Medieval Islamic World

An Intellectual History of Science and Politics

by Labeeb Ahmed Bsoul (Author)
©2018 Monographs XVI, 284 Pages


Medieval Islamic World: An Intellectual History of Science and Politics surveys major scientific and philosophical discoveries in the medieval period within the broader Islamicate world, providing an alternative historical framework to that of the primarily Eurocentric history of science and philosophy of science and technology fields. Medieval Islamic World serves to address the history of rationalist inquiry within scholarly institutions in medieval Islamic societies, surveying developments in the fields of medicine and political theory, and the scientific disciplines of astronomy, chemistry, physics, and mechanics, as led by medieval Muslim scholarship.

Table Of Contents

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In the Name of Allah (God), the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Many people must be thanked for their contributions to the successful completion of this monograph. I would first like to express my gratitude to my colleagues at Khalifa University, and other colleagues and role models, such as esteemed professors Rushdi Rashid, Seyyed Hossain Nasr, George Saliba, James Ayers, Hank McGuckin, Todd Lawson, Ghanim Yaʿqoubi, Ibrahim Aoude, Dr. Jamal Zoubi, Omar Odeh, the late Professor Ibrahim Aburabiʿ, and many others, for their guidance, encouragement, and the direct and indirect discussions on many topics related to my personal research interest. I would like to take the opportunity to extend my deep gratitude to Dr. Benaouda Bensaid, who assisted me in a variety of ways, especially by his example of scholarship in the course of our studies and through his support on both personal and academic levels, whose moral support and encouragement I will never forget. My deepest gratitude goes to Drs. Anas Al-Azzam, Bashar El-Khasawneh, Mohammad Abu-Matar, Hamada Alshaer, Issam Qattan, Eiyad Abu-Nada, Shadi Balawi, Ahsraf Al-Khateeb, Muhammad Abu Tayih, Baker Mohammad, Kenan Hazirbaba, Mohammad Al-Khaleel, Yousef Abo Salem, Marwan ← ix | x → Abualrub, Imad Elayna, Yacine Addad, Khaled Saleh, Raed Shubair, Moh’d Rezeq, Hassan Barada, Mahmoud Al-Qutayri, Sharmarke Mohamed, Maguy Abi Jaoude, Ayman Abulail, Rachad Zaki, Emad Alhseinat, Faisal Shah Khan, Hanin Abubaker, Syed Murtaza Jaffar, Shaju Badarudeen, Syed Mohammad Tariq, Kinda Khalf, Jeremy Teo, Cecare Stefaini, Hiba Abu Nahla, Maisam Wahab, Hana’ Marshoud, Amal Abdullah, Aya Shanti, Rasha, Ruba, and Aya Nasser, Shahad Hardan, Dina Abuhejleh, Nada Mohamed El-Said, and Khalifa Falah Al-Adwan Al-Anzi, with whom I was inspired to share my knowledge and from whose interesting discussions I benefited immensely. I must also thank the staff of the Khalifa University Library, especially Patricia Jamal and Khawla Al-Hadhrami for their assistance and support during my research.

I am also grateful to many friends who aided me with moral support and scholarly discussion. It would take many pages and much space to thank all those who were part of my life and dear and true friends for many years. They include Dr. Tarek Ladjal, Dr. Ihsan Shehadi, Abd al-Salam Muhamad Bsoul, Muhamad Nimer Bsoul, Tawfeq Yousef Bsoul, Fakhry Salim Bsoul, Ahmed Al-Hasan, Ehab Zayid Al-Taweel, and ʿAbbas Yaʿqoubi. I would also like to thank many friends and students whose names are not mentioned here, but who have contributed in one way or another to the completion of this study.

