Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Research and Development In the Era That Islam Arrived

Some say, that Islam put a stop to scientific progress. No better symbol for this than Islamic commander Amr ibn al-‘As burning the renowned library of Alexandria. Egypt was conquered during Umar ibn al Khattabs kaliphate by Muslim troops in 641 AD and Ibn al ‘As made Memphis its new capital, where it had been Alexandria for the last thousand years. Truth is, that the most important sections of this famous library had been burned on several occasions. First, during the siege of the city under Julius Caesar, 47 BC. Then, another part was lost under emperor Aurelian, fighting a revolt by queen Zenobia of Palmyra, around 270 AD. Zealous Christians under Byzantine Emperor Theodosius had sacked the subsidiary library at the Serapeum in 391 AD. Christian emperor Theodosious I had ordered destruction of all pagan temples, among which the Serapeum in Alexandria, which may have housed the famous library's remaining books. Whether Ibn al ‘As destroyed the remaining part of the library, is most probably a popular myth spread by Edward Gibbon and Nicolas Wade (‘Burning the Book of Nature’). Bernard Lewis claims, that opponents of the Shia Fatimid caliphate had spread the story of the Fatimids falsely accusing Umar ibn al Khattab for supporting a library’s destruction, which is a sin in Islam.

In the Prophet’s days, at least at practicable travel distance, the Persian Sassanid empire was the main promotor of science and medicine. The East Roman empire, the Byzantines, was its main enemy and persecutor. Byzantine emperor Zeno had the main Greek scientific centers closed. Its scholars found refuge in the important Persian city of Gondeshapur, Khuzestan. Astronomy, philosophy, medicine, and useful crafts in the Greek tradition, came to flourish. The Persian king ordered Greek and Syriac works to be translated into Pahlavi: The written Iranian language also used at the court. The language lost its common use after about 900 AD and was then preserved by the Zoroastrian clergy. We may state, therefore, that in the Prophet’s days, science was practised in Persia and it relied on Persians and Greeks and their tradition; however, also Indian and Chinese scholars were invited to Gondeshapur. After the Muslim conquest in 638 AD, the academy of Gondashapur survived and persisted its status of institute for higher learning for several centuries. Its hospital was probably the first ever in the Muslim world. Caliph al Ma’mun, however, founded in 832 AD the famous Bayt ul Hikma, the House of Wisdom, Baghdad, which then gradually became the Muslim intellectual center.

Another accusation from non-Muslims is, that Qur’anic verses were copied from known philosophical and scientific works, perhaps in response to people like Harun Yahya and Maurice Bucaille , who stated, that Qur’anic text never contradicts scientific facts. What were the main ideas on science and nature in the early 7th century AD, and did Qur’anic revelations correspond with them? This question has been posed and explored many a time and led to many creative and imaginative answers, that are by no means to be discarded even nowadays. Me, I start the voyage in Greece and travel clockwise to the middle and far east and end in Europe.

Sources & Further Reading:
New York Times
NCBI for comparative studies of Quran, Bible and science Open source full text of Maurice Bucaille's book 'The Bible, Qur'an, and Science'.


Monday, November 3, 2008

When Religious Scriptures and Phenomena of Nature Meet


The metaphysical world of divine revelation in the scriptures, and nature as a divine creation, are two fields that touch each other. It is a known fact, that descriptions of several natural phenomena, and of historic events in religious scriptures, were proved true by scientists and archeologists. This match between both worlds is also a big inspiration for those in search of religious experience. However, those who will never accept religion to be true, make it their life's work to prove there is no link between divine revelation and science, as well as that scholars in the ancient days had enough scientific knowledge to write a truthful religious scripture on their own.

