Islam and Intellectual Advance
By: Ayatullah Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari
Most Westerners are ignorant of the debt their civilization owes to Islam, even for modern industrial transformation, scientific advance and philosophical enterprise.
Islam came into the world in the bosom of one of the most backward of peoples. In a very short time it had raised those tribes to pre-eminence in every field.
Its greatest miracle was its appearance as a full grown adult of the spirit in so degraded and poverty-stricken an environment.
Its second miracle was the raising of that environment, by sheer force of inspiration, without any extraneous aids, to an unmatched destiny.
Its third was to create a cultural focus from which strong waves radiated, stimulating renascence in other peoples of every background throughout the world.
The changes it wrought compose history's greatest revolution so far, a revolution in sense and sensibility, in thought and intellect, in relations of individuals and communities, and indeed in every department of human life.
By the end of its first millennium Islam stretched from the Atlantic coast of Africa in the west to the Great Wall of China in the east, from the Mediterranean to the Sahara in Africa. In Spain its troops took first Andalusia, then all Spain up to the Pyrenees, and even penetrated the south of France as far north as Tours. All the "Jezirat-ul'Arab" was of course Muslim. From Muslim Iran and Afghanistan other troops took Sind, the Punjab and the Gobi— and this within a few short centuries.
In all its dominions the principles worked out in the Arab homeland were applied to the new societies under its sway. In particular its justice, equality and brotherhood, humane fruits of its meticulous care for the individual and his place in society, which are the distinguishing marks of Islam, set their stamp on the communities over this entire vast area.
The first task was the overthrow of tyrannies: the second was the establishment of sound Islamic rule and respect for human rights: the third was the illumination of intellect, research and thought: the fourth was the propagating of the faith by its calm appeal to reason and logic and by its profundity and breadth of vision: the fifth—and perhaps the most glorious because the most anonymous —was the infection of other nations, of all creeds and none, with its own superior moral, mental and spiritual outlook.
This last achievement not merely raised the general level of peoples of every religion throughout the world, but also drew many proselytes to itself from the idolaters of Arabia, the animists of Africa, the Magians and Zoroastrians of Iran, and the Christians of Egypt and Syria.
Pre-Muslim Arabia had no trace of culture, no science, no erudition, no economics; for geographical reasons Arabs lived in penury and squalor, the prey of superstitions, isolated from world currents. Islam changed all that, and went on to open the hearts and brains of men everywhere to new possibilities.
In far-off Andalusia a school of scholars, writers, mathematicians, scientific researchers and philosophers arose, inspired by Islam to revive the level of thought reached by the Greeks 1500 years earlier, and to move on up from there to heights never before touched by man.
Modern scholars in every country, even those whose prejudices would make them prefer to maintain a critical and hostile attitude to Islam, more and more draw attention to the speed of the spread of the Muslim faith, to its beneficent results for mankind's prowess in thought and study, and the progressiveness of the ideas which it brought to other stagnant civilizations.
It should be noted by all our "progressives" everywhere, that this brilliant advance for all humanity was the concomitant of a moral self-discipline, of an eschewing of the dissipation which follows upon losing the reins of passion, and of a deliberate control of the creative instincts, which channeled them into works of artistic, intellectual, and social creativity worthy of mature human beings. This inner discipline, which man needs, promotes the inner freedom he desires; and it is one cause of Islam's wide dominion over the minds of men of the early Middle Ages. For it offered not merely sounder outward forms of living but reassurance to the inner core of the spirit. It abolished the wild persecutions brought about by purblind bigotry and by narrow-minded fanaticism.
It was for this reason that the Sultan Kemal-ul-Mulk, nephew of Saladdin, talked as man to man, and as scion of the same spirit, to Francis of Assisi when the Saint crossed the lines from the camp of the Crusaders under King Louis, whom the Muslims had halted before Damietta. It was the same universal humanity which caused the vast contrast between Omar's merciful treatment of the Christians in Jerusalem when he conquered it, and the barbarous massacre of Jerusalem's Muslim inhabitants by the European Crusaders who took it back for a brief period 300 years later. Islam replaced such savagery with a constitutional rule, a humanely regulated society, an overarching philosophy embracing all mankind.
In Europe's Dark Ages, while the Church established its power over the different nationalities, and fettered them in restraining bonds in a status quo, Islam was building up a many-sided culture which laid the basis for that flowering of science, knowledge, and artistic and technological creativity which is called the "Renaissance".
