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The Islamic contribution to Western development – 2


My Brothers and Sisters in Humanity, as-Salaamu alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakaatuhu.

As I have promised, we will continue to review the glorious history of Islam and its contribution to Western development. Before we continue, it must be noted that many of the scholars mentioned in the previous pamphlet, and this one, were not Arab born. Some were Mongols, Indians, Africans, Jews etc. It should also be noted that 90% of them were experts in more than one filed of the sciences, and this attests to their hunger for knowledge. It also highlighted the unity of Muslims at that period, when race, culture, or nationality was of no importance to a man's elevation in society. This was a result of the unity of ALLAH and the universality of HIS teachings.

Let us look at some more examples of Islamic influences in the sciences and understand more of our common heritage and history. We go back to medicine, to look at some of the works of IBN SINA, that Persian philosopher and physician, the most famous of which is "Al-Qanun Fi'l-Tibb" (The Canon of Medicine) which was studied in European universities for centuries. Then there is the "Teisir" (Rectification of Health) by ABU MARWAN ABD UL-MALIK IBN ZUHR (1113-1162); the AL-HAWI and KITAB AL-MANSUR, two important medical works by ABU BAKR IBN ZAKARIYYA AR-RAZI, who also wrote a treatise on smallpox and measles, and did vaccinations long before Jenner.

In the field of Geography we have such men as ABU AL-FIDA (1273-1331) historian and geographer, best known for his "Taqwim al-Buldan" (Geography of Countries); AL-HAMDANI, who wrote the "Jazirat ul-Arab" (Geography of the Arabian Peninsula); ABU 'ABDULLAH MUHAMMAD IBN MUHAMMAD ASH-SHARIF AL-IDRISI (1100-1166), geographer, scientist and poet, wrote the "NUZHAT AL-MUSHTAQ FI'KH-TIRAAQ AL-AFAAQ" (Delight of Him Who Wishes to Traverse the Regions of the World). There are also MUHAMMAD IBN AHMAD AL-MAQDISI (c. 946-1000), Arab traveller and geographer who wrote the "Kitab Al-Aqalim" (Book of Countries); and AHMAD IBN YA'QUB IBN JA'FAR IBN WAHB IBN YA'QUBI, historian and geographer, author of a history of the world and "Kitab Al-Buldan" (A General Geography). The traveller and merchant, IBRAHIM IBN AHMAD AL-TARTUSHI visited the Viking trading town of Hedeby in the 10th. century, and described the town as "an appalling place, noisy and filthy". Another traveller IBN FADLAN described the Vikings as 'the filthiest of God's creatures. They do not wash after discharging their natural functions, neither do they wash their hands after meals". being accustomed to washing and bathing regularly, Ibn Fadlan would naturally react in this manner.

Astronomy was also one of the many sciences in which the Muslims excelled. They were the leading exponents of this science, heir to the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians. Many persons in the West and many Muslims are not aware that GHIYATH-UD-DIN ABUL FATH 'OMAR IBN IBRAHIM AL-KHAYYAM (Omar Khayyam)., was an astronomer and mathematician besides being a great poet, for which he is well-known. His contribution to the science of astronomy is well documented. He and ABD UR-RAHMAN HASEINI, by their astronomical observations, reformed the calendar 10 centuries ahead of the Gregorian reform, and also, more accurately. The Mongol rulers also encouraged the science of astronomy. HULAGU, the IL Khan (ruler) of Persia (1256-1265), known for the destruction of Baghdad, built the Meragah observatory, whose director was NASR UD-DIN THUSI, the author of the Ilkhanian Tables, who was also responsible for the perfection of the numerous instruments used in the observatory. During the reign of ULUG BEG (grandson of Timur) Islamic astronomy achieved its greatest brilliance. Ulug Beg is reported to have compiled a work on the phases of the moon, and he calculated these phases so accurately, and for almost 600 years after his time, that these tables are still accurate today. Another of his works published in 1437, gives a comprehensive survey of contemporary knowledge of astronomy. A century earlier than Kepler, he linked up the astronomy of the ancients with that of the modern era.

History also had its great scholars, such as ABU AL-HASAN IZZ-UD-DIN IBN AL-ATHIR; ABU AL-WALID 'ABDULLAH ABN AL-FARABI (962-1013), best known for his "Ta'rikh Ulama'al-Andalus" (History of the Andalusian Scholars); AL-BALADHURI; ABU AL-FIDA, who wrote "Mukhtasar Ta'rikh Al-Bashar" (Abridgement of the History of the Human Race), extending from creation to 1329. 'ABD AR-RAHMAN IBN KHALDUN 91332-1406), historian and sociologist, wrote four volumes of general Islamic history and tow volumes of the history of the Berbers; while ABU JA'FAR MUHAMMAD IBN JARIR AT-TABARI, historian and theologian, wrote "Ta'rikh Al-Rusul Wal-Mulk" (History of the Prophets and Kings) known as the "Annals".

In the natural sciences, after commencing with commentaries on Greek authors, the Muslims soon devoted themselves to studying nature itself and making their own observations. Thus they succeeded in enriching Disocorides' "Herbal" by over 2000 species. The Muslim Pharmacopeia (a standard and authoritative book containing a list of medicinal drugs with information on their preparation and dosage), contained several plants and medical substances entirely unknown to the Greeks. To the Muslims is due the use of rhubarb, tamarind pulp, cassia, manna, senna leaves, and camphor. The use of sugar, which they preferred to honey, led to a whole series of pleasant and health-giving preparations. With the aid of sugar, they concocted syrups and preserved herbs and fruits. The Muslims introduced to the West, perfumes and spices, incense and other sweet-smelling resins from Arabia, attar of roses, nutmegs, cloves, and pepper. From the East came such vegetables as asparagus, artichokes; many fruits such as oranges, tamarind ("tamar hind"; "date of India") etc., as well as sweetmeats and a wealth of exquisite flowers such as lilac, jasmine, tulips, camellias etc. Coffee, of course, originates in Yemen. Amongst the domestic animals, the finest horses come from Arabia, the best breed of goats from Asia Minor, and the most renowned sheep from Morocco. The Muslims also developed agriculture to a very high standard, through better irrigation and crop management, and had a strong interest in geology.

The reasons for the Muslim dominance of the sciences in the earliest periods are: The Muslims followed the injunctions of the Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAWS). Nothing can more emphasize the fact that some 75 verses of the Qur'an exhorts believers to study nature, to reflect, to make the best use of reason, and make scientific enterprise an integral part of the community's life. Cohesion of the Ummah was another reason... the Islamic nations, with all their political and cultural differences, acted as a single unified commonwealth, especially where religion and learning was concerned.

My Brothers and Sisters, we must continue the great work of those who have gone before us and we can only do this by seeking knowledge, as ordained by our Creator and Greatest of all teachers. Science is important because of the understanding it provides of the world around us, of the immutable Laws and Allah's design. It is also important because of the material benefits and strength in defense its discoveries can give us. Muslims have contributed greatly to the development of the present civilization, and can do more. We must continue to discharge our duty to our fellow men and to our Creator if we are to play a vital role in the modern world.

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