A recent study appalled Durango resident Dennis Aronson, who has lived in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.
It said the majority of Americans see little or nothing to admire in Islam or the Muslim world, he quoted from an Aug. 27, 2006, article in The Washington Post during a Life-Long Learning Lecture Series on Thursday night at Fort Lewis College. I want to counter faulty perceptions about the impact of Islam on the West and counter the view that Muslims are not creative.
Without Muslim Persian scholar al-Khwarizmi, just one of the several innovative thinkers Aronson described, Westerners might be doing arithmetic with Roman numerals: II+II=IV. Al-Khwarizmi also discovered and developed the concept of the power of zero from an ancient Hindu manuscript as well as invented algebra and the algorithm.
The Golden Age of Islam, from the eighth century to anywhere from the 13th to 16th century scholars disagree was based, in part, on the hadith, reports of sayings by the prophet Muhammad, Aronson said.
One says, Even if you go all the way to China, seek knowledge, he said. Another is, The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyrs.
While Europe suffered through the Dark Ages, roughly from the fall of Rome in the fifth century to the Renaissance in the 15th century, Muslim scholars throughout North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and Spain were revolutionizing our understanding of math and science, adding words to our vocabulary, putting new foods on our table and changing the way we think.
The genius of medieval Arabs, Aronson quoted author Jonathan Lyons as writing, lay in their extraordinary receptivity to new ideas (and) their ability to identify and adopt what they needed from foreign cultures.
Muslims have made contributions to just about every field, Aronson said.
Most of these scholars were polymaths, not divided into specialties, he said.
As an example, he mentioned Omar Khayyam, best known in the West for writing the Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam. Khayyam made a number of discoveries using advanced mathematics, including calculating the exact length of the year.
Another was Ibn al-Haytham, who has been called the first scientist. He developed the scientific method and set the stage for the study of physics for centuries into the future. Galileo and Copernicus used his math, and he noticed how masses attract each other, or gravity, centuries before Newton.
One historian said al-Haytham should be considered as great as Einstein, and discoveries he made have been credited to da Vinci, Kepler and Descartes.
Ibn Sina wrote the Canon of Medicine, which was a reference in the West for centuries. He discovered the ways disease is spread, that tuberculosis is infectious and saw how the mind-body connection affects our health.
Another doctor, Al-Razi, showed that measles and smallpox were not the same disease, Aronson said. And that they have a cause, theyre not Gods will, as the church was saying in Europe.
Al-Zahwari, a Muslim physician in Spain, was the father of modern surgery, inventing sutures, instruments such as the forceps for delivering babies and numerous procedures.
Philosophy, cartography, geography, food oranges, spinach and almonds and the academic life of universities all owe debts to many Muslim scholars.
Aronson posed a provocative question to the audience after giving one contribution after another that the Islamic world has made to the wider world.
Instead of saying our cultural heritage is just Judeo-Christian, would it be more accurate to say its Judeo-Christian-Muslim? he asked the audience of more than 60 attendees.