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Summary of 8.10 "Muslim Contribution to Other Fields I"


In the tenth program we briefly looked into the contribution of Muslims in Geography and how that was encouraged by the various teachings of Islam like prayers, Pilgrimage and fasting which necessitated this.  Even if Muslims did not come to the Americas before Columbus they at least contributed the use of the compass.  We talked about the Muslim’s discovery of the earth being a sphere or round from as early as the 9th century.  And that they very accurately measured the circumference of the earth which is very close to what we have today.  We mentioned that their works and maps remained for many years the primary resources on the subject both in Europe and other parts of the world.  We also looked briefly into other areas and the way Muslims introduced a variety of fruits and other plants to many different areas, the improvement of irrigation methods.  In manufacturing we discussed the brilliance in various areas including textiles, leather as well as paper manufacturing which was related to the spread of science and learning.  Finally, they developed trade and had very sophisticated banking system early on in history before the West knew about these various techniques.


8.11     Muslim Contribution to Other Fields II


Host: What are some of Muslim’s contribution to the areas of Political Science and Sociology?

Jamal Badawi:

In the field of Political Science we find that as early as the first part of the 10th century a famous writer by the name of Al Farabi wrote a book about the ideal city.  As Haydar Bayat in Muslim Contribution to Civilization summarizes the book “he perceived a perfectly organized state as one which assures all its citizens of a perfect government and happiness after death.”  On a more practical level a famous book, Al Akam Al Sultania, was written by Al Mawardi who lived in the late part of the 10th century and early 11th century.  The title of his book roughly translates to Te Book of Rules of Power in which Al Mawardi did not only concern himself with the theory of Caliph and the system of government in Islam but he went beyond that to discuss the variety of political, social and legal institutions in that state and how they should operate in a correctly applied Islamic State.


In sociology perhaps the most famous sociologist is perhaps Ibn Khaldun who lived in the later part of the 14th century.  Jack Risler in his book Arab Civilization which was written in French considers Ibn Khaldun to be one of the greatest historians of all time.  His book was a sort of representation of the first time somebody wrote not only about history but philosophy of history.  This combined comprehensiveness and philosophical reflections on history.  For a long time before modern sociology developed we find that Ibn Khaldun made a careful study of human society, how it evolved and what explanations there are for the progress of history.  In his book Al Muqaddimah one can find deep reflections on history, some examination of civilization, how the different types of living (nomadic or city life) effected the thinking and attitudes of people, how it effected the industries and learning that might be more prominent in a given civilization.  Many writers refer to him as the father of economics too because in the area of economics long before Adam Smith he said that the State should act as a trader.  This means that whatever revenue the government gets by way of taxation should be put back in circulation as soon as possible.  He also advocated the lowering of taxes and making it reasonable and moderate in order to encourage the individual incentive for productivity, to encourage entrepreneurial activities.  He also discussed different monopolies and what the role of government which sounds like modern economics.  One of his interesting remarks is that the wealth of the nation is really basically human resources.  The modern term is management of human resources.  He was really amazing in terms of the philosophical reflections that he made which would relate both to philosophy of history and to the question of sociology.  It is no wonder that I recollect reading a statement by the famous British Historian, Arnold Toynbee, that perhaps Ibn Khaldun is the greatest historian that ever lived.

Host:  Can you expand more to the contributions that were made my Muslims towards the field of History?


Jamal Badawi:

Contribution does not begin with Ibn Khaldun, I just mentioned him because of his philosophy of history type of influence.  In the early 8th century we find many historians who excel like Urwah Ibn Zubair, Wahb Ibn Munabbih and the famous historian Ibn Ishaq who wrote about the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  Many of these historians seemed to be more interested in the preservation and recording of facts and events without the application of too much interpretation or judgement an attitude that emerged later on among Western Historians.  However this is too much of a generalization because many of the Muslim Historians also showed a great deal of critical judgement in their approach.  Among the most famous Historians in Islamic Literature are people like Al Tabari who lived in the later part of the 9th century and who wrote a universal chronicle which is regarded as a most brilliant work.  Al Masudi (also during the 9th century) who was both a geographer and a historian and wrote a vast work Akhbar al Zaman which means History of the World which was composed of 20 large volumes which were unfortunately lost and ruined.  Ibn Miskawayh who lived in the later part of the 10th century brought about The Experience of Nations and his attention was directed to the political, philosophical and economic problems of people.  Among the most famous also works which is still available is that of Ibn Al Atheer who lived in the first half of the 13th century.  He wrote a universal chronicle of the world, covering from the beginning of creation till the his own time.  According to George Sarton Ibn Al Atheer one of the best historians of the Middle Ages.  He describes him to be far ahead of his contemporaries.  Al Makary who died in the 17th century wrote extensively about Muslims in Muslim Spain and the intense intellectual activities and day to day life during this period.  These are only a few examples of the magnitude of the contributions to this field.  The science of biography was introduced by Muslims through their meticulous research and verification of the sayings of the Prophet (PBUH).

