Islam’s Non-Existent Contribution to America
By Dr. Ileana Johnson Paugh
The Alexandrian Library in Cairo was accidentally set on fire during Julius Caesar’s brief campaign in Egypt in 48 B.C. One of the scholars who worked at the Alexandrian Library was a woman named Hypatia, born in 370 A.D., the daughter of the mathematician Theon of Alexandria. She instructed students on Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and other Greek philosophers. She was regarded as a pagan. One day, she was dragged from her chariot, stripped, and flayed alive with clam shells.
Alexandria was the center of learning during the third century A.D. and a center of Christian worship. It appears that in 391 A.D., a mob destroyed the pagan temple of the Egyptian god Serapis, the Serapeum, and with it part of the Alexandrian Library, which was housed in the building.
Scholars claim that part of the library survived. The final destruction was caused by Arab invaders in 646 A.D. They destroyed all books that did not conform to the teachings of Islam. It is said that the scrolls from the Alexandrian Library were burned for months in the public baths as fuel to heat the water. Centuries old wisdom went up in smoke to bathe Islam.
I became intrigued by claims made by this administration that Islam has contributed immensely to our Judeo-Christian culture in America and I set out to find evidence of such contribution.
The first scientist I found was “mad” Alhazen of Cairo, born in Iraq in 965 A.D. He allegedly mastered mathematics, philosophy, physics, and medicine knowledge of that time by the age of 30. He drew the attention of the Caliph of Egypt, Al-Hakim who invited him to Cairo.
Alhazen advised the Caliph to dam the Nile at the logical place, the gorge of Aswan. The tools of that time made it impossible to dam the river. The Caliph executed men who disappointed his high expectations but Alhazen admitted failure, telling the king that he was not responsible since he was out of his mind. Islamic law forbade the killing of madmen.
The cyclical flooding of the river Nile in summer and drought in spring was finally controlled in 1971 when a large dam was built at Aswan, Egypt, supposedly the exact point proposed by Alhazen.
Alhazen found that, when an object placed in a dark room irradiated by light passing through a tiny hole, an inverted image of that object would appear, the principle of photography. Such claim has no manuscripted evidence.
One hundred years after Mohammed’s death in 632, his followers occupied an area stretching from India to Spain. The Arabs absorbed from their subjects, the Greeks, Jews, Persians, and Christian Syrians everything from architecture to Greek philosophy. It is claimed that translations of ancient philosophers and scientists were disseminated and studied in Islamic schools. Muslim Spain is said to have reintroduced Aristotle to Christian Europe through the Cordoba Library that held 600,000 volumes. This seemed contradictory behavior to me since Arabs burned Alexandria Library’s remaining scrolls in order to heat their bathhouses.
Most Muslims were accepting the ancient Greeks’ interpretation of the natural world based on trust. Avicenna (980-1037) is said to have written 250 books in experimental physics and medicine. The word “algebra” derives from the Arabic word for the system, al-djabr, the word chemistry from “Kehmia,” an old name for Egypt, where chemical studies were more advanced.
It is also said that ammonia, borax, nitric acid, and sulfuric acid were identified by Muslims. The concept of zero and the decimal system is also attributed to medieval Arab mathematicians.
The Sahara Desert had been traveled by Muslim nomadic merchants who traded in gold, ivory, and salt during regular routes. In 1352, an Arab traveler from Tangier, Morocco, crossed the desert purely for the purpose of exploration. Ibn Battuta inspired the well-documented pilgrimage to Mecca of Emperor Mansa Musa, ruler of the Mande Empire of Mali (1312-1337).
Ibn Battuta made a “hadj” (pilgrimage) to Mecca in 1325, followed by a 24-year-long world tour which covered most of the Muslim world at the time, East Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, and China, making a longer stop in the Maldives Islands where he became a “qadi” (judge) and received four wives.
Early in the eighth century, Arab and Berber armies crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from Africa and conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula. For the next six centuries, most of Spain was in the hands of the Muslims (Moors). Moorish innovations such as irrigation techniques and new crops, sugar, oranges, lemons, were said to have been brought to the continent.
Cordoba, the capital of the Muslim Andalucía, “tolerated” Christians and Jews because non-Muslims were subjected to a poll tax, the amount of which was related to income and could be paid in installments. Modern scholars claim, that the poll tax was such a great source of revenue for the Moors, that they discouraged conversion to Islam. As long as non-Muslim subjects did not insult their Prophet or the tenets of Islam, Christian and Jews could run their own religious affairs. Which begs the question, if Muslims were so tolerant, why did the Christians rebel and re-claim their territory in 1492?
Sultans, viziers, and caliphs were important political men to the Muslim world, although to western ears they seem to be characters in “1,000 Arabian Nights” stories. A caliph was the highest title and considered the successor to Muhammad and therefore the spiritual head of all Islam, holding both religious and political power. Sultans were like kings and emperors, supreme temporal rulers in a territory with no spiritual power over the clergy. A vizier was a monarch’s chief of staff, appointed by sultans or caliphs. Emirs were commanders in both military and civil sense. They were de facto generals or colonels of Islamic armies or even governors of a monarch’s territory.
The President said that Islam “carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment,” and praised “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.” I wonder if the president ever heard of the German Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press in 1450.
The Roman Marcus Terentius Varro made references to microbes when he warned against locating a homestead near swamps “because there are bred certain minute creatures which cannot be seen by the eyes, which float in the air and enter the body through the mouth and nose and there cause serious diseases.”
Robert Spencer wrote, “The idea that Islamic culture was once a beacon of learning and enlightenment is a commonly held myth. In fact, much of this has been exaggerated, often for quite transparent apologetic motives.”
The exaggerated role of Islam is a revisionist attempt to inflate the Arab culture. As my very wise grandmother would say, a few flowers of wisdom do not constitute an enlightened and sunny spring.