tracing the authenticity and integrity of the transmitted reports back to eyewitness accounts. According to the historian Henry Thomas Buckle ‘this practice was not adopted in Europe before 1597 AD.’ Another method: that of historical research and criticism - originated with the celebrated historian Ibn Khaldun. The author of Kashfuz Zunun gives a list of 1300 history books written in Arabic during the first few centuries of Islam. That is no small contribution!

The rise of Muslim rule was dramatic. So also was its decline to the point where in 1492 the Caliph Abdullah abandoned Granada to the conquering Spaniards, "weeping like a woman for what he could not defend like a man."

For the next five centuries while the Islamic civilization declined – politically, economically, socially and culturally, it set all Christendom aglow.  Thus, the same period that saw a dawning of the Christian West, sadly, for the vast majority of Muslims living (outside the Ottoman and Mughal Empires) in Asia, Africa and Europe it has been a period of doom and gloom. By the mid-19th century, the Christian West had colonized all Muslim territories except what was left by then of the once powerful Ottoman Empire, setting in motion a process that not only saw the great plunder of immense natural resources but the utter decimation of former Islamic institutions. Nowhere was this destruction or strangulation felt more severely than in the intellectual sector. Consequently, when the former colonizers either had left on their own volition or were forced out in the post-World War II era, Muslims in the newly emerged nation states found out that they have become a nation of zeros. Their excellence in science, arts and literature -- a matter of much national pride -- has vanished and become only a matter of fond memory about a distant and glorious past that has nothing in common with the current harsh reality!

Some years ago a published UN report on Arab development noted that the Arab world comprising of 22 countries had translated about 330 books annually. That is a pitiful number, only a fifth of the number of the books that (tiny) Greece (alone) translates in a year! (Spain translates an average of 100,000 books annually.) Why such an allergy or aversion from those whose forefathers did not mind translating older works successfully to regain the heritage of antiquity, analyzing, collating, correcting and supplementing substantially the material that was beneficial to mankind? Why is the literacy rate low among Muslims when the first revealed message in the Qur’an is ‘Iqra (meaning: Read)?

How do Muslims get out of this predicament? What strategy should they follow?


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Emanuel Paparella2012-03-10 13:38:50
"...the Church had all but suppressed Greek science and philosophy." Dr. Siddiqui

The above quote is wholly misleading. While there little doubt that Moslem civilization was flourishing at a time when the West was languishing culturally and we in the West owe much to the Muslims for the preservation of many Greek Roman works, the impression is created that one of the culprits for that situation was Christianity and the Christian Church itself promoting ignorance and obscurantism; that the whole medieval period can be characterized as “Dark Ages.” That is not the case. Only three centuries, from 500 AD to 800 AD, can be branded as “Dark Ages.” After that the West having stopped a Moslem invasion of Europe at Tours began a slow recovery of knowledge and learning which began in Cathedral settings while the first European University is already open in the year 1088 in Bologna. I have written a whole article in Ovi pointing out that the reverse of the above quoted statement was true: it was the Christian Church in both West and East that saved and preservedwhatever remnant of the old Graeco-Roman civilization was left after the barbarian invasions. Open this link to

The Italian Renaissance which began in the 13th century was made possible by the preservation of manuscripts in monasteries. Finally, may I suggest that Dr. Siddiqui unburden himself of the ignorance he shows in the above quoted statement and read Thomas Cahill’s book How The Irish Saved Civilization. There he will find a thorough explanation on how the entire Graeco-Roman patrimony was saved by monks in monastery copying and preserving ancient manuscripts and teaching people devastated by barbarian invasions how to cultivate the land and agriculture.

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