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Rise and fall
Islamic apathy vs 400 years of forgotten renaissance

By Iqbal Latif, Paris
August 28, 2001
The Iranian

The ink of the scholar is more precious than the blood of the martyr.
-- Prophet Mohammad

Failed Islamic revolutions in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan have bewildered the Islamic world which is going through a shock therapy at its fringes with fragmentation process and failed nation states, foremost amongst mentioned is Afghanistan, hypocritically representing a model of "successful" welfare state; implementing true Islam, where women are let to die during breached pregnancies in the absence of female doctors (which are very few), as male doctors are prohibited to perform caesarian sections on female patients.

Such aggressive portrayal of Islam has even found its negative implications in orthodox Iran, where public flogging, according to the Islamic government there, depicts a poor image of Iran globally. Is Islam about public flogging, or hand chopping, denial of basic human rights to women and all human beings, and above all, denial of inquiry into human thought processes? Certainly not. The extremist fringe has mutilated the true picture of Islam and its historical benevolence and patronage of culture and science. The Islamic revolutions, with Shiacentric and Sunnicentric governments in Tehran and Kabul, are at each other's throats accusing each other of revisionism with both proclaiming to be the standard-bearers of Islam.

The fact is that the Golden Age of Islam in the first 400 years was an era, which practiced absolutely different values, the most important being tolerance and extension of rights to inhabitants of the conquered states. That was an era of enlightenment that was led by scholars, scientists, and caliphs who brought about the revival of Islamic societies from Dark Ages to a civilization that, within a span of two hundred years, was as great, if not greater, than that of the Byzantinians and Sasanids, the two major empires in the region.

A true Islamic society would be a successful Islamic state. A state, which is unable to provide its masses with basic necessities; a state, where its citizens en masse hijack its own domestic flights to demand asylum in the West, is a state that has failed its citizens. It is ironic that in the Golden Age of Islam, it was the persecuted Jews and Christians who would seek refuge in Islamic states.

A failed state has no right to call itself an Islamic state if it has failed vis a vis its citizens. Prosperity, health and well-being, freedom of thought and expression (Ijtihad and Ijtima) and building of consensus are all denied in the so-called Islamic states. The ecclesiastically-dominated nations are out on a vendetta against mankind in the name of Islam, much like the Spanish Inquisition, devouring and deflowering the basic moral fabric and purity of Islamic thought process.

Here we make an attempt to discover the underlying reasons on how, from ashes of failed backward regions emerged a great civilization, which bestowed the world with major contributions in science, architecture and culture.

The founding legacy of the "Golden Age" was the astonishing achievement of Muslim scholars, scientists, craftsmen, and traders during the four hundred years from 750 to 1150 AD. In the present milieu of intolerance, fanatical practices and perpetual religious struggle, that era represents raison d,etre for the preeminence of Islam in the pre-renaissance of the West. Today's intolerance is based on heresy, fanatical Puritanism, and bigotry where modern knowledge is scorned like, take for example, the Internet being banned by Taliban as a serious encroachment on Islamic thought, though sharing of knowledge through the internet can only be a threat to a totalitarian system like the one supported by the fundamentalists who represent the present day graduates of "Darul Ulooms" mushrooming all over the Islamic world and engulfing moderate reason-based Islamic thinkers. These Darul Ulooms claim to represent real Islamic thought and movement. Such claim in light of historical facts is devoid of the real truth. History does not support their argument. Orthodoxy and puritanical approaches suffocated the institutions, which fundamentally shaped four hundred years of the least talked-about Islamic renaissance, known as the Golden Age of Islam. The present day Darul Ulooms are directly opposite to the Darul Hukama that was at the nucleus of the Islamic renaissance between 750-1150 AD.

