Sociologist Robert Bellah (Beyond belief) argues that Islam in its seventh-century origins was, for its time and place, "remarkably modern...in the high degree of commitment, involvement, and participation expected from the rank-and-file members of the community." This because, he argues, that Islam emphasized on the equality of all Muslims. Leadership positions were open to all men. However, there were restraints on the early Muslim community that kept it from exemplifying these principles, primarily from the "stagnant localisms" of tribe and kinship. Dale Eickelman writes that Bellah suggests "the early Islamic community placed a particular value on individuals, as opposed to collective or group responsibility.
The Islamic idea of community (that of umma), established by Muhammad, is flexible in social, religious, and political terms and includes a diversity of Muslims who share a general sense of common cause and consensus concerning beliefs and individual and communal actions.
Perhaps due to resource scarcity in most Islamic nations, there was an emphasis on limited (and some claim also sustainable) use of natural capital, i.e. producing land. Traditions of haram and hima and early urban planning were expressions of strong social obligations to stay within carrying capacity and to preserve the natural environment as an obligation of khalifa or "stewardship".
Muhammad is considered a pioneer of environmentalism for his teachings on environmental preservation. His hadiths on agriculture and environmental philosophy were compiled in the "Book of Agriculture" of the Sahih Bukhari, which included the following saying:
Several such statements concerning the environment are also found in the Qur'an, such as the following:
In the 12th century, Muhammad al-Idrisi wrote the Nozhat al-mushtaq fi ikhtiraq al-afaq, a compendium of the geographic and sociological knowledge of his time as well as descriptions of his own travels illustrated with over seventy maps.
Without doubt the most important figure in early Muslim sociology was Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), who is regarded as the father of demography, cultural history, historiography, the philosophy of history, sociology, and the social sciences, and is viewed as a father of modern economics. He is best known for his Muqaddimah "Prolegomenon".
Sati' al-Husri suggested that Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah is essentially a sociological work, sketching over its six books a general sociology; a sociology of politics; a sociology of urban life; a sociology of economics; and a sociology of knowledge.
This cohesion arises spontaneously in tribes and other small kinship groups; and it can be intensified and enlarged by a religious ideology. Khaldun's analysis looks at how this cohesion carries groups to power but contains within itself the seeds - psychological, sociological, economic, political - of the group's downfall, to be replaced by a new group, dynasty or empire bound by a stronger (or at least younger and more vigorous) cohesion.
Interestingly, Khaldun's concept is instinctive and does not involve any social contract or explicit forms of constitution or other instructional capital that would provide a basis for appeals, in law or otherwise.
The Muqaddimah emphasized the role of systemic bias in affecting the standard of evidence. Khaldun was quite concerned with the effect of raising standard of evidence when confronted with uncomfortable claims, and relaxing it when given claims that seemed reasonable or comfortable. He was a jurist, and sometimes participated reluctantly in rulings that he felt were coerced, based on arguments he didn't respect.
His Muqaddimah also laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of state, communication, propaganda and systematic bias in history, and he discussed the rise and fall of civilizations in his theory of Asabiyyah. Ibn Khaldun had few successors in his thinking about history until Arnold J. Toynbee, a 20th century British historian.
Abū al-Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (973-1048) has been described as "the first anthropologist". Like modern anthropologists, he engaged in extensive participant observation with a given group of people, learnt their language and studied their primary texts, and presented his findings with objectivity and neutrality using cross-cultural comparisons. He wrote detailed comparative studies on the anthropology of religions, peoples and cultures in the Middle East, Mediterranean and South Asia, especially in India's case, for which he is considered the "father of Indology". Biruni's anthropology of religion was only possible for a scholar deeply immersed in the lore of other nations. Biruni and Ibn Khaldun have also been praised by several scholars for his Islamic anthropology.
