Friday, July 31, 2015

Muslim "inventions"

Islam has certainly got a rather bad rep due to how many of its adherents have been behaving during the past few decades (both in western countries and within their own countries.) Because criticizing Islam and the culture surrounding and emanating from it has somehow become a taboo, a lot of copious whitewashing has been performed, both by some Muslims themselves, and also "progressive" non-Muslims, to try to raise the profile and status of Islam as a good thing. This takes many forms.

One of these is what pretty much amounts to historical revisionism with respect to the contribution of Islam to modern science and technology. Perhaps the most extreme example of this are the claims of Muslim "inventions" that had, allegedly, profound implications in modern science.

Arabic people of the first millenium did indeed make some significant contributions to science, especially in the fields of mathematics and astronomy.

(What essentially happened was that Greece and north-east Africa were previously the centers of academic knowledge and research, but due to historical events, mainly the raise of the church of Rome, they were pretty much eradicated, and the research moved to the Middle-East regions, were Arabic people were free to continue the mathematical and astronomical research. Of course what Muslims and their defenders will not tell you is that a few hundreds of years later some Muslim imams declared mathematics and astronomy to be satanic, and effectively banned them. But that's besides the point here.)

However, this historical revisionism goes much farther than that. It actually claims that Muslims invented many things that are common today. For instance the organization named 1001 inventions has a large list of "inventions" made by Muslims that "shaped the world".

But let's examine, for example, their top 10 "outstanding Muslim inventions":

1) Surgery. Some Arabic people may have made developments in surgery, but claiming that they invented surgery is just a complete distortion. Surgery cannot be said to have been "invented" by anybody (that we know of.) It has a really, really long history, dating at least as far back 9000 years ago. Definitely as far back as ancient Egypt in 2600 BC. Claiming that Muslims invented surgery is just bollocks. (They might have contributed to it, but that's a rather different proposition.)

2) Coffee. Sure, why not. (Whether you consider it "outstanding" is a question of opinion, but whatever.)

3) Flying machine. The idea is much older than Islam, going at least as far back as 400 BC in Greece. The alleged invention by Abbas Ibn Firnas was a glider (which, reportedly, didn't even work all that well) rather than a powered flying machine. It might have contributed somewhat to the idea of flying machines, but it's quite a stretch to claim that it was invented. (If we go by independent "inventions", there are probably myriads of people who "invented" the flying machine independently of each other.)

4) University. Higher learning institutions that eventually became known as "universities" trace back to ancient Greece and Rome. Putting a cutoff point at a certain particular higher learning institution, and declaring that particular one as the "invention", is artificial and deceptive. (A case could be made for the first actual universities being created by the early-medieval Catholic church. Even then, it's still a somewhat artificial cutoff point.)

5) Algebra. Sure, Arabic scientists contributed to mathematics, including algebra, but they did not invent it. Algebra can be traced all the way back to ancient Babylonians. The solving of algebraic equations goes as back as Diophantus in the 3rd century AD in Greece (which is where the term "Diophantine equation" comes from.)

6) Optics. The history of optics can be traced to ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians. The earliest known lenses date from as early as 700 BC. Hardly an "invention" by Muslims.

7) Music. *sigh* I won't even bother.

8) Toothbrush. Oral hygiene using tools can be traced as far back as 3500 BC. The first recorded "modern" form of a toothbrush can be traced to China, during the Tang Dynasty (619-907 AD).

9) The crank. Are they even being serious at this point? Cranks have existed for almost as long as humans have developed tools. Findings of actual cranks go as back as the 5th century BC. They were a rather common tool in the Roman Empire.

10) Hospitals. Really? Hospitals? They trace to ancient Egypt and Greece. The First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD saw the construction of hospitals in every cathedral. Just to cite a few examples.

It's one thing to claim contribution. A completely different thing is to claim invention. That's just outright historical revisionism.

Even this contribution happened often regardless of Islam, rather than because of it (and this can be historically verified, as in many cases Islam was actually hostile to many forms of science practiced by Arabic people, sometimes even going as far as banning and persecution.)

In any case, the purpose of all this is to try to raise the profile of modern Islam in the eyes of western countries. "Hey, we invented all this; give us more respect." Even if the claims were absolutely true, that has no bearing on how much we should accept intolerant, oppressive and detrimental behavior from Islamic culture. What your extremely distant religious ancestors might have done has no bearing on my acceptance of your attitudes, beliefs and behavior.

If I said "hey, my distant ancestors, twenty times removed, made this, this and this invention; thus you must respect me personally", would you consider that a valid argument? Of course not. What some people did hundreds of years ago has zero significance on how you should judge me as a person, or my culture, opinions and behavior.

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