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Summary of 8.9 "Muslim Contribution to Medicine"

We talked about the contribution of Muslims to medicine.  First, we tried to show the relationship between Islamic teachings and the interest in medicine and how they are intertwined.  We actually viewed the major contribution of major physicians to medicine all the way from the 8th century to the 13th century.  We indicated how the works of many famous names such as Avicenna, Rhazes and Abulcasis became and continued to be very crucial and important references for medicine that extended in some cases to as late as the 18th century.  We also discussed hospitals, how they were run, how the care and hygienic conditions were comparable to what one may consider as the standard of today.  In addition to that we can also add that they used to have very rigorous standards for who practices medicine.  In fact it is said that in the beginning of the 11th century a patient died in Bagdad (now in Iraq) as a result of a mistake by a physician and the Caliph ordered that all physicians be reexamined.  It is narrated that as many as 360 medical doctors were reexamined and since then it became a tradition in Bagdad, Cairo and other places to have very rigorous examinations for doctors before they practice medicine.  In fact even within Islamic Law they developed a whole body of literature dealing with the responsibility of the doctor in case he made a mistake, dealing with the responsibility of the doctor to practice medicine if he is the only one available which actually becomes a sacred duty on him to look after people who are sick.  The fact that a person should be qualified goes back to the days of the Prophet.  Prophetic tradition says that a person who treats others without being capable is responsible for his deeds.  This also depends on whether the doctor intended to hurt and whether he followed the standard practices in medicine.  Even law of medicine was also part of the study of medicine.


8.10     Muslim Contribution to Other Fields I


Host:  How are contributions to Geography related to the teachings of Islam?


Jamal Badawi:

Similar to the development of medicine, astronomy and mathematics we find that geography is related to Islamic teaching.  A Muslim has to pray 5 times a day while facing the Kabba (the first house of worship built by Prophet Abraham) which is in Arabia.  This requires the ability to find directions which in turn requires mathematics as much as geography.  Every Muslim is required to go to Mecca for pilgrimage once in a lifetime if he/she is able to and this requires the knowledge of astronomy (to know when events take place) and geography so they would not get lost on the way.  Islamic teaching in a way provided the impatience in order for one to understand these fields.


Islam by its nature is directed towards all of mankind as it is a universal faith.  Muslims have the duty to cary the message of Islam to other parts of the world.  Many Muslims felt this sense of duty acted both as merchants and inviters to Islam when they visited the different parts of the world.  Some historians say that the first to write about China were Muslim geographers in as early as the 9th century.  We narrated in a previous program how Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) encouraged people to learn and how he said to seek knowledge even if they have to travel to China.  The Quran encourages people to walk in the expanse of the earth and try to learn and explore.  This of course was encouragement to try and explore the world around them.  It is not an exaggeration to say that at least Muslims contributed a great deal to what lead to the discovery of the New World or the Americas if not preceding Columbus.


Host:  Can you elaborate on the topic of the Americas and elaborate on it?


Jamal Badawi:

Ernest Renan a French author wrote in his book about Averroes in a book called Averroes and Averroisme where he mentions a letter written by Christopher Columbus in Haiti which dated October 1498.  In this letter Columbus admits that one of the sources that lead him to theorize that the new world was the writing of Averroes.  He considered this to be the impetus that encouraged him to seek this knowledge.  Some authors however claim that it is quite possible that Muslims discovered the Americas before Columbus.  In fact some tribes in Mexico had many Arabic words in their daily vocabulary and some believed that there were tribes in Mexico who spoke Arabic-which goes back to a Muslim   background.  Columbus himself admits that it was Muslim writing that lead him to the New World if not actually Muslims coming to the Americas before him.  The least we can say is that the Muslims knew the earth was a sphere or round and that was quite crucial to how Columbus made his trip to the Americas.

Host: Is there any evidence that Muslims had been to America before Columbus?  How far back did Muslims make the discovery that the earth is a sphere?


Jamal Badawi:

It appears that this took place before the 9th century.  There are quotations in the Quran that imply that the earth is round.  In the Quran (79:30) it talks about the earth and says “And the earth, moreover, hath He extended (to a wide expanse).”  If we refer to the Arabic/English Lexicon by Edward W. Lane he indicates that daha (which is translated in the verse as extended) means threw, impelled or propelled.  This is an interesting and might be a hint that the earth was part of a heavenly body that separated.  When we talk about something like a stone that is propelled like a stone one can not be talking about something that is flat but would be talking about something that is more round.


