In fact, there are great scientific discoveries and achievements of the Muslims, who lived in the time, which is referred to as the Golden Age of Islam. Today, when the Islamic world is highly civilized, many Muslims pay their attention to the past, which is full of grandiose conquests, great scientific discoveries and other praiseworthy actions of the Muslims. In the Middle Ages, the Islamic world represented the center of scientific thought in the vanguard of civilization. Actually, this period was marked by tremendous achievements in the scientific, economic and cultural life.
However, science is highly developed in the Muslim world nowadays. The Islamic world began the regression process, which ended in the 20th century. The process ended with slipping into the bosom of obscurantism. Instead of rationalism and prosperity, dogmatism, backwardness, and extreme religious orthodoxy prevailed in all its guises. Dark Ages, which prevailed in Europe, spread to the Islamic world. In comparison to the Christian world, the world of Islam has become poor, weak and ignorant. In the 19-20th centuries, the West dominated not only in science but also in economic and military plans, which resulted in a terrible tragedy for Muslims. The history of science in the Muslim world can be characterized by rises and declines. The Muslims were guided by a call of the Koran to seek new knowledge and to study the nature of the Creator for the detection of signs and they were inspired by the trove of ancient Greek wisdom, thus, the Muslims created a society, which represented the scientific center of the world in the Middle Ages.
Reasons for Rise of Muslim Science
The heyday of Muslim science began largely thanks to the knowledge that was gained from the ancient Greek thinkers. Initially, the spread of Hellenistic culture to the East began with the campaigns of Alexander the Great and it was mainly achieved through the Greek settlements. The Muslims have taken over the vast territory from Persia to North Africa and Spain; thus, they have a large number of works of Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Democritus, Archimedes, and other Greek scholars in the form of trophies. In fact, the Muslims took the whole libraries to Caliphate. A great number of Greek manuscripts accumulated and the Muslims had to organize the centers for the systematic translation. Actually, the penetration of Muslim knowledge into Western Europe represented the basis for the Renaissance and the scientific revolution. The encounter of civilizations gave them the opportunity to learn from each other. Islam acts as a perfect example in this sense. Intelligent continuity of Arabs and Greece is one of the greatest events in history. In fact, its scale and consequences are immeasurable not only for the Islamic countries but also for Europe and for the world.
Another reason, which served as an impetus for the rapid development of science, was the support of the caliphs. In particular, one of the largest educational centers, the House of Wisdom, was established in the 9th century in Baghdad by caliph Abu al-Abbas al-Mamun for the absorption of Greek knowledge. From that moment, the House of Wisdom took care of the development of science in the Caliphate. One of the first works, which was translated in the medieval center of science from Greek to Arabic, was the work of the Alexandrian astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, which is also known as Almagest. Thus, this work has served as the basis of cosmology for the next hundreds of years.
Another example is the ruler, Ulugh Beg. The ruler merged the key formula for success: a talented scientist, who clearly understood the scientific purpose and its implementation, and the ruler of a mighty state. In fact, Ulugh Beg directed money to the development of science and culture. Ulugh Beg became known for the works in the astronomy-related mathematics, especially, in the spherical geometry and trigonometry. Thanks to his initiative, the Muslims began the construction of the madrasah, which eventually became the centers of scientific thought. The centers were built in Bukhara and Samarkand. In general, all the inscriptions on the madrasah call people to the pursuit of science.
In addition to the factors mentioned above, it is important to note the fact that the need of the Muslims for the observance of their religious rituals contributed to the development of science. In fact, Islam is the only religion, which presupposes the existence of astronomical knowledge. Actually, a Muslim must always pray strictly to Mecca. In particular, Muslim scholars knew that the earth was round even before Magellan's voyages around the world. This knowledge was necessary to compile the tables, where the Muslims could find the qibla (the sacred direction of Mecca) anywhere in the world. That is why the Muslims were enthusiastically engaged in astronomy. Most popular Muslim astronomers developed a table or chart, where it was possible to determine the direction of Mecca all over the Islamic world. The interest in traveling and studying geography appeared in ancient times. Such interests were explained by the desire to spread Islam, trade, and Hajj (Pilgrimage). When the Muslims returned from the travels, they described their routes, met the people and visited different places. In the beginning, this information was transferred through the word of mouth, and later it was documented on paper in the form of maps and charts. Thus, there was the accumulation of information about remote areas, including the description of the landscape, population, the economy, and other useful information.
