A culture besieged by terrorism gave us modern-day science
COLUMBIA, Mo 5/8/15 (Beat Byte) -- From the birth of Muhammad to this year's Charlie Hebdo massacre nearly 1,500 years later, a Stephens College professor's new interactive timeline reveals surprising and little-known details about Islam, a religion and culture shared by over 1.6 billion people.
Bombings, terrorism, 9/11, and Mideast conflict have wrongly created a destructive impression of Islam's storied and fascinating history, Stephens College associate professor of art history James Terry believes.
He created The Islamic World to supplement an Islamic Art and Culture textbook -- and dispel misconceptions.
"Much of Western European accomplishment" -- the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, and the age of scientific achievement heralded by Galileo, Newton, Descartes and others -- "began with Islamic civilization in the Middle Ages," Terry says. For centuries, Arabic and Muslim scholars led the way in "astronomy, medicine, philosophy, geography, mechanics and mathematics."
Terry's timeline begins familiarly enough, as the story of one man's quest for faith-based governance. Muhammad, Martin Luther, Brigham Young, even Jesus -- all sought social reform via religious belief.
Patterns gradually emerge on the timeline's parallel tracks -- Islam's political and military history scrolls below cultural and scientific achievement.
As wars, conquests, and Islam's Middle East expansion in the early years -- roughly 570 - 700 A.D. -- give way to stability and prosperity, the Muslim world's first great engineering and architectural achievements appear: The Dome of the Rock; the Great Mosque of Damascus; the city of Baghdad, originally-named Madinat al-Salam, or "City of Peace."
Important arts and techniques move west, as Islamic peoples import paper-making from China and tastemakers such as Ziryab -- one of civilization's early cosmetologists and fashion icons -- introduce deodorant, toothpaste, hairstyling, the 3-course meal, and the drinking goblet.
The 8th Century Muslim mathematician al-Khwarizmi invents the "algorithm" -- a step-by-step problem-solving method that takes its name from him -- and "algebra", the use of symbolic notations to solve mathematical problems. Its name derives from a book al-Khwarizmi wrote in Baghdad, the "al-gabr."
Muhammad himself invented quarantine -- isolation of patients with communicable diseases. The 10th century Islamic scientist al-Haytham (aka Alhazen) revolutionized the study of optics and invented the steps of the scientific method: hypothesis-experiment-theory-law.
The concept of "zero" (0); the astrolabe; the first identification of a galaxy -- Andromeda: all come from the work of Islamic scholars, in milestones found quickly, easily, and succinctly on Terry's timeline.
Fast-forward to modern-day Islam -- a shadow of its vast former empires and the Caliphs, Sultans, and invading armies who advanced the Muslim political will -- and you see, not just the terror-prone world that keeps America and the West on guard.
A different creative track is in process: a rebirth of Islamic art, writing, and speech, in natural response to the decades of oppression that have splintered a once coherent culture into warring factions.
The great science and engineering feats that formed the foundation of early Islam have receded, a vision of peace and social justice taking their place among Islam's scholarly class.
The Muslim world isn't all about terrorism, history shows, despite the work of politicians who have their own "good ol' boy" network of religious overlords and dictatorial mullahs.
“It is important to present a more balanced picture, to celebrate the accomplishments of scholars like Leila Ahmed and Edward Said; Nobel Peace Prize winners like Orhan Pamuk, Tawakkol Karman and Malala Yousafzai; artists and architects like Shirin Neshat and Zaha Hadid; and the great cultural institutions in the Islamic world like the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the reincarnation of the lost Library of Alexandria," Terry explains.
THE ISLAMIC WORLD TIMELINE