ISLAM’S GIFTS TO THE WORLD 2
Gustave le Bon writes : “Besides the use of cold water to treat typhoid cases – a treatment later abandoned, though Europe is taking this Muslim invention up again in modern times after a lapse of centuries-Muslims invented the art of mixing chemical medicaments in pills and solutions, many of which are in use to this day, though some of them are claimed as wholly new inventions of our present century by chemists unaware of their distinguished history. Islam had dispensaries which filled prescriptions for patients gratis, and in parts of countries where no hospitals were reachable, physicians paid regular visits with all the tools of their trade to look after public health.”
Georgi Zeidan writes: “Modern European pharmacologists who have studied the history of their profession find that Muslim doctors launched many of the modern beneficial specifics centuries ago, made a science of pharmacology and compound cures, and set up the first pharmacies on the modern model. So that Baghdad alone had 60 chemists’ shops dispensing prescriptions regularly at the charges of the Caliph. Evidence of these facts can be seen in the names given in Europe to quite a number of medicines and herbs which betray their Arabic, Indian or Persian origin.” Such are “alcohol, alkali, alkaner, apricot, arsenic,” to quote some ‘a’s alone.
Georgi Zeidan continues: “Within two centuries of the death of the Prophet, Mecca, Medina and the other great Muslim cities all had hospitals, while the Abbasid governors and their ministers competed each for his own region to have the best such institution for the care of the sick. Baghdad alone had four important hospitals. By three centuries after the Hejra the governor Adhud-ud-Dowleh Deylamy had founded the Adhudi Hospital with 24 specialists, each master of his own particular field, a hospital which soon earned the reputation of excelling all hospitals throughout Islam, though in the course of time it too was surpassed.
The order and arrangement of Islamic hospitals was such that no distinctions of race, religion or occupation were recognised, but cure was administered with meticulous care to any patient. Separate wards were allotted for patients of specific diseases. These were teaching hospitals where the students learned theory and observed practice. In addition, there were travelling hospitals which carried doctors and their gear by camel or mule to every district. Sultan Mahmoud the Seljuk travelled with a hospital which required 40 camels for its transport.”
Dr. Gustave le Bon writes: “Muslim hospitals went in for preventive medicine and the preservation of health as much as if not more than for the cure of the already diseased. They were well-aired and had plenty of running water. Muhammad bin Zachariah Razi (Rhazes) was ordered by the Sultan to seek out the healthiest place in the Baghdad neighbourhood for the construction of a new hospital. He visited every section of the town and its environs, and hung up a piece of meat which he left while he looked into infectious diseases in the neighbourhood and studied climatic conditions, particularly the state of the water. He balanced all these various experimental tests and finally found them all to indicate that the place where the portion of meat was the last to putrefy and develop infectious bacteria was the spot on which to build. These hospitals had large common wards and also private wards for individuals. Pupils were trained in diagnosis and brought observation and experience to the perfecting of their studies. There were also special mental hospitals, and pharmacies which dispensed prescriptions gratis.”
Marc Kapp writes: “Cairo had a huge hospital with playing fountains and flower-decked gardens and 40 large courtyards. Every unfortunate patient was kindly received, and after his cure sent home with five gold coins. While Cordova, besides its 600 mosques and 900 public hammams, had 50 hospitals.”
Jaber ibn Haiyan, disciple of the sixth Imam Ja’afar-i-Sadeq, became known world-wide as “the Father of Chemistry” and of Arab alchemy. His influence on Western chemistry and alchemy was profound and long lasting. Some hundred of his works survive. Of him the late Sayyid Hebbat-ud-Din Shahristani of Kadhemain, once Iraq’s Minister of Education, writes: “I have seen some 50 ancient MSS of works of Jaber all dedicated to his master the Imam Ja’afar. More than 500 of his works have been put into print and are for the most part to be found among the treasures of the National Libraries of Paris and Berlin, while the savants of Europe nickname him affectionately ‘Wisdom’s Professor’ and attribute to him the discovery of 19 of the elements with their specific weights, etc. Jaber says all can be traced back to a simple basic particle composed of a charge of lightning (electricity) and fire, the atom, or smallest indivisible unit of matter, very close to modern atomic science.”
