Fjordman’s latest essay, “To President Obama: Regarding Islam and Science”, has been published at Jihad Watch. Some excerpts are below:
I wouldn’t say that absolutely no scholarly achievements were made in the medieval Islamic world, only that they are greatly exaggerated for political reasons today. Let us divide scholars into three categories: Category 1 consists of those who make minor contributions, category 2 medium-level ones. Category 3 consists of scholars who make major, fundamental contributions to an important branch of science or found an entirely new scholarly discipline. Examples of the latter would include Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Nicolaus Copernicus, Aristotle, René Descartes or Galileo Galilei. Not a single scholar of this stature has ever been produced in the Islamic world even at the best of times. Finding some medieval Muslim scholars who made minor contributions to mathematics or alchemy is not very difficult, and I can probably name half a dozen to a dozen individuals who might qualify under category 2.
The highest-ranking contribution of any Muslim scholar in my view came from Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham) in optics. The mathematician Muhammad al-Khwarizmi did not “invent” algebra; the ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Indians, Chinese and others had early forms of algebra; the most important pre-modern scholar was arguably Diophantus of Alexandria in the third century AD, and modern algebra was created in Europe. Nevertheless, just like you cannot write a history of optics without mentioning Alhazen, you cannot properly write a history of algebra without mentioning al-Khwarizmi. In historiography, Ibn Khaldun could be mentioned, although he shared the contempt for all non-Muslim cultures which hampered the growth of history, archaeology and comparative linguistics in the Islamic world. Muslim scholars did not seriously study other cultures with curiosity and describe them with fairness, al-Biruni’s writings about India being one of very major few exceptions to this rule.
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Geber (Jabir ibn Hayyan) did good work in alchemy for his time and may have been the first person to create some acids, but he falls far short of Antoine Lavoisier and those who developed modern chemistry in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Europe. The Persian Omar Khayyam was a creative mathematician, and fellow Persians Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and well as Rhazes (al-Razi) were capable physicians for their time, but Khayyam was at best a highly unorthodox Muslim and al-Razi didn’t believe a single word of the Islamic religion. Whatever contributions they made were more in spite of than because of Islam. Moreover, while I do consider al-Razi to have been a competent physician, the greatest revolution in the world history of medicine was the germ theory of disease, championed by the Frenchman Louis Pasteur and the German Robert Koch in late nineteenth century Europe. They were aided in this by the microscope, which was an exclusively European invention.
It is true that some texts were reintroduced to Europe via Arabic translations, at least initially before they were supplemented by translations directly from Byzantine Greek originals, and that these have left traces in certain words. For instance, quite a few stars in modern European languages have Arabic names or Arabized versions of older Greek names. However, it is important to remember that astronomy in the Islamic world, with certain exceptions due to influences from India, was based on a Ptolemaic Greek theoretical framework, just as it was in Europe. After the translation movement, it is striking to notice how fast Europeans surpassed whatever scholarly achievements had been made in the Middle East.
Read the rest at Jihad Watch.