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Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam

The worst of creations with Good are those deaf, those dumb who do not use their intellect (Quran;2:18) . "And Allah gives another...

Learning & Science

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Human being has been blessed with many qualities; some are evident while others are latent. The most important quality is the ability of human to learn and use the knowledge to his/her advantage. Allah says in Qur’an: “And He (God) imparted in to Adam the knowledge of the names of all things; then He placed them before the angels and said: "Tell Me the nature of these if ye are right.”(Qur’an;2:31). From this it may legitimately be inferred that the “the knowledge of all names” denotes here man’s faculty of logical definition and, thus of conceptual thinking. God created and sent the human to this world by imparting the knowledge, intelligence and the faculty of rationale thinking to exploit all which is in the heaven and earth to his benefit. This makes human superior specie to all others even to angels, to enable him to be His vicegerent. It is now up to the man to prove himself worthy of His trust by making use of these faculties to explore the mysteries of the nature and the world (made subservient to him) to get benefited in this world and hereafter. It is mentioned in Qur’an: “He is the One Who spread out the earth and placed thereon mountains and rivers, created fruits of every kind in pairs, two and two and makes the night cover the day. Certainly in these things there are messages for those who think.”(Qur’an;13:3). “He has created the heavens and the earth to manifest the Truth; Exalted be He above they all that they associate (with Him).”(Qur’an;16:2), “Surely it is Allah Who causes the seed and the fruit-stone to split and sprout. He brings forth the living from the dead and the dead from the living. It is Allah, Who does all this; then why are you being misled?”(Qur’an;6:95). “It is He Who has made the earth manageable to you, to walk through its tracts and eat of His provided sustenance. To Him is the return at resurrection.” (Qur’an;67:15). Man has managed to make paths through deserts and over mountains: through rivers and seas by means of ships; through the air by means of airways; he has made bridges and tunnels and other means of communication. But this he has only been able to do because Allah has given him the necessary intelligence to acquire knowledge and has made the earth tractable through it.
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The importance of education is evident from the historical fact that, the pagan prisoners of war, captured by Muslims in the battle of Badr were asked to teach the illiterate Muslims to earn their freedom. Obviously the pagans were not to teach religious knowledge! 

Elementary schools (maktab, or kuttab), in which pupils learned to read and write, were developed into centres for instruction in elementary Islamic subjects. Students were expected to memorize the Qur’an as perfectly as possible. Some schools also included in their curriculum the study of poetry, elementary arithmetic, physical sciences, penmanship, ethics (manners), and elementary grammar. Maktabs were quite common in almost every town or village in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Sicily, and Spain.
Madrasahs existed as early as the 9th century, but the most famous one was founded in 1057 by the vizier Nizam al-Mulk in Baghdad. The Nizamiyah, devoted to Sunnite learning, served as a model for the establishment of an extensive network of such institutions throughout the eastern Islamic world, especially in Cairo, which had 75 madrasahs, in Damascus, which had 51, and in Aleppo, where the number of madrasahs rose from six to 44 between 1155 and 1260. Important institutions also developed in the Spanish cities of Cordoba, Seville, Toledo, Granada, Murcia, Almería, Valencia, and Cádiz, in western Islam, under the Umayyads.
Al-Azhar University at Cairo, Egypt is the chief centre of Islamic and Arabic learning in the world, founded by the Fatimids in 970 C.E with a large public liberary and several colleges. The basic program of studies was, and still is, Islamic law, theology, and the Arabic language.
Later the philosophy, medicine and sciences were added to the curriculum. Gradually these subjects got eliminated after having reached climax resulting in decline. In the 19th century philosophy was reinstated. The modernization have resulted in the addition of social sciences at its new supplementary campus. Presently a number of Islamic Universities have been established in the Muslim countries where apart from theology, the other sciences are also taught, but they are few in numbers. There are thousands of traditional madrasah and Dar-ul-Aloom in countries with Muslim populations where only Islamic theology and religious sciences are taught, producing millions of ulema (religious scholars) with almost no knowledge of social, physical sciences and other branches of knowledge.

Early Muslim Education:

Early Muslim education emphasized practical studies, such as the application of technological expertise to the development of irrigation systems, architectural innovations, textiles, iron and steel products, earthenware, and leather products; the manufacture of paper and gunpowder; the advancement of commerce; and the maintenance of a merchant marine. After the 11th century, however, denominational interests dominated higher learning, and the Islamic sciences achieved preeminence. Greek knowledge was studied in private, if at all, and the literary arts diminished in significance as educational policies encouraging academic freedom and new learning were replaced by a closed system characterized by an intolerance toward scientific innovations, secular subjects, and creative scholarship. This denominational system spread throughout eastern Islam between about 1050 and 1250 C.E.

