Averroes Islamic Philosopher

‘Historical Amnesia’ has led to forgotten achievements of Muslim culture


In an article authored by Craig Considine , reference has been made to the extreme historical amnesia that has taken place with regards to the achievements and contributions of the Muslim culture to education, philosophy, health care and science.

Contributions to education

Perhaps it may come as a surprise to some that the first university in the world was established by two Muslim women, Fatima and Miriam al-Firhi, who set up Al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco in 859 AD. Students were schooled here in a plethora of secular and religious subjects, and at the end of their education, teachers evaluated students and awarded degrees based on good performance. The concept of awarding degrees later spread to Andalucía, Spain, and later to the Universities of Bologna in Italy and Oxford in England, among others.

Spanish Muslims of Andalucía were strong advocates of education and between the 8th and 15th centuries, was one of the world's epicentres for education and knowledge. Students from many denominations learned science from Muslims in an educational environment that emphasised the importance of tolerance.

Contributions to philosophy

One of the greatest Muslim contributions to civilization began in the 8th century when Muslim scholars translated the wisdom found in ancient Greek philosophical texts, creating one of the biggest transmissions of knowledge in world history. Muslim scholars brought the ideas of the great Greek writers such as Socrates, Aristotle and Plato into Europe, where their philosophy was translated into other European languages. The Muslims resurrected Greek philosophy and gave new life into a European continent that was bogged down with religious dogma and bloody internal conflicts.

Averroes, a Muslim philosopher and founder of Averroism, a philsophical movement that become popular in medieval Europe. Photo source: Wikipedia

Contributions to health care

In 872 in Cairo, Egypt, the Ahmad ibn Tulun hospital was created and equipped with an elaborate institution and a range of functions: a center of medical treatment, a convalescent home for those recovering from illness or accidents, and a retirement home giving basic maintenance needs for the aged and infirm who lacked a family to care for them. It was also the first hospital to give care to the mentally ill.  Like other Islamic hospitals that soon followed, Tulun was a secular institution which felt it had a moral imperative to treat any person: man or woman, adult or child, rich or poor, as well as Muslims and non-Muslims.

One hundred years after the founding of Tulun, a surgeon named Al-Zahrawi wrote an illustrated encyclopaedia that would ultimately be used as a guide to European surgeons for the next five hundred years. His surgical instruments, such as scalpels, bone saws, and forceps are still used by modern surgeons today and he is reportedly the first surgeon to perform a caesarean operation.

A man receiving treatment in an Islamic hospital. Photo source .

Contributions to science

Muslims have also made significant contributions to science and between the 7 th and 16 th centuries, known as the Islamic Golden Age, and were said to have practiced and advanced science on a scale unprecedented in earlier human history.

Muslim scientists invented many of the basic processes and apparatuses used by modern-day chemists, and are credited with transforming alchemy into chemistry through distillation during the 8th and 9th centuries.

In medieval Islam, the sciences were viewed holistically. The individual scientific disciplines were approached in terms of their relationships to each other and the whole, as if they were branches of a tree. The most important scientists were skilled in the practice of medicine as well as astronomy and mathematics. These multi-talented sages, the central figures in Islamic science, elaborated and personified the unity of the sciences. They orchestrated scientific development through their insights, and excelled in their explorations as well.

Muslims have made enormous contributions to civilization.  According to Consodine, people around the world should be taught about these contributions to dispel misperceptions so major trends or events in world history are no longer forgotten or blatantly ignored in a case of “historical amnesia.”

Featured image: Averroes, the great Muslim polymath, master of Aristotelian philosophy, Islamic philosophy, Islamic theology, logic, psychology, politics, the sciences of medicine, astronomy, mathematics, and celestial mechanics. Photo source: Wikipedia

By April Holloway


Well, what happened then? It seems they are at a standstill.

Maybe they should be reminded of their beautiful history, because they sure don't act like it anymore!

This was a nice article to read. Thank you to the writer for helping more people become aware of Muslim contributions to society. :-)

I think civilizations rise and fall due to many factors. And its true that during the Islamic Golden Age, Europe was wallowing in ignorance and bloody conflicts. Now, after the fall down of Islam, European (Western Christian civilization) rose and saw Islam as its main enemy. Then the Middle East crisis and the survival of the Israeli state, requires that Islam is always looked into as a terrorism and savagery force. Globalisation helps and is usually used to ensure this image prevails.

I feel like this is limited to some parts of the world however. Personally I enjoyed a rather progressive style of history education during my high school attendance and the contribution of Islamic scholars was emphasized, even though I grew up in Northwestern Europe. I think this particular phenomenon is a very good example of how the geopolitical climate can turn history into a diluted version of the 'truth' in this sense, akin to the surpression of knowledge about many other subjects for political gain of influence. I suspect that in the United States for instance this knowledge is not easily shared or not even believed when done so, simply because of the bad rep muslims have had in terms of international relations with the US. In that sense the education system in the US specifically is rather limited, although personal knowledge can of course be reached through own incentive.

My point is however that this historical amnesia is probably bound only to (mostly) Western(ized) cultures, whereas in areas like Eastern and Southern Asia this knowledge is relatively openly shared in my experience. Of course this is also because of the relatively close experiences with Islam in those parts of the world and the comparatively friendly climate between muslims and other religious groups in these regions, whereas in Europe a relation of hostility with the muslims was much more common.

Did the author find this phenomenon to be relatively old (say, 500+ years)? Or would you categorize it as a quite modern situation? I am curious because even though the European relations with muslims were definitely prone to change over the course of the Middle Ages and (post-)Renaissance, history suggests that scientific developments from especially the Middle East and North Africa were shared quite eagerly by Islamic scholars and Europeans. Examples of this mostly come from Spain and Italy though: perhaps because of the close contacts between Muslims and Christians in those regions?


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