After greeting each other, Rajiv and Yousef noticed that Michael was serious in wanting to begin the conversation. Yousef teased him, saying:
Yousef: "Hey Michael! Did you prepare shooting arrows for this meeting?! I'll try to keep away from the screen just in case!”
Michael: No, no! Calm down! This time you can stare at your screen without worrying. In fact, our last conversation on cultural exploration inspired me, and I tried to learn more about the Muslims' contribution to human progress. I found this documentary film "One Thousand and One Inventions, and The Library of Secrets". The duration of the movie is short, about only thirteen minutes, but it is really exciting and interesting, and very suitable for the topic at hand. It describes how the Islamic civilization contributed to the modern progress of man. This film was awarded more than twenty international prizes.
The film adopts the technique of telling a story, where a librarian guides some teenagers while visiting a library on their school trip. During the visit, they explore the era that is called "The Dark Ages". The legendary actor, Sir Ben Kingsly, plays the role of the librarian, who later plays the role of the Muslim scientist, Al-Gazri, who presents some Muslim scholars who lived at that time. He introduces the great wealth of inventions and innovations that were witnessed in the Islamic World during that era, which extended from the 7th century to the 17th century; a period that is considered to have an interesting history, though it has never been well-appreciated.
Yousef: Could you briefly mention the summary of the film then? And what is its aim?
Michael: The film aims at proving that the main factor and motive for the birth of the Renaissance in Europe was the scientific and cultural achievements witnessed in the Islamic World, which later opened new and wide horizons that were discovered by pioneers, scientists and inventors of different religions. The film implies that this notion is a historical fact that is still largely forgotten.
Rajiv: I am now more interested to learn the details of what you are saying.
Michael: There are many details regarding this field, among which are: Al Gazry, one of the greatest engineers, chemists and inventors in history, invented "The Elephant Watch", which is legendary. He also invented many of the mechanisms in the machines we use everywhere in our daily life. For example, mechanic devices produced according to old specifications show how wind and water energy could be used; making a revolution in the agricultural world. There is also the Andalusian doctor, Al Zahrawy, who invented hundreds of surgical tools and utensils thousands of years ago. Still to this date, his invention of different utensils continues to save patients' lives in modern hospitals. There is also Al Hassan Bin Al Haytham who was the first to explain how the eye works. During the film, we see a huge model of a camera with a tiny hole, in order to learn how Ibn Al Haytham established photography and movie-making.
Rajiv: You’ve added some valuable information, Mr Michael, but it’s not only you who was interested and delved into this topic. I have also dug into it myself and found a very interesting book of a German author called Sigrid Hunke, entitled “"The Rays of the Light of Allah's over the Occident.”
Michael: What new information did you find in it?
Rajiv: It actually drew my attention to many things I didn’t expect. Do you know that many common words in the European languages are of Arabic origin?
Michael: Really! That is something really odd! Are you serious?
Rajiv: I’m not kidding my friend! For example, the word “coffee” in English and its correspondent words in other languages is derived from the Arabic word /kahwa/, and from which came the derivation that indicates the place where we go for a coffee. The word “rice” is derived from the Arabic word /urz/. The word “sofa” in English is /sof.fa/ in Arabic; which means a shaded seat beside the mosque. Moreover, I found many words with scientific denotations which are phonetically identical to the Arabic pronunciation, such as “alcohol”.
The book introduces many facts that I was unaware of. The writer summarized them by saying, “Europe and all other continents owe much to the Arabs and the Arabic civilization. Europe should have admitted this favor long ago, but bigotry and the different doctrines blurred or even blinded our eyes.”
Yousef: You have made me very interested, Rajiv, to learn which of the facts that you didn’t know drew your attention the most.
