Visible Helpers of the Islamic World

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House of Wisdom

Scholars broadly agreed that for much of the medieval period Islamic societies led the world in both technology and science. During the dark ages of medieval Europe, incredible scientific advances were made in the Muslim world. Islam was producing great minds from places like Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus and Cordoba. New disciplines emerged—Algebra, trigonometry, chemistry and agriculture. Major leaps in medicine, astronomy and engineering helped opened new windows for more opportunities. Arabic text replaced Greek as the favored font for wisdom. But this high status didn’t last for very long.

By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Islam had begun slowing down in science. Although by this time, medieval Christian Europe was beginning to take up the leading role — what specifically led to the decline of science in Islam has remained for a long time a subject for debate amongst scholars. Some have attributed this decline to strong religiosity driven by the start of the Crusades. Western scholarship reasonably assumes that followers of Islam who inhabited those territories most affected by the Crusade had to move towards a less tolerant version of Islam. This line of explanation, however, acknowledges that certain versions of Islam responded overwhelmingly well to popular demand for traditionalism while at the same time discouraging independent scientific inquiry amongst its own adherents.

City of Baghdad

We didn’t see European Muslims experiencing decline in science as did their Middle Eastern brothers, although there was crisis in Europe. Concerning this, we know what happened because history informs us that around the same time, Europe had begun the great process of reformation. And the formidable Roman Empire had weakened almost the entire continent. Still, Islam in the West flourished in Spain and continued to some degree in its scientific pursuits.

Another view which I think is equally reasonable but perhaps less conventional is that at certain time in the Islamic world, there was increase in the demand for religious services. This discovery adds to one other fact, that for the first time during this era the Islamic world began to see the emergence of madrasas. And this drew heavily upon human resources to provide the type of services needed. Moreover, those who helped provided those services had to had been religious elites who were there to supervise the ordinary day-to-day persons who typically provided the direct-care both for the poor and illiterates. What this means is that the idea of helping a fellow human, gradually took precedence over science. In order words, the desire to help one’s fellowman became much more appealing to adherents of this simple faith- based religion. Thus, began the decline in the proportion of works on scientific topics.


A third explanation argues that an increase in the popularity of mystical Islam —not the political empowerment of religious leaders— was the most consequential aspect of the surge in mysticism. Yet recent scholarship increasingly links the rise of Sufism to the institutional changes of the Revival, suggesting that the surge in Sufism after the Revival should be viewed as a “downstream outcome” of the political empowerment of traditionalist religious leaders rather than as an independent event.

It’s beyond me, however, to deal with this issue in any conclusive manner, about what exactly led to the scientific “fallback.” But I sense that it might help to look back upon the life of some of the World’s most outstanding Visible Helpers. men who were Muslims, and who, by some considerable personal effort made the world a better place for all of us. For example, the great Islamic teacher and statesman; Ibn Khaldun who died 1406, in Egypt, but whose influence led Samarkand to “become a late intellectual center,” was no ordinary Muslim. Therefore, it’s no wild jump either, to link the decline of science to the death of this great man who, together with men such as Muhammad iban Musa al-Khwarizmi; the Persian mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, geographer and scholar in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, whose great scientific contribution helped led the whole world towards civilization, and mankind into understanding a little more of nature. It’s for this reason that I say that Islam has contributed much more to Western Civilization than perhaps any other religion.

When one look back at the life and accomplishments of those great men, it then becomes easy to say with certain degree of confidence, that science after these saintly men was no longer a choice of aggressive undertaking in the Islamic world.

I think, however, that there are many proxies out there which have been floating around for ages, each presenting itself as the best explanation for what led to the “slowdown.” But among the many hypothesis, there are other more convincing versions including the rise of the Turkish tribes, such as the Seljuk, a powerful force that radically influenced Islam, which I find more credible as part of the factors leading to the “slowdowns.”

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