Pursuit of Scientific Knowledge & Libraries:

Thus during first half of millennia of its history, Islamic civilization has been keen to gain knowledge, be it physics, chemistry (alchemi), algebra, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, social sciences, philosophy or any other field. The high degree of learning and scholarship in Islam, particularly during the 'Abbasid period in the East and the later Umayyads in West (Spain), encouraged the development of bookshops, copyists, and book dealers in large, important Islamic cities such as Damascus, Baghdad, and Cordoba. Scholars and students spent many hours in these bookshop schools browsing, examining, and studying available books or purchasing favourite selections for their private libraries. Book dealers traveled to famous bookstores in search of rare manuscripts for purchase and resale to collectors and scholars and thus contributed to the spread of learning. Many such manuscripts found their way to private libraries of famous Muslim scholars such as Avicenna, al-Ghazali, and al-Farabi, who in turn made their homes centres of scholarly pursuits for their favourite students.

Islam in Renaissance & Enlightenment:

Europe owes it awakening form the dark ages to the Renaissance and Enlightenment by the transfer of knowledge including lost Greek heritage through the Muslim scholars and centers of learning at Spain and their contact with the Muslim world through Crusades. As long as Muslims continued the pursuit of all branches of useful worldly knowledge of physical science, technology along with the religious sciences, the Islamic Civilization was at its zenith.

Stages of Evolution of Learning Process:

The education and learning process may be divided in to various stages among the Muslims. The renaissance of Islamic culture and scholarship developed largely under the 'Abbasid administration in Eastern side and under the later Umayyads in the West, mainly in Spain, between 800 and 1000 C.E. This latter stage, the golden age of Islamic scholarship, was largely a period of translation and interpretation of classical thoughts and their adaptation to Islamic theology and philosophy. The period also witnessed the introduction and assimilation of Hellenistic, Persian, and Indian knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, algebra, trigonometry, and medicine into Muslim culture. Whereas the 8th and 9th centuries, mainly between 750 and 900 C.E, were characterized by the introduction of classical learning and its refinement and adaptation to Islamic culture, the 10th and 11th were centuries of interpretation, criticism, and further adaptation. There followed a stage of modification and significant additions to classical culture through Muslim scholarship. Then, during the 12th and 13th centuries, most of the works of classical learning and the creative Muslim additions were translated from Arabic into Hebrew and Latin. The creative scholarship in Islam from the 10th to the 12th century included works by such scholars as Omar Khayyam, al-Biruni, Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi, Avicenna (Ibn Sina), at-Tabari, Avempace (Ibn Bajjah), and Averroës (Ibn Rushd).

Muslim Contributions in Medicine, Science & Technology:

The contributions in the advancement of knowledge by the traditional Islamic institutions of learning (Madrasahs, Maktab, Halqa & Dar-ul-Aloom) are enormous, which have been summed up in Encyclopedia Britannica:  “The madrasahs generally offered instruction in both the religious sciences and other branches of knowledge. The contribution of these institutions to the advancement of knowledge was vast.
Muslim scholars calculated the angle of the ecliptic; measured the size of the Earth; calculated the precession of the equinoxes; explained, in the field of optics and physics, such phenomena as refraction of light, gravity, capillary attraction, and twilight; and developed observatories for the empirical study of heavenly bodies. They made advances in the uses of drugs, herbs, and foods for medication; established hospitals with a system of interns and externs; discovered causes of certain diseases and developed correct diagnoses of them; proposed new concepts of hygiene; made use of anesthetics in surgery with newly innovated surgical tools; and introduced the science of dissection in anatomy.
Muslims furthered the scientific breeding of horses and cattle; found new ways of grafting to produce new types of flowers and fruits; introduced new concepts of irrigation, fertilization, and soil cultivation; and improved upon the science of navigation. In the area of chemistry, Muslim scholarship led to the discovery of such substances as potash, alcohol, nitrate of silver, nitric acid, sulfuric acid, and mercury chloride.
Muslims scientists also developed to a high degree of perfection the arts of textiles, ceramics, and metallurgy.” According to a US study published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in its Journal on 21 February 2007;  ‘Designs on surface tiles in the Islamic world during the Middle Ages revealed their maker’s understanding of mathematical concepts not grasped in the West until 500 years later. Many Medieval Islamic buildings walls have ornate geometric star and polygon or ‘girih’, patterns, which are often overlaid with a swirling network of lines - This girih tile method was more efficient and precise than the previous approach, allowing for an important breakthrough in Islamic mathematics and design.’

