The Suffering of Scientists


The vast body of knowledge we enjoy today in countless scientific and literary fields was not handed to us on a silver platter. It is the outcome of the suffering of numerous many scientists and scholars; which history is brimming of across the different ages. The road of those who sought knowledge has rarely been laid with rose petals; on the contrary, it is packed with killing, dragging, crucifixion, dismembering, exile, and accusations of blasphemy for the opinions and theories they documented in contradiction to what had been believed at the time of scientific facts, especially by men of the cloth and authority.

For example, did you know dear reader that the Alexandrian scientist, Hypatia—mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher—who lived in Alexandria in the 5th century amongst the aisles of its Ancient Library was dragged across the streets of this ancient city?

Sources mention she was murdered at the hands of a group of religious extremists who accused her of witchcraft and heresy. After a scientific convention she held, a mob dragged her from her hair, stripped her from her clothes, tied her hands, and dragged her throughout the streets of Alexandria until her skin fell off her flesh and she died, after which they burned her; all in the name of religion!

Are you aware dear reader that there are names the human civilization takes pride in the owners of which died in the worst ways possible? The lives of these eminent scholars frothed with persecution and suffering at the hands of men of the cloth, who accused them of heresy and blasphemy, or it was spent fleeing the whims of kings and princes.

This led Andrew White to author his 19th-century book entitled “A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom”, where he compiled the forms of persecution and the extent of suffering scientists had to face, including examples such as Nicolas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Cristopher Columbus, Al-Kindi, Abu Bakr al-Razi, Ibn Rushd, Al-Farabi, and many more.

History mentions how Abu Bakr al-Razi, a chemistry and philosophy genius of his time, was hit on the head by men of the cloth who fought him vehemently until he became blind and died as such. The worst of all murders may be the one Ibn al-Muqaffa’, the author of the famous “Kalila and Dimna” fables, faced; he was dismembered, decapitated, then burned by order of the Caliph al-Mansour who accused him of blasphemy and atheism.

Who of us does not know the great tragedy of the scientist and philosopher, Ibn Rushd, who was lucky enough to survive being burnt like his peers, but whose works were burnt instead. He was exiled and banned to the Jewish town of Lucena, a county near Cordoba, at the age of seventy, to suffer greatly in his old age.

Do not you also know dear reader that Ibn Sina, the author of the “Canon of Medicine”, died short of fifty years of age as a result of a disease he contracted while imprisoned and tortured after fleeing with one of his friends upon being accused of blasphemy and heresy? The examples are indeed extensive in this context.

That is all beyond the different kinds of persecution suffered by scientists the such as of Al-Ghazali, Ibn Hayyan, Al-Jahiz, Al-Ma’ari, Al-Kawkabi, Al-Mutanabbi, Lisan ad-Din ibn al-Khatib, and Ibn Al-Haytham who claimed insanity to flee the wrath of the Caliph Al-hakim Bi-amr Allah. Heritage sources are filled with stories and tales that detail the extent of suffering scientists have had to endure, the efforts they have had to exert, and the journeys they have had to travel in pursuit of science and learning.

We only need to mention one such example, what Ibn al-Qifti mentioned in his book “The History of Learned Men”, speaking of Hunayn ibn Ishaq, the famous physician and translator, and his pursuit of Galen’s “The Proof”, which was rare at the time. Hunayn ibn Ishaq is said to have stated: “I have searched for it thoroughly, seeking it in the corners of Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, until I reached Alexandria; however, I could only acquire nearly half of it in the city of Damascus”, which is quite an achievement taking into consideration the difficulty of traveling during the 9th century.

How then did thousands of Muslim scientists author their books, encyclopedias, as well as literary and scientific translations in past centuries, where each encyclopedia exceeded thousands of pages. It is without doubt that these scientists exerted extensive efforts that only those of strong will power could exert, believing that civilizations could only be built by science. They thus left behind a scientific and literary legacy of great value and influence, considered one of the main factors in building the human civilization in all fields. Said legacy is where the West has launched its civilization, while we dragged behind.

The article was first published in print in SCIplanet, Winter 2016 Issue.

Cover Image by KamranAydinov on Freepik

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