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It's far easier to act as if critics of Islam have a problem with Muslims as people than it is to accept the uncomfortable truth that Islam is different.

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Charbonnier
"I’d rather die standing up
than live on my knees."
Stephane Charbonnier
(1967-2015)




Myths of Islam

 Islam Facilitated
the Golden Age of
Scientific Discovery


The Myth:

Muslims often claim that Islam fostered a rich heritage of scientific discovery, “paving the way” for modern advances in technology and medicine. 

On this subject, they usually cite the period between the 7th and 13th centuries, when Europe was experiencing its “Dark Ages” and the Muslim world was acquiring new populations and culture through violent conquest.


The Truth:

Although there is no arguing that the Muslim world was relatively more advanced during this Middle Age period than the Christian world, the reasons for this have absolutely nothing to do with the Islamic religion (other than its mandate for military expansion).  In fact, the religion tends to discourages knowledge outside of itself (Quran 5:101-102), which is why the most prolific Muslim scholars are usually students of religion rather than science.

[Note that the country of Spain alone translates more learning material and literature into Spanish each year than the entire Arab world has translated into Arabic since the 9th century.  As the Saudi Grand Mufti bluntly put it in 2010, "The Quran with its stories and knowledge are sufficient for us... we don't need the Torah, or Gospels, or any other book"].

The many fundamentalists and other devotees who dress as Muhammad did and adopt 7th century lifestyles to some degree underscore the importance of tradition in Islam.  The religion is highly conservative and resistant to change, which is viewed with suspicion.  As scholar Bernard Lewis points out: in Islam, an innovation is presumed to be bad unless it can be proven to be good.

Beyond this, there are four basic reasons why Islam has little true claim to scientific achievement:

First, the Muslim world benefited greatly from the Greek sciences, which were translated for them by dhimmi Christians and Jews.  To their credit, Muslims did a better job of preserving Greek text than did the Europeans of the time, and this became the foundation for their own knowledge.  (Althougho one large reason is that access by Christians to this part of their world was cut off by Muslim slave ships and coastal raids that dominated the Mediterranean during this period).

Secondly, many of the scientific advances credited to Islam were actually “borrowed” from other cultures conquered by the Muslims.  The algebraic concept of “zero”, for example, is erroneously attributed to Islam when it was, in fact, a Hindu discovery that was merely introduced to the West by Muslims. 

In truth, conquered populations contributed greatly to the history of “Muslim" science until gradually being decimated by conversion to Islam (under the pressures of dhimmitude).  As Mark Steyn puts it, "When admirers talk up Islam and the great innovations and rich culture of its heyday, they forget that even at its height Muslims were never more than a minority in the Muslim world, and they were in large part living off the energy of others."

The Muslim concentration within a population is proportional to the decline of scientific achievement.  It is no accident that the Muslim world has had little to show for itself in the last 800 years or so, since running out of new civilizations to cannibalize.

Third, the accomplished scientists and cultural icons who were Muslim were often considered heretics in their day, sometimes with good reason.  One of the greatest achievers to come out of the Muslim world was the Persian scientist and philosopher, al-Razi.  His impressive works are often held up as 'proof' of Muslim accomplishment.  But what apologists often leave out is that al-Razi was denounced as a blasphemer, since he followed his own religious beliefs – which were in obvious contradiction to traditional Islam.

Fourth, even the contributions that are attributed to Islam (often inaccurately) are not terribly dramatic.  There is the 'invention' of certain words, such as alchemy and elixir (and assassin, by the way) but not much else that survives in modern technology which is of practical significance.  Neither is there any reason to believe that such discoveries would not have easily been made by the West following the cultural awakening triggered by the Reformation.

As an example, consider that Muslims claim credit for coffee - in the sense that they popularized existing knowledge of Africans who were caught up in the Arab slave trade.  However, consider also that the red dye used in many food products, from cranberry juice to candy, comes from the abdomen of a particular female beetle found in South America.  It is extremely unlikely that Western science would not have stumbled across coffee by now.

In fact, the litany of “Muslim” achievement often takes the form of rhapsody, in which the true origins of these discoveries are omitted - along with their comparative significance to Western achievement.  One usually doesn't hear about the dismal fate of original accomplishments either.  Those who brag about the great observatory of Taqi al-Din in [freshly conquered] Istanbul, for example, often neglect to mention that it was quickly destroyed by the caliphate.

At the end of the day, the record of scientific, medical and technological accomplishment is not something over which Muslim apologists want to get into a contest with the Christian and Jewish world.  Today’s Islamic innovators are better known for turning Western technology, such as cell phones and airplanes, into instruments of mass murder.

To sum up, although the Islamic religion is not entirely hostile to science, neither should it be confused as a facilitator.  The great achievements that are said to have come out of the Islamic world were made either by non-Muslims who happened to be under Islamic rule, or by heretics who usually had little interest in Islam.  Scientific discovery tapers off dramatically as Islam asserts dominance, until it eventually peters out altogether. 

[Note: The Organization of Islamic States (OIC) is composed of the 57 Muslim countries with 1.6 billion people.  It contains 550 universities, while the United States, with less than one fifth the population, has 10 times as many.  In 2005, Harvard University produced more scientific papers than 17 Arab countries combined]

Further Reading

Does the Sun Really Set in a Puddle of Muddy Water?

Myths of Islam Index

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