The leading lights, the scientists, the philosophers, the thinkers, of the Islamic renaissance were all declared heretics by the then prevalent orthodoxy. Science, logic and philosophy were considered to be disharmonious to Islam. The fact of the matter is that preeminence of Islam, where Islam reinvigorated life in intellectually-dead Arabian Peninsula and southern Europe, was based on institutions like Darul Hukama (Bayt al-Hikmah House of Wisdom), founded by Mamun-ar-Rashid in Baghdad, which housed some of the most eminent scholars of the world belonging to different castes and creeds. At the same time, the Arab civilization of Spain under Umayyads rivaled that of the Abbasid's in the East. During the middle of the tenth century the rulers of Muslim Spain especially sponsored scientific and astronomical studies with equal zeal.

The revolution that established the Abbasids represented a triumph of the Islamic-Hejazi elements within the empire. Nevertheless, Abbasid concern with fostering eastern Islam made the new caliphs willing to borrow the methods and procedures of statecraft employed by their Iranian predecessors. At Damascus, the Umayyads had imitated Sasanid court etiquette, but at Baghdad, Persianizing influences went deeper and aroused some resentment among the Arabs, who were nostalgic for the legendary simplicity of human relations among the desert Arabs of yore. Self-conscious schools of manners grew up in the new metropolis, representing the competitive merits of the Arabs' or Persians' ancient ways. The Iranian intellect played a conspicuous part in what was still an Arab milieu. Regard for poetry -- the Arabs' vehicle of folk memory -- increased, and minds and imaginations were quickened. An amalgam known as Islamic civilization was thus being forged in Baghdad in the 8th and 9th centuries.

The present day Darul Ulooms, with their theocratic based syllabus and equally intense emphasis on "Perpetual Jihad", may need to look at the essentials of the Golden Age of Islam. The reading of story of Ishaq from that era may be good starting point for any modern day zealot, a young boy in ninth-century Baghdad. Ishaq's story is what the "House of Wisdom" was all about. More than a house, more than a library, more even than a palace, the House of Wisdom was at the very center of the new ideas that flourished in Baghdad. It was here that thousands of scholars gathered to read, to exchange ideas, and to translate the dusty manuscripts that were brought by camel and ship from all over the world. Ishaq could not understand why ancient words, words from faraway places, could cause such excitement. Ishaq embarked on a difficult journey seeking lost manuscripts. But it is what he discovers when he returns that ignites his imagination and changes him forever.

Lyrical prose and glorious illustrations capture the splendor of Baghdad when it was the center of one of the world's great civilizations. They tell the story of Ishaq's transformation from a bewildered young boy searching for understanding to a brilliant scholar, the greatest translator of Aristotle, whose work preserved Greek thought for civilizations to come. This story may help a modern day "taleb" to understand the popular dynamics that led to knowledge based renaissance that rose from Baghdad and Cordoba and led the world out of intellectual darkness.

One single factor that helped spread Islam and consolidate its roots in the newly conquered regions, where the Arabs brought Islam, was the freedom of inquiry and toleration of minorities. If Talibans of Afghanistan are a reference for the conduct of fresh graduates from present day Darul Ulooms, these two factors are sadly scorned by them.

The territory then of the Muslim Empire encompassed present-day Iran, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, North Africa, Spain, and parts of Turkey and drew to Baghdad peoples of all those lands in an unparalleled cross-fertilization of once isolated intellectual traditions. Geographical unity, however, was but one factor. Another was the development of Arabic, by the ninth century, into the language of international scholarship as well as the language of the Divine Truth. This was one of the most significant events in the history of ideas.

A third important factor was the establishment in Baghdad of a paper mill. The introduction of paper, replacing parchment and papyrus, was a pivotal advance that had effects on education and scholarship as far reaching as the invention of printing in the fifteenth century. It made it possible to put books within the reach of everyone. Unlike the Byzantinians, with their suspicion of classical science and philosophy, the Muslims were enjoined by the Prophet Mohammad to "seek learning as far as China" -- as, eventually, they did. In the eighth century, however, they had a more convenient source: the works of Greek scientists stored in libraries in Constantinople and other centers of the Byzantine Empire.