This was while the Church was condemning Galileo for confirming Copernicus' theory of the orbiting of the earth round the sun, and forcing him to his famous recantation: "I, Galileo Galilei, in the 70th year of my age (1633 AD), on my knees before your Reverences (the Pope and Bishops) with the Holy Scriptures before my eyes, take them in my hands and kiss them while repenting and denying the foolish claim that the earth moves, and regard that claim as a hateful heresy," even while he muttered rebelliously sotto voce "Eppur si muove".
Yet 500 years previously our own great astronomer and mathematician Omar Khayyam of Nishapur (floruit 2nd half of 11th century AD, when William the Bastard was conquering England) had provided Iran with the Jalali Calendar which to this day enables us to start our new year not merely on the day, but on the exact hour, minute, and second that the earth terminates one orbit and starts another round the sun at the vernal equinox! How few Westerners know this! They think of him as a poet, though he was an indifferent one, but do not realize that if they had picked up his wisdom they might have avoided all their Gregorian alterations of the Julian calendar, and the loss of their "11 days"!
Roger Bacon (1214-1292 AD) the Franciscans' "Doctor mirabilis", was in the reign of Edward I of England compelled to give up the experimental research into science to which his lectures in Paris on Aristotle's works and in particular on the "Liber de Causis" had led him; and was driven out from Oxford back to Paris to be kept under the Church's eye—an eye too narrow and bigoted to see the wealth of the scientific treasures he was offering them. He was arraigned as a dabbler in devilish and satanic alchemy: and the mob was incited to yell for "this sorcerer's hand to be cut off and this 'Muslim' (1) to be exiled."
Nowadays European and American historians and scholars all recognize and relate the fundamental contributions made by Islam to all modern advances in science, mathematics, technology, philosophy, in many ways of which this brief chapter has only been able to touch the fringe.
No better evidence of the passion of Islam for the spread of erudition, from its very inception, can be given than the words of the Prophet himself who said, after the battle of Badr and the Muslims' victory, to the huge crowds whom they had taken prisoner, that any of them who wished to buy their freedom but had no cash for a ransom could employ their literacy as their resources; and any polytheist who trained ten Muslims to read and write should win freedom. His pronouncement was put into practice; and it was thus that a large number of his original adherents were started on the road of education.
His nephew and successor, the Imam Ali, on whom be blessing, declared that the spreading of science and knowledge and culture and intellectual ability was one of the merits to be coveted and achieved by every Muslim government. In the record of his words it is reported that he said: "O people! I have rights over you and you have rights over me. Your right over me is to insist that I shall always give you guidance and counsel, and seek your welfare, and improve the public funds and all your livelihoods, and help raise you from ignorance and illiteracy to heights of knowledge, learning, culture, social manners and good conduct."
215 years after the Hejra the Abbasid Caliph Ma'amoun founded a "House of Wisdom" in Baghdad to be a center of science, and furnished it with an astronomical observatory and a public library, for which he set aside 200,000 dinars (the equivalent of some 7 million dollars). He gathered together a large number of learned men who were acquainted with foreign languages and different disciplines, like Honain and Bakht-eeshoo' and Ibn Tariq and Ibn Muqafa' and Hajaj bin Matar and Sirgis Ra'asi, and others too numerous to mention, and set aside a large sum for them, dispatching many of them to all the different countries of the world to collect books on science, medicine, philosophy, mathematics, and fine literature, in Hindi, Pahlevi, Chaldean, Syriac, Greek, Latin and Farsi. It is said that the vast collections they sent to Baghdad exceeded 100 camel loads!
Europe had not one university or cultural center to show for itself in those centuries when Islamic lands had large numbers staffed by experts and specialists in all branches of knowledge. These Islamic centers were beginning to radiate waves of brilliant new thinking to the world at the very moment when the Crusades were launched. In fact it might be said that it was the new learning fostered by Islam which itself furnished the Europeans with some of their new thinking that made possible whatever prowess they achieved in those disastrous wars and fired the passion of jealousy and cupidity which made the West wish to seize for itself the treasures which they saw Islam bringing to the nations under its sway.
