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It takes generations for civilizations to rise and recede. History reveals that every civilization has confronted rise as well as decline. Over the past few decades there has been a vigorous debate over the issue of factors responsible for the development or fall of a civilization. On one side some philosophers and scientists like J. Brownowski, Carl Sagan, and Bernard Lewis have completely attributed advancement of a civilization to intellectual learning based on empirical evidence and rationality, while on the other hand scholars like SH Nasr and Ali Allawi have urged the importance of religious science and spiritual beliefs. There has been insurgence of orthodoxy at some time while there have also been revolts against orthodoxy and fundamentalism, like the rise of Mutazillites in the 8th century.

In my view, religious orthodoxy and adherence to Islamic principles, tradition and norms and scientific underdevelopment were the causes of the decline of Muslims. On one hand where West was making scientific progress and technological development and made rationality prior to everything in inquisition and learning, and was rushing forward in the field of science and technology, the Muslims suspected philosophy and equated secular knowledge with heresy as they were against the notion of rationality and for them God possessed the utmost authority and was regulating the entire universe. There was no room for questioning the popular beliefs of religion. So this fatalistic attitude against rational inquiry and lack of curiosity for learning secular knowledge made it harder for any intellectual advance to occur in the Muslim society.
              In my paper I will critically analyze the downfall of the Muslims and present my arguments based on historical evidences to show how the Muslim civilization, which was once on the peak of success, stumbled and started declining because of its reluctance to acquire modern knowledge which in my view is contingent upon every civilization to acquire for economic prosperity as well as political power. I will first discuss the Western history, their dark ages and then their up rise and advancement in the field of technology after the Renaissance and will present my arguments to show how both of these civilizations encountered and responded to the clash between empirical enquiry and popular beliefs of the religion.

               If we analyze the Western history, we will come to know that before renaissance the Christian civilization has also encountered the same dilemma. Traditionally the Church possessed the ultimate authority and there was no room for questioning the doctrine and preaching of the Holy Church. It suppressed all teaching which was not in conformity with its preaching. For instance the incident of a dead scientist, Wycliffe whose bones were dug out and broken to pieces, as quoted by Pervez Hoodbhoy. (hoodbhoy, 1991, 25). Another instance which revealed the absolute authority of church was of Galileo, as presented by J. Brownowski. The question here arises that why was Church opposed to rationality and emergence of new ideas and what were the reasons of Church’s unyielding attitude? In my opinion the Church enjoyed its authority and was opposed to new ideas and rational thinking because of certain facts including observance of rules for every matter of life led down by church and unquestionable acceptance of church dogmas and was afraid of the threat posed by free thinking and empirical based enquiry as these factors could challenge its authority. Carl Sagan also presents the incident of destruction of Alexandria in pursuing the same stance. Apart from that the Church also rejected the notion of cause and effect and believed that every good happening is a reward from God and attributed natural disasters and diseases to punishments sent by God on sinful acts and work of demons. For that reason they discouraged the study of medicine and other sciences, as Hoodbhoy quotes Saint Augustine saying, “all diseases of Christians to be ascribed to demons.” (hoodbhoy, 1991, 27). Hoodbhoy also argues that “the church was not only the guardian of Christian soul, but also of his physical well being.” Hoodbhoy also presents a number of beliefs and doctrines of the church including,
Attack on doctrine of sphericity of earth and antipodes by theologians,
Reddening of water was taken as indication of God’s wrath,
Comets were viewed as fireballs flung by an angry God,
Thunderbolt was in consequence for five sins. (Hoodbhoy, 1991, 27-29)
 In short the Church was congested with cluster of mythologies and misbelieves during its early ages. The church continued to exercise its authority for almost ten centuries.
             In early 16th century a drastic transformation took place in Christian civilization as an attempt to reform the Catholic Church, in the form of Protestant reformation. Martin Luther, a German monk, in 1517 rose against some beliefs of Roman Catholic about the authority of Pop and Bible and salvation. They opposed Catholic Church’s doctrines of office and authority of pop, authority of Bible, and salvation. The Protestants came up with two doctrines known as Sola scriptura: the Bible is the final source for authority, and Sola fide: salvation comes by faith alone. (What is the difference…)