In the ninth century the Caliph al-Mamun, son of the famous Harun al-Rashid, began to tap that invaluable source. With the approval of the Byzantine emperor, he dispatched scholars to select and bring back to Baghdad Greek scientific manuscripts for translation into Arabic at Bayt al-Hikmah, "the House of Wisdom." Bayt al-Hikmah was a remarkable assemblage of scholar-translators who undertook a Herculean task: to translate into Arabic all of what had survived of the philosophical and scientific tradition of the ancient world and incorporate it into the conceptual framework of Islam.

An example of graduates of that era is one the greatest scientists in the Islamic world. He was the head librarian of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, the famous Librarian and Mathematician, Abu Jafar-Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. From part of his name, al-Khwarizmi, we got "algorism", then "algorithm". The first great advance on the inherited mathematical tradition was the introduction of "Arabic" numerals, which actually originated in India and which simplified calculation of all sorts and made possible the development of algebra. Islam required and demanded mathematics in examples such as calculating the direction of Mecca, when the fasting day of Ramadan would be, the time for prayer, and even who gets what!

The Islamic law of inheritance depended on good knowledge of mathematics, e.g. when a woman dies her husband receives one-quarter of her estate, and the rest is divided among the children such that a son receives twice as much as a daughter. However, if a legacy is left to a stranger, the division gets more complicated. The law on legacies states that a stranger cannot receive more than one-third of the estate without the permission of the natural heirs. If some of the natural heirs endorse such a legacy but others do not, those who do must between them pay, pro rata, out of their own shares, the amount by which the stranger's legacy exceeds one-third of the estate. In any case, the legacy to the stranger has to be paid before the rest is shared out among the natural heirs. Al-Khwarizmi stated and solved such a problem: A woman dies leaving a husband, a son and three daughters. She leaves (1/8 + 1/7) of her estate to a stranger. Calculate the shares. [they need to divide the estate into 1120 shares before handing out the bequests].

In the centuries following, Al-Khwarizmi and a succession of astrologers, astronomers, mathematicians will have advanced the scope of algebra including irrational coefficients and the laws of exponents. Al-Khwarizmi has solved the quadratic equation by a method today known as completing the square. The Arabs inherited from the Greeks the tradition that "god ever geometrizes" (the legend is that a sign outside of Plato's Academy read, "let no one ignorant of geometry enter here"), Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarazmi seems to have been the first to explore their use systematically, and wrote the famous Kitab al-Jabr wa-l-Muqabalah, the first book on algebra, a name derived from the second word in his title. One of the basic meanings of jabr in Arabic is "bonesetting," and Al-Khwarazmi used it as a graphic description of one of the two operations he uses for the solution of quadratic equations. It was Al-Khwarizmi who provided a number of rules for pi, for his readers to choose from, but advises ..."an approximation, not the exact truth itself: nobody can ascertain the exact truth of this and find the real circumference, except the Omniscient: for the line is not straight so that its exact length might be found. The best method here given is that you multiply the diameter by three and one-seventh [the one we use today]; for it is the easiest and quickest. Allah knows best!" Al- Khwarizmi algebraic notation was rhetorical-prose (as was the mathematical notation of the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Indians).

The scholars at Bayt al-Hikmah also contributed to geometry, a study recommended by Ibn Khaldun, the great North African historian, because "it enlightens the intelligence of the man who cultivates it and gives him the habit of thinking exactly." The men most responsible for encouraging the study of geometry were the sons of Musa ibn Shakir, al-Mamurl's court astronomer. Called Banu Musa -- "the sons of Musa" -- these three men, Muhammad, Ahmad, and al-Hasan, devoted their lives and fortunes in the quest for knowledge. They not only sponsored translations of Greek works, but also wrote a series of important original studies of their own, one bearing the impressive title: Measurement of the Sphere, Trisection of the Angle, and Determination of Two Mean Proportionals to Form a Single Division between Two Given Quantities. The Banu Musa also contributed works on celestial mechanics and the atom, helped with such practical projects as canal construction, and in addition recruited one of the greatest of the ninth-century scholars, Thabit ibn Qurrah. Librarian and mathematician Abu Jafar-Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi, as an astrologer/astronomer, he cast a horoscope for the dying caliph (predicting he would live for fifty years - he died ten days later); as a geographer (almanac is an Arab word), he produced a much better world map than Ptolemy's; as a mathematician, he is the first of note since the Silver Age of Greece.

