Islam is a complete way of life revealed for all of mankind, from the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم until the Day of Resurrection. It encompasses rules for every sphere of life including spiritual, economic, social, judicial and political. As Islam came from the Creator of the universe, it is a superior system, free from the inconsistencies and disparities, which riddle man-made systems such as Capitalism and Communism.
With this in mind, we may expect the Muslim world, whose population follows Islam as a religion, to be at the forefront of development and science, as they have at their disposal, a flawless system to regulate their affairs and drive them forward. However, what we find instead is that most of the Muslim world labours in poverty. It is no wonder then that the Muslim world has stagnated when it comes to scientific and technological research. Some of these countries do not even have basic infrastructure in place such as schools, hospitals and roads, which would enable them to have a standard of living considered necessary.
In stark contrast, countries which have adopted the Capitalist economic system, appear to have a monopoly on scientific advancement and are at the forefront of the development of new technologies. The populations of these nations, on the whole have a high standard of living, with their basic needs catered for. This situation begs some very pertinent questions:
– Why do the countries which follow the Capitalist ideology, appear to have advanced if they are following an incorrect doctrine?
– Why has the Muslim world failed to make a contribution to science and development for the last 300 years?
– Is it due to some inherent problem with the deen of Islam or with the Ummah? And what is the way forward for the Ummah?
– Should the Ummah adopt the same system as the Western nations in order to reach the same level of advancement?
Understanding Western development
The countries of Europe and North America have achieved some phenomenal developments in the last few centuries. After the decline of the Roman Empire in the 5th Century CE, Europe broke off into small feudal states, entering a period known as the “Dark Ages” which was marked by cultural and intellectual decline, superstition, an antipathy toward science.
It was during this time that the Muslims conquered Spain and established the Islamic state there. The ruling system of Europe in the Middle Ages consisted of kingdoms, such as England, which were supported by the Roman Catholic Church, and independent city states, such as Venice.
During the Crusades, the knowledge gained in fields such as Science, Geography, Language and Economics in the Arab world reached Europe and influenced the “Early Modern” period of European history. In this time, the Renaissance occurred and Latin and Greek texts (translated in part, by Arab scholars) influenced the intellectual life of Europe and a great importance was placed on the seeking of knowledge. This was also the period when the Europeans colonised and settled in the Americas.
The age of Enlightenment took place in the 18th Century, where, following the weakening of the Catholic Church and the increase in exploration and trade with the Old World nations, Capitalism slowly begun to replace feudalism as the main form of economic organisation. Also, modern Science was starting to be developed and its findings were applied to technological advancements.
The industrial revolution occurred in the 19th Century, where changes in agriculture, transport and manufacturing caused a shift from an economy based primarily on manual labour to one based on industry. Political revolutions occurred across Europe and America during this time, leading to the abolition of feudalism and the formation of nation-states, using Capitalist values to draw their respective constitutions and with the monarchies being retained only for ceremonial purposes.
The 20th Century is considered by many historians, to be the most bloody in history, due to both World Wars and the Cold War, between the Soviet Union and the US. This was also the time when the USA and the European nations drew peace treaties and began to recognise their common goals through their shared values of Capitalism and freedom. They formed the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in order to facilitate this cooperation.
Science is a fast moving discipline, its definitions continue to change and many advancements have had a huge impact upon human development. In the Medieval period, theories such as spontaneous generation, were abound to explain the evolution of living things, by stating that life spontaneously emerged from inanimate matter. The practice of medicine in this era was equally haphazard, with the theory of the four humours being used to explain the development of disease.
Between the 17th and 20th Centuries, massive developments were made in scientific thought. In the field of Physics, Isaac Newton established his laws of Motion and Gravity; the Atomic bomb was produced; Einstein, Bohr and Planck contributed to quantum mechanics and Edwin Hubble’s discoveries led to the formulation of the Big Bang theory. In the field of Chemistry, Mendeleev added newly discovered elements to the Periodic table and Watson and Crick proposed the double stranded helix structure of DNA.
In the field of Biology, Darwin proposed his infamous theory of Evolution by natural selection. More recent developments in the 20th and 21st Centuries include the Internet, robotics, military development, the Human Genome Project, the exploration of Mars, anti-retroviral drugs and the HPV vaccination.
