Muslims constantly refer to the glory days of Islam when in the regions under Islamic rule pioneering and groundbreaking successes were achieved in the areas of science, medicine, philosophy ...
Everybody is familiar with the near-magical name of Andalusia, the region in southern Spain where Muslims, Christians, and Jews side-by-side forged a great civilisation, under the guidance and direction of Muslims.
In this regard, it is implicitly assumed that this advanced civilization and peaceful co-existence of peoples of different religious beliefs owes its origin in the correct adherence to, and observance of, the laws and principles of Islam.
As we find up to this very day, there exist dozens of countries and regions ruled by Muslims where the laws of Islam are imposed in most rigid fashion. We are thinking here of Somalia, Saudi-Arabia, Iran, as well as regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan still under the control of the Taliban. Striking here is the fact that we do not expect from those countries and regions any mind-boggling technological developments or innovative ideas. Rather the contrary. In those said countries, the level of social and intellectual development is simply pitiful. And non-Muslims “don’t always have it easy there”.
Obviously, something is wrong somewhere. The more of Islam, the worse it gets. Yet, in those intellectually stirring days of the past something else, some stimulating influence, some inspiration, must have existed. Did those advanced Islamic cultures behave then less Islamic, or non-Islamic? And was the leading social class then only Muslim in name?
Was that particular period then a “Golden Age in spite of Islam”, rather than a “Golden Age because of Islam”?
One of the greatest scientists of all time and the pride of every Muslim who recalls in lyrical rapture the age when “Islam” produced famous scientists and intellectuals quasi non-stop was Al-Razi of Rhazes (Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī) born in 865 and deceased in 925. He was a Persian physicist, alchemist and chemist, philosopher, and physician. He is known as an “Islamic” scholar, the living proof that Islam was capable of inspiring individuals towards fantastic developments. His detailed biography can be consulted on Wikipedia.
However, any reader of this famous man’s thoughts about religions in general and Islam in particular will be left more than a little dumbfounded. In fact, he or she will be shaken. We translate what Wikipedia reports about his religious insights:
Razi wrote 3 books dealing with religion, titled :
The fraudulent tricks of the Prophets
The lists of those claiming to be Prophets
On the rebuttal of the revealed religions
He was severely critical of religions, especially those they were reputedly revealed through prophetic experiences. Razi held that "[God] should not prefer certain individuals above others, and that there should not be amongst them rivalries or differences of opinion that could lead to their demise.
On what ground do you believe it necessary that God would select certain individuals [by granting them prophetic powers], that he would hold them superior to others, that he would anoint them as guides to others, and make people dependent on them?
Concerning the link between force and violence and religion, Razi proclaimed that God must have realized this, given the multiplicity of differences of opinion amongst the various religions that "a universal disaster would happen and that people would fall victim in hostilities and armed conflicts. And, indeed, many people have died in such ways, as we can witness."
He was likewise critical of the lack of interest amongst the followers of various religions in the rational analysis of their beliefs and convictions, and the violent reactions that occur:
When people of this religious persuasion are asked for proof of the validity of their religion, they become enraged, turn violent, and spill the blood of those that dare to confront them with this question. They forbid rational speculation and rather attempt to kill their opponents. This is the reason why truth has been silenced or went into hiding.
About the Koran, al-Razi said :
You say that there is a miracle and that it is the Koran. You tell us : "Whoever denies the Koran, let him create an identical book." Indeed, we shall create a thousand identical books, gleaned from the works of orators and rhetoricians, word fashioners and inspired poets, all of these more relevantly and concisely expressed. They convey their messages better and their rhymed prose possessed better rhythm. ... By God... what you are proclaiming astounds us! Here you are talking about a work that rehashes the stories of ancient myths, full of contradictions at the same time and without any useful information or explanations. And then you are telling us: "Just try to produce something like this"?!
From the beginnings of human history, all those proclaiming to be prophets have been, in the worst instances, deviates, and in the best, they suffered psychological problems.
Had Al-Razi expressed the above thoughts during the life of Muhammad, Muhammad would have made short work of him, in the way he did with other critics.
The fact that Al-Razi could express himself so daringly and cuttingly about Islam, and that his works are still in circulation, now more than 1000 years later, demonstrates that during the Golden Age of Islam there existed great tolerance for the free expression of opinions, in contrast to what was standard during the life of Muhammad within the first Islamic community. Free expression of opinion, critical thinking, questioning all things... those are the necessary conditions to give birth to scientific development and progress. Such an environment in all likelihood existed during the Golden Age of Islam. Hence, a Golden Age of great flowering of thought in spite of Islam and not because of Islam. We known that, for instance, the Golden Age of Andalusia came to an end when the “Islamic fundamentalists”, the Almohaden, took control of things.