Others prominent in Islamic medicine were Yuhanna ibn Masawayh, a specialist in gynecology and the famous Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi - known to the West as Rhazes. According to a bibliography of his writings al-Razi wrote 184 works, including a huge compendium of his experiments, observations, and diagnoses with the title al-Hawi, "The All-Encompassing." A fountainhead of medical wisdom during the Islamic era, al-Razi, according to one contemporary account, was also a fine teacher and a compassionate physician, who brought rations to the poor and provided nursing for them. He was also a man devoted to common sense, as the titles of two of his works suggest: The Reason Why Some Persons and the Common People Leave a Physician Even If He Is Clever, and A Clever Physician Does Not Have the Power to Heal All Diseases, for That is Not within the Realm of Possibility.

The poet and mathematician Omar Khayyam (c. 1100) was the author of this formula: multiply half of the root by itself; add the product to the number and from the square root of the sum subtract half the root. The remainder is the root of the square. Omar Khayyam had made a pact with two fellow students, Nizam and Hassan, that the first to make his fortune would help the other two. Nizam became a grand vizier and fulfilled his obligation to the other two. Khayyam turned down a high position in favor of mathematics, astronomy, and writing. Hassan tried to climb to the top by murdering those above him [one of whom was Nizam!!], from which evidently comes our word, "assassin". Khayyam, born in Nishapur, Persia (now Iran), spent many years at the Isfahan observatory as a sort of a chief astronomer working on calendar reform. Al-Khwarizmi had solved the quadratic equation, but Khayyam graphically solved the cubic equation x3 + ax = b2 an equation considered only very briefly (and unsuccessfully) since Archimedes' time (3rd century BC). The cubic equation will not be considered again until the Renaissance.

But Omar Khayyam is more revered for the Rubaiyat (quatrains) of Omar Khayyam, translated from Persian to English and introduced to the West in 1859 by Edward Fitzgerald. Both Persian and Turkish had adopted the script and much of the vocabulary of Arabic, the youngest of the Semitic tongues and language of the Prophet; and poetry was Persian's purest form. The Rubaiyat is both spiritual and earthy, expressing Khayyam's hedonism and cynicism.

The scholars at the House of Wisdom, unlike their modern counterparts, did not "specialize". Al-Razi, for example, was a philosopher and a mathematician as well as a physician and al-Kindi, the first Muslim philosopher to use Aristotelian logic to support Islamic dogma, also wrote on logic, philosophy, geometry, calculation, arithmetic, music, and astronomy. Among his works were such titles as: An Introduction to the Art of Music, The Reason Why Rain Rarely Falls in Certain Places, The Cause of Vertigo, and Crossbreeding the Dove.

Another major figure in the Islamic Golden Age was Al-Farabi, who wrestled with many of the same philosophical problems as Al-Kindi and wrote The Perfect City, which illustrates to what degree Islam had assimilated Greek ideas and then impressed them with its own indelible stamp. This work proposed that the ideal city be founded on moral and religious principles from which would flow the physical infrastructure. The Muslim legacy included advances in technology too. Ibn Al-Haytham, for example, wrote The Book of Optics, in which he gives a detailed treatment of the anatomy of the eye, correctly deducing that the eye receives light from the object perceived and laying the foundation for modern photography. In the tenth century he proposed a plan to dam the Nile. It was by no means theoretical speculation; many of the dams, reservoirs, and aqueducts constructed at this time throughout the Islamic world still survive.

