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Sunday Open Thread – 2/21/2010 – Studying the History of Islam & Science


Though Islam’s spiritual fruits are the primary concern of all Muslims, we’d be remiss to ignore the rich intellectual history of our tradition. The wide-ranging contributions of Muslims during the European Middle Ages, for example, still greatly influence the way we live today. Sadly, few Muslims, and even fewer non-Muslims, realize the great debt we owe to the mathematicians, scientists and physicians that flourished during this period under the patronage of the Islamic empire. Fortunately, for those who would like to learn more about this subject, Inside Islam dedicated its most recent radio broadcast to a discussion of Islam and Science.

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Youssef Chouhoud is an assistant professor of political science at Christopher Newport University, where he is affiliated with the Reiff Center for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution. Youssef completed his PhD at the Political Science and International Relations program at the University of Southern California as a Provost’s Fellow. His research interests include political attitudes and behavior, survey methodology, and comparative democratization.



  1. Amatullah

    February 21, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    Nice! I’ve been looking for some islamic podcasts, jazak Allahu khayran for sharing that one.

    I’m a big history buff (I guess I’m just an all around nerd..), looking forward to the recommendations inshaAllah. I haven’t had a chance to check out any history books recently.

    I really like this book:

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      February 21, 2010 at 11:54 AM

      That book’s been on my “Wish List” for a while – will inshAllah get around to it soon :)

      As far as more general accounts, I’ve always been told that the 3 volume “Venture of Islam” by Marshall Hodgson is the best survey on Islamic History. Also on my Wish List :P

      • Amatullah

        February 21, 2010 at 4:28 PM

        I got that book for $1.50 at the public library’s used book store! I’m sure NY has a bunch of those, you always find the best books there.

  2. BintKhalil

    February 21, 2010 at 9:46 AM

    Assalamu alaikum

    It’s not a podcast or a lecture or a book but still an extremely cool resource –

    • Patience

      February 26, 2010 at 12:38 PM


      The Muslim Heritage website is partner to 1001 Inventions

      Highlights the roots of many an invention that can be attributed to Muslims during the so-called ‘Dark Ages’.

      It’s also available as a book – available online.

      Inspired reading!!

  3. BintKhalil

    February 21, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    Also, Saudi Aramco’s magazine Saudi Aramco World has some of the most amazing pieces about the intersection of the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. You can spend days reading through the back issues of the magazine.

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      February 21, 2010 at 11:56 AM

      WOW! That’s a great resource! I had no idea that SAW was into that kinda stuff :)

      JAK for sharing!

  4. Youssef Chouhoud

    February 21, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    BTW, I’m sure many of us have come across it before, but by far the most engaging account of Islamic history out there is Islam: Empire of Faith

    I’ve also heard mixed reviews about “Cities of Light.” Anyone seen it?

  5. Amad

    February 21, 2010 at 12:18 PM

    Old news, tangential to your discussion (but hey its an “open thread”) but it’s going to be something. A friend of mine joined this company and there is definitely a lot of buzz around it:

    An epic film about Islam’s Prophet Mohammad backed by the producer of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Matrix” is being planned with the aim of “bridging cultures.”

    Filming of the $150-million English-language movie is set to start in 2011 with American Barrie Osborne as its producer, Qatari media company Alnoor Holdings said on Sunday.

    • BintKhalil

      February 21, 2010 at 6:45 PM

      Am I the only one who finds this news unsettling? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

      • Youssef Chouhoud

        February 21, 2010 at 6:55 PM

        Yeah, I mean the controversy is all but assured. I’ll wait to see it before passing judgement tho.

        Amad – How about hooking up an advance screening for the MM crew?? :D

  6. abu Rumay-s.a.

    February 21, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    some rich material, take it with a grain of salt…

  7. Elham

    February 21, 2010 at 1:46 PM


    Currently reading this book called ” The Hidden Debt to Islamic Civilisation” by S.E. Al- Djazairi.

    A bit of an indepth reading into our heritage and refutes in every place the distortion of the history of science by western historians and shows the places and areas of impact of Islamic Science in Europe.

    Subhannallah I am ashamed not to have known about this from childhood, we should be taught this from a small age in our schools! That we Muslims have this legacy too.We know the legacy of our Prophet (saws) but the fruits of that were more evident in the Islamic Golden Age for the world to see.

    I was triggered to find out about the Muslims’ legacy in agriculture and botany by this lecturer who was mentioning many countries and parts of the world all the while conveniently overlooking the Middleast.

    I waited for him to mention one Muslim country not just ”The Near East” that he kept repeating…

    Then he said” Israel blah blah blah” and stared at me (for my reaction i suppose) , and I thought ” hey, now somethings fishy”. So I googled and found out that the first Botanist was a Muslim!!. Then I saw a list of Muslim Scientists in the Golden age. And these Muslims were working in more than one field: medicine part- time, astrology part- time,mathematician part-time… I was surprised.

