By Fathah Abdussalam Kodag
According to one interpretation, the Manifest Book is the Quran. This verse states that everything, wet or dry, is found in it. As the result of man’s progress in science and industry, some scientific and technological wonders such as planes, electricity, motor vehicles, and means of radio and telecommunication have come into existence and taken the most prominent position in the material life of mankind. As it addresses the whole of mankind, the wise Quran certainly does not ignore these. Indeed, it has not ignored them and points to them in two ways: first, by way of the miracles of the Prophets and the others in connection with certain historical events. Thus, just as by speaking of the spiritual and moral perfections of the Prophets, the Quran encourages people to benefit from them and in presenting their miracles it intends people to achieve the like of them by scientific means. It may even be said that like spiritual and moral attainments, material attainments and wonders were also first given to mankind as a gift through Prophetic miracles. The Prophet Nuh, peace be upon him, was the first to build ships, and Yusuf, peace be upon him, the clock.
As God Almighty sent the Prophets to human communities as leaders and vanguards in respect to spiritual and moral progress, he also endowed them with certain wonders and miracles and made them the masters and forerunners with respect to man’s material progress. He commands men to follow them absolutely. Therefore, the ship and clock were first given to mankind as Prophetic miracles. It is a meaningful indication to this reality that so many craft guilds take a Prophet as the ‘patron’ or originator of their craft. Since truth-seeking scholars and the science of eloquence have agreed that each of the Quran’s verses contains guidance and instruction, the verses concerning the miracles of the Prophets, the most brilliant among the Quran’s verses, should not be taken as historical events. Rather, they comprise numerous indications of guidance. By mentioning the miracles of the Prophets, the Quran shows the ultimate goal of scientific and technological developments, and specifies their final aims. It urges man forward toward those aims. Just as the past is the field for the seeds of the future, and mirror to its potential picture, the future is the time to reap the harvest of the past life and mirror to the actual situation.
Early Islamic teaching encouraged and promoted the pursuit of scholarship and science. Seeking knowledge about the natural world was seen as the duty of every Muslim as the following Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) shows: “He who pursues the road of knowledge, Allah will direct to the road of Paradise…” “The scholar’s ink is holier than the martyr’s blood…” Things that improved the quality of life, like science and technology, were encouraged and welcomed. These included practical things like navigational aids for travelers, geographical maps, and medical knowledge, ways of measuring and calculating, and tools for agriculture. The dry and arid environment of Arab lands meant that it was important to develop technologies, especially for water and agriculture. Islamic engineering included reservoirs, aqueducts, water wheels, and elaborate systems for irrigation. New knowledge of plants and natural history also contributed to agriculture. Islamic technology included paper-making, the manufacture of steel and other metals, building and great technical advances in the tools and scientific instruments.
Then, why did the ‘Golden Age’ of Islam come to an end? By the end of the 11th century, the Islamic empire had become very large and towards the end of the Abbasid Caliphate it began to crumble. Religious disagreements caused divisions between different groups and the Caliphs exerted more and more control over what was taught. Logic, rationalism, and Greek philosophy began to make educated Muslims more skeptical and drew them away from orthodox religious beliefs. Moreover, the Caliphs were afraid that they would lose power. Thus, they imposed a return to pseudo-orthodox beliefs. Many schools and academies were forced to limit their teaching to theology. This unluckily led to a negation of foreign sciences. Alongside, the European crusades (1097-1291) and attacks by the Mongols leading to the fall of Baghdad in 1256 caused enormous destruction.
But still, there were remains of Islamic science in Muslim lands, especially in the Middle East. Architecture and town planning attempted to use natural materials as much as possible to create harmonious urban environments. For example, in the region of present Lebanon, cedar wood was plentiful for roofing and ashlar masonry was common in Egypt and in Tunisia. A faithful Muslim’s respect for nature was so deep that he made maximum use of materials provided by nature.
However, when Egypt faced urban housing shortages in 1975, the country sought help to solve the problem through contracts with foreign companies, which specialized in highly industrialized prefabricated houses. This caused negative factors. The final products were less appropriate for Egypt’s climate and culture than public housing blocks already built. Modern technology broke what Egypt had kept in housing plan based on the principle of harmonizing with the environment. Traditional architects turned the glare of the desert sun into pleasing patterns of light by the use of lattices, but modern technology took this beauty away. We cannot be impressed by Cairo’s congruity with nature anymore; rather, it seems to resist the natural beauty because of its reliance on designs of steel and cement. The same undesirable situation can be admitted for some modern large towns in the Middle East today.
Past Muslims endeavoured to make maximum use of power and factors provided by nature. Islamic architects in a desert area did not apply large glass windows through which the maximum radiation was led, and as buildings were made of earth and tiles they were cool in summer and warm in winter. It was also common that many houses had several stories and a large wind Cather on the roof carrying cool air to each story. Muslims used ventilators to lead wind to deep basements for refuge against high temperatures. The Egyptians made the openings in their houses suitable for winds from the north and equipped the houses with ventilators without fail. These ventilators were still common in Cairo until a century ago. Natural forces were applied to other elements of city life such as streets, markets, and the arrangements of houses. Hussien Nasr, an Iranian professor, writes that narrow streets were built where there were hot deserts to protect the cool air of the night during the day-light hours. Where the temperature became very warm, such as around the central desert of Persia, wind towers were used to ventilate homes, of deep basements to serve as places of refuge for the summer and of deep underground cisterns to provide cool water. The use of wind towers in the central cities of Persia, such as Yazd, Kashan, and Kerman, is particularly instructive and shows how the science of man has made maximum use of existing natural elements to create an architecture which is at once beautiful and efficient, one which reflects the principles of Islam.
Islamic traditional technology of habitat and city planning demonstrated how the Islamic people made maximum use of natural forces; at the same time, they kept the beauty and equilibrium with nature. The above-mentioned instances of technological and astronomical heights achieved by Arabs clearly show that technology and science occupy a place in the Qur’an. The technological quest of Muslims already has its basis in the Qur’an.
Fathah Abdussalam Kodag is a research intern at Madeenathunnoor College of Islamic Science, Calicut, Kerala. His areas of interest include technology, soft skills, contemporary Islamic thoughts, etc. He owns Manzil Media, an Islamic media platform. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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