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Decline of Muslim Scholarship-Tragedy

Chapter-3

The Great Tragedy

Decline of Muslim Scholarship:

The great Muslim scientists and scholars mentioned earlier did not study at University of Paris (1170 C.E), Oxford (1167 C.E) or MIT Massachusetts (USA; 1861), they were the product of the Islamic Madaris and Darul- Alooms.  In fact the Europeans picked up the concepts of system of learning, universities and libraries form Muslim Spain, Cairo and Baghdad. The word ‘alumni’ [graduates, old pupils, former students- derivates form Arabic ‘Alim’ (scholar)] and the robes still worn by Alims, the formal dress of graduates at graduation ceremonies of Western institutions are reminder of same legacy.

Segregation of Theological & Scientific Studies:

The great tragedy of Islamic Civilization happened from within, when the Islamic Madaris and Darul-Alooms shifted the priority by concentrating on the study of theological and religious sciences for gaining spiritual heights, discarding the scientific knowledge considering it to be source of evil. Consequently these Muslim institutions of learning are no more producing great scholars and scientists as they had done in the past; rather they are now being blamed as a source of extremism.

Stages of Decline of Scientific Scholarship:

The decline of Muslim scholarship traditions did not occur overnight, it occurred due to the devastation suffered by Muslims in political and military field in there stages spread over about five centuries.

The First Stage (1085-1099 C.E):

The first stage of devastation of Muslim resources, lives, properties, institutions, and infrastructure took place over a period of over one hundred years (1085-1099 C.E). It started with the fall of Muslim Toledo (1085 C.E), Corsica and Malta (1090 C.E), Provence(a region and former province in south east France east of river Rhone) (1050 C.E), Sicily (1091 C.E) and Jerusalem (1099 C.E).

Second Stage (1217-1329 C.E):

Second stage of devastation lasted for over hundred years, in the form of Crusader invasions (1217-1291 C.E) and Mongol invasions (1219-1329 C.E). Crusaders were active throughout the Mediterranean from Jerusalem and west to Muslim Spain. During this period the fall of Muslim Cordoba (1236 C.E), Valencia (1238 C.E) and Seville (1248 C.E) took place. Mongols devastated from the eastern most Muslim frontier, Central and Western Asia, India, Persia to Arab heartland culminating in the fall of Baghdad (1258 C.E) and the end of Abbasid Caliphate. Besides massacre of large number of Muslims in Baghdad, the major scientific institutions, laboratories, libraries, bookstores and infrastructure were destroyed in leading Muslim centers of civilization.

The Third Stage (1492 onwards)

The third stage of devastation of Muslims occurred due to the end of Muslim rule in Spain (1492 C.E) and their forced expulsion (ethnic cleansing). More than one million volumes of Muslim works on science, arts, philosophy and culture were burnt in the public square of Vivarrambla in Granada. With the decline of Muslims in scientific knowledge and its transfer to the West, began the era of Renaissance followed by Reformation and beginning of colonization in Africa, Asia, and the Americas by the Western Civilization.

Ottomans and Mughal Oversight:

Although the Ottomans and Mughal empires were very powerful but they ignored to concentrate on acquisition of scientific knowledge. They even did not take advantage of scientific development taking place in the West. Invention of Printing Press is a case in point. The Jews expelled from Spain were welcomed and accommodated by the Ottomans but their expertise in Printing Press was not used for mass production of books of religious and scientific learning, because the Ulema opposed it. Being cut off form the benefits of science and technology, the Ulema traditionally started opposing every scientific invention. Initially they even opposed the loud speaker, radio, television etc not realizing that every invention can be used for good purpose or for bad purpose.  A knife commonly used for cutting of fruits and vegetables or by a surgeon to save a life while it can also be used by a criminal to kill an other man, but does not make it illegal or Un-Islamic tool.

