It seemed like a perfect world for scientists back then. Everyone aspired to be a scientist and excel and contribute in something. The environment was perfect. There were almost no problems to practice science and collect knowledge. For centuries, the Islamic Empire was the beacon of science and knowledge in the world. But as we’ve seen so far in our story, nothing can last forever especially if it is a good thing. ‘The Abyss’ was there waiting for a chance to attack and destroy as always.
And they did.
For many years, the house of wisdom produced original research in many fields that are considered the basis for a lot of what we know today. Every ruler encouraged scientific research and everyone was helping in some way. Until Al-Mutawakkil.
Al-Mutawakkil started his reign at 847 and he started a bad start. Unlike all his predecessors, he was not interested in encouraging scientific research. His mistake was that he started to interpret the Qur’an verses literally which is not the correct way to do it of course. But he was too ignorant to recognize that. That resulted in the declination of the House of Wisdom. With the absence of scientific progress the Muslims became weaker and weaker by the years. By the second half of the 13th century, the House of Wisdom was not in the same position as it used to be but still it had the largest collection of books in the world. The the Mongol came.
The Mongol army came from East Asia and was conquering its way through Western Asia. It was a great huge army. Almost no one could stop them. They were grasshoppers invading a field. When they arrived at Baghdad walls the ruler back then, Al-Musta’sim, refused to surrender and the Muslim army fought for a while and they killed some of the Mongol army. But the Mongol army was so large to be affected and eventually they managed to cross the walls and invade the city. And because they know that knowledge is power they – and for a week – started throwing all the books, ALL OF THEM, in the river. The rover turned black from all the ink in the dumped books. It was a historical and cultural disaster. All of these discoveries would have been lost if it weren’t for two reasons.
First, it was a man. A man named Nasir Al-Din Al-Tusi. Al-Tusi was a great scientist. He was a polymath in architecture, astronomy, biology, chemistry, medicine, mathematics, philosophy, physics and theology. Some considered him the greatest Persian scholar in the late period of the Islamic empire. He was so good that we named a moon crater and a planet after him. He has many important contributions to science but maybe the most important of all was what he did to save knowledge. When he learned that the Mongol army is approaching Baghdad he knew that the Muslims became too weak to defend them. So, he took the task of saving as many books as he can. With the help of other soldiers he managed to collect 400,000 manuscripts and get them out of the city and run away from the Mongol from a stronghold to another. After he made sure the manuscripts were safe and away from destruction, he made a very odd decision. When Hulago, the leader of the Mongol, invaded Alamut castle where Al-Tusi was hiding he killed everyone there but Al-Tusi because Hulago was addicted to astrology and he knew the reputation of Al-Tusi in astronomy and science in general. So he kept him alive if he will cooperate with him which Al-Tusi did. He even convinced Hulago to build him an observatory of his own.
The second thing that saved the Islamic knowledge was way earlier than what Al-Tusi did. From the 11th century to the end of the Islamic glory in the 13th century, European scholars were translating Islamic knowledge from Arabic and Persian to Latin. On the course of two centuries they translated many many works. So, when the original books and manuscripts were destroyed by the Mongol army, Europe had already translated copies of many of these books.
And since then, the Muslims were done. They never gained back their glory in any field because of the religious misguidance of their religious leaders and the corruption of their rulers.