Muslim spokesmen and Arabists extravagantly praise the contribution of Islam to civilization.  This “Golden Age,” even they admit, was a very long time ago.  The reality is that the notion of a golden age of Islamic learning is a myth created to counter the hundreds of years of intellectual poverty in the Islamic world.

Some Background

Around 813 AD, during the reign of the early Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad, particularly Mamun-ur-Rashid, Muslim scholars in the House of Wisdom began translating the classic Greek works in the Aristotelian tradition.   Relying heavily on Persian and Indian sources, they penned huge commentaries.

However, the Muslim translators were small in number and more than ninety nine percent of these Arabic translations of works of Greek philosophers were done by either Christian or Jewish scholars.  [For more detail, see reference to the MAWADI, below.] 

Islamic astronomy at this time, based on Ptolemy’s system, took the earth as the centre of the universe.  Also, although the word “algebra” is derived from the Arabic word al-jabr (taken from the treatise written in the year 830 by the medieval Persian mathematician Al-Khwārizmī), as a mathematical discipline algebra was not invented by Muslims but came to them from the Greeks.  Likewise, ‘Arabic’ numbers were actually Indian.

Most of these classical Greek works were available to the West during 12th century, which saw the revival of the Latin classics, Latin poetry and Roman law, the recovery of Greek science, with its Arabic additions, and of much of Greek philosophy.  While Western scholars did travel to Spain to study Arabic versions of classical Greek thought, they soon discovered that better versions of original texts in Greek were available in the libraries of Byzantium.

Notable Muslim scholars

A very few great scholars from the Muslim world GENUINELY CONTRIBUTED in the development of philosophy and science.  They include:

Al-Razi (865 – 925) from Persia – the greatest of all Muslim physicians, philosophers and alchemists, who wrote 184 articles and books. He dismissed revelation and considered religion a dangerous thing. He was condemned for blasphemy and almost all his books were destroyed later.

Ibn-e-Sina or Avicenna (980-1037), another great physician, philosopher and scientist, from a Persian family in Bukhara, Transoxania. He sought to reconcile rational philosophy with Islamic theology but held philosophy superior, and sharply disagreed with central Islamic doctrines such as the bodily resurrection of the dead. He wrote a five-volume medical encyclopedia, The Canon of Medicine, which was used as the standard medical textbook in the Islamic world and Europe up to the 18th century. In The Book of Healing he wrote about earth sciences and the philosophy of science. He became a target of Al-Ghazali (the main killer of Islamic science – see below) and was labeled an apostate.

Ibn-e-Rushd (1126-1198) or Averroes from Cordoba, Spain was a polymath in philosophy, theology, medicine, astronomy, physics, psychology, mathematics, Islamic jurisprudence and law, and linguistics. He wrote many commentaries on Aristotle and defended the pursuit of philosophy against criticism by Ash’ari theologians such as Al-Ghazali. He argued that Islamic scriptural text should be interpreted allegorically if it appeared to contradict conclusions reached by reason and philosophy. He was found guilty of heresy, his books burnt, he was interrogated and banished from Cordoba.

Al-Biruni (973-1048), from the area to the south of the Aral Sea, was called variously the father of comparative religion, father of modern geodesy, founder of Indology and the first anthropologist. A gifted linguist, he knew Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac. He held that Koran has its own domain and does not interfere with the realm of science. He completed a detailed written study of India around 1030. He distinguished astronomy as a legitimate science from astrology, which he refuted as a pseudoscience not based on empiricism. He calculated the radius of the earth to within 2% of the actual.

Al-Khwarizmi (780-850) was another Persian mathematician, astronomer and geographer from south of the Aral Sea, and head of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad around 820. His Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing presented the first systematic solution of linear and quadratic equations. His name gave rise to the English terms algorism and algorithm. The historian Al-Tabari considered him a Zoroastrian while others thought that he was a Muslim. However nowhere in his works did he acknowledge Islam or linked any of his findings to the holy text.

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131), a Persian, was one of the greatest mathematicians, astronomers and poets (author of the Rubiyat), most notable for his work on the classification and solution of cubic equations. He contributed to a deeper understanding of Euclid’s parallel axiom and as an astronomer, he calculated the duration of the solar year with remarkable precision and accuracy. He was a materialist, pessimist, and agnostic, looking at all religious questions with a skeptical eye and hating the fanaticism, narrow-mindedness, and spirit of vengeance of the religious scholars. He severely criticized the Ash’arite idea that every event and phenomenon was the result of divine intervention. Like all free thinkers he was denounced as a heretic.

Al-Farabi or Alpharabius (872-950), another great Muslim philosopher from Central Asia, who spent most of his scholarly life in Baghdad. Highly inspired by Aristotle,this “father of Islamic neoplatonism” wrote on astronomy, mathematics, cosmology, physics and music, considered reason superior to revelation. He had a great influence on Maimonides, the most important Jewish thinker of the middle ages.

Abu Musa Jabir- bin- Hayan or Geber (721?-815?) was an accomplished Shiite Muslim alchemist, pharmacist and cosmologist whose historicity is questioned, although a number of treatises are attributed to him.