The reasons behind the huge leaps made in science and technology by the West can be understood when we examine the influence of Capitalism and its impact. The Western nations followed capitalism in its entirety, using it to mould the development of their ideas and to solve the problems they faced. They became successful as they took all their solutions from the same basis. They embraced an ideology as used it to judge all of the problems in society. This avoided the inconsistency and internal conflict seen in countries which try to adopt multiple ideologies.
The adoption of common ideals by the Western nations allowed the basic needs of society to be catered for. This allowed citizens to concentrate on ways to better their standard of living. This drive of profit and general advancement led to many developments. Capitalisms potential to derive a profit has driven and continues to drive the motivation of the Western nations to develop.
More importantly though, governments in the Capitalist nations provide the conditions for progression to take place, by fulfilling the basic necessities of their respective populations. They also provide financial investment and an environment which encourages growth and facilitates the development of technology.
For instance, the UK has established 5 research councils, which in addition to the spending provided directly by the government, coordinate and fund particular areas within medical, biological, natural environment, engineering and physical science.
The oil rich states of Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, whose economies are comparable to those of the Western nations, spend only 0.2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), on Science – less than a tenth of the 2.3% developed nation average. The number of scientific researchers in the Organisation of Islamic countries (OIC) is also low, with an average of 500 researchers per million, which is minute, compared to the average of over 5000 per million people, in Finland, Iceland and Japan.
The Muslim world
The Muslim world has made very little contribution to the world of science and technology in the last century. When we look at the reasons behind this under development, it becomes clear the economic and social problems facing these countries have impeded their development alongside factors such as war, famine and poverty have compounded the situation greatly. Countries such as Afghanistan and Somalia have been embroiled in civil wars for many decades and more recently, have been the target of military invasions by the USA.
Many of these nations were under colonial rule at some point, often for hundreds of years. For example, Morocco and Algeria were occupied by France, for 40 and 120 years respectively. After gaining independence from the colonial nations, the Muslim world was left in a debilitating economic situation, with much of their resources usurped and which compelled the rulers of the newly formed republics and kingdoms to take loans from the World Bank.
For the majority of countries, the interest accrued on these loans is still being paid back; many decades after the original loans were paid off. Indonesia for instance, which was colonised by the Netherlands and is a country which is considered to be managing its debt well, by the World Bank, it pays $1.4 billion a year of its original loan repayments and an extra $500 000 a year in interest repayments, money which could be spent on technology which would aid the country.
When the colonialists left the Muslim World, they did not leave the inhabitants of those countries to govern themselves; instead, they installed rulers who would continue to support the financial and political institutions of the West and who would be subservient to Western governments. In Iraq, the British colonialists installed King Faisal I as leader, who supported them in the First World War and organised a revolt against the Uthmani Khilafah. In return for their subservience, the governments of Europe and America provided financial and military support to the rulers in the Muslim countries, often ensuring that brutal regimes remained propped up for many decades. This situation remains until the present day, where the rulers of the Muslim countries do not have the interests of their peoples at heart. Rather, they are only concerned with maintaining power and control over their populations and preserving this power within their families or social circles.
The Golden Age of Islam
If we compare and contrast the status quo of the Muslim countries to the Muslim civilisation in the past, the gulf between the two is vast. During the Golden Period of Islam, the time of the Abbasid Khilafah, from the 8th Century to the 15th Century scientists, geographers, poets, engineers and philosophers amongst others, contributed significantly to their respective fields, by creating new inventions and by preserving and building upon earlier work. Their contributions directly affected every major civilisation to come after them and continue to be invaluable to the present day.