Dr. Gustave Le Bon writes on page 329 of volume III of his "History of Islamic and Arab Civilization": "In those days when books and libraries meant nothing to Europeans, many Islamic lands had books and libraries in plenty. Indeed, in Baghdad's 'House of Wisdom' there were four million volumes ; and in Cairo's Sultanic Library one million; and in the library of Syrian Tripoli three million volumes ; while in Spain alone under Muslim rule there was an annual publication of between 70 and 80 thousand volumes."
G. l'Estrange in his "Legacy of Islam" page 230 writes: "The Mustansariyya University was furnished with equipment and built in a huge campus with college edifices of such splendor that its peer exists neither in the Muslim world nor elsewhere. Its four law-colleges, each with 75 students and a professor who taught the pupils gratis, paid its professor a monthly salary, while each of the 300 students was given a gold dinar a month. A college kitchen provided the daily meals. Ibn-el-Farat says that the library contained priceless and unique volumes, on many branches of science, for any student to borrow. Pens and paper were provided for the notes anyone might wish to take. The university had hammams (baths) and infirmaries. Its doctors conducted a daily inspection of the colleges, and wrote prescriptions for any who were ill. The college stores were able to dispense drugs prescribed, immediately. All this at the beginning of the 13th century AD!"
Dr. Max Meyerhof writes: "In Istanbul the mosques possess between them more than 80 libraries, with tens of thousands of books and ancient manuscripts. In Cairo, Damascus, Mosul, Baghdad, and in cities of Iran and of India there are other great libraries full of treasures. A proper catalogue of the precious volumes in all these has not yet been published complete in print. Moreover, the Escorial library in the Iberian Peninsula contains a huge section filled with books and manuscripts produced by the Islamic scholars of the West, which also awaits completion of its cataloguing."
Dr. Gustave Le Bon writes on pages 557/8 of his "Islamic and Arab Civilization": "The Muslims pursued the sciences with profound application. In any town they took, their first act was to build a mosque and thereafter a college. This led to the production of majestic institutions of learning in a vast number of cities. Benjamin Toole (ob. 1173 AD) said that in Alexandria he found more than 20 colleges at work. Baghdad, Cairo, Cordova, and other places all had great universities with laboratories, observatories, huge libraries and all the other requirements for tackling intellectual problems. In Andalusia alone there were 70 public libraries. The library of Al-Hakem II in Cordova contained 600,000 volumes and it took 44 volumes to catalogue the library's contents. When Charles the Just, four centuries later, founded the Bibliotheque Nationale of Paris he was only able to assemble a total of 900 volumes, and that after great labors, while one-third of that 900 were books on religion."
The same author on page 562 adds: "The Muslims launched science on the road of exactitude, experiment and forward-looking discovery by hypothesis, with a particular enthusiasm, while producing books and treatises and high schools that spread their intellectual prowess to all corners of the world. They thereby opened for Europe the road to its renaissance. So it is with justification that the title of 'Europe's Professor' is given to the newly-arisen Islamic power, since it was through them that the treasures of ancient Greek and Roman science were rediscovered and enhanced and given back to Europe as she began to emerge from the Dark Ages."
Josef Marc Kapp writes, concerning the first centuries of Islam's progress in culture, in his book "Muslim Splendor in Spain" (p.170): "Even the lowest classes in society were athirst to learn to read; and humble workers limited their expenditure on food and clothing and spent their last soul on buying books. One worker collected such a library that men of learning flocked to him. Freed slaves and the children of slaves entered the ranks of the learned; and men like Vafyat-ul-A'iyan Ibn Khalkan laid the foundations for great progress".
Nehru wrote concerning the benefits conferred on social progress and the cultural revolution of the Muslims in Andalusia in his book "A Glimpse at World History" (p.413): "Cordova had over a million inhabitants, a magnificent public park of about 20 kilometers and suburbs stretching 40 kilometers, with 6,000 palaces, mansions and great houses, 200,000 smaller houses of beauty, 70,000 stores and small shops. 300 mosques, 700 hammams with hot and cold baths for public use. There were innumerable libraries of which the most comprehensive and important was the Royal Library, which contained 400,000 volumes. Cordova University was famous throughout Europe and in western Asia. At the same time education was provided for the poor. Indeed one of their contemporary historians writes that nearly everyone in Spain in those days could read and write, while in the rest of Christian Europe, apart from the monks and clerkly persons who were educated trough religious houses, no one, including the highest members of the nobility, thought it worth his while even to attempt to master basic arts of reading."
