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Islam’s glorious past and difficult present

It is a shame that Islam today is widely associated either with extremist behaviour, or terrorism, or singled out population facing incredible odds defending their life, their faith, and their intellectual reason – depending on which part of the world’s Muslims reside.

However, it wasn’t anything like that in the past. Infact, at one point the muslim community had contributed so much to the world that its achievements cannot be measured. Over the history of this planet, there has been times and places where nations, and ideologies have excelled in the field of mathematical and scientific discovery. And Islam was no stranger to both mathematical and scientific discovery.

Golden Age of Islam

13th century illustration depicting a public library in Baghdad, from the Maqamat Hariri. Bibliotheque Nationale de France

The intellectual center of the world, during the short period of 8th Century to 13th Century, was Baghdad. This period is traditionally understood to have begun with the inauguration of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, where scholars from various parts of the world with different cultural backgrounds were mandated to gather and translate all of the world’s classical knowledge into Arabic*.


Though the list of achievements would be way too long to list in one post, I’ll attempt to impress some to the readership

  • Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (Named Rhazes) : Early proponent of experimental medicine & recommended using control for clinical research. He said: “If you want to study the effect of bloodletting on a condition, divide the patients into two groups, perform bloodletting only on one group, watch both, and compare the results.”**

  • Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi : The early originator of Algebra, Algorithms,(Notice how ‘Al’ appears in these names) and Numerals  (Also, or more correctly associated as Arabic Numerals)

  • Most constellations named out there have Arabic Names.

  • Rhazes stated that nerves had motor or sensory functions, describing 7 cranial and 31 spinal cord nerves. He assigned a numerical order to the cranial nerves from the optic to the hypoglossal nerves. He classified the spinal nerves into 8 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 3 sacral, and 3 coccygeal nerves. He used this to link clinical signs of injury to the corresponding location of lesions in the nervous system.***

Where did it Change

There are different theories as to what happened. Some say the invasion of the crusaders and Mongols, who destroyed the libraries and the madrasas as a reason. I feel it happened because Science and Mathematics were overtaken by revelation. And the person most attributed to that is Al-Ghazali.

Al-Ghazali has been referred to by some historians as the single most influential Muslim after the Islamic prophet Muhammad.**^ Out of Al-Ghazali philosophy, you get mathematics attributed to the work of the devil.****

Today, things have become so different

There are a total of 10 Nobel Prize winners of the Muslim Faith, out of a total of 900 (as of 2015).*^


My suggestions to my Muslim Brothers and Sisters

  1. Faith is personal. Just like Patriotism. Every faith should be respected.
  2. Don’t participate in the fight against terror – Lead it! Lead it strongly, aggressively, and mercilessly. If you love your faith, you should realize that the people attacking it are not on the outside – they are within.
  3. Urge your religious and political leaders to take decisive action against people misrepresenting your religion worldwide. If you don’t, then someone else will. And that will become a strong ingredient in the recipe of exploitation.
  4. Revive your scholars, scientists and engineers. Let them have an open mind and lead the world of science and mathematics. This age is known as the modern renaissance. You should be a part of it.


*Vartan Gregorian, “Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith”, Brookings Institution Press, 2003, pg 26–38

**“The Air of History (Part IV): Great Muslim Physicians Al Rhazes”. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

***“Insights into neurologic localization by Rhazes, a medieval Islamic physician”. National Institutes of Health.

**^Watt, W. Montgomery (1953). The Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazali. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.

**** https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4316

*^ http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/


About Shobhit Dixit

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