Islam in relation to Science and Development

Islam and Science and Development

I have been watching some series on about ancient inventions.  The inventions from the Chinese and Classical period are impressive and many of the things that we think were invented in the last 500 years were invented earlier.  There is also a series on ancient Islamic inventions.  The narrators go on and on gushing about how ingenious and marvelous these inventions are and some are impressive.  Still, considering the size and wealth of Muslim civilization what I saw in the series is actually a bit disappointing.  There are water machines which were inspired by similar machines in ancient Rome, and there are several machines to raise water which are also elaborations on existing technology.  Gunpowder development was also derivative from the Chinese.  Probably the most impressive was a type of torpedo, which actually appears to be original.  However, as far as I know, it must not have been fully perfected or developed since it never became popular.  In sum most inventions were simply developing on existing technology.  One would think that a civilization with the heft of the old Islamic world would have produced a bit more during hundreds of years.  Both the ancient Indian, Greco/Roman and Chinese civilizations were vastly more fertile and creative.

It appears that in the early Muslim period, when it burst out of Arabia and conquered many civilizations, Islamic culture was positively influenced by the sophistication of the conquered, which when combined with its victories, made Islamic culture relatively open, creative and even generous.  Islam was young and fresh and confident.  There was a tradition of Ishtihad, or questioning and there were many interpretations of Islam.  All of this helped promote an atmosphere of relative openness conducive to development and advancement.

Still, by the 12th and 13th centuries Islam lost its openness and became increasingly rigid, theocratic, tyrannical, closed, intolerant and disinterested in the ways of the infidels.  Basically once it overcame the sophistication of the conquered civilizations and it slowly devolved back to its Arabic roots.  And for nearly 1000 years Islamic societies have been steeped in a funk of fatalism, stagnation and repression dominated by a religion that controls every aspects society and people´s lives and is unchangeable, unreformable, unadaptable, unmodernizable and unquestionable.  Muslims are not encouraged to question how things work since everything is little more than the will of God and everything can be learned by studying the Koran.  Education is traditionally dominated by memorizing the Koran in classical Arabic, with little to no attention placed on anything else including critical thinking.  The whole society is set up obey the power structure.  It is not surprising that for the last 700 years Muslim societies have contributed next to nothing to humanity.

Muslims are unwilling to admit this and so the narrative is created in which the Muslims actually did more than we suppose because the infidel west has hidden the “real” achievements of Islamic civilization.  They tend to exaggerate the wonders and contributions of Muslim civilization.  Dishonesty and image polishing are far too common features of Muslim propaganda.  Muslim organizations often send the message that we want to hear that Islam is all about peace, tolerance, harmony, etc., while hiding their real intentions of conquest and domination.  As their accomplices unfortunately we have far too many western apologists (useful fools) who are only too eager to assist them in this endeavor, either out of guilt, fear, a desire for Muslim grant money or votes, or just going with the PC flow.

To Muslims the fact that Islamic societies have fallen so far behind must be a hard reality to face, for how can the infidel, who has shun the one true religion, be doing better than the noble Muslim who must be favored by God?  Especially true in a word where everything depends on God´s active intervention.

I see this line of argument all the time with Muslims, who probably are decent people and also want desperately to believe that Islam is really a noble and humane religion.  When confronted with the truth about the evils of Mohammad, for instance they desperately try to deny it or rationalize it away.  The truth is just too difficult to face and must be denied.  Other Islamic organizations are more cynical and know exactly what they are doing with their disinformation campaigns.

Some interesting videos below.

To see an explanation of the closing of the Muslim mind look below:


And why Islamic societies did not develop beyond a certain level:

“We can witness the lack of interest in “useless” theoretical knowledge among Muslims beginning around the 14th century, and continuing well into our times. Even Ibn Khaldun, the most celebrated thinker of the Muslim Middle Ages, showed only mild curiosity about goings-on elsewhere in the world:

“We learn by report that in the lands of the Franks on the north shores of the sea, philosophical sciences are much in demand, their principles are being revived, the circles for teaching them are numerous, and the number of students seeking to learn them is increasing”. [2]

But lbn Khaldun did not see this as an alarming development or an occasion for trying to emulate the Franks. On the contrary, he remained bitterly opposed to the study of philosophy as well as alchemy. His attitudes reflect the’ mood of his time, which had lost the spirit of free inquiry.

