WE HAVE heard different narratives and stories about the history of the decline of the Islamic civilization. Most of the time, these narratives shared to us by our fellow Muslims, put the blame on the West and other religious groups and nations of the reason why our civilization failed.
Like the Bangsamoro people, Muslims around the globe take pride in their past. We take pride in the great Islamic civilizations as told to us by our Ustadzes in our study of Islam.
I read an interesting blog in the internet that says, “Nostalgia is soothing, but to meet the challenges of the future, one should learn from the past, not live in it.” When we look at our past, we are proud to say that Islam contributed a lot in the field of education, culture, and scientific discoveries like mathematics and astronomy.
Muslims have a strong sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past. Let us mention some of the Islamic contributions in the world:
“Trigonometry, Sine, Tangent, and Co-Tangent: The Arabs developed these functions in trigonometry and Ibn Moosaa’s work Hisaab-Al Jab-Wal Muqaabala (The Calculation of Integration and Equation) presented 800 examples in the 8th century CE. His work was translated from Arabic into Latin and until the 16th century CE, it was Europe’s main textbook on the subject.
Algebra and Geometry: Muhammad bin Moosaa Al-Khawaarizmi is considered to be one of the founders of Algebra. The word “Algorithm” or “Algorizm” is a corruption of his name or the name of the town Khwaarizm (Kheva), in what is now Uzbekistan, where he was born. He adopted the use of “cipher” (zero) that was devised in India some centuries earlier, a numeral of fundamental importance, leading up to the so-called arithmetic of positions and the decimal system. The very word “zero” is a derivative of the Arabic “sifr” or “cipher”. His pioneering work on the system of numerals is well known as “Algorithm,” or “Algorizm.”
In addition to introducing the Arabic numerals, he developed several arithmetical procedures, including operations on fractions. Another great mathematician was Omar Khayyaam, who offered to the world geometric and algebraic solutions of the second degree. Naseeruddeen wrote the treatise on quadrilateral trigonometry, as well as plain and spherical geometry.
Physics and Chemistry: Kamaaluddeen examined the refraction of sunlight in raindrops and offered an explanation of the genesis of primary and secondary rainbows. The story of the invention of the pendulum and the presentation of a water clock to Emperor Charlemagne by Haaroon Ar-Rasheed is well known. The great historian Gibbons wrote in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Volume 5) that the science of chemistry owes its origin and improvements to the Muslims.
Science of Mechanics: The development of the science of mechanics in Islam is an act of genius. Moosaa bin Shaakir described one hundred pieces of mechanical equipment in his book of artifices. Other outstanding Muslim treatises included Al Kitaab Fi Ma`rifat Al-Hiya Al-Handasiyyah (The Book of the Knowledge of Ingenious Geometrical Contrivances) by Abul Fiaz bin Al Raz and Al Kitaab Meezanal-Hikmah (The Book of Balance and Wisdom) by Al-Khazini. He also did work on accurate weighing, and determination of the specific gravity of substances.
Camera Obscura: In the field of optics, Camera Obscura was invented by Ibn Haytham in 1038 CE. But we need to understand and face the challenges we encounter in our present context.
With advent of modernity, globalization, and effects of climate change we need to “re-invent” ourselves grounded on our Islamic values and principles that are also deeply rooted in our culture and traditions that respects the dignity of every human being.
Our world has truly become so interdependent with other communities, cultures, religions, and nations. Our natural, environmental as well as cultural developments have global effects and therefore there is no insulation from circumstances and events. We have a “small word” now that everyone affects everyone else.
In this present context, our Ummah has to realize we need a new lens or a paradigm in looking at our historical narratives – local and global perspective.
I understand that most of us feel that our Ummah is under attack by different groups for a long time. It is easy for us to take emotional refuge in the past glories. But this is a backward move where we have selective memory and selective reading of history. This attitude addresses temporary comfort, because as a community this indulgence is a recipe for our continued downfall.
Unfortunately, in the past several decades, the move of having a political ideology of Islam and the establishment of an Islamic state is counterproductive. We need to look back of our history and discern how scholars helped in knowledge generation for the common good of humanity.
It is time for us to look at the challenges of modernity with courage and confidence not with timidity and intolerance. We must emulate the pioneers and the great scholars during the Golden Age of Islamic civilization. They did not shun the ideas and lessons from the great civilizations that preceded them like the Indians, Persians and Greeks. They encouraged debate of opposing ideas through research and dialogue.
We need to encourage our youth to engage our society through civil, thoughtful and fearless debate of issues and concerns that affects us all. Let us encourage our youth to have a different paradigm and be proactive in their respective societies.