History Through Rose Coloured Glasses

Islamic History Month in Canada

October is Islamic History Month in Canada. During this month, more than at any other time of the year, a bloody history of ruthless conquests and equally bloody and violent succession struggles will be glossed over in favour of a boastful history of accomplishments in the physical and social sciences. And, if recent history is any indication, praise for women's contribution to the greatness of Islam.

In Muhammad Mojlum Khan's seminal contribution to the rankings of the greatest Muslims of all time, The Muslim 100 - The Lives, Thoughts and Achievements of the Most Influential Muslims in History, Kube Publishing, 2008, only four women rate a mention. Three were part of the Prophet's household. His first wife Khadijah is ranked 7 in importance. Aisha, his child-bride, outranks her at number 6. His daughter Fatima comes in at 11.

The only other female in Islam's 1,600+ years' history who made it onto the list of the 100 most influential Muslims in history is an erratic Sufi mystic who renounced all worldly comforts in favour of an ascetic vision-filled spinster's life. Rabi'a al-Adawiyyah (b. 717 d. 801). No 67 in influence is held up as a model of the type of life females who chose not to marry should lead if they love Allah and yearn for Paradise.

Of the remaining all male 96 Muslim luminaries worthy of mention, only fifteen could be said to have made often substantial contributions in the physical and social sciences.

Nearly all others of the top 100 are lauded for their military conquests and mostly pitiless subjugation of local populations e.g. #8 Khalid Ibn Al-Walid, or for their prodigious memories which allowed them to commit the entire Koran to memory and a plethora of sayings of the Prophet and dedicate their lives to refining dogma and spreading "it", often as an encouragement to slaughter the unbelievers and heretics e.g. # 26 Ibn Taymiyyah.

What is most striking about the fifteen people on the list who could rightly be called scientist is not their low numbers but that the noteworthy contribution of approximately two thirds of them was between the 8th and 10th century. It could not have been otherwise.

In the modern era, the Muslims world, which constitutes 21 percent of the world’s population (2011), has produced only 10 Nobel Prize laureates, with only two in the physical sciences (1979 physics, 1999 chemistry).

The West owes much of its progress as a civilization to not looking at its history through rose-colored glasses. Islam will have to do the same, and what better time to start an honest unobstructed look back than during Islamic History Month..

Bernard Payeur, October 1, 2016