Harmony between Qur’an and Science:

Islam is a faith based on the Reality and rational thought not on unscientific myths like many other religions.  Allah says; “Soon shall We show them Our signs in the universe and in their own selves, until it becomes clear to them that this Qur’an is indeed the truth. Is it not enough that your Lord is a witness over everything?” (Qur’an;41:53). The learning of religious sciences go along with learning of other branches of knowledge which include social and physical sciences. Islam encourages reasoning, discussions and dialogue. Allah says: “Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for your Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path and who receive guidance.”(Qur’an;16:125). The Qur’an contains more than 6000 ayaats (‘signs’) out of which more than thousand refer to various subjects of science, such as Astronomy, Physics, Geography, Geology, Oceanology, Biology, Botany, Zoology, Medicine, Physiology, Embryology as well as General Science, mostly un known to humanity at the time. It is found that the Qur’anic information on science does not conflict with any of the established scientific fact. It may go against certain scientific hypothesis or theories, which are not grounded in facts as many a times, the science retract its position. The Qur’an speaks about hundreds of things that were not known fourteen hundred year ago once Qur’an was revealed; but they have been proved recently, the details are available in the book ‘Qur’an and Science’ by Dr.Zakir Naik & “The Bible, The Qur’an and Science” by Dr. Maurice Bucaille, some of them are referred here:

Astronomy:

The creation of the universe by ‘The Big Bang’:  “Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of Creation), before We clove them asunder?” (Qur’an;21:30). Initially there was gaseous mass before creation of galaxies: “Moreover, He Comprehended  in His design the sky, and it had been (as) smoke: He said to it and to the earth: “Come ye together willingly or unwillingly.” They said: “We do come (together) in willing obedience.”(Qur’an;41:11). The shape of earth; “And the earth, moreover, hath He made egg shaped.” (Qur’an;79:30). Moon has reflected light and sun has its own light; “And (who) made the moon a light (nur, reflected light) in their midst and made the sun as a (Glorious)Lamp(siraja-own light).(Qur’an;71:16). The Sun Rotates:” It is He Who created the Night and the Day, and the sun and the moon: All (the celestial bodies) swim along, each in its rounded course.” (Qur’an;21:33). “It is not permitted to the sun to catch up the moon, nor can the night outstrip the day: Each (just) swims along in (its own) orbit (according to Law).” (Qur’an;36:40). The other examples are: The sun will extinguish;(Qur’an;36:38,13:2). The expanding nature of universe; (Qur’an;51:47).

Nuclear Science:

Atoms can be divided;(Qur’an;10:61).

Geology:

Mountains are like tent pegs firmly fixed providing stability; (Qur’an;78:6-7,21:31,79:32).

Oceanology:

Darkness in depths of ocean; (Qur’an;24:40).

General Science:

The water cycle;(Qur’an;39:21, 30:24,23:18).

Botany:

Plants & Fruits have male and female; (Qur’an;20:53, 13:3).

Zoology:

The bee and its skills; (Qur’an;16:68-69). Lifestyle and communication of ants; (Qur’an;27:17-18). Honey has healing for humankind; (Qur’an;16:69).

Biology:

Creation of man from water;(Qur’an;25:54). Creation of living being;“ We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?” (Qur’an;21:30). Importance of fingerprints: (Qur’an;75:3-4) and the existence of pain receptors in the skin: (Qur’an;4:56).

Embryology:

Embryological stages; (Qur’an;23:12-14, 75:37-39,82:7-8). Embryo partly formed and partly unformed; (Qur’an;22:5). First sense of hearing developed then sense of sight; (Qur’an;32:9,23:78). Sex determination factor for child; (Qur’an;53:45-46,75:37-39).

Redressing The Great Tragedy:

The great tragedy of Muslim history occurred over five centuries ago, when the study of Islamic sciences was separated from the other branches of knowledge (logic, Mathematics, Sciences (Physical, Behavioral, Social Earth, Biological, Medicine, Social and Technological Sciences), Humanities and Philosophy) in the Islamic learning institutions, considering it be evil and against the spirit of Islam. Althugh Qur’an referes to this knowledge as mentioned above. Gradually the Islamic institutions of learning (Madrasahs, Maktab, Halqa & Dar-ul-Aloom) started teaching the religious sciences only, resultantly now it is found that they are totally cut off from the other branches of knowledge. This is one of the major causes of decline of Islamic Civilization which needs to be redressed. Qur’an frequently refers to ‘signs’ of Allah which can be well understood through scientific knowledge, which besides strengthening the faith of believers will attract the non believers towards Islam.