The Abbasids and Umayyads of Baghdad and Spain between 750-1200 led states whose foundations were set on Prophet Mohammad's injunction that believed "Seek learning though it be in China." And strict implementation of Prophet's own words: "The ink of the scholar is more precious than the blood of the martyr." It is a recognized fact that the scientific and philosophical scholarship of the Greeks and Persians had been lost to the West but was introduced to European intellectual life via the Islamic world in Baghdad and Spain.

The work of Newton would have been inconceivable without Muslim mathematics and navigational instruments, such as the astrolabe, made possible the great voyages of discovery by European explorers. At its peak about one thousand years ago, the Muslim world made a remarkable contribution to science, notably mathematics and medicine. Baghdad, in its heyday, and southern Spain built universities to which thousands flocked. Rulers surrounded themselves with scientists and artists. A spirit of freedom allowed Jews, Christians, and Muslims to work side by side. The spadework done by the scholars of the House of Wisdom provided the foundation by which the stately edifice of Islamic learning was built. From time to time, as the world turns, something different happens, something mysterious and astonishing. Ideas brush against one another and sparks fly! It can happen anywhere, anytime. It happened in Baghdad a thousand years ago. Lyrical prose and glorious illustrations capture the splendor of Baghdad when it was the center of one of the world's great civilizations. Philosophical inquiry was developed out of the need for precision about the meaning of Holy Writ and for the establishment of the authenticity of the Prophet's dicta, collected as hadiths, or sayings traditionally ascribed to him, and recollected and preserved for posterity by his companions.

Muslims preserved the Greek legacy, translating everything they could find from Greek to Arabic. When Europe began to awaken in the early 2nd millennium, recognizing that all scientific works were written in Arabic, several European universities and schools, including those at Toledo, Narbonne, Naples, Bologna and Paris, taught Arabic to speed up the transmission of Muslim knowledge. One of the first Christians to see the light was a Pope, Sylvester II (Gerbert), who introduced the Islamic astronomy and mathematics. Soon these works were translated into Latin. Hisab was one of the first such, and it was used as a text in Europe until the 16th century.

Baghdad, the Fairy City of the Arabian Nights and capital of the famous Harun-ar-Rashid, the greatest emperor of his time, had the distinction of being the foremost centre of art and culture during medieval times. Renowned scholars and translators, artists and scientists flocked to this great metropolis from all parts of the world and adorned the learned assemblies of Harun and Mamun, who, besides being celebrated scholars themselves, were the greatest patrons of learning that the world has ever known. The caliphate of Mamun, undoubtedly constitutes the most glorious epoch in Islamic history and has rightly been called the "Augustan age of Islam". "The twenty years of his reign" says Ameer Ali, "have left enduring monuments of the intellectual development of the Muslim in all directions of thought. Their achievements were not restricted to any particular branch of science or literature, but ranged over the whole course of the domain of intellect; speculative philosophy and 'belles lettres' were cultivated with as much avidity as the exact sciences."

Cordoba was another Great City that rivaled Baghdad. By the tenth century, Cordoba could boast of a population of some 500,000, compared to about 38,000 in Paris. According to the chronicles of the day, the city had 700 mosques, some 60,000 palaces, and 70 libraries -- one reportedly housing 500,000 manuscripts and employing a staff of researchers, illuminators, and bookbinders. Cordoba also had some 900 public baths, Europe's first street lights and, five miles outside the city, the caliphal residence, Madinat al-Zahra. A complex of marble, stucco, ivory, and onyx, Madinat al-Zahra took forty years to build, cost close to one-third of Cordoba's revenue, and was, until destroyed in the eleventh century, one of the wonders of the age. Its restoration, begun in the early years of this century, is still under way. Before the Islamic era, Thomson in The Muslims in Andalusia wrote, "Europe was darkened at sunset, Cordova shone with public lamps; Europe was dirty, Cordova built a thousand baths; ..., Cordova changed its undergarments daily; Europe lay in mud, Cordova's streets were paved; Europe's palaces had smoke-holes in the ceiling, Cordova's arabesques were exquisite; Europe's nobility could not sign its name, Cordova's children went to school; Europe's monks could not read the baptismal service, Cordova's teachers created a library of Alexandrian dimensions."

