The Origins of Islamic Science
Dr. Muhammad Abdul Jabbar Beg *
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Table of contents
1. The Ancient Sciences and the Arabs
1.2. Ancient Egypt
1.3. The Greek legacy
1.4. Various influences in Pre-Islamic Arabia
1.5. The First Occurrences (Awa'il)
2. Islam as a Source of Inspiration for Science and Knowledge ('Ilm)
2.1. The Rise of Islam and the Early Intellectual Fertilisation
2.2. The Islamic Background to Intellectual Activity
2.3. Unity of Knowledge: Religious, Rational and Experimental
2.4. Maurice Bucaille's Theses
3. The Seeds of Islamic Science
3.1. Some Chronology
3.2. Defining Islamic Science
4. Translation as a Source of Knowledge
5. Islamic Science or Arabic Science
8. Alchemy and Chemistry
11. Notes and References
Note of the editor
This article is part of Essays on the Origins of Islamic Civilization, available from Kube Publishing Ltd., Markfield, Ratby Lane, Leicestershire, LE 67 9SY, UK (ISBN 0954188292).
* * *1. The Ancient Sciences and the Arabs
At the beginning of the 7th century CE, very few Arabs could read, write or calculate. However, an elite group of traders who travelled from such towns as Makkah, Yathrib, Khaybar and from Yemen to the centres of ancient civilizations, including Syria, Mesopotamia and Egypt, were open to outside influences. A handful of traders were familiar with reading and writing of one sort or another. Among them were members of the Quraysh tribe and it was they who brought foreign influences into Arabian trading centres. Nevertheless, most of the population of Arabia were pastoralists who often quarrelled among themselves. It was only during the pilgrimage season to Makkah that fighting was abandoned by common consent. On the whole the Arabian environment did not encourage the growth of civilized values. It is hard to see how such a primitive people could emerge from centuries of backwardness to a level of culture.
The march of the Arabs from darkness to light is one of the conundrums of history and few historians have adequately explained the phenomena. By harnessing their latent physical and spiritual power, the Arabs somehow reconstructed their own lives. Having begun with a tabula rasa, they achieved an astonishing advancement in their social, political and intellectual life within a very short time. How did they do this? Incredible though it may seem to any uninitiated student of history, these Arabs not only changed their way of thinking but also their view of the world and their role in it. Hardly had they time to imbibe the teachings of a visionary like the Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah than they became a powerful conquering force that had won an empire within fifty years of their mentor's death. How could such a people have made any contribution towards the progress of any science, be it natural, physical or social?
Figure 1a-b: Two manuscripts of the Quran: (a) This Quran, written in nasta'liq script, one of the main genres of Islamic calligraphy, is most likely of Persian origin from between the 16th and 17th centuries. (Source). (b) An elegantly illuminated Qur'an from Kashmir, c. 1800, in fine na
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