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The Importance of Technology in the Development of Islamic Countries

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What was the means by which the Prophet developed the Sahaba, their community and the entire Ummah? He taught them:

اطلب العلم و لو في الصين

Seek knowledge even if it be in China.[1]

It was through a cultural ethos informed by the Qur’ānic order to seek God’s Signs in His creation and to ponder on them, that the sciences were built in Islam on the foundations of rational inquiry and logical thought while simultaneously seeking the philosophical and theological underpinnings to their observations. In this way, the Muslim world quickly surpassed its counterparts in developing science and research methodology, practical experimentation, and methods of confirming theory with observation - methods that are still followed today in modern laboratories and technical institutions.

The hadith:

طلب العلم فريضة على كل مسلم

Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim[2]

was applied in every sphere of life from the religious to the most outwardly “secular,” for in Islam nothing was considered outside the realm of God’s Divine Command and thus every aspect of existence was considered addressed by the order “seek knowledge

Due to this zeal for knowledge inspired by the Prophet in the hearts of his followers literally millions of books such were authored and disseminated across the Muslim world.

It was such inspiration as provided by the Prophet through Sayyidina ¿Alī ¦ and his school and the other Companions and their schools that evolved the sciences of astronomy, physics, chemistry, optics, pharmacology, botany, zoology, geology, mineralogy, medicine, dentistry, and surgery, as well as the more abstract fields like logic, mathematics and philosophy. From these schools came the likes of Jābir ibn Ħayān, father of modern chemistry who studied under Jā¿far aš-Šādiq; Muħammad Ibn Mūsā al-Khawarizmī, who founded modern mathematics - including the fundamentals of algebra - in the early 800’s, and studied the sciences of astronomy and geography with his renowned contemporary al-Kindī who did research as well in physics, music, psychology and medicine. Al-Birūnī is credited with founding the modern scientific method. Ibn Sīnā, known in the West as Avicenna, was renowned not only for his contributions to medical science, for which he was known as the 'doctor of doctors.' In particular his work the Canon (al-Qānūn) became the fountainhead of Western medicine in the early Renaissance, influencing the likes of Da Vinci and displacing Galen as the primary source of medical knowledge. Ibn Rushd (Averroes) was known for his tremendous contributions to the science of astronomy in the form of the book the Almagest, used by the Europeans long after Islamic civilization’s twilight.

I could go on and on naming the great Muslim scientists and technologists but the point has been made – science, research and technology are a natural part of the Islamic value-system. And just as attention to matters of religion have declined in the last half-millennium, so too has the attention to these finer aspects of the faith. It is thus no wonder that with the decline in the religiosity of the Ummah as predicted by the Prophet, the material aspects have faded as well, so that today the Ummah is a mere shadow of its former greatness. We thank Allah that an illness once known can be treated, as the Prophet informed us, “Allah has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it, with the exception of one: old age,”[3] but misdiagnosis at this late stage will result in mistreatment and further degradation. For today, our Ummah is under an illness and only with inspiration from Allah and guidance from the Qur’ān and Sunnah can a remedy be found.

The scientists that developed in Islam’s civilization knew the importance of knowledge and discovery. The Qur’ān repeatedly admonishes the believers to study Allah’s Creation:

وَسَخَّرَ لَكُم مَّا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا مِّنْهُ إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لَّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

And He has subjected to you, as from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth: Behold, in that are Signs indeed for those who reflect.[4]

Whoever delves deeply into the understanding of many verses and aħādīth that reveal information about today’s discoveries cannot fail to understand that Islam builds up the nation and addresses the importance of stretching the boundaries of knowledge and its implementations.

We can see this in the teachings of the Prophet in Qur’ān and hadith regarding the importance of science and seeking knowledge. All such discoveries will eventually lead to the development of technology in its various forms directed towards building the well-being of the Nation and for use in promoting God-consciousness – taqwā.

For if we truly believe in Islam and in the Holy Qur’ān, we must follow the Prophet. Allah said:

قُلْ إِنكُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللّهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللّهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْذُنُوبَكُمْ وَاللّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

Say: “If ye do love Allah, Follow me: Allah will love you and forgive you your sins: For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”[5]

The Prophet left us his Sunnah - his way – and an essential part of that Sunnah is to encourage the development of science, research and technology. That is why, knowing as he did the importance of technology, he encouraged its development in many aħādīth.

The aħādīth which I intend to explain in the remainder of this paper demonstrate the importance of science and the importance of developing the Ummah. At the same time the Prophet’s teachings related to the wealthy and their relationship with the poor are an essential component in the life of the Ummah.

Zakat – Obligation of Individuals, Communities and Nations

One of the principal teachings of Islam is the obligation of zakāt and the voluntary donations in the form of saļaqah. From this individual requirement for Muslims to help the poor, whether individually or collectively through the Bayt al-Māl, one can derived a societal requirement: the importance of wealthy “have” Muslim countries to support the poor “have not” ones in order to improve their conditions and raise their living standards. It is only through establishing such relationships, that the Ummah can be reconstituted after the fragmentation of the last century.

