Was the Golden Age of Islam a reality or a Myth?

Why Islam is unable to produce its Da Vinci’s and Bach´s?

I am frequently asked Why Islam is unable to produce its Da Vinci’s and Bach´s? Was the Golden Age of Islam a reality or a Myth? If it was for real what killed it? Islam needs to look back at its past to fine-tune and set its future! The question generally asked is “Why Islamic world is falling behind in producing inventors and Nobel Prize winners of today?” It is not a global conspiracy or a plot, the enemy is within.

The reason is simple: it is because of Islam’s polity, and long-held romance with medievalism, fanaticism, bigotry, predestination, radical orthodoxy, self-denial and inclination to deny the enemy within when the enemy is eating the core of reason and tolerance in a society. The clergy of Islam under Imams stopped all efforts of philosophical dialogues but in the world of Christianity even papal indoctrination and conservatism led creation of great seat of learning like University of Salamanca, Oxford, Paris and Bologna . In 1254 Pope Alexander IV called the University of Salamanca “one of the four leading lights of the world” (along with the universities of Oxford, Paris and Bologna). The visit of Christopher Columbus to Salamanca and his protection by Dominican priests, of the San Esteban convent, give him endorsements in the presence of Queen Isabel, which in the end produced the Discovery of America. Without risk there would not be age of discovery possible. Freewill cracked the fallacies of predestination wide open to debate.

“Know thyself” was the foundation of Socratic philosophy.This was what Baghdad like under Mamun..’The city of Peace … the scene of vibrant cultural renaissance … With its vast number of scholars, its book stores, its meeting places for learned discussions, its diversified population, the sophistication of its intellectual elite, the ambition and energy of its rulers, this great urban center witnessed a splendor hardly equaled in the entire Medieval world.’

Mongol invasion: As Baghdad burnt, her libraries were ransacked and her books flung into the river Tigris so that a passage had been made through that thick deep torrent. The ink of scholars and the blood of martyrs stained the river. Baghdad was the first among equals, the fabled Islamic cities of lore, during the fabled golden age. Over the centuries she had held at bay the encroaching Arabian Desert and instead transformed into an oasis of knowledge, tolerance and peace where generations of scholars flocked to her centers of learning. Baghdad’s vicious destruction didn’t transpire in the last, rather recent, invasion but some seven hundred fifty years ago when the Mongol horde finally succeeded in the capture of the capital of Islam.

Prior to his invasion of the Middle East , Hulagu asked the Abbasid caliph, al-Muta’sim, the thirty-seventh of his dynasty, to recognize Mongol sovereignty as his predecessors had once accepted the rule of the Seljuk Turks who were of a clan distantly related with the Mongols.The Khalifah(Caliph) who called himself the prince of the faithful (Ameer-ul-Momeenin as did Osama Bin Laden) overconfident of his own prestige, sent word to Hulagu Khan that any attack on his capital would mobilize the entire Muslim world, from India to north west Africa. Not in the least impressed, the grandson of Genghis Khan announced his intention of taking the city of Baghdad by force.

Towards the end of 1257 Hulaguled hundreds of thousands of Mongol cavalrymen who began advancing towards the Abbasid capital. On their way they destroyed the Assassin’s (Hashishin) sanctuary at Alamut and ransacked its library where the Assassins had collected techniques of murder and terror, thus making it for impossible for future generations to gain any in-depth knowledge of the evil doctrine and nefarious activities of the sect. (These were folks who made a number of attempts to kill the greatest cavalier warrior of Islam Salahuddin Ayubi, for these radicals he presented a charitable vision of Islam. His crusades land conquests of the Jerusalem aside he was not good enough these were people who could be equivalent to today’s Alqaeda and Talebins. If Salahuddin was not enough no one else could they were finally annihilated by the golden hordes. The word Assassins derive from these opium drugged radicals.)

When the caliph finally realized the extent of the threat, he chickened out and decided to negotiate. The Caliph’s envoy, Ibn al-Jawzi arrived from Baghdad bearing a message filled with entreaties for Hulagu to turn back, in exchange for which the caliph would remit whatever would be agreed upon to the treasury annually.The Caliph also proposed that Hulagu’s name be pronounced at Friday sermons in the mosques of Baghdad and that he be granted the title “Sultan”. But it was too late, for by now the Mongol emperor had definitely opted for force. After a few weeks of desperate resistance, the “prince of the faithful” had no choice but to capitulate.