Another leading historian Stanley Lane-Poole wrote in The Moors in Spain, "For nearly eight centuries, under the Mohammedan rule, Spain set all Europe a shining example of a civilized and enlightened state... To Cordoba belong all the beauty and ornaments that delight the eye or dazzle the sight. Her long line of Sultans form her crown of glory; her necklace is strung with the pearls which her poets have gathered from the ocean of language; her dress is of the banners of learning, well-knit together by her men of science; and the masters of every art and industry are the hem of her garments. Art, literature and science prospered as they then prospered nowhere else in Europe... Mathematics, astronomy, botany, history, philosophy and jurisprudence were to be mastered in Spain, and Spain alone. Whatever makes a kingdom great and prosperous, whatever tends to refinement and civilization, was found in Muslim Spain. With Granada fell all Spain's greatness!"

Present day clergy rarely wants to talk about this Islamic renaissance or encourage an inquiry into why Islam's Golden Age came to an end. What forces shifted both political power and learning from the Islamic Empire to Christian Europe? Like all historical trends, the explanations are complex; yet some broad outlines may be identified, both within and without Muslim lands. With the end of the Abbasids Caliphate and the beginning of the Turkish Seljuk Caliphate in 1057 CE, the centralized power of the empire began to shatter. Religious differences resulted in splinter groups, charges of heresy, and assassinations.

Aristotelian logic, adopted early on as a framework upon which to build science and philosophy, appeared to be undermining the beliefs of educated Muslims according to theologian Imam Ghazali turned the religious tide back to orthodox belief. Until that time Gustav Lebon wrote that "For five to six hundred years, general books in Arabic language and particularly on various disciplines have been almost the only source of learning and teaching in the European universities. And we can safely assert that in certain disciplines like medicine the impressions of the Arabs are still at work in Europe. The medical writings of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) have been explained about the close of the last century in Monabiliah. Roger Bacon, Leonard, Erno Al Felquni, Raymond Lot, San Thomas, and Azfonish X Qashqani have solely depended on Arabic Books."

The appeal made by theologian Imam Ghazali turned the religious tide back to orthodox belief. In a masterful philosophical argument, most clearly stated in his book, The Destruction of Philosophy, Imam al-Ghazali declared reason and its entire works to be bankrupt. Experience and the reason that grew out of it were not to be trusted; they could say nothing meaningful about the reality of Allah. Only direct intuition of God led to worthwhile knowledge. In a direct rebuke to Al-Razi, who was a philosopher and a mathematician as well as a physician, and al-Kindi, the first Muslim philosopher to use Aristotelian logic to support Islamic dogma, and leading Islamic Golden Age philosopher, Al-Farabi, who wrestled with many of the same philosophical problems as al-Kindi and wrote The Perfect City, Imam Ghazali declared that "Philosophy was a snare, leading the unwary to the pits of Hell". By the time of his death in 1111, free scientific investigation and philosophical and religious toleration were phenomena of the past. The schools in Baghdad limited their teaching to theology. Scientific progress came to a halt. Al Razi, Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, ibn al-Haytham and Abu Jafar-Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi since that edict were never again to regain familiarity to the Muslim masses. The clergy on one hand banned reason and thinking that, on the other, the destruction in 1256 of Baghdad wrought by the Mongol hordes served a deathblow to all cultural and intellectual movements in the world of Islam. The cultural treasures amassed during centuries of intellectual pursuits were reduced to ashes. Nearly during the same period, the European Crusades (1097-1291) assailed Islam militarily. Cordoba fell to Spanish Christians in 1236. When the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1256 the Islamic Empire never recovered.

