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Exclusive: What can one admire about the Islamic world?
Paul Sullivan, Ph.D.

Author: Paul Sullivan, Ph.D.
Source: The Family Security Foundation, Inc.
Date: September 6, 2006

Since 9/11, we have heard much about Muslims, and specifically Islamists, but what have we heard about the admirable qualities of Islam? FSM Contributing Editor Paul Sullivan writes about the many inventions and advances in our world that came out of Islam.


“What can one admire about the Islamic world?”

Paul Sullivan, Ph.D.

September 6, 2006

A recent Gallup Poll that found that when Americans were asked what they admire about the Muslim world 55% said either “nothing” or “they did not know”. I was briefly surprised. However, when one considers what sides of the Muslim world Americans are mostly exposed to, this result is predictable. But there is much greatness, beauty, genius, creativity, inventiveness, decency, warmth, and just plain goodness in Islam. What most Americans hear about are the extremists and the violence. I would hope that America is not judged upon its worst characteristics.


It is impossible to cover all of the admirable sides of the Muslim world in this short article. However, I could point some people in the right direction to find out more about such tings. The PBS DVD, Islam: Empire of Faith is a good start on the historical side. Trying a GOOGLE search on “Muslim inventions”, “Muslim scholars”, “Islamic architecture”, “Islamic art”, and “Islamic science” could also act as starts. Visiting some Islamic countries, or even talking with and having tea with your Muslim neighbors and co-workers might also help. Picking up a good book on Muslim history might be a real eye-opener for people.


Knowledge is a vital part of the Muslim psyche at its best. Prophet Mohammed directed that Muslims “seek knowledge,” and stated on many occasions that the pen, literacy and knowledge are far more powerful than the sword. The sad state of some parts of the Muslim world when it comes to literacy, invention, innovation, and creativity these days would be likely a cause of shame to Prophet Mohammed. But some of the most creative, innovative and successful Muslims are right here in the US. Here they have the freedom to live their dreams. A lot could be said about some of the rest of the Muslim world if they too were allowed to invent, innovate, and develop their dreams more fully outside of the dictatorships and autocracies they live under.


For centuries the Islamic world was on top of the world in science, art, architecture, medicine, philosophy, translations, mathematics, astronomy, map-making, banking technology, and so much more. Muslim scholars in the “House of Wisdom” in Baghdad translated the works of the ancient scholars of Greece, the Indian subcontinent, and others into Arabic, Persian and other languages. Such Muslim scholars saved the knowledge of the ancients for all of us. They also acted as a catalyst for the European Renaissance. Some argue that without the great Muslim scholars of Baghdad, Cordoba, Cairo and the like the Renaissance may not have happened in the way it did, if at all. The first universities in the world were not in Europe, but in the Muslim world. Al-Azhar University in Egypt has been around since the 9th century.


Some of the methods of making the great early churches of Europe were borrowed from the great Muslim architects of Cordoba, for example. The pointed arches, domes, and more of the great mosque in Cordoba were seen by others from northern Europe and then duplicated. Some of the architectural methods we use today were first developed in Muslim lands long ago. The barrel vault, battlement, blind arch, and stucco made great innovative headway through the help of Muslims. Muslims also made significant contributions to decorative arts, such as the arabesque, ceramic arts, calligraphy, and more. There were also great strides made in the development of music theory. Jalau’ddin Rumi, a 13th century Afghan-Persian Sufi poet and scholar is one of the most popular poets on US college campuses today.


Muslims invented Algebra and trigonometry. “Algorithm” and “zero” are derived Arabic words. Musa Al-Khwarizmi, a Persian Muslim of the 8th and 9th centuries, was one of the greatest mathematicians, and clearly a man of genius. Omar Khayyam, the great Muslim writer, was also a mathematician who helped developed great ideas based on Euclidean geometry. Hindus originally developed the system of what we call “Arabic numerals” in the 6th century. The arrival of an Indian scholar in the “House of Wisdom” helped the Muslims improve and help spread a better numerical system. One of the great results of such efforts in mathematics in early Baghdad was the invention of the decimal system. India, Persian, Jewish, and other scholars worked with the Muslim scholars in Baghdad. The Muslims, like we do today, stood on the shoulders of other great scholars and thinkers of their then past and present, and built upon those ideas. Some of the giants upon whose shoulders we unknowingly stand upon are Muslims.


Ibn Khaldun, another Muslim, is considered to be one of the originators of systematic studies of economics and sociology. Many of his lessons on culture and economics can be used today. Ibn Batuta was a great Muslim traveler, who was the Marco Polo of the Muslim world. He was to take a trip from his home town of Tangiers in what is now Morocco, but took some side trip to: Africa, China, Persia, Mesopotamia, Central Asia and more. He had some important maps and logs written of his journeys. Some of these became important starting points for later works in cartography and geography. His journeys contributed to other fields as well. The Muslim world has had some great geographers. Navigation techniques that allowed for traveling vast distances, techniques that were copied later by Europeans, were first invented by Muslims, including a great Chinese Muslim navigator. Muslims invented the astrolabe in order to find directions for travel, and the direction to Mecca in order to pray in the right direction.


Muslim astronomers accepted that the earth circled the sun well before Galileo was jailed and excommunicated for making similar claims. These Muslim scholars were awarded, not tossed away.


Extraordinarily accurate calendars and solar clocks were developed in the early Muslim days. These calendars and clocks were used to solve the practical problems of running a state, and also the practical problems of when the prayer times should occur.


There also have been great advances in zoology, botany, animal husbandry, chemistry, glass making, accounting, physics, literature, anatomy, ceramics, rocketry, and much more out of the Muslim world. In the true Islam, not the Islam of the extremists and some of the dictators and autocrats, science, invention, creativity, art, and the like are applauded.


In the Koran the second most common word, second only to God, is knowledge. ilm.

There is nothing to admire? Contributing Editor Paul Sullivan, Ph.D., is Professor of Economics at the National Defense University, Adjunct Professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University, and a member of the Energy Consensus Group Research Fellow, Independent Institute


Dr. Paul Sullivan can be contacted at: 

202-685-4237 (tel)

202-685-4175 (fax)

571-217-6009 (cell)



All opinions expressed in this  article  are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent those of any entity of the U.S. Government.


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