The Golden Age of science and culture of Islam
In pre-Islamic times, the Arabian Peninsula was home to numerous scattered tribes of Arabs, as well as Jews and Christians who were in the minority. The time when the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ appeared among the people is called jahiliya or the time of ignorance. Constant internecine wars, slavery, violence, the powerless position of women reigned in society. Wealth gave high status and respect to fellow tribesmen, regardless of how this wealth was acquired. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by his worthy example and the power of words, radically changed society. Islam rallied the warring tribes of the Arabian Peninsula. Instead of multiple idols Muslims began to worship Allah the One. Fairness and equality were welcomed in relations, education for every Muslim became honorable. These conditions contributed to the formation of a very large state – the Arab Caliphate, in which science and the arts flourished, and the times of ignorance were replaced by the Golden Age of Islam.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ on the importance of the development of science
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) attached great importance to the acquisition of knowledge.There are numerous Hadiths that confirm this:
The clearest example of the wise and generous deeds of the Prophet is his attitude towards the captives. In those distant times on the Arabian Peninsula, the fate of prisoners was unenviable. They could be killed, sold into slavery, redeemed or exchanged for anything as a commodity. Human life was measured in money. The innovation of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) established the rate of ransom of prisoners, moreover, if anyone could not pay the ransom, he got a chance to pay with his knowledge. The ransom by means of knowledge was that any of the prisoners, who were literate, had to teach ten Muslim children to read and write. Those who fulfilled this condition were granted freedom. This is the only case in history of the use of education as a ransom for life. We know many historical examples of people being killed for science. But to give freedom and life to a doomed prisoner in return for his knowledge is a unique example that has no equal.
Rapid development of science and society
Islam instructs the followers of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to take care of the society in which they live. Realizing the importance of the development of science for society, Muslims considered education and scientific activity an act of worship.
The VI century of our era was marked by pronounced progress in the development of sciences, the center of which was the Arab Caliphate.
Islam actively supported all scientific endeavors. For the first 800 years, Islam was not radical at all. Jewish and Christian scholars, together with Muslims, engaged in science in the territory of the caliphate. The Arabic language at that time was international. Islamic scholars from different countries gathered for scientific conferences and communicated in Arabic. All scientific works were also translated into Arabic.
Rich Muslims considered it an honor to patronize scientists and the development of sciences. Mentions of this can be found in the scientific works of the famous Swiss professor Adam Metz, an orientalist and Arabist. In his study "The Renaissance of Islam", he describes with what care the noble Muslims kept the manuscripts. Caliphs and emirs financed the initiatives of scientists, organized and opened madrassas, according to modern concepts, universities. At these madrassas there were huge libraries with hundreds of thousands of books. In the madrasahs at mosques, children were also taught. It was essential to study the Qur'an and secular sciences. Often a child by the age of ten could quote the entire Qur’an by heart. The existence of numerous madrasahs contributed to the rapid development of various fields of science. And many scientists were even encyclopedist-universals. These are scientists who simultaneously developed a large number of different scientific directions.
One of them was Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi – the greatest scientist of the IX century, who headed the medieval academy of sciences – «House of Wisdom». Muhammad al-Khwarizmi combined profound knowledge in mathematics, astronomy, history and geography. He is the founder of algebra. The modern word «algorithm» came from him. Al-Khwarizmi proposed ways of solving mathematical problems based on the algorithm’s work. Today, computers operate on these algorithms. Al-Khwarizmi also proposed dividing the Earth into meridians and parallels, thus beginning the science of navigation.
Muslim scholars were outstanding doctors. The first medical institutes and hospitals were built in the Arab Caliphate. One of the most famous scientists of the 10th century was Abu Ali ibn Sina, or Avicenna. He was a brilliant universal scholar, combining the work of a physician, mathematician, philosopher, poet and musician. He created the encyclopedia of medicine in 5 volumes “The Canon of Medicine”. Ibn Sina was the first to identify the bacterial nature of many infectious diseases, such as anthrax. He established retinal function, invented a way to diagnose diabetes. According to some historians, he wrote about 450 scientific papers in various directions. Unfortunately, only half of them have reached us.
Omar Khayyam is one of the most brilliant scientists in various fields. He qualified as a physician, but was most interested in mathematics. Omar Khayyam developed an innovative theory of parallel lines, giving rise to non-Euclidean geometry, introduced to the world a system of solving cubic equations, and discovered a way of extracting degrees from integers. In 1076, he became the head of the palace observatory in Isfahan. It was a wonderful event, which revealed in him another talent – the astronomer. Under the guidance of Omar Khayyam, a solar calendar «Jalali» was developed, which by its astronomical accuracy far exceeds the modern Julian and Gregorian calendars. He also compiled a star catalog called “Malikshakh Astronomical Tables”. It is noteworthy that the treatises and scientific works of Omar Khayyam are many hundred years ahead of European science. They still serve us as invaluable sources of the history of the East. Omar Khayyam was the greatest philosopher of his time. And the rubais known today to the whole world, which he wrote down in the margins of his scientific works, were just a hobby.
Just imagine, a 10th century Islamic scientist named Al-Biruni described the Earth’s movement around the Sun and calculated the ecliptic’s angle of inclination to the equator, calculated the radius and surface area of the Earth.
