The American astronaut, Neil Armstrong, was the first man to set foot on the moon after a four-day space voyage on July 20, 1969. On reaching his destination, he uttered these words, which are now a part of history: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Armstrong, along with his colleagues, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins, undertook this journey in a special rocket called Apollo 11. In the final stage they boarded a lunar vehicle called Eagle in order to land on the surface of the moon.

These vehicles, the Apollo and the Eagle, were not—as some of the more fanciful among us might imagine—two magic, flying chariots, but scientifically designed machines made in accordance with our observation of the unchanging laws of nature. Their ability to traverse such immense distance in space is entirely due to man’s correct application of his empirical knowledge.

These laws, the application of which would enable man to reach the moon, have existed throughout the universe since time immemorial, yet it took man centuries to discover them. Given the possibilities of nature, why did so many thousands of years have to elapse in the course of man’s development before he felt ready to launch himself into space?

The answer to this is the prevalence of polytheism, a creed which looked upon things and creatures as deities and encouraged their worship. In ancient times polytheism dominated the entire world. Man considered the moon a deity, just as he held all kinds of other inanimate objects to be gods. The moon, with its brilliant silvery light, inspired man to bow before it rather than try to conquer it. Holding the moon to be sacred was a major obstacle to even thinking of conquering it.

Then, for the first time, in the 7th century, the supremacy of polytheism was brought to an end by the Islamic revolution, which replaced it with monotheism, making it the dominant creed of the times. This revolution was initially brought about in Arabia. Later, it continued its onward journey through Asia and Africa to Europe. In more recent times, it has crossed the Atlantic to gain a foothold in America.

In the Muslim world this revolution was brought about through the influence of religion. The western world, with its own particular circumstances, began to develop this revolution along different lines, separating secular science from religion. Gradually, it was brought to its present culmination. The moon journey mentioned here is an obvious illustration.

Just as nationalization is an economic part of the philosophic system evolved by Marx, similarly modern science is a part of Islamic revolution, which has been separated from its whole.

The same is true of all the sciences, which are now called natural sciences. The fields of these sciences had become forbidden territory because of the polytheistic view of the sanctity of all of nature’s phenomena. It was the revolution of monotheism, which opened the doors of research and investigation by displacing nature from its sacred pedestal.

Thus began a new era of freedom to investigate nature. The slow, thousand-year process of maturation finally culminated (towards the end at an ever-accelerating pace) in modern science and technology. Modern science is wholly the gift of the Islamic revolution—directly in its initial stages, and indirectly in its later stages.

This truth has been generally acknowledged in one way or another. A number of books which have come out in modern times, with titles like The Scientific Achievement of the Arabs, or The Muslim Contribution to Civilization, testify to its general acceptance.

Scholars are in agreement that modern industrial progress owes its existence to Arabo-Muslim influences. A. Humboldt writes: “It is the Arabs who should be regarded as the real founders of physics.”1

Philip Hitti writes in his book, History of the Arabs (1970): “No people in the Middle Ages contributed to human progress so much as did the Arabians and the Arabic–speaking peoples.”2

Historians have generally accepted that it was the science, which reached Europe through the Arabs (who were, of course, Muslims), which finally brought about the Renaissance (or the first awakening, to be more precise). Professor Hitti writes that Arabic translations of books available in different languages, as well as original works prepared by the Arabs in Arabic after the establishment of Bait al-Hikmah in Baghdad in 832, were translated into Latin. “This stream was re-diverted into Europe by the Arabs in Spain and Sicily whence it helped create the Renaissance of Europe.”3

The question remains to be answered, however, as to what brought about this mentality in the Arabs in the first place, considering that they themselves had been submerged in the same backwardness, which prevailed throughout the entire world of that time. There can be only one answer: the creed of monotheism was the cause of this mental and practical revolution. Other nations had polytheism, while the Arabs, after the advent of Islam, had come to be imbued with the spirit of monotheism. It was this difference, which caused the divergence in their histories, one being shaped by the course of events, the other shaping history itself.

The aim of this book is to place a major historical event in its correct perspective, i.e. to attribute the crucial Arabo-Muslim contribution to modern science to Islam itself rather than give all the credit for it to a Muslim nation, which was formerly the practice. This is thus the explanation of a known event rather than the presentation of facts, which were hitherto unknown.

This point can be illustrated by the manner in which India won its freedom in 1947. India’s ability to liberate itself may be attributed to Gandhi and Nehru, but if we go into the matter in greater depth, we find it more proper to say that it was modern national and democratic ideas that helped India to win its freedom. This advent of a universal intellectual revolution, based on the principles of democracy and national freedom in modern times, actually paved the way for the rise of a Gandhi, or a Nehru, who was then in a position to launch a successful freedom movement. Had such a revolution in thinking not already taken place, the movements launched by our leaders would have had little chance of success.

The same is true of the subject under discussion. There is no doubt about it that the modern scientific revolution was set in motion by Arab Muslims. But the initial stimulus came from the new way of thinking which had been made possible by Islam. Logically, the history of science can no longer extol the achievements of just one nation, but must now show science in its true light as a gift of the religion, which was sent by the Almighty for the guidance of all mankind for all eternity.

Henri Pirenne has acknowledged this as a historical fact: “Islam changed the face of the globe. The traditional order of history was overthrown.”4

This book is a brief introduction to this aspect of the Islamic revolution. It was my intention to present an exhaustive study of the subject, but the work of collecting information was progressing too slowly. Finally, I felt that
the pressure of my engagements would not permit me to prepare such a comprehensive work as originally intended.
I decided, therefore, to publish in book form whatever material was ready without delay.

If time and circumstances permit, more research will be done and more data added, InshaAllah. But if that plan does not fructify, I hope this first impression will be helpful to anyone else who wishes at some future date to embark on the preparation of the second impression.

Wahiduddin Khan

16 April 1993

New Delhi, India

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
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