When my emotion and physique are not exhausted from work, I would pick up a non fiction book. I have piles of them waiting to be consumed in my office and my apartment. The one I'm currently reading is the The First Command by M. Jamal Haider. It is about Muslim intellectualism in the past.
But don't misunderstand, this is not a post about book review. This is a post on how I am inspired and at the same time stressed, by the Muslim savants from history at which the book highlights. I am inspired because their thirst for knowledge is so pure and sincere, and I am stressed because as an academician, I don't think I can reach their heights.
Martyrs of knowledge
The curiosity that these group of men possessed were immeasurable. They would go to great lengths for knowledge; always willing to sacrifice almost anything to get an ounce of it. Below is a bullet list of some of them:
- Ibn Sina, or most Westerns would call him Avicenna, had cured the King of Bukhara from an illness when he was mere 17 years old. The King had hired many physicians beforehand but all were unsuccessful. Out of gratefulness, the King wished to present him with a reward. Instead of asking for wealth or power, Ibn Sina asked for access to the King's extraordinary library.
- Abu al-Nasr al-Farabi or better known simply as al-Farabi, did not marry for he was highly focused in academia. I dare say that if most of you had known him, you would say that he doesn't have a life! Before that, he had endured poverty. He was employed as a gardener at first, and at last became the King's companion. He taught us that patience, determination and passion can help one pull through. Perhaps, he understood the meaning of life the most!
- Abu Ali Hasan ibn al-Haytham or Ibn al-Haytham or Alhazen loved other fields except engineering. He hated it so much to the extent that he pretended to be mentally unstable when Caliph al-Hakim asked him to figure out how to stop floods. After the Caliph died, he pursued other fields of knowledge in Spain. This is another example of what passion, patience, and persistence can lead us to. In addition to all those lessons, we also learn what line of action to take when person(s) of authority asked us to do something that we don't like 😜
- Prince Khalid ibn Yazid ibn Mu'awiyah had abdicated his throne in order to study chemistry. People nowadays would call him a fool.
Most of them are also Mathematicians
It is interesting to know that regardless what their expertise were, most of them were also excellent in Mathematics! Below are some of them:
- Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (died c.840) - Geographer, Astronomer, and Mathematician
- Banu Musa brothers (9th century) - Mathematicians and Mechanics
- Thabit ibn Qurrah (836 - 901) - Mathematician, Astronomer, Mechanics and Translator from Greek to Arabic
- Abu Abdullah al-Battani (858 - 929 CE) - Mathematician, Astronomer, and Mathematician
- Al-Razi (864 - 930) - Studied medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, music and philosophy
- Abu al-Nasr al-Farabi - Studied philosophy, logic, sociology, music, medicine, and mathematics
- Abu al-Wafa Muhammad al-Buzjani (940 - 997) - Mathematician and Astronomer
- Abu Ali Hasan ibn al-Haytham (965 - 1040) - Studied optics, mathematics, physics, and medicine
- Omar Khayyam (1044 - 1123) - Studied mathematics, astronomy, poetry, and metaphysics
Reason 1: My undergraduate Degree was in Mathematical Science
When I entered into the last semester of my sophomore year in university, it began to dawn on me that Mathematics is not for me. I found it harder to learn and understand. Despite my interest in it, I can't seem to grapple with most of the concepts. But somehow when I did my Masters and Doctorate Degree, I always steered back towards some form of Mathematics. I suppose just like human love, I can't really forget Mathematics. Ever since I started reading this book, I decided that I should incorporate more Mathematics in my research; even if it turns out to be mediocre.
Reason 2: Philosophy, poetry, AND mathematics?!
This is utterly mind boggling. In Malaysia at least, there is no one who would be an expert in philosophy or poetry WITH mathematics (if I'm wrong, please correct me). Those three different fields are just that, THREE DIFFERENT FIELDS! I however, do have have a few theories why, though. That my friends, will be in another post in the future, inshALLAH (God willing).
Still, there is one pertinent question to the current post that must be addressed; why was knowledge so alluring to the point that these Muslim scholars fell head over heels for it? I believe the words from M. Jamal Haider holds the obvious answer:
If now some scholars are using such verses (Quranic verses regarding geology, zoology, astrophysics etc.) as proof of authenticity of the Quran, in the past, such verses had directed the Muslims into an incredible quest for scientific knowledge that had lasted over a century.