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Muslim Advances in Civilization Before and After the Mongol Invasions

By Adan Makina

Muslims advanced in every aspect of civilization before the Mongol invasions. For example, the Chorasmia medical school that was located in Gorganch city within Chorasmia in Iran existed from 305 to 1231 A.D.[1] Known to the Arabs as Jorjanyh, Urgench by the Turks and Mongols, it was located on the banks of the Amu Darya River. Yaqut A-Hamawi who lived around 1220 A.D. believed that it was the biggest and most wealthy city he had ever seen before. Whether Khwarezmian, Khwarazmian, Khorezmian, or Chorasmian, the now extinct language that was spoken at that time was closely related to the Sogdian language that was widely spoken in Eastern Iran. The area in which that language was spoken could have been around the lower Amu Darya River which is south of the Aral Sea in present day Uzbekistan Republic and neighboring Turkmenistan. It was spoken until the 13th century as we learn from the writings of Biruni and Zamakhshari.[2] In present day Uzbekistan, the two languages, Urgench exists as a city while Khwarazm is a province. “Before the Mongol invasion, the Khwarazmian Dynasty had its capital in the city of Samarkand.

The historical marauding hooligans from Mongolia who were known historically as the Tatars or Mongols, learned a lot from the societies they captured during their 400 years harassment of the regions they masqueraded as peacemakers before their abrupt arrivals that transformed into the most aggressive, bloodletting and brutal slaughterhouses. The poorly equipped volatile soldiers of the Ilkhanate, gained advanced craftsmanship in their areas of sojourn before their forward match to newer territories. Obviously, the corroded and poorly molded daggers, bows and arrows they brought with them from inner Mongolia, received advanced technological replacement, sharpening tools and chipping modes and artistry of the best quality. Before the Mongol invasion, the Khwarazmian Dynasty had its capital in the city of Samarkand.

Etymologically, from the Sogdian language that was spoken in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, ‘Samar’ meant stone or rock while ‘kand’ implied fort or town. The Sogdian language of Persia was in fact the most widely spoken language of that era.[3] The city of Samarkand has been recorded to have been one of the most beautiful cities in the world during the Mongol encounters. One could travel five consecutive days outside of the city from any side and still feel engrossed in a world of beauty, delight and amusement. Currently located in eastern Uzbekistan, the collection of exotic plants from different regions of the world transformed it into the most beautiful city in the world of that era. It was an age when Europe was in darkness, powerless and underdeveloped.

Muslim Philosophers

Before the Mongol invasions of Muslim lands, major contributions to the fields of sciences and other important subjects continued until the 15th century. Medieval Muslims who were mainly of Arab, Turkic and Persian origin were the first to bring to life Greek philosophy that was at the brink of disappearing. Muslims of that era advanced in specific subjects such as Medicine, Astrology, Cosmology, Mathematics and Trigonometry, Surgery, Physics, Geometry and Chemistry as well as Optics and Metallurgy and even Music Theory. Drawing their inventions from Neo-Platonists and Aristotelian philosophies, and as well as Archimedes, Ptolemy and Euclid, they made immeasurable discoveries and likewise wrote innumerable books that exist to this day.[4]

One intellectual deficit that is missing from Muslim culture is the art of philosophy and even though Islamic knowledge is given great value, the inability to distinguish between thinking and preaching is a major omen and misunderstanding among Muslims. Western scholars have recorded over 100 Muslim contributors. Notable Muslim contributors include Jabir Ibn Haiyan who is known as Geber in the West. Before his death in 803 C.E., he was known as the “Father of Chemistry.” Ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi who is known as Alkindus (800-973) majored in Philosophy, Physics, Optics, Medicine, Mathematics and Metallurgy.

Thabit Ibn Qurrah (836-901) who was known as Thebit was an expert in Astronomy, Mechanics, Geometry and Anatomy. Al-Battani (Albategnius) (858-929) had a good grab of Astronomy, Mathematics and Trigonometry. Described the Second Teacher after Aristotle and also known in Arabic as Al-Mu’allim Al-Thani, Abu Nasr Muhammad al-Farabi (872-951 AD), is considered one of the greatest philosophers. Like Plato’s book the Republic, Al-Farabi committed to the values of democracy in his book ārā ahl al-madīna al-fāḍila (The Views of the People of The Virtuous City)–a book that solidifies the interconnectedness of Islam and democracy. To Al-Farabi, Islam and democracy are reconcilable.[5]

Another virtuous Muslim who contributed a lot to the study of theology, philosophy, Islamic legal studies and as well as mystical thinking is Abu Hamid Al-Ghazzali (1058-1111 AD). He is considered a Mujaddid, meaning a religious revivalist. In his book, Ihya Ulum al-Din, The Revival of Religious Sciences, he did his best to reconcile the disputations that existed between rationalists and traditionalists, orthodoxy and mysticism, and philosophy and theology. Al-Ghazzali is considered to be in par with Ibn Arabi. Ibn Rushd (1126-1198 AD) who is known in the West as Averroes, was a physician, philosopher, a judge and an expert in Maliki Islamic law.

