Is Islam Against Civilization?
When we look at the history of the Arabs, we find that the Arab mind experienced a paradigm shift. Up to a certain point long ago, the utmost aspiration of an Arab was to have a few sheep, a few palm trees or a few camels, but we suddenly find him in the year 650 AD translating hieroglyphic symbols detailing chemical equations, from ancient Egyptian drawings, about ten years after the conquest of Egypt. This means that 1200 years before the discovery of the Rosetta stone, Arabs had already started deciphering some hieroglyphic symbols, especially in relation to the sciences.
First public institutions
In 754 AD, the first apothecary for dispensing medicines was opened in Baghdad. This meant that medications were no longer acquired from herb vendors or lay medicine men. It was the equivalent of a modern day pharmacy, where a person went with a prescription, got the prescribed medicine and paid for it.
In 763 AD a library, what was known as Bayt Al –Hekma (House of Wisdom), was established in Baghdad during the rule of the Abbasid Caliph Haroun Al Rasheed. It held tens of thousands of translated books. These books had been translated from books and manuscripts that were written in Chinese and Greek, and in many other languages. And the reason for this huge translation movement was that this Caliph had encouraged the translation of books from other languages, and had proclaimed that anyone who translated a book would receive the equivalent of that book’s weight in gold.
In 763, the first hospital was opened in Bagdad. It was called “Bimaristan”. Prior to that, the sick were tended to in their homes, but from then on, seriously ill patients were moved to the hospital to be cared for. So the concept of hospitals actually started with the Arabs.
The fathers of chemistry and algebra
In 780, a man called Gaber Ibn Hayyan, known in scientific latin books as Geber, who is also known as the father of Chemistry, invented around 20 laboratory instruments. The word “chemistry”, by the way, comes from the old English word “Alchemy”, which in turn comes from the Arabic word Al Chemia’a. At that time they used to take Arabic words and add them to their languages, because Arabic was the language of science. Nowadays, we take English words such as “television” and “internet” and use them in our language, because English is now the language of science. But back then, Arabic was the language of science, so anyone who wanted to become educated had to learn Arabic. Just like nowadays, there are many subjects that one cannot learn without first learning Western languages, and in particular English.
Al Khwarizmi, known in Latin as algorithm, is the one who invented the decimal system. He is also the one who invented Algebra, and he wrote a book called “Al Mokhtasar fi Hesab Al Gabr wa Al Moqabala” (The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing). I can assure you that without the zero invented by Al Khwarizmi, we would not have today any computers or digital instruments.
In 796 AD, Al Fazari invented the astrolabe. This is an instrument that can locate directions, can locate stars, and can also function as a clock. I want to point out that at that time half the population of Europe was still idol-worshippers. All of Eastern Europe including countries like Hungary and Romania were still pagans, while Arabs were accomplishing all these feats.
The first psychiatric hospital and university
During the ninth century AD, mental patients in Europe were thought to be possessed by the devil, and were, therefore, burned alive. Meanwhile, in Egypt, the first psychiatric hospital was established and patients were treated there with the Quran, with music and with sedatives. Ironically, nowadays it is people in Arab countries who believe that mental patients are possessed by the devil or by jinn and such things.
In 859 Princess Fatima Al Fihri established a university called the University of Al Qarawiyyin in Fas, Morocco. This was the first university that gave degrees to its students. Prior to that, students even in Arab and Islamic countries attended universities in order to attend lecture circles and gain knowledge, but in this university, for the first time, education became regulated, and the concept of university degrees that followed a tiered system was introduced.
Scientists and their inventions
Around 864 AD Abu Bakr Al Razi wrote tens of volumes on medicine, chemistry and physics. His books were translated to many European languages, most importantly to Latin, and during the Renaissance, the Europeans depended on the works of that great scientist.The first turbine that produced hydraulic energy was invented by Arabs in the year 850 AD.
In 875, Abbas Ibn Firnas succeeded in flying a considerable distance in a flying contraption he had invented. He eventually went down, probably because his contraption had only wings, but no tail. Actually, it is not fair to recognize this man solely in the field of flying, because he also had a great role in the widespread production of glass. That is because he was the first person who was able to produce glass from silica, or sand. Prior to that, glass was only produced from quartz, which was expensive, and that is why it was only found in the palaces of wealthy people and Caliphs, but because of Abbas Ibn Firnas, glass became widely available and commoners were able to acquire it.
