Islam’s Contribution to Human Civilization
Islam’s golden age in science, technology and intellectual culture spanned about 500 years, from the ninth until the 14th centuries. Muslim achievements in these areas greatly influenced the European Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries, as well as the birth of modern scientific method in the 17th century.
Bertrand Russell, the famous British philosopher, has rightly claimed it was Muslims “who introduced the empirical method” in the study of nature, and cultivated it widely when they were leaders of the civilized world.
The scientific method, as it has been developed in modern western science, was indeed invented by Muslims and first practiced by them on a large scale. Muslim scientists then were not only Arabs, but also people of other racial and ethnic groups such as Persians, East Indians and Chinese.
Decades ago, when the Italian Orientalist, Alessandro Bausani, tried to hammer home the point that “Islam is an integral part of Western intellectual culture,” he was one of the few western voices then aware of the historical role of Islam in European civilization.
Very few people today know that Ibn Sina’s best medical work, The Canon of Medicine, was taught for centuries in western universities and was one of the most frequently-printed scientific texts of the Renaissance. When the famous 13th-century theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, wanted to create a new rational theology, he studied an Islamized Arabic version of Aristotle. Aquinas realized that Aristotle had found a new home in Islam, so he wanted to seek one in Christianity as well.
Given the fact that today some people believe in an imminent “clash of civilizations” and a fundamental incompatibility between Islam and the West, it is worth remembering that our two civilizations do share a precious intellectual heritage. The west takes great pride in modern science as one of the greatest achievements of its intellect, an achievement no one should deny or belittle. Modern science could not have developed without the Renaissance. But without Islamic science and philosophy to build on, there would have been no Renaissance!