I would also like to express my deep gratitude and thanks to my colleagues in the HSS Department at Khalifa University, Drs. Muhamad Waqialla, Curtis Carbonell, Ricardo Archbold, Lejla Kucukali, Kristina Marcellus, Dennis Balint, Katherine Hall, and Professor Joel Hayward for their friendship, intellectual discussion and encouragement. I would like to acknowledge the late Professor Tom Faulkner of Dalhousie University’s Department of Comparative Religion, who supported and encouraged my work throughout. Many thanks also to my students at McGill University, Saint Mary’s University, Dalhousie University, United Arab Emirates University, Abu Dhabi University, and Khalifa University Sciences in Islam with whom I was inspired to share my knowledge and from whose interesting discussions I benefited immensely.

I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to Lisa Rivero, who read the entire monograph and offered valuable suggestions for improvement. I also extend special thanks and gratitude to Peter Lang Publishing for their professionalism and dedication in bringing this book to completion. In particular, I would like to thank most heartily chief editor Dr. Farideh Koohi-Kamali for her professionalism and understanding, as well as special thanks to Megan Madden, Editorial Assistant, and Jennifer Beszley, Production Editor, for their hard work, ← x | xi → professional correspondence, and persistence in producing this book according to the highest professional standards. Jennifer has been a great communicator, special talent, and wonderful human being throughout this process.

Finally, I am especially grateful to my wife Sana Ashour, for being beside me throughout the difficult period while I was working on this monograph and other research, as well as for providing the atmosphere to do research. Her patience with me, while I was spending so much time doing research in libraries and traveling, was exemplary. The same goes for my beloved children Ahmed, Muhammed, Yousef, Saeed and Malak and Muhammad Saeed Bsoul, may God be pleased with them always. My special gratitude and thanks go to my beloved family the Bsouls in Reineh/Nazareth-Palestine, my brothers Muhammad, Muwafaq, Ibraheem, Khaleel, and sisters Khawla, Lamya, Amal, Maryam, and their families. Lastly, may God confer His blessings upon those who have assisted me in whatever capacity in my studies and work and to those who devoted their lives and scholarship to providing support for those who need it most. Last but by no means least, I would like to thank those scholars and individuals who contribute to improving lives and understanding throughout the world, in order to make it a better place for all. AMEN!

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Chapter One: Characteristics of the Islamic Civilization

Islam emerged with its universal message, which was launched under its broad and exclusive idea of seeking knowledge (ʿilm); it was the eminent message of the Prophet Muhammad and his successor caliphs. Part of their teaching was encouraging and motivating Muslims to seek and increase their knowledge. Since knowledge became a necessity, Muslim scholars, such as learned members of the community and religious figures emerged and took upon themselves the path to fulfill the needs of Muslim community’s demand to form schools, institutions, and translation centers from foreign languages (i.e., translating Greek and Syriac into Arabic). Seeking knowledge became a significant element of the Islamic civilization to serve the needs of human progress to explore worldly affairs. Scholars were highly received as a prominent figures by rulers in general, by the Rightly Guided Caliphs, and in particular by their successors during the ʿUmayyed period during the reign of ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwan and his successors, and they flourished during the first period of the ʿAbbasid Caliphate. Scholars in a variety fields became close to the caliph and were granted special privileges, ← xiii | xiv → and they were behind the spread of Islam and knowledge from Transoxiana to Andalusia and the neighboring states such as Asia and Africa. Therefore, scholars emerged and led the path of knowledge through their tireless strivings to fulfill their desire for knowledge, since it was highly regarded as a ritual obligation and religious practice ordained by Qurʾan and the Prophetic teachings.

Keywords: Islamic civilization, scholars, Prophetic teaching, caliphs, science, scientist, translation movement, house of wisdom