Host:  Could you comment on the contributions in the area of Architecture?


Jamal Badawi:

In the area of art and architecture there is a combination of diversity and unity.  With the vastness of the Muslim world and the variety of Muslim countries with all the backgrounds and cultures one will see diversity.  This shows that Muslims did not go to destroy preexisting cultures but rather to cause a kind of fusion and to purify them from things that are contrary to the teachings of Islam.  However it is also important to notice there is a unity in art and architecture where ever one goes which is definitely influenced by Islam.  Unfortunately, many of these monuments have been totally destroyed.  For example in Bagdad which is now in Iraq after the Mongolian invasion many of these monuments were totally destroyed in 1258.  In Spain the city of Al Zahra was completely whipped out and there is no trace of it.  We can see the reflection of great progress in architecture in Alhambra Spain and Alcazar Seville.  Architecture moved to Europe through a variety of ways.  It went through Spain, through Cicilli to Italy and it penetrated France through Septimania because Muslims reached France and ruled for quite some time.  We can still find remains of the Mosaic from the Islamic pattern which is found in many Churches in Aviron a Provence in mid France.  The effect of the design of the Mosque of Cordoba in Spain seems to have had a great influence on the Notre Dame Du Puy and the various architectural arches such as the trefoil arch and horseshoe arches which are all analogous to the design that is found in Cordoba Mosque.  It is said that on one of the doors of the Cathedral of Puy there are Arabic inscription that say Masha Allah which means it is the will of God.


Even in the British Museum there is an Irish Cross that dates back to the 9th century and ironically in the middle of it it says Bismi Allah (in the name of Allah).  It is interesting that even in religious objects the influence of Islamic art and architecture manifests itself.


Host:  It is sometimes claimed that when Muslims conquered Egypt they were responsible for burning the famous library in Alexandrea, is there any truth to this?


Jamal Badawi:

No not really, this is an old story that many historians feel doesn’t have much credibility neither from historical grounds nor from logical grounds.  For example George Sarton in his Introduction to the History of Science says (Volume 1 Pg.466) “this story is entirely unproved.  The first mention of it occurs only after an interval of six centuries after the alleged burning.  In the account of Egypt written by Abd Al Latif, in the first half of the 13th century, moreover to prove that Muslims destroyed that library it would be necessary first to prove that it still existed in the 7th century and this is very doubtful.  It is very probable that a good part of it had been destroyed by the Christians many centuries before.”  There are lots of additional evidence that historically this is not correct but what gives credence to the doubt is that logically speaking why would Muslims do that when we have seen immense interest in learning that took place over hundreds of years.  There was much respect accorded to science, learning and scientists which included as is found in many references written by non-Muslims the kind of tolerance that was shown to scientists from all walks of life and from all religious backgrounds by the Muslims.  They found refuge and protection under Islamic rule and in fact the library  was where the jewels of Islamic Civilization was benefited from.


Host:  Can you give us a description of those libraries?


Jamal Badawi:

