Muslim scholars paid great attention to geography

• Geography
Muslim scholars paid great attention to geography. In fact, the Muslims'
great concern for geography originated with their religion. The Qur'an
encourages people to travel throughout the earth to see God's signs and
patterns everywhere. Islam also requires each Muslim to have at least
enough knowledge of geography to know the direction of the Qiblah (the
position of the Ka'bah in Makkah) in order to pray five times a day.
Muslims were also used to taking long journeys to conduct trade as well as
to make the Hajj and spread their religion. The far-flung Islamic empire
enabled scholar-explorers to compile large amounts of geographical and
climatic information from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Among the most famous names in the field of geography, even in the West,
are Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Batuta, renowned for their written accounts of
their extensive explorations.
In 1166, Al-Idrisi, the well-known Muslim scholar who served the Sicilian
court, produced very accurate maps, including a world map with all the
continents and their mountains, rivers and famous cities. Al-Muqdishi was
the first geographer to produce accurate maps in color.
It was, moreover, with the help of Muslim navigators and their inventions
that Magellan was able to traverse the Cape of Good Hope, and Da Gama
and Columbus had Muslim navigators on board their ships.
• Humanity
Seeking knowledge is obligatory in Islam for every Muslim, man and
woman. The main sources of Islam, the Qur'an and the Sunnah (Prophet
Muhammad's traditions), encourage Muslims to seek knowledge and to be
educated, since this is the best way for people to know Allah (God), to
appreciate His wondrous creations and be thankful to Him. Muslims were
therefore eager to seek knowledge, both religious and secular, and within a
few years of Muhammad's mission, a great civilization sprang up and
flourished. The outcome is shown in the spread of Islamic universities; Al-
Zaytunah in Tunis, and Al-Azhar in Cairo go back more than 1,000 years
and are the oldest existing universities in the world. Indeed, they were the
models for the first European universities, such as Bologna, Heidelberg,
and the Sorbonne. Even the familiar academic cap and gown originated at
Al-Azhar University.
Muslims made great advances in many different fields, such as geography,
physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, pharmacology, architecture,
linguistics and astronomy. Algebra and the Arabic numerals were
introduced to the world by Muslim scholars. The astrolabe, the quadrant,
and other navigational devices and maps were developed by Muslim
scholars and played an important role in world progress, most notably in
Europe's age of exploration.
Muslim scholars studied the ancient civilizations from Greece and Rome to
China and India. The works of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Euclid and others were
translated into Arabic. Muslim scholars and scientists then added their own
creative ideas, discoveries and inventions, and finally transmitted this new
knowledge to Europe, leading directly to the Renaissance. Many scientific
and medical treatises, having been translated into Latin, were standard text
and reference books as late as the 17th and 18th centuries.
• Mathematics
It is interesting to note that Islam so strongly urges mankind to study and
explore the universe. For example, the Holy Qur'an states:
"We (Allah) will show you (mankind) Our signs/patterns in the
horizons/universe and in yourselves until you are convinced that
the revelation is the truth." [Qur'an, 14:53]
This invitation to explore and search made Muslims interested in
astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, and the other sciences, and they had a
very clear and firm understanding of the correspondences among
geometry, mathematics, and astronomy.
The Muslims invented the symbol for zero (The word "cipher" comes from
Arabic sifr), and they organized the numbers into the decimal system - base
10. Additionally, they invented the symbol to express an unknown quantity,
i.e. variables like x.
The first great Muslim mathematician, Al-Khawarizmi, invented the
subject of algebra (al-Jabr), which was further developed by others, most
notably Umar Khayyam. Al-Khawarizmi's work, in Latin translation,
brought the Arabic numerals along with the mathematics to Europe,
through Spain. The word "algorithm" is derived from his name.
Muslim mathematicians excelled also in geometry, as can be seen in their
graphic arts, and it was the great Al-Biruni (who excelled also in the fields
of natural history, even geology and mineralogy) who established
trigonometry as a distinct branch of mathematics. Other Muslim
mathematicians made significant progress in number theory.
• Medicine
In Islam, the human body is a source of appreciation, as it is created by
Almighty Allah (God). How it functions, how to keep it clean and safe,
how to prevent diseases from attacking it or cure those diseases, have been
important issues for Muslims.
Prophet Muhammad himself urged people to "take medicines for your
diseases", as people at that time were reluctant to do so. He also said,
"God created no illness, but established for it a cure, except for
old age. When the antidote is applied, the patient will recover
with the permission of God."
This was strong motivation to encourage Muslim scientists to explore,
develop, and apply empirical laws. Much attention was given to medicine
and public health care. The first hospital was built in Baghdad in 706 AC.
The Muslims also used camel caravans as mobile hospitals, which moved
from place to place.
Since the religion did not forbid it, Muslim scholars used human cadavers
to study anatomy and physiology and to help their students understand how
the body functions. This empirical study enabled surgery to develop very
Al-Razi, known in the West as Rhazes, the famous physician and scientist,
(d. 932) was one of the greatest physicians in the world in the Middle Ages.
He stressed empirical observation and clinical medicine and was unrivaled
as a diagnostician. He also wrote a treatise on hygiene in hospitals. Khalaf
Abul-Qasim Al-Zahrawi was a very famous surgeon in the eleventh
century, known in Europe for his work, (Kitab al-Tasrif).
Ibn Sina (d. 1037), better known to the West as Avicenna, was perhaps the
greatest physician until the modern era. His famous book, Al-Qanun fi alTibb,
remained a standard textbook even in Europe, for over 700 years.
Ibn Sina's work is still studied and built upon in the East.
Other significant contributions were made in pharmacology, such as Ibn
Sina's Kitab al-Shifa' (Book of Healing), and in public health. Every major
city in the Islamic world had a number of excellent hospitals, some of them
teaching hospitals, and many of them were specialized for particular
diseases, including mental and emotional. The Ottomans were particularly
noted for their building of hospitals and for the high level of hygiene
practiced in them.
The word ISLAM has a two-fold meaning: peace, and submission to God.
This submission requires a fully conscious and willing effort to submit to
the one Almighty God. One must consciously and conscientiously give
oneself to the service of Allah. This means to act on what Allah enjoins all
of us to do (in the Qur'an) and what His beloved Prophet, Muhammad
(pbuh) encouraged us to do in his Sunnah (his lifestyle and sayings
personifying the Qur'an).
Once we humble ourselves, rid ourselves of our egoism and submit totally
to Allah, and to Him exclusively, in faith and in action, we will surely feel
peace in our hearts. Establishing peace in our hearts will bring about peace
in our external conduct as well.
Islam is careful to remind us that it not a religion to be paid mere lip
service; rather it is an all-encompassing way of life that must be practiced
continuously for it to be Islam. The Muslim must practice the five pillars
of the religion: the declaration of faith in the oneness of Allah and the
prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh), prayer, fasting the month of Ramadan,
alms-tax, and the pilgrimage to Makkah; and believe in the six articles of
faith: belief in God, the Holy Books, the prophets, the angels, the Day of
Judgment and God's decree, whether for good or ill.
There are other injunctions and commandments which concern virtually all
facets of one's personal, family and civic life. These include such matters as
diet, clothing, personal hygiene, interpersonal relations, business ethics,
responsibilities towards parents, spouse and children, marriage, divorce
and inheritance, civil and criminal law, fighting in defense of Islam,
relations with non-Muslims, and so much more.

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