Muslim scholars helped spread secular knowledge
Stabroek News
January 7, 2002

Dear Editor,

In his book "Things That Make Us Smart," Don Norman, psychologist/computer scientist from the University of California, argues that without the invention of the pen, mankind would have found it impossible to develop mathematics, science and commerce. By committing their thoughts, he says, to clay, papyrus, parchment and then paper, human beings were able to extend the capacity of their brains and to create a collective consciousness from which all could benefit.

Indeed, despite its apparent simplicity, the pen being the means of storing and sharing our thoughts, is arguably the most significant technology ever developed.

Muslims claim that the first words of the Quran revealed to Muhammad (On Whom Be Peace) were (in translation) "Read it is your Lord calling, He who created you from a clot of blood! For He is most generous Who taught man by the pen, taught man what he knew not".

The pen! History records that Muhammad (OWBP) like most of the Arabs of his time, was unlettered. Yet with these words, it was Muslims who brought paper to the West and for centuries following the Quran, Muslims were world leaders not only in mathematics, science and commerce but in medicine, philosophy, philology etc. The Muslims did not necessarily originate these disciplines but by pen, paper and translation, in obedience to the Almighty God's injunction to seek knowledge, they brought for example Aristotle and Plato and Hindu Mathematics etc via their empire of faith to the world.

Unlike Steven Hawkins, Muslims never separated God from science. Scientists were revered and never persecuted like Galileo was. Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Al Ghazzali emphasized the necessity of stimulating the moral consciousness of the student. They brought science and education into an organic relationship with the profound ethical systems of the scriptures of Almighty God and they were wildly successful. For example, according to the Western historian, Phillip Hitti (History of the Arabs), for six centuries, Avicenna's Al Qanun, was the medical bible for the entire world including the West. Note the name "Qanun" meaning "Canonical", not unlike the Gospels. Now in China, it is illegal to teach God or religion to anyone under the age of 18. On the other hand, in the UK, I note that Prime Minister Tony Blair is re-emphasizing faith-based schools like our Marian Academy and the new Ibn Sina Academy in East Street. No doubt, he has seen that such schools with their high academic and moral standards perform best. To his credit, President Jagdeo also said recently that he wants religious organisations to help rework our school curriculum, which I suspect, Honourable Minister, may not yet be independent even though our country may claim to be.

By empirical methods, we are again making huge advances in science and technology especially in communications, but secular scientists are also bringing us the destruction of our ozone layer, genetically modified foods, mad-cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalitis), the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) bomb etc. Secular scientists spend little time on malaria because it affects mainly the poorer peoples of the world. They cannot bring us a cure for Aids but the Almighty God long ago prescribed the only sure prophylactic, chastity.

Must they all be secular or should more of us believe in God?

Yours faithfully,

Shahabudin McDoom