... by Celebrating Islam’s Contributions to the World
Religion is the root of culture. We are quite familiar with the contributions the Christian religion has given Western civilization, the architecture, art, music and so forth. However, we may not be so aware of the contributions that Islam has given our world. So, as Muslims begin the month of Ramadan, their holy month of fasting, I would like to take a moment to honor their faith by honoring their contributions to our world.
The fact is that many contributions that we think of as Christian would not exist if it were not for Islam. How many of us are aware that while Europe sagged under the weight of a thousand years of darkness, the “Dark Ages,” Islam was experiencing a “Golden Age.” It was during this time that Muslim scholars saved ancient Greek texts from being lost. They translated Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. These made their way back to Europe which helped to ignite the Renaissance.
We have all struggled through the study of algebra in high school. How many of us know the word Algebra comes from the Arabic, Al-jabr, which means “balance & restore.” It was Muslim mathematicians who separated out algebraic equations from geometry and arithmetic to create a new system of mathematics. Along with the advancements in math came advancements in astronomy. The first observatories were created in the 9th century in Bagdad and Damascus.
Ramadan, the fourth Pillar of Islam:
Ritual fasting is an obligatory act during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims must abstain from food, drink, and sexual intercourse throughout the day. They are also expected to be especially mindful of other sins. The fast is meant to allow Muslims to seek nearness to Allah, to express their gratitude to and dependence on him, to atone for their past sins, and to remind themselves of their responsibilities to the needy. During Ramadan, Muslims are also expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam by refraining from violence, anger, envy, greed, lust, harsh language, and gossip.
Meanwhile in other areas of science the first hospitals were being created. A surgeon named Al-Zahrawi, often called the “father of surgery” wrote an illustrated encyclopedia that eventually was used in Europe for 500 years. The hospital in Tulun Egypt was the first to give care to the mentally ill. Meanwhile the first vaccines were being created and the first pharmacies were established. While Europe reeked as households poured their feces and urine into the streets in the Islamic world soap had become an industry. A recipe for soap developed then is still being used today.
To prepare professionals for their fields the first university was created in Morocco in 859 by two women. The concept of a “degree” was instituted to evaluate students on their performance. Eventually this tradition made its way to the schools in Europe as did the other advances being established is this period.
This rich history, of which I have barely scratched the surface, should not be lost on us. In spite of Islam’s struggles with ISIS and Al-Qaeda, this richness is still there. And, we should not forget that Christians have experienced difficult times. When we take into account that the 1,000 years of the Dark Ages, mentioned above, were followed by over 120 years of “wars of religion” (1524 to 1648) we should be a bit more humble when making pronouncements on Islam’s challenges. If the riches of the Islamic culture could be combined with the riches of both the Christian and Jewish cultures as well, a new golden age could come about. I for one pray for such a future as I honor Ramadan for what the religion of Islam has given us.
A version of this article by David Kasbow was first published in Ya Michigan, May 2017