Islam and the Promotion of Culture and Science

As the Muslims challenged the civilized world at that time, they pre served the cultures of the conquered countries. On the other hand, when the Islamic Empire became weak, most of the Islamic contributions in art and science were destroyed. The barbarous hordes of Mongols burnt down Baghdad (1258 A.D.), and later the Spaniards, in their hatred, destroyed most of the Arabicheritage in Spain. What distinguished the Arabs from their enemies was their beliefin Islam which:

I. Stressed the importance and respect for learning. In fact, the very first word revealed to the Prophet ofIslam was "Read". The Prophet freed an enemy captured in battle if he paid a ransom or taught writing and reading to ten Muslims. In their holy book, the Qur'an, the importance of knowledge has been repeatedly stressed: "Those who know and those who do not are not equal." The Prophet Mohammed stressed learning by saying, "One hour of teaching is better than a night of praying." One of the early princes, Khalid Ibn Yazid (end of the 7th century), gave up his treasure for the study of medicine and chemistry. He studied medicine under John the Grammarian of Alexandria, and chemistry under Merrinos the Greek (Haddad 1942). He also encouraged several Greek and Coptic medical books to be translated into Arabic.

2. Forbade destruction. On conquering Mecca, the Prophet Mohammed strongly forbade destruction of homes, animals, or trees. His followers faithfully followed these principles when they conquered other countries.

3. Encouraged cleanliness and personal hygiene. Islam instructed them to approach God in their prayers five times a day with bodies and clothes spotlessly clean.

4. Developed in them respect of authority and discipline. For example, realizing the scourges of plague, their Prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h.) decreed that "no man may enter or leave a town in which a plague has broken out." And to make it all the more binding and effective, he promised heaven for those who die of plague, saying that such a death was that of a martyr (Haddad 1942). Thus Mohammed (p.b.u.h.) laid for the Muslims the laws governing cordon and quarantine for the first time in history and made them work.

5. Tolerated other religions. Islam recognizes Christianity and Judaism and considers their followers to be people with holy books like Muslims. In fact, they generously sheltered the Jews at an era when the latter were persecuted in Europe. Dr. Jacob Minkin, a reputable rabbi and scholar says "It was Mohammadan Spain, the only land of freedom the Jews knew in nearly a thousand years of their dispersion...while during the Crusades, the armored knights of the crossspread death and devastation in the Jewish communities of the countries through which they passed, Jews were safe under the sign of the Crescent. They were not only safe in life and possessions, but were given the opportunity to live their own lives and develop a culture so unique and striking that it went down in history as the 'Golden Age'. The Moors, the Muslim conquerors of Spain in 711, were not religious fanatics. They were strong in their faith but generous with regard to the religious convictions of others ... The Renaissance of Art in Italy, says George A. Dorsey, has blinded us to the Renaissance of Science in Spain, which fostered science, promoted culture, encouraged learning, and set a premium on intellectual pursuits, no matter whether the intellect was Moslem, Christian or Jew. Not since the days of Greece had the world kHown such thirst for knowledge, such passion for learning, such spirit shared by the prince and the courtier alike" (Minkin 1968).

The Arabs were assimilated by the vast new countries they reached. From this marriageof genuine character and righteousness with the ancient and well established civilizations, a great new nation was born. It is difficult to identify this new breed as Arabs, because although the language was Arabic, all the scientists were not necessarily from the Arabian Peninsula. It is also equally difficult to describe it as Islamic, because although the majority of the scientists were Moslems, sponsored by Moslem rulers, and governed by Islamic law, yet some scientists were Christians or Jews, especially during the early phase of the Islamic civilization: the period when works in foreign languages were translated into Arabic, and the period of its decline, when the Arabic books were translated into Latin and Hebrew. Therefore, in this article, the adjectives Arabic and Islamic will be used as synonyms