Abstract phenomena like time, good and evil, or the afterlife are are topics that typically belong to the religious outlook on life. Their abstraction makes them an important field of interest for philosophy too, as philosophy has a certain common ground with religious thinking. Philosophy usually confines itself to the how to–questions behind abstract phenomena, like time or morality. Religion also tries to answer their why–questions. Natural phenomena very well lend themselves to pondering about how a creative, operating force could make them tick, but also to researching them in a more scientific manner. The meeting between scientific knowledge (also among ancient or nature–oriented, animistic peoples) and religious systems, is often fascinating and spectacular. Natural phenomena are used to fortify religion with empirical evidence. Many peoples have reached great creative and scientific achievements on this path. Some societies mastered astronomy remarkably well, in an early stage of human history, such as the Persians, ancient Egypt and Greece. The Persian astronomers kept detailed and accurate records of the night skies, that historians even today refer to. Belgian author Robert Bauval thinks, that ancient Egyptians knew enough astronomy to use their knowledge of the Orion belt's course and constellation for the design of their king's graves in Gizah. In 1995 he published his book "The Orion Mystery" about this topic, and about the role the Orion belt may have played in ancient Egypt's religion. It seems very likely, that there is no truthful combination possible between ancient Egypt's poytheism and islam's strict and abstract concept of only one God. Yet it is true, that the position of the Gizah pyramids is an exactly proportioned copy of the Orion belt, and it is also true, that their constructors valued astronomy, in their religious concept. Bauval had noticed, that one of Orion's stars, and the star Sirius, both precisely lit the narrow corridor in the Cheops pyramid leading to respectively the King's and the Queen's Chamber. The function of these chambers has never been discovered, since there were no graves and mummies present. Therefore, many people have thought, that the bodies were stolen from the chambers. However, it is also known that ancient Egypt used to bury it's dead in the earth, which isn't present in these chambers either. Under the watchful eye of main custodian dr Zawi Hanwass a range of archeologists and television stations speculated over the possible purpose of the pyramids. The doors between the air shafts leading to the King's and Queen's Chambers from the outdoors, were discovered by robot engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink. Dr Robert Bauval, however, thinks as a result of investigation into these air shafts, that the pyramids were no mausoleums and that they had a broader religious worship function. The Orion stars and Syrius may have represented the supreme god and supreme goddess, Osiris and Isis; the country's king and queen; and the future of their dynasty. And dr Bauval thinks, that no king could politically afford such extravagance in his personal grave monument.

However, religions offer different tales about the origins, structure and movement of the many creatures in the universe. This is an awkward aspect of religious thinking, that may leave the faithful dumb and numb in face of the atheist claim that religious thinking is untrue. There is no proper scientific answer to this issue: Why do the stories of creation in various religions differ. The popular answer is, that the various ancient peoples, who lacked much of the sophisticated knowledge that we have now, invented their own answers to life's problems, and to the philosophical questions of why we are here, and where we go. No matter the awkwardness of issue: There is usually no hard evidence of such fabrication. What's more, the majority of the stories cannot be falsified in an empirical, scientific way. It may very well be true, that religion has its own truth, parallel to that of science. We may believe in it, or reject it, but we cannot discard it as a set of lies. And those who came up with them, are no longer with us. Yet, we have enough reason to enjoy the benefits and wonders of the resulting valuable cultural heritage, and to make practical use of 'holy' items in everyday life. A holy plant used by a traditional Brazilian shaman may thank its holiness to proven medical qualities, which in modern times have been rediscovered by reputed multinational drug manufacturers.

There is, however, also a field between natural science and abstraction that may have religious aspects, which may cover psychology and the humanities. We see their results and they are, as said earlier, suited for a scientific or a medical approach; nevertheless, they are invisible abstract concepts. It is a statistically proved fact, that young, healthy people think differently about how to spend their money, than senior citizens in a nursing home. There is, according to most religious scriptures, a soul, but no one has ever seen it. The same can be said for emotion and preference. The book of Islam, the Qur'an, says the soul resides in the heart; however, a scientist will say that the heart is no more and no less than an muscular pump for our blood. Difference between individuals and communities leads to different scientific theories, but only in natural sciences their validity can be fully proved. In the humanities this is not always possible, because they deal with these abstract, invisible concepts. Customer satisfaction can be measured, but it may only partly be predicted and interpreted. Why people behave and think the way they do at a certain moment, is not easy to predict either. Or to interpret, sometimes. This is why different theories on economics or on psychology do not necessarily lead to the best solution, yet they may continue to co-exist. Communism has been rejected as not useful, however, its offshoot socialism still exists in a diluted form in economic and political systems. So does Milton Friedman's liberal market system. Yet, economic thinkers have used religion in their ideas, sometimes in a rejective fashion and sometimes quite the opposite. Something similar can be said about different approaches to psychology: Behaviorism is not the same as introspection, yet both are still applied.

Robert Bauval's web address is