Muslim Impact on European Enlightenment
Growing up in Canada, we are taught so much about our European influence. But what about the Muslim influence on Europe?
Dr. Safiyyah Ally says that the Enlightenment might have looked totally different if not for the impact of Muslims. While Europe was entering the Dark Ages, the Muslim world was rising up. Muslims managed to keep alive and cultivate much of the diminishing culture and scientific knowledge that the West had worked so long to achieve.
Muslims preserved and translate many of the ancient texts that inspired Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers. They also contributed to the invention of the scientific method and the modern university system, which led to the Scientific Revolution. Muslim thinkers made rapid advancements in the fields of science, math, and medicine. It is exciting to learn that this period of Western development owes a lot of its innovation to Islamic discoveries!
Muslim Impact on European Enlightenment | Dr. Safiyyah Ally
The Western world is considered by many to be a melting pot of various cultures, races, religions, and ethnic identities, but many here in the West still struggle to acknowledge the positive influences of the Muslim world on our civilization.
The European Enlightenment was an intellectual movement in the 17th and 18th centuries, in which European politics, philosophy, science, and communications were radically transformed. This period is often called the Age of Reason and many of our Western ideas on the way we understand the world today can be traced back to the discoveries of the Enlightenment.
David Hume, Emmanuel Kant, John Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire. These were all major thinkers of the time. But what if I told you that the Enlightenment might’ve looked totally different if not for the impact of Muslims. Let’s take a moment to rehash a little bit of Muslim history.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) brought Islam to Arabia in seventh century CE, and for the next 500 years, Muslims led the world in scientific innovation and the pursuit of knowledge. This is because at the same time that Islam was on the rise in the East, in the West, Europe was entering the Dark Ages.
For many centuries, the Western world had been the pinnacle of culture and knowledge, largely due to the success of the Greek and Roman empires. But around the seventh century, things in the West were beginning to decline. Much of the impressive culture and technology of the Roman Empire was being destroyed by invaders.
The church began suppressing Greek science and philosophy by closing down museums and libraries, and persecuting scholars. It just so happens that while the Greek and Roman world was on this decline, the Islamic world was rising up. So luckily, Muslims managed to keep alive and cultivate much of the diminishing culture and scientific knowledge that the West had worked so long to achieve. Not only did Muslims preserve and translate many of the ancient texts that inspired Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers, but they also contributed to the invention of the scientific method and the modern university system, which led to the Scientific Revolution.
Famous Muslim scholars, like Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna, and Ibn Rushd, also known as Averroes, studied and admire the works of ancient philosophers like Aristotle, but they also questioned these works. They wanted to know why the world worked the way it did. And so these scholars observed the natural world, formed hypothesis, conducted experiments, and drew conclusions from the results.
This was essentially the birth of the scientific method. Using this method, Muslim thinkers were able to make rapid advancements in the fields of science, math, and medicine.
The mathematician Al-Khwarizmi is considered the Father of Algebra. The word algebra actually comes from the Arabic word al-jabr.
Muslims also invented decimal fractions and gave us the Arabic numerals we use today. These numerals allowed Europeans to do simply equations far more quickly than they could with the Roman numerals they were using before.
The Muslim physician and philosopher, Avicenna, who I mentioned earlier, is one of the major names in the field of medical innovation. He conducted the first known clinical drug trials. His book, The Canon of Medicine, written in 1025 CE, continued to be widely used in Europe until the 16th century. And what I’ve mentioned doesn’t even come close to listing all of the major contributions to Western culture that came out of the Muslim world during the middle ages.
The European enlightenment was a foundational period of Western history, in which so many aspects of our society were radically improved. Because of the major scientific and medical discoveries during this period, the West became a much safer, cleaner, nicer place to live. It’s exciting to learn that this period of Western development owes a lot of its innovation to Muslim discoveries.