Science & Islam on BBC4

// December 31st, 2008 // Blog

blue_circle_blueprintThe first episode of a new three-part documentary on Science and Islam comes out next Monday, 5th January 2009, on BBC4, at 9pm (if you miss it, catch it on BBC iPlayer):

Physicist Jim Al-Khalili travels through Syria, Iran, Tunisia and Spain to tell the story of the great leap in scientific knowledge that took place in the Islamic world between the 8th and 14th centuries.

Its legacy is tangible, with terms like algebra, algorithm and alkali all being Arabic in origin and at the very heart of modern science – there would be no modern mathematics or physics without algebra, no computers without algorithms and no chemistry without alkalis.

For Baghdad-born Al-Khalili this is also a personal journey and on his travels he uncovers a diverse and outward-looking culture, fascinated by learning and obsessed with science. From the great mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, who did much to establish the mathematical tradition we now know as algebra, to Ibn Sina, a pioneer of early medicine whose Canon of Medicine was still in use as recently as the 19th century, he pieces together a remarkable story of the often-overlooked achievements of the early medieval Islamic scientists.

It is true that the 'golden age' of Islamic scientific discovery may have ended long ago, along with the demise of the Caliphate. Nevertheless, I would still love to see a documentary on the modern day achievements of Muslim scientists; those who strive to seek knowledge that benefits humanity, for the sake of Allāh – no matter where they live, or who they are working for.

Medieval history is interesting, but it becomes more distant with each passing day, and thus less inspirational for the younger generations of Muslims. They need to be presented with living role models that embody the same spirit of Islam-inspired discovery as the scientists of old.

In addition, many people like to use such figures from the past to impress non-Muslims, by showing them how great Islamic civilization used to be. Well, in my opinion, “used to be” is not good enough. The real message should be: wherever and whenever Islam exists, there is progress. That requires sharing present day examples.

A future project in the making, perhaps?

10 Responses to “Science & Islam on BBC4”

  1. muslim says:

    Thank you for making this post

  2. You are correct. We continue to clutch on to the badges of past glory, & seem to have adopted a complacent attitude towards progression. And, like you said, the worst thing is that we do it to impress non muslims, rather than taking is as inspiration & stepping stones to further ourselves in all fields.

    We have come to a point where, muslim scientists promote & market their inventions/creations using anglicized names for better public reception.

  3. Tauqeer says:

    Thank you for the post!

    “The real message should be: wherever and whenever Islam exists, there is progress.”

    True said!

  4. anon says:

    Just because a word translated into English comes from Arabic, doesnt mean that the science originated from the Arabs. For instance, Algebra came long before the Arabs or Islam ever came onto the scene. Individuals like Euclid and Diophantus were using advanced forms of Algebra in the Classical Greek period.

  5. MUSLIM 4 lyf says:

    “”””Just because a word translated into English comes from Arabic, doesnt mean that the science originated from the Arabs. For instance, Algebra came long before the Arabs or Islam ever came onto the scene. Individuals like Euclid and Diophantus were using advanced forms of Algebra in the Classical Greek period.”””””

    Just because the media and the non-muslim world is actually finding out the scientific side of Islam and now you feel provoked that now you and the rest of the world are finally finding out the truth.

    PS: Why are you anonymous, cant you make a strong point without hiding. Is it because Islam is truly the foundation of science? Can’t you handle the truth?

  6. iMuslim says:

    Anon & MUSLIM 4 lyf. Thank you both for your comments.

    Anon has a point: it is well known that the Muslim Arabs of the period discussed above preserved, transmitted, and built upon much of the knowledge of the Classical Greek period, which the modern world now depends upon. Hence the Arabic origins of several scientific words.

    We should be careful about what we, as a nation, take credit for. Remember, stealing is prohibited, even intellectual theft. For example, the invention of ‘zero’ is often mistakenly attributed to the Arabs. Rather, they adopted the principle from the ancients of India, and exported it to the rest of the world. At least, that is the present theory – Allah knows best what really happened.

    The documentary will hopefully be more specific about the role of Muslims and Islam in the history of Science, insha’Allah.

  7. Imran says:

    Just have a look at List of recognized polymaths….

    You will find that form 8AD to late 16AD it was dominated my by Muslims. That’s why they were successful. Form 17AD the tide turned and with it came the demise of Muslims, But a Maulvi/Imam will tell you the reason for this demise was that Muslims were far from their religion. As they say in Urdu, Maulvi ki dur majsid tak. (An Imam can race up to the masjid).

    One lesson I take away from this list of people, is that if it was possible for these people to excel in more then one field and practice their deen (Ibn Khaldoun) then its possible in our time too.

  8. Qas says:

    Blame everything on the maulvis, Imran.

  9. You may be interested to read the official tie-in book, Science and Islam: A History by Ehsan Masood:

    It’s also available now on Amazon:

  10. djbarney says:

    I’ve just watched the third episode (3 of 3). Jim Al-Khalili does move on to, if briefly, looking at modern day Science. He visited a bio research lab in Iran. I was heartened by the program. Those in Western and Eastern academia are obviously very much in the know. Hopefully this program will spread the message to the public that it is neither “us” or “them”, but that West and East had been working productively together for thousands of years.

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