History is a little blurred on how Hulagu, the leader of the Mongols, dispatched the Caliph of Islam, the universally acknowledged leader of the Ummah. A story passed down that Hulagu toyed with the Caliph for a while, dining with him and discussing theology and pretending merely to be his guest. Another narrates that the Caliph was locked in his treasury and was brought gold rather than food. When the Caliph protested that he could not eat gold, Hulagu asked why he hadn’t spent his treasury on providing for his army and defense to which the Caliph cried “That was the will of God”. In response Hulagu replied, “What will happen to you is the will of God, also,” leaving him among the treasure to starve. The last history states that Hulagu, fearful of spilling the sacred blood, wrapped the Caliph in carpets and had horses gallop on him. Unlike Karbala where Yazid sprinkled the bluest of the blood that of grandson of the prophet mercilessly on the desert plains at least Mongol were polite enough not to let the pedigreed blood from the lineage of Banu Abbas to be spilled. They made sure to avoid the possible wrath of God as their counsels advised that holiest of the blood be soaked in the thick silk forms of the Caliphs flamboyant carpets.

The traumatic scar of the deeds perpetuated toward the capital and the sovereign of Islam persist to such an extent that in a book on Arab cultural identity, published in the nineteen fifties, a Syrian government official is quoted as saying that had the Mongols not destroyed the libraries of Baghdad, Arab science would have produced the atom bomb long before the West. The Golden Age of Baghdad, Cordoba and Islam’s cities is widely considered to have been wiped clean by the Mongol devastation and Spanish Reconquista. The catastrophic devastation and the foreign horde conveniently provide history with a date to mark the end of the flowering of the Islamic Renaissance. But what if there is more to the tragedy of the end than merely foreign invasion, what if the answers are deeper within the Islamic world?

Sapere aude, dare to know, defined the Enlightenment with an inspiring vision and compelling argument that truth alone can set us free.

The Pluralism of Ideas and the prosperity of any land are intertwined. Freedom of minds and skill of intellect to ‘think the unthinkable’ is how humanity has progressed; when minds are incarcerated nothing endures. Renaissance within all three monolithic religions was built around norms of free mind; renaissance was about literature, architecture, arts and chiseling of marble to exquisite forms. David could only be created by the love of the free labor of Michelangelo an enslaved mind cannot be an artist or a creator. Enslaved man can be a revolutionary and many a enslave people have helped changed the world but their minds were free they accepted death instead of compromise with totalitarian or dogmatic despotism.

From the earliest days, the Umayyads wanted to be seen as intellectual rivals to the Abbasids, and for Cَrdoba to have libraries and educational institutions to rival Baghdad. Although there was a clear rivalry between the two powers, freedom to travel between the two Caliphates was allowed, which helped spread new ideas and innovations over time. The historian Said Al-Andalusi wrote that the Caliph Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Rahman had collected libraries of books and patroned men to study medicine and “ancient sciences”. Later Al-Mustansir (Al-Hakam II) vastly improved this by importing philosophical volumes as well as varying series of books on diverse subjects, including medicine and music from the East to his new university and libraries in Cَrdoba. Under his reign Cَrdoba had become one of the world’s most important cities for medicine and philosophical debate. One of the most significant contributions made in Al-Andalus was to the advancement of theological philosophy. To see knowledge without ownership of any creed and expand knowledge to new frontiers was the creed of this Islamic Golden Age; something that has sadly been lost.

The Golden Age of Islam shared much the ideals and values and this shared inheritance is typified by the great Islamic philosopher, Ibn ‘Arabi. He was a Muslim at a time when the southern half of Spain had been deeply ‘arabised’ and islamicised by over 5 centuries of Muslim rule. Here in ‘al-Andalus’ the three creeds of Judaism, Christianity and Islam flourished and Arabic was their common tongue; this lavish and elegant world has left us powerful reminders in monuments such as Alhambra in Granada, and Great Mosque at Cordoba. Ibn ‘Arabi was part of a global and tolerant Muslim society that had learnt to accept and build on the contribution of other races and religions. The great classics of Greek literature, particularly Aristotle and Plato, were translated (first into Arabic and then Latin) and studied alongside the great Prophets of the Abrahamic religions. In this glorious milieu Ibn ‘Arabi carefully crafted his beliefs in the primordial nature of love and considered Prophets and saints powerful explainers of this sublime essence.

Mohiyoddin Ibn ‘Arabi, founder of the School of the Oneness of Being, was chased out of Cairo for writing love poems to a fourteen-year-old girl. For example, while living in Egypt he published his Interpreter of Desires, a book of poems celebrating his love for a young girl he met while circumambulating the Kaaba in Mecca.The clergy smelled blasphemy; lbn ‘Arabi hurriedly isolated himself to Syria –where he further outraged the clergy by writing the Interpreter of the Interpreter, in which he defends his erotic-mystical ambiguities with dazzling scholasticism. When Love is declared the equivalent or perhaps superior of religion; and the human beloved becomes a Witness (shahed).