Institutions such as public hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, astronomical observatories and public libraries, were the development of Muslims; they made developments in all of the major fields at the time. The deen of Islam, rather than holding these scientists back, was actually the cause of their advancement. In Medicine, the Persian scientist known as Ibn Sina or Avicenna, wrote the famous book “The Canon of Medicine”, which was a standard textbook taught in various universities around the world until the 18th Century, in which he introduced: the contagious nature of infectious disease; the use of quarantine to curb the spread of infection; neuropsychiatric conditions such as epilepsy, stroke and dementia; the symptoms and complications of diabetes and the use of clinical trials in experimental medicine. The progress made in Medicine, was due to the Muslims following the commands of Allah as laid out in the Quran and Sunnah. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, in his famous hadith:
“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
The existence of a cure for every disease encouraged the Muslims to make progress in biomedical research. In Mathematics, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi developed Algebra and used the knowledge he gained to formulate the rules of inheritance as linear equations, which would allow calculation of inheritance shares. Muslim astronomers also developed Trigonometry to assist with determining the phases of the moon to calculate the start of Ramadhan and Eid. Al Hassar, a mathematician from Al-Maghreb, developed the modern symbolic mathematical notation for fractions, where the numerator and denominator are separated by a horizontal bar. Many others contributed to and developed other areas of Mathematics such as Calculus, Geometry and number theory. In the field of technology, engineers such as Al-Jazari, who invented the crankshaft – an essential component in the steam engine and internal combustion engine – and the Banu Musa brothers, who invented the valve and the gas mask, were well known names during the Medieval period. The mechanical alarm clock and the steam turbine were invented by Taqi al-Din, one of a growing number of Muslim polymaths (people whose knowledge covers many fields). A pioneer of practical chemistry was an 8th Century polymath called Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan; he invented most of the chemical processes , which are still used in laboratories today, for example: pure distillation, filtration, sublimation, liquefaction, crystallisation, purification, oxidisation and evaporation.
The knowledge and number of inventions that originated from the Muslim world during the Golden Age of Islam, was truly staggering and influenced so much of the present day technological advancements. There were a number of factors, which facilitated this period of growth and which, unfortunately, do not exist in the Muslim lands in the current day. The primary reason the Muslims were able to develop, was the existence of a Khilafah, a state which was ruled according to the Quran and Sunnah and under which, both Muslims and non-Muslims had their rights protected. The Khilafah took care of the necessities of its citizens and the Khalifah ensured that nobody was without food, shelter, healthcare and education.
The Hudood or punishments were applied to cases where crimes had been committed and this allowed society to live in peace. The armies of the Khilafah protected the citizens of the Islamic state from invasion by foreign nations and were also involved in bringing new lands to be ruled by Islam, in accordance with the people’s wishes. The Baitul Mal or “House of Wealth” (the central treasury), collected the taxes from both Muslim and Non-Muslim citizens and ensured that this money was spent on the provision of public services and institutions, such as hospitals and universities, which is where much of the scientific research and developments occurred. The Jews, who lived in Spain during the Ummayad Khilafah, were also able to flourish, because, as their basic needs had been taken care of and they lived in security, an environment existed where they were able to focus on economic and cultural growth. Islam also drove the Muslims to excel in all of the fields that they participated in. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:
“Verily, Allah has enjoined excellence (ihsan) with regard to everything. So, when you kill, kill in a good way; when you slaughter, slaughter in a good way; so everyone of you should sharpen his knife, and let the slaughtered animal die comfortably.” (Sahih Muslim)
Islam commands the Muslims to practise Ihsan (excellence) in everything they do. Allah mentions in the Quran:
إِنَّ اللّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاء ذِي الْقُرْبَى
“Verily, Allah enjoins Justice, and Ihsan and giving help to kith and kin” (Surah Al-Nahl: 90)
Islam also encouraged Muslims to seek knowledge, both knowledge of the deen and of worldly disciplines. In fact, the distinction between the two was rarely made, in the sense that all knowledge was Islamic knowledge if sought to gain the pleasure of Allah. Hence, learning about the anatomy of the heart was considered Islamic knowledge, if the purpose behind it was as an act of Ibadah (worship) of Allah. Hence, Islam laid out clear guidelines enabling Muslims to be at the forefront of technological and scientific development, whilst remaining true to their faith.
It should now be clear that the developments made by the Capitalist nations, is solely due to the consistency of following a single ideology, rather than due to Capitalism being the correct ideology. The Muslim world, although possessing the correct creed, which is from the creator of universe, has been absent amongst the Ummah in terms of implementation, this is what made them great in the past. It was Islam, which drove the ummah in the past, and it will be Islam insha’Allah, which will make the ummah great once more.