Every once in a while, I get an e-mail with a list of Nobel Prize winners who are Jews or Christians or both, in an attempt to show how inferior Muslims are by comparison. Sometimes, I get e-mails from people who want to take a bash at Muslims and offer a list of super-achieving Jews and then start off by saying how tiny Israel is and how vast the world of Muslims is and isn’t it an indication of the collective stupid nature of Muslims that they don’t manage to do even poorly on the Nobel Prize Winners list?
Even the most generous of writers who wish to recognize the Muslim Golden Age, describe “The Muslim Contribution” as Greek and Roman works that Muslims helped translate and hold until the West emerged and put the works to good use; that Muslims were simply a vessel to “preserve” earlier work, but were not responsible for any original innovations or, inventions.
While it is true that Muslim s have not shown themselves with distinction in the spheres of modern innovations, inventions and other “proofs” of intellect, the issue is NOT Muslims vs. Jews or, Christians or anyone else, the issue is the situation of Muslims in places where they reside in great numbers. These same critics of Islam and Muslims will never be seen show how “backward” the people of Africa are and therefore, are Africans not very stupid as a race?
No. If they did so, their careers would come to a screeching halt. People would also point out that African countries are in dire straits with little economic progress and that is function of their colonial past as well as by the tyrants imposed on them by the super powers and therefore, the lack of democratic institutions that have been stifled by the oppressive environments in African countries.
But when the time comes to criticize Muslims or Islam, there is a line formed that stretches for miles and seldom if ever, do we hear from non-Muslims of good will, that such bigotry should stop.
Okay, the question is, have Muslims done anything to help move the world forward?
Yes, but its been a while. Still, it goes to show that the problem is not with Muslims or with Islam, but with the current situations of corruption and oppression that is a hallmark of many developing nations. Let’s see just how Muslims and Islam may have contributed to the world we live in and enjoy today.
The following is just a tiny slice of what Muslims have contributed to our lives and how they formed the foundation of most of what we know in life today. All inventions are by Muslims and all timelines are in the Common Era (AD), but some dates are approximate. Take a good look and please share with your friends:
- 637 Muslim Empire spreads to Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Persia
- 644 Windmills are invented
- 654 Muslim Empire spreads over North Africa
- 691 Dome of the Rock is built in Jerusalem
- 700 Horseshoe Arch is invented and first used in the Great Mosque in Damascus
- 711 Muslim Empire spreads to Spain
- 722 Jabir Ibn Hayan Father of Chemistry, is born
- 777 Al-Fazari, Astronomer and Astrolabe maker, dies
- 795 First mention of a Paper manufacture in large quantities; Mill in Baghdad
- 800 Caliph Harun-ul-Rashid presents Charlemagne with a clock that strikes the hour
Pointed Arch used at Ibn Tulun Mosque, Cairo
House of Wisdom was first born
- 801 Al-Kindi, Father of Cryptology (codes) and Father of Islamic Philosophy is born
- 644 Windmills are used to drive mill-stones in Persia
- 850 Banu Brothers published The Book of Ingenious Devices which included many of their own inventions
- 858 Astronomer Al-Battani (reference source for Copernicus) is born
- 864 Al Razi “Rhazes”, Father of Clinical Care and Experimental Medicine is born
- 872 Hospital established in Cairo by Gov. Ibn Toloun, with the first Department for Mental Diseases
- 887 Ibn Firnas (Astronomy, un-powered Flight, Colorless Glass, Corrective Lenses), dies
- 895 Ibn Al Jazzar (books on Geriatric Medicine and on Pediatric Medicine…The Viaticum) dies
- 913 Caliph Al-Muqtadar establishes the first licensing regulations for the practice of Medicine; establishes hospitals in Baghdad
- 965 Father of modern Optics, Ibn Al-Haytham (Alhazen) is born; the first to successfully understand the optics of Camera Obscura and use it to project images. His work also formed the bases of Johannes Keppler’s works
- 973 Polymath, Astronomer and Geographer Al-Biruni is born. He calculated the circumference of the Earth
- 980 Ibn Sina (Avicenna) is born. Wrote “The Canon of Medicine” among the most famous books in Medicine
- 1000 Gothic Rib-Vaulting first used to build Bab Mardum Mosque in Toledo
- 1085 Christians take Toledo and begin to translate Arabic works into Latin
- 1126 Ibn Rashid (Averros) is born. Extensive works in Philosophy, also wrote “Al Kulliyat fi al-tib“, known in Latin as “Colliget“
- 1140 Daniel of Morley learns Mathematics and Astronomy at Cordoba and returns to Oxford to teach
- 1197 Botanist Al Baytar is born in Malaga. Wrote several Pharmacopeia
- 1210 Ibn Al Nafis is born. Wrote the definitive books on Blood Circulation and on Ophthalmology
- 1258 Mongols destroy Baghdad and invade Syria
- 1332 Ibn Khaldun, Father of Sociology, Economics and Historiography is born
- 1405 Zheng He, Chinese Muslim Admiral starts his famous seven epic journeys. Said to have landed on North America 70 years before Columbus
- 1437 Ulug Bey (Ulug Bey Observatory in Samakand) publishes his Star Catalogue
- 1432 Ibn Majid, Master Navigator is born in Arabia. He helped Vasco da Gama find his way around Cape of Good Hope and to India
- 1513 Piri Reis constructs the earliest known map showing America
- 1543 Copernicus draws on the works of Din Al Tusi and Ibn Al Shatir, to publish De Revolutionibus
- 1593 Ibn Sina’s “The Canon” is translated in Latin and becomes standard text in European medical studies
- 1633 Lagari Hassan Celebi flew the first manned rocket over the Bosphorus
- 1721 Lady Mary sees Smallpox inoculation practiced in Turkey and introduces it in Britain
If anyone would like more information, they might consider getting the book “1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization“, it is available in hardcover and in paperback.
Having noted all of the above, it is also worth noting that no civilization is the foundational creator of any single piece of knowledge and all knowledge is based on work done by earlier innovators and builds on them to form new ideas. Thus, no single “civilization” can take credit for the innovations and inventions discovered in their periods.
So, if Muslim empires were so enlightened and advanced, what accounts for their dismal situation today?
The blessing of Muslim empires was also their curse. With few exceptions, Muslim empires ruled in a benign manner, allowing their minorities lots of freedoms including Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Pagan princes and kings, their own rule (as in Spain and India) as long as they were loyal and paid tribute to the Empire. The most immediate result was that intellectual advances skyrocketed but the drawback was that those same kings and princes grew strong as the empires grew weak and soon the ruled, became the rulers.
Muslim empires grew corrupt and ineffective with dynastic rule while local governors, kings and prices grew strong. Revolutions followed and new empires, especially in Europe, grew.
Western empires (USA, Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Dutch, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Russia, Roman, Greek) controlled with brutality and genocide (Eastern empires such as Japan were not any different). They depended on wiping out the local intelligentsia and establishing their own cultural values in order to (in the words of a British Parliamentarian), “…create a people who are different on their skins but their thought and conduct as as British as ours“. Over time and with wars between them, these empires too, fell to waste. Today, we have a super empire (the US) struggling to maintain its grip on the world as others emerge (China definitely, others may rise in time).
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (Thus passes all Earthly glory)…