“The notion of a golden age of Islamic learning is a myth created to counter the current sorry state of intellectual life in the Islamic world.” Indeed so. A provocative perspective from India: “The Myth of Islamic Science,” by N.S. Rajaram, India Facts, April 2, 2015 (thanks to K.R.):
In this provocative essay, Waseem Altaf, the author argues that the notion of a golden age of Islamic learning is a myth created to counter the current sorry state of intellectual life in the Islamic world.
Introduced by Dr. N.S. Rajaram
It is widely believed and taught, including in India, that there was a Golden Age of Islamic learning that made a major contribution to science and the arts. In India we are told that this ‘synthesis’ between Hindu and Muslim thought gave rise to a great ‘syncretic’ civilization that was suppressed and eventually destroyed by the British. However, this flies in the face of the fact that not a single name of a major scientist from the five-plus centuries of Islamic rule of India has come down to us. We have to go to pre-Islamic India to invoke names from the past— names like Aryabhata, Varahamihira and the like.
It is a similar story when we look at universities or centers of learning. Pre-Islamic India was renowned for its universities: Takshashila, Vikramashila, Nalanda, Ujjain and other places attracted students and scholars alike from far and wide, much like the United States of today.
After the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, not a single center of learning (other than Islamic seminaries) was established for over seven centuries. The first modern universities came to be established only during the British rule.
Also worth noting is the fact that the so-called ‘synthesis’ of learning took place before Islamic invasions engulfed both India and Persia in a Dark Age. The Sassanid emperor Kosrau I deserves much of the credit for work that is wrongly credited to Islamic rulers and scholars.
Khosrau I (reigned 531–79) known as Anushirvan or ‘the immortal soul’ was a great patron of philosophy and knowledge. He gave refuge to scholars from the Eastern Roman Empire when the bigoted Christian Emperor Justinian closed down the neo-Platonist schools in Athens in 529 AD. Earlier, in 415 AD, Christian goons led by ‘Saint’ Cyril burnt down the great library in Alexandria and murdered the neo-Platonic scholar Hypatia who taught there, because another ‘saint’ Paul had decreed that women must keep their silence.
Khosrau was greatly interested in Indian philosophy, science, mathematics, and medicine. He sent multiple embassies and gifts to the Indian court and requested them to send back philosophers to teach in his court in return. Khosrau made many translations of texts from Greek, Sanskrit, and Syriac into Middle Persian. He was lauded as “Plato’s Philosopher King” by the Greek refugees that he allowed into his empire because of his great interest in Platonic philosophy.
A synthesis of Greek, Persian, Indian, and Armenian learning traditions took place within the Sassanian Empire. One outcome of this synthesis created what is known as bimari-stan (‘home for the ailing’), the first hospital that introduced a concept of segregating wards according to pathology. Greek pharmacology fused with Iranian and Indian traditions resulted in significant advances in medicine.
Regrettably this pre-Islamic era of learning came to an abrupt end following the Arab (Muslim) invasions and the defeat of Sassanid Persia The reality is that most of this ‘synthesis’ took place in the pre-Islamic period until Islamic invasions sank both Persia and India into a Dark Age lasting centuries.
IndiaFacts is grateful to the author Waseem Altaf and the publication Viewpointsonline.net for the article. No photograph of the author is published out of concern for the author’s safety. Here is his essay.
Science in the Islamic world
Rational thought in the Muslim world developed during the reign of liberal Muslim rulers of the Abbasid dynasty. However it was after the rise of scholars like Al-Ghazali that all scientific reasoning came to an end in the 13th century. As we remain enamored by our past achievements in the sciences, we forget that there is very little “original” we as Muslims can celebrate and be proud of.
It was during the reign of the early Abbasid caliphs, particularly Mamun-ur-Rashid (around 813 CE) that in his Dar-ul-Hikmah (the house of wisdom) in Baghdad, Muslim scholars would begin translating the classic Greek works, primarily toeing the Aristotelian tradition. In addition, they were heavily relying on Persian and Indian sources. They also penned huge commentaries on works by Greek philosophers. However, the Muslim translators were small in number and were primarily driven by curiosity. More than ninety nine percent Arabic translations of works of Greek philosophers were done by either Christian or Jewish scholars. It is interesting to note that Islamic astronomy, based on Ptolemy’s system was geocentric. Algebra was originally a Greek discipline and ‘Arabic’ numbers were actually Indian.
[N.S Rajaram: Indians invented algebra, calling it bija-ganita. Greeks considered some special cases in number theory like Diophantine Equations, also known to the Indians. The cumbersome letter-based notation (like the later Roman numerals) did not lend itself to problems in algebra. The major Greek contributions were the concept of proof (known also to Indians) and above all the axiomatic method at which they excelled. The Arabs themselves never denied their indebtedness to the Hindus in astronomy, medicine and mathematics. They called their numbers ‘Hindu numerals’. As noted in the Editor’s Introduction, much of this took place in pre-Islamic Iran, especially under Khusro I.]
Most of these works were available to the West during 12th century when the first renaissance was taking place. Although Western scholars did travel to Spain to study Arabic versions of classical Greek thought, they soon found out that better versions of original texts in Greek were also available in the libraries of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium….
Read the rest here.