A Strong Nation Will Be Treated Kindly by Others
Education vanquishes a fundamental source of human suffering — that is ignorance.
Historically Islamic institutions had a unique role in spreading mass education because of the importance they placed on ordinary people’s ability to read the Quran and learn the religion.
The acquisition of knowledge has long been at the very centre of Muslim tradition. Not only did the Muslims of the past make a significant impact on advancements in academia, but through their work, they helped strengthen and elevate the status of Islām and Muslims. For this reason, even Western and non-Muslim social commentators have acknowledged how Muslims were once some of the leading minds in the world.
The German orientalist Sigrid Hoeneker mentioned how the light of Islām illuminated over Western civilisation, as Muslims were some of the greatest intellectual minds in history. Russian intellectual Leo Tolstoy declared that Prophet Mohammad ﷺ was the light of truth, and was responsible for the advancement of modern civilisations. The British writer Dr Herbert George Wells mentioned that Muslims were the pioneers and greatest contributors to modern medicine, and Islām was the only religion suited to civilisation.
Not only did every Caliphate have the trappings of a modern state, but they were the beacon and example of modernity for their relevant period in history. We cannot do justice in explaining Islām’s contribution to the world as we know it today, when libraries are filled with books and historical testimonies of non-Muslims who substantiate this undeniable fact.
The caliphate in its heyday was known as the bastion of innovation, creativity and progress at a time when Europe was going through its dark ages. Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard said “There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world. It was able to create a continental super-state that stretched from ocean to ocean, and from northern climes to tropics and deserts. Within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins.
One of its languages became the universal language of much of the world, the bridge between the peoples of a hundred lands. Its armies were made up of people of many nationalities, and its military protection allowed a degree of peace and prosperity that had never been known. The reach of this civilization’s commerce extended from Latin America to China, and everywhere in between.
And this civilization was driven more than anything, by invention. 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.”
Adam Smith, the 18th Century founder of modern economics whose picture is printed on the current £20 note, was exceedingly inspired by the Islamic method of governing. “…the empire of the Caliphs seems to have been the first state under which the world enjoyed that degree of tranquility which the cultivation of the sciences requires. It was under the protection of those generous and magnificent princes, that the ancient philosophy and astronomy of the Greeks were restored and established in the East; that tranquility, which their mild, just and religious government diffused over their vast empire, revived the curiosity of mankind, to inquire into the connecting principles of nature.” * Adam Smith, ‘History of Astronomy’, The Essays of Adam Smith (London, 1869), p. 353
None of the great achievements of modern science would be possible without the mathematisation of science and the development of algebra. The word algebra stems from the Arabic word al-jabr, which has its roots in the title of a 9th century manuscript written by the mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi. The word “algorithm” is also derived from the Latinization of his name. Al-Khwarizmi’s Kitab al-mukhtasar fi hisab al-jabr wal-muqabala (The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing) was a pioneering piece of work — offering practical answers for land distribution, rules on inheritance and distributing salaries.
The existence of a cure for every disease from the famous hadith encouraged the Muslims to make progress in biomedical research. Institutions such as public hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, astronomical observatories and public libraries, were the development of Muslims; they made developments in all of the major fields at the time.
Muslim scientists developed the foundations of modern science, by highlighting the repeated calls of the Quran to observe and reflect upon natural phenomenon. “The ‘scientific method,’ as it is understood today, was first developed by Muslim scientists” like Ibn al-Haytham and Al-Biruni, along with numerous other Muslim scientists.
The deen of Islam, rather than holding these scientists back, was actually the cause of their advancement. Precision instruments were created as tools for the pursuit of knowledge.
In Medicine, the Persian scientist known as Ibn Sina or Avicenna, wrote the famous book “The Canon of Medicine”, which was a standard textbook taught in various universities around the world until the 18th Century, in which he introduced: the contagious nature of infectious disease; the use of quarantine to curb the spread of infection; neuropsychiatric conditions such as epilepsy, stroke and dementia; the symptoms and complications of diabetes and the use of clinical trials in experimental medicine.
Muslim astronomers also developed Trigonometry to assist with determining the phases of the moon to calculate time with a new level of precision Al Hassar, a mathematician from Al-Maghreb, developed the modern symbolic mathematical notation for fractions, where the numerator and denominator are separated by a horizontal bar.
Many others contributed to and developed other areas of Mathematics such as Calculus, Geometry and number theory. In the field of technology, engineers such as Al-Jazari, who invented the crankshaft — an essential component in the steam engine and internal combustion engine — and the Banu Musa brothers, who invented the valve and the gas mask, were well known names during the Medieval period. The mechanical alarm clock and the steam turbine were invented by Taqi al-Din, one of a growing number of Muslim polymaths (people whose knowledge covers many fields).
A pioneer of practical chemistry was an 8th Century polymath called Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan; he invented most of the chemical processes , which are still used in laboratories today, for example: pure distillation, filtration, sublimation, liquefaction, crystallisation, purification, oxidisation and evaporation.
