Islam and Science?

science-and-islam1Did you know that the Islamic empire and its scientists were once at the forefront of scientific development? Or that many of the things we take for granted like glasses, which depend on an understanding of optics, have their roots in the Islamic empire? Some history books might mention the fact that many of the ancient Greek texts were translated into Arabic and then into European languages. But the Arabs were more than mere translators of texts; they reflected on the material, argued with it, and added their own contributions. So, the assumption that the scientists, philosophers, and translators of the Islamic empire were simply the vessels by which the Western world was brought out of the dark ages needs to be questioned. The contributions of Islam and its empire are often forgotten with the focus being solely on how Islam is so ‘different’ and ‘antithetical’ to the modern world. How can that be possible when at one time Islam and science enjoyed a relationship that Christianity rejected? The Islamic empire fostered a spirit of inquiry that advanced the world’s knowledge of astronomy, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, medicine, and philosophy.

In the Inside Islam Radio series, we would like to explore the history of Islam and Science. These are a few questions we would like to answer: What have we ignored about the contributions of the Islamic empire to science? Why were these contributions ignored? Why was there a decline in the Muslim world after such a glorious past? What is the role of science today in the Muslim world? Can science be a place for interfaith dialogues? If you have questions to add or suggestions for this show, please share them below.

2 thoughts on “Islam and Science?

  1. It’s this very fact–that the Islamic-controlled world of the past safeguarded scientific texts and research during the middle ages–that I want to cite every time I hear someone say that the world would be better off without Islam. Of course, this is only one factor that Islam contributes to the wonder and richness of human experience, but it’s a big one that cannot and should not be denied, no matter how Islamophobic people are.

  2. Bullshit! Al-Razi criticized Mohammad and he was not a muslim. Islam learned everything from India. Do not forget, Zero was an Indian invention. look at all the great Scientists past and present; all have praises for the Vedas.
    Arabs were barbaric and illiterate. They are still now.
    Here are excerpts from another website in the web:-

    Islam and the “Golden Age” of Scientific Discovery

    The Myth:

    Muslims often claim that their religion fostered a rich heritage of scientific discovery, “paving the way” for modern advances in technology and medicine. On this topic, they usually refer to the period between the 7th and 13th centuries, when Europe was experiencing its “Dark Ages” and the Muslim world was acquiring new populations and culture through violent conquest.

    The Truth:

    Although there is no arguing that the Muslim world was relatively more advanced during this period than the “Christian” world, the reasons for this have absolutely nothing to do with the Islamic religion (other than its mandate for military expansion). In fact, the religion tends to discourages knowledge outside of itself, which is why the most prolific Muslim scholars are usually students of religion rather than science.

    [Note that the country of Spain alone translates more learning material and literature into Spanish each year than the entire Arab world has translated into Arabic since the 9th century. As the Saudi Grand Mufti bluntly put it in 2010, “The Quran with its stories and knowledge are sufficient for us… we don’t need the Torah, or Gospels, or any other book].

    The many fundamentalists and other devotees who dress as Muhammad did and adopt 7th century lifestyles to some degree or another underscore the importance of tradition in Islam. The religion is highly conservative and resistant to change, which is viewed with suspicion. As scholar Bernard Lewis points out, in Islam an innovation is presumed to be bad unless it can be proven to be good.

    Beyond this, there are four basic reasons why Islam has little true claim to scientific achievement:

    First, the Muslim world benefited greatly from the Greek sciences, which were translated for them by Christians and Jews. To their credit, Muslims did a better job of preserving Greek text than did the Europeans of the time, and this became the foundation for their own knowledge. (One large reason for this, however, was that access by Christians to this part of their world was cut off by Muslim slave ships and coastal raids that dominated the Mediterranean during this period).

    Secondly, many of the scientific advances credited to Islam were actually “borrowed” from other cultures conquered by the Muslims. The algebraic concept of “zero”, for example, is erroneously attributed to Islam when, in fact, it was a Hindu discovery that was merely introduced to the West by Muslims.

    In truth, conquered populations contributed greatly to the history of “Muslim science” until gradually being decimated by conversion to Islam (under the pressures of dhimmitude). The Muslim concentration within a population is proportional to the decline of scientific achievement. It is no accident that the Muslim world has had little to show for itself in the last 800 years or so, since running out of new civilizations to cannibalize.

    Third, even accomplished Muslim scientists and cultural icons were often considered heretics in their day, sometimes with good reason. One of the greatest achievers to come out of the Muslim world was the Persian scientist and philosopher, al-Razi. His impressive works are often held up today as “proof” of Muslim accomplishment. But what the apologists often leave out is that al-Razi was denounced as a blasphemer, since he followed his own religious beliefs – which were in obvious contradiction to traditional Islam.

    Fourth, even the contributions that are attributed to Islam (often inaccurately) are not terribly dramatic. There is the invention of certain words, such as alchemy and elixir (and assassin, by the way), but not much else that survives in modern technology which is of practical significance. Neither is there any reason to believe that such discoveries would not have easily been made by the West following the cultural awakening triggered by the Reformation.

    As an example, consider that Muslims claim credit for “inventing” coffee – in the sense that they popularized an existing discovery by Africans who were caught up in the Arab slave trade. However, it is also true that the red dye used in many food products, from cranberry juice to candy, comes from the abdomen of a particular female beetle found in South America. It is extremely unlikely that the West would not have stumbled across coffee by now (although, to be fair, coffee probably expedited subsequent discoveries).

    In fact, the litany of “Muslim” achievement often takes the form of rhapsody, in which the true origins of these discoveries are omitted – along with their comparative significance to Western achievement. One often doesn’t hear about the dismal fate of original accomplishments either. Those who brag about the great observatory of Taqi al-Din in [freshly conquered] Istanbul, for example, often neglect to mention that it was quickly destroyed by the caliphate.

    At the end of the day, the record of scientific, medical and technological accomplishment is not something over which Muslim apologists want to get into a contest with the Christian world. Today’s Islamic innovators are primarily known for turning Western technology, such as cell phones and airplanes, into instruments of mass murder.

    To sum up, although the Islamic religion is not entirely hostile to science, neither should it be confused as a facilitator. The great achievements that are said to have come out of the Islamic world were made either by non-Muslims who happened to be under Islamic rule, or by heretics who usually had little interest in Islam. Scientific discovery tapers off dramatically as Islam asserts dominance, until it eventually peters out altogether.