To illustrate these claims I append eight extremely brief chapters, each on a different branch of science or culture; my debt I gladly acknowledge to Arnold and Guillaume's "Legacy of Islam" (publ. O.U.P. 1931) to which I refer any reader who wishes to extend his information.
Dr Meyerhof writes in "The Legacy of Islam" (p.132): "Muslim doctors laughed at the Crusaders' medical attendants for their clumsy and elementary efforts. The Europeans had not the advantage of the books of Avicenna, Jaber, Hassan bin Haytham, Rhazes. However they finally had them translated into Latin. These translations exist still, without the translators' names. In the 16th century the books of Averroes (Ibn Rushd) and Avicenna (Ibn Sina) were put out in Latin translation in Italy and used as the basis of instruction in the Italian and French universities."
On page 116 of the same work he writes that after Rhazes' death the works of Avicenna (AD 980-1037) were taken up. His influence on thought and philosophy and general science was profound, and his medical works (based on the works of Galen which he had found in the Samarqand library in Arabic translation) had a sensational outreach. Other scientists followed— Abu'l-Qais of Andalusia ; Ibn-Zahr of Andalusia ; Abbas the Iranian; Ali ibn-Rezvan of Egypt ; Ibn Butlan of Baghdad; Abu Mansur Muwaffaq of Herat; Ibn Wafeed of Spain; Masooya of Baghdad; Ali ibn-Esau of Baghdad; Ammar of Mosul; Ibn-Rushd (Averroes) of Andalusia ; whose works translated to Latin were used in European universities. Europe knew nothing of the cholera bacterium when Islam entered Spain, and the people there regarded the disease as a punishment sent from heaven to exact the penalty of sins: but Muslim physicians had already proved that even the bubonic plague was a contagious disease and nothing else.
Dr. Meyerhof writes of Avicenna's book "The Canon" that it is a masterpiece of medical science which proved its worth by being printed in a series of 16 editions in the closing years of the 15th century AD, 15 Latin and one Arabic. In the 16th century more than a score of further editions were published, because of its value as a scientific work. Its use continued throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, so that it became the most widely known of all medical treatises. It is still consulted in medical schools.
Will Durant writes that Mohammad ibn Zachariah Razi (Rhazes) was one of Islam's most progressive physicians, author of 200 treatises and books well worth studying today: in particular his
1. "Smallpox and Measles" (published in Latin and other European tongues in 40 editions between 1497 and 1866), and
2. "The Great Encyclopedia" 20 volumes mostly unobtainable nowadays: five volumes were devoted to optics ; translated into Latin AD 1279; printed in five editions in 1542 alone; known as the most authoritative work on the eye and its ailments and treatment for centuries; one of the nine basic works on which Paris University composed its medical course in 1394 AD.
Surgery made similar progress in the hands of Islamic practitioners, who even used anesthetics, though these are assumed to be of modern origin. They employed a henbane base.
Among Rhazes' innovations was the use of cold water to treat persistent fever, of dry-cupping for apoplexy, of mercury ointment and animal gut for wound sutures, and many others.
Further information on Islamic medicine can be sought from the many books on the subject. The diagnosis of tuberculosis from the fingernails, the cure of jaundice, the use of cold water to prevent hemorrhage, the crushing of stones in bladder and kidney to facilitate their removal, and surgery for hernia are among advances too numerous to mention in detail. The greatest of Islamic surgeons was Abu'l-Qasem of Andalusia, affectionately called Abu'l-gays, and sometimes Abu'l-Qasees, floruit 11th century AD, inventor of very many surgical instruments and author of books to describe them and their uses— books translated and printed in innumerable editions in Latin and used all over Europe, the last such edition being in 1816.
Gustave le Bon writes: "Besides the use of cold water to treat typhoid cases — a treatment later abandoned, though Europe is taking this Muslim invention up again in modern times after a lapse of centuries— Muslims invented the art of mixing chemical medicaments in pills and solutions, many of which are in use to this day, though some of them are claimed as wholly new inventions of our present century by chemists unaware of their distinguished history. Islam had dispensaries which filled prescriptions for patients gratis, and in parts of countries where no hospitals were reachable, physicians paid regular visits with all the tools of their trade to look after public health."