Chapter Two: Qurʾanic Experimental Method

In many places, the Qurʾan in explicit verses provides guidance and signs beyond a reasonable doubt, issuing an open invitation to unprecedented science and innovation by activating the role of the human senses. This call is evidence of a continuous correlation between faith, science, and work in the religion of Islam. The Qurʾanic verses implicitly challenge human minds to explore the universe through the method of an inductive approach (al-istiqrāʾ). Islam is a religion based on logic and the necessary means to encourage priorities of reasons and rational interpretations (al-qiyās) of universal matters and creation. Muslim scholars and scientists in general and, in particular, Ibn al-Haytham used inductive methodology in their works, experiments, and practice and were encouraged by the Qurʾan to seek truth and please Allah. Classical Muslim scholars were diverse and guided by the Islamic teachings, which led them to their innovation, interpretations, experiments, discoveries and progress. The Qurʾanic verse reads: “This is the creation of Allah. So show Me that which those (whom you worship), besides those He has created. Nay, the ālimun (polytheists, wrong-doers and those who do not believe in the Oneness of Allah) are in plain error. And indeed We bestowed upon Luqmān al-Hikmah (wisdom and religious understanding, etc.) saying: ‘Give thanks to Allah,’ and whoever gives thanks, he gives thanks for (the good of) his own self. And whoever is unthankful, then verily, Allah is All-Rich (Free of all wants), Worthy of all praise.” (Qurʾan 31:11−12)

Keywords: Qurʾan, al-istiqrāʾ (inductive approach), muslim Scholars, scientists, al-hikmah (wisdom), al-qiyās (reasoning), logic, Ibn al-Hyatham. ← xiv | xv →

Chapter Three: The Impact of Islamic Medicine on Modern Civilization and Islamic Scientific Heritage of Medicine and Pharmacy

Islamic Medicine was an important branch of knowledge. Medicine was practiced in a variety of ways in early Islam; it was known as the Prophetic medicine and its progress and practice by Muslim scientists continued from the middle of the eighth century to the middle of the seventeen century, spreading to many Islamic regions. The medical theories were inherited from the Greeks and reached the Muslim world through the translation of Greek manuscripts into Arabic. The Muslim scientists benefited greatly from Greek works in terms of medical scientific practice, which it further developed and refined. The medical scientific practice captured the attention of many prominent medieval Muslim scientists such as Ibn Sīnā, al-Rāzī, Ibn al-Haytham, al-Zahrāwī, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Khatib, Ibn al-Nafīs, and many others. These scientists did not only study the translations of Greek medical manuscripts but they improved and developed this profession, leading them to produce medical encyclopedias that shaped this profession and transformed Europe, having an impact on the European Renaissance during the 14th through the 16th centuries. Moreover, Muslims scientists searched for treatment via discovery of medication from available plants, trees, and herbs. In addition to their practice, they excelled in the crafting and designing of medical instruments for all type of surgeries, many of which are still used in modern medical operation rooms. Islamic success in the medical field spread throughout the regions and reached Europe.

Keywords: Islamic medicine, scientists, Ibn Sīnā, al-Rāzī, Ibn al-Haytham, al-Zahrāwī, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Khatib, Ibn al-Nafīs, medications, pharmacy, medical instruments, medieval Islam, Prophetic medicine, Greek scientists, European Renaissance

Chapter Four: The Impact of Islamic Political Theory on Modern Civilization

Three scholars in the realm of political authority and rule help to explain political theory in Islam and its impact on modern civilization. The three selected prominent scholars are distinguished in different ways, such as differences in time, place, and cultural and religious backgrounds. These differences is ← xv | xvi → reflected in the fact that two of the distinguish scholars, āhir ibn usayn of Mesopotamia and Ibn Zafar of Sicily, are Muslims, who adhered to and referenced in their writings Islamic culture. Machiavelli, however, came from European and Christian culture. A comparison of the political theory of these scholars and how they were influenced by one another helps to show the extent of the influence of former cultures on future cultures, and the impact of political transformations and movements of history in society, as well as the political vision of each scholar. Further, writings, time, and place of the three scholars determined their authenticity, originality of authority, and influence.