Ibn Arabi’s gift to the world was his tremendous love for tolerance, in its various forms. He was born and contributed to a society that was thoroughly cosmopolitan and tolerant; Muslim Spain was great because it was tolerant and provided the fertile ground for such greats as Ibn Arabi to emerge from. The resurgence of knowledge and its ‘zenith’ is preceded by tolerance. Its ‘nadir’ is preceded by intolerance.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt considers Ibn ‘Arabi as heretic and they inspired a law banning publication of his Meccan Revelations. Ibn ‘Arabi sexual code is ranked heresy by Imam Ibn Taymiyya, who complained, `They kiss a slave boy and claim to have seen God!’.The poets like Fakhroddin Iraqi, Awhadoddin Kermani and Abdul Rahman Jami, who received from Ibn ‘Arabi a language of dialogue with which to develop their understanding of an intricate subject already central to their very being: eros, desire, and the frontier between erotic and mystical consciousness are now alien to Islamic culture.


During the Golden Age there was particularly strong tradition of rationalists, the Mutazilites.They stressed a human being’s inherent free will countering the predestinarians, who taught that everything was foreordained. The Mutazilites carefully cultivated an ‘enlightened moderation’and allowed for the growth of knowledge and in their active promulgation and acceptance of Science as a part of the religion doctrine they brought to the Islamic world her Golden Age. This guidance was advanced by the renowned thinkers such as Avicenna, Al-Raazi, Al Ma’ari and Omar Khayyam; each of whom would later be remembered for the striking global contribution to the field of art, science and logic. The decline set in when the puritan Al-Ghazali began to undermine this rationalistic tradition and instead push for dogma over thought, obedience over free will and the primacy of doctrine. It was the beginning of the end as Al-Ghazali strove to put a stop to the tradition that had cultivated the greatest of the Islamic thinkers and instead stifle the unbridled creativity of the Islamic world.

Thus the civilization of Islam began to falter as ‘Destiny’ persevered over reason and logic-and Lenient ecclesiastical and priestly control once again tightened over the free Muslim people.With the will of Allah sufficing to explain everything risk no longer matter and Muslim commerce began to dramatically suffer. The banking and finance capitals that could have emerged in the coastal cities and regions of Alexandria, the Yemen and Sumatra, as rivals to Europe were stemmed in their infancy. Muslims who could not take out insurance on fate, where risk aborted an infant financial industry that could have provided commercial support to trade and sea-faring voyages were instead confined to the Mediterranean, a Muslim lake, instead of venturing out like Christopher Columbus.

Any belief that employs “guardians of truth” on shaping of landscape of intellect will implode. It is said that ‘Crutches of faith are introduced when reason sink exhausted.’ It is an paradox that when curtain of dogma was descending within the Islamic lands killing free thinking it was slowly and steadily rising in Italy and northern Europe. The Islamic world was being eclipsed because of the internal philosophical challenges of orthodoxy and dogma was gaining.

The creativity and vitality of the golden cities were begin sapped as uniformity stifled intellect so that by the time the overwhelming advances of the Mongols and the Inquisition happened the intellectual defenses had already deserted Islam. When the Spanish began to reconquer their peninsula from centuries of Muslim rule, the Islamic kingdoms of Cordoba had descended to a few petty Islamic sultanates. In the great expulsion following the Reconquista the Camelot of Islam, and of Judaism and Christianity, was carefully ripped asunder; intellectually and physically bankrupted. To this day one of the two great traditions of Judaism still remembers Cordoba with the nostalgia and longing that persisted over the centuries for it was during the Jewish golden age of Spain (under Muslim rule) that their greatest philosopher, Maimonides, composed his acclaimed commentaries.

‘One of the most revealing measures of the intellectual variety of the period … was the frequency in Baghdad of public debates between members of opposing schools of thought. [For example, one] debate in 932 CE between ibn Yunis and al-Sarafi was on the relative merits of the sciences of logic and grammar … sponsored by the Caliph’s vizier … the authorities were still willing to entertain a diversity of views at a time when the proponents of orthodoxy had become increasingly articulate and powerful … the atmosphere … was generally cosmopolitan. ‘

The memory of Classical Greece – a legacy of Alexander – had survived in parts of Syria and Iraq, amid Eastern Christianity and Zoroastrianism. In fact, the language of high culture and theology in Byzantine cities was Greek. The Syriac-speaking Christian scholars, in order to gain access to theological texts written in Alexandria and Antioch, studied Greek language. When the Umayyad caliph al-Malik made Arabic the official state language (end of eighth century) replacing Persian and Greek, it catalyzed translations of Greek texts into Arabic by the Eastern Christians.