Biruni developed a sophisticated methodology for his anthropological studies. For example, he wrote the following in the opening passages of his Indica:
He was also aware that there are limitations to eye-witness accounts:
Biruni was aware that statements about a religion would be open to criticism by its adherents, and insisted that a scholar should follow the requirements of a strictly scientific method. According to William Montgomery Watt, Biruni "is admirably objective and unprejudiced in his presentation of facts" but "selects facts in such a way that he makes a strong case for holding that there is a certain unity in the religious experience of the peoples he considers, even though he does not appear to formulate this view explicitly." Biruni's tradition of comparative cross-cultural study continued in the Muslim world through to Ibn Khaldun's work in the 14th century.
Perhaps the most well known Islamic scholar who wrote about economics was Ibn Khaldun of Tunisia (1332–1406), who is considered a father of modern economics. Ibn Khaldun wrote on economic and political theory in the introduction, or Muqaddimah (Prolegomena), of his History of the World (Kitab al-Ibar). In the book, he discussed what he called asabiyya (social cohesion), which he sourced as the cause of some civilizations becoming great and others not. Ibn Khaldun felt that many social forces are cyclic, although there can be sudden sharp turns that break the pattern. His idea about the benefits of the division of labor also relate to asabiyya, the greater the social cohesion, the more complex the successful division may be, the greater the economic growth. He noted that growth and development positively stimulates both supply and demand, and that the forces of supply and demand are what determines the prices of goods. He also noted macroeconomic forces of population growth, human capital development, and technological developments effects on development. In fact, Ibn Khaldun thought that population growth was directly a function of wealth.
Other important early Muslim scholars who wrote about economics include Abu Hanifa an-Nu‘man (699-767), Abu Yusuf (731-798), Ishaq bin Ali al-Rahwi (854–931), al-Farabi (873–950), Qabus (d. 1012), Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980–1037), Ibn Miskawayh (b. 1030), al-Ghazali (1058–1111), al-Mawardi (1075–1158), Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī (1201-1274), Ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1328) and al-Maqrizi (1364-1442).
The "science of hadith" is the process that Muslim scholars use to evaluate hadith. The classification of Hadith into Sahih (sound), Hasan (good) and Da'if (weak) was firmly established by Ali ibn al-Madini (161-234 AH). Later, al-Madini's student Muhammad al-Bukhari (810-870) authored a collection that he believed contained only Sahih hadith, which is now known as the Sahih Bukhari. Al-Bukhari's historical methods of testing hadiths and isnads is seen as the beginning of the method of citation and a precursor to the scientific method which was developed by later Muslim scientists. I. A. Ahmad writes:
Other verses in the Qur'an urge Muslims to visit and study other lands, cultures and languages, and specifically to study ancient civilizations, such as:
Said Al-Andalusi (1029-1168) stated that people in all corners of the world have a common origin but differ in certain aspects: "ethics, appearance, landscape and language". He treated the history of Egypt as part of the universal history of all humanity, and he linked Egypt and Sudan to the history of the Arabs through a common ancestry.
Early writers on world history include Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838-923), who is known for writing a detailed and comprehensive chronicle of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern history in his History of the Prophets and Kings in 915. Abu al-Hasan 'Alī al-Mas'ūdī (896-956), known as the "Herodotus of the Arabs", was the first to combine history and scientific geography in a large-scale work, Muruj adh-dhahab wa ma'adin al-jawahir (The Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems), a book on world history. Along with his Researches on India, Biruni (973-1048) discussed more on his idea of history in his chronological work The Chronology of the Ancient Nations.
While it is sometimes assumed that Muslims were intent on destroying pagan monuments, such desctruction was in fact quite rare in Muslim history. In reality, Muslim rulers most often preserved and protected pre-Islamic artifacts and monuments, for which the 12th-century Muslim historian Abd-al Latif al-Baghdadi, who was well aware of the value of ancient monuments, praised them for. He noted that the preservation of antiquities presented a number of benefits for Muslims:
The following verse in the Qur'an also urges Muslims to study the remains of ancient civilizations:
The Egyptian historian Al-Maqrizi (1364–1442) wrote a chapter on archeology entitled "Hidden Treasures", in which he gave a religious justification for archeological excavations of pre-Islamic ancient Near Eastern sites. He cites a narration which reports that Muhammad passed by a tomb of Abu Righal, a chief of the Banu Thaqif tribe, and stated that there was a gold sceptre with him; his companions then excavated the tomb and found the object. Al-Maqrizi cited this incident as proof that the excavations of pre-Islamic sites was sanctioned.