Georgi Zeidan writes: "Modern European pharmacologists who have studied the history of their profession find that Muslim doctors launched many of the modern beneficial specifics centuries ago, made a science of pharmacology and compound cures, and set up the first pharmacies on the modern model. So that Baghdad alone had 60 chemists' shops dispensing prescriptions regularly at the charges of the Caliph. Evidence of these facts can be seen in the names given in Europe to quite a number of medicines and herbs which betray their Arabic, Indian or Persian origin." Such are "alcohol, alkali, alkaner, apricot, arsenic," to quote some 'a's alone. all the tools of their trade to look after public health.”
Georgi Zeidan continues: "Within two centuries of the death of the Prophet, Mecca, Medina and the other great Muslim cities all had hospitals, while the Abbasid governors and their ministers competed each for his own region to have the best such institution for the care of the sick. Baghdad alone had four important hospitals. By three centuries after the Hejra the governor Adhud-ud-Dowleh Deylamy had founded the Adhudi Hospital with 24 specialists, each master of his own particular field, a hospital which soon earned the reputation of excelling all hospitals throughout Islam, though in the course of time it too was surpassed.
"The order and arrangement of Islamic hospitals was such that no distinctions of race, religion or occupation were recognized, but cure was administered with meticulous care to any patient. Separate wards were allotted for patients of specific diseases. These were teaching hospitals where the students learned theory and observed practice. In addition, there were travelling hospitals which carried doctors and their gear by camel or mule to every district. Sultan Mahmoud the Seljuk travelled with a hospital which required 40 camels for its transport."
Dr. Gustave le Bon writes: "Muslim hospitals went in for preventive medicine and the preservation of health as much as if not more than for the cure of the already diseased. They were well-aired and had plenty of running water. Muhammad bin Zachariah Razi (Rhazes) was ordered by the Sultan to seek out the healthiest place in the Baghdad neighborhood for the construction of a new hospital.
He visited every section of the town and its environs, and hung up a piece of meat which he left while he looked into infectious diseases in the neighborhood and studied climatic conditions, particularly the state of the water. He balanced all these various experimental tests and finally found them all to indicate that the place where the portion of meat was the last to putrefy and develop infectious bacteria was the spot on which to build. These hospitals had large common wards and also private wards for individuals. Pupils were trained in diagnosis and brought observation and experience to the perfecting of their studies. There were also special mental hospitals, and pharmacies which dispensed prescriptions gratis."
Marc Kapp writes: "Cairo had a huge hospital with playing fountains and flower-decked gardens and 40 large courtyards. Every unfortunate patient was kindly received, and after his cure sent home with five gold coins. While Cordova, besides its 600 mosques and 900 public hammams, had 50 hospitals."
Jaber ibn Haiyan, disciple of the sixth Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq, became known world-wide as "the Father of Chemistry" and of Arab alchemy. His influence on Western chemistry and alchemy was profound and long-lasting. Some hundreds of his works survive. Of him the late Sayyid Hebbat-ud-Din Shahristani of Kadhemain, once Iraq's Minister of Education, writes: "I have seen some 50 ancient MSS of works of Jaber all dedicated to his master the Imam Ja'far. More than 500 of his works have been put into print and are for the most part to be found among the treasures of the National Libraries of Paris and Berlin, while the savants of Europe nickname him affectionately 'Wisdom's Professor' and attribute to him the discovery of 19 of the elements with their specific weights, etc. Jaber says all can be traced back to a simple basic particle composed of a charge of lightning (electricity) and fire, the atom, or smallest indivisible unit of matter, very close to modern atomic science."
The blending of coloring matters, dyeing, extraction of minerals and metals, steelmaking, tanning, were amongst industrial techniques of which the Muslims were early masters. They produced Nitric Acid, Sulfuric Acid, Nitro-glycerine, Hydrochloric Acid, Potassium, Aqua Ammonia, Sal Ammoniac, Silver Nitrate, Sulphuric Chloride, Potassium Nitrate, Alcohol, Alkali (both still known by their Arabic names), Orpiment (yellow tri-sulfide of arsenic: arsenic is derived from the Persian zar = gold, adjective zarnee = golden, Arabised with article "al" to "al-zernee" pronounced "azzernee" and so taken into Greek where it was turned to the recognizable word "arsenikon" which means "masculine" since the gold color was supposed to link it with the sun, a masculine deity
: and finally—though this does not close the list we might cite—Borax, also an Arabic word booraq. Further, the arts of distilling, evaporation, sublimation, and the use of Sodium, Carbon, Potassium Carbonate, Chloride, and Ammonium were common under the Abbasid Caliphate.
