A more cordial Muslim reader from Turkey wrote:
No doubt, the Arabs and the Muslims in general are not living up to their religion and are suffering for it but your comparisons are self-serving to prove that only Christianity is responsible for Western progress. …The Mongol invasion, the colonial exploitation after the decline and defeat of the Ottoman Empire brought the Muslim world to its present state. Islam encourages literacy, frugality and the acquisition of knowledge from any source. Civilizations fall into decline and it was the Islamic culture that preserved knowledge when Europe was in the Dark Ages. Advances in science, mathematics, philosophy, sociology were characteristics of Islamic Civilization before it became stagnant for a number of reasons other than Islam.
This response reveals a number of increasingly popular myths that have resulted from a deliberate process by modern Muslims to “Islamize knowledge” in order to enlarge and elevate the place of Islam in history. Examples of this include claims that Muslims led the fields of science and medicine during the Middle Ages; Muslims founded the first hospitals; Muslim explorers reached America before Columbus, the Crusades were an unprovoked European assault on the peace-loving Muslims of the Holy Land, etc.
These themes are now being introduced into America’s public schools by means of various curriculums, including some, published by the Council on Islamic Education in conjunction with dawa, the Muslim doctrine of introducing “non-Muslims to accept the truth of Islam.” One website, DawaNet.com reminds Muslims that “Schools are fertile grounds where the seeds of Islam can be sowed inside the hearts of non-Muslim students.”
You may recall that following 9/11, schools in California began requiring students to attend classes on Islam in which they were subjected to Islamized representations of Islam. Course work required students to learn the tenets of Islam, study the important figures of the faith, and adopt a Muslim name, Additionally, students memorized verses in the Qur’an, were taught to pray “in the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful” concluding with the chant, “Praise to Allah, Lord of Creation.”
So how does the response from my Turkish reader reveal this “Islamized knowledge?”
First, the victimization assumed in the phrase “the colonial exploitation after the decline and defeat of the Ottoman Empire brought the Muslim world to its present state” is the basis for much of the Islamic world’s animosity toward the West. This is essentially the jihadist argument that Western “oppression” is the cause of all that ails the Islamic world. For the Muslim, this is certainly more palatable than the idea that Islam itself may be a false and therefore inadequate interpretation of reality or worldview.
To say that Western expansion is the reason for the Islamic world’s failures is to admit the inadequacy of the Islamic worldview. Dynamic and productive cultures are never overcome by less dynamic, less creative and less productive cultures. Islamic culture achieved the peak of its productivity and expansion after 750 AD and was already in decline by the middle of the 13th century—a decline from which it has never recovered. Conversely, Christian Europe had already experienced the 12th century Renaissance, which would be followed by the Italian Renaissance of the 14th-17th centuries, the 16th century Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment and so on.
All of these movements propelled Western civilization forward in many positive ways and the Christian ideological influence was a persistent reality despite what modern historical revisionists claim. Suffice it to say, the so-called “oppression” of the Islamic world by the West would be better described as a natural succession. The Western world simply passed the Islamic world by due to its inability to modernize.
In the past, the statement, “Islam encourages … the acquisition of knowledge from any source” might have been true however this has also been the limitation of Islamic science.
While it is true that the Islamic world experienced some level of success in the areas of mathematics and science; this was due largely to the recovery and preservation of Classical Greek thought by Muslim scholars. However the Muslim approach to Greek learning was that it was something to be known rather than pursued and thus they were unable to progress Classical thought any further. It simply stopped where Greek learning ended.
The Greek approach to science, for example, was stagnated by empiricism, i.e. the mere observation of natural phenomenon. The weakness in Greek thought was the absence of theory, which went beyond observation to ask “why” the phenomenon occur and “what” are the causes. What little theory did exist was non-empirical. For example, Aristotle taught that the speed at which objects fall to earth is proportionate to their weight—that a stone twice as heavy will fall twice as fast.
However, Aristotle never actually tested his “theory” by tossing two stones off a nearby cliff! If he had he would have quickly proved his theory wrong. This was the fatal flaw in Greek learning and being that Islamic science continued in the same approach; it was the limitation to Islamic science. So, while the Islamic world may “encourage the acquisition of knowledge from any source;” it is apparently unable to generate new knowledge.
It is the theoretical element of Western science that enabled its preeminence and this unique facet owes its existence to the Christian worldview. Why? Christianity produced faith in human reason to explore and understand an orderly universe that was created by a rational God. It was this fact that facilitated the Western eclipse of Islamic science.
With all due respect, the sooner Muslims awaken to the shortcomings of the Islamic interpretation of reality and stop blaming the West for its apparent failure, the sooner it will open the door to real and lasting progress as well as the Truth.
© 2008 by S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the founder and President of the Center for Christ & Culture. The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to recapture and demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.