The rise of the Muslims to the zenith of civilization in a period of four centuries was based on Al-Islam’s emphasis on learning. This is obvious when one takes a look at the Qur’an and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) which are filled with references to learning, education, observation, and the use of reason. The very first verse of the Qur’an revealed to the Prophet on the night of power (Laylathul Qadr) in the month of Ramadhan in 611 CE reads:
“Read: In the name of thy Lord who created man from a clot. Read: And thy Lord is the Most Generous Who taught by the pen, Taught man that which he knew not.” (Translation of Qur’an 96:1-5)
“And they shall say had we but listened or used reason, we would not be among the inmates of the burning fire.” (Translation of Quran 67:10)
“Are those who have knowledge and those who have no knowledge alike? Only the men of understanding are mindful.” (Translation of Quran 39:9)
The Quran exhorts the Muslims to scientific research:
“And whoso bringeth the truth and believeth therein such are the dutiful.” (Translation of Qur’an 39:33)
Every Muslim man’s and every Muslim woman’s prayer should be: “My Lord! Enrich me with knowledge.” (Translation of Qur’an 20:114)
The pursuit of knowledge and the use of reason based on sense of observation is made obligatory on every Muslim man and woman.
The following traditions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) supplement the foregoing teachings of the Qur’an in the following way:
Seek knowledge “even though it be in China”. “The acquisition of knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim, whether male or female.”
“The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.” “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”
“God has revealed to me, Whoever walks in the pursuit of knowledge I facilitate for him the way to heaven”.
“The best form of worship is the pursuit of knowledge.”
“Scholars should endeavour to spread knowledge and provide education for people who have been deprived of it. For, where knowledge is hidden, it disappears.”
Someone asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) : “Who is the biggest scholar?” He replied: “He who is constantly trying to learn from others, for a scholar is ever hungry for more knowledge.”
“Seek for knowledge and wisdom, for whatever the vessel from which it flows, you will never be the loser.”
“Thinking deep for one hour (with sincerity) is better than 70 years of (mechanical) worship.”
“Worship without knowledge has no goodness in it and knowledge without understanding has no goodness in it.”
And the recitation of the Qur’an, which is not thoughtful has no goodness in it. “To listen to the words of the learned and to instill unto others the lessons of science is better than religious exercises.”
“Acquire knowledge: it enables its possessor to distinguish right from the wrong, it lights the way to heaven; it is our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when friendless; it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is an ornament among friends and an armour against enemies.”
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was able to unite the Arab tribes who had been torn by revenge, rivalry, and internal fights, and produced a strong nation, that acquired and ruled simultaneously the two known empires at that time, namely the Persian and Byzantine Empires. The Islamic Empire extended from the Atlantic Ocean on the West to the borders of China on the East. Only 80 years after the death of their Prophet the Muslims crossed to Europe to rule Spain for more than 700 years. The Muslims preserved the cultures of the conquered lands.
The Islamic Empire for more than 1,000 years remained the most advanced and civilized nation in the world. This is because Al-Islam stressed the importance and respect of learning, forbade destruction, developed in Muslims the respect for authority, discipline, and tolerance for other religions. The Muslims recognized excellence and hungered intellectually. The teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah drove many Muslims to their accomplishments in sciences and medicine.
By the 10th century their zeal and enthusiasm for learning resulted in all essential Greek medical and scientific writings being translated into Arabic in Damascus, Cairo, and Baghdad. Arabic became the international language of learning and diplomacy. The centre of scientific knowledge and activity shifted eastward, and Baghdad emerged as the capital of the scientific world. The Muslims became scientific innovators with originality and productivity. The rise of Muslims to the zenith of civilization lasted over a thousand years. During this millennium Muslims contributed vastly to the enhancements of arts, science and cultural growth of mankind.
For example Islamic medicine is one of the most famous and best known facets of Islamic civilization, and in which the Muslims most excelled. The Muslims were great torch-bearers of international scientific research. Some of the best and most eloquent praises of science ever written came from the pens of Muslim scientists who considered their work to be acts of worship.
The same motives led to the establishment of Al-Azhar (800 C.E), the first university in the world. They hit the “source ball of knowledge” over the fence to Europe. In the words of Campbell, “The European medical system is Arabian not only in origin but also in its structure. The Arabs are the intellectual forbearers of the Europeans.” In fact the Muslims are directly responsible for the European Renaissance.
At the apex of its glory around the 10th century Cordoba, the Capital of Muslim Spain, had pavements, street lighting, three hundred public baths, parks, palaces, one hundred thousand houses and seventy libraries. There were close to half a million books in a single library whereas the whole of France contained much less than this figure. The Muslim physicians performed complicated eye surgery 600 years earlier than in Europe. The Muslim scientists used paper 200 years before Europe, they had paper mills, banks, police stations and invented spherical trigonometry (indispensable for space sciences) in the late 10th century, solved equations of the third and fourth degree, binomials to the nth degree, and developed differential and integral mathematics. They discovered the force of gravitation, blood circulation, laws of motion, and even developed the theory of evolution and taught it in their universities. They measured the circumferences of the earth and value for specific gravities correct to three decimal places almost a thousand years ago. There is hardly a field of knowledge where Muslims did not research, think, or investigate and explore or invent something exemplary.
The status of the Muslim Ummah is of great concern to all the Muslim intellectuals. No one can deny that the Muslim Ummah occupies a position which is at the lowest rung of the ladder in the world. The share of the Muslims in Nobel Prizes and the Olympic Games is close to nothing. Muslims contributions to literature both general and scientific is marginal at the best. It is very sad to see the status of Muslims in the present world at the bottom. Muslims have been economically exploited and politically subjugated. Economically, Muslims are poor; in education they are backward; and in science and technology they are marginal. Even very small countries export arms, medicine and technology to the Muslim countries. The average literacy rate is around 38 per cent and in rural areas in Muslim countries, the illiteracy rate among Muslim women is 93 to 97 per cent. This is contradictory to the message of the Quran and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as mentioned earlier. The Muslims educated in the western world know about Western books and scholars but they know very little about Muslims books and the intellectual achievements of the Muslims. The mean rate for literacy for the Muslims is 35 per cent lower than that for the Third World, and 40 per cent below the worlds average.
The data suggests that almost two-thirds of the Muslims worldwide are illiterate. This low level of literacy, evidently, is responsible for the grinding poverty, the backwardness, and the deplorable conditions under which the vast majority of the Muslims live at present. Pakistan is the most advanced Muslim country in science and technology among Muslim nations. However, the literacy rate for Pakistan, home to the second largest Muslim Ummah in the world, ranks the lowest among the most populous nations, is even below the average for the Muslim nations. What is shocking is India the second most populous nation in the world, has a significantly higher rate of literacy than Pakistan and Bangladesh. At one time the three countries constituted a single country (British India) with a literacy rate of 12 per cent on the eve of the partition in 1947.
Below is a partial list of some of the reknowned Muslim scientists: