For 1302 years, the Ottoman Empire extended from the Atlantic Ocean in the West to the borders of China in the East, and of all the colonial empires that existed, the French, the Dutch, the Spanish, the German and even the British, the Ottoman Empire was the most advanced of all.
Its driving force was the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Messenger Muhammad (saw), according to the understanding of the Sahabah, which obliges Muslims to seek knowledge and simultaneously make people aware of this knowledge
“And recite what has been revealed to you of the Book of your Lord, there is none who can alter His words; and you shall not find any refuge besides Him.” [EMQ 18:27]
When one thinks of an Islamic State, the image of poverty, illiteracy and barbarism comes to mind – a view that is quite widespread today, Thus, it is quite difficult to imagine that such an ‘outdated’ regime that ruled for so long could ever flourish.
However, if we look to history, it is evident that the Ottoman Empire was once indeed prosperous and thrived in education and modernity. This leaflet will highlight just a handful of such successes in order to understand how the Empire was a vital catalyst towards society as it stands today.
Arabic, the language of Islam, became the international language of learning, with millions of works translated into modern languages such as Latin and English.
Medicine was the most common field of interest amongst the scientists, some of whom were scholars. Amongst them were:
Abu Musa Jabir in Haiyyan (Geber) [also known as the Father of Chemistry]. He excelled in chemistry (which is derived from the Arabic word ‘al-Kimya’), pharmacy, philosophy and was renowned astronomer, engineer, physician and physicist.
His works include:
The study of numerous applied sciences
The discovery of processes such as evaporation and crystallisation
He was able to classify materials into three substances – spirits, metals (gold, silver, lead) and compounds (groups of two or more elements that are bonded together), very similar to the Periodic Table that is used in schools today
He invented numerous important processes that are used in modern chemistry today such as hydrochloric and nitric acids and distillation that are now the foundations of chemistry and chemical engineering. He invented aqua regia, one of the few substances that can dissolve gold.
He is also credited with the discovery of both citric and acetic acid.
He discovered the method to prevent rust, how to engrave gold, dyeing and waterproofing cloth and tanning leather.
Mohammad ibn al Khawarizmi a mathematician, astronomer and geographer was the founder of algebra, (the word ‘Algebra’ comes from the word ‘al Jabr’ meaning ‘binding together’). It was the first book ever that dealt with the linear and quadratic equations. His work paved the way for trigonometry and he founded the study of modern arithmetic such as decimals and fractions that we study today, and until the Sixteenth Century, his works were used as a point of reference in universities all over the world.
In geography, he compiled a book called Kitab Surat al Ard, (only one copy of this book exists in the Strasbourg University Library in France). It consists of a list of latitudes and longitudes in each weather zone
Bin Rabban was amongst the founders of the study of the body i.e. biology. He studied and classified all the diseases of the bodily organs such as that of the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys
He wrote a book entitled Firdous al Hikmat, which was the first ever Medical encyclopaedia and incorporated all the branches of medicinal science as it is today. Some of the topics in this book are:
Diseases of the head and brain
Muscular diseases (paralysis and spasm),
Different kinds of fever,
The examination of the pulse and urine (this part is the largest in the book and is almost half the size of the whole book),
The description of flavour, taste and colour, and drugs and poison
Abu al-Qasim Al-Zahrawi (Albucasis) was known as the Father of Surgery. His book, Kitab ul Tasrih became extremely popular in the West. It covered a wide range of topics, including surgery, medicine, orthopaedics, ophthalmology, nutrition and pharmacology. In this latter section, he covers areas such as cardiac drugs, laxatives, weights and measures and drug substitution.
He also discovered the causes and symptoms of diseases and invented the process of tablet-making.
His work on various operations spanned many subjects, ranging from cauterisation, bloodletting, midwifery, obstetrics and the treatments of wounds. He spoke about the extraction of cataracts from the eyes, as well as extensive work on injuries to bones and joints, even mentioning fractures of the nasal bones and of vertebrae. He described the removals of tonsils, tracheotomy and craniotomy.
He was an expert in dentistry and developed the technique of preparing artificial teeth and in medicine he was the first to describe the disease of haemophilia, a blood disorder most common in men.
Imam ibn Zakaria ar-Razi (Rhazes) was known as the Head of Physicians. He compiled twenty volumes of books about the basis of medicines, and his book, Kitab al Asar, was the chief source of chemical knowledge at his time.
He was the first to write articles on allergies and discovered hay fever and that fever is a natural defense mechanism, the body’s way of fighting disease.
A bulletin in 1970 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) commented on his work stating: His writings on Smallpox and Measles show originality and accuracy and his essay on infectious diseases was the first scientific document on the subject.
Ibn Sina (Avicenna) wrote a book entitled al-Qanoon [The Cannon] which listed over 760 drugs and medicines and was the main source of guidance at his time. It enlisted the nature of contagious diseases, the spread of disease via water and soil. It discovered the cause of meningitis, the mannerisms of the spread of epidemics and the contagious nature of tuberculosis.
Imam ibn Haytham (Alhazen) excelled in the study of the eyes and that of motion
He made significant contribution in optics, anatomy, maths, engineering, medicine, ophthalmology, physics, psychology, visual perception and science. He invented the camera and laid the foundations for microscopic work.
Complicated eye surgery had been carried out in the Islamic State 600 years before it had even been contemplated in Europe.
Other scientist and scholars who excelled in their relative spheres were:
Arib in Sa’ad al-Katib of Cordoba in gynaecology
Ali ibn Isa in ophthalmology
Ibn Nafi’ in blood circulation
Al-Khazini in gravity
Aside of the achievements of these scientists and scholars, the environment within the Islamic State was also very advanced, in comparison to the rest of the world at that time. By the Tenth Century, with Cordoba in Spain as it’s Capital, the Islamic State already consisted of:
300 public baths
70 libraries, each containing at least half a million books – all the libraries in France combined did not possess this many books.
The use of paper was discovered 200 years before it had been in Europe, and the State itself had many paper mills and paper banks.
Education was free under the Islamic State
In the field of mathematics, difficult equations had been solved by the Tenth Century, and in science, gravity, blood circulation and the laws of motion had all been discussed in some way or another.
A famous historian of science, George Sarton once stated:
The mission of mankind is accomplished by Muslims. The greatest mathematicians, Abul Kamil and Ibrahim ibn Sina, geographer and encyclopaedist al-Masudi, and the greatest historian, at-Tabari were all Muslim.
So it is clear from these very few examples that much of society that we witness today is nothing other than the legacy of Islam and the Muslims. Muslims throughout history have endeavoured to succeed in the betterment of society whether it be in the field of education or in that of the environment. Either way, it poses the question that, had the Muslims not contributed to society in the way that they had, would we even have had this piece of paper in the form that it is today?