Muslim contributions to science are many – By John Longhurst
I RECEIVED a very disturbing email a few weeks ago.
It was one of those emails that people keep forwarding to one another, like those bogus computer virus warnings that arrive unsolicited in your inbox.
In this case, it wasn’t about a virus, but it did contain one — not a real computer virus, but one that sows mistrust and enmity between people.
This particular email was sent to a group of people, including me, by a Christian in another province. It questioned whether Muslims had contribued anything positive to the world by comparing the number of Jewish and Muslim winners of the Nobel Prize.
The email — various versions of which can be found on the web — noted that while the “global Islamic population” is about 1.2 billion people, only seven Muslims have won the Nobel Prize. The “global Jewish population” of 13 million, on the other hand, has produced 129 winners. (Other versions say nine Muslims have won, and that there have been either 165 or 184 Jewish winners.) After listing the winners from the two religious communities, the email included a catalogue of “Muslim” atrocities such as suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism and violence. It concluded by saying that “Muslims must ask what can they [sic] do for humankind before they demand that humankind respects them!!”
In the first place, what possible good can be accomplished by comparing these particular groups in this way? In the second place, for Christians, Jesus taught that his followers should love everyone, including enemies, no matter whether they had done anything to earn that love. In my books, showing that kind of love would include not sending emails like this.
In the third place, Muslims have, in fact, done quite a bit for humankind — our western scientific tradition owes them a great deal of gratitude.
From the seventh to the eleventh centuries, Muslims were the world leaders in the sciences. During that time, the Arabic language was synonymous with learning. It was a golden age of intellectual endeavour and achievement that had a lasting impact on western scientific thought, methods and techniques.
Back then, Muslim scholars made key advances in subjects such as medicine, physics, optics and mathematics. Muslim mathematicians promoted the concepts of the decimal system and zero — two ideas that limited what Greek mathematics could accomplish. Muslims were also responsible for introducing the Arabic numerical system to the world, along with algebra, which comes from the Arabic word al-jabr, as well as trigonometry.
They also made strides in astronomy. Since one of the five pillars of Islam is facing Mecca to pray five times a day, Muslim scientists needed to study the stars to help the faithful determine the required directions for praying.
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