Chemistry is about alkali, alkaline, alcohol, aldehydes and so on. The field that has most significantly contributed to the birth of modern chemistry is alchemy.
It is a combination of philosophy, religion, and primitive science with the chief goal of the perfection of matter. This was aimed at conversion of metals into gold and the discovery of a potion that would cure all disease.
The Arab scientist Jabir Ibn Hayyan, popularly known as Geber in the West, was the most famous scientist in early chemical research and was labelled as the ‘Father of Chemistry’.
Similarly in Mathematics, we do a great deal of Algebra. It has originated from the root Arabic word al-jabr, meaning “the reunion of broken parts”. Musa al-Khwarizmi was the major contributor.
Then in computer sciences, we read about algorithm which is again the brain child of Khwarizmi. Al is the Arabic definite article much like ‘the’ in English. It has an abundant precedence in the words of knowledge.
A beautiful coincidence is that Einstein is also Albert Einstein though not an Arab. The word alma mater has also Arabic origin, besides latin and Hebrew.
There are authentic accounts of history speaking volumes about N number of Arab scientists who we are indebted to in many ways. They have significantly contributed to everything ranging from irrational numbers, analytical geometry, medicine, geography, geophysics and astronomy.
They have worked in establishing algebra and trigonometry as exact sciences. Their development of computational mathematics surpasses all the achievements of the past. The simplicity and flexibility offered by the Arabic numerals together with decimal system and the concept of zero is amazing.
Though the present Arab is not known for its engagement in modern scientific endeavours but it being heir to a marvellous age of science is frequently invoked by the commentators aiming to make Muslims and westerners more respectful of each other.
For instance, in his June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo, the then U S president Obama praised Muslims for their historical scientific and intellectual contributions to civilization, when he said, “It was Islam that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.
It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed.”
Similarly Jamil Ragep, a professor of the history of science at the University of Oklahoma, notes that “Nothing in Europe could hold a candle to what was going on in the Islamic world until about 1600 A.D.”
In his book titled What Went Wrong?, written in 2002, historian Bernard Lewis notes that “for many centuries the world of Islam was in the forefront of human civilization and achievement.”
At other place he writes, “The relationship between Christendom and Islam in the sciences was now reversed. Those who had been disciples now became teachers; those who had been masters became pupils, often reluctant and resentful pupils.”
I don’t want to go into history. I have a different point. What distracted the battling brains that were so much on way to success? Why has this torch not been relit since? How did the glory turn into gloom?
How did the golden habit of hard work diffuse in the comfort of leisure and luxury? How did the progressive become pessimistic? Why did the future fail despite an appealing past?
Why is the present so pathetic? According to a most recent report of 2022, Japan, South Korea, China, United States, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, Singapore, Israel and Switzerland are the most technologically advanced countries. Arabs don’t fall in the next ten nor in the next to next ten. Why are Al-Arabs out of competitive race.
This is partly because there were a number of blows that devastated the Muslim society and have been implicated in the decline of science. These include military invasions, massacres, infrastructure destruction, a long period of drought beginning around 1250 AD and a series of plague epidemics between 1347AD and 1515AD.
However, decline in scientific progress is not particular to Arabs only. Rise and fall is a norm in history. Like Arabs, the ancient Chinese and Indian civilizations, who were at some time far more advanced than the West, did not produce the scientific revolution.
But they have worked hard to regrow and regain. Though material decline may limit the scope of opportunities for some time, the brain power is never so restricted by circumstances. Rather from every new situation in life, the brain gets a new raw material to work on. The thought process keeps going.
Men die of boredom, psychological conflict and disease. They do not die of hard work. Bill Gates once said, “I never took a day off in my 20s. Not one.’ Though Arabs have significantly progressed in other areas, science has been on back foot. They are a great economy with modernized cities, developed infrastructure and loads of oil too.
Arabian countries have large quantity of petroleum products which they get as a natural resource, having a great demand in western countries. So they make huge money by foreign exchange.
Moreover, owing to non existence of taxes, it is attractive place for people to live, work and start their own businesses. But as someone has siad, ”No one is so poor as the one whose only wealth is money.”
With all riches, they are not powerful, they are not important. They don’t mean much in the global scenario. Their priorities have significantly shifted. They are keen for luxury project of Neom City but they cease to have any scientific observatory or astronomical center.
They barely register in science. While as Quran is the revealed book of God, the Universe is the open book of God. Let us learn to live in this Universe with the sense of enquiry as the poet says
how can earth and heaven, your vastness contemplate?
it’s just my heart, your glory, that can accommodate
Dr. Qudsia Gani, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics,
Govt. college for Women, Srinagar
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.