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From Akbar’s court to Baghdad, Muslims laid foundation for scientific education and curiosity

In ‘The Scientific Muslim’, Mohammad Aslam Parvaiz writes on the rise and fall of scientific temperament in Islam.

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Today the common factor amongst the Muslim masses, already fragmented on the basis of colour, race, country, language, religious school, sect and belief, is the lack of scientific temperament, scientific and logical consciousness and scientific knowledge, together with a diminishing interest towards these virtues. The growing lack of scientific inclination amongst the Muslims in general and particularly those from the Indian subcontinent, is a serious issue and worthy of foremost attention and analysis.


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It is indeed a well-established fact that our disposition, its positive and negative aspects, is a result of the education and upbringing we receive. Now, the question which comes before us is that which type of education are we talking about. Is it the education given in our schools or the ‘secular’ education being imparted in other academic institutions? If we term this latter system of education as deficient and worthless, then how come our other fellow countrymen, getting this very education, are surging ahead in different scientific fields? On the other hand, if by ‘education’, we mean the religious and Islamic education imparted in our madrasas and call it defunct then the major question which pops up is that if the Islamic teachings did not inculcate a scientific temperament and inclination in the Muslim mind, then how can we explain the endeavours of Muslim scientists and their technological breakthroughs made between the seventh and twelfth centuries which laid the foundations of contemporary science? 

The human history has been witness to such periods wherein education meant merely religious education. People in those days believed that by religious education they imbibed all those things which were supposedly the ultimate aim of human beings. Such characteristics were incorporated in humans that were necessary for their spiritual, physical, individual as well as collective welfare and prosperity.

When early Muslims began moving into India, they established madrasas initially to preserve their religious identity, where only the basic education was imparted and nothing else. However, the system of purely religious education did not last for long. Gradually but steadily, contemporary subjects also came to be a part of the syllabi apart from the religious ones.

To be frank, the government had no control over education during the period of Muslim rulers in India. In fact, even in the Islamic countries, education remained beyond the control of the government during this era because the establishment and the management of madrasas were of a purely independent nature. In the beginning, the mosque in each locality served the purpose of a madrasa as well or there used to be a religious school attached to the mosque for imparting basic education. Children were provided education from the age of six. The teacher was appointed by a well-to-do person of the locality or by a committee. Children belonging to less well-off sections of society were also provided education in these schools.

The education of Muslims in India also started on a similar note. The system of education of Muslims during the periods of Pathans and Mughals was also the result of individual efforts. At times, the educational institutions used to receive huge grants and assistance from rulers and patrons of education. It was Akbar whose government for the first time took interest in education. A separate department for education was established which made arrangements for providing education to people from all religions and communities. The Hindus and Muslims received education under one roof, although their syllabi of education were different. However, certain subjects like mathematics, science, etc., were common to both. Stress was also laid upon scientific and technological education during the Pathan and Mughal regimes. The field of medicine, in particular, made rapid advances in this era and both the Muslims as well as the Hindus benefited from it. A new inclination and a distinct tendency towards education became quite evident during the last leg of the Muslim rule.

The endeavours of some Muslim rulers of Hyderabad (Deccan) in the field of education deserve special mention here. A college of oriental education called Darul-Uloom was established in the city of Hyderabad in 1853-54. It may be regarded as the first step towards general education. Arabic, French, Marathi, Telugu and English languages, and their classical literature were taught there. Not only was education free here, but the students were also given scholarships and awards to motivate and encourage them further. During 1859-60, a Persian and a vernacular language school was set up in each Taluka. Apart from these languages, subjects like mathematics, history and geography were also taught. These institutions were open to one and all, irrespective of religion, caste or creed. In 1878, a public school came up on the lines of those in England, where the children of both Hindu and Muslim elite received education together.

