The Twelfth General Conference:Islam and Mutations of the Epoch
Islamic Thought and Scientific and Technological Progress
Islamic Thought and Scientific
and Technological Progress
AL HAJI MUHAMMAD MACCIDO, The SULTAN Of SOKOTO
President of Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs
In the Name of Allah, most beneficent, most merciful, May His
peace and blessings be upon His Prophet, and Messenger, Muhammad,
his family, his companions, and those who follow their path till the day of
judgement. Ameen. It is with great pleasure that I received the invitation
of His Excellency the Minister of Al-AWQAF and Head of the Supreme
Council for Islamic Affairs (SCIA) in Egypt to participate in this
important conference. The conference is timely. It could not come at a
better time when Muslims are in need of occupying their rightful place in
all fields of a human endeavour. Your Excellency. I intend to say a few
words about the perspective of Islam on scientific and technological
progress. The intention is to show Islam's appreciation of science and
technology and the specific contributions of Muslims to the subject.
Islam, as we all know, is the religion of Allah revealed to Prophet
Muhammad (PBUH) for the guidance of mankind. One of the greatest
qualities of Islam is its holistic nature. It deals with all facets of man's life,
belief, worship, politics, economics, science and technology, etc. There is
no subject matter that has not been touched by Islam. Given this unique
characteristic of Islam, it is not surprising to find evidence and principles
of science in the basic sources of Islam the Qur'an and traditions of the
The Qur'an, which is the most fundamental source of Islam,
contains numerous verses which, although revealed over one thousand
years ago, concur with the latest scientific discoveries. The book "The
Qur'an and Modern Science" by the renowned Dr. Maurice Bucaille
demonstrates this. The Qur'an discussed such scientific subjects as
creation, astronomy, the earth, animal and vegetable kingdoms, the
nature of man, and human reproduction. To date, scientific discoveries
have only confirmed the truth of Qur'anic scientific prescriptions. Your
Excellency, it is significant for Muslims, unlike in other religious texts, the
scientific truths scattered throughout it. However, this does not mean that
the object of science and technology in Islam is the same as what exists in
the west today, in terms of science and technology.
That the Qur'an is addressed to people who think is beautifully
captured by the following Qur'anic verse:
Your god is One Gad; There is no god but He;
The all-Merciful, the all-Compassionate Behold in the creation
Of the heavens and the earth; In the alternation
Of night and day; In the sailing of ship! Through the ocean
For the profit of mankind; In the rain which God Sends down
from the skies,
And the life He gives therewith to an earth that is dead;
In the creatures of all kinds that He causes to multiply
Through the earth;
In the change of the winds, and the clouds which run
Their appointed courses between sky and earth; in all this are
for people who use their reason" (The Qur `an 2:164)
Have you watched the seeds which you sow: "(56;63), "the
water you Drink... "(56:68), "...the fire you light" (56:71).
These are often taken as an end in themselves. The power of science
is often used to dominate or exploit others. In Islam, the object of science
is to invite man to reflect, to think so that he can appreciate the essence of
God. The significance of science and technology, therefore, is mainly to
provide the means for attaining salvation in the hereafter. Thus Islamic
science is fundamentally opposed to any science that attempts to negate
God and see science as an end in itself.
THE APPROACH OF MUSLIMS TO SCIENTIFIC AND
In line with the general prospective of Islam, Muslims have
approached the issues of science and technology positively. Through the
medium of the Arabic language (hitherto the language of isolated desert
people on the margin of civilization) the Muslim Civilization
systematically undertook the translation of ancient texts from other
cultures namely, Greek, Persian, Sanskrit etc. into Arabic. The great
Muslim civilization incorporated a large chunk of the three continents of
the ancient world, namely Asia, Europe and Africa, absorbed different
people from different cultural backgrounds, and offered Islam for the role
of unifying ideology and faith and as teacher and guide. Hence, the
various disparate elements saw themselves first and foremost as Muslims.
It also brought about an enabling environment for other regions and
groups to exist and prosper under the protection of Islam especially
Jewish and Christian groups.
The high value given to knowledge and learning enabled the
Muslim Civilization specially from the time of the Abbasiyyah Khilafah
to incorporate and digest the achievements of other civilizations and the
consolidation and advancement of the frontiers of knowledge and
technology in all fields.
The areas of science and technology in which the Muslim civilization
enriched the world included botany, zoology, chemistry optics, medicine,
mathematics, astronomy, geography and technology.
In botany, such books translated into Latin included "The Book of
Plants" by Abu Hanifah, Al- dinwary on Zoology, books of animals and
On chemistry, "The Book of Stones" by Al-Rayhan Al-Biruni also
on the above subject, the books of Jabilhans Books were translated into
Latin in the 12th century remained authoritative texts in chemistry in
Europe to the 17th century.
On optics, Ibn Haytham's book "Kitab al-Manazir" was translated
into Latin in 1572 and was authority on the subject in reflection, re-
fraction, and the properties of light. Also the first ever history of science
was written by Said Ibn Ahmad Ibn Sadi in the 10th century with the title
"Al-Tarif bi Tabaqat Al-Umar".
In the area of Medicine, the Muslim World was so advanced that
Europe continued to depend on its Medicine until the 16th century. By
1500 C.E. up to six editions of the Canon of Medicine (Al-Qanun fil Tibb)
by Ibn Sina were in vogue in Europe. The book earned the description as
"the most studied medical work in history" and it continued to be in use
up to 1650 C.E. Other important medical works included those of Abu
Bakr Muhammad Ibn Zakaria Al-Razi (865-925) whose authority
remained unquestioned in Europe till the 17th century; works of Abu Al-
Rayhan al-Biruni (973-1050) were also in vogue. A handbook of
ophthalmology by Ali Ibn Isa was translated and published three times in
1499, 1500, and 1597. After the Crusades, contact paved the way for their
establishment of about 1200 hospitals in Europe as the first institutions
solely for the sick. The Muslim practice of clinical instruction to students
in the hospital was only copied in Europe from 1550 C.E.
In the field of mathematics, the first Muslim mathematician who
made an impact was Al-Khawarizmi (D.876). He was responsible for the
elucidation of the Arabic numerals 0 to 9 which spread to Europe and
replaced the cumbersome Roman Scripts after the 10th century and
enabled the advancement of mathematics. The system in Europe is known
as Algorism. Al-Khwarizmi also discovered the systematized Algebra.
Other Muslim mathematicians whose works were translated and
contributed to mathematical knowledge include: Abu Kamil Shuja, Ibn
Haytham, Omar Al-Khayyam, Al-Jawhari, Thabit Ibn Qurra, Nasr Al-
Din Al-Tusi, Shams Al-Din Al Samarkandi. They contributed to all
branches of mathematics and founded some of them. Ibn Haytham, for
instance, founded trigonometry.
In astronomy, Al-Sufi's (D.986) description of the heavens became
the basis of all later studies and through its Spanish translation influenced
Stellar names of the European modern languages. Muslim astronomers
also contributed the astrolabe, which was the basic instrument used in
astronomy. They also formed tables about the moment of planets, some of
which anticipated some of the theories of Kepler and Copernicus.
In geography, Muslim maps and nautical works played a
tremendous part in the development of western shipping. The numerous
Arabic terms in shipping testify to that, for example Dar Al-Sina'ah
(arsenal), Amir Al-bahr (Admiral), Qubtan (captain), etc. Muslim
geographers made the then- world known, and through some of their
works, Europe became aware of the rest of the world. They include Al-
Mazni, Ibn Battuta, Ibn Hawqal, Al-Mas'udi, etc. Muslim authority had
been so pervasive that the Europeans thought that the whole world apart
from Europe belonged to the world of Islam.
In technology, the Muslims were introducers of artificial irrigation
systems into Southern Europe. They set up the first observatory in
Samarkand in 1420, which became the model for another in Istanbul in
1577, which in turn induced the setting up of observatories throughout
the western world from the 17th century onwards. The Muslims also
introduced a number of industries into Europe including paper
manufacture in the 12th century.
In the area of agriculture, Muslims introduced some important
agricultural products like cotton, rice, sugar cane, olive trees, orange
trees, etc. Cotton later became one of the basic raw materials in the
Industrial Revolution, the other being coal.
In international trade, the Muslim World developed a world market
which is a prototype of the modern world market. The presence of
numerous Arabic terms in the modern trade vocabulary in various
languages testifies to that, for example Ta'rifah (Tariff) and Shakk
Modern science has tremendously increased the knowledge of man.
It enabled him to gain the mastery and control of himself and his
environment. However, this same modern science has no purpose beyond
the investigation of immediate problems using such methods as
observation and experiments. The object of science is far removed from
the realms of morality. In Islam, science and technology are decidedly
located within the framework of religion.
Your Excellence, the foregoing extensive discussion points to one
major conclusion; it is that Muslims have never separated their religious
preoccupation such as the Ibadab with science, technology or other
subjects of interests.
Let me add here that many schools from the Sokoto caliphate wrote
important works on different branches of science especially medicine.
These include Muhammad Bello who wrote books on both the Prophetic
and general medicine, Sheikh Abdullah Ibn Fodio, Sheikh Muhammad
Tukur Al-Fulani, and Umar Ibn Muhammad Al-Bukheri. Their works
cover almost all branches of medicine known in their times: eye disease,
hemorrhoids, worms, kidney disease, stomach disease, piles, etc. They also
touched on spiritual, natural, and traditional medicine.
It is generally accepted that Islam is not only receptive to scientific
and technological progress but also actively encourages it. Past Muslim
generations have exerted themselves in this regard and were thus able to
make enormous contributions to the emergence of modern science and
The fundamental question today for Muslims is why they have
lagged behind in this area of vital need if Rhazes, who died in the 10th
century, could produce a medical encyclopedia of some 20 volumes that
covers the whole range of medical knowledge and which was widely
The Holy Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary by Abdullah
Maurice Bucaille, The Qur'an and Modern Science, Birminghan,
the UK Islamic mission.
The Bashir Osman Ahmed, The Contribution of Sokoto Jihad
Scholar in the Development of Medicine, paper presented on the senior
and technology, Sokoto, January, 1994.
Abdulwalid Hamid. Islam the Natural Way, London, Muslim
education and literacy services (CELS), 1999.
G.M. Wicknes, "The Middle East as a World Centre of Science and
Medicine" in R.M Savory, ed. Introduction to Islamic Civilization,
London, Cambridge University Press, 1976.
Gary Miller,The Amazing Qur'an, The Islamic Education Trust.