The Abbasid Caliph Haroun-al-Rasheed sent Charlemagne in Aix from Baghdad a present of a clock made by his horologists which struck a bell on the hour every hour, to the great wonder and delight of the whole court of the newly "crowned Holy Roman Emperor.
The massacre and expulsion of the Muslims of Andalusia by the Christians carried with it the closure of many of the great factories that had existed under Islamic rule, and the standstill of progress that had been made in science, crafts, arts, agriculture, and other products of civilization.
Towns began to fall into ruin because of the lack of skilled masons. Madrid dropped from 400,000 to 200,000 inhabitants: Seville, which had possessed 1,600 factories under the Muslims, lost all but 300, and the 130,000 workers formerly employed had no more jobs, while the census of Philip IV showed a fall of 75% in population figures.
It was the Muslims also who brought about the substitution of cotton-wove paper for the old parchments; and it was this invention which formed the basis for Europe's later invention of printing, using an old Chinese technique, and so for the vast uprush of learning which came with the Renaissance. More, since monks were starved for parchment on which to write their religious works, they were tending more and more to scrape off priceless ancient scientific texts from old parchments and to use them again as palimpsests. The introduction of paper put a stop to this disastrous practice in time to save quite a number of texts which would have otherwise been lost forever, as, alas, too many were.
A paper manuscript of the year AD 1009 was found in the Escorial library, and claims to be the oldest hand-written book on paper still in existence. Silk-wove paper, of course, was a Chinese invention, since silk was native to China though rare in Europe; and the Muslim genius lay in seeing the possibility of substituting cotton for silk, and so giving Europe a plentiful supply of a practicable material for the reproduction of books by the monkish scribes.
Philip Hitti writes in his "History of the Arabs" that the art of road making was so well developed in Islamic lands that Cordova had miles of paved road lit from the houses on each side at night so that people walked in safety ; while in London or Paris anyone who ventured out on a rainy night sank up to his ankles in mud — and did so for seven centuries after Cordova was paved! Oxford men then held that bathing was an idolatrous practice ; while Cordovan students reveled in luxurious public hammams!
Baron Carra de Vaux, author of the chapter on "Astronomy and Mathematics" in "The Legacy of Islam" (OUP 1931 pp. 376-398), points out that the word "algebra" is a Latinization of the Arabic term Al-jabr ( = "the reduction": i.e. of complicated numbers to a simpler language of symbols), thereby revealing the debt the world owes to the Arabs for this invention. Furthermore the numerals that are used are "Arabic numerals" not merely in name but also in fact. Above all the Arabs' realization of the value of the Hindu symbol for zero laid the foundation of all our modern computerized technology. The word "zero", like its cousin "cipher" are both attempts at transliterating the Arabic "sefr", in order to convey into Europe the reality and the meaning of that word in Arabic.
De Vaux writes: "By using ciphers the Arabs became the founders of the arithmetic of everyday life; they made algebra an exact science and developed it considerably; they laid the foundations of analytical geometry; they were indisputably the founders of plane and spherical trigonometry. The astrolabe (safeeha) was invented by the Arab Al-Zarqali (Arzachel) who lived in Spain AD 1029-1087. The word "algorism" is a latinization of the name of its inventor, the native of Khiva called by the name of his home province Al-Khwarizmi. The Arabs kept alive the higher intellectual life and the study of science in a period when the Christian West was fighting desperately with barbarism."
This is not the place to go further into Muslim achievements in mathematics and astronomy. Suffice it to refer once again to the Jalali calendar of Omar Khayyam, with its formulae for exact calculation of the timing of the earth's orbits round the sun, to which reference has been made earlier.
The Arabian Nights' tales of Sinbad the Sailor, and of his voyages to China, Japan, and the Spice Islands of Indonesia, give quite enough evidence of the brilliance of Arabic commercial shipping and the knowledge of meteorology and geography which was at their disposal. Small wonder that the Faith spread through them from Morocco to Mindanao.
