In his June 4, 2009 speech at Cairo University in Egypt (http://www NULL.whitehouse NULL.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-Cairo-University-6-04-09/), President Obama stated,
“As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughhout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”
Obama may call himself a “student of history,” but this history lesson deserves an “F.” If he really believes what he is saying, he has swallowed the bait of the Muslim Golden Age hook, line, and sinker. Centuries before Mohammed, the ancient Egyptians, Indians and Babylonians developed algebra, the Chinese invented the magnetic compass and movable-type printing, and the Greeks developed architecture and medicine.
How, then, do Muslims and their apologists spin their myth of the Muslim Golden Age of about 850 – 1100 AD? First, they inherited a legacy of cultural achievement. For thousands of years, the Middle East had been the cradle of civilization and enjoyed a higher level of science and civilization than almost any other part of the world. Islam inherited this advanced civilization but cannot take credit for it.
Second, many of the Islamic achievements — which consisted mainly of making minor improvements to existing sciences and arts and spreading them to other parts of the world — were actually the work of Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Hindu slaves.
Third, even of those “Muslim” scientists and thinkers who can truly be called great, few could be called true Muslims. Abu Bakr Muhammed Ibn Zakarya al-Razi (865 – 925 AD), the notable Persian physician and philosopher, called the Muslim prophets “billy goats [who] pretend to come with a message from God, all the while exhausting themselves in spouting their lies,” and denounced the Qu-ran as an assorted mixture of “absurd and inconsistent fables.” Muslim leaders of his time denounced him as a blasphemer; today they acclaim him as a pillar of Islam’s Golden Age. Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1122 AD), a great mathematician and astronomer as well as a poet, was an epicurean philosopher, a rationalist skeptic, and scornful of all religion and particularly Islam. Ibn Rushd (1126 – 1198 AD), known to the western world as Averroes, was a remarkable Aristotelian scholar, but Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike denounced him as a heretic, and the Caliph ordered that his philosophical books be burnt. Crediting Islam for the contributions of these anti-Muslim thinkers is like crediting Christianity for the works of Charles Darwin or Sigmund Freud.
Yes, there were a few scientific and philosophical achievements in the Islamic world during this period, and interaction with the Muslim would did help to spread science and culture throughout Europe. But these contribution are minuscule compared with those of the Jews, or the Chinese, or people of the British Isles.
And even Muslims have to admit that this so-called Golden Age came to an abrupt halt around 1400 AD, and for the next several centuries thereafter, Muslim civilization, culture and power declined and decayed.
Consider Muslim contributions to civilization in recent years. Of the top 50 scientific breakthroughs of 2007 listed in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, not one comes from any of the world’s 56 Muslim nations. These Muslim nations have contributed less than 2% of the world’s scientific literature. Of the three million foreign inventions patented in the United States between 1977 and 2004, only 1,500 came from Muslim nations. Saudi Arabia established a patent office in 1990, but did not grant its first patent until 1996. In 2001 Iran registered only 1 patent, Indonesia a total of 30 over the past 5 years; the United States averages over 100,000 per year. South Korea issues more patents in any single year than the entire Muslim world in the last 30 years. Jews worldwide have received 169 Nobel Prizes; the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims have received a total of 7, one of which went to Yasser Arafat.
“Civilization’s debt to Islam,” Mr. President? I don’t think so. But besides questioning your statement, Mr. President, I question even more why you insist, over and over again, on glorifying Islam while minimizing and apologizing for America, Christianity, and Western Civilization.
And as for your claim that “Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities [I note your careful wording] of religious tolerance and racial equality.”
Islamic tolerance, Mr. President? That’s an even greater myth, but I’ll have to save that for a future post.