The same lack of curiosity was shown by subsequent generations of Muslims. We see this in the attitude of the Turkish Ottomans who, in the sixteenth century, had established an extensive and magnificent empire. Ottoman rulers did recognize the utility of some recent technological inventions of the West and they even appropriated some of these. But they were not inclined to allow advances in thought or to recognize that technology was a consequence of scientific thinking. This was observed, for example, by Ghiselin de Busbecq, ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire in Istanbul, in a letter dated 1560 in which he wrote that:

“no nation has shown less reluctance to adopt the useful invention of others; for example, they have appropriated to their own use large and small cannons and many other of our discoveries. They have, however, never been able to bring themselves to print books and set up public clocks. They hold that their scriptures, that is, their sacred books, would no longer be scriptures if they were printed; and if they established public clocks, they think that the authority of their muezzins and their ancient rites would suffer diminution” [3]

The general lack of interest among Ottoman Muslims in recently discovered wonders of science is also reflected in an embassy report by Mustafa Hatti Efendi, who went on a mission to Vienna in 1748. While he was there, the Turkish entourage was invited by the Emperor to visit an observatory where various strange devices and objects were kept. Efendi and his group were not impressed:

“….The third contrivance consisted of small glass bottles which we saw them strike against stone and wood without breaking them. Then they put fragments of flint in the bottles, whereupon these finger-thick bottles, which had withstood the impact of stone, dissolved like flour. When we asked the meaning of this, they said that when glass was cooled in cold water straight from the fire, it became like this. We ascribe this preposterous answer to Frankish trickery”. [4] “


There is an exhibition valled 1001 Islamic inventions which is travelling around the world.  On the surface it sounds good except that when one looks more closely it becomes apparent that the exhibition is full of errors and distortions (see below).  It also pretends to be dedicated to openness, critical thinking, the truth, multiculturalism, fair play, and to be free from political or religious aims.

The reality is that the exhibition is just the opposite and is a classic bit of misleading, dishonest, Arab/Muslim centric, religious and political propaganda.  It is not really interested in setting the record straight, but instead in creating straw men, lying, and attributing anything and everything to Islam when it suits their purposes.

Essentially none of the inventions highlighted came from Arabia or Arabs.  Instead they came from the Greeks, Romans, Indians, and Chinese.  Or they came from the Egyptians or Persians, who were often newly converted to Islam, but were working from an older and more sophisticated pre-Islamic tradition, and also had a large non-Muslim population which provided a good part of the “Muslim” inventions.  When the “pure” Arabian values were reimposed in the 13th century, Islam devolved back into its roots and returned to backwardness and stagnation where it remains today.

What upsets me is that the distortions and blatant propaganda of the 1001 Inventions Exhibit are not called to account by Westerners, but instead we see a whole cadre of breathless useful fools only to eager to praise the exhibit to the skies.  That the Muslims are sneaky and dishonest is bad enough, but that we eagerly facilitate them in their deception is worse.

For a critique on the “Muslim” inventions please click below.

“These past few years have seen many inventions falsely claimed and attributed to Islamic inventors, which in fact either existed in pre-Islamic eras, were invented by other cultures, or both. Such claims have even been forced upon the unsuspecting public in a nationwide tour which opened with an exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and the University of Manchester, England. To celebrate this ‘momentous’ series of events, an article titled “How Islamic inventors changed the world” was written by Paul Vallely and published in The Independent on the 11th of March 2006. This shameless piece of propaganda has received much praise from Muslims and is still being widely circulated on Islamic websites, forums, blogs, and is even used as a source (to validate false claims of Islamic inventions) in over twenty[1] separate articles on Wikipedia. This article boldly opened with the following statement: “From coffee to cheques and the three-course meal, the Muslim world has given us many innovations that we take for granted in daily life. As a new exhibition opens, Paul Vallely nominates 20 of the most influential- and identifies the men of genius behind them.[2] This article lists and examines all twenty of these “Islamic inventors/inventions that changed the world” and in doing so, it will expose the lengths some will sink to in order to appease the Islamists….