What better example of this than in the practice of the Prophet and his Companions? What comes to mind is when as caliph, Sayyidina ¿Umar ¦ used to go out at night in disguise, looking for those in need. He would take food and distribute it to the needy. One time he found poor woman late at night preparing ‘stone’ soup for her children who were crying for want of something to eat. Not realizing that the man she was speaking with was Sayyidina ¿Umar ¦, she complained about her condition and that the caliph was not doing his job. Immediately Sayyidina ¿Umar ¦ brought her food and helped to prepare it for her hungry children.[6]

Such was the concern of the early Muslim leaders for their people: for them it was not the job of the state to help – rather it was a personal responsibility on them as the leader to see that each person was fed, sheltered and safe.

For this reason, Sayyidina Abū Bakr aš-Šiddīq said, “The weak among you shall be strong with me till God willing his rights have been vindicated; and the strong among you shall be weak with me till, if the Lord wills, I have taken what is due from him.”

Today we are fortunate to see such kind of leaders emerging from within the Ummah yet again. We see nations like Indonesia and Malaysia, where the leaders have a strong sense of civic duty and feel the obligation to help each and every individual to obtain a decent life.

It is the duty of the rich Muslim countries to help the poor ones to build civic society and to build their standard of living for having an excellent life. The Prophet always sought refuge in Allah from poverty saying “O Lord I seek refuge in Thee from kufr (unbelief) and poverty,”[7] for according to another hadith, “Poverty, in all probability, leads to unbelief (kufr).”[8]

Allah has granted tremendous wealth to the Muslims. He gave them oil, gold, natural gas and minerals. Those possessed of such an overabundance of wealth cannot say to the poor nations, many of which consist of nothing but deserts and mountains and possess no resources whatsoever, and tell them, “Build yourselves!” Rather, it is the responsibility of the rich to assist the poor. The Qur’ān states categorically,

وَفِي أَمْوَالِهِمْ حَقٌّ لِّلسَّائِلِ وَالْمَحْرُومِ

And in their wealth the beggar (or needy) and the deprived (who does not beg but nevertheless is needy) had due share.[9]

Simultaneously, Allah ordered zakāt as an obligation. Why is it then that the Muslim countries do not take zakāt from their money, at a minimum 2.5%, and give it to the poorer Muslim nations? How much oil and natural gas do the Muslim countries possess? Does it not have a zakāt on it? If there is 100 billion barrels of oil reserves, what is its zakāt?

We cannot cheat in Islam by saying, “It is in the earth.” If you have gold in your possession, then from year to year you must pay zakāt on it - min hawl ila al-hawl. If you have gold in your house you know how much zakāt must be paid on it. On the other hand gold which is in the form of reserves requires a process for extraction because it is mixed within the soil and thus is not subject to zakāt. But oil is something that comes ready from the ground – it requires no extensive process to be used. It is therefore subject to zakāt.

A nation is analogous to a house controlled by a government, particularly if it is owned by certain people. And today by means of technology it is possible to ascertain exactly the quantity of oil present in reserve. Zakāt must be paid on that oil, just as with dates, with processed gold and with mines. Consider: the zakāt on the Muslim nations’ oil reserves is more than sufficient to provide the entire Muslim world the wealth to build their nations to maturity and an advanced level of civilization and technology.

الناس شركاء في ثلاثة: الكلأ، والنار، والماء

The Prophet said, “People are partners in three things: water, grazing and fire.”[10]

Fire here can be considered to represent all sources of fire, whether wood, oil or natural gas; and in these the people must be partners. Rich countries must share with the poor countries – it is not that Allah ³ gave it to one nation and it is not available for the others, who are in need. Allah ³ made the Ummah of Muhammad one nation where He said:

إِنَّ هَذِهِ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَأَنَا رَبُّكُمْ فَاعْبُدُونِ

Verily, this community of yours is a single community, and I am your Lord and Cherisher: therefore serve Me.[11]

and thus regardless of which country it belongs to, the wealth of oil, gold and other valuables must be shared within the entire Ummah.

So we come to a poor nation and say “build yourself.” The question is not should they, but how, for they have nothing. Allah ³ said:

وَاعْتَصِمُواْ بِحَبْلِ اللّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلاَ تَفَرَّقُواْ وَاذْكُرُواْ نِعْمَةَ اللّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَاء فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِ إِخْوَانًا

And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves. And remember the blessings which God has bestowed upon you[12]

So this applies to the entire ummah. If all are holding tight to the rope of Allah ³, it is a cause for unity. The Muslims are like one body, if one part is sick the whole is sick. The ummah is one body. If we have problems in one part the whole body becomes sick.

And Muslims are brothers and sisters to one another. That is why it is the responsibility of the wealthy nations to help the poor countries to develop their technological bases.

But today we see the poor become poorer and the rich become richer. This is because there is no sincerity, except for a very small number who are helping the underdeveloped countries. It is the responsibility of the rich countries to help the underdeveloped ones. Instead of investing money with people and we are not taking benefit from the interest given on it, it is better to invest in Muslim countries and give the benefit to the poor ones.

