The virus called precursorism started to spread among Muslims in the nineteenth century. Islam and Muslims were accused of being anti-science, backward, lacking social and political institutions of the kind developed by Europe. In response, and in order to defend their faith, Muslims sought antecedents of European scientific discoveries, inventions—even of institutions, philosophies, and ideas—in their “Golden Age”. These early responses included claims such as it was not Darwin, but al-Bīrūnī (973–ca.1050) who first postulated Evolution, it was not Copernicus (1473–1543) but al-Ṭūsī (d. 1274), who should be credited with Heliocentrism. It was not Europe that gave women the right to own property, it is Islam that first granted such rights. And the list goes on. The common element in all such claims being, “We have done it before you!”
In the mid-1980s, an extreme variant of this virus started to spread in the Middle East and the subcontinent. This variant is called precursoritis. Those infected by this variant claimed that all scientific discoveries are, in fact, mentioned in the Qur’an. They found the Big Bang, theory of relativity, electricity, trains, rockets, even space shuttles mentioned in the Qur’an. Books, articles, and pamphlets cited Qur’anic verses which “proved” the existence of modern scientific discoveries related to oceans, mountains, and deep space.
Then came the internet and the precursorism became a global virus. At present, precursorism is detectable in all parts of the Muslim world, as well as in the Muslim diaspora living in Europe and North America. The virus attacks people in all professions, but it is rampant among teachers, who can now download classroom-ready material as their instant porridge receives an unhealthy dose of microwaves in a machine invented by an American engineer. Such material is also welcomed by parents and school administrators who can proudly walk upright with a banner on their forehead reading: “we have done it before them!”
In addition to human beings, precursorism has also infected institutions, community organizations, charities, even mosques. The example below, taken from a 2022 calendar that is making rounds on social media, was produced by a religious organization.
- The slick image next to the caption creates the illusion of Muslim inventions being behind the development of the modern plane and the text below the photograph asserts that “the first person to make a real attempt to construct a flying machine and fly was Abbas Ibn Firnas, who in the 9th century designed a winged apparatus, roughly resembling a bird costume. In his most famous trial near Cordoba in Spain, Firnas flew upward for a few moments, before falling to the ground and partially breaking his back.”
- The text goes on to claim that “his designs would undoubtedly have been an inspiration for famed Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci’s hundreds of years later”.
- Notice the font size of “Muslim Inventions” and “Modern World”; same font size attracts attention and subliminally reinforces the message: Muslim inventions shaped the modern world.
- Other problems: Ibn Firnas is said to be the first person to make a real attempt to construct a flying machine and fly. This information about Ibn Firnas (ca 809–887) is taken from Wikipedia, but Wikipedia article on Ibn Firnas has no flying machine!
- Wikipedia is not an authentic source; it contains fake information along with genuine and one has to know how to differentiate between the two. Nevertheless, the Wikipedia article does not mention Leonardo da Vinci.
- Furthermore, there is no connection between a human being attaching wings to his body and an engineer designing a plane.
- Even if some poetic license is granted for this flight of fancy, the claim that Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) “would undoubtedly have been” inspired by Ibn Firnas about whom he supposedly knew through some mysterious intermediary, who conveyed to him al-Maqqari’s text, is simply absurd because Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) died before al-Maqqari (1577-1632) was even born!
- Note also that the text starts off by mentioning Ibn Firnas (the son of Firnas), but then replaces it with Firnas (meaning the father). This shows that the person who is making such a huge claim about Muslim history is not even capable of differentiating between the father and the son and is unthinkingly copying the Wikipedia text.
The main reason for the spread of the precursorism virus
Such counterfeits are the direct result of a low self-esteem, which, in turn, is the product of colonization. Ibn Khaldūn (1332-1406) identified the main reason for low self-esteem and inferiority complex of the conquered nations in the twenty-third section (faṣl) of the second chapter of his insightful Muqaddima, tellingly entitled, “The conquered always want to imitate the conqueror in his distinctive characteristics, his dress, his occupation, and in all his other conditions and customs… The reason for this,” Ibn Khaldūn said,
is that the conquered is [already] convinced of the superiority of the one who has conquered him and to whom he is [now] subservient, either because he considers him perfect or erroneously assumes that his subservience is not the outcome of his material and physical defeat, but due to the perfection of the conqueror. Once this erroneous assumption fixes itself in the soul, it becomes a firm belief. Such a person is then drawn to the conqueror, adopts his manners and assimilates in him…The conquered can always be seen to assimilate themselves in the conquerors in the use and style of dress, mounts, and weapons—indeed, in everything… This goes to such an extent that a nation dominated by another neighboring nation will exhibit a great deal of imitative behavior…they even draw pictures on the walls [like those of the conquerors] and put them in their buildings and houses [just as the conquerors do]…. An intelligent observer concludes from this that [this imitation] is a sign of dominance of the others.
