Lyceum Speaker praises unsung heroes of Arab Learning
by Kerry Hickox
The Monadnock Ledger (NH) Thursday July 30, 1998

PETERBOROUGH - Although most Americans would not recognize their names, Arab Scholars Abu Ali al-Hasan bin al-Haytham played important roles in the technological advancement in civilization.

"I like those that are the unknown soldiers, that have done so much but no one has heard of them," said Wafaa' Salman, who spoke Sunday at the fourth of this year's Monadnock Summer Lyceum Lectures.

Born and raised in Iraq, Salman has degrees in civil engineering and political science. She is founder and president of The Institute of Near Eastern and African Studies.

Abu Ali al-Hasan bin al-Haytham born in 965 A.D., was among the first to recognize that the true arrangements of the planets had not yet been discovered, Salman said. "He played an important role in stimulating Arab astronomers in surpassing Ptolomy."

She said he included discussions of Euclid and other great European thinkers in his numerous volumes on mathematical, physical, and metaphysical questions.

"From the eight century to the end of the 14th, Arab science was the most advanced science, far surpassing the Europeans and China," Salman said.

Despite the work of Abu Ali al-Hasan bin al-Haytham and other Arab scholars, the world does not know much about them. "What has been published and paid attention to is mostly done by crediting the non-Arab Muslims," Salman said, explaining why her audience would not recognize the names of the 27 Arab scholars she had listed on a handout.

Part of the reason for the world's ignorance has to do with the Mongol and Ottoman invasions of the Arab world.

"The Arab world came under very horrible occupation," Salman said, speaking of the Mongol invasion and the fall of Baghdad in 1250 A.D.

The invaders turned the rivers in the capital purple, Salman said. "That is the mixture of blood and ink, of how many people they killed and how many libraries they destroyed." she said.

"There are a lot of question marks in that part of the history," Salmon said. Many of the Arab scholars left no record of their work, making it impossible for historians to know much about them. For example, Abu Al-Hakam Al-Dimashqui died at 100 years of age without leaving any records of his long medical career. His son Al-Hakam Al-Dimashqui also died without leaving any work behind, Salman said.

"The recording has not done well, so we don't know much about them," Salman said of these and other Umayyad Era scholars.

Nevertheless, history does indicate that Arab science was influential in the ancient world, Salman said. Several popes employed Arab doctors, who were known for there advanced medicine, she said.

Many people are unaware that Christopher Columbus took a couple of Arab Astronomers with him on his voyage to America, Salman said.

When asked by her audience how the non-Arab world can do a better job of recognizing Arab achievements, Salman said, "The key element is education. I think the more you know about it, the less foreign it becomes."

Salman advised her audience to travel to Arab countries or research Arab history in the library. Recognizing that not everyone has the time or money for these activities, she suggested talking with Arab Americans. "I think you are quite lucky because you are in the country that has everybody else," Salman said.

Answering an audience question about the right of Arab women, Salman said, "Arab women before Islam had equally if not more rights than any man."

Women could marry as many husbands as they wished and children took the Women's name, she said.

"Then comes Islam with the accusation of it being the religion that encouraged polygamy, which it didn't,"

Salman said. Islam actually limited polygamy, she said. It restricted the number of wives a man could have to four unless he was extremely wealthy. It also required men to ask permission of their current wives before they took another, Salman said.

"Sometimes they would not get that permission," she said.

After Islam, women could own businesses. The introduction of that religion also put a stop to the common Arab practice of killing female infants, Salman said.

Then came centuries of Mongol and the Ottoman occupation. "Both men and women had no rights."

In the 20th Century, women's situations vary from place to place, Salman said.

"I know many will have the image of veiled women in Saudi Arabia," she said. Although the numbers of Arab women who were veils has increased in the 1990s, veiled women remain a minority, Salman said adding, "Clothes should not be in the list of rights. You could be wearing shorts or a veil and still have no rights."

In the workplace men and women are on level ground, Salman said.

"There's no such thing that women are paid less," she said adding that she was shocked when she came to the United States She could not believe the most advanced country in the world still has a problem paying men and women equally for equal work.

"I have no idea how women are quiet about it. If it happened in the Arab world, there would be a revolution," Salman said, adding that it's never a good idea to mess with Arab women "Arab women are a pain in the neck," she said.

Salman said American women have fewer rights in other ways as well. She mentioned the practice of a woman taking her husband's name when she marries.

"To me this is like a property," Salman said. "It changes its name according to the owner."

Salman's lecture will be rebroadcast on WEVO, New Hampshire Public Radio, at 9 p.m. Monday.