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Islâmic Civilization in History and its Significance


My Sustaining-Lord! Increase me in knowledge

Tâ-Hâ (20):114

Where we live in a world in which every civilization is indebted to one another at some level, there seems to be a sort of western fear of accepting the contributions of the Islâmic civilization and its proper place in history. As a former diplomat, journalist Michael Hamilton Morgan writes in the introduction of his National Geographic publication:

… A Muslim history that was about invention, creativity, big ideas, tolerance, and coexistence. It is a Muslim history that had been more intellectually accomplished than Christian Europe of the day, and a Muslim past where Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists had flourished and worked together. It is a culture that had seeded the European Renaissance and enabled many aspects of the modern West and global civilization. It is a history that by the beginning of the 21st century had been forgotten, ignored, misunderstood, suppressed, or even rewritten.[1]

Howard R. Turner writes: “Muslim artists and scientists, princes and laborers together created a unique culture that has directly and indirectly influenced societies on every continent.”


When Europe went into its dark ages, 5th through 14th century, where an enormous lack of literature, history, architecture, backwardness, a collapse of civilization was prevailing, Islâmic Civilization was rising and eager to share all that it had gained with the inhabitants of the world.[2]

This topic is so vast that I will only mention very few examples of Islâm’s contribution to civilization; as occidental literature is vastly biased in the perception of history, not mentioning facts such as the number of important and original Arabic works written on the mathematical sciences being much larger than the combined total of Latin and Greek works on the mathematical sciences, or that Muslim scientists placed a greater emphasis on experimentation than previous ancient civilizations (for example, Greek philosophy placed a greater emphasis on rationality rather than empiricism), which was due to the emphasis on empirical observation found in the Qur’ân and Sunnah, and the rigorous historical methods established in the science of hadith, or that the translation, study, introduction, advancement of the ancient wisdoms such as Persian, Indian and Greek – Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates, Euclid, Pythagoras and others would not be possible without Muslim translation and polymaths. Yet Islam was not a simple retransmitter of knowledge from antiquity. It also developed its own sciences, such as algebra, chemistry, geology, spherical trigonometry, etc. which were later transmitted to the West.

Institutions previously unknown in the ancient world have their origins in the medieval Islamic world, with the most notable examples being: the public hospital (which replaced healing temples and sleep temples) and psychiatric hospital, the public library and lending library, the academic degree-granting university, the astronomical observatory as a research institute (as opposed to a private observation post as was the case in ancient times), and the trust and charitable trust.


The first universities which issued diplomas were the Bimaristan medical university-hospitals of the medieval Islamic world, where medical diplomas were issued to students of Islamic medicine who were qualified to be practicing doctors of medicine from the 9th century.

The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes the University of Al-Karaouine in Fez, Morocco as the oldest university in the world with its founding in 859. Al-Azhar University, founded in Cairo, Egypt in the 10th century, offered a variety of academic degrees, including postgraduate degrees, and is often considered the first full-fledged university.


Ibn Hayyān (Geber, 721), is considered by many to be the father of chemistry. He is credited with the introduction of the experimental method in alchemy, and with the invention of numerous important processes still used in modern chemistry today, such as the syntheses of hydrochloric and nitric acids, distillation, and crystallization that have become the foundation of today’s chemistry and chemical engineering. He has invented sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, citric acid, acetic acid, tartaric acid and many other contributions in chemistry, medicine, astronomy and astrology.

al-Khwarizmi (780), is considered to be the father of algebra (al-jabr), systematic solution of linear and quadratic equations. His Latin translations of Diophantus’s Arithmetic, on the Indian numerals, introduced the decimal positional number system to the Western world in the 12th century. He revised and updated Ptolemy’s Geography as well as writing several works on astronomy and astrology.

Al-Kindi (801), is a pioneer in chemistry, cryptography, medicine, music theory, physics, psychology, and the philosophy of science, introducing Indian numerals to the Islamic and Christian world. He was a pioneer in cryptanalysis and cryptology, and devised several new methods of breaking ciphers, including the frequency analysis method. Using his mathematical and medical expertise, he was able to develop a scale that would allow doctors to quantify the potency of their medication. He also first experimented with music therapy

Muhammad ibn Jābir al-Harrānī al-Battānī (Albatenius) (853-929) discovered that the direction of the Sun’s eccentric was changing, which in modern astronomy is equivalent to the Earth moving in an elliptical orbit around the Sun. His times for the new moon, lengths for the solar year and sidereal year, prediction of eclipses, and work on the phenomenon of parallax, carried astronomers “to the verge of relativity and the space age.”