In addition to scientific and medical texts, collections of moral aphorisms ascribed to Socrates, Solon, Hermes, and Pythagoras were the earliest works to be translated into Arabic. However, most translations – of scientific, philosophical and medical texts – were initiated by the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad, especially al-Mamun. Partaking of this intellectual goldmine, al-Farabi emerged as the first significant philosopher in Islam.

The fall of Baghdad , the capital of the Islamic world, the Mongol capture was the culmination of a century of moral and intellectual decay from time when open-mindedness was replaced by debauchery and intolerance. The Mongol may have plunged the sword into the world of Islam but it was the Muslim rulers themselves, who expedited the implosion. The strength of any society is dependent on openness of society, once forbearance is replaced by bigotry and fanaticism and ingenuousness by extremist’s ideas the decays expedites. From Mamun to Abbasid caliph, al-Muta’sim the decay was rather rapid so was the defeat by the Mongols.

The true trachers of the region are likes of Abū Nasr al-Fārābi (Persian Islamic philosopher, 870–950), played a fundamental role in the dissemination of Greek philosophy throughout Islamic culture (where it flourished for the next 300 years), despite ongoing suspicion over its identification with pagan and Christian thinkers. A polymath, al-Fārābi’s knowledge was so vast that he was considered to be second in erudition only to Aristotle himself, thus earning him the title of “the second teacher.” or Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi (Persian jurist, poet and theologian, 1207–1273). Born in Balkh (present-day Afghanistan) and died in Konya (now part of Turkey); Rumi is known for his inclusive philosophy and poetry that seeks to transcend national, ethnic and religious divisions by spreading the universal message of love. Regretablly they all are considered as heretics by the mullahs and the Imams.

Political Islam of today is a product of Ghazali’s Tahufut al falsifia and conservatism of Ibn Taimiya.’ In contrast the field of ‘Islamic philosophy’ should be dominated by three figures: Kindi, an Arab; Farabi, a Turk, and Avicenna, a Persian should be restored in the ‘courts ‘of the new free and spring societies of the Iran and Arab world, the people should savor from the ‘original philosophers’ the reasons of free thought and Falasifa’ based great society that their ancestors created. Falasifa’ ptomoted by Kindi, Farabi, and Avicenna, stand in sharp contrast to religious thinkers such as Ghazali and Ibn Taimiya. The philosophers of history like Ibn Khaldun and Averroes with his Andalusian school are needed to be restored.

The Islamic world today is capable of sublime creativity, truth and reason as its own history evidences. However as always Muslims have to take charge of their destiny and pierce through the recrimination to find the key to civilization renewal. Truth, tolerance, responsibility and the primordial nature of love once again have to be the founding values of the Muslim world for a renaissance to once again come about. Al Farabi wrote Kitab al Musiqa patronising music later orthodox schools thought music as the destroyer of soul, a side of tracker of faith and disbanded it, making soul meaningless and devoured Muslim soul of its very soul. Contentment was considered wicked, one could only be joyful in heavens! The choices became too narrowed, for heavenly pleasure the worldly pleasures became empty, life came to rust, stagnation became part of the mind set. The decay once sets in takes innovation out of societies, it is the madness and rush for invention that creates societies to flourish.

Society is the name of living in totality of all facets of human life that includes erotica, music, art and culture. It is either all together that a free minds progresses within or it is devastatingly destructive intellectual black hole a society gets sucked in. Guardians of truth are always able to destroy efforts of enlightenment in name of sanctity of holy message and legislation of morality. The choices are free and clear either adapt to the heavenly bliss and wait for life after death or assume present life to new more acceptable and tolerable ways, one needs to achieve minuscule part of the heavenly deal here in this world. The day Muslims started postponing everything for `’life after death’ the progress and enlightenment escaped pass them.

The hyper-orthodox may today need to closely look at the message of Shaykh al-Akbar Mohiyoddin Ibn ‘Arabi, they consider him some what dangerous and chancy, but his message of love undoubtedly will shape the foundation of a innovative and a charitable version of thinking in the forthcoming Islamic societies. The future belongs to the great Ibn ‘Arabi and Heretics like him, they were well ahead of their times but today the time of orthodoxy is dead and in new day their message of love and hope is the only hope.

No spring will ever materialise or ‘Golden age’ is possible without free minds and no renaissance shall ever materialises without Vince’s and Bach’s, lets rediscover our Kindi’s and Ibn Arabi’s.

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