Sonja Brentjes

on: The Decline of Islamic Scientific Thought: Don't Blame It on al-Ghazali, by Hassan Hassan

Mr. Hassan is not well informed about the academic debate. Otherwise he could not write such a misleading and utterly simplifying text. He also seems to have problems with understanding the complexities of political, religious and intellectual history of the Abbasid caliphate and the Seljuq dynasty. It is simply not true that the madrasa stopped scientific activities in various Islamicate societies after 1100. The Batiniyya was not merely an esoteric offspring of the Shi'a. Seljuq sultans like Malik Shah and his son Sanjar sponsored scholars at their courts who became famous for their contributions to philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and mechanics – Umar Khayyam, Muzaffar al-Din al-Isfizari, Abd al-Rahman al-Khazini, to name but three of them.

Scholars of high reputation who were themselves madrasa teachers in various fields, including hadith, fiqh, mathematics, philosophy and astronomy, were the Shi'ite Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (1202-1274), the Sufi Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi (died ca. 1320) or the Shafi'i Taqi al-Din al-Ma'ruf (died 1588).

Again, I have chosen only three scholars among many others of different degrees of importance and reputation. Neither is it correct that madrasas only taught Shafi'i law. If they were Sunni schools, they taught, depending on the stipulations of the donor, either one of the four major law schools (Shafi'i, Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali) or more than one of them plus Arabic and possibly other languages, mathematics, astronomy, hadiths and in some cases also medicine. To claim that before Nizam al-Mulk, sciences and Islamic law were intertwined is utter nonsense. To speak of these two fields of knowledge being intertwined begs the question which sciences did the author mean: natural philosophy, medicine, astronomy, astrology, arithmetic, mechanics, optics, geometry, algebra, alchemy? The madrasa was a cultural revolution which gave new spaces for the mathematical sciences and parts of philosophy.

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