Al-Farâbi (872), made notable contributions to the fields of logic, mathematics, medicine, music, philosophy, psychology and sociology. He was also the first Muslim logician to develop a non-Aristotelian logic. He discussed the topics of future contingents, the number and relation of the categories, the relation between logic and grammar, and non-Aristotelian forms of inference. He is also credited for categorizing logic into two separate groups, the first being “idea” and the second being “proof.” He wrote a rich commentary on Aristotle’s work, He was widely regarded to be second only to Aristotle in knowledge.


Ibn al-Haytham (965), Muslim polymath, who is known as the father of optics, as well as to anatomy, astronomy, engineering, mathematics, medicine, ophthalmology, philosophy, physics, psychology, Ash’ari theology, visual perception. He is considered the pioneer of the modern scientific method and the originator of experimental science and experimental physics, and some have described him as the “first scientist” for these reasons.

al-Bīrūnī (973), has been described as the father of Indology, the father of geodesy, and “the first anthropologist”. He was also one of the earliest leading exponents of the experimental scientific method, and was responsible for introducing the experimental method into mechanics, the first to conduct elaborate experiments related to astronomical phenomena, and a pioneer of experimental psychology.


Ibn Sinâ (Avicenna, 980), is regarded as a father of early modern medicine (The Canon of Medicine), particularly for his introduction of systematic experimentation and quantification into the study of physiology, his discovery of the contagious nature of infectious diseases, the introduction of quarantine to limit the spread of contagious diseases, the introduction of experimental medicine, evidence-based medicine, clinical trials, randomized controlled trials, efficacy tests, clinical pharmacology, neuropsychiatry, risk factor analysis, and the idea of a syndrome, and the importance of dietetics and the influence of climate and environment on health. He is also considered the father of the fundamental concept of momentum in physics, and regarded as a pioneer of aromatherapy.

Ibn Zuhr (1091), is considered as the father of experimental surgery, for introducing the experimental method into surgery, introducing the methods of human dissection and autopsy, inventing the surgical procedure of tracheotomy, performing the first parenteral nutrition of humans with a silver needle, animal testing, discovering the cause of scabies and inflammation, and refuting of the theory of four humours.


Ibn-Rushd (Averros, 1126), was the first to define and measure force as “the rate at which work is done in changing the kinetic condition of a material body” and the first to correctly argue “that the effect and measure of force is change in the kinetic condition of a materially resistant mass.” Hebrew translations of his work also had a lasting impact on Jewish philosophy. His ideas were assimilated by Siger of Brabant and Thomas Aquinas and others (especially in the University of Paris) within the Christian scholastic tradition which valued Aristotelian logic. Famous scholastics such as Aquinas believed him to be so important they did not refer to him by name, simply calling him “The Commentator” and calling Aristotle “The Philosopher.” Averroes’s treatise on Plato’s Republic has played a major role in both the transmission and the adaptation of the Platonic tradition in the West. It has been a primary source in medieval political philosophy

Ibn Khaldūn (1332), is considered the forerunner of several social scientific disciplines: demography, cultural history, historiography, the philosophy of history, sociology, and modern economics. He is sometimes considered to be a “father” of these disciplines, or even the social sciences in general, for anticipating many elements of these disciplines centuries before they were founded

Fielding H. Garrison wrote in the History of Medicine: “The Saracens (those who professed the religion of Islam) themselves were the originators not only of algebra, chemistry, and geology, but of many of the so-called improvements or refinements of civilization, such as street lamps, window-panes, firework, stringed instruments, cultivated fruits, perfumes, spices, etc…”

Some of the other notable inventions that are attributed to Muslims include, analog computers, oldest surviving complete mechanical geared machine, mechanical astrolabe, spherical astrolabe, seamless celestial globe, first parachute, hang glider, flight controls and artificial wings, first artificially-powered manned rocket, first pinhole camera and camera obscura, invention of over 2000 chemical substances, invention of thermometer, preparation of drugs, petrol, medicinal alcohol, coffee, sherbet (first juiced carbonated soft drinks), introduction of many fruits, spices, and other food items and methods, introduction of glass to the west from China, invention of stained glass, quartz glass, clear, colorless glass and mirror, invention of soap, perfumes and fragrances, the first diversion dam, 16th century sky scrapers (Sears Tower and John Hancock buildings are also designed by a Muslim Arc.), first street lamps and facilities and waste containers for litter collection. First geared mechanical clock, rocket driven torpedoes, watch like devices in 9th century, mills, dams, first sugar refinery, first windmills, programmable humanoid robot, first steam turbine, over 200 surgical instruments, use of medical cotton, invention of surgical needle , forceps, concept of modern cheque, spaghetti, are of the many contributions of Muslims to the world, that go largely unnoticed or appreciated by the general public.