The archeological professions of antiquarianism and treasure hunting were established as careers in the 9th century by Ahmad ibn Tulun, founder of the Tulunid dynasty. Since then, treasure hunting was studied as a serious topic by Islamic scholars, beginning with Al-Kindi (Alkindus). In the 11th century, the Egyptian caliph, Ma'ad al-Mustansir Billah, established the profession of Emir al-Matalabin ("Overseer of Treasure Hunters"), whose role was described in 1050 by the Persian traveller Nasir Khusraw while he was in Egypt as follows:
During the Fatimid Caliphate, the supervision of treasure hunters developed into a guild with its head known as Naqeeb al-Mutalibeen ("Chairman of the Guild"). The Egyptian historian Al-Maqrizi regarded the death of one such chairman, Abu al-Hassan Ali ibn Ibrahim al-Nursi, in 1010 as an important event in his annals. Treasure hunters from Egypt, North Africa and Greater Syria were encouraged to search for hidden treasures at their own expense under the government's supervision. Treasure hunting was also a hobby for some, such as Sheikh Muhammad ibn Mubarak al-Athari ("The Antiquarian"), also known as "Keeper of the Relics of the Prophet", whose death in 1403 was noted by Ibn Qadi Shuhba.
With the establishment of treasure hunting as a new industry, many treasure hunting manuals and guide books were written by experienced treasure hunters and alchemists which became best sellers in the medieval Arab world. They were used by treasure hunters as sources to utilize in their search for treasure. Al-Baghdadi in the 12th century notes that poorer treasure hunters were often sponsored by rich businessmen to go on archeological expeditions. In some cases, an expedition could turn out to be fraud, with the treasure hunter dissappearing with large amounts of money extracted from sponsors. This fraudulent practice continues to the present day, with rich businessmen in Egypt still being deceived by local treasure hunters.
A number of stories within the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights) deal with lost ancient technologies, advanced ancient civilizations that went astray, and catastrophes which overwhelmed them. "The City of Brass" features a group of travellers on an archaeological expedition across the Sahara to find an ancient lost city and attempt to recover a brass vessel that Solomon once used to trap a jinn, and, along the way, encounter a mummified queen, petrified inhabitants, life-like humanoid robots and automata, seductive marionettes dancing without strings, and a brass horseman robot who directs the party towards the ancient city. "The City of Brass" can be considered an early example of proto-science fiction.
The study of Egyptology began in Arab Egypt from the 9th century. Ja'far ibn Muhammad Abu Ma'shar al-Balkhi (787-886) divided the history of pre-Islamic ancient Egypt into the pre-flood and post-flood periods, in reference to Noah's flood. He dated the flood to 3,671 years before Hijra (approximately 3100 BC), coinciding with the founding of the First dynasty of Egypt. Said Al-Andalusi (1029-1168) treated the history of Egypt as part of the universal history of all humanity. He and other Muslim historians linked Egypt and Sudan to the history of the Arabs through a common ancestry. They linked ancient Egypt to Muslim history through Hajar (Hagar), the wife of Ibrahim (Abraham) and mother of Ismail (Ishmael), the patriarch of the Arabs, thus making Hajar the mother of the Arabs; and through Maria al-Qibtiyya, one of Muhammad's wives. The prophet Muhammad himself often praised Egypt, its produce, and its people, and according to this tradition, the Copts had kinship with the Arabs and enjoyed a close relationship with the new Islamic government after the Muslim conquest of Egypt from the Byzantines. According to a hadith narrated by by Ibn Zahira, Muhammad stated:
The Qur'an (Sura 2:127) credits Abrahim and Ishmael as the builders of the Kaaba, the most holy place of Islam, while the 9th century writer Al-Kindi (Alkindus) refers to Egyptian craftsmen rebuilding it. According to other hadiths attributed to Muhammad, he stated the following regarding Egypt:
Muslim geographers and historians such as Ibn Abd-el-Hakem (d. 871) and Muhammad al-Idrisi (1100-1166) explained that it was Muhammad's praise for Egypt that inspired them to write about Egypt's monuments, history, knowledge and practice. In order to study Egyptian history, early Muslim historians drew on the study of native Egyptian culture; the critical examination of Egyptian oral traditions; discourses with Coptic monks; ancient Demotic, Greek and Latin literature; ethnographic and geographical studies; and the remains of Egyptian antiquities.