But, besides the SE Asian seas, Arabic sailors penetrated far down the East coast of Africa, and also up the rivers which are channels from the Black Sea into the distant interior of Russia. The Safarname (Travel journal) of Suleiman, a sea-captain of Seraf, the port on the Persian Gulf recently excavated by Dr. David Stronach of the British Institute of Persian Studies, was published at the end of the 9th century AD with accounts of his voyages to India and China. It was translated into Latin, as giving some of the earliest first-hand knowledge of China which ever reached Europe.
The geographer Ibn Hauqal (floruit circa AD 975) wrote in his preface: "I have written the latitude and longitude of the places of this earth, of all its countries, with their boundaries, and the dominions of Islam, with a careful map of each section on which I have marked numerous places, e.g. the cities, the kasbahs, the rivers, the lakes, the crops, the types of agriculture, the roads, the distances between place and place, the goods for commerce and everything else in the science of geography which can be useful to sovereigns and their ministers and interesting to all people in general."
Abu-Reihan al-Biruni, Ibn Batuta and Abu'l-Haussan are amongst other names in the history of the science of geography whose worldwide travels were accompanied by meticulous observation and painstaking notes, which are amongst the proudest achievements of science in our world to this day.
Cordova Mosque is one of the finest monuments of Muslim art in Europe. Its architect and masons were local talent, who introduced a number of novelties. The Muslims excelled at mosaic, inlay, fretwork and applique work of all types. Marvellous doors, pulpits, and ceilings are decorated in many of the ancient mosques all over the Muslim world with a lacelike design of mosaic, carved ivory and wood and plaster, and fitted pieces of carved wood interlocking with each other with consummate artistry.
Chased and engraved wood and ivory are everywhere. Thus the Altar of the Church of Saint Isidore Hispalensis (archbishop of Seville in the first years of the 7th century AD) like the carved ivory jewel-case made for Queen Isabella in the 11th century and the carved ivory box now in the Church at Bayeux of the 12th century (obviously some Crusader's loot from the East) inlaid with silver in chased gold, are examples of that art which was the glory of Eastern lands. All this delicate and minute handiwork was carried out with the crudest and roughest of tools, itself a further tribute to the skill and artistry of the makers.
Jewel-studded boxes and cases and caskets are to be seen in many places, though the best are on view in the museums of Damascus and Cairo. Well said Sa'adi: "An Eastern artist may take 40 years to make one porcelain vase: the West turns out 100 a day, all alike: the comparative worth of the two products can be easily reckoned!"
The Muslims were also past masters of the art of carved and cultured plaster work, in a style which still subsists though modern technologies are, alas, rendering the skill rarer all the time. Tenth century examples, some with enameled work also, are to be found in Andalusia. The Alhambra has 13th century masterpieces of this work. They glitter like the later Italian Majolica. The famous Alhambra flower-vase, 11/2 meters high, is unique in this line.
In this part of our book we have given the briefest of sketches of some of the treasures of mind and spirit which mankind owes to the rise of Islam.
They are not stated in braggadocio but as an assessment of facts of human history. For too long they have been neglected and forgotten not merely by those who benefited from them indirectly but even also by the very descendants of their authors themselves.
Yet if mankind is to attain the power to live as one united family which is our calling and destiny, it will happen on a basis of appreciation of each other.
This adult assessment is growing. Modern scholars are now showing gratitude that the Arab General Tareq-bin-Ziyyad in AD 711 landed his troops by the mountain since called Jebel-al-Tareq (Gibraltar) after him. His Moors were unwelcome invaders at the time. It was a moment when Europe had lost most of the benefit of Roman unification and cultural advance and sunk back into the Dark Ages under the barbarian hordes overwhelming it from the North. With the Moors came in the fresh stimulus of lively minds, bringing in Arabic the best thinking of ancient Greeks and Romans, the impetus of scholarship and learning, the desire for scientific and philosophic speculation, the aesthetic delight of artistic creation again.
Islamic universities as far apart as Baghdad and Andalusia welcomed Christian and Jewish students, many of whom profited by the instructions to be obtained nowhere else in those days. They were received with generous subventions and assistance by their Muslim hosts, who treated them as honored guests. Dynamics, Statistics, Chemistry, Physics, were among the lessons.
In his "Making of Humanity" Brilioth writes: "Modern European education in all branches stems from the Muslims' curiosity and pertinacity in investigating the secrets of nature."
If our brief summary opens the road for Westerners to the exploration of Eastern discoveries we are content; and can so proceed to Part 3 and an examination of Islam's treatment of some of the social problems which afflict every human community.