By Mohammad Yacoob
The book, The Timeline of History, published during the fourth quarter of the 20th century, documents historical facts by establishing a linkage between people and events, and records introduction of the first organized news service in the Muslim world by the Caliph in 650 C.E. It also mentions the availability, in 942 C.E., of approximately 1000 stations of postal and news services to the public in the Caliphâ€™s Empire. This timeline does not provide any details.
These milestones provided advanced communication between the various strata of the Muslim society in the Muslim world. The Divine message of â€˜Readâ€™ and spread the word of Allah, was taken to heart by the Muslim Ummah during the life of Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless and greet him, whose instructions and guidance brought a change in the lives of tribal and ethnic groups.
A cursory look at the golden age of Islam reveals that the scientific achievements made by Muslims were continuous during that era. The decline of the Muslim political power saw total absence of scientific achievements. Yet, the Muslim contributions to the human civilization are enormous and include astronomy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, natural sciences, medicine, music, philosophy, literature, history, geography, political sciences, sociology, architecture and arts. These are some of the representative achievements of some and not all of the scientists, inventors, philosophers and thinkers in the Muslim world.
Astronomy: The Caliphs, Sultans and Khans in the various regions of the Muslim world and during various times were very much interested in astronomy. This gave rise to the development and establishments of observatories throughout the Islamic world in cities of Baghdad, Cairo, Cordova, Toledo and Samarkand. The most famous Baghdad School of Astronomy was established by Caliph Mansur, whose reign lasted from 754 to 775 C.E. This school is credited for discovery of the movement of the sunâ€™s apogee. It was also involved in evaluation of the obliquity of the elliptical diminution, which means the determination of the inclination of the earth towards the plane of orbit around the sun and the orbital path. The scientists at the Baghdad astronomy school also made detailed study of exact duration of the year, forecasted sunspots, studied eclipses and appearances of comets. These findings and other information data were recorded and compiled in the â€œverified Tablesâ€ prepared by Yahya Ben Abu Mansur. The great astronomers were Al Batani, Abul Wefa, Maslamah Al Maherbi, Omar Ibn Khaldoun, Averroes, Ali Ibn Younis, who invented pendulum and edited Hakemite Tables; Hasan Ibn Al Haitan wrote treatise on optics; Al Biruni published a list of towns and their latitudes and longitude; Nasr Ed Dine authored Ilkanian Tables of astronomy; and Ulug Begâ€™s work on astronomy was published in France in 1437.
Mathematics: Basic principles of arithmetic, geometry and algebra were developed by the Arab mathematicians. Al Khawarizmi wrote the algebra treatise entitled Hisab Al-Jabr Wal Muqabalah, Thabit Ben Garrah translated Ptolemyâ€™s Almagest, Al Batani developed trigonometry and Mohammed Ben Ahmed is credited with the invention of zero.
Physics: Hassan Ali Haitan (Alhasan) conducted research into magnifying lenses and gave an exact description of eye, lenses and binocular vision. He finally completed a lengthy treatise on optics. Documented proof mentions that Muslim scientists were involved in perfecting the compass. Arab discovered use of pendulum for clocks. Ben Hamin of Toledo, Spain, gave description of the famous clock in the Mosque of Damascus. Muslim scientists developed navigational system and put compass to practical use by applying the magnetic needle.
Chemistry: The science of Kimiah was cultivated and advanced by Muslims scientists who discovered alcohol, sulphuric acid, aqua regia and nitric acid. They developed many chemical processes including distillation, sublimation, crystallization, coagulation cupellation, and more. Abu Mussa DJafar Al Sufi prepared Chemistry Scientific Encyclopedia called Sum of Perfection. Zakaria Al Razi (Razes) wrote a book on chemistry entitled al Hawi that listed the procedure and method of making sulphuric acid and alcohol. The other areas of chemistry that were given to this world are camphor, distilled water, plasters, syrups, ointments, art of dyeing, curing leather, tampering steel, paper and gunpowder.
Medicine: Medical services attracted Muslims most after mathematics and chemistry. Medicine formed an integral part of the education system during the first centuries of Hijri calendar. The medical research, encyclopedias, books and treatises written by Abu Bakr Ibn Zakaria Al Razi (Rhases), Abu Ali Al Hussein Ibn Abdulla Abi Sina (Avicenna), Abul Cassis and Ibn Zohar were used in European universities for centuries and these books were responsible for the advancement of medical sciences in Europe. Medical manual written by Abu Bakr Ibn Zakaria Al Razi became part of the curriculum of the Paris Faculty of Medicine in 1395. Abu Ali Al Hussein Ibn Abdulla Abi Sinaâ€™s Qanoon Fil Tib, published in Rome in 1593, deals with physiology, hygiene, pathology, therapeutics treatment methods and much more. The Qanoon Fil Tib was the most revered book that was used for medical studies in France and Italy from 12th to 17th centuries. A pharmacopoeia prepared at that time listed approximately 760 drugs for the treatment of diseases.
Natural Sciences: The Arab pharmacopoeia contained names of plants and medical substances which were unknown to Europeans and Greeks. Some of them are rhubarb, tamarind pulp, cssia, manna, sana leaves and camphor. The Arabs developed processes and used sugar instead of honey to concoct syrups, juleps, and also preserve herbs and fruits. They introduced perfumes and spices to the whole world including incense, sweet-smelling resins, attars of roses, nutmeg, cloves and pepper; also, tomatoes, asparagus, artichokes and exquisite flowers. The coffee was discovered by Arabs; it originated in Yemen.