They had two types of libraries: private and public.  The private libraries were common and widespread.  Many historians said that there was hardly any famous scientist or scholar who did not have his own personal library.  Some of them had thousands of volumes in their libraries.  Public libraries were mostly attached to mosques or big schools.  If we look at the descriptions it is actually very difficult to distinguish between them and todays library.  They actually had something extra that we do not find even in todays libraries.  They had different rooms or halls which were each allocated for one subject.  They had shelves on the wall where the books were placed.  The had special rooms for reading, rooms for copying (full time people would be there making more copies of the references).  They had rooms allocated for food and places for sleeping especially for scholars who traveled from far away places in order to use the library.  Charities were paid to these institutions in order to sustain them and to help students of learning who may not be able to afford food and accommodations.  This is something that we do not find today.  Many historians say that in many of these libraries there were free supplies of ink, paper and pens.  Some of these libraries were so huge that even by today’s criteria, where printing has become so popular and wide spread, they were still quite huge.  In Dar al-Hikmah Library in Cairo during the days of Al Hakim bi Amr Allah  in the early part of the 11th century it is said that it had 1.6 million volumes.  In Bait Al Hikmah in Baghdad there was also a huge library as well.  In the library of Al Hakam in Andalusia or Muslim Spain there was something like .4 million volumes.  In the Bani Ammar Library in Tripoli which is now in Lebanon had as many as 1 million volumes and 180 copyists.

Host:  What has happened to these massive volumes of books?

Jamal Badawi:

Well unfortunately most of these treasures were either lost or ruined.  Sometimes we hear about great works only by their titles as they are referred to in other secondary references.    There may be a few cases where some of the reasons for partial loses might have been because of internal problems within the Muslim community itself.  By far the greatest  and most major loses of these treasures came because of external forces.  Just to give a few examples of this when Hulagu and the Mongols attacked Baghdad which was a most savage attack.  They threw enough books in the Tigris river that made the river overflow over a bridge where nights used to ride over.  Historians say that for quite a long time the Tigris river was blackened by the amount of ink that were in the books that were dumped in the river.  Similarly during the crusades in Syria it is estimated that no less than 3 million volumes were destroyed by the crusaders.  In Andalusia or Muslim Spain after the defeat of the Muslims in Granada it is said that nearly one million volumes were burned in one day by some religious fanatics who could not appreciate the sciences and knowledge that they could have benefited from.  There are also some narratives that in Sicily a Cardinal by the name of Simons (15th century) in one day burned 80,000 volumes in a public square of Francavilla.  Ironically like Castorina mentions in her paper this was about the same time when Columbus set to discover the Americas using Muslim Calculations and the Muslim Compass.  Unfortunately, a great deal has been lost but we still have quite a few that remain.

Host:  The evidence we discussed in the last two programs shows an remarkable contributions that Muslims have made to science.  Why isn’t more of this information not more widely known?  Why are inventions and discoveries that have been made by Muslims been attributed to others?


Jamal Badawi:

There could be all kinds of reasons.  I am not going to address deliberate attempts to falsify facts of history, the cases where propaganda and media try to represent Islam as a nomadic religion which is only fit for people of the desert and that following Islam means one has to back track to the Middle Ages and live like the Europeans did in those times.  The motives vary as some were Colonial, some were missionary and some were atheistic.


Sarton mentions that when the West matured enough to begin the Renaissance and to seek more knowledge they followed three steps: one to acquire Muslim knowledge, second to translate it from Arabic (the language of science and civilization)to other European languages and in this stage sometimes concealment took place and sometimes the works of Muslims were attributed to the translator, third the knowledge was incorporated into European resources.  Many times the person who translated the information was dealt with as if he were the author of these works.  This is where things may have happened deliberately or simply because of mistakes in the transmission.  John Draper mentions in the History of the Intellectual Development of Europe that sometimes  fanaticism might be responsible for this concealment.  A quote (Volume 2:Page 42) “I have to deplore the systematic manner in which the literature of Europe has contrived to put out of site our scientific obligations to the Muhammadans (Muslims).  Surely they can not be much longer hidden.  Injustice founded on religious ranker, and national conceit can not be perpetuated forever.”  I can not say that all writers were bias as Sarton mentioned that for three hundred and fifty years whenever he deals with one half century (seven periods) he says this is the time of whichever scientist was most prominent and he mentioned Muslims names.  So for six hundred and fifty years there was either exlusive prominence or shared prominence.


Host:  What are the implications of this review of contributions?


Jamal Badawi:

Muslims should not boast this, or have the attitude that their ancestors contributed so they don’t have to make any contributions now.  I think the main point is to show in a factual way how the teaching of the Quran really did provide the impetus and inducement for progress in all areas and to show that the decline of Muslims in later centuries which is just beginning to change gradually now is not because of Islam but because Muslims were not truly faithful.  For non-Muslims it may help to provide some appreciation and mutual respect to rise above all of this phantasms and perhaps develop a world where both sides can live together, benefit each other and contribute to a more humane civilization.


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