George Sarton, the famous science historian, has unhesitatingly accepted the fact in his book The History of Science that if we divide the period between the seventh and twelfth centuries into 50-year spans and attribute one span to an eminent scholar, we are bound to conclude that all these timespans are swarming with the names of Muslim scientists. On another occasion, he wrote, ‘The fundamental and basic needs of the mankind were fulfilled by the Muslims. The topmost mathematician of this period, the topmost philosopher and the greatest historian were all Muslims’. Social anthropologist Robert Briffault has even gone to the extent of saying, ‘There was hardly any existence of science before the advent of Islam.’ He also gave evidence of the fact that it was Muslims who gave medicine the status of knowledge, dignified and fostered it. He writes, ‘Medicine was more of magic than medicine before Islam.’ One of the greatest steps was the introduction of experimentation by Muslim scholars. Before this illustrious Muslim period, the world was virtually in the dark about proper, systematic and investigative experimentation and their utility. Muslims alone taught the world the importance and relevance of experiments.

The spirit of acquiring knowledge and insight, along with that of conducting researches and investigations, just after the renaissance of Islam is a point to be noted. The aspirations and endeavours of the devoted companions of Prophet Mohammad and the ardent followers of the Qur’an are clear and explicit evidence to the fact that the thirst for knowledge and awareness amongst Muslims had been rekindled by the Holy Qur’an and the Prophet of Allah. By treading on the path shown by the Holy Qur’an, the Muslims were not only successful in acquiring knowledge in a short span of time, rather, they added stars to it. 

If we classify the period between the seventh and the fourteenth centuries as the first leg of Islamic culture and civilisation, and that from the 14th century till the present day as the second segment, we can deduce that the condition of Muslims from the point of view of knowledge and learning changed dramatically. In the first segment, the Islamic world was enlightened with knowledge while Europe was trapped in the dungeons of ignorance, superstitions and suspicions. In the second segment, things went topsy-turvy. This period was a mute witness to the Muslims breaking off from science and submerging deep down into blackened waters of ignorance, false beliefs and polytheism, while Europe was illuminated with the torch of knowledge gifted by none other than Muslims.


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An interesting study of the first segment was made by American historian of science Charles Coulston Gillispie. He prepared the list of those scientists from the seventh to the fifteenth centuries who contributed to the field of science and laid the foundations for a scientific revolution of the present era. This list includes 132 scientists out of which 105 were from the Islamic world while 10 of them belonged to the non-Islamic world, that is, Europe. However, most of them received their education from the universities of Muslim Spain (Cordova, Granada, etc.). In other words, about 90 per cent of the scientists hailed from the Islamic world. Similar were the statistics for scientific inventions and work. In the last phase of the second segment, that is the 20th century, a survey conducted in 1981 noted that there was no Islamic country featuring in the list of the first 25 countries publishing the largest number of scientific magazines and journals. In 1996 all over the globe, the percentage of Muslim writers was not even one. It is inimical that when the Muslim population was merely 15 per cent of the total world population in the first segment, their involvement in scientific activities was more than 90 per cent and now when the Muslim population has risen to 22 per cent, their representation in the fields of science has plummeted down to less than 1 per cent!

There was a time when Baghdad was the centre of the scientific world. The Mutanabbi Street had more than 200 shops selling books ranging from the Holy Qur’an to those on astronomy, medicine, mathematics, chemistry, etc. People used to have personal libraries; scholarly meetings used to be held off and on; serious deliberations were held on the Holy Qur’an in the light of new discoveries and new sciences. Today, one would hardly find the works of al-Razi, Jabir ibn Hayyan or Al-Kindi in the library of any Muslim institution, shop or personal library. In the words of Syed Abul Hasan Ali Hasani Nadwi, it is one of the most ironical and unfortunate turning points in history that Muslims, who gave tremendous contributions to the scientific world, forgot their painstaking researches and scholarly attributes, and became a victim of emulation and traditional mindset. That is why they lost their footing and trailed behind the West in the fields of science and technology.

This excerpt from The Scientific Muslim: Understanding Islam in a New Light has been published with permission from Konark Publishers.

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27 COMMENTS

  1. Apart from dubious contents, what is even more jarinng is the the atrocious language. For example. use of word ‘Researches’, Then usint inimical when the crrect wordl was ironical. He also talks about Pathan and Mughals., whereas most books mention Arabs, Turks, Afgans and central Asian ruleers. Print is in bad shape as far as Islam scholarship is concerned. It seems to have remained at medival era.

  2. Whom are u trying to brainwash, we know Muslims contribution in Terrorism is close to 100 percentage, when will you write an article on same?

  3. Very entertaining text, enjoyed a lot,
    Manipulation of numbers (maths), was considered the work of devil. And the concept of devil is very scientific in the eyes of the print.