The first known attempts at deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs were made by made by Muslim historians in medieval Egypt during the 9th and 10th centuries. By then, hieroglyphs had long been forgotten in Egypt, and were replaced by the Coptic and Arabic alphabets. Dhul-Nun al-Misri and Ibn Wahshiyya (who was attempting to uncover the secrets of alchemy) were the first historians to be able to at least partly decipher what was written in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, by relating them to the contemporary Coptic language used by Coptic priests in their time.
Abd-al Latif al-Baghdadi, a teacher at Cairo's Al-Azhar University in the 13th century, wrote detailed descriptions on ancient Egyptian monuments. The Arabic manuscript of his Account of Egypt was discovered in 1665 by Edward Pococke the orientalist, and preserved in the Bodleian Library. He then published the Arabic manuscript in the 1680s. His son, Edward Pococke the Younger, translated the work into Latin, though he was only able to publish less than half of his work. Thomas Hunt attempted to publish Pococke's complete translation in 1746, though his attempt was unsuccessful. Pococke's complete Latin translation was eventually published by Professor Joseph White of Oxford in 1800. The work was then translated into French, with valuable notes, by Silvestre de Sacy in 1810. The 15th-century Egyptian historian Al-Maqrizi also wrote detailed accounts of Egyptian antiquities, and described Egyptian history from the pre-dynastic period up until the Islamic period of his time.
The Egyptian Muslim historian Mourtadi wrote an Arabic book on ancient Egyptian monuments, which was later published in France and Britain in the 17th century. An Arabic manuscript of Ibn Wahshiyya's book on Egyptology, in which he deciphered a number of Egyptian hieroglyphs, was later read by Athanasius Kircher in the 17th century, and then translated and published in English by Joseph Hammer in 1806 as Ancient Alphabets and Hieroglyphic Characters Explained; with an Account of the Egyptian Priests, their Classes, Initiation, and Sacrifices in the Arabic Language by Ahmad Bin Abubekr Bin Wahishih, 16 years before Jean-François Champollion's complete decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Until the 10th century, history most often meant political and military history, but this was not so with Persian historian Biruni (973-1048). In his Kitab fi Tahqiq ma l'il-Hind (Researches on India), he did not record political and military history in any detail, but wrote more on India's cultural, scientific, social and religious history. Biruni is considered the father of Indology for his detailed studies on Indian history and anthropology.
In psychology, Islamic medicine stressed the need for individual understanding of their mental health. The first psychiatric hospitals and insane asylums were built in the Islamic world as early as the 8th century. The first psychiatric hospitals were built by Arab Muslims in Baghdad in 705, Fes in the early 8th century, and Cairo in 800. Other famous psychiatric hospitals were built in Damascus and Aleppo in 1270. Unlike medieval Christian physicians who relied on demonological explanations for mental illness, medieval Muslim physicians relied mostly on clinical psychiatry and clinical observations on mentally ill patients. They made significant advances to psychiatry and were the first to provide psychotherapy and moral treatment for mentally ill patients, in addition to other new forms of treatment such as baths, drug medication, music therapy and occupational therapy.