    From then on he was on my blacklist of untrusted lecturers, unfortunately I couldnt catch him out the first time because I didnt have the knowledge, which is why we should teach our kids and it would also be a source of motivation for them. Atleast it was for me :)

    • UmA

      February 22, 2010 at 7:12 AM

      Astronomy, not astrology I hope!

      • elham

        February 22, 2010 at 12:22 PM

        Ouch! sorry, yes its astronomy

  8. elham

    February 21, 2010 at 1:51 PM

    meant to say ‘distrusted’…untrusted sounds so wrong

  9. UmA

    February 21, 2010 at 2:04 PM

    Not sure if anyone posted this
    Here’s a short video portraying Islam and Science, commissioned by for the Islam and Science exhibit in London, England at the Science Museum, featuring Krishna Bhamji, I mean Ben Kingsley:

  10. UmA

    February 21, 2010 at 2:07 PM

    Also Youtube Jim al Khalili’s Islam and Science, as well as another children’s one I can’t remember right now but pretty sure was by BBC

    • nuh

      February 21, 2010 at 6:37 PM

      Yes it was on the BBC, you can watch it here

      • UmA

        February 21, 2010 at 9:59 PM

        That link is for Islam and Science by Prof Jim al Khalili.

        And here’s the kid friendly edition called:
        What the Ancients did for us – Islamic Civilisation

  11. mofw

    February 21, 2010 at 2:39 PM

    I’m too lazy to do this myself. But perhaps MM should commission someone to do a media analysis comparing the recent IRS suicide plane crash with another act of “homegrown” terrorism involving a Muslim.

  12. Waleed

    February 21, 2010 at 5:20 PM

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      February 22, 2010 at 12:57 PM

      Looks interesting. Let us know how it was when you’re done iA

  13. usman

    February 21, 2010 at 7:15 PM


    it is off topic but MM should get MM mobile version. I think that is a good idea!

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      February 22, 2010 at 1:01 PM

      You know, I remember going to MM through my phone a while back and seeing a slimmed down version that I assumed was “MM Mobile,” but then it disappeared. Hmm, I’ll look into it. Thanks for the reminder!

  14. BintKhalil

    February 21, 2010 at 8:36 PM

    There’s this investigation of an assassination of a Hamas chief by Mossad operatives using European passports in Dubai; as the AJE interviewer says, very much like something from a John LeCarre novel. From AJE, here and here. Richard Fisk’s take on it – very disturbing when you think of how many hands are dirty and how unlikely any will be paying for it.

  15. Abd- Allah

    February 21, 2010 at 8:51 PM

    Personally I think that Muslims can contribute much more in the field of sciences right now, and there is so much that can be extracted and used from the Quran and sunnah. Unfortunately, the field of Prophetic Medicine remains unexplored by many, perhaps it is because people lack faith that these techniques are successful in treating the problem, or maybe they think that modern medicine is more advanced and provides better cures. I personally think that if we use the treatments from Prophetic Medicine and those from the sunnah, while also using what modern science has to offer, then we will be able to find cures for all the diseases which we currently have no cure for. As the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) said that there is no disease except which Allah has created a cure for except death, regardless of whether the cure is known by some people or unknown to others. I look forward to a day when we will have ‘shaykh doctors’ who will be knowledgeable and educated in both, Prophetic and modern medicine, and I think that this will bring about breakthroughs in the field of medicine and science.

    • UmA

      February 22, 2010 at 7:26 AM

      Going back to the comment on the need for shaykh doctors: m.d’s who are also experts in Prophetic medicine….do Muslims feel a stronger sense of purpose and direction when they see past accomplishments? Or are we merely being nostalgic?

      It is particularly inspiring to learn about scholars of the deen who were exceptional in other fields as well. According to one source, Imam Abu Hanifah headed the brick making for the famed circular city walls of Baghdad.

      Can anyone share other instances of dunya-akhirah knowledge experts?

      • elham

        February 22, 2010 at 12:53 PM

        wasn’t Shaykh Ibn Taimiyyah(ra) acquainted with the secular sciences..chemistry specifically as I have been told.

        • Mirza Shahbaaz Baig

          February 22, 2010 at 2:53 PM

          Yes he was a polymath mash Allaah.

          Thank you for hitting bull’s eye, Abdullah. we definitely need more people educated in psychology and Islaam very well, specially in this seasonally depressed society.


      • akhan

        February 23, 2010 at 9:33 AM

        What’s Prophetic Medicine? Can you mention a few specific techniques? JazakAllah

        • Abd- Allah

          February 23, 2010 at 2:14 PM

          Prophetic medicine is the medical techniques and treatments that are found in the sunnah. It is a HUGE field that unfortunately hasn’t been explored by many Muslims during our times. One technique which you might have heard of is Hijama (cupping) and it is a treatment used for many different things, one of them is headaches/migraines for example.