  4. Article is bit confusing. Religion is itself in conflict with science to be honest. Religion is based on faith or a belief system (which has no evidence. Beliefs may be contradictory to one another) . Every religion has some belief system or a way of life (some may have some reasoning). Its OK to have a belief system as long as its not political and kept as personal. Science is based on study, evidence and reasoning, its not based on myths, mythology and legend. There is nothing like Hindu science or Christian science or Muslim or jewish science or engg or technology. Its just Science or engg. Either hindu or muslim or Christian has to agree on newtons law of motion or Einstein’s theory, its a not a belief its science. Don’t add prefix or suffix to science

  5. Is this story a joke, seems to be miles away from the facts. The contibution of Muslims for Science and Technology was ZERO.

  6. Jews 0.6 percentage : 22 Nobel
    Word 0, calculus, trigonometry and surgery given by indians before muslim religion started . So the question remains, what are you talking about ?

  7. Muslims remains in the same state as it once was — enamoured of the past, resentful of the present, and fearful of the future.

  8. You can give some ref of historians of any part of the world to put light on the contribution of Muslims to education and science buy you can’t say that such knowledge was not existing before the advent of Islam. Historians are not the one who are omniscient. For your kind information around 5000 BC people of Indus Valley civilization (Jain and Hindus were there as per the idol and seals found) were much more prosperous, knowledgeable, had almost zero Gender inequality, were doing international trade via lothal port. So in but shell u can praise the contribution of one entity but not by giving others zero credit. Hope You also about the planetary system was known to Hindus and Jain when there were no religion on the earth surface thousands of years ago.

  9. History of science goes back about thousands of years. First scienve was connected with religion. Priests and wise men in Egypt and Mesopotanien or China have searched in the fields of astrology and others.
    Sinve the greek Anique Science has been connected to philosophy. At this time they started to work together on knowledge and to teach it. From the greek philosophy the principles of logical thinking are coming, whichnis base of scientifical methods.
    I agree that there were many muslim scientists, but younhabe forgotten many others before of them.

  10. Serioulsly now? The data on the ground contradicts the thesis and the conclusions of this article. Should we not use some common sense?

  11. Other our beloved Abdul Kalam, no one noteworthy in that community ever been part of main stream in India. On an average they are below in education standards and most of them either look for opportunities in middle east or take up work as mechanical like plumber, automobile or AC mechanic. Few became politicians by fooling tgeir own people. What type of education standards tge author in bragging about?

  12. May be, but why have Muslims degenerated into a lot of fanatical, jihadist terrorism-addicted, anti-science and anti–knowledge crouws is a question they all need to introspect and act upon!

  13. This is how the story ends:
    Then they discovered that Al’lah had promised them ultimate knowledge and that knowledge was in the Koran. It took a few hundred years for Muslim lands to go under. But eventually Koranic knowledge took over. And anyone who disagreed was put to sword.

  14. Either you mind question everything or your mind believe everything…
    .
    1.8 billion now love to believe suspending their brain function
    .
    Naturally..

  15. Science and technology are secular topics. Attempts to misapporopriate these under islam is part of atypical Abharmic faith’s core tenants:
    – exclusivist (you get salvation only if you follow my faith and my prophet, all the rest will burn in hell for eternity),
    – supremacist (only my prophet and faith is the valid path,, rest are not and they will go to hell),
    This makes Abrahmic (Islam and Christianity)faith’s core ideology bigoted, discriminatory and intolerant towards other religions.

    Islam is not Quran alone. Islam is comprised of (a) Quran, (b) Hadith, (c) Sharia, (d) madhab or subsect/denomination within islam (shia vs sunni, within sunni then barelvi vs ahal e hadith vs taghlibi vs deobandi, etc who all call each other “blasphemous” kafirs and hence wajib ul qatal (deserving to be murdered/beheaded)., Muslims tend to use supremacist words “conquest of India” (dar ul herb and gazwa e hind verses of quran and hadiths of islam),. islam started among primitive barbaric tribe of desert which did not have “high culture” of its own. As Islam spread through jihad conquests which entailed if nonmuslims is defeated by muslism then nonmuslim/kafir was given two choice, convert to islam or be killed, those who saved their life by converting to islam are now brainwashed by islamists with lies that this is called “peaceful” conversion by “choice”, this conversion by coersion with realistic threat of death is no peaceful conversion and not a conversion by “voluntary free will”.