In 925, Al Razi described in his book “Al Asrar (The Secrets) the method of oil refinement and he was able to extract kerosene from oil and started its use as fuel for lanterns. In 930, in Bagdad, the first grid for drawing of maps was invented. This enabled drawing of maps to scale, similar to graph paper nowadays.
In the year 1010 AD Ammaar Ibn Ali Al Musili wrote a book called the “Al Montakhab fi Amrad Al Ain” (Choice of Eye Diseases). In it he detailed six different eye operations, and he was the first one to enable the treatment of cataract. Before that, anyone with cataract was doomed to blindness, but he was able to invent the injection syringe, a hollow needle, through which opaque lens material could be evacuated from the eye, in order to restore vision.
The great physicists
In the year 1030 Ibn Khalaf Al Muradi wrote a unique technological manuscript called Kitab Al Asrar Fi Nata’ij Al Afkar (The Book of Secrets in the Results of Thought). In it he described thirty kinds of mechanical devices and gears.
Going back to the year 1010, we find the great physicist called Al Biruni. He wrote a book called: Saheeh Al Tool wa Al Ard Li Masaken Al Maamour min Al Ard” “The Determination of Coordinates of Positions for the Correction of Distances between Cities”. This is a geography book in which he used the principles of trigonometry to determine the longitudes and latitudes on Earth with great precision, and his calculations remained in use for more than 600 years. He was also the first scientist to discover that light had a speed, which could be calculated, and that this speed was faster than the speed of sound. In the year 1021 Ibn Al Haytham wrote a book called Al Manazir (Book of Optics), in which he described his experiments using mirrors and observing the results of reflection and refraction of light. Through his experiments he was able to reach crucial facts about light rays that remain important to this day, and his discoveries form the principle behind the pin-hole camera, or the camera obscura.
The fathers of modern surgery and medicine
Al Zahrawi is called the father of modern surgery. This man invented around 200 surgical instruments, many of which are still in use to this day. He was the first man to invent a firm kind of plaster for immobilization of fractures, as well as plaster lined with cotton. He also invented oral anaesthetics and inhaled anaesthetics, as well as the anaesthetic sponge. He wrote a whole medical encyclopaedia, composed of 30 volumes. It was called Al Tasreeef Fi Al Teb (The Method of Medicine) and was required reading for medical students for more than 600 years, together with volumes of another medical encyclopaedia written by another notable scientist, namely Ibn Sina.
Ibn Sina is well known in the field of philosophy, but I always like to mention him in the context of medicine. He wrote two very important medical books. The first of these is called Al Qanoun fi Al Teb (The Canon of Medicine). Incidentally, once in the United States, I was approached by a man who said, “You people are really violent. Even your scientists are violent. When Ibn Sina wrote a book about medicine, he called it The Cannon of Medicine. I pointed out to him that the word in the title was not cannon, with double N, but canon with one N, meaning the rules or standards of medicine. The word to canonize or standardize is taken from the Arabic word Al Qanoun, because, as I mentioned before, Arabic was the language of science back then. In his book The Canon of Medicine, Ibn Sina was the first to discuss cancer. He also described many psychological ailments in the book.
Next we come to a great scientist called Ibn Al Jazari (Al Jazari). He is considered one of the greatest scientists across history. In fact he is considered one of the greatest inventors and probably the greatest engineer of all time. He wrote a book called Al Gami’ bain al ilm wa al amal al nafi fi sina’at al hiyal (The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices). In it he described more than 50 inventions including mechanical clocks and an elephant clock. This man was the first person to lay the principle of the crankshaft, and he can be considered the inventor of the very first robot.
“Read in the name of your Lord who created, created man out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood; read and your Lord is most bountiful; he who taught (the use of) the pen; taught man that which he knew not.
“Allah is He who created seven firmaments (skies) and of the earth a similar number. Through the midst of them (all) descends His command: that you may know that Allah has power over all things, and that Allah comprehends all things in (His) knowledge.”
So it is the Quran that caused the paradigm shift I spoke about. The first word of the Quran that descended was “Iqraa”, meaning “Read”, and the last verse that descended says: “And fear the day when you shall be brought back to Allah. Then shall every soul be paid what it earned, and none shall be dealt with unjustly.” And between the first and last words of the Quran there were 23 years of edification by the Quran and by the Prophet, teaching us that seeking of knowledge must be conducive to piety, because knowledge that does not lead to piety and righteousness is absolutely worthless.