The blending of colouring matters, dyeing, extraction of minerals and metals, steelmaking, tanning, were amongst industrial techniques of which the Muslims were early masters. They produced Nitric Acid, Sulphuric Acid, Nitro-glycerine Hydrochloric Acid, Potassium, Aqua , Nitrate, Sulphuric Chloride, Potassium Ammonia, Sal Ammoniac, Silver Nitrate, Alcohol, Alkali (both still known by their Arabic names), Orpiment (yellow tri-sulphide of arsenic: arsenic is derived from the Persian zar = gold, adjective zarnee = golden, Arabised with article “al” to “al-zernee” pronounced “azzernee” and so taken into Greek where it was turned to the recognisable word “arsenikon” which means “masculine” since the gold colour was supposed to link it with the sun, a masculine diety!): and finally – though this does not close the list we might cite-Borax, also an Arabic word booraq. Further, the arts of distilling, evaporation, sublimation, and the use of Sodium, Carbon, Potassium Carbonate, Chloride, and Ammonium were common under the Abbasid Caliphate.
The Abbasid Caliph Haroun-al-Rasheed sent Charlemagne in Aix from Baghdad a present of a clock made by his horologists which struck a bell on the hour every hour, to the great wonder and delight of the whole court of the newly’crowned Holy Roman Emperor.
The massacre and expulsion of the Muslims of Andalusia by the Christians carried with it the closure of many of the great factories that had existed under Islamic rule, and the standstill of progress that had been made in science, crafts, arts, agriculture, and other products of civilisation. Towns began to fall into ruin because of the lack of skilled masons. Madrid dropped from 400,000 to 200,000 inhabitants; Seville, which had possessed 1,600 factories under the Muslims, lost all but 300, and the 130,000 workers formerly employed had no more jobs, while the census of Philip IV showed a fall of 75% in population figures.
It was the Muslims also who brought about the substitution of cotton-wove paper for the old parchments; and it was this invention which formed the basis for Europe’s later invention of printing, using an old Chinese technique, and so for the vast uprush of learning which came with the Renaissance. More, since monks were starved for parchment on which to write their religious works, they were tending more and more to scrape off priceless ancient scientific texts from old parchments and to use them again as palimpsests. The introduction of paper put a stop to this disastrous practice in time to save quite a number of texts which would have otherwise been lost for ever, as, alas, too many were.
A paper manuscript of the year AD 1009 was found in the Escorial library, and claims to be the oldest hand-written book on paper still in existence. Silk-wove paper, of course, was a Chinese invention, since silk was native to China though rare in Europe; and the Musulman genius lay in seeing the possibility of substituting cotton for silk, and so giving Europe a plentiful supply of a practicable material for the reproduction of books by the monkish scribes.
Philip Hitti writes in his ‘«History of the Arabs” that the art of roadmaking was so well developed in Islamic lands that Cordova had miles of paved road lit from the houses on each side at night so that people walked in safety. while in London or Paris anyone who ventured out on a rainy night sank up to his ankles in mud – and did so for seven centuries after Cordova was paved! Oxford men then held that bathing was an idolatrous practice; while Cordovan students revelled in luxurious public hammams!
Baron Carra de Vaux, author of the chapter on “Astronomy and Mathematics” in “The Legacy of Islam” (OUP 1931 pp. 376-398), points out that the word “algebra” is a Latinisation of the Arabic term Al-jabr ( = “the reduction”. i.e. of complicated numbers to a simpler language of symbols), thereby revealing the debt the world owes to the Arabs for this invention. Furthermore the numerals that are used are “Arabic numerals’.” not merely in name but also in fact. Above all the Arabs’ realisation of the value of the Hindu symbol for zero laid the foundation of all our modern computerised technology. The word “zero”, like its cousin “cipher” are both attempts at transliterating the Arabic “sefr”, in order to convey into Europe the reality and the meaning of that word in Arabic.
De Vaux writes: “By using ciphers the Arabs became the founders of the arithmetic of everyday life; they made algebra an exact science and developed it considerably. they laid the foundations of analytical geometry; they were indisputably the founders of plane and spherical trigonometry The astrolabe (safeeha) was invented by the Arab Al-Zarqali (Arzachel) who lived in Spain AD 1029-1087. The word “algorism” is a latinisation of the name of its inventor, the native of Khiva called by the name of his home province Al-Khwarizmi. The Arabs kept alive the higher intellectual life and the study of science in a period when the Christian West was fighting desperately with barbarism.”
This is not the place to go further into Muslim achievements in mathematics and astronomy. Suffice it to refer once again to the Jalali calendar of Omar Khayyam, with its formulae for exact calculation of the timing of. the earth’s orbits round the sun, to which reference has been made earlier.
The Arabian Nights’ tales of Sinbad the Sailor, and of his voyages to China, Japan, and the Spice Islands of Indonesia, give quite enough evidence of the brilliance of Arabic commercial shipping and the knowledge of meteorology and geography which was at their disposal. Small wonder that the Faith spread through them from Morocco to Mindanao.