Keywords: Ibn Zafar al-iqilī, āhir ibn usayn, Machiavelli, political theory, Islamic culture, European culture, Sicily, Mesopotamia, history, authority, influence

Chapter Five: Classical Muslim Scholars’ Contribution to the Fields of Astronomy, Geography, Chemistry, Physics, and Mechanical Engineering (ʿIlm al-iyal)

The Muslim scientists were the first to invent the experimental method in their handling of scientific data and the universe around them, leading to the establishment of the rules of the experimental scientific method (ʿilm al-istiqrāʾ), which contemporary science is still influenced and guided by. Among the Muslim scholars who have had a long tradition in this field are Ibn al-Haytham in optics, Ibn al-Nafīs in medicine, al-Khwārizmī in mathematics, Jābir ibn ayān in chemistry, Banū Mūsā and al-Jazrī in mechanical engineering (ʿilm al-iyal), al-Biruni in astronomy, and others. Islamic sciences were associated with many of the rituals of the religion, as the Islamic nation saw an unprecedented Qurʾanic interest regarding the universe and all its details. In the field of geography, Muslims accurately determined the degrees of length and width, enabling them to adjust the location of places by measuring the height of the polar star or the sun (notable names are al-Masʿudi, al-Biruni, and others). The contributions of Muslims in the field of physics allowed them to create a new science from their achievements and discoveries.

Keywords: Banū Mūsā, mechanical engineering (ʿilm al-iyal), astronomy (ʿIlm al-Falak), chemistry (al-Khimyāʾ), physics, geography, mathematics, al-Biruni, al-Khwārizmī, Jābir ibn ayān, Ibn al-Haytham, al-Jazrī

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The relation of science to the intellectual, political, economic, and social realms in the Muslim world is not as it should be. This is true for at least a couple of reasons. First, the media often portrays only a partial truth about Islam, by neglecting to distinguish between Islam as an Abrahamic/monotheistic religion and Muslims, tending to generalize about Islam and Muslims, and reporting with a political agenda. Second, the Muslim world’s political emphasis on the Islamic state has competed with support for scientific knowledge and development.

Another factor is that attention is rarely paid to the significant progress of Muslim scholars in many fields of knowledge and their contributions to human civilization. This book aims to fill that gap by examining political, social, medical, literary, legal, and astronomical examples of classical Muslim scholars and their works that emerged prior to the work of corresponding famous non-Muslim scholars in the West. Instead of relying on generalizations, which can perpetuate a negative stereotype of Islam to the rest of the world, this book relies on classical texts to present another, fuller perspective of Islam to the rest of the world, one that runs contrary to many Western and even some Eastern mainstream perspectives.

Even some Muslims deny the impact of Islamic civilization on Europe. This lack of proper perspective among Muslims is a result of their dispersion ← 1 | 2 → and suffering, and due to the Muslim and Arab intellectuals and thinkers following and occasionally blindly imitating European scientists, cultures, works, and ideas without knowing the origins of those ideas. However, a fair survey of Western scholars and history shows the extent of Islamic civilization’s impact on surrounding nations and continents, whether European or Asian.

It is fair to say, in general, that Arab-Islamic culture was central to the time between ancient sciences and cultures and the European Renaissance. Arab-Islamic thought and culture stretched from the ancient civilizations of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Chinese, to the civilization of the Greeks and Alexandria and the Islamic era, influencing scholars in and around the European Renaissance who read Arab scholars’ works translated into Latin and European languages.

Arab-Islamic culture preserved Greek culture against loss. When Greek books reached Muslim and Arab scholars and intellectuals, many of these works were preserved in their Arabic translations. The West had been engaged with Arab culture, even after its decline in Spain, for more than two generations until modern times and translation from Arabic did not cease in the Renaissance era and post-Renaissance. However, direct contact with the Greek world and civilization waned as of the middle of the thirteenth century, when Greek books began to be translated directly to Latin without reference to the Arabic translations.

The transformation of Arab-Islamic culture that emerged from Europe in the Middle Ages to the age of modern enlightenment was not limited to the transfer of knowledge from Ancient Greek, Indian, Babylonian, and Egyptian sources or from Arabic books translated into Latin. Christian Europe also adopted Arab knowledge, from texts of Islamic civilization and faith to public and private life. Had the Catholic Church not tipped the balance in favor of the Europeans in the Battle of Tours (Bataille de Poitiers) in 114/732, Islamic civilization and Arab culture may have prevailed in Europe, and the Catholic Church may have saved the world from much conflict and misery.