Muslims Scholars of Theology and Science:

According to the famous scientist Albert Einstein; “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.” Francis Bacon, the famous philosopher, has rightly said that a little knowledge of science makes you an atheist, but an in-depth study of science makes you a believer in God. A critical analysis reveals that most of Muslim scientists and scholars of medieval period were also eminent scholars of Islam and theology. The earlier Muslim scientific investigations were based on the inherent link between the physical and the spiritual spheres, but they were informed by a process of careful observation and reflection that investigated the physical universe.

Influence of Qur’an on Muslims Scientists:

The worldview of the Muslims scientists was inspired by the Qur’an and they knew that: “Surely, In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day, in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which Allah sends down from the skies, with which He revives the earth after its death and spreads in it all kinds of animals, in the change of the winds and the clouds between the sky and the earth that are made subservient, there are signs for rational people.”(Qur’an;2:164). “Indeed in the alternation of the night and the day and what Allah has created in the heavens and the earth, there are signs for those who are God fearing.”(Qur’an;10:6). They were aware that there was much more to be discovered. They did not have the precise details of the solar and lunar orbits but they knew that there was something extremely meaningful behind the alternation of the day and the night and in the precise movements of the sun and the moon as mentioned in Qur’an: One can still verify that those who designed the dome and the minaret, knew how to transform space and silence into a chanting remembrance that renews the nexus between God and those who respond to His urgent invitation.

Famous Muslim Scientists and Scholars:

The traditional Islamic institutions of learning produced numerous great theologians, philosophers, scholars and scientists. Their contributions in various fields of knowledge indicate the level of scholarship base developed among he Muslims one thousand years ago. Only few are being mentioned <here>


Decline of Muslim Scholarship

The great Muslim scientists and scholars mentioned earlier did not study at University of Paris (1170 C.E), Oxford (1167 C.E) or MIT Massachusetts (USA; 1861), they were the product of the Islamic Madaris and Darul- Alooms.  In fact the Europeans picked up the concepts of system of learning, universities and libraries form Muslim Spain, Cairo and Baghdad. The word ‘alumni’ [graduates, old pupils, former students- derivates form Arabic ‘Alim’ (scholar)] and the robes still worn by Alims, the formal dress of graduates at graduation ceremonies of Western institutions are reminder of same legacy.

Segregation of Theological & Scientific Studies:

The great tragedy of Islamic Civilization happened from within, when the Islamic Madaris and Darul-Alooms shifted the priority by concentrating on the study of theological and religious sciences for gaining spiritual heights, discarding the scientific knowledge considering it to be source of evil. Consequently these Muslim institutions of learning are no more producing great scholars and scientists as they had done in the past; rather they are now being blamed as a source of extremism.

Stages of Decline of Scientific Scholarship:

The decline of Muslim scholarship traditions did not occur overnight, it occurred due to the devastation suffered by Muslims in political and military field in there stages spread over about five centuries.

The First Stage (1085-1099 C.E):

The first stage of devastation of Muslim resources, lives, properties, institutions, and infrastructure took place over a period of over one hundred years (1085-1099 C.E). It started with the fall of Muslim Toledo (1085 C.E), Corsica and Malta (1090 C.E), Provence(a region and former province in south east France east of river Rhone) (1050 C.E), Sicily (1091 C.E) and Jerusalem (1099 C.E).

Second Stage (1217-1329 C.E):

Second stage of devastation lasted for over hundred years, in the form of Crusader invasions (1217-1291 C.E) and Mongol invasions (1219-1329 C.E). Crusaders were active throughout the Mediterranean from Jerusalem and west to Muslim Spain. During this period the fall of Muslim Cordoba (1236 C.E), Valencia (1238 C.E) and Seville (1248 C.E) took place. Mongols devastated from the eastern most Muslim frontier, Central and Western Asia, India, Persia to Arab heartland culminating in the fall of Baghdad (1258 C.E) and the end of Abbasid Caliphate. Besides massacre of large number of Muslims in Baghdad, the major scientific institutions, laboratories, libraries, bookstores and infrastructure were destroyed in leading Muslim centers of civilization.

