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June 10, 2009
Speaking to the Muslim world from Cairo
recently, President Barack Hussein Obama talked about the contribution of
Islamic civilization to the world of science and discovery. He said, “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.”
As with other parts of the Obama speech, the reference to Muslims' scientific
contributions has also become the subject of debate. A prominent critic of
Obama's acknowledgment of Islamic contribution is Professor Frank Tipler of Tulane University, America's right-wing scientist and
author of "The
Physics of Christianity".
Obama's speech in an attempt to diminish the contribution of Muslims by calling
them a "conduit" of knowledge from ancient Greeks and dismisses the
idea of any Islamic contribution beyond that. The only exception he makes is
for Dr. Abdus Salam of Pakistan.
Here is how Tipler talks about Salam: "There was one truly great “Muslim”
physicist, the Nobel Prize winning Pakistani, Mohammed Abdus Salam. I put
“Muslim” in quotes, because Salam belonged to the Ahmadi sect of Islam, a sect
that accepts modern science. But in 1974, the Pakistani parliament declared the
Ahmadi sect heretical, and its members are currently being persecuted in Pakistan.
Contemporary Muslim historians generally do not list Salam as an important
Muslim scientist. Had he remained in Pakistan, he quite possibly would
have been killed."
The assertion that Muslims or Pakistanis do not take pride in Dr. Salam is
patently false. Dr. Pervez Hoodhoy, Chairman of the Physics Dept. at Islamabad University, regards Dr. Salam as his
inspiration, as do many other Pakistani scientists.
The claim of Muslims as being mere "conduits" of knowledge has been
rejected in "Lost
Discoveries" by Dick Teresi. Says Teresi, "Clearly, the Arabs
served as a conduit, but the math laid on the doorstep of Renaissance Europe
cannot be attributed solely to ancient Greece. It incorporates the
accomplishments of Sumer, Babylonia, Egypt,
India, China and the
far reaches of the Medieval Islamic world.
Tipler's claims are further exposed by Teresi by his description of the work
done by Copernicus. Nasir
al-Din al-Tusi, a Persian Muslim astronomer and mathematician, developed at
least one of Copernicus's theorems, now called The Tusi Couple, three hundred
years before Copernicus. Copernicus used the theorem without offering any proof
or giving credit to al-Tusi. This was pointed out by Kepler, who looked at
Copernicus's work before he developed his own elliptical orbits idea.
A second theorem found in Copernican system, called Urdi lemma, was developed
by another Muslim scientist Mu'ayyad al-Din
al-Urdi, in 1250. Again, Copernicus neither offered proof nor gave credit
to al-Urdi. Columbia University's George Saliba believes Copernicus didn't
credit him because Muslims were not popular in 16th century Europe,
not unlike the situation today.
Tipler completely ignores the great contribution of another giant of science
from the Islamic world, Ibn
Haitham (Alhazen), who developed the "Scientific Method". Alhazen
is also considered the father of modern optics. The ancient Greeks thought our
eyes emitted rays, like a laser, which enabled us to see. The first person to
explain that light enters the eye, rather than leaving it, was Ibn al-Haitham.
He invented the first pin-hole camera after noticing the way light came through
a hole in window shutters. The smaller the hole, the better the picture, he worked
out, and set up the first Camera Obscura (from the Arab word qamara for a dark
or private room). He is also credited with being the first man to shift physics
from a philosophical activity to an experimental one.
The fountain pen was invented for the Sultan of Egypt in 953 after he demanded
a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes. It held ink in a reservoir
and, as with modern pens, fed ink to the nib by a combination of gravity and
The algebra as we know today came from the Muslim world. Al Khwarizmi wrote the
first book on algebra. The term "algebra" was first used by him. Al
Khwarizmi was born about 790 in Baghdad,
Iraq, and died
The word for "Algebra" comes from the Arabic word for
"al-jabr" which means "restoration of balance" in both
sides of an equation. Algebra was based on previous work from Greeks,
Alexandrians in Egypt,
and Hindus who had preserved the work from ancient Egyptians and Babylonians.
In the ninth century, al-Khwarizmi wrote one of the first Arabic algebras with
both proofs and examples. Because of his work, he is called "the Father of
Algebra." Al-Khwarizmi was a Persian born in the eighth century. He
converted (changed) Babylonian and Hindu numerals into a workable system that almost
anyone could use. He gave the name to his math as "al-jabr" which we
know as "algebra".
A Latin translation of al-Khwarizmi's book on algebra appeared in Europe in the 12th century. In the early 13th century the
new algebra appeared in the writings of the famous Italian mathematician,
Leonardo Fibonacci. So, algebra was brought into Europe from ancient Babylon, Egypt
and India by the Arabs and
then into Italy.
Tipler appears to part of the campaign to deny credit to Arabs, Persians or
Muslim for their significant contributions to humanity. Clearly, he, and others
like him, are not happy with Obama's outreach to Muslims. He is simply using
the Obama speech to advance his agenda.
Speaks to the Muslim World
Discoveries by Dick Teresi
of Christianity by Frank Tipler
Islamic Inventors Changed the World
Pakistan Booms Amidst Doom and Gloom
assertion that Muslims or Pakistanis do not take pride in Dr. Salam is patently
No kidding. That's why Zia put up an official "Pakistani" candidate
for a UN position against Dr Salam. Oh, and that he wasn't given a proper
"Muslim" burial. Pakistan
has chosen to identify with that intellectual and cultural wasteland called Saudi Arabia.
We're seeing the glorious fruits of that association.
As for Barry Obama's eloquent words on "civilizational debt" there's
one word to describe that: pandering. Droning on about seminal contributions
1000 years ago amounts to manufacturing the light at the end of the loooong
Ahmedias are free to profess their version of Islam unlike in Pakistan.
Anyways I would like to bring to ur
and other Pakistanis' notice about what Indian Muslims think about Obama's