It is often thought that nothing particularly useful happened in the Middle Ages (or ‘Dark Ages’), from about 600 to 1600. But nothing could be further from the truth, for this was a period of great discovery and invention – only it didn’t happen in northern Europe.
It was during this period, when Muslims lived, from Spain to India, that great discoveries and inventions were taking place that were to lay the foundations of the Renaissance and modern science and technology. Ibn Sina’s (Avicenna) Canon of Medicine revolutionalised our understanding of medical sciences and al-Khawarizmi’s (from whom we get the word algorithm) mathematics pushed the frontiers of trigonometry leaps and bounds. Even the humble zero, was a major innovation and ‘Arabic numerals’ (0, 1, 2, 3, etc) eventually replaced the more cumbersome Latin numerals (L, X, V, etc) which had no concept of a ‘nought’.
The Quran describes the whole universe as a place of continual discovery containing the ‘signs’ of God. The Islamic civilisation therefore readily absorbed the learning, ideas, books and philosophies of the Greeks, Romans, Indians and Persians, hungrily translating everything into Arabic and then synthesising and creating new knowledge. Through major centres of learning in Spain, North Africa and the Near East, the new ideas and also new words, such as algebra, alcohol, cotton, soda, syrup and zenith, were also adopted into European languages and the writings of Muslim scholars were read with enthusiasm.
Our world has always been interconnected in this way; it was Isaac Newton who wrote in 1676, “if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”.