           In the late 15th and early 16th century, Europe started a gradual pushing back against the stranglehold of the unitary Catholic Church. It was at that time when came the Renaissance. The freedom of thought gradually started gaining ground and age of reason was begun. The unleashing of sciences started with it bringing in better technology and advancement. It was then followed by the Industrial Revolution in 19th century, as Bronowski also mentions that it was not only an economic revolution but also a social revolution. I think this was where the West was super ceding and gained an upper hand. According to Mirza A Baig, “The 15th century saw intellectual awakening in Europe now known as ‘the renaissance’. The writings of Arab scientists and philosophers were translated in European languages…” (Decline of Islamic…)
                   So historical evidences tell us that in pursuing advancement in science, West prioritized reason and rationality and by doing so they questioned each and every theory which came under their way and sought empirical evidence to answer that, and in my view that was the time when the upsurge of their civilization occurred and they started progressing. But now if we consider the history of Muslims, it is revealed to us that in the early ages Muslims, Islam spread very fast, and for many centuries Islam was in the forefront of human civilization and achievement. The era between 8th and 11th century is known as “The Golden Age” of Muslims. J Brownowski also admires the Muslim civilization and their development in medicine, architecture, philosophy and mathematics in his documentary. In that period Muslim civilization progressed with leaps and bounds. It produces a tremendous amount of great Muslim scholars like Al-Khawarzmi, Bu Ali Sina, Ibn Esa, Al Farabi who are still regarded as the pioneers of science. Pervez Hoodbhoy also quotes George Sarton and a scientific journal Nature in which similar remarks about the glorious golden age of Muslims have been presented. (hoodbhoy, 1991, 102). Here question arises that if science was progressing in that era, what factors resulted in decline of Muslims? And what led to the difference in the attitude of Muslims towards science after the Golden Age?
                 I think there are a number of reasons responsible for the downfall of the Muslims including reluctance in pursuance of technological development, the attitude of ruling dynasty, rejection of science and lack of curiosity for learning and advances in thought. But in my opinion all these factors emerge from one single cause which is religious orthodoxy and strict adherence to religious doctrines. Ali Allawi quotes Shakib Arsalan who in his series of articles in a journal titled Why Muslims are Backward and why Others have Progressed also argues that “the main causes of Islamic decline were the Muslim unwillingness to take initiative, be proactive and the absence of intellectual creativity (ijtihad) within the Islamic world” (rise and decline…). In response to the issue of the difference of the attitude of Muslims towards science, I personally agree to the view of modernist-reconstructionist Muslims who credited the past scientific achievement to the harmony between Islam and science, in contrast to orthodox-restorationists who claimed that the glory needs restoration of Shariah only (hoodbhoy, 1991, 104). Here it can be argued that scientific development took place in the early Muslim ages because they were not against science, or in other words they took science and developed harmony between science and theology. In their view religion was never against study of science and they assert that seven hundred and fifty verses of Quran exhort believers to study nature and pursue modern science. A hadith of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) can also be quoted here according to which it is the duty of every Muslim to seek knowledge.
                   I would like to quote Bernard Lewis here who, in his famous book “what went wrong” claims that Christianity separates the church from the state, but Islam does not. Instead, it teaches Muslims to apply scripture to the real world (Lewis, 2002). I think this is where the orthodoxy started building up its support and growing its roots. They took religious belief and doctrines as the ultimate authority and instead of looking for some rational arguments and empirical evidences; they rejected all the notions of science which challenged the popular beliefs. The decline of sciences in Islamic culture was synchronic with the upsurge of religiosity which made the existence of secular pursuits ossified. For instance in early ages of Muslim history, there raised three sects collectively known as Jabria, who believed in the doctrine of predestination and claimed that every event and action was the act of God. Not only had they considered the economic and political incidents as acts of fate, for them the brutal incidents like that of slaying of Imam Hussain in the battle of Karbala was also an act of inexorable fate, as mentioned by Hoodbhoy (hoodbhoy, 1991, 117). Although there emerged a movement against orthodoxy by Mutazillites led by Wasil Ibn Ata, who strongly believed in the doctrine of free will and reconciliation of faith and reason, but was banished because of use of repression by their rulers, as Hoodbhoy quotes the example of Al Mamun who persecuted all such qazis and ulema who refused to testify to the doctrine of Quran’s creation (hoodbhoy, 1991, 120). Also they gave primacy to reason over revelation. So it was soon banished resulting in the strike back of orthodoxy as people strongly supported the religious opposition against them by Imam Hanbal.
                     Another important factor which led to the decline was rejection of science on the basis that it goes against Islamic faith and belief. All the sciences including geometry, astronomy and philosophy were rejected on the same grounds and the people who practiced them were condemned as heretic. Hoodbhoy also presents quite a few examples representing these incidents, for instance:
Considering ullum ul awail as ulum ul mahjura (repudiated sciences),
Banning of copying of books of philosophy in Baghdad,
Burial of books of Abdus Salam,
Khwarizm Shah reporting astronomy as pure heresy,

