The Incoherence of Orientalists

Examining the scientific history of Islamic golden age
through the lens of critical historiography

 Subject background? Al-Ghazali + Tahafut al-Falasifah

Many Orientalists widely believe that the scholar Al-Ghazali's (1058-1111) and his book Tahafut al-Falasifah (The Incoherence of Philosophers) played a significant role, in the decline of science in the Islamic world after its golden age. According to critics, al-Ghazali's attack on philosophers was based on the premise that they could not provide rational explanations for metaphysical arguments. This challenge, in turn, is believed to have halted critical thinking in the Islamic world.

However, a recent book, Islamic Science and Making of the European Renaissance, by George Saliba calls these arguments into question. This book made me think critically about this long, accepted argument. How can this prominent scholar of Islam or his famous book be held responsible, single handedly, for causing an age of decline in the scientific activities in the Muslim World?

Religion vs Science
Religion > Science 

“After al-Ghazali, there was no more science worth mentioning in Islamic countries”
– Steven Weinberg

In the making of his argument, Saliba first notes that most orientalists operate under the assumption that there must be a sharp conflict between religion and science. This paradigm is based on their European experience.

To them, al-Ghazali represents the orthodox tradition in Islam and with Tahafut, written in the late elevent
h century, they assume that orthodox religious thought won over the rational, scientific thought. From that point on they assumed that science in Islam declined, and the Islamic world did not produce anything significant in terms of scientific advancements.

Saliba argues that this assumption is false because the European conflict paradigm between religion and science does not apply to the Islamic world.  Hence Islamic history should not be studied from the lens of Westerners.

Post Al-Ghazali Era/ New Scholars: 12th - 16th Century

“If I were to believe that Alghazali ended science through his books,What would I say about Nasir Aldin Altusi who came 200 years later? And developed excellent astronomical and mathematical theories?

What would I say about Mu’ayyad Aldin Alurdi who established the Maragha Observatory, and developed Mathematical theories to prove or falsify astronomical theories?

All as well as Ibn Al-shatir who worked as a timekeeper in the Ummayed Mosque, which was deemed as a lower occupation.and this person was paid by a religious institution. The Ummayed Mosque wasn’t a rationalistic institution. He worked as a timekeeper and theorized about Orbits. Because the timekeeper’s very job is to know the timing of Fajr or Asr prayers. These could be determined through complex mathematical and astronomical calculations.   

Classic narrative timeline vs Saliba’s proposed timeline

These scholars that I just mentioned were seen as religious figures by the So now we have a timeline that stretches from the 8th century to the 16th century. According to Saliba The reason for modern historians of science to have missed a large amount of scientific production in the Islamic world in the post-Ghazali period is the damage caused by the classical narrative.

“This classical narrative had put us through unnecessary predicaments,
its effects caused us to deform our perception of our own history.”

– George Saliba

And unfortunaulty the people who actually can read the original resources meaning the people of islam themselves who can read the arabic and read persian they simply took them out from the orientalits and adopted this terminologies so as a result we began to take the whole civilization production and squeeze it so that it fits the golden age.

We accepted the concepts written about our history without questioning them, but to understand our identity,
we need to rewrite our own history, because it has not been written yet”
– Wael Hallaq 

According to Wael Hallaq all the muslim intecllecuts since about the 1880 and 1890 And important educators for the leading voices of the muslim world were in Europe and studied with the orientalits. We need to write our own history, because it has not been written yet.