The Third Stage (1492 onwards)

The third stage of devastation of Muslims occurred due to the end of Muslim rule in Spain (1492 C.E) and their forced expulsion (ethnic cleansing). More than one million volumes of Muslim works on science, arts, philosophy and culture were burnt in the public square of Vivarrambla in Granada. With the decline of Muslims in scientific knowledge and its transfer to the West, began the era of Renaissance followed by Reformation and beginning of colonization in Africa, Asia, and the Americas by the Western Civilization.

Ottomans and Mughal Oversight:

Although the Ottomans and Mughal empires were very powerful but they ignored to concentrate on acquisition of scientific knowledge. They even did not take advantage of scientific development taking place in the West. Invention of Printing Press is a case in point. The Jews expelled from Spain were welcomed and accommodated by the Ottomans but their expertise in Printing Press was not used for mass production of books of religious and scientific learning, because the Ulema opposed it.Being cut off form the benefits of science and technology, the Ulema traditionally started opposing every scientific invention.Initially they even opposed the loud speaker, radio, television etc not realizing that every invention can be used for good purpose or for bad purpose.  A knife commonly used for cutting of fruits and vegetables or by a surgeon to save a life while it can also be used by a criminal to kill an other man, but does not make it illegal or Un-Islamic tool.

Harmony between Qur’an and Science:

Islam is a faith based on the Reality and rational thought not on unscientific myths like many other religions.  Allah says; “Soon shall We show them Our signs in the universe and in their own selves, until it becomes clear to them that this Qur'an is indeed the truth. Is it not enough that your Lord is a witness over everything?” (Qur’an;41:53). The learning of religious sciences go along with learning of other branches of knowledge which include social and physical sciences. Islam encourages reasoning, discussions and dialogue. Allah says: “Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for your Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path and who receive guidance.”(Qur’an;16:125). The Qur’an contains more than 6000 ayaats (‘signs’) out of which more than thousand refer to various subjects of science, such as Astronomy, Physics, Geography, Geology, Oceanology, Biology, Botany, Zoology, Medicine, Physiology, Embryology as well as General Science, mostly un known to humanity at the time. It is found that the Qur'anic information on science does not conflict with any of the established scientific fact. It may go against certain scientific hypothesis or theories, which are not grounded in facts as many a times, the science retract its position. The Qur’an speaks about hundreds of things that were not known fourteen hundred year ago once Qur’an was revealed; but they have been proved recently, the details are available in the book ‘Qur’an and Science’ by Dr.Zakir Naik & "The Bible, The Qur'an and Science" by Dr. Maurice Bucaille, some of them are referred <here: 

Phenomenal influence of Islamic learning on the West:

The influence of Islamic learning on the West has been phenomenal; an extract from Encyclopedia Britannica is an eye opener for the Muslims:
“The decline of Muslim scholarship coincided with the early phases of the European intellectual awakening that these translations were partly instrumental in bringing about.  The translation into Latin of most Islamic works during the 12th and 13th centuries had a great impact upon the European Renaissance. As Islam was declining in scholarship and Europe was absorbing the fruits of Islam's centuries of creative productivity, signs of Latin Christian awakening were evident throughout the European continent. The 12th century was one of intensified traffic of Muslim learning into the Western world through many hundreds of translations of Muslim works, which helped Europe seize the initiative from Islam when political conditions in Islam brought about a decline in Muslim scholarship. By 1300 C.E when all that was worthwhile in Muslim scientific, philosophical, and social learning had been transmitted to European schoolmen through Latin translations, European scholars stood once again on the solid ground of Hellenistic thought, enriched or modified through Muslim and Byzantine efforts.”

“Most of the important Greek scientific texts were preserved in Arabic translations. Although the Muslims did not alter the foundations of Greek science, they made several important contributions within its general framework. When interest in Greek learning revived in western Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries, scholars turned to Islamic Spain for the scientific texts. A spate of translations resulted in the revival of Greek science in the West and coincided with the rise of the universities. Working within a predominantly Greek framework, scientists of the late Middle Ages reached high levels of sophistication and prepared the ground for the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries.” According to Will Durant, the Western scholar, “For five centuries , from 700 to 1200 (C.E), Islam led the world in power, order and extent of government, in refinement of manners, scholarship and philosophy”.

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