It’s time to take a leaf from our glorious past if we want to come out of the morass of ignorance, backwardness and slavery, says Mohammad Zubair-u-din

Islam and science

There is no denying the fact that Islam attaches great importance to knowledge and education. That education is the starting point of every human activity is evident from the fact that the first word of the first revealed verse of Holy Qura’n was ‘Iqra’ [read].

Several Prophetic traditions highlight the significance of acquiring knowledge and developing scientific temper. The earliest manifestation of the importance Islam attaches to knowledge was visible when the prisoners of war who fell to the Muslims during the battle of Badr were offered freedom in lieu of teaching the children of Medina.

Moreover, the Islamic approach as it emanates from the Qura’n, is neither based on mythology nor superstition, but scientific principles in accordance with the reality. The Creator has time again exhorted us to think over His bounties and unravel the mysteries of nature.

A peep into the Islamic past makes things abundantly clear. During the early period, the Arabs displayed a remarkable capacity of assimilating the scientific knowledge of the ancient civilizations they had overrun.

The Abbasid Caliphs opened wide the gates of learning from all quarters and it was in pursuance of this zeal that Caliph Al-Mamun set up a House of Wisdom (Bait-ul-Hikmat) at Bagdad for translating into Arabic the learning from various civilizations — Greek, Byzantine, Egyptian, Iranian and Indian.

And no wonder within a short span of time almost all the important scientific works of various countries became available in Arabic. And the Arab world became a leader in the field of science as its different branches like geometry, astronomy, medicine and algebra, etc. experienced a phenomenal growth.

Moreover, the Muslim geographers advanced the knowledge of the world and the Arabs also helped to develop new devices for travelling across the open seas. The mention of a few luminaries below in different branches of learning will help to appreciate our lost glorious heritage.

1. Al-Khwarizmi- A mathematician par excellence

2. Jabir ibn Hayan- Considered as the father of chemistry

3. Abu Rayhan al-Beruni- Considered as the first anthropologist and father of indology, a great mathematician, astronomer and historian

4. Ibn-al-Nafis- A great sociologist, the first to describe the pulmonary circulation

5. Ibn Khaldun- Hailed as the forerunner of modern social sciences

6. Al-Masudi- Called as the ‘Herodotus of Arabs and pioneer of historical geography

7. Al- Kindi- Pioneer of environmental science

8. Muhamad-Al-Idrisi- A cartographer

9. Ahmed-ibn Sahl-al Balkhi- Pioneer of mental health

10. Ali-ibn Abbas al-Majusi- Pioneer of neuro-anatomy and neurobiology

11. Avicena- Pioneer of neuropsychiatry

12. Ibn-Zuhr- Pioneer of neurology

13. Ibn-al-Haytham- a great physicist, considered as the father of optics

14. Al-Zahrawi- Hailed as the greatest medieval surgeon

15. Ibn-al-Shatir- an engineer and inventor

It needs to be emphasised that the Muslim rulers were zealous learners and hence extended patronage to the men of divergent intellectual tastes. Further, there was a remarkable degree of intellectual and personal freedom enjoyed by scholars and scientists, which didn’t have any parallel in the then Europe, mainly due to the rigidity of church.

Thenceforth, the pendulum shifted and the rich legacy in science consolidated over the centuries experienced the beginning of a process of decline that continues unabated till date. Sadly, this was also the beginning of a period of political reversals for the Muslim world.

The irony is that Europe which at present has achieved leadership in virtually all fields of knowledge woke up from the darkness of Middle Ages by coming in contact with the Muslim world during and after the Crusades. The crusaders returned to their countries with a broadened intellectual horizon, which helped in ending the European segregation.

Needless to mention, the Aristotle’s scientific books, Arabic numerals, algebra, mariner’s compass and paper reached Western Europe because of Arabs. It set the stage for the coming of renaissance, the age of enlightenment and the efflorescence of the intellectual revolution.

The Europe was now in no mood to relapse back in the age of ignorance and it ensured that no other country moved ahead of it in the field of knowledge — a pre-requisite to acquire power. No wonder the majority of scientific marvels around us owe their origin to west.

It was perhaps this loss of glorious heritage that the great Muslim thinkers like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbal or Dr Ali Shariati lamented at. These and other like-minded thinkers, philosophers and scholars have time and again exhorted upon the Muslim community to shun their differences and switch back to knowledge if they wish the dignity, honour and power in the present-day world.

Once I went through a write-up on Dr Ali Shariati’s thought and I was wonderstruck how the west is working to ensure its hegemony. It is attempting to keep the top Muslim brains busy in expounding the stereotyped extreme religious doctrines, poetry and others non-productive pursuits. Blacks have been assigned the jazz and dance while as the west is ensuring to keep its monopoly over thinking!

There is no way out for us other than to take a leaf from our inspiring past and contribute our bit in different capacities if we really want to bring ourselves from the morass of ignorance, backwardness or for that matter slavery. The poet of east, Dr Allama Iqbal’s verse simplifies the whole statement:

Sabaq phir pad sadaqat ka, shujaat ka, adalat ka

liya jayega tujse imtehan duniya ke imamat ka.

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