To him, faith and reason, religion and science epitomize philosophical tranquility as emphasized in his book Fasl al-Maqal (The Decisive Treatise). While Al-Ghazzali was opposed to Al-Farabi’s thought that for one to be an Imam, it was compulsory for the Imam to have a good grasp of Philosophy, likewise, Ibn Rush’s book Tahafat al-Tahafat (Incoherence of Incoherence) was aimed at rebutting Al-Ghazzali’s book Tahat al-Falasifah (Incoherence of Philosophy). Modern Muslim philosophers feel it is glamorous to study philosophy for it is a means to attaining logical reasoning. Even though he was not a free-thinker like Ibn Rush or Al-Farabi, Ibn Arabi (1165-1240 AD) was an indescribable Muslim mystic whose works Fusus al-Hikam (Bezels of Wisdom) and Futuhat al-Makiyyah (The Meccan Openings) are both worth reading for they are absolutely tantalizing.

Orthodox scholars avoid reading Ibn Arabi’s Tajalli–that is unending disclosure of one’s spiritualism while the work itself entails an appealing explanation of God’s aims and objectives of creation that are continuous and never ending. To those who understand his profound uniqueness in Islamic philosophical thoughts, he is regarded Al-Sheikh al-Akbar. The first Social Scientist, the sheikh of all social scientists and a philosopher of history, Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406 AD) lived in the Middle Ages[6] and was born in Tunis, Tunisia though he died in Cairo, Egypt. At the age of 17, he lost both parents to the universal epidemic of 1348–1349 that was known as Black Plaque. The most famous Muslim scientists, discoverers and philosophers who are listed below are known globally and even in Western higher institutions, students are advised to learn about their thoughts and ideas.

  1. Abu Nasr Al-Farabi (872–950). Known in the West as Alpharabius, he was a Persian scientist and philosopher even though there are claims that he was an Arab.
  2. Al-Battani (858–929). Also known as Albatenius, he was a mathematician, astronomer and scientist.
  3. Ibn Sina (980–1037). He was a Persian philosopher and scientist who injected Aristotelian medicine and philosophy. He is widely known as Avicenna in the West.
  4. Ibn Battuta (1304–1369). The world’s leading traveler who covered 75,000 miles and    wrote the famous book Al-Rihla.
  5. Ibn Rushd (1126–1198). An Arab philosopher of literary repute, Averroes was a great Arab philosopher who made great strides in the summarizations and commentaries of Plato’s Republic and most of Aristotle’s works.
  6. Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi (780–850). The founder of algebra who played significant role in the diversification of European mathematics, Algoritmi or Algaurizin from Algorithm as he is known in the West, he introduced Hindu-Arabic numerals that are in use to this day. He was Persian though some scholars claim he was an Arab.
  7. Omar Khayyam (1048–1131). He made great achievements in science and Rubaiyat (“quatrains”–a unit or group of four lines of verse). Likewise, he was a poet, astronomer and a mathematician. He was Persian. 
  8. Thabit ibn Qurra (826 –901). Founder of statics (the study of internal and external forces in a structure), he is known in the West as Thebit. He was an astronomer, mathematician and physician and the first to reform the Ptolemaic system.
  9. Abu Bakr Al-Razi (865–925). The man known in the West as Rhazes, was a Persian alchemist and philosopher and one of the most famous physicians in history. He was of Persian origin.
  10. Jabir Ibn Haiyan (722–804). To the West he is known as Geber. He was the father of Arab Chemistry who mastered metallurgy and alchemy.
  11. Ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi (801–873). A Muslim peripatetic, Alkindus was an Arab scientist and philosopher.
  12. Ibn Al-Haytham (965–1040). He is known as Alhazen in the West and he was a scientist and mathematician and well-known contributor to the sciences of optics and the principles of scientific experiments.
  13. Ibn Zuhr (1091–1161). Known for his famous book Al-Taisir Fil-Mudawat Wal-Tadbeer (Book of Simplification Concerning Therapeutics and Diet), he was an Arab who is known in the West as Avenzoar. He was a physician and a surgeon.
  14. Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406). Sociologist, historiographer and economist of Arab ancestry, he is also regarded to have been a great historian and an expert in nonreligious philosophies.
  15. Ibn Al-Baitar (1197–1248). He was a botanist and physician of Arab descent.[7]
  16. A quick search for Muslim philosophers mainly reveals Turkish, Arab and Persian personalities and it would be futile to disregard other Muslim philosophers from other regions apart from those of the Middle East. That’s why European writers of the past denigrated Africans for not contributing anything to the advancement of human civilization while civilization initially started in the Nile Delta. One of the most intelligent Somali Muslim scholar and philosopher was Sheikh Yusuf bin Ahmed Kawneyn Al-Soomaal, also known as Aw Barkhadle (“Blessed Father”) or Yusuf Al Barbari–the man who invented the nomenclature for Arabic vowels of the Qur’anic alphabets then translated into the Somali language that is still in use to this day. His philosophical thoughts brought what we know today as ‘alif wax maleh’, ‘aana aa alif la kordhebey alif lagu reebay’, or ‘alif la kordhebey alif la hoos dhebey alif laa gode’ and many others. For the common Somali student attending Qur’an school that is known as ‘Dugsi’, it is compulsory for the student to learn the aforementioned translated Arabic vowels. Born in Zeila (Seylac in Somali) in the 12th century, linguistically fallacious Arabian hegemony claims that he was an Arab has been refuted by Somalis because Islam reached the shores of the Horn of Africa before it even reached the City of Madinah, the second holiest city in Islam that is home to Masjid Al-Nubuwat or the Mosque of the Messenger of Allaah, Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). After studying in his native city of Zeila, the sheikh moved to Baghdad in Iraq and upon his return to Somalia, he was nicknamed Al-Baghdadi.[8] With his main academic and religious interests being Islamic literature and Islamic philosophy, he was attached to Shafi’i jurisprudence. He was also close to the Walashma Dynasty of Ifat and Adal.[9] His birthplace is home to the only masjid with two Qibla (prayer direction) in the African continent–meaning, until Allaah commanded prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to turn to the world’s most widely visited Masjid in Makkah that houses the Kaaba in current day Saudi Arabia, previously, the Prophet and his followers used to face Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem for their obligatory and supererogatory prayers.
Masjid Qiblatayn; photo credit/