Even though we have barely scratched the surface, the tip of the iceberg this should suffice.

Because of that,
We decreed to the Children of Israel the Eternal Moral Ordinance for all humanity
that whoever kills a human being,
unless it is in the course of justice for murder or bloody crimes on the earth,
it shall be as if he killed all humankind.
And whoever saves one life it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.
Our Messengers came to people with clear Truth,
yet many of them continue to transgress in the earth

Al-Mâ’idah (5):32

…And act justly. Truly, God loves those who are just.

Al-Hujurat (49):9

Truly Allâh commands you to give back trusts to those to whom they are due,
and when you judge between people, to judge with justice…

girl studying quran

An-Nisâ’ (4):58

And let not the hatred of others make you avoid justice.
Be just: that is nearer to piety….

Al-Mâ’idah (5):8

Considering The Renaissance was so called because it was a “rebirth” of certain classical ideas that had long been lost to Western Europe. It has been argued that the fuel for this rebirth was the rediscovery of ancient texts that had been forgotten by Western civilization, but were preserved in the Eastern Roman Empire; some monastic libraries and in the Islamic world; and the translations of Greek and Arabic texts into Latin. Renaissance scholars such as Niccolò de’ Niccoli and Poggio Bracciolini scoured the libraries of Europe in search of works by such classical authors as Plato, Cicero, Pliny the Elder and Vitruvius. Additionally, as the reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from Islamic Moors progressed, numerous Greek and Arabic works were captured from educational institutions such as the library at Córdoba, which claimed to have 400,000 books. The works of ancient Greek and Hellenistic writers (such as Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, and Plotinus) and Muslim scientists and philosophers (such as Geber, Abulcasis, Alhacen, Avicenna, Avempace, and Averroes), were reintroduced into the Western world, providing new intellectual material for European scholars.


Even the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas who is considered Catholic Church’s greatest theologian and philosopher was heavily influenced by his reading of earlier and contemporary Arabic philosophers, especially the works of Avicenna (Ibn Sinâ), Al-Ghazâli, and Averroes (Ibn-Rushd). The affect of Islâmic thought and thinkers on French revolution is well known such as concept of “inalienable rights” which was found in early Islamic law and jurisprudence, which denied a ruler “the right to take away from his subjects certain rights which inhere in his or her person as a human being.” Islamic rulers could not take away certain rights from their subjects on the basis that “they become rights by reason of the fact that they are given to a subject by a law and from a source which no ruler can question or alter.” These ideas may have influenced John Locke’s concept of inalienable rights through his attendance of lectures given by Edward Pococke, a professor of Arabic studies.

Thus, in the field of human rights, Islâm is a beacon that we should all be thankful for there is not a statement in recorded history such as the statements of Muĥammad ﷺ in his final sermon;

“Remember, no black is superior to a white,
and no white person is superior to a black person,
and no Arab is better than a non-Arab and no non-Arab is better than an Arab.
The best among you will be the one who is best in conduct.”

“Be fearful of God in matters concerning your wives.
Do treat your women well. Be kind to them.
They are your companions, partners, and helpers.”

“If a non-Muslim is wronged in our state I would personally plead on his or her behalf.
Avoid extremes in religion. Peace, remember peace, O’ Mankind!”

He said:

“Whoever kills a person who has a truce with the Muslims will never smell the fragrance of Paradise”

Female Salah

Women’s dignity and position has been raised to the highest level and equity, in a society and world in general while women were considered soulless items of trade, let alone rights of inheriting or marriage rights; Islâm placed the door to paradise under their feet; as The Prophet ﷺ said: “Paradise lies at the feet of thy mother” and “Allâh has forbidden for you to be undutiful to your mothers” and It is reported that; a man once asked the Prophet ﷺ to whom he should show the most kindness. The Prophet replied: “Your mother” next? “your mother”, next? “your mother”, and then? “your father.” and He ﷺ said: “If a man has daughters and he takes good care of their upbringing, the fire of hell will not touch him” also said: “The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best in manner and kindest to his wife.” He described women as “the twin halves of men,” which emphasized the idea that their role in society is complementary to that of men. He declared that “the most valuable thing in the world is a virtuous woman.” He taught his followers that it is God’s commandment to treat women with gentleness and affection because, he said, “they are your mothers, daughters, aunts.”

