To understand how science was sidelined in Iran, and indeed all Near East, one must learn about the great Muslim philosopher, Averroes (1126-1198), and his rebuttal against the Iranian theologian, Ghazali (1058-1111). Until the 19th century, there was no distinction between scientists and philosophers and many of the great philosopher-scientists in the West were also theologians while in Iran they were often mystics. The creation of science began with the split between Platonism and Aristotelianism. Plato is often called the Father of Philosophers and Aristotle the initiator of the scientific method.
Averroes (Ibn Rushd) was a Muslim Andalusian philosopher-scientist who became famous for his commentaries on Aristotle. He was ultimately responsible for re-awakening Europe to ancient Greek philosophers, an area abandoned during the European dark ages.
But while in the West philosophy was slowly embraced, in the Muslim world it was sidelined. In the 13th century, the domination of Near East by Seljuqs led to the eclipse of philosophy as the Seljuq leaders preferred the teaching of the Quran to schools of philosophy. The most important attack against philosophers came from the Iranian Sufi theologian, Ghazali. In his book, “Incoherence of the Philosophers” Ghazali diminished views of scientists such as Avicenna, accusing them of deviating from Islam. His book became immensely popular, setting the stage for anti-scientific thought in the Muslim world. It was during this bleak ear of decline, that Averroes emerged as one of the last influential Spanish-Muslim philosophers. In his book “Incoherence of Incoherence,” he challenged the anti-philosophical sentiments sparked by Ghazali—a critique that ignited a similar re-examination within the Christian tradition, influencing scholars who would later be identified as “Averroists.”
But Averroes was not able to change the course of history. Eventually, he was publicly insulted, cursed and accused of heresy by King Mansur’s (1184-1199) court and the King ordered him to be exiled and to burn all philosophical books except those dealing with medicine, mathematics and astronomy—these books he said were important because they help people know the time and direction of Mecca.
Islamic philosophy came to a sudden halt in the West, but philosophical thought did not completely disappear from Iran. It took refuge in philosophical Sufism and philosophical theology instead, but the rational thought process that would one day lead Europe to the scientific progress we see today was immensely diminished.