… The article written by Paul Vallely is fundamentally misleading. It omits, distorts, and makes blunders over the most basic of historical facts to give the reader a false impression. It leaves you wondering what could have possibly motivated him into writing such a deceptive piece of journalism? This exhibition claimed to have shown 1001 Islamic inventions. If the best twenty are proven lies, what of the other 981? Should not the Museum of Science and Industry and the University of Manchester search out and preserve the truth instead of helping sites like perpetuate lies and rob other cultures of the recognition they rightfully deserve? If this is the sort of lies Islamists are ready to propagate openly with the approval and endorsement of Authorities, Universities and so many sponsors, then what other lies do they feed to children at the Muslim schools, and to young adults at mosques? Why are Western governments and the self-loathing Westerners who continue to perpetuate these lies via websites and forums, so eager to appease Muslims and show that their culture produced superior inventions by taking rightful credits from other civilizations such as ancient China, ancient Rome and pre-Islamic Egypt? Regardless of Paul Vallely’s factually devoid attempt at altering the worlds history in order to show Islam in a better light and his backhanded attempt to belittle the West and its historical heritage, it remains painfully obvious that scientific and literary progress is slow or stagnant in the Islamic world specifically due to the Islamic faith and its restrictions upon adherents.

Sir Isaac Newton, who was listed by Michael H. Hart as the second most influential figure in history, was a devout Christian, but his discoveries are never referred to as “Christian discoveries.” Indeed this recent labeling of inventions by the supposed religious beliefs of their inventors is a rather peculiar practice. If the same were to be done for inventions created by the followers of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or even Graeco-Roman Paganism, the list would be endless.”



…“The exhibition, though, wildly overdoes it. First, it creates a straw man, reviving the notion, now defunct, of the Dark Ages. Then it overstates the neglect of Muslim science, which has, to the contrary, long been cited in Western scholarship. It also expands the Golden Age of Islam to a millennium, though the bright years were once associated with just portions of the Abbasid Caliphate, which itself lasted for about 500 years, from the eighth century to 1258. The show’s inflated ambitions make it difficult to separate error from exaggeration, and implication from fact….

…And some claims are simply incorrect: catgut was used in surgical sutures by Galen in the second century, long before al-Zahrawi (named here as its pioneer).

The exhibition also dutifully praises the multicultural aspect of this Golden Age while actually undercutting it. Major cultures of the first millennium (China, India, Byzantium) are mentioned only to affirm the weightier significance of Muslim contributions. And though we read that people “of many faiths worked together” in the Golden Age, we don’t learn much about them.

Religious affiliation actually seems far more important here than is acknowledged, keeping some figures out and ushering others in. Christian Arab contributions go unheralded, but the 15th-century Chinese explorer Zheng He, a Muslim, is celebrated though he has no deep connection to Golden Age cultures.

And finally we never learn much about the role of Islam itself. Universities, we read, were affiliated with mosques. Did that affect scientific inquiry or the status of non-Muslim scientists? Did the religious regime have any impact on the ultimate failure of the transmission and expansion of scientific knowledge? And given the high cost of any golden age, isn’t it necessary to give some account of this civilization’s extensive slave trade?

Instead of expanding the perspective, the exhibition reduces it to caricature, showing Muslim culture rising out of a shadowy past to attain glories later misappropriated by Western epigones. Left unexplored too is how this tradition ended, leading to a long eclipse of science in Muslim lands. There is only a recurring hint of injustices done.

The paradox is that this narrative is not only questionable but also unnecessary. An exhibition about scientific achievements during the Abbasid Caliphate could be remarkable if approached with curatorial perspective. Why then, the indulgence here?

