Of all its accomplishments, the West is perhaps most proud of its scientific revolution, which has been unfolding for the past half millennium. Only students of history remain consistently mindful of the pivotal and catalytic role that the Arab world played in the early phases of this revolution. Now, all of us should have a vested interest in advancing science and technology in the Arab community. Science and technology provide the means to feed people, improve their health, and create wealth. They can help to reduce societal tensions and build international bridges for badly needed dialogue and mutual understanding. To usher science and technology more thoroughly into Arab culture and society, however, the West needs to acknowledge the Arab world’s historical contributions, and the Arab world needs to stop dwelling on its golden past by also embracing lessons about science and technology that the West learned long ago.
In medieval Europe, where the Christian dogma that the world unfolded according to a divinely predetermined plan prevailed, there was little space for those willing and eager to understand nature in order to use it for their own benefit. Beginning in the 11th century, the ailing Arab provinces in Spain (Al-Andalus) were falling to European armies, and with them came priceless spoils that changed the world: the epic intellectual achievement of Arab-Islamic scholars since the 8th century. Flourishing libraries in cities like Toledo and Cordoba contained thousands of books on every field of knowledge. Unlike the Moguls, who in the 13th century destroyed Baghdad and its libraries, thereby abruptly ending the golden era of the Arab-Islamic civilization, the Europeans were quick to realize the value of these windfalls of knowledge.