And the believers, both men and women,
are colleagues/allies/friends/guides of one another.
They enjoin the doing of Right (Just) and forbid the doing of Wrong (Evil)
and are constant in prayer, and render the purifying dues (charity),
and pay heed unto God and His Apostle.
It is they upon whom God will bestow His grace: verily, God is almighty, wise!

At-Tawbah (9):71

O You who have attained to faith!
It is not lawful for you to (try to) become heirs to your wives
(by holding onto them) against their will;
and neither shall you keep them under constraint
with a view to taking away anything of what you may have given them,
unless it be that they have become guilty, in an obvious manner, of immoral conduct.
And consort with your wives in a goodly manner; for if you dislike them,
it may well be that you dislike something
which God might yet make a source of abundant good.

An-Nisâ’ (4):19


In Islâm, woman (nisâ’ vs. rijâl not fe-male or wo-man) is a separate and distinct entity who has the same divine rights with their Lord (not cursed, inhuman or inferior as in some other religious traditions and cultures5) and has distinct roles in this world. Islâm gave the women much deserved and needed identity, right to live, right to own property (where even her husband can not touch), inherit, right to choose her husband, and divorce (last resort). Islâm, being the natural religion recognizing differences in specific genders, places responsibility of sustenance and protection of the family (not dominance) to the male, and raising the children, loyalty, chastity, modesty over the female, and allowed the female to pursue lawful studies or occupation from the inception of the religion. In fact the first teacher and scholar of the religion after the Prophet ﷺ was his wife A’isha رضand throughout Islâmic history, we find countless women as ‘âlim (scholars), hâfiz (memorizer of Qur’ân) muhaddith (memorizer of hadith) and teachers. In Islâm women aren’t to be objectified in the society, they are to be respected and honored. Modesty in Islâm is ordered both and the male and the female as a part of the religion.

Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity,
this will be most conducive to their purity
Verily, God is aware of all that they do
And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity,
and not to display their charms (in public)
beyond what may (decently) be apparent thereof…

An-Nûr (24):30-31

As a matter of fact, Muslim women were highly admired by English men during the Renaissance. They especially caught the attention of English writers at the time and were often idealized by them. What the English writers saw in Muslim women greatly differed from libertinism (disregard of authority or convention in sexual or religious matters), which the writers feared among English women. Muslim women at the time were thought to be the perfect representation on how an Englishwoman should act, and they were presented as the foil for English women as well. Muslim women were constantly compared to European women and idealized by English authors as a perfect image of female docility.


All of these values and more were embodied in the Islâmic history, disease of racism did not exist, slavery abolished due to the genius of the Qur’ânic model, non-Muslims were treated well, status of women was raised to the highest levels, order, intelligence, honesty and good conduct became norm while evils such as alcohol, loose gender relations, cheating, lying, indiscriminate violence were eradicated. Even though Muslims were victims of many genocides, they by and large obeyed Qur’ânic command and regulations of war and did not kill innocence, seeked peace treaties, and didn’t transgress limits.

You are the best of the nations (community) raised up for (the benefit of) humankind;
you enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allâh;
and if the followers of earlier revelation had attained to (this kind of) belief,
it would have been for their own good; (Followers of Moses 2:47, Jesus 3:55)
of them (some) are believers and most of them are transgressors (iniquitous)

Al-‘Imrân (3):110


1 Lost History by Michael H. Morgan (National Geographic)

2 What Islam Did for Us by Tim Wallace-Murphy

3 Islam and Destiny of Man by Charles La Gai Eaton

4 Advocate of Dialogue by Fethullah Gülen

5 Romans and Greeks regarded women as slaves. Early Christianity regarded women as temptresses. 578, France conference on whether women are human. England, Henry VII forbade reading of the Bible to women. Catholic Church, regarded women 2nd class citizens. 1850, England, women not British citizens. India until recently, Hindus considered women, worse than death, pests, serpents, or even Hell. US gave women rights to vote less than a 100 years ago.

Back to Heart To Heart Part 1

Heart To Heart Part 16 – Conclusion

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