Presented at a conference of Muslim scholars held by under the auspices of Nahdlatul Ulama in Indonesia, 2003.

Renowned Scholars of Science and Technology

Scholar

Dates (CE)

Residence

Fields of Contribution

Jabir Ibn Haiyan Died 803 Kufa medicine, alchemy, chemistry
Yaqub Ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi 800-873 Baghdad philosophy, mathematics, physics, astronomy, medicine, geography, music
Mohammad Bin Musa Al-Khawarizmi D. 840 Baghdad mathematics, astronomer and geographer
Thabit Ibn Qurra 836-901 Baghdad mathematics, astronomy and mechanics
Ali Ibn Rabban Al-Tabari 838-870 Merv medicine
Mohammad Ibn Zakariya Al-Razi 864-930 Ray, Baghdad music, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, philosophy
Abu Abdullah Al-Battani 868-929 Raqqa, Iraq astronomer, mathematician and astrologer
Abu'l-Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Kathir al-Farghani C. 860 Cairo, Samarra astronomy, engineering
Abu Al-Nasr Al-Farabi 870-950 Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Aleppo science, philosophy, logic, sociology, medicine, mathematics, music
Abul Asan Ali Al-Masu'di D. 957 Traveled extensively, Cairo geographer, physicist, historian
Abu al-Qasim Khalaf bin 'Abbas Al-Zahrawi 936-1013 Cordoba surgery, medicine, Ophthalmology, dentistry
Abul Wafa Muhammad Al-Buzjani 940-997 Baghdad astronomy, mathematics
Abu Ali Asan Ibn Al-Haitham 965-1040 Cairo, Spain Physics (Optics), mathematics
Abu Al-Asan Al-Mawardi 972-1058 Baghdad political science and sociology
Abu Raihan Al-Biruni 973-1048 India astronomy, trigonometry, mineralogy, geography, history
Ibn Sina 980-1037 Jurjan, Hamadan, Isfahan Medicine, physics, mathematics, music, geology, mineralogy metaphysics, philosophy, ethics, economics, politics
Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali 1058-1128 Baghdad, Damascus philosophy

 



[1]Ħadīth Hasan Mashhūr. Narrated from Anas by al-Bayhaqī in Shu¿ab al-īmān and al-Madkhal, Ibn ¿Abd al-Barr in Jami¿ Bayān al-¿Ilm, and al-Khātib through three chains at the opening of his al-Riħla fī ţalab al-ħadīth (p. 71-76 #1-3) where Shaykh Nūr al-Dīn ¿Itr declares it weak (da¿īf). Also narrated from Ibn ‘Umar, Ibn ¿Abbās, Ibn Mas¿ūd, Jābir, and Abū Sa¿īd al-Khuļrī, all through very weak chains. The Ħadīth master al-Mizzī said it has so many chains that it deserves a grade of fair (ħasan), as quoted by al-Sakhāwī in al-Maqāsid al-ħasana. Al-¿Iraqī in his Mughnī ¿anh ħaml al-asfar similarly stated that some scholars declared it sound (saħīħ) for that reason.

[2] A fair (ħasan) narration in Ibn Mājah because of its many chains as stated by al-Mizzī, al-Ţabarānī in al-Kabīr, ibn ¿Adī in al-Kāmil, al-Bayhaqī in Shu¿ab al-īmān, while Dr. Muħammad ¿Ajāj al-Khātib in his notes on al-Khātib's al-Jāmi (2:462-463) declared it “sound due to its witness-chains” (saħīħ li ghayrih).

[3] Abū Dāwūd. Other similar narrations: “There is no disease that Allah has created except that He also has created a treatment” (Saħīħ Al-Bukhārī, 7:582) and “There is a remedy for every malady, and when the remedy is applied to the disease it is cured with the permission of Allah, the Exalted and Glorious" (Saħīħ Muslim, 5466) and “The one who sent down the disease sent down the remedy.” (Al-Muwaţţā, 50:5:12).

[4] Sūratu ’l-Jāthīya [The Crouching], 45:13.

[5] Sūrat Āli-¿Imrān [The Family of ¿Imrān], 3:31.

[6] Many incidents of this nature were reported from the Khulaphā ar-rāshidīn, the four rightly-guided caliphs.

It is related that a blind old woman lived in a suburb of Madina and had no one to support her. ¿Umar used to go in disguise to the house of the old woman, but was always surprised to find that someone else had anticipated him and had supplied the wants of the old woman. One night ¿Umar went to the house of the old woman earlier than usual and hid himself to watch as to who attended to the wants of the old lady. He had not to wait long for soon a man arrived who attended to the needs of the old woman, and this man was Abū Bakr .

[7] Abū Dāwūd.

[8] Bayhaqī, al-Ţabarānī.

[9] Sūratu ’dh-Dhāriyāt [The Winnowing Winds], 51:19.

[10] Arabic: الناس شركاء في ثلاثة: الكلأ، والنار، والماء, Bukhārī, Kitāb al-buyu¿.

[11] Sūratu’l-Anbīyā [The Prophets], 21:92.

[12] Sūrat Āli-¿Imrān [The Family of ¿Imrān], 3:103.