          There are many books written about the subject of Prophetic medicine, so if you are interested you should read the book ‘Medicine of the Prophet’ by Imam Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya rahimahullah.

    • BintKhalil

      February 22, 2010 at 6:56 AM

      MashaAllah, that’s really amazing. A love story – the Islamic way!

  16. Ismail Kamdar

    February 22, 2010 at 4:04 AM

    My favorite book on the history of the Islamic State’s contribution to sciences, civilization and humanity is the book “Civilization of Faith: A Journey through Islamic History” By Dr. Mustafa as-Sibaa’ie, published by IIPH.

    I first saw the book in the library of the Preston College in Chennai then a friend of mine from Mumbai bought me a copy as a gift. It is really beautiful and shows a different side of the Islamic State focusing on the hospitals, educational institutes and humanitarian accomplishments.

  17. Sonia

    February 22, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    The Barrie Osborne “biopic”–oh yeah is it going to be controversial. His good intentions are certainly admirable and appreciated, but it is true that it would be extremely difficult to create an accessible and meaningful film while keeping it respectful to Islamic proscriptions on the portrayal of the Prophet PBUH. One has to feel kind of bad for the guy knowing how, er, varied the reactions will be from the Muslim community.

    On a tangential note which kind of does relate to Islam and science, and which I hope is okay with MM, is anyone interested in taking a quick survey? It’s for my research project as a student at UCLA, and is about the socialization habits of Muslim-Americans. It’s really short and for a good cause….! =)

  18. Ali

    February 22, 2010 at 8:57 PM

    Science and Civilization in Islam by Seyyed hossein Nasr

  19. Pingback: Inside Islam Radio: Review and Preview – Inside Islam

  20. Delusional muslim?!

    February 25, 2010 at 1:03 PM

    Very sorry to burst your bubble guys but some one has to do it. It amazes me to no end when “educated muslims” proudly proclaim and gloat about the “golden age of Islam” referring to Al-Andalus or scientific achievements etc. I cry with the tears of blood at the plight of this “ummah” when its brightest sons display such vulgar & shameless ignorance. Get back to your roots O` Muslim. May Allaah have mercy on us. The Golden Age for Islam was in the times of our beloved Prophet (Sallalahu alaihi wa sallam) may be you can extend up to the third generation. That’s what the Prophet (saw) said in a very famous & authentic narration. What followed was an absolute and utter decline in the very values that made them valuable in the eyes of Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala.

    More importantly, what is the big deal about the scientific achievements of muslims past? (FYI on closer scrutiny of all those high achievers we find that their muslimness was of questionable nature, to say the least).

    Why it is not a big deal? Imagine Indians or even Chinese, if they were given a 1000 years of complete autonomy over the known world (at the time) with unprecedented prosperity, unlimited access to resources & translated scientific work of the Greek & others, do you think they would not have made similar inventions???

    • Sayf

      February 25, 2010 at 1:09 PM

      Golden age doesn’t mean the best age, there are things in this world far more precious than gold. No intelligent muslim who enjoys the history of our scientific achievements places them above the first three best generations. Relax akhi. =D}

  21. soap

    February 26, 2010 at 6:35 AM

    Ibrahim Kalin has an excellent article available on that’s called “Three Views of Science in the Islamic World”
    It’s an excellent discussion of the the dominant theoretical approaches found towards Science in Muslim thought over the past few centuries.

    There’s an article by A. I. Sabra Situating Arabic Science: Locality versus Essence. It’s beautiful. Dr. Sabra was at least as respected as Dr. Saliba, if not more so as a scholar of Arabic and Islamic Science. The article is available through JSTOR.

    Some of the Encyclopedia’s on Islam by Publishers such as Oxford and Routledge have excellent sections on Islamic Science.

    Dr. Jamil Ragep at the McGill institute of Islamic studies is also doing excellent work on the history of Islamic science.

    The best sources on this topic are the academic ones, as they are with most topics. Others are often quite naiive and silly. If some one is really interested in this topic, I’d suggest doing a PhD in it from a Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations or History and Philosophy of Science department.

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      February 27, 2010 at 9:46 AM

      Thanks for the sources. Are you pursuing a degree in this or a similar field by any chance?

  22. Youssef Chouhoud

    February 27, 2010 at 9:55 AM

    One more great podcast that I subscribe to is “In Our Time.” It’s a BBC program that tackles a wide range of philosophical, historical, and religious topics drawing on commentary from reputable scholars. The discussion is usually really interesting, but obviously is approached from a Western, secular perspective.

    Here are some of the programs specific to Islam & Islamic History:


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