Ibn-al-haitham or Alhazen (965-1040) was an outstanding physicist, mathematician, astronomer and an expert on optics from Basra, Iraq, who spent most of his productive period in the Fatimid capital of Cairo. He was an early proponent of the concept that a hypothesis must be supported by experiments based on confirmable procedures or mathematical reasoning—an early pioneer in the scientific method five centuries before Renaissance scientists. He explained that vision occurs when light reflects from an object to one’s eyes, that vision occurs in the brain, and is subjective and affected by personal experience. He was ordered by Fatimid King Al-Hakim to regulate the floods of the Nile, which he knew was not scientifically possible. He feigned madness and was placed under house arrest until the death of the caliph.

All of these great men were influenced by Greek, Babylonian or Indian contributions to philosophy and science, had a critical and reasoning mind, were ‘not good’ Muslims, or were even atheists.  A significant number of them were reluctant to even reveal the status of their beliefs for fear of reprisal from the fanatics.  They never ascribed their achievements to Islam or divinity.  So whatever contribution to science was made can be owed to ‘imperfect Muslims’

The destroyer of Islamic science

In the 12th century Imam Ghazali (1058-1111) gave the biggest blow to scientific thought in the Muslim world.  He openly denied the existence of any laws of nature and scientific reasoning, and argued that any such laws would put God’s hands in chains.  Everything that happened at any time was not because of any natural laws, but only because Allah willed it.  Ghazali said that a piece of cotton burns when put to fire, not because of physical reasons but because Allah wants it to burn.  He was a strong supporter of the Ash’arites, who upheld the precedence of divine intervention over physical phenomena and bitterly opposed the Mu’tazilites— or the rationalists who were in fact the true upholders of scientific thought.  FOR MORE DETAIL see separate article at at

Thanks to Ghazali’s defeat of the Mu’tazilites, all four major schools of Sunni Islam reject the concept of ‘Ijtihad’ or “independent critical reasoning.”  So for around nine centuries there has been no room for any innovation or modification in traditional thought patterns, no Islamic philosophy or science, but only jurisprudence (fiqh), a slavish reference to past legal precedents.

Since Ghazali, Muslims have contributed almost nothing to scientific progress and human civilization since the dawn of the 13th century.  Yet while science and technology flourish in the modern world, a vast majority of Muslims, engulfed by obscurantism, still find solace in fantasies of a bygone era — the so called ‘golden age’ of Islam.

Contributions to science under the great Islamic empires (Ottoman and Mogul) were disproportionately small considering their wealth and power.  In India even during the supposedly ‘great’ Mogul empire, the contribution was dismally low.  Islamic rulers, instead of encouraging learning, hired foreigners and mercenaries— like Hindus in India and Jews and Christians in the Ottoman Empire.

More perspective on the Arab Muslims

In the Arabian peninsula where Mohammed was born, the Arabs were among the most illiterate, superstitious and unlearned nomadic and semi-nomadic people.  Although surrounded by other truly advanced civilizations and cultures, they had not even the semblance of a civilization to speak of – no central authority such as a king or a priest-king, no government, no army, no civil service, no arts, no sciences, no record-keeping.  Under the banner of Mohammed’s Islam, the Arabs conquered several advanced civilizations – the Zoroastrian Sassanid Persian Empire, the Coptic Christian Egyptians, the Christian Byzantine empire, the Hindu Indians, the Buddhist Chinese (the Abbasid Caliphate and the Tibetan Empire against the Tang dynasty in 751 AD) and more. 

The mawadi – subjugated non-Muslims – were the real creators of the “golden age.”

The Arabs imparted nothing of value to the subjugated peoples of these conquered civilizations.  In Arabic, the subjugated people who converted to Mohammedan Islam are called mawadi, meaning clients, followers or supporters.  It was from among the mawadi and the Jews and Christians of the conquered territories that Greek, Roman and Hebrew literature, philosophies and sciences were translated into Arabic.  It was from among the conquered people of these civilizations that the Arab imperialists were able to build their mosques, their palaces, run their trade and their economies, collect taxes and take census. 

From 701 to 1423, a period of about 700 years, a maximum of eighty scientists and scholars under the sword of Mohammedan Islam, mostly from among the mawadi, contributed a wealth of advancement in many branches of knowledge.  These scholars drew on foundations set by others centuries before them:  Egyptian, Hebrew, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Indian and others, whose knowledge and writings were translated into Arabic by men from the conquered people, by converts to Mohammedan Islam, mawadi,  as well as by Jews, Christians, Sabeans and others.  “Islamic science” and Islamic civilization had almost nothing whatsoever to do with Mohammedan Islam.

The notable Muslim scholars and scientists listed above excelled not because of Mohammedan Islam but in spite of Mohammedan Islam, since they were secular thinkers.  No knowledge whatsoever in the sciences, arts, engineering, architecture, philosophy, et cetera, can possibly sprout under fundamentalist Mohammedan Islam, because the only knowledge that fundamentalist Mohammedan Islam can recognize as valid and worthy is knowledge of the Koran.  

Out of the claimed Muslim scientists and scholars from the alleged Golden Age, only a handful were pure Arabs;  the remainder were Persian, Turkic, Jews, Christians, Sabeans, Spaniards, north Africans, etc.  In reality this science and civilization should be called mawadi science and mawadi civilization, because Mohammedan Islam contributed absolutely nothing to its evolution, propagation, and establishment. 

The Golden Age of Islam is like the golden egg that dropped out of the goose’s butt –  A LOAD OF CRAP.  The actual achievement of Islam was the conquest.  The cultural achievements were not because of but in spite of Islam.  The more the population became really Muslim, the more the drop in achievements. 

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *