Islamic Myth

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

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

What they don’t tell you is that Europe was experiencing its “Dark Ages” because islamic “pirates” and slave traders had stopped international commerce. This was also a contributing factor for the Black Death as well, but let’s look at the claims islam makes….

There are four basic reasons why Islam has no 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).

Islam invented the zero?

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. While it is generally accepted that the Hindus invented the zero, other cultures are also credited with it.

Zero as a placeholder was invented independently in civilizations around the world, according to Dr. Annette van der Hoek, Indiologist and research coordinator at the Zero Project. The Babylonians got their number system from the Sumerians, the first people in the world to develop a counting system. Developed 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, the Sumerian system was positional — the value of a symbol depended on its position relative to other symbols.

Robert Kaplan, author of “The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero, suggests that an ancestor to the placeholder zero may have been a pair of angled wedges used to represent an empty number column. However, Charles Seife, author of “Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea,” disagrees that the wedges represented a placeholder.

The Sumerians’ system passed through the Akkadian Empire to the Babylonians around 300 B.C. There, Kaplan agrees, a symbol appeared that was clearly a placeholder — a way to tell 10 from 100 or to signify that in the number 2,025, there is no number in the hundreds column. Initially, the Babylonians left an empty space in their cuneiform number system, but when that became confusing, they added a symbol — double angled wedges — to represent the empty column. However, they never developed the idea of zero as a number.

Zero in the Americas

Six hundred years later and 12,000 miles from Babylon, the Mayans developed zero as a placeholder around A.D. 350 and used it to denote a placeholder in their elaborate calendar systems. Despite being highly skilled mathematicians, the Mayans never used zero in equations, however. Kaplan describes the Mayan invention of zero as the “most striking example of the zero being devised wholly from scratch.”

The claim that islam invented the zero is obviously false. In truth, conquered populations contributed greatly to the history of islamic 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 moslems were never more than a minority in the islamic world, and they were in large part living off the energy of others.”

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

Islamic scientists?

Third, the accomplished scientists and cultural icons who were moslems were often considered heretics in their day, sometimes with good reason. One of the greatest achievers to come out of the islamic world was the Persian scientist and philosopher, al-Razi. His impressive works are often held up as ‘proof’ of islamic 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.

Islam invented coffee?

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.

So much for islamic contributions to science and civilization!



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