“Read! In the Name of your Lord who has created (all that exists). He has created man from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood). Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous. Who has taught (the writing) by the pen. He has taught man that he knew not”. (Quran, 96: 1-5).
“Elevated status is accorded to those who seek, possess, teach and act upon knowledge. Dismiss any thought of equality between those who know and those who do not” (Quran, 39:9)
There are numerous Quranic verses which reveal Allah’s instruction to man about the attainment of knowledge. In fact one-eighth of the Qur’an is a call for Muslims to seek Allah’s signs in the universe and hence that science is a spiritual as well as a temporal duty for Muslims.
Perhaps the most widely used argument one hears is that the Prophet Muhammad (s) had exhorted his followers to “seek knowledge even if it is in China,” which implies that a Muslim is duty-bound to travel in search for knowledge, far and wide.
With the advent of Islam in the 6th century, its followers, as instructed by Quran, placed huge emphasis on the attainment of all forms of knowledge, including the undertaking of scientific research.
The great institutions of just political and civil administration initiated and established, soon after Prophet’s (s) passing away, by Caliph Omar (r) inspired rulers for centuries.
The Islamic civilization, within its first five hundred years, gave rise to many centres of culture and science and produced notable scientists, astronomers, mathematicians, doctors and philosophers.
This period is often referred to as the Golden Age of Islam where Muslim rulers set up the unrivalled intellectual centres for learning of science, philosophy, medicine and education
Not only were great spiritual, moral and humanistic principles followed, they significantly invested in economic infrastructure, established educational institutions, enhanced knowledge at all levels and made great advancements in engineering, industry and technology.
Great libraries and the Houses of Wisdom were established in Baghdad and other major cities around the Muslim world, attracting scholars from all corners of the globe.
The Qur’an acknowledges and even encourages the acquisition of a broad spectrum of beneficial knowledge, including scientific knowledge, and urges humans to reflect on the natural phenomena as signs of God’s creation.
The Muslims were highly influenced by Quranic injunctions on seeking knowledge and hadith such as “The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyrs” which highlights the merits of knowledge.
The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes the University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco as the oldest degree-granting university in the world with its founding in 859 CE. Al-Azhar University, founded in Cairo, Egypt in the 975 CE, offered a variety of academic degrees, including postgraduate degrees, and is often considered the first full-fledged university in history.
The origins of the doctorate also dates back to the ijazat attadris wa ‘l-ifttd (“license to teach and issue legal opinions”) in the medieval Madrasahs which taught Islamic law.
By the 10th century, Cordoba had 700 mosques, 60,000 palaces, and 70 libraries, the largest of which had 600,000 books. In the whole al-Andalus, 60,000 treatises, poems, polemics and compilations were published each year.
The library of Cairo had two million books, while the library of Tripoli is said to have had as many as three million books before it was destroyed by Crusaders. The number of important and original medieval Arabic works on the mathematical sciences far exceeds the combined total of medieval Latin and Greek works of comparable significance, although only a small fraction of the surviving Arabic scientific works have been studied in modern times.
Over the past four hundred years, Islamic rulers lost power due to their weaknesses and were unable to face the onslaught of Western nations. In response to such adversity, Islamic institutions of learning adopted a much more conservative approach and confined Islam to a few basic beliefs and rituals.
For some strange reasons, the pioneers of scientific research and knowledge turned against it. The Islamic scholars started opposing scientific inventions and worldly knowledge. Whether it was a conspiracy by the new rulers of Muslim lands to misguide the coming generations of Muslims or if it was a reaction by the Islamic institutions in an effort to oppose the invaders and the new rulers of their lands, will remain unknown.
Islam was now turned into a mystical religion which had basic beliefs in the Lord of the universe, his prophets, angles, life hereafter and practice of basic prayers, rituals and some charity.
Even rituals of prayers, Quran recitation had lost true significance as most Muslims did not understand the meaning of what they recited and practiced.
Attainment of knowledge was discouraged and not only did Muslims themselves not participate in scientific research, they even opposed the scientific knowledge produced by others.
Use of many scientific instruments was declared haram, institutions providing modern education were declared un-Islamic and Muslims were told to confine themselves to the study of Quran and Sunnah and that too with their conservative interpretation developed during last couple of centuries.
Certainly these Muslims had no resemblance with the Muslims of the past golden age of Islam.
Surely, Islamic leadership need to revisit their understanding of this noble religion so that Islam and Muslims are able to regain the glory of its past while living in the modern world.