The concepts of mental health and "mental hygiene" were introduced by the Muslim physician Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi (850-934). In his Masalih al-Abdan wa al-Anfus (Sustenance for Body and Soul), he was the first to successfully discuss diseases related to both the body and the mind, and argued that "if the nafs [psyche] gets sick, the body may also find no joy in life and may eventually develop a physical illness."
Najab ud-din Muhammad (10th century) described a number of mental diseases in detail. He made many careful observations of mentally ill patients and compiled them in a book which "made up the most complete classification of mental diseases theretofore known." The mental illnesses first described by Najab include agitated depression, neurosis, priapism and sexual impotence (Nafkhae Malikholia), psychosis (Kutrib), and mania (Dual-Kulb). Symptoms resembling schizophrenia were also reported in later Arabic medical literature.
Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi was a pioneer of psychotherapy, psychophysiology and psychosomatic medicine. He recognized that the body and the soul can be healthy or sick, or "balanced or imbalanced", and that mental illness can have both psychological and/or physiological causes. He wrote that imbalance of the body can result in fever, headaches and other physical illnesses, while imbalance of the soul can result in anger, anxiety, sadness and other mental symptoms. He recognized two types of depression: one caused by known reasons such as loss or failure, which can be treated psychologically; and the other caused by unknown reasons possibly caused by physiological reasons, which can be treated through physical medicine.
Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi (Rhazes) and al-Balkhi were the first known physicians to study psychotherapy. Razi was a Persian and Zoroasterian who adopted Islam only in name. He had a disdain for Islam. Razi in particular made significant advances in psychiatry in his landmark texts El-Mansuri and Al-Hawi in the 10th century, which presented definitions, symptoms and treatments for problems related to mental health and mental illness. He also ran the psychiatric ward of a Baghdad hospital. Such institutions could not exist in Europe at the time because of fear of demonic possessions.
In al-Andalus, Abu al-Qasim (Abulcasis), the father of modern surgery, developed material and technical designs which are still used in neurosurgery. Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) gave the first accurate descriptions on neurological disorders, including meningitis, intracranial thrombophlebitis, and mediastinal germ cell tumors, and made contributions to modern neuropharmacology. Averroes suggested the existence of Parkinson's disease and attributed photoreceptor properties to the retina. Maimonides wrote about neuropsychiatric disorders and described rabies and belladonna intoxication.
Ibn al-Haytham is considered by some to be the founder of experimental psychology and psychophysics, for his pioneering work on the psychology of visual perception in the Book of Optics. In Book III of the Book of Optics, Ibn al-Haytham was the first scientist to argue that vision occurs in the brain, rather than the eyes. He pointed out that personal experience has an effect on what people see and how they see, and that vision and perception are subjective.
Avicenna was a pioneer of psychophysiology and psychosomatic medicine. He recognized 'physiological psychology' in the treatment of illnesses involving emotions, and developed a system for associating changes in the pulse rate with inner feelings, which is seen as an anticipation of the word association test attributed to Carl Jung. Avicenna was also a pioneer of neuropsychiatry. He first described numerous neuropsychiatric conditions, including hallucination, insomnia, mania, nightmare, melancholia, dementia, epilepsy, paralysis, stroke, vertigo and tremor.
The earliest works on social psychology and animal psychology were written by al-Jahiz (766–868), an Afro-Arab scholar who wrote a number of works dealing with the social organization of ants and with animal communication and psychology.
Al-Farabi's Social Psychology and Model City were also some of the first treatises to deal with social psychology. Al Farabi's parents were both Persian/Iranian. His family was forced to adopt Islam. His thinking and writings were intrinsically derived from his Persian heritage. His name is based on the name of the Farab river in Iran. He stated that "an isolated individual could not achieve all the perfections by himself, without the aid of other individuals." He wrote that it is the "innate disposition of every man to join another human being or other men in the labor he ought to perform." He concluded that in order to "achieve what he can of that perfection, every man needs to stay in the neighborhood of others and associate with them." Al-Farabi's treatise Meanings of the Intellect dealt with music therapy, where he discussed the therapeutic effects of music on the soul.