Bernard Grunn wrote a book entitled The Timetable of History â€“ A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. It was published by Simon and Schuster, New York in 1982. The recorded achievements of Muslims given in that book are listed here:
Seventh Century: Year 650: News Services. The Caliph Introduced the First Organized News Service. 695: Coin; First Arab Coinage.
Eighth Century: 711: Spanish Jews, Freed by Arabs, Begin their Cultural Development. 720: Abu Musa Dshaffar, Arab Chemist; Sulphuric Acid, Nitric Acid and Aquaregia. 750: Medicine and Various Sciences. Spain, Prime of Medicine, Astronomy, Mathematics, Optics and Chemistry. 760: Arabic Numerals in Baghdad. 774: Euclidâ€™s â€˜Elementsâ€™ Translated into Arabic. 782: Jabir, Great Arab scientist Begins Chemical Studies, Distinct from Alchemy.
Ninth Century: 810: M. Ibn Musa Alkhawarazmi wrote a book on equations and coined â€œAlgebraâ€. 813: School of Astronomy in Baghdad. 814: Zero â€“ Arabs take over Indian numerals including Zero to multiply by ten. 828: Astronomical System of Ptolemy translated into Arabic â€œAlmagestâ€. 850: Coffee. Arabian Goat Herder Kaldi credited with discovery of coffee.
850: Astrolabe perfected by Arabs. 870: Philosopher / mathematician Al Farabi died. Al Kindi also died. 873: Physician Honain Ibn Iszhak died. 878: Al Battani, Arab astronomer, begins his observations. 885: Ibn Khordadbeh completed The Book of Roads and Countries. 889: Ibn Koteiba, Arab scholar and historian died. 900: Arab physician Rhases (died 923) mentions plague, consumption small pox and rabies as infectious diseases and describes them.
Tenth Century: 904: Ibn Doried prepared a manual of genealogy and etymology. 930: Cordoba, Spain, Seat of Learning, Science, Commerce and Industry. 940: Abu Wefa, Astronomer / Mathematician, Born in Baghdad. 942: Arabs bring kettledrum and trumpet to Europe. 942: Postal and news services in the Caliphâ€™s Empire have at their disposal approximately 1000 stations.
Eleventh Century: 1009: Ibn Junis authored Hikmite Table of astronomy. 1020: Poetry: Firdusi died. 1027: Omar Khayyam, poet and scientist born. 1038: Al Hazen, Arab physicist died. 1050: Important astronomic instruments arrive in Europe from eastern countries. 1059: Al Ghazali, Arab Theologian born. 1080: Astronomy. Toledan tables of position of stars completed.
Twelfth Century: 1100: Decline of Islamic science begins. 1150: Arabs in Spain manufacture paper. 1154: Geography â€“ Mohammad Al-Idrisi published Geography at Palermo.
Thirteenth Century: 1200: Scientists â€“ Ibn Al-Baiter, Arab Scientist born. 1201: Scholar Nasir Ed-din Et-Tusi born. 1201: Abdullah Ur-Rumi (1179-1229) published, Muâ€™jam Ul-Bulda, a Geographical Encyclopaedia.
Fourteenth Century: 1352: Ibn Battuta explores Sahara Desert.
The timeline of history does not record any other significant scientific events after the world famous Ibn Batutta travels. This timeline, however, mentions about News Services and Postal System introduced in 650 C.E.
The caliphs and the administrators working under the caliphs established a very strong communication system based on the words of Prophet Muhammad (s), may Allah bless and greet him, whose main purpose in life was to bring about the spiritual renaissance in this world and propagate the word of Allah. They used news services and postal system as early as 650 C.E. to spread the word of God.
In conclusion, a greater emphasis should be placed on holding on to the Islamic values. We must vigorously commence research into the past scientific achievements by Muslims. At the same time, we must continue research and knowledge acquisition in modern technology. It is our responsibility to help correct deficiencies found in contemporary world regarding Muslim achievement. This will also identify the ideas put forth by Muslims, discoveries made by them and treatises written that were stolen and plagiarized by the Europeans. We have to expose these people. We gave to the world the news services and postal system and why did we lose their ownership? We must find the causes of the decline of scientific achievement among Muslims. We must move into the forefront of spiritual renaissance and scientific advancement. We must work for welfare and improvement of mankind. We must work for Deen and Duniya.
The world must be made aware of the contributions made by Muslims to modern civilization. We must provide this as a basis for our children to excel in achieving scientific knowledge. We must help our children become leaders not only in the spiritual arena but also in the scientific fields.
This can be done at two fronts: Visibility and Leverage. Become more visible in the scientific field. Involve yourself in scientific conferences, seminars and workshops. Display Islamic hospitality. Write a thesis, if involved in research, on a Muslim scientist, scholar or philosopher. Invite Muslims and non-Muslims to these conferences. Assert yourself, while holding on to the Islamic values. Continue to work hard. Make others realize that Muslims excelled and can still achieve excellence in scientific and communication fields. Remember, during the golden age of Islam, Muslims were making things happen. In this world, there are three types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. We must struggle, strive and make tireless strivings, and consider this as a part of survival. We must make this happen.
[The writer is Industrial Engineer and Engineering Proposal Analyst working at Northrop Grumman Aircraft Company in Los Angeles, California]