Muslims greatly contributed to the rise of civilizations in a wide array of fields, Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf told approximately 1,000 people during his lecture at AUS on Sunday, April 14, 2013.
Hamza Yusuf during his talk's Q&A session at the American University of Sharjah (PHOTO BY SHUJA RABBANI).
In his lecture, entitled “Contributions of Muslims in the Field of Science and Technology,” the sheikh, who founded the California-based Zaytuna College, explained that many are not aware of Muslim accomplishments in technology and science because they may not know how to research the topic properly.
As Western civilizations are often noted for their advancements and achievements, Yusuf’s talk focused on educating people on the achievements of Muslim civilizations. He described their advancements in areas such as papermaking, alchemy, irrigation and architecture.
Yusuf explained what civilization is, saying that it is like a “river with many rivulets” pouring into an ocean, while also referencing several scholars.
The sheikh spoke about the aesthetic component of technology, stating that is in our nature to construct beautiful things.
Use technology wisely!
In spite of the technological advancements Yusuf spoke about, he emphasized the need to raise awareness on the negative impact of technology nowadays. “Technology is being used in most harmful ways,” he added. “People need to wake up.”
He said that he is not against technology in anyway, but it saddens him to see people waste much of their time by over-using entertainment utilities when they could be achieving great things, he noted.
He emphatically urged students to not waste their time on social media and preoccupy themselves from the real issues at hand, adding that they have “an immense opportunity” to create change.
“You are inheriting the most incredible mess that has ever been produced in human history, and you have to use your intellect in a way that is going to be creatively transformative,” Yusuf said, addressing students in the audience. “This is your time. It is not Al Jābir ibn Hayyān’s time. Do not waste your time on social networks,” he added.
In the rise of Muslim civilization, technologies were developed first and foremost to serve human beings and improve their living conditions.
The sheikh said many technologies Muslims developed in the past were funded by humanitarian rulers committed to the welfare of people as he contrasted this with the present situation, noting that too many governments in the world today are “self-serving,” or serve elites instead of the masses. This, he stressed, is the central problem of corruption.
Muslims influence on technology
Yusuf acknowledged the impact several ancient civilizations had on Islamic developments, crediting Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian and Indian influences.
He emphasized contributions of the Chinese, noting that they were “obsessed” with technology and developed forms Muslims took and transferred into Europe. This includes block printing, which he said together with papermaking radically altered the transference of knowledge, and ultimately human civilization. The Chinese also invented gunpowder, which according to Yusuf, emerged out of their alchemical pursuit to create an elixir of immortality.
He also noted that while only seven of 21 major historic civilizations remain to date, three are considered prominent. “Wisdom descended upon three,” he said quoting an Arabic proverb, “On the hands of the Chinese and their manufacturing; on the intellect of the Greeks and their philosophy and logic; and then on the tongues of the Arabs, and their ability to speak so beautifully.”
Muslim scientists were also very interested in alchemy, Yusuf added. Distillation was one of the earliest developments, and Muslims distilled perfumes not only for adorning the body with beautiful scents, Yusuf explained, but for medicinal purposes as well. Muslims used frankincense to enhance memory, which according to Yusuf is an idea that has been confirmed by modern science. Perfume trading was also a major industry that contributed to the commercial aspect of Islamic civilization, he added.
The Muslims’ greatest contributions, according to Yusuf, were in hydraulics and water irrigation. Because many areas of the Muslim world were dry, Yusuf explained, the Muslims developed sophisticated Qanat systems, or underground water channels, used for irrigation and transportation. Some of these systems are still in existence.
Other notable innovations Yusuf cited include glass, quartz, crystal, ceramics, water clocks, windmills and several developments in astronomy.
Yusuf concluded the lecture by saying that the Muslims’ real contribution was actually in the social sciences, which he said he believes are the sciences that will help people solve problems through the use of reasoning and critical thinking.
“Technology will not solve our problems; every technology that is produced to solve a problem, creates ten others,” Yusuf stated.
Nour Al-Ali and Einas Salamin are mass communication major students at the American University of Sharjah.
For more information about American University of Sharjah, please visit www.aus.edu