And more than 500 (!) years later in Europe at the stake of the Inquisition burn Giordano Bruno, who allowed himself to freely think about the cosmic world order; and the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei who was forced to publicly renounce the claim that the Earth moves around the Sun in order to avoid execution at the hands of the Inquisition.
The role of Muslim women in the development of science
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) paid great attention to the talents of women, especially when it came to education and knowledge.
In the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) the most famous surgeon was a woman named Ummu Atiyah. The messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) took her with him on campaigns to help the wounded and sick.
During the early days of Islam, women played an active role in many important political and social matters.
In the Islamic scientific world, unlike medieval Europe, Muslim women had the right to receive education on par with men. Women not only could be educated, but they could also obtain academic degrees and qualify as scholars and teachers. It was not uncommon for women to educate men. By comparison, women in the United States and Europe did not achieve the right to receive equal education with men until the mid-19th century.
Muslim women have played a significant role in preserving and transmitting Islamic knowledge. Dr. Muhammad Akram Nadwi worked for many years on systematizing the biographies of thousands of Muslim women hadith scholars. He wrote a work entitled "Al-Muhaddisat: The women scholars in Islam," which in 40 volumes in Arabic narrates the stories of women who studied and transmitted hadiths.
Scholar Aisha Abdurrahman Bewley conducted research and wrote several historically valuable works, including "Islam: the empowering of women" and "Muslim women: a biographical dictionary".
These studies show that Muslim women throughout Islamic history often excelled in science and social positions, while also being exemplary wives and mothers. They were masters of calligraphy, literature, and poetry, skilled in rhetoric, knowledgeable in the exact sciences and legislation.
History has preserved surprising facts about many of them. For example, Labana of Cordoba (Muslim Spain) was very talented in solving algebraic and geometric problems and also had an outstanding knowledge of literature. These qualities made her the personal secretary of caliph al-Hakam III. Sutayta Al-Mahamli of Baghdad, who lived in the 10th century, was noted for her extensive knowledge of mathematics, literature, the science of hadith and was even an expert in firayiz (calculating shares of inheritance).
Wealthy women considered it an honorable occupation of patronage. For example, on the initiative of Fatima Al-Fihri and with her money the first university in the world was built in Morocco, in the 9th century in the city of Fez. In addition to Islamic sciences, astronomy, languages and the sciences were taught there. Students came from all over the world. It was from there that the so-called Arabic numerals spread to Europe.
The richest woman of her time, Zubayda bint Abu Jaafar al-Mansour sponsored the construction of many social facilities in various cities. Under her leadership, wells and inns were built along the pilgrimage route from Baghdad to Mecca.
Ama al-Waheed and Umm Isabint Ibrahim are examples of educated women who qualified as lawyers and had the authority to pass legal verdicts.
End of the Age of Enlightenment
Many people wonder why Islamic culture and science, which achieved a dazzling peak in the Middle Ages, have declined in recent times. There are no more great scholars or new discoveries. If science had continued to develop at the same pace as it did during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) we would already be exploring distant planets!
One of the reasons cited is the numerous wars in which scholars and manuscripts were destroyed. The brutal Mongol invasion alone razed to the ground the most important Islamic cities – centers of scientific knowledge! This barbarism was purposefully committed by those who benefited from people forgetting the value of knowledge and living in ignorance; by those who didn't want free people but wanted controlled slaves.
As described by an unknown poet, from the discarded manuscripts and books thrown into the river, the water of the Euphrates turned black from the ink.
Another reason is the decline of the true faith that the Prophet (peace be upon him) warned about.
Most people, influenced by a consumerist mindset, changed their values from a pursuit of enlightenment to a pursuit of wealth, and Islam became merely an external ritualistic practice. Rulers stopped investing in education, and the moral decline of society led to what we have today.
Some modern scholars also attribute the decline of Islamic culture and education to the insatiable desire for power by rulers and religious leaders, despite the Prophet's teachings that all people are equal before Allah. Attempts were made to discredit science in order to strengthen religious authority.
There appeared works of theologians opposing free scientific thought. Gradually, religious conservatism won, and educational systems were changed. In the states of the Islamic world, curricula were changed, and all subjects except religious ones disappeared. Science took a devastating blow. As a result, there is ignorance, radicalism, and infringement of women's rights.
I would like to quote the words of Omar Khayyam, which became the preface to his "Algebra":
These words were spoken almost 1000 years ago, but they are still relevant today! If we face the truth, we will see that modern science is adapting to market economics and a consumerist format of society. Many large private corporations sponsor "pseudo-scientific" discoveries in order to increase their personal profit. And serious discoveries are either silenced and hidden from people, or become the property of a few and a means of their enrichment.
It is important to understand that scientific progress is impossible without the spiritual and moral health of society.
Throughout each turn in history, prophets came to people, bringing pure spiritual Knowledge from a single source – the Spiritual world. This Knowledge not only pointed the way to Spiritual freedom, but also gave the opportunity to build an Ideal society.
We live in an amazing time. Today, using the opportunities of the Internet, we can learn the truth about the unity and essence of the spiritual teachings brought by the true prophets of humanity. To remove all divisions and, uniting, begin to take action to bring about the Creative society, the one our prophets dreamed of.
The inspiration for writing this article was the 24th issue of the Kaleidoscope of Facts "Life of the Worthiest."