But, besides the SE Asian seas, Arabic sailors penetrated far down the East coast of Africa, and also up the rivers which are channels from the Black Sea into the distant interior of Russia. The Safarname (Travel journal) of Suleiman, a sea-captain of Seraf the port on the Persian Gulf recently excavated by Dr. David Stronach of the British Institute of Persian Stulies, was published at the end of the 9th century AD with accounts of his voyages to India and China. It was translated into Latin, as giving some of the earliest first-hand knowledge of China which ever reached Europe.
The geographer Ibn Hauqal (floruit circa AD 975) wrote in his preface: “I have written the latitude and longitude of the places of this earth, of all its countries, with their boundaries, and the dominions of Islam, with a careful map of each section on which I have marked numerous places, e.g. the cities, the kasbahs, the rivers, the lakes, the crops, the types of agriculture, the roads, the distances between place and place, the goods for commerce and everything else in the science of geography which can be useful to sovereigns and their ministers and interesting to all people in general.”
Abu-Reihan al-Biruni, Ibn Batuta and Abu’l-Haussan are amongst other names in the history of the science of geography whose worldwide travels were accompanied by meticulous observation and painstaking notes, which are amongst the proudest achievements of science in our world to this day.
Cordova Mosque is one of the finest monuments of Muslim art in Europe. Its architect and masons were local talent, who introduced a number of novelties. The Muslims excelled at mosaic, inlay, fretwork and applique work of all types. Marvellous doors, pulpits, and ceilings are decorated in many of the ancient mosques all over the Muslim world with a lacelike design of mosaic, carved ivory and wood and plaster, and fitted pieces of carved wood interlocking with each other with consummate artistry. Chased and engraved wood and ivory are everywhere. Thus the Altar of the Church of Saint Isidore Hispalensis (archbishop of Seville in the first years of the 7th century AD) the carved ivory jewel-case made for Queen Isabella in the 11th century and the carved ivory box now in the Church at Bayeux of the 12th century (obviously some Crusader’s loot from the East) inlaid with silver in chased gold, are examples of that art which was the glory of Eastern lands. All this delicate and minute handiwork was carried out with the crudest and roughest of tools, itself a further tribute to the skill and artistry of the makers.
Jewel-studded boxes and cases and caskets are to be seen in many places, though the best are on view in the museums of Damascus and Cairo. Well said Sa’adi: “An Eastern artist may take 40 years to make one porcelain vase: the West turns out 100 a day, all alike : the comparative worth of the two products can be easily reckoned!”
The Muslims were also past masters of the art of carved and coloured plaster work, in a style which still subsists though modern technologies are, alas, rendering the skill rarer all the time. Tenth century examples, some with enamelled work also, are to be found in Andalusia. The Alhambra has 13th century masterpieces of this work. They glitter like the later Italian Majolica. The famous Alhambra flower-vase, 1½ metres high, is unique in this line.
In this part of our book we have given the briefest of sketches of some of the treasures of mind and spirit which mankind owes to the rise of Islam.
They are not stated in braggadocio but as an assessment of facts of human history. For too long they have been neglected and forgotten not merely by those who benefited from them indirectly but even also by the very descendants of their authors themselves.
Yet if mankind is to attain the power to live as one united family which is our calling and destiny, it will happen on a basis of appreciation of each other.
This adult assessment is growing. Modern scholars are now showing gratitude that the Arab General Tareq-bin-Ziyyad in AD 711 landed his troops by the mountain since called Jebel-al-Tareq (Gibraltar) after him. His Moors were unwelcome invaders at the time. It was a moment when Europe had lost most of the benefit of Roman unification and cultural advance and sunk back into the Dark Ages under the barbarian hordes overwhelming it from the North. With the Moors came in the fresh stimulus of lively minds, bringing in Arabic the best thinking of ancient Greeks and Romans, the impetus of scholarship and learning, the desire for scientific and philosophic speculation, the aesthetic delight of artistic creation again.
Islamic universities as far apart as Baghdad and Andalusia welcomed Christian and Jewish students, many of whom profited by the instructions to be obtained nowhere else in those days. They were received with generous subventions and assistance by their Muslim hosts, who treated them as honoured guests. Dynamics, Statistics, Chemistry, Physics, were among the lessons.
In his “Making of Humanity” Brilioth writes: “Modern European education in all branches stems from the Muslims’ curiosity and pertinacity in investigating the secrets of nature.”
If our brief summary opens the road for Westerners to the exploration of Eastern discoveries we are content; and can so proceed to Part 3 and an examination of Islam’s treatment of some of the social problems which afflict every human community.