Balance Between Knowledge of Spiritual and Physical Worlds:

Islam advocates to maintain balance between the life of this world and struggle for the reward in hereafter, thus asceticism and monasticism is not part of Islam. Allah says in Qur’an:“…But the monasticism which they invented for themselves We did not prescribe for them: (We commanded) only the seeking for the Good pleasure of Allah;…(Qur’an;57:27); “Say: Who hath forbidden the (zenah)  adornment of God which He has brought forth for His devotees, and the good things of His providing? Say: “All these things are for the enjoyment of the believers in the life of this world though shared by others; but these shall be exclusively theirs on the Day of Resurrection. Thus do We make Our revelations clear for those who understand. Say: The things that my Lord hath indeed forbidden are: shameful deeds whether open or secret; sins and trespasses against truth or reason; assigning of partners to God for which he hath given no authority; and saying things about God of which you have no knowledge.”(Qur’an;7:32-33). “We have made you (Muslims) a moderate nation so that you may testify against mankind and that your own Messenger may testify against you.”(Qur’an;2:143). “..Our Lord! Give us the good life, both in this world and in the Hereafter..”(Qur’an;2:201).

God has made all that is in the heaven and earth subservient to human for their benefit, Allah says in Qur’an: “It is He Who has made the earth subservient to you, to walk through its tracts and eat of His provided sustenance. To Him is the return at resurrection.”(Qur’an;67:15); “Do you not see that Allah has made subservient to your all that is in the heavens and in the earth, and has lavished on you His evident and hidden favors? Yet there are some people who still argue about Allah without knowledge, without guidance or an enlightening Book.” (Qur’an;31:20).

To harness the creations of Allah, He has blessed the man with intellect and ability to acquire knowledge, not only of religious sciences but also about all other sciences for their benefit. This will enable him to be a good believer and to exploit the blessings of nature which Allah has left to be harnessed by man. The simple example of using sun light and wind to generate electric power, use of satellites for navigation (Global Positioning System) or for communication, is making good use of blessings of Allah (Qur’an;31:20), made possible through the knowledge of physical sciences and other branches. “He is the One Who has set up the stars for you, so that you might find your way thereby in the darkness whether you are on the land or the sea. We have spelled out Our revelations very clearly for people who have knowledge.”(Qur’an;6:97). Here the ‘knowledge’ obviously refers to the knowledge of astronomy (The science of celestial objects, including the earth in relation to them, space, and of the universe as a whole.) Some of the long range intercontinental missiles and spacecraft use ‘Celestial Guidance System’, (immune to jamming or other counter measures) to reach the general are of the target or destination, thereafter the terminal guidance systems takes on. The harsh fact is that the nations which excelled in all types of knowledge are leading the world.

Eradication of Socioeconomic Deprivation & Extremism through Education:

The Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the second source of guidance after Qur’an, he was not only a Messenger who preached the true faith, but was also a military and political leader. His source of knowledge had the Divine origin, the Muslims have to follow the means of knowledge made available by God, through the system of this world. “…Allah never changes the condition of a people until they intend to change it themselves…” (Qur’an;13:11). “That is because Allah has never changed the blessings which He has bestowed on a people until they themselves changed the condition of their souls; verily Allah hears all and knows all.”(Qur’an;8:53).

Muslim societies are still among the most illiterate societies in the world which is the major cause of their socioeconomic deprivation, extremism and sectarianism. In order to change their conditions, they need to make efforts to get mastery over knowledge of science & technology, social sciences as well as the  knowledge of Islamic sciences, as preached and practiced by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Exhibit Islam as Practical & Comprehensive Way of Life:

Islam is a complete way of life, it does not separate the religion form the state and other aspect of life, be it social or political. Hence there is a need to revive the original Islamic institutions of learning (Madrasahs, Maktab, Halqa & Dar-ul-Aloom) according to needs of present age to impart comprehensive knowledge to its students at various levels. This will not only enable them to help earn their livelihood but would also enable them to understand the complexities of political and social sciences to live in the world which is now a global village due to modern modes of communications. The communication gap between the ‘preacher’ and the ‘preached’ will reduce, which will result in batter understanding of the message of Islam by the Muslims and non Muslims alike. The knowledge of the religious and other branches are complimentary to each other, the balance should be maintained. With a common base of religious and other sciences, the advance knowledge for specialization in various disciplines will produce experts to achieve new heights in all fields.