Rajiv: For example, I didn’t know that the first to discover and criticize Galenus’ mistakes and then lay down the theory of blood circulation wasn’t the Spanish Servetus, or the English Harvey. It was Ibn Al-Nafees; a man of Arabic origin in the third century A.D., who achieved this great discovery in human and medical history some 400 years ago before Harvey, and 300 years before Servetus. Moreover, I didn’t know that Ibn Al-Haytham, the Muslim Arab scientist, was the first to correct the mistakes of Euclid and Ptolemy who believed that sight worked by the eye emitting rays of light on the objects that were to be seen. Ibn Al-Haytham proved this belief to be wrong. He argued that the process of vision occurs neither by rays emitted from the eye, nor through physical forms entering it, rather, visible objects reflect rays onto the eye, and then the lens of the eye make a visual image of the object from these rays. I also didn’t know that Al-Biruni (known as Alberonius in Latin), a Muslim Arab scientist, was the one who discovered that the Earth rotates around the Sun and around itself, and not Copernicus or others, as people often assume. This remarkable orientalist also mentioned that the Muslim physician, Al Razy, is considered, by all historians, as one of the greatest physicians in all ages. His essay concerning chickenpox and measles is the first elaborated work on contiguous diseases; illustrating their extraordinary ability to carry out clinical analysis and observation (to be able to notice and analysis illnesses). This essay was so widely-spread in Europe that it was printed 40 times in English from 1489 till 1866. He also mentioned that in those ages, which were called “The Dark Ages”, the Arabs used to practice anesthetization, which is thought to be one of the modern inventions. History witnessed, though, that the technique of using the anesthetic sponge is purely an Arab technique that had never been used before their time. And there are also many other details, so many that it is difficult to mention them all in a conversation like this one.
Yousef: What you have mentioned refute the claims of some people who know nothing about historical facts, or even deny them, by saying that Arabs and Muslims didn’t add anything new to humanity, especially with regards to experimental sciences. While on the contrary, humanity wasn’t aware of the experimental method itself but from the hands of Muslims and Arabs. Allow me to quote some of the Western scientists’ declarations regarding this aspect.
Claude Cahun, the French orientalist, said , “…and if Muslim scientists, despite their intellectual inclination, have less ability to abstract results than Greece, they made up for this due to their strong desire to perform experiments. The later scientific progress manifested the significance of this tendency. The science brought by the Arabs is that which they practiced in their daily life, and for that reason it survived. Al-Razy, as one of the greatest scientists, expressed clearly that scientific progress would continue, (due to there still being so much to learn), which was considered an odd belief by most of the thinkers in the Medieval Age.” Laura Feshia Fagleri, an Italian researcher, said, “…Was it not the Arabs who first invented experimental methods, long before Bacon declared the necessity of such methods? The development of chemistry, astronomy, the spread of Greek science, enhancement of medicine, and the discovery of different physical laws: are all these not the achievements of the Arabs?” Will Durant, an American philosopher and historian, said, “…Arabic sciences developed the scientific experimental method in chemistry, which is one of the greatest and most significant modern intellectual tools. Bacon introduced this method to Europe five hundred years after Jaber Ibn Hayyan had declared it. It was the light which emerged from the Arabs of Andalusia that guided him. This light is only a small ember of the light of the Muslims in the East.”
And this is only a fraction of what can be related about the unique achievements of the Islamic Arab civilization which it offered to humanity.
Michael: Indeed, these are undeniable achievements. However, we shouldn’t forget that this civilization also incorporated aspects of previous ones, such as the Greek civilization.
Yousef: Oh my friend, this is the nature of scientific progress. It is a continuous chain of human achievements, as whole, which is known as a civilizational series. This is confirmed by the French orientalist Aldo Mieli, who said, “This Arab science is the connecting and continuous link between the old civilization and the new world. If we don’t understand and contemplate this science of the Arabs, we shall find an inexplicable gap between the old civilizations and the new ones.”
Toby Huff, a professor at Harvard University, history of science department, and the author of “The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and The West” said, “The transmission of scientific and philosophical knowledge which had accumulated and stockpiled in the Islamic-Arab civilization to the West, through the great efforts which the Europeans exerted in translating it in the Middle Ages, had a great impact on the course of Western intellectual development.”
But allow me to say that the achievements of the Islamic Arab civilization have distinguishing characteristics that other civilizations did not have. Most of all:
Islamic science has never been separated from religion, which was its inspiration and main stimulating strength.
And the sciences of Muslims weren’t secrets; rather, Muslims were very keen to spread these sciences among people of different persuasions. Muslim universities were open to European students, who came from their countries to seek knowledge.
I am really proud of this civilization.