                Apart from all these anti rational views, they also refused to accept the connection between cause and effect and had firm belief that God is solely responsible for everything. For instance the Asharite dogma and also Al Ghazali’s theology, according to which God is directly responsible for the cause of all physical events, and constantly intervenes in the worldly affairs. Hoodbhoy also quotes Al Ghazali who reckons philosophers such as Ibn Sina and Al Farabi as unbelievers (Hoodbhoy, 1991, 127). The burning of cotton in Ghazali’s view was also an act of God and couldn’t happen without His intervention. A similar example has also been presented by Iysa Bello who quotes Ghazali’s belief on God’s knowledge of the particulars according to which “God knows the eclipse and all its attributes and accidents through an unchangeable knowledge which is His eternal attribute” (bello, 1989,113).
               An important factor which in my opinion played a havoc role in reforming the attitude of Muslims towards intellectual learning and securing western science was the attitude of West towards undeveloped nations after the Renaissance. Throughout the history, the relationship between Islam and West had been of a qualitatively different form. There had been times of fruitful collaboration as well as eras of fierce wars and violence like battle of Crusades and Ottoman domination of Balkans. So Muslims had always seen West with eyes of suspicion. After the renaissance, the birth of modern science took place. The former feudal system was replaced by the capitalist system and mystical universe turned to mechanical. But then West used this power endowed by science as a weapon and started subjugating and colonizing the less developed nations. Here the Muslims viewed West as a great threat to their civilization and strongly denounced each and every aspect of their life including culture, economic system, educational system. For instance the British, who came to India for trade but then ended up colonizing the whole sub continent bringing it under their power in the 19th century. Faced with the brutal onslaught of mercantile imperialism, the Muslims who ruled India for many ceturies couldn’t digest their defeat and rose against them. They rejected their language, culture and even education which for Muslims was the need of that time as Hindus were progressing in advancement. At that moment the rationalists like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan started his campaign known as Ali Garh Tehreek and urged the importance of modern education. But the reluctance of Muslims to learn modern education served as a major portion of their decline and they preferred adhering to their moral values and tradition.
             Summing up all my arguments, I would like to conclude here by saying that there were quite a number of factors responsible for their decline including their anti rationalistic approach towards intellectual learning and modern science, the hesitancy and lack of curiosity towards practical knowledge, and adherence to tradition and faith with unquestionable authority. I presented my arguments to show how the Christian civilization confronted the same situation when Church was the absolute authority, and then how they progressed by prioritizing rationality and empirical enquiry in learning. But in contrast the Muslims, who were on the peak of success in early ages and made remarkable progress in the fields of philosophy, arts and other sciences, unfortunately turned their back towards modern knowledge and rationality and gave priority to religious belief and faith, and as a consequence started declining. In the end I would conclude by urging that keeping in view the devastation caused to Muslims by this anti rational attitude, it is the very need of the day to transform our mindset, because it is only modern knowledge which can bring development and advancement in the technology.

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