Perhaps because one tendency in the West, particularly after 9/11, has been to answer Muslim accusations of injustice (and even real attacks) with an exaggerated declaration of regard. It is guiltily offered as if in embarrassed compensation, inspired by a desire not to appear to tar Islam with the fervent claims made by its most violent adherents.

Science museums have shared that impulse. An Imax film at the Boston Museum of Science is almost a commercial travelogue about science’s future in Saudi Arabia; and the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey has presented a traveling exhibition about Muslim inventions, that, like this one, mixed fascinating information with promotional overstatement.

What is peculiar too is that the current Hall of Science show presumes a long neglect of Muslim innovations, but try finding anything comparable about Western discoveries for American students. Where is a systematic historical survey of the West’s great ideas and inventions in contemporary science museums, many of which now seem to have very different preoccupations?

In the meantime, in the interest of mutual understanding, some such show about Western science might perhaps be mounted in Riyadh or Tehran, just as this one was in London. Wouldn’t that be a tale worthy of Scheherazade? It might begin: “Take a look, if you dare.” “


Another great politically incorrect quote below:

“Even in the “golden age” of Islam, according to Muslims, almost all knowledge and science was controlled by Christians in Iraq and Syria mostly, and by Iranian scientists who hated Islam as a religion.
The fact is there is no “Golden age” for Islam. When Ghazali showed up and forced revelation over critical thinking, and had the political support needed, Arab and Islamic mind were this day.
The problem is if you allow critical thinking in Islam, Islam will lose.
Lets’s look at some great thinkers of the last century who tried to separate religion and state in Islam:
Ali Abdel Raziq: ended losing his job and he and his wife and family humiliated.
Taha Hussain tried to say that many of the stories of old in the Qur’an were not to the letter..He was almost banished from all of Egypt because of it.
Mahmud Muhammad Taha tried to say the correct teachings of Islam are the Meccan peaceful period Suras..result..death by hanging
Muhammad Ahmad Khalaf Allah: wrote a dissertation rejecting the commonly used religious method of the day. Result: His dissertation was rejected, he lost his Job and his dissertation supervisor (Amin Khuli) lost his job a few years after.
The late Nasr hamid Abu Zaid (sad to say he just passed away three weeks ago): He offered a new understanding of the religious text. Result: declared apostate and attacked during Friday Juma’a prayers in many mosques in Egypt. He and his wife had to flee Egypt. They tried to separate him from his wife because he was declared apostate.


For a breathless series in wonder at how presumably marvelous the Muslim golden age was see below.


For information about how Islamic Spain was not quite the multicultural paradise as is often portrayed go here:

“The existence of a Muslim kingdom in Medieval Spain where different races and religions lived harmoniously in multicultural tolerance is one of today’s most widespread myths. University professors teach it. Journalists repeat it. Tourists visiting the Alhambra accept it. It has reached the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, which sings the virtues of the “pan-confessional humanism” of Andalusian Spain (July 18, 2003). The Economist echoes the belief: “Muslim rulers of the past were far more tolerant of people of other faiths than were Catholic ones. For example, al-Andalus’s multi-cultural, multi-religious states ruled by Muslims gave way to a Christian regime that was grossly intolerant even of dissident Christians, and that offered Jews and Muslims a choice only between being forcibly converted and being expelled (or worse).”1 The problem with this belief is that it is historically unfounded, a myth. The fascinating cultural achievements of Islamic Spain cannot obscure the fact that it was never an example of peaceful convivencia.”


Here is a wonderful quote about how Islamic literalism destroys thought and knowledge.

“When Iran was conquered by the Arabs, a large number of books and libraries were found. An Arab warrior, Sa’ad Ibn Waqas wrote to Caliph Omar and asked if they could be sacked and distributed among the Muslims. Omar wrote back: “All these books should be washed in water and destroyed because if they are books teaching guidance, the Almighty has already sent us a better guidance through Koran, and if they are books leading us astray, may the Almighty save us from their evil teachings.”


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