It is worth noting that the term tafsir that is exclusive to medieval Muslim philosophers must not be taken to be in par with latinized languages like English, French, Spanish etc. Lexicologically or etymologically, tafsir as a general word is an infinitive noun from f-s-r.[10] It could refer in meaning to “discover, detection, revelation, development, or disclosure of a thing that was concealed or obscured.”[11] Likewise, tafsir cannot be translated to “narration, interpretation, information, explanation, pronunciation, orthography, telling history, notes, construction or commentary because of Arabic language distinction from latinized languages.”[12]

Above all, a closer look at the English translation of Ibn Zuhr’s book Al-Taisir Fil-Mudawat Wal-Tadbeer, when ‘Al’ which stands for ‘the’ is removed, the definition of tafsir is ‘simplification’. Though divided into many subtitles, tafsir in Quran, Hadith which is the Tradition or the Sayings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), dreams, words, poems, and names/nouns are conceptually and specifically more detailed than other languages. With direct translations at times emerging meaningless or obscure, because of the differences in medieval and classical Arabic literature, likewise, translations from the ancient Greek language also appears obscure.

Nota Bene: This article is an excerpt from Author Adan Makina’s upcoming book ‘The Tatars Invasion of Muslim Lands: From Islamic and Secular Perspectives’.

Adan Makina
Email: [email protected]


[1] Golshani, S. A., Seddigh, F., Pirouzan, H., & Daneshfard, B. (2015). Chorasmia Medical School from the beginning until the Mongol invasion. Journal of medical ethics and history of medicine8, 11.

[2] Zarshenas Z. [Zaban Khwarazmi] Name-Ye Farhangestan. 1996;5(2).

[3] Comneno, M. A. L., & Adelaide, M. (1997). Nestorianism in Central Asia during the first millennium: archaeological evidence. Journal of the Assyrian Academic Society11(1), 20-67.

[4] By Scientist. 15 Famous Muslim (Arab & Persian) Scientists and their Inventions. Retrieved September 10, 2022.

[5] Muqtedar Khan, Contributor (May 23, 2015). 5 Islamic Philosophers Every Muslim Must Read. Retrieved August 29, 2022.

[6] Bernard Lewis: “Ibn Khaldun in Turkey”, in: Ibn Khaldun: The Mediterranean in the 14th Century: Rise and Fall of Empires, Foundation El Legado Andalusí, 2006, ISBN 978-84-96556-34-8, pp. 376–80 (376) S.M. Deen (2007) Science under Islam: rise, decline and revival. p. 157. ISBN 1-84799-942-5.

[7] Ibid, By Scientist.

[8] Lewis, I.M. (1990). Saints and Somalis: Popular Islam in a Clan-based Society. The Red Sea Press. P. 97.

[9] Cerulli, Enrico (1926). Le popolazioni della Somalia nella tradizione storica locale. L’Accademia. “Cerulli suggests that the Saint “Aw Barkhadle” (Yusuf Al Kowneyn) can be associated with “Yusuf Barkatla, ancestor of Umar’ Walashma, founder of the Ifat dynasty.”

[10] Younesie, M. Minimus Onomastica Graeca Alpharabius.

[11] Ibid, Younesie, M.

[12] Ibid, Younesie, M. P. 2.

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