Unlike fashion, science and technology cannot be imitated, hence the only recourse left for infected Muslims is to psychologically placate their self-inflicted sense of inferiority by claiming to have invented and discovered all that has been invented and discovered by their European colonizers hundreds of years before them. In their obsession, infected Muslims are not even concerned about making claims that undermine their faith. For instance, they claim that Darwin (1809–1882) took his idea of evolution from al-Jāḥiẓ (776-868), al-Bīrūnī (973-ca. 1050), or Rūmī (1207-1273)! We even have respectable scholars falling in the same trap; one such scholar claimed that Darwin knew Arabic and he took his ideas from Muslims!
The extreme variant
The extreme variant of the virus, called precursoritis, appeared in the mid-1970s when a French surgeon employed by the Saudi royalty published The Bible, the Quran and Science (1976). With this book, Maurice Bucaille became the forerunner of those who attempt to prove the veracity of the Qur’an by modern science. He played on the inferiority complex of the Saudi royalty by a double claim: “it is impossible not to admit the existence of scientific errors in the Bible…and the Quran most definitely did not contain a single proposition at variance with the most firmly established modern knowledge.”
It was not too long after the publication of Bucaille’s book that the Saudis invited Keith Leon Moore (1925- 2019), professor in the Department of Anatomy, Faculty of Surgery, University of Toronto, to the seventh annual gathering of the Saudi Medical Meeting, held in 1982 in Damman. He read a translation of Q 23:12-14, “We have created man from the essence of clay, then We placed him as a drop of fluid in a safe place, then We made that drop into a clinging form, and made the form into a lump of flesh, and We made the lump into bones, and We clothed these bones with flesh, and We made him into other forms . . .” and then took out plasticine from his pocket, shaped it to resemble an embryo at 28 days, dug his teeth into it, and showed the chewed plasticine to the gathering, claiming it was an exact copy of the embryo, with his teeth marks resembling the embryo’s somites (the vertebral column and musculature).
“Allahu Akbar!” shouted the Saudis gathered around the table, the elation filled the room, the news reached the King, and led to the establishment of the “Commission on Scientific Signs in the Quran and Sunnah”. This was in 1983. General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (1924–1988), Pakistani military dictator who was very close to the Saudi royalty, offered to hold the first international conference on the subject in Islamabad. Over 200 Muslim scientists and scholars gathered in Islamabad in 1987 and, among other subjects, read papers on discovering the speed of light from the verses of the Qur’an.
The Saudis published Moore’s illustrated study, Human Development as Described in the Quran and Sunnah and the field started to grow exponentially. In subsequent conferences of the Commission, precursorism has discovered numerous geological theories, quantum mechanics, infrared, sound waves, genetics, embryology, laser, electricity, and many other scientific discoveries in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
However, after 9/11, the US Treasury Department declared Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, the General Secretary of the Commission, “spiritual advisors” of Osama bin Laden—whatever that means—and designated him as “Specially Designated Global Terrorist”. He was promptly removed from his post in the Commission, but the Commission continued to hold annual conferences in various countries. Western scientists associated with the Commission started to dissociate themselves, claiming they were duped.
What’s wrong with precursorism?
- It is simply immoral to claim credit for what one has not done, but to claim credit for Islam or in the name of Islam is even worse than individual claims.
- There are two kinds of Muslims who make such false claims: those who make them “honestly” (that is, not knowing that they are making false claims) and those who know that they are perpetuating falsehood; the former suffer from compound ignorance (that is, they do not know that they do not know), the latter are outright dishonest; both are super spreaders of falsehood.
- Precursorism produces scorn and lowers the esteem of Muslims in the eyes of non-Muslims. Those who show the candle to the sun cannot expect to gain respect from the onlookers.
- It tarnishes the actual, real, and substantial contributions of Muslim scientists. It is like mixing gold with false gold; this lowers the overall value of gold that was in hand before contamination. For example, Muslim contributions to mathematics were substantial in many respects, but the producers of counterfeits have no clue of the real value of these contributions.
- Because most of the counterfeits are related to science and technology, it leads to scientism, which is an excessive faith in science and application of scientific methods and techniques to human behavior, ethics, society, culture, even to religion.
- Scientism leads to reductionism: all human knowledge is reducible to the methods of the natural sciences. It also creates an epistemological hierarchy wherein “science” is placed at the highest point and all other disciplines are below it.
Why should Muslim teachers be vaccinated?
All Muslims should be vaccinated against Precursorism, but Muslim teachers need to do this urgently because
- They influence young minds who look up to them as source of authentic knowledge as well as role models. This is a sacred trust and its violation leads to spread of ignorance, rather than knowledge.
- Sooner or later, young students who receive falsehood from their Muslim teachers find out that what they have been taught is not true; this undermines their confidence in Islamic schools, even shakes their faith. If my teachers have been teaching me falsehood in this matter, imagine what else is false in their teachings!
- Muslim teachers should be the first to turn the tide against this wide-spread infection, because they have direct access to the future leaders of the Muslim communities. If they are able to open windows to the authentic knowledge, they will sow the seeds of a future sea-change. If they perpetuate downloaded falsehoods, they will be culprits whose name no one would like to remember. The responsibility they carry is sacred; it should not be violated.
What and where is the vaccine?
The vaccine against precursorism is authentic knowledge. Authentic knowledge is not downloadable. It is acquired. The process of acquisition of knowledge is well-known in the Islamic tradition. There are no short cuts.