In the early stages of modern civilization the Arabs made a considerable contribution to practical science. For instance, as early as the seventh century, the Arabs made usable watches. In his Discovery of India, Jawaharlal Nehru mentions that ‘Damascus had a famous clock and so did the Baghdad of Harun al-Rashid’s day’ (p.261).
Although the manufacture of watches was first engaged in by Muslims, the progress and development of this industry took place entirely in Europe. Ironically, millions of dollars are being sent today by Muslims to the western world for the purchase of watches.
The same is the case with many other modern industrial enterprises. They were given their first impetus by the Muslims, but were subsequently developed by the West, because the Muslims had become so embroiled in internecine strife that they could not give their full attention to industrial progress. The West thus came to dominate the industrial scene throughout the entire world.
There are many Muslims who take a pride in their past. But there is no one to encourage them to engage themselves in the tasks in which they formerly excelled. Simply taking pride in the past can never be a substitute for taking effective action in the present.
Before the invention of the steamship, Muslims were masters of navigation. In the words of a historian, they had converted the Mediterranean into an Arab lake. But today, in the age of the steamship, the Muslims have no shipping company. For them, this has become an age of decline and decadence, the reason being that Muslims have lost the ability to learn new things or to embark on original investigation.
Remaining sedulously attached to what is old has come to be regarded by Muslims as religiosity, while associating with anything modern is tantamount to apostasy. So far as matters of religious beliefs, forms of worship, moral values are concerned, we have undoubtedly to look back. But so far as the affairs of the world are concerned, we have to look forward. Muslims have never been able to understand how essential this is and that is why they have become a backward community in this modern age.