Aside from the obvious application of knowledge, namely, to enhance the quality of life, even deep dives into esoteric thought would occasionally lead to breakthroughs. Al-Khwarizmi wanted to go from the specific problems considered by the Indians and Chinese to a more general way of analyzing problems, and in doing so he codified an abstract mathematical language which is used across the world today — Algebra.
It may be the abstract ‘nonsense’ of yesterday that leads to tomorrow’s breakthroughs. The application of Algebra and Algorithms are now apparent to many.
Those that attempt and conflate Islām and western Christianity under the arbitrary term “religion” invariably superimpose the pre-reformation Christian historical baggage onto Islām. The fact of the matter is that Islamic history is not plagued with the same repressive church-like institutions that stifled human advancement, and the classical Islamic governance already secured the rights that the Enlightenment sought to secure, and more.
The previous Caliphates demonstrated how, even with all its shortcomings, the institution still strived towards Islamic orthodoxy with the inclusion of their respective schools of jurisprudence and theology playing a central role in its governance and social values. When studying and teaching Islamic history, or any history for that matter, students and teachers alike should try to avoid disproportionate romanticism and cynicism — and try to understand everything objectively within its correct sociopolitical and religious context.
Muslim history abounds with examples of scientific and cultural ingenuity. From the 8th Century to the 15th Century Muslim mathematicians, scientists, geographers, surgeons, engineers and philosophers amongst others, contributed significantly to their respective fields, by creating new inventions and by preserving and building upon earlier work.
The Muslims inherited the knowledge of the nations that came before them and developed it and placed it in the context of a precise moral framework. Muslim scholarship made a vital contribution to the enrichment and advancement of human civilization. Their contributions directly affected every major civilisation to come after them and continue to be invaluable to the present day.
The knowledge and number of inventions that originated from the Muslim world during the “Golden Age” of Islam, was truly staggering and influenced so much of the present day technological advancements. There were a number of factors, which facilitated this period of growth and which, unfortunately, do not exist in the Muslim lands in the current day.
The faithful of the past were spurred on to learn knowledge of the world around them in order to benefit the Ummah. They empowered the Islamic nation through their discoveries and inventions by the grace of Allah. The Muslims peaked in every field of life.
This continued all the way until the Muslims became complacent of their duties as vicegerents on Earth, to lead and guide the people. Aspirations dropped, the zeal to make Allah’s word the most high subsided and gave way to chasing desires.
However, we must not only continue to boast of past glories but add to them by leaving a legacy of our own. We became lazy decades ago and thus Lagged behind in craftsmanship and innovation. So unless we come up with a way of addressing these problems, all this hype is not all that productive.
We must realise that it was the negligence of the Muslims — and not any deficiency in the teachings of Islam — that caused our present decay.
Our failure to accept responsibility demonstrates a lack of will, resolve and vision on our part first and foremost and cannot be attributed to anyone else. It is said “When you blame others, you give up your power to change”
What’s fashionable soon becomes unfashionable. While you might be remarkable for a time, if you don’t reinvest and reinvent, you won’t be for long. Instead of resting on your laurels, you must commit to being remarkable again quite soon.
The Adoption and Propagation of Paper
In the battle of Tal’as, the Muslims captured two prisoners of war who were part of a secret guild of paper manufacturers. They understood the significance of this new technology and embraced it. The POWs were taken to the Khalifa who offered them freedom once they taught the Muslims how to manufacture paper.
The Islamic government adopted paper as its official means of communication, so paper spread throughout the Muslim land, stretching all along the Mediterranean from North Africa to the south-east of Europe and Khorasan in Asia.
The Muslims did not invent paper but popularised it throughout its empire and experimented with it and made it better. With paper came the rise of books, education, libraries, institutions and universities.
But despite the initial success with paper, the Ottomans bizarrely banned the printing press when it came in to existence in the 1450’s. The insularity of the Ottoman Empire had its regressive impact on the rest of the Muslim world. By the time they shrugged off their centuries-long intellectual and political indolence, it was too late to catch up with the West.
The Europeans had by then established their colonies in Asia and Africa (and elsewhere) and their empires were relentlessly chugging along like mighty engines of the Industrial Age.
Lesson — Be humble enough to learn from others. Peoples moral failings don't necessarily abrogate the soundness of their underlying technical concepts and ideas.
Our current lagging behind the rest of world in so many ways is affecting people’s faith and has made us as Muslims dependent on others. This has had a damaging effect on our collective mental health and determination. This is painfully true when it comes to our youth who begin to express their scepticism. It makes us feel defeated in front of others, as if we have no contribution to make. Such a state of affairs ultimately leads to an erosion of our moral values and self-esteem. These sentiments are unfortunately not unique or rare.
Our people start to believe that the West is the ideal that must be followed and emulated in every way, even when it comes to the low moral standards that the West itself suffers from.
The Muslims need to be selective in accepting and enhancing the benefits of modernity whilst at the same time not allowing others to define our values and ethics.
We must strive to provide adequate answers and solutions to the burning questions of the youth and the insecurities of the masses.