Why did Scientific Revolution Occur in Europe but not in Arab Civilization?

From the long centuries of the Middle Age the basic scientific knowledge had changed a little. The Scientific Revolution term refers to historical transformation of thought and belief which enveloped Europe between the years 1550-1700. It started with Copernicus and came to its logical end with Newton’s death. Generally, different researchers justify different variants of the European Scientific Revolution periodization. It is obvious that scholars were inspired to question ideas that had been considered universal truth for hundreds of years. So the Scientific Revolution in Europe was a new way of thinking about the natural world. The scholars reasoned a lot of phenomena; all this led to the appearance of new scientific method in researching. Soon people started using this method in all spheres of society, such as government, economics, education, etc. The wish to make out the laws of the natural world led to the renascence of anatomy and botany by such scholars as Versalius during the period of the sixteenth century. Scientific knowledge extension quickly spread from the earth to the heaven. Nicolas Copernicus presented his studies of heavenly bodies and moved the Earth from the center of he solar system, he reasoned that it was just one of a number of planets orbiting the sun. In the seventeenth century mathematics was rapidly developing due to Rene Descartes along with other scientists of time who went info trigonometry, geometry and algebra. Kepler proved the orbits of the planets were elliptical but the climax of all discoveries was Isaac Newton’s works written in the Scientific Revolution.

During a short period after the Islam birth in the seventh century, a powerful empire stretching from Spain and Portugal to the Indian continent was built. Unlike previous civilizations, the Arab one dominated the Mediterranean and was twice smaller than the Roman Empire in its best periods of prosperity. From the seventh to the fifteenth century the Arabs created a civilization which even now has no analogues (Sindi). Islam united the Arabs for the first time in history and made them establish a distinct Arab civilization. The most important of the powerful states created at the period were “the following three, the last two of which are considered to be the Arab Golden Age: the Omayad State with its capital in Damascus, the Abbasid state with its capital in Baghdad and Arab Andalusia in the European Iberian” (Sindi).

The Islamic Golden age is sometimes called the Islamic Renaissance and is most likely dated from the eighth to the thirteenth century. During this period scholars and traders contributed to different branches of economy, technology and social life. Wasim Maziak states in his article Science in the Arab World: Vision of Glories Beyond that during the Abbasid reign learning was greatly encouraged and a number of scholars in all branches of science visited Baghdad and Damascus. He emphasizes: “Arab and Muslim scholars scored achievements in every field of science: mathematics, medicine, optics, philosophy” (Maziak). The traditional view of Islamic science was that it was just a reintroduction of ancient Greece’s natural philosophy, but indeed, they contributed considerably to the world science. Ibn al-Haytham was a pioneer in optics and experimental physics in general; he is described as the first scholar to introduce the scientific approach to studying phenomena. Qubt al-Din al-Shirazi and Jafar Muhammed ibn Musa ibn Shakir were outstanding astronomers who worked in the period of laboratories and astronomical instruments development. Geber was a pioneer in chemistry, Abu-al-Quasim laid the foundations for modern surgery. Many other discoveries were made by Arab scholars in different branches of science such as biology, psychology, social sciences, to mention just a few.

Researchers still argue about what the main reasons of the end of the Golden Age were. This question is complex and according to George Sarton who studied the cultures of the East and of the West: “The achievements of the Arabic speaking peoples ”¦ are so great as to baffle our understanding. The decadence of Islam and of Arabic is almost as puzzling in its speed and completeness as their phenomenal rise. Scholars will forever try to explain it as they try to explain the decadence and fall of Rome. Such questions are exceedingly complex”¦” (Sarton). The Islamic world already grew instable after the Crusades of the twelfth century, but a new wave of invasion came to them from the East, in 1206 a mighty Mongol Empire was formed. Iikhanate, Chagatai Khanates and Golden Horde became Islamic states. When the Ottoman Empire stood at an advantage ground, the Golden Age of the Arabic civilization was over.

The major ideas on the causes of the Arab Golden Age decline are considered to be: wrong political management and strategy from the tenth century onwards, Ijtihad gate’s closure, foreign invasions, correspondence to the Ibn Khaldun’s model of Asabiyyah narrating about the rise and fall of civilization which states the main reasons of the Arab civilization decline based on political and economic factors. According to Wasim Maziak “the scientific paradigm of knowledge production advanced relentlessly throughout Europe. At the same time, the Arab-Islamic civilization and its contributions”¦ started its long decline”¦” (Maziak). The decline which was influenced by a number of external and internal circumstances resulted in the science and technology demand reduction. Ibn Khaldun touches upon the fact that at that time religion weakened, population decreased and professionals diminished. Scientific knowledge reached the level when it became dogmatic and static, the world of Islam could not cope with the hardships it faced in the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries and continue developing science and technology.

Among the factors which caused the Arab civilization decline one may name the nature of land as arid and semi-arid lands were difficult to cultivate and agriculture could develop mainly on the Nile, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Poor ecology and agriculture influenced negatively the development of the civilization. The stability was also undermined by nomadic tribes who went out of control. They caused depopulation of Iraq and Syria starting from the thirteenth century. Depopulation was also caused by natural disasters, the greatest of them by far was the plague of the years 1347-1349, and it resulted in diminishing the population of Syria, Iraq and Egypt by one third. The geographical location of the region was also decisive; these countries were aims of external attacks. European geography was rather protected from such invasions while the Arab civilization regions were exposed to enemy from both East and West. The period of the Crusades for example was a period of rapid growth in Western Europe accompanied with accumulation of capital and trade stimulation, while for Arab world this was a time of dramatic decline. The Mongols who came from the East right after the Crusades caused a demographic calamity. So the Arabs lost their positions on the world arena, they were once the center of commercial and monetary life and had control over the Indian Ocean. But situation changed in the end of the sixteenth century. Though Mohhamad Ali did a lot for the Muslim world, undertook a great program of industrialization and modernization, created new Arab state. An important element in the decline was the cultural barrier between Europe and the Ottoman Empire, the later was segregated from scientific and technological revolutions. The wide gasp in development starting since the Industrial Revolution is still not filled, though individual states admit the necessity and importance of science and technology development. The Arab science production nowadays leaves much to be desired. Wasim Maziak gives the following statistical data: “Arab countries currently produce less than one percent of citations in the world and contribute less than half a percent of papers appearing in the two hundred leading journals” (Maziak). Contemporary status of the Arab science is explained by lack of funding, poor science and technology support, sluggish integration into the world scientific community. Arabs are to admit that the arrival of innovations directly or indirectly brings with it the lifestyle and the cultural values of the innovators. According to Maziak the Arabs believe that wealth plus Western technology will be enough for industrialization and modernization. But science should not be viewed as a product that is separated from the thought process and cultural peculiarities of its producers. Therefore the global arena is open for everybody, and every society has the means to build its own science and technology, the Arab world needs to reopen its potential.

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