Europe's Debt to Islam
During the Middle Ages the Muslims were the leaders of the intellectual world. They were the pioneers in the various fields of knowledge and learning. Later when Europe embarked on its quest for learning, all its knowledge was derived from Islamic sources.
The Muslims Contribution to Knowledge.
The Muslims made a two fold contribution to knowledge. They preserved all learning of the ancient world in Arabic translation. They also made their own contributions. Islam produced the greatest scientists, the greatest physicians, the greatest philosophers, the greatest geographers and the greatest historians of the middle ages. Example, Jabir, Jahiz and Baytar in science; Omar Khayyam and Nasir-ud-Din Tusi in mathematics and astronomy.
In the Middle Ages, the Universities in the Muslim lands were the greatest centres of learning. These Universities, particularly those in Spain were attended by scholars in Europe.
The study of Geography began with the Prophet (S) himself. The Quran enjoined the believers to travel on the earth and see the signs of Allah. This gave rise to the study of geography. Indeed, in the course of his travels, many of the observations that the Prophet (S) made, had been of considerable geographical interest.
The Qur'an presented a new vision of history. It referred to history as a Sign of Allah, and wanted the faithful to learn from the history of the previous people. Right from the beginning, the Muslims developed a sense of history, and as they grew in power and made history, the discipline came to be developed by them as a science.
Islam revolutionised human thought and as such there is much in the Qur'an and Hadith, which is the source material for philosophy. The Prophet (S) always encouraged the believers to make full use of their intellect in understanding the things around them.
The Qur'an says
...Verily in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the differences of night and day are signs for men of understanding.
That awakened a spirit of enquiry among the Muslims. Indeed, during the Middle Ages, the Muslims were the leaders of the world in the matter of science. Physics, Chemistry, Botany, Zoology, and various scientific inventions, such as the Mariner's compass, the telescope etc., all came from the Muslims.
Under Islam, Allah was acknowledged as the sovereign of the earth, as well as of the entire universe. That created among the Muslims an interest in astronomy. The Prophet (S) is credited with the miracle of splitting up the moon in two parts. That created in the Muslims the urge to promote the study of astronomy.
Medicine began with the Prophet (S) himself. Islam enjoined cleanliness, and as such there is much in the Qur'an which forms the basis of hygiene. The Prophet (S) said that to visit the sick was an act of piety. Medical care was thus promoted by the Muslims as a matter of religious obligation. The Prophet (S) himself had considerable medical knowledge; in fact certain medical teachings are attributed to him which have been collected and annotated in a book entitled al Tibb al Nabawi (The Medicine of the Prophet).
Islam believed in the Day of Reckoning. Islam encouraged its believers to maintain proper accounts. Islam propounded the doctrine of Tauhid -unity of Allah in the midst of diversity. These factors were responsible for the promotion of mathematics among the Muslims.
ISLAM AND TRADE
The Qur'an talked about trade in favourable terms. The Prophet (S) himself was a trader. Indeed, as the Muslim empire grew, the scope for trade increased accordingly. Foreign conquests brought more wealth to the Muslims; a lot of which was invested in trade. As the empire expanded, new cities were set up which consequently became important centres of trade and commerce.
Commercial Activities of the State
The Islamic states undertook commercial activities on a large scale. Caravan routes were improved; halting places were provided at convenient places along the caravan routes; there was free movement of goods within the empire from one region to another; and there were no inland levies. The Muslim cities had very well stocked markets and State regulation ensured stability in prices.
Muslim countries executed commercial treaties with non-Muslim states, which resulted in the Muslim traders dominating world trade.
An inland route led to Central Asia and China; known as the Silk Route. Another inland route led to Russia. A third route led to Constantinople and then to Eastern Europe. A route led to Afghanistan and then to India. Another route led from Egypt to Sudan. A route from Morocco led to Ghana and other countries of West Africa. From Spain a route led to France and the states of the Danube Valley.
Communications by Sea
The Mediterranean Sea was surrounded by Muslim countries on three sides, namely Syria, Africa and Spain. The Muslims went as far as China, Korea and Japan.
They established a colony at Canton in China. During the tenth century, an Arab colony sprang up near Bombay in India. The Muslim merchants had colonies on the east coast of Africa and they had commercial contacts with Madagascar and Zanzibar.
In the Middle Ages, the Muslim countries were the leading industrial and manufacturing countries of the world. They made paper, textiles, silk, glassware, carpets, tapestries, handicrafts, leather goods etc. All such goods were exported to the various countries in the east and the west. The Muslim merchants brought silk from China and spices from India. They imported furs and timber from Europe, as well as slaves. These also came from Central Asia and Africa.
In Muslim society, merchants enjoyed a high social status; they had international contacts and commanded respect in foreign courts. They were also very popular throughout the world for their fair dealings.
During the Middle Ages, the Muslims were the most advanced people in the world. While in Europe even the Kings could not read or write, in the Muslim countries, the common man could read and write. Educational institutions and libraries were to be found all over the Muslim empire.
This thirst for knowledge then spread to the non-Muslim countries, who also began to set up various educational institutions and libraries etc.