In addition, the sacred text of The Koran contributed to the development of science. The Koran serves as an instrument of providing the source of faith and moral norms. Moreover, it requires an individual to seek knowledge and study nature in order to distinguish signs of God. The understanding of The Koran requires the knowledge of a variety of fields: linguistics, Arabic grammar, comparative history, the ability to observe, to read correctly, to think logically, to analyze, and to have a sense of rhythm and music. Habibi states that the study of science was considered to be God’s will. The Muslim rulers encouraged the translation of Greek philosophy and science and promoted scientific exploration in various disciplines such as astronomy, mathematics, pharmacology, botany, physics, medicine, and chemistry. Actually, Muslim scientists succeeded in different spheres. Thus, the scholars introduced the usage of the zero, the solutions to quadratic equations, and the Arabic word ‘algebra’.
The emergence of Islamic law occurred shortly after the appearance of religion. In fact, the Muslims were first to differentiate law as an independent science as opposed to a set of civil laws. Thus, every person must obey its orders; however, no science of the origin of certain canons of explanation, analysis, and application existed before Islam. The Muslims have provided a great contribution to the development of comparative law. Therefore, there were new trends and new interpretations of the codes in Islam. Thus, there was a need to record the reasons and the results of each legal precedent. The state constitution represented an innovation that was introduced by the Muslims.
Reasons for Regress
For a long time, the Mongols represented favorite targets for the accusations of the decline of Muslim science. The Mongol invasion of the 13th century was considered to be the cause of the decline of Muslim civilization, the continuing deterioration, and stagnation. However, this argument has two flaws. First, the part of the great cultural achievements of the Muslim nations, particularly Iran, took place after the Mongol invasions. Second, the Mongols conquered an empire that was in the twilight of its development. The same idea can relate to the Crusades and the Spanish Reconquista (reconquest of the Caliphate of Cordoba). Unlike the Mongols, who were barbarians, who did not have their own culture and destroyed everything in their path, the Crusaders and the Reconquista did not destroy the research centers of the Muslims during the wars of conquest.
In the period of French and British rule in the Arab world, the Muslims began to blame Europe in their scientific regress. However, the Anglo-French intervention was relatively short. After World War II, the role of the villain moved to the United States. An attempt to shift the blame on America received strong support, but remained unconvincing, as in the case of Britain and France. Similar to the Mongol conquest, the Anglo-French invasion and American influence represented the result, not the cause of the internal weakness of the Muslim countries. Actually, some Muslim countries, which were part of the British Empire, made a huge leap in the development. A striking example of such a situation is Malaysia, the UAE, and Qatar. Thus, none of the three reasons withstand scrutiny. Undoubtedly, the Mongol invasion, the Crusades and Western colonialism caused tremendous damage. However, the end of the time of Crusades and the Mongol invasion took place many centuries ago.
What is important, the search for the person to blame is focused on the basics of Muslim society. One of the basics is the religion of Islam; however, blaming Islam is not convincing. Unlike Medieval Europe, where the Vatican burned the scientists at the stake and arranged the persecution of the dissidents and massacres, the Islamic world was the center of civilization and progress. In the early days of Islam, the Muslims continued the development of science inherited from the Greeks, created new branches of the economy and factories, and trade reached unprecedented levels. Thus, Islamic society achieved a certain degree of freedom of thought and expression that made the persecuted Jews and Christian dissidents come to Muslim society.
In the process of the search for the guilty and heated discussions, many minds overlook one historical moment, which appears occasionally, but deserves very little notice. At the end of the 11th century, there was a growing influence of the clergy, who began to preach the rejection of scientific knowledge and opposed free scientific thought in comparison to the advanced world-view of the best minds. The most prominent representative of this group was Muhammad al-Ghazali and it is impossible not to mention his work and writings. The views of the researchers on al-Ghazali are very diverse and they can be conditionally divided into two groups. The first group evaluates al-Ghazali, as the worst enemy of the philosophy, especially, materialism, science, and progress. However, the second group considers al-Ghazali to be a great Muslim theologian and a defender of the Muslim religious orthodoxy. Actually, this group includes theologians, who granted him the image of the defender of Islam, as his goal was to defend Islam from the teachings that undermined its foundations, and the purification of the speculative theology. What is important, Al-Ghazali claimed three titles: “Proof of Religion, Reviver of Islam and Leader of the Scholars”. Al-Ghazali argued that orthodox Muslims should not have contradictions with the philosophy and should accept its conclusions in the areas of astronomy, mathematics, etc.