Blending the Knowledge of Theology and Sciences:

The blending of religious and other knowledge at lower and middle levels prior to separation at higher lever for specialization in a particular discipline, would broaden the vision and provide adequate depth to the students of religious and other sciences. They will be able to comprehend the signs of Allah; “He also made subservient to you whatever is between the heavens and the earth; all from Himself. Surely there are signs in this for those who think.”(Qur’an;45:13). It will also help in harnessing the nature and discover new mysteries by pondering the Qur’an as per divine commandment: “This Book (Al-Qur’an) which We have sent down to you (O Muhammad) is highly blessed, so that they may ponder upon its verses and the men of understanding may learn a lesson from it.”(Qur’an;38:29). It will not be appropriate to conclude that the knowledge of religious and other branches be abruptly mixed up at the institutions of religious as well as social and physical sciences. In order to avoid total confusion and collapse, this infusion has to be through a well orchestrated gradual process. The advanced level of specialization in respective fields of knowledge has to be maintained to achieve excellence.

Muslims should Revive Traditon of Contributions for Development of Humanity:

The ever increasing number of inventions has made the humanity to enjoy the fruits of scientific developments. It is high time that Muslims get out of nostalgia and join the mainstream developed world to contribute in the scientific development and social sciences. With very strong heritage and tradition of learning it is not difficult to catch up, if a good start is made now, the Islamic civilization will again be able to produce great scholars like al-Biruni, Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi, Avicenna (Ibn Sina), at-Tabari, Avempace (Ibn Bajjah), Averroës (Ibn Rushd)  and many  more, who should contribute towards their own as well as development of humanity as whole. This will also attract the non believers to the faith of Islam as a practical and dynamic source of guidance for the good life here and hereafter according to the guidance provided by Allah though His last Messenger to the mankind. The Qur’anic prayer: “O’ Lord! Increase my knowledge”(Qur’an;20:114), is to be supported with the practical efforts by the Muslims.

Conclusion:

Islam is the faith based upon knowledge, reason and wisdom, for it is ultimately knowledge of the Oneness of God combined with faith that saves man in this world and hereafter. The Qur’an is full of verses urging man to use his intellect, to deliberate, to think and to know, for the objective of human life is to ascertain the Truth, which could be achieved by recognizing and exploring the sings of Allah all around. Hence it becomes obligatory for all the Muslims both men and women to acquire the knowledge of all sciences including the religious sciences to understand the signs of Allah and to harness the powers of nature. In early days of Islam, the knowledge of din (faith) and dunya (worldly affairs) were not separate entities.The early Muslim education emphasized practical studies, such as the application of technological expertise to the development of irrigation systems, architectural innovations, textiles, iron and steel products, earthenware, and leather products; the manufacture of paper and gunpowder; the advancement of commerce; and the maintenance of a merchant marine. Thus during first half of millennia of its history, Islamic civilization has been keen to gain knowledge, be it physics, chemistry (alchemi), algebra, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, social sciences, philosophy or any other field. A critical analysis  reveals that most of Muslim scientists and scholars of medieval period were also eminent scholars of Islam and theology. The earlier Muslim scientific investigations were based on the inherent link between the physical and the spiritual spheres, but they were informed by a process of careful observation and reflection that investigated the physical universe. The decline of Muslim scholarship coincided with the early phases of the European intellectual awakening that these translations were partly instrumental in bringing about. The Europeans picked up the concepts of system of learning, universities and libraries form Muslim Spain, Cairo and Baghdad.

Islam established the right of intellectual freedom for both men and women. As long as Islam preserved its immaculate character, it proved itself to be the main defender and promoter of knowledge and civilization and the ardent ally of intellectual liberty. The moment extraneous elements attached themselves to it, it lagged behind in the race of progress. The great tragedy of Muslim history occurred over five centuries ago, when the study of Islamic sciences was separated from the other branches of knowledge in the Islamic learning institutions, considering it be evil and against the spirit of Islam. The women were discouraged to acquire knowledge. The Ottomans and Mughal empires also ignored to concentrate on acquisition of scientific knowledge. Islam is a faith based on the Reality and rational thought not on unscientific myths like many other religions. Islam advocates to maintain balance between the life of this world and struggle for the reward in hereafter, thus asceticism and monasticism is not part of Islam. The blending of religious and other knowledge at lower and middle levels prior to separation at higher lever for specialization in a particular discipline, would broaden the vision and provide adequate depth to the students of religious and other sciences. This will enable the Muslims to regain the lost leadership, prestige and respect.

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