Arab-Islamic culture was a prelude to building the global scientific renaissance, as Arab and Muslim scientists transferred Greek and other scientific knowledge. They transformed this scientific heritage into the Arabic language, which was the language of science and culture, which had an impact on the European Renaissance. The influence of Arab and Islamic culture in many scientific, intellectual, and cultural fields is clear, such as innovative numbering and the Arabic zero, the decimal system, the theory of evolution prior to Darwinian theory by hundreds of years, understanding of blood circulation ← 2 | 3 → before Harvey by four centuries, gravity and the relationship between weight, speed, and distance before Newton by many centuries, measuring the speed of light and estimating angles of reflection and refraction, and estimating the circumference of the earth and dimensions of celestial bodies, innovation of astronomical instruments, the discovery of the high seas, and laying the foundations of chemistry.

Arab-Islamic culture spread in the Western world, and European scientists benefited from the original Arabic sources, finding this culture to be a great scientific heritage and engaging in its study and analysis. Arabs and Muslims were pioneers in modern scientific methods and represent modern science in every field. From Arab-Islamic culture Europe’s intellectuals and scientists gained more than just information; have also acquired scientific methodology with all of its experimental and inductive innovation. The Europeans have since found in Arab heritage and in Muslim Arab-Islamic culture their own “wandering desire,” as is evidenced in many Western writers.

For example, a fascination with the size of the impact of Arab-Islamic culture on the European Renaissance and European culture and science caused the German scholar Sigrid Hunke to write with admiration of the cradle of civilization in the East. While the darkness of the Middle Ages enveloped Europe, Islamic civilization was contributing to the advancement of science, medicine, and philosophy.1

Will Durant wrote in The Age of Faith that Muslims have contributed effectively in all areas, that Ibn Sīnā was one of the greatest scientists in medicine, “al-Rāzī the greatest physician, Biruni the greatest geographer, Ibn al-Haytham the greatest optician, Jabir probably the greatest chemist.”2 Arabs were also pioneers in education. Further, Durant wrote that Roger Bacon came up with his theory of alchemy in Europe 500 years after Ibn Jabir, and Bacon owed his knowledge to the Moroccans in Spain who took their knowledge from the Muslims in the East. When thinkers and scientists appeared in the European Renaissance, their genius and progress were from the shoulders of the giants of the Muslim world.3

This monograph is divided into five chapters and a conclusion; it is an extensive study of the contributions made by Muslims in human civilization through careful research of various scientific fields, thus confirming the depth and breadth of Muslims’ contributions to human development. The first chapter begins with reference to the characteristics of Islamic civilization: the ethics and scientific orientation, the correlation between science and work, and appreciation of the value of time, as well as absolute freedom. The explicit call ← 3 | 4 → by the Holy Qur’an for knowledge and its creation by activating the senses associated with the mind of man, shows the correlation in Islamic civilization between faith, science, and work.

In this regard, the second chapter, “Qur’anic Experimental Method,” points out those Muslim scholars who were the first to invent the experimental scientific method by dealing with the data around them, leading to the establishment of rules still used in contemporary science. Among the Muslim scholars who have had a long tradition in this field are al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham, Ibn al-Nafīs, al-Khwārizmī, Jābir ibn ayān, among many others.


XVI, 284
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (October)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XVI, 284 pp.

Biographical notes

Labeeb Ahmed Bsoul (Author)

Dr. Labeeb Ahmed Bsoul (Ph.D., McGill University) is Associate Professor at Khalifa University. Among his many published articles and books are Formation of Islamic Jurisprudence (2016), Islamic History and Law (2016), and International Treaties (Mu‘ahadat) in Islam (2008).


Title: Medieval Islamic World