George Saliba


On his book Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance

Cover Interview of October 22, 2009


Why did this scientific activity not continue in Islam?  I say a few things in the book about this concept of “decline.”  People speak of rise and fall, of cyclical movement, for example about the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, or of the Roman Empire.  I don’t give much credence to this view.  Yes, the Roman Empire did end, but after one thousand and five hundred years.  Decline is not about a cycle as such.  It is when the historical conditions change that all things change—including the fortunes of empires.

If you look at the map of Europe in the year 1400, all of the trade routes crisscross right to the heart of what was called the Islamic domain.  No European trader could conceive of making any money without paying part of it to a tax collector somewhere in an Islamic port or Islamic city.  That map looks very different in the year 1550.  All trade routes have shifted: they now go over the Atlantic.  It was with the accidental discovery of the New World that the Islamic domain literally lost the primacy of trade.

So the silly questions of what “went wrong” in Islam and why did the Muslims who had the science “miss it” are answered by another question, “Why and how did Europe actually produce science?”

That will be my next book.  In the same way I addressed the mechanism of producing science in the early Islamic civilization, now I want to address the mechanism that translated that wealth, and the economic conditions, on the ground, into the production of science in Europe.  How did the Europeans produce science that could not be imitated by the Islamic civilization—as well as by the civilizations of China and India, which are not Islamic?

© 2009 George Saliba