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Islamic Society ( 24 Jan 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Golden Age of Muslim Scholars


By Johan Jaaffar

25 January 2014

YOU think your cheque is a recent invention? Or, An innovative by-product of a modern banking system? Think again.

During the time of Caliph Harun Al Rashid (9th century) a Muslim businessman could cash a cheque in Canton, China from his bank in Baghdad. After all, cheque comes from an Arabic word Saqq. As early as the 10th century, a book by Ali Abbas al-Majusi helped revolutionise medical studies in Europe. Christopher Columbus studied maps drawn by Muslims before embarking on his historic journey.

The history of mathematics was redefined by the introduction of algebra by Al-Khwarizmi and perfected by Al-Karaji. Trigonometry was largely attributed to the works of Al-Tusi and Al-Battani.

The earliest magnetic compass is found in the work of a Persian, Muhammad Al-Awfi in his Collection of Stories. Caliph Al-Makmun built what was believed to be the first observatory in human history back in the 9th century. The West learned about vaccination from the Turks some 300 years ago.

Let's talk about things as mundane as coffee, clocks and chess. Every day 1.6 billion cups of coffee are consumed the world over, enough to fill 300 Olympic-sized swimming pools. More than 1,200 years ago, an Arab by the name of Khalid discovered the substance on the slope of a highland in Ethiopia.

In the 13th century, Al-Jazari came out with clocks, including water clocks that defined the way we look at time. Although the idea of chess was nothing new, the Arabs perfected it, and the kings and nobles of the Abbasid Caliphate loved it. The rest as we know is history.

You can find all these facts in an incredible book, 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World, a publication of the Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisations of the United Kingdom. The chief editor is Professor Salim T.S. Al-Hassani and it is co-edited by Elizabeth Woodcock and Rabah Saoud.

It is a fascinating and extremely informative book on inventions attributed to Muslims. It is a journey of intellectual discovery unlike any other. It covers all aspects -- from things you see at home, in schools, markets, hospitals and towns to the matters of the world and the universe.

It discusses the origin of complex issues regarding medicine, astronomy, mathematics and architecture to simple things like the toothbrush, camera, sound system, three-course dinner (yes, that too) and style.

These inventions affected humanity in more ways than one, some significantly, others perhaps marginally. If you know a mosque that later became a university at Fez, Morocco was built by "a devout and pious young woman" by the name of Fatima al-Fihri, you know how Islam positions the importance of education and the role of women.

We all know the illustrious history of Al-Azhar that had given us great scholars like Ibn al-Haytham and Ibn Khaldun, not to mention later reformists that had influenced our very own Kaum Muda (Young Guards) of the early 19th century.

Sadly, very little is known about the contributions made by Muslims in the world today. The glorious history of Muslim empires in the Arab lands and also in Europe had a profound effect on the world of knowledge and scholarship. The Europeans were in their Dark Ages when Islamic knowledge and inventions were blooming.

Muslim scholars were either learning from other traditions -- the Greek, Chinese and Indian -- or translating great works from various sources, or were coming out with brilliant ideas and concepts of disciplines that changed the world of scholarship.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad famously wrote that when the world celebrated its first millennium, the Muslims were at its pinnacle of achievement. Unfortunately 1,000 years later, the Muslims became backward, weak and marginalised. The Prince of Wales Prince Charles in his speech entitled "Islam and the West" spoke about the ignorance as to the debt the West owed to the Islamic world.

Someone challenged the editor of this book "to fill in the gap" -- about the missing knowledge of the glorious Muslim tradition in the world of knowledge. The world post 9-11 further eroded whatever was left of the respect and appreciation of Muslim contributions.

Islamophobia is rearing its ugly head. Islam is perceived as a faith stuck in medieval mentality. Muslims are perceived as only capable of inflicting carnage on others and unto themselves. Muslims today are pale shadows of their glorious past. This is an incredible book that will help readers see Islam in a new perspective.

And to remind Muslims of the need to replicate the era when Muslims were trailblazers in almost all disciplines known to man.

Source: The Strait Times


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