Before the advent of Islam, Arabia was the land of
antagonist tribes, always busy in fighting and bloodshed. Due to their
inter-tribal conflicts and disunity they had become an easy prey to economic and
political exploitation of the contemporary great powers, the Persians and the
It was the dawn of Islam which emancipated them from the
shackles of every type of exploitation. Islam knit them together strongly in the
bonds of brotherhood and made them an irresistible force. Within a short span of
three decades they emerged as the masters of one third of the known world. The
mighty Persian and the great Roman empires lay tottering before the new Muslim
Islam had brought about a complete re-orientation in their
outlook towards life and made tent-dwellers of the desert a cultured and
civilized people. The intellectual progress of the Muslims was no less
remarkable than their success in the battle-field. The teachings of the Prophet
(sws) inspired the hearts of his followers with a feel for knowledge and created
in them a new sense of civility, culture, justice, piety, tolerance and
brotherhood which is an essential pre-requiste for any cultural development and
creative activity in the society. In the words of Ibrahim Madkour:
"In any society, culture is the off spring of many factors:
human potential, creative consciousness, intellectual and spiritual vitality,
real achievement and progress, and freedom, among others."
And by the early eighth century A.D. a potential for
extraordinary cultural achievements was quite conspicuous in the Arab society.
The advent of Islam generated creative activity in the Arab conciousness. A new
sense of purpose and direction was provided which not only unified a loose
assemblage of tribes but also created an individual and collective genius which
ushered in a new era of science and learning in the world. Wherever the Arabs
went, they illuminated the darkness of ignorance and bigotry with the light of
knowledge. They laid the foundations of a glorious civilization in Spain which
still embellishes the pages of medieval history. In the words of Philip K. Hitti:
"Muslim Spain wrote one of the brightest chapters in the
history of medieval Europe."
In the following pages the meritorious achievements of the
Spanish Muslims are briefly discussed in the fields of astronomy, agriculture,
botany, medicine and surgery. It was, in fact, the achievements of the Muslims
and their transmission to Europe through Spain which became responsible for the
renaissance of Western Europe.
Astronomy, in fact, was founded by the Arabs during the
early period of the Abbasid Caliphate. During the middle of the 10th centry A.D.
astronomical studies were especially favoured and patronized by the rulers of
Muslim Spain. Khwarizmi had written a valuable treatise on astronomy and
compiled his tables (Zij) which after two centuries were revised by a Spanish
astronomer Al-Majriti which was later on translated in Latin by Adelard of Bath.
This remarkable work formed the basis of later astronomical pursuits both in the
East and the West. Moreover, it replaced all earlier tables of the Greek and
Al-Zarqali (Azrachel: 1029-1087 A.D.) was a famous
astronomer of Spain, He was the celebrated instrument maker who devised an
improved type of astrolabe, called the ‘Safiha’. He also has the distinction of
being the first astronomer to prove the motion of the solar apogee with
reference to the stars. His treatises along with those of Al-Battani were
studied and admired in the West and Copernicus quoted him in his famous work"De
Revolutionibus Orbium Celestium".
Jabar Ibin Aflah was another illustrious Spanish astronomer
of the 12th century, whose famous book "Kitab ul Hayat" (Book of Astronomy) was
later on translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona. He sharply criticised
Ptolemy and against the latter’s observation he rightly observed that the lower
planets, Mercury and Venus, had no visible parallaxes. Generalizations of Jabir
Ibni Aflah on the subject were confirmed by later research. The famous
astronomical tower of Sevile was constructed under his supervision in 1190 A.D.
But with the fall of the Muslim rule in Spain, this very significant and
valuable tower was turned into a belfry by the Christian victors who did not
know what else to do with it. In the words of Philip K.Hitti:
"Finally it was through Spanish channels that the Latin
West found its oriental inspiration in astronomy and astrology. The leading
Muslim astronomical words were translated in Spain into
Latin, and the Alfonsine tables compiled under the aegis of Alfonso X in the
13th century were but a development of Arab astronomy."
The Arabs in Spain had developed agriculture on an
unprecedented scale. They constructed water channels to irrigate the fields,
applied scientific manures to increase the yield and introduced new crops. The
whole of Spain was converted into varitable gardens. According to K. Jamil
"Hardly any country of medieval times enjoyed greater
agriculture prosperity than Muslim Spain."
Agriculture was developed on scientific lines. The
continuation of industry, skill and knowledge, in its development, converted the
barren tracts of land into luxuriantly blooming fields. Again to quote K. Jamil
"It was the Spanish Arabs who introduced rice, sugercane,
cotton, ginger, saffron, spinach and a great variety of fruits to that desolate
peninsula and developed them on a large scale."
From Spain these crops were, later on, introduced into
different parts of Europe. When Ferdinand I captured Sevile in 1255 A.D., the
province was rich with several million olive trees and had more than 100,000
mills for turning out olive oil. About the glorious achievements of the Arabs in
Spain, Syed Amir Ali says:
"They levelled the earth by means of an instrument
called the ‘marhifal,’ and the science of irrigation was carried to high
perfection. The whole country was covered with adequate canals for fertilization
of the soil. The aqueducts of Carmona carried water over a distance of several
Irrigation was carried on by flood gates, wheels and pumps.
The Andalusian plain of Spain was considered the garden of Europe and was a busy
centre of rural and urban activities. Paying glorious tributes to the
agricultural genius of the Spanish Muslims Philip K. Hitti says:
"This agricultural development was one of the glories of
Muslim Spain and one of the Arabs’ lasting gifts to the land, for Spanish
gardens have preserved to this day a ‘Moorish’ imprint."
