Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D.
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
Before the time of the Prophet of Islam, the ancient civilizations such as Greek, Egyptian, Roman and Persian- all were polytheistic (shirk) in their beliefs. That is they worshipped natural phenomena such as the earth (Goddess Gaiga now in the west), rivers, mountains, sun, moon or stars. Only Islam was able to displace them from the pedestal of worship and created the intellectual frame of mind, which is known as the scientific revolution.
The polytheists believed the river to possess divine attributes. They believed the goddess of river caused the water to move and made it useful or harmful. In Islam the river is a creation of Allah and not a creator and it was a servant of Allah and not the Lord. Thus the Muslims found ways and means to exploit the rivers on a large scale. The history books tell us that there is no precedent in any nation to the large-scale irrigation system developed by the Spanish Muslims. The Spanish Muslims developed agriculture and created Departments of agriculture science and irrigation in the universities. They studied trees and carried out research on the properties of soil. The infertile lands were converted into orchards and lush green fields, in today's terms -a green revolution. Before this people treated rivers, springs and sea as gods. But the Muslims brought the green revolution because of their monotheistic thinking.
Polytheism (shirk) was prevalent until the 7th century. It was replaced with monotheism (Tawhid) by the Islamic Revolution. This in turn opened the doors of research and investigation by abolishing the practice of worshipping the natural phenomena. Modern industrial progress owes its existence to the Arab Muslims due to their creed of monotheism, which instilled them a mental and practical revolution. Islam changed the thinking of the Muslims and contributed to the modern scientific revolution. Historians acknowledge that Islam changed the face of the globe. Polytheism and superstition blocked the progress and advancement of human development. Islam encouraged the investigation of nature and destroyed the sanctity of nature.
Islam also destroyed the concept of intermediaries between God and man, such as the Kings and priests who claimed as God's representatives on earth or even the incarnations of God on earth. Polytheism (shirk) curbed freedom of thought. Polytheism and superstition were the major obstacles to all kinds of progress. Superstitious beliefs were an obstruction in the pat of free enquiry. The search for new truths and discovery of nature's secrets remained forbidden areas for them for centuries. Before the Islamic revolution, the world had been swept by superstitious beliefs and idolatry. The revolution based on monotheism of Islam put an almost complete end to polytheism (shirk) The Greeks excelled in the fields of art and philosophy. Their contribution to the field of science (except Archimedes' hydrostatics) was actually quite negligible. Plato's teacher, Socrates (may be construed as a Haneef) never worshipped the pagan gods which were worshipped by the Athenians in Greece and instilled free enquiry among the youth of Athens and for that he was forced to drink hemlock as a punishment in 399 BC. Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier in 212 BC failing to recognize him. The atmosphere for scientific progress did not exist in ancient Greece. Similarly, the mighty Roman Empire never produced a single scientist.
In Islam with its foundation of monotheism created an atmosphere and environment which stimulated scientific research that lead to the conquest of natural phenomena. The modern age which is the age of science and industry, of freedom and equality is the direct consequence of the Islamic revolution rooted in the Qur'an.
From the sixth century to the 10th century Europe was in dark ages while the Islamic civilization attained the pinnacles of science and technology. After the crusades the Europeans came in contact with the Islamic civilization. They went to Muslim universities in Spain, Sicily, Cairo, and Baghdad. They translated the Arabic works into Latin for over two hundred years. The European Renaissance started in the 15th century and culminated in the emergence of the modern industrial civilization. Islamic revolution is responsible for the emancipation of the human thought.
During the Abbasid era, paper was being manufactured on a large scale and so books could be produced without the dearth of paper. There were more than 400,000 books in the library of Cordova (Spain) in the tenth century, whereas in Europe at that time, the library of Canterbury- the top of the list of the Christian libraries- contained only 1800 books in the 13 the century.
In many countries scholars were born with creative minds who could think independently of the their fellow citizens. But due to the unfavorable atmosphere and hostile environment of times, their efforts could be brought to fruition. Their knowledge withered away before they could flower. On the other hand Islamic revolution produced favorable atmosphere, it unleashed a mighty flood of knowledge which had been kept pent up for thousands of years by the dam of polytheism (shirk) and superstition. For progress of Science and Technology an atmosphere of free investigation is essential. One may be surprised to know that even today there are some people and societies who believe that the earth is flat. Even today the Hindus with MD and Ph.D. degrees worship the Sun as god and believe that the lunar and solar eclipses are caused when the snakes Rahu and Ketu swallow them. One thousand years ago Abu Rayhan Al-Biruni explained how the solar and lunar eclipses are caused by the shadows of moon and earth falling on the sun and moon respectively. The Hindus believe in 320 million gods and goddesses. Even if one spends one minute in reciting the name of a god, the whole life is not enough to recite the names of 320 million gods and goddesses.