The BBC in the UK has just shown a 3 part series Science and Islam. Parts of the series are available on YouTube (other blogs have all the links, and they're available on certain peer-to-peer filesharing websites. Here is a taster:
Not only was this a fascinating documentary series, well put together, great locations and a nice antidote to the "What did Islam ever give us?" rhetorical questions. That's all despite lots of shots of presenter Jim al-Khalil standing around holding his little brown notepad, staring at exotic looking piles of dirt.
In his exposition of Shi'ite Islam Muhammad Husayn Tabatabaei explains the Islamic sciences as being:
divided into the two categories of intellectual ('aqli) and transmitted (naqli). The intellectual sciences include such sciences as philosophy and mathematics. The transmitted sciences are those which depend upon transmission from some source, such as the sciences of language, hadith, or history. (Shi'ite Islam, trans. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, p. 104-105)
But al-Khalil never really establishes his scientists as Islamic scientists any more than they were Persian, Syrian, Palestinian or Spanish. Their religious identity, or that part of their identity that could be called Muslim, was never really discussed. The result was something less than an insight into Islamic science than an insightful history into scientific contributions from men who just happened to be Muslims/living within the great Muslim empire and seats of learning. Interestingly, the word 'scientist' is a relatively recent creation, whereas mathematics has a much richer history.
In what seemed like a rushed closing, al-Khalil lays much of the blame for the decline of Islamic science, more so than science in Islamic culture, at the door of those countries (Spain, France, Portugal, Great Britain, etc.) expanding into the New World after the discovery of America. He makes no effort to explain the cultural and religious shifts within Islamic countries themselves and brushes away the changes as a reaction to what was happening in the West.