Outreach

5 Amazing Facts About Islam in Western Culture

Christian and Muslim playing chess in Medieval Europe Source: Wikimedia
Christian and Muslim playing chess in Medieval Europe Source: Wikimedia
  1. Transmission of Greek philosophy – Perhaps the greatest Muslim contribution to European civilization began in the 8th century when Muslim scholars inherited volumes of Greek philosophy. The wisdom in ancient Greek texts, which had been lost to Europeans, was translated from Latin to Arabic by Muslim scholars, thus creating one of the greatest transmissions of knowledge in world history. Muslim scholars would eventually bring the ideas of great ancient Greek minds such as Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato into Europe, where their philosophy was translated into other European languages. This is why Muslims are the main threshold behind the European Renaissance and the Enlightenment, two movements that resurrected Greek philosophy and gave new life into a European continent that was bogged down with religious dogma and bloody internal conflicts.
  2. Distinguished scholars – Scholars in Muslim Spain made acquiring knowledge, or ilm, their life goal. Perhaps the most notable of these scholars is Al-Ghazzali, a Sufi Muslim who in the 11th and 12th centuries revolutionized early Islamic philosophy by developing Neoplatonism, which is which is often described as the “mystical” or “religious” interpretation of Greek philosophy. At the time of Al-Ghazali’s writing, Muslim philosophers had read about the ideas of ancient Greece, but these ideas were generally perceived to be in conflict with Islamic teachings. Al-Ghazali helped synthesize these elements by adopting the techniques of Aristotelian logic and the Neoplatonic ways to diminish the negative influences of excessive Islamic rationalism.
  3. Importance of education – Spanish Muslims of Andalucía were especially strong advocates of education and helped to dispel the gloom that had enveloped Europe during the Dark Ages. Between the 8th and 15th centuries, Andalucía was perhaps the world’s epicenter for education and knowledge. Spanish universities such as those in Cordoba, Granada, and Seville, had Christian and Jewish students who learned science from Muslims. Women were also encouraged to study in Muslim Spain. This educational environment that stressed tolerance would not reach the “Western world” until the 19th and 20th centuries.
  4. Founder of modern sociology – Ibn Khaldun is another one of the most important Muslim thinkers in history. Recognized as one of the greatest historians ever and the founder of sociological sciences in the 14th and 15th centuries, Khaldun created one of the earliest nonreligious philosophies in history in his work, the Muqaddimah. He also paved the way for our expectations of modern-day Presidents and Prime Ministers by creating a framework for evaluating “good rulers,” stating “the sovereign exists for the good of the people… The necessity of a Ruler arises from the fact that human beings have to live together and unless there is some one to maintain order, society would break to pieces.”
  5. Contributions to health care – Medicine is another crucial contribution to civilization made by Muslims in addition to education and the university system. In 872 in Cairo, Egypt, the Ahmad ibn Tulun hospital was created and equipped with an elaborate institution and a range of functions. Like other Islamic hospitals that soon followed, Tulun was a secular institution open to men and women, adults and children, the rich and poor, as well as Muslims and non-Muslims. Tulun is also the earliest hospital to give care to the mentally ill. One hundred years after the founding of Tulun, a surgeon named Al-Zahrawi, often called the “father of surgery,” wrote an illustrated encyclopedia that would ultimately be used as a guide to European surgeons for the next five hundred years. Al-Zarawhi’s surgical instruments, such as scalpels, bone saws, and forceps are still used by modern surgeons. Al-Zahrawi is also reportedly the first surgeon to perform a caesarean operation.

Read more of my original article: Overcoming Historical Amnesia: Muslim Contributions to Civilization

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