In several verses the Quran says maddadnaha which is usually translated to spread.  This is found (13:3), (15:19) and (50:7).  All of these the term maddadnaha or madd is used.  As Sheikh Metwali Sharawi indicates that these verses are clear evidence that the earth is round because whether one goes to the North Pole, South Pole or Equator the earth will spread out before us.  If the earth was a square or triangle or any other shape one would walk reach an edge and would fall but the fact that the Quran says that the earth spreads before us regardless of where we go means it is round or spheric.  In the Quran in (36:37) “And a Sign for them is the Night: We withdraw therefrom the Day, and behold they are plunged in darkness.”  Uqawir is the word used in the Quran to describe the the withdraw of night from day and this word in Arabic means to wrap something around a ball.  It also says that neither day nor night proceeds the other, which hints that day and night exist simultaneously.  All of these are clear hints that the earth’s base is round.  Where these teachings were interpreted as such or influenced the thinking of Muslim scientists it suffices to say that in as early as the 9th century during the Caliph Al-Mamoon made a geodesic measurement (using astronomical principles) of the earth and he gave its circumference (notice the term circumference) at 24 thousand miles.  First, he talks about the circumference and second the measurement he gave is very close and is just about a couple hundred miles off.  We find according to Draper at the time when Europe was insisting that the world was flat, Muslims were already teaching their students geography using globes.  The same conclusion was found by George Sarton (second volume, part one) he says “needless to say that all the Arabic (he means muslim) geographers believed in the sphericity of the earth.”  More explicitly we find in the writing of a great geographer by the name of Al Idrisi who lived in the 12th century who said “earth is round like a sphere and water adheres to it through a natural equilibrium which suffers no variations.”  This is amazing because it not only describes the earth as a sphere but he seemed to have an idea about gravity.  Some Western historians say that it may not necessarily be Newton’s


Host:  Are there other notable contributions to Geography other than the discovery that the earth was round?


Jamal Badawi:

Yes, for example Al Mammon who also measured the circumference of the earth ordered the drawing of a very large map of the world.  Al-Khwarismi a great mathematician from the ninth century wrote Surat Al-Ard or The Face of the Earth which contained several maps.  In the 9th century a very important work was published under the name of Al Mamalik wa Al Masalik which means Roads and Provinces; according to George Sarton is an important source of historical topography.  This book was translated till as late as the 19th century into French.  Similarly is a book by Al Yaqoub in the 9th century which he called Kitab Al-Buldan which means The Book of Countries which according to Sarton was full of topographic and economic details.  In the tenth century there were many other famous geographers and Sarton mentions nearly ten of them.  The most famous of them was Al Masudi who is considered by Sarton to be the most famous geographer of all time.  Sarton says that his work in geography can be regarded as an encyclopedia which is arranged in geographical order.  For a long time afterwords the prominence of Muslim geographers was quite clear.  Abd al Latif of the 12th century wrote a great deal about topography.  Al Idrisi who lived in the 12th century whom we mentioned before lived in Muslim Cicilli and was good at cartography (drawing of maps).  Al Yaqoubi who wrote Kitab Al-Buldan which according to Sarton was an immense compilation of geographical facts listed in alphabetical order which includes works on physical geography, archeology and geography.  Muslims also tapped into fields that some regard as relatively more advanced like mathematical geography.  We find that in the 13th century a great Muslim geographer Abu Al Hasan Al Marrakushi wrote a book called Jami’ al-mabadi' wa'l-ghayat which included among other things coordinates of 130 different places in the world.  This shows an understanding of both mathematics and geography.  To conclude George Sarton (in his second volume: part one)says that “no Medieval writer has taken equal pains to explain the scientific methods and instruments.

Host:  What was the impact of Muslims on the field of Agriculture?

Jamal Badawi:

We find that Muslims were able to describe many different plants.  An author, Ibn Al Awam, in the end of the 12th century was able to describe 585 different plants, to explain the cultivation of different plants (particularly fruits).  Many people believe that the gardens of Spain and fruit trees of today owe allot to Muslim civilization.  As we mentioned before Islamic teachings were connected to this.  For example Muslim scientists on their way to the Pilgrimage to Mecca studied allot on the way.  One of them was Abu Al Abbas Al Nabati.  Nabati means botanist.  He used to go around the coast of Africa and the Red Sea while on his way to Pilgrimage and collect valuable information about many different kinds of plants.  They were able to apply this in a practical way in the area of irrigation.  The excelled in the use of organic fertilizers and in fact they improved on the breed of cattle, they introduced the silk worm.  According to John Draper many of the valuable fruits that we have in the West were introduced my Muslims who used to travel around and would take things from one place to the other.  He mentioned that among those were peaches.  Apricot was introduced to some places.  Cicilli was introduced to the sugar cane and rice.  The introduction of bananas and flowers like Lilac, Jasmine, Tulips, Morning Glory and Roses were all introduced by Muslim to many different places.  In fact in Spain during the Moorish Empire Muslims were able to make artificial lakes to raise fish for food.  Agriculture is one of the greatest areas of contribution which not only benefited Muslims but also benefited various countries where they rule or settled for some time.


Host:  What about progress in Industry?


Jamal Badawi:

Of course if there is development in all the above fields (Chemistry, Agriculture etc) one would expect parallel progress in industry too.  Among the most important things were the manufacturing of fabrics.  More particularly fabrics like silk, cotton, and leather.  They were quite good in mining, metal work, glass manufacturing (in Syria) and manufacturing steel (Damascus and Toledo).  Many people remember Toledo Blades which were part of the Muslim effort.  Because of their knowledge in Chemistry they were not only able to apply it to medicine but also to the extractions of inscents and he perfume of roses.  Because of their great interest in learning they devoted lots of attention  to the production of paper.  Of course one would not expect to have great libraries and volumes without a local paper industry to go with it.  It is narrated that the first factory to produce paper (paper mill) was established in Bagdad towards the end of the eighth century (794).  Many historians also say ream (ream of paper) comes from the Spanish resma which is base of off the Arabic term rizma which means bundle.  Rom Landau in his book Arab Contribution to Civilization gives an interesting story about how Muslims learned about printing and he says that during the conquest of Samarkand in 707 some of the war prisoners knew about printing so Muslims learned that from their war captives and started spreading the art of printing and paper manufacturing.

Host: What was the evolvement of the Muslim community in trade?


Jamal Badawi:

The invention of the mariner campus definitely reflected a great deal of interest in trade.  Many of the terms that we use in commerce today come from Arabic terms.  Tariff come s from tarifa.  Makhazin is an Arabic word that means warehouses and in French it is magazine.  Some historians say that in one occasion there were as many as 850 commercial Muslim vessels docked in the port of Canton in China at one time.  This shows the huge commercial movement that was taking place at the time.  Progress in trade and commerce covered a wide area all the way from the shores of India and China to Madagascar and the African coast, from the Black Sea to interior of Asia.  There is no wonder that some books were written as early as the 10th century by Abu al-Qasim about the principles of trade and commerce.


As evidence of economic freedom we find that many people migrated from France to Muslim Spain because they would have more freedom under Muslim rule.  Many people migrated from Italy to Muslim Sicily which was close by.  One contemporary economist by the name of Camille Castorina wrote a paper which she presented in the sixth annual conference on the history of economics in the history of Illinois in Champaign in May of 1979.  She mentions there that the subject has not been explored enough and there is evidence of Muslim strides in this area.


Host:  Can you share with us what she found out?


Jamal Badawi:

She says that there was clear evidence that were quite advanced and that they had a very good system of banking.  She mentioned coins that were found all the way from Scandinavia to Silone.  She noted that one of the Kings of Merita (inner part of Britain) who had Gold coins that had the Muslim testimony (I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah) and on the other side it had his name Offa Rex.  Banking among Muslims under their regime reached a level that was not attained in the West for several years afterwords.  The term “check” comes from the term saak.  She mentioned that there were cases of Muslims in the past who used very elaborate banking systems including letters of credit instead of carrying cash from one place to the other.


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