The development of scientific thought, in particular under the influence of ancient Greek science and logic, led to the fact that the ideological representatives of the ruling classes, Muslim Mutakallims, were forced to fight against rationalism, freedom of thought and other tendencies to resort to rationalistic reasoning and logic. In the era of Ibn Sina, al-Ghazali, the philosophers, and theologians in the Muslim East, fierce ideological confrontation reached its climax. Thus, orthodoxy won a fierce struggle with rationalism. The result was the following: the clerics banned freedom of thought, logic and investigative causality, without which it was impossible to imagine the development of science. Moreover, they excluded all the subjects by leaving only theological. A huge ban was placed on science in the Islamic world.
Another factor that caused the decline of science refers to a cessation of support of the caliphs. In fact, the development of science in the Islamic world has always depended on the support of the sultans and caliphs. The rulers represented the patrons of scholars, who allocated funds for the construction of research centers and invited well-known scientists. Unlike their predecessors, Caliphs put great efforts to ensure that the Caliphate became a hub of scientific research; the Caliphate was drowned in luxury while staying in carelessness. Thus, they did not keep thinkers, scientists, poets, and historians in their palaces.
With the death of Ulugh Beg, Samarkand permanently retired from the arena of world civilization. As soon as the clerics received political influence, the scientists were killed. A classic example is the death of Ulugh Beg, who was accused of witchcraft. During the life of Ulugh Beg, his cultural and political transformation caused opposition among the Muslim clergy. After the tragic murder of Ulugh Beg, a period of rampant clerical reaction followed.
After the death of Ulugh Beg, education has undergone a fundamental restructuring. In fact, the education of children began from 6 years in Maktab, where they studied the Arabic alphabet and started reading haftyak that contained selected passages of the Koran. The children poorly mastered the strange Arabic text tried to memorize it and remained illiterate. However, the children of wealthy people moved to madrasah, where they studied the basics of Arabic grammar and theology and Islamic law. The students from poor families were often hungry. During that period, the Muslim clergy, especially, the Dervish and Sufi orders heavily influenced culture and science. Moreover, no major scientists existed during that time; thus, exact and natural sciences were destroyed. Therefore, Bukhara became a stronghold of Muslim theology.
Actually, religious conservatism defeated rationalism; it still dominates among the clergy today. It is possible to say that all the factors mentioned above are happening today. The attitude of the conservative clerics and the Muslims to science has remained unchanged. In fact, they want to make use of modern technology, but they do not allow developing science by arguing that the study of science will not benefit in the afterlife.
The exploration of the history of the Islamic world provided the insights that science was developed when quite progressive people were in power. At that time, science was on the rise. In addition, progressive people turned Caliphate into the center of scientific thought and high culture. The period of their reign in the history of Islam will remain to be the Golden Age of Islam. In particular, during the reign of Ulugh Beg Maurya, the Muslim world experienced great cultural growth. The ruler turned Samarkand into one of the world's centers of medieval science. Moreover, the development of science, technology and the acquisition of knowledge in the Caliphate represented one of the most prestigious occupations. Actually, the interest of the people in knowledge and science increased the general level of education in society. The Arabic language was not only the language of religion but also the language of science. In the mosques throughout the Islamic world, madrasah was discovered, where the Muslims were taught not only religious but also secular sciences - mathematics, astronomy, medicine, rhetoric, and architecture. The Muslim rulers began to organize research centers, where the scientists could collect, develop and share knowledge. However, the death of Ulugh Beg resulted in the decline of science in Maurya. Therefore, Samarkand lost its former glory and the great scientific world went into oblivion. However, the achievement of Muslim science played a significant role in the development of world science. Thus, the achievements of Muslim science can be considered to be an important link between the ancient and Western European science.