    islamists won thsoe wars because early Islam did not have high culture, so it lacked humanist ethics of warfare e.g. Hindu had high culture and they had 4000yrs old vedic era humanist rules of war which they followed unti british raj which was do not atatck fallen enemy, dont kill surrendered enemy, do not attack after sunset, do not attack from flanks or behind, etc. Those ancient hindu rules of warfare are similar to modern humanist rules of warfare mandated by United Nations., in some cases hindu rules were way more humanist and better than UN rules Whereas islam lacks these ethics and due to barbarism they won the wars against high cultures who followed humanist rules of warfare.

    Once kafirs were converted, Islamist misappropriated their culture, science, technology. Due to supremacism (all human are not equal, onyl muslims are equal among themselevs and even among muslims women are kind of slaves as islam is manifestation of barbaric low culture of desert nomnds of arabia, rest of nonmuslims can either be subjugated as lower status Dhimmis, or given so called “peaceful” choice to be killed or convert under fear of being beheaded.

    This article is nothing but standard Islamist Supremacist agenda of misappropriating other cultures and nations science and technology, and then claiming these secular aspects to be product of Islam. Disgusting.

    This writer stands exposed as an above ground Islamist Supremacist propagandist waging SIXTH GENERATION WARFARE on India. beware of such people. Print and Shekhar Gupta, you are a traitor of the nation and humanity by allowing such supremacists a platform.

  16. Lies lies great lies. I am from Hyderabad and my parents faced the brutality’s of Nizam and Razakars , The Deccan Muslim Rulers never allowed any form of education in local language that is Telugu , Muslim rulers used to cut teachers hands , if they come to know about running a school in Telugu medium, only education was allowed in Persia and Urdu , that’s why Telangana moment started after 1947 , because the exams for government jobs were conducted in Telugu & English and No , not a single Hindu in Deccan Nizam knows how to read or write Telugu or English, they only know Parsi or Urdu and all the jobs went to Andhra coastal regions, who were under British rule , please stop white washing history.

  17. So were ACHARYA SUSHRUT – Founder of Surgery , ACHARYA ARYABHATTA – who gave us MATHS , ACHARYA BHASKAR – Founder of ALEBRA all Muslims , Were the Nalanda , Taxila , Sharda Peeths not GREAT UNIVERSITIES , did Muslims BUILD them or Destroy Them and India had Magnificient Monuments , Cities 8000 Years Back , MOHENJO DARRO , HARAPPA , PATALIPUTRA who Build Them, ARTS are Haram , we had KAMSUTRA , NATYA SHASTRA , Magnificient Epics , Dramas , Come on Guys KITNA JHOOT BOLEOGE

  18. No doubt, scores of Muslim scholars between 9th century to about 15th century were responsible for distributing Indian texts on science and medicine to west through their translations. Similarly, they also translated greek texts to Latin, which in fact commenced renaisance in Europe. But, the point is that while doing this commendable work, they were not inspired by Koran or Islamic tenets. In fact, people like Ibn Senna (Avisenna), and Ibna Rushd(Averoes) were agnostic philosophers. They were not examining whether the work done by them was in compliance with Koran and Hadith. They simply did this work for love of knowledge. The moral of the story is, have open mind, don’t be bigoted.

  19. The contribution of Muslims to science and overall knowledge from the 7th to 12th centuries was principally to translate, preserve and build upon the knowledge gathered in the Greco Roman world (i.e. Europe, which itself was going through the dark ages).

    Since then, the disdain for modern education, forget science, is now universal among Muslims. This is worthy of scholarly investigation.

  20. “In a city of blind, one eyed man is the king”. Dear sir, in the time between 10th to 13th century, all the societies in the world were stagnant in ideas except Islam. This was because it came out of age old traditional shackle of class, hierarchies etc. This caused many new talent to come up and helped in new idea generation.
    Coming to 20th century, Islam is stagnant in 13th century. This is because there is no new thinking apart from viewing all the new things from the angle of Quran and Islam.
    As information on scientific knowledge spreads, faith will subside making way for Advaita Vedanta (Study of Consciousness).

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