The Spanish Muslims had made a great advancement in botany
and developed horticulture to a high degree of perfection. The science of
botany, in fact, reached its climax in Spain. The Spanish Muslims made a
colossal contribution in the field of botany. Some of them are still known as
the greatest botanists of medieval times. Through their observations they
discovered the sexual difference between such plants as palms and hemps. They
travelled mostly on the sea shores, mountains and in distant lands in search of
rare botanical herbs. They classified plants into those that grow from seeds,
cuttings and those that grow spontaneously i.e, wild growth. The Cordovan
physician, Al Ghafiqi, was a renowned botanist who collected plants in Spain and
Africa and described them most accurately. According to G.Sarton:
"He was the greatest expert of his time on samples. His
description of the plants was the most precise ever made in Islam; he gave the
names of each in Arabic, Latin and Berber."
Abu Zakariya Yahya who flourished towards the end of 12th
century in Sevile (Spain) was the author of "Kitab-al-Filahah", the most
important Islamic and outstanding medieval work on the subject. In this
remarkable book he treats 585 plants and explains the cultivation of more than
50 fruit trees. The book also presents new observations on properties of soil,
different types of manures and also discusses the symptoms of several diseases
of trees and vines and suggests their remedies. Abdullah Ibn Ahmad Ibn-al-Baytar
of Spain was the greatest pharmacist and botanist of medieval times. He
travelled a long way along the Mediterranean, from Spain to Syria, in search of
The Spanish Arabs took to the study of medicine very
assiduously. In the words of Hitti:
"Most of the Spanish Arab physicians were physicians by
avocation and something else by vocation."
Arib bin Sa’id was an illustrious physician of Cordova who
wrote a remarkable book on gynaecology, embryology and paediatrics which
surpassed Ibni Al-Jazzar’s famous text on child care. Sami K. Hamarneh writes:
"Ibn Sa’id’s book was the most significant work written
on this subject in any language up to the tenth century."
Ibni Julul and Az-Zaharwi, the junior contemporaries of
Ibin Sa’id, also made great contributions to the advancement of Arabic
medicine---in pharmacy, medical botany, internal clinical medicine and surgery.
Az-Zaharwi’s famous book "At-Tasrif" is the most celebrated
work of medieval ages on the subject. An important part of "At-Tasrif", deals
with obstetrics, paediatrics and midwifery, as well as with general human
anatomy. His discussion on mother and child health and on profession of
midwifery is of immense interest in the history of nursing. His texts indicate
the existence of a flourishing profession of nurses and midwives in general
practice which clearly speaks of the reluctance of many Muslim families to seek
assistance of male doctors in normal childbirth.
Ibni Wafid and Ibni Zuhr (known in Latin as Avenzoar) were
the two other renowned Andalusian physicians who left an indelible mark in the
development of Arabic clinical medicine and therapeutics. In "At-Taysir", his
famous book on diagnosis and treatment of diseases, Ibni Zuhr described
possibilities for the first time in medical history, mediastinal abscesses as
well as wet and dry precarditis.
He even went to the extent of criticising Ibni Sina’s "Al-Qaanoon"
for its almost total emphasis on theoretical concepts and philosophical
reasoning at the expense of clinical, practical medicine. Ibni Rushd (1125-1198
AD) who was known in the Western world as Averroes was another man of parts
which the Muslim Spain produced. He was, in fact, more of a philosopher and
theologian than a physician. Nevertheless, his medical works are remarkable, of
which "Kulliyat Fil Tib" dealing with the general rules of medicine was
translated into Latin in 1255 AD.
Ibni Katina, another Moorish physician, was the author of
an excellent book on plague. A severe plague broke out in Alemaria, in Spain, in
1348-49 A.D. which influenced the celebrated physician to write a scholarly
treatise on the subject. The book revealed the contagious character of plague
and its remedies which were unknown to the Greek physicians. It was translated
in Europe in the 15th century.
The greatest achievements in the medieval surgery, an
almost neglected field with the Muslim physicians who did not pay much attention
to it, are attributed to Az-Zaharawi of Moorish Spain. He was a great surgeon.
He wrote a remarkable medical encyclopaedia, "At-Tasrif", containing 30
sections, the last of which deals with surgery including cauter, the treatment
of wounds, the extracting of arrows, oral hygiene, and the setting of bones in
simple and compound fractures. He used antiseptics in the treatment of wounds
and skin injuries; devised statures from animal intestine, silk, wool and other
substances. He also developed techniques to widen urinary passages and explore
body cavities surgically.
"At-Tasrif" is a fully illustrated book with sketches of
about 200 surgical instruments that he himself had designed. These instruments
with modifications, were later used by many surgeons in Christiandom as well as
in Islam. "At-Tasrif" was a remarkable and indispensable book, as in the words
of K. Jamil Ahmad:
"It was translated into several European languages and
the famous French surgeon Guy de Chauliac benefited from one of its Latin
These are a few glimpses of some of the intellectual
achievements of the Spanish Muslims who recovered and supplemented the old Greek
sciences, patronized arts and learning, established educational institutions,
set up libraries rich in books, laid beautiful gardens, excelled in agriculture,
made useful inventions, installed industries, encouraged trade and commerce, and
decorated Spain with beautiful specimens of architecture which still speak of
the high aesthetic sense and greatness of their builders.
They transmitted knowledge to Europe through Spain and
eventually, paved the way for the renaissance of Western Europe.
(Courtesy "The Pakistan Times")