Politically and economically, the Mongol invasions were disastrous. Some regions never fully recovered and the Muslim empire, already weakened by internal pressures, never fully regained its previous power. The Mongol invasions, in fact, were a major cause of the subsequent decline that set in throughout the heartland of the Arab East. In their sweep through the Islamic world, the Mongols killed or deported numerous scholars and scientists and destroyed libraries with their irreplaceable works. The result was to wipe out much of the priceless cultural, scientific, and technological legacy that Muslim scholars had been preserving and enlarging for some five hundred years. Trade routes became unsafe. Urban life broke down. Individual communities drew in upon themselves in feudal isolation. Science and philosophy survived for a while in scattered pockets, but the Golden Age of Islamic culture was at an end. It is not co-incidental that as free scientific investigation and philosophical and religious toleration was condemned, it became phenomena of the past. And Schools limited their teaching to theology and external threats heightened. Scientific progress came to a screeching halt; since publication of 'The Destruction of Philosophy' it was only within 150 years that as a result of the European Crusades (1097-1291) Cordoba fell to Spanish Christians in 1236 and Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1256.

Islam rich inheritance includes the memories of the 'House of Wisdom' in Baghdad in early part of history where persecuted scholars from Christian and Jewish world found refuge. In fact, the years between 900 and 1200 in Spain and Baghdad are known as the Hebrew Golden Age, a sort of Jewish Renaissance that arose from the fusion of the Arab and Jewish intellectual worlds. Jews watched their Arab counterparts closely and learned to be astronomers, philosophers, scientists, and poets. But this was a time of only partial autonomy. Jews were free to live in the Islamic world as long as they paid a special tax to Muslim rulers. Jews had their own legal system and social services.

It was Baghdad's House of Wisdom that gave the Western world the thinking of Aristotle and Plato; Islamic scholars translated their work from Greek to Arabic and the West got to see those works after they were translated from Arabic to Latin. Cordoba was the seat of learning in the times when west did not know what renaissance was. Islamic renaissance started well 400 years ahead of Western renaissance, it was a tragedy of the greatest magnitude that Islamic renaissance lost its steam once clergy branded most of the Muslim scholars as heretics. Zeal to kill is license to destruct and God never forgives those who take life of innocents in the name of the Most Merciful and His Prophets. The Muslims were at the receiving side of terror after the fall of Spain and Baghdad. Dozy in The Moslems in Spain, wrote "Cruel and fanatical, the Leonese rarely gave quarter; when they captured a town they usually put all the inhabitants to the sword. Tolerance such as that accorded by the Muslims to the Christians could not be expected of them."

And so vanquished forever from the Spanish territory this brave, intelligent and enlightened people, who with their resolution and labour inspired life into the land, which the vain pride of the Goths condemned to sterility, and endowed it with prosperity and abundance and with innumerable canals, this people whose admirable courage was likewise, in happiness and adversity, a strong rampart to the throne of the Caliphs, whose genius, progress and study raised in its cities an internal edifice of light which sent its rays into Europe and inspired it with the passion of study, and whose magnanimous spirit tinted all its acts with an unrivalled colour of grandeur and nobility, and endowed it in the eyes of posterity with a sort of extraordinary greatness and charming colour of heroism which invokes the magical ages of Homer and which presents them to us in the garb of Greek half-gods.

It is only after clear understanding of Islam's golden era and study of the life of its leading lights that a taleb, today would appreciate the scholarly research more than the perpetual Klashnikov-based sectarian struggle against its own brethren. An examination of rise and fall of the Golden Age of Islam highlights that the era ended when free scientific investigation and philosophical and religious toleration were considered heretic. When schools then, like our Darul Ulooms of today, limited their teaching to theology and shunned scientific progress and reason that the age came to a grinding halt. The decline started as external force expedited the process.

Terror and bloodshed in the name of Islam is the complete antithesis of Islam. Human life has been attached the greatest of importance in the Holy Quran; to take it away in the name of protecting the ideology and practices of the Prophet is making a contempt of Islamic thought and principles. We were the standard-bearers of a civilization, not the destructor, as Sideo wrote, "During the middle ages, the Arabs alone were the standard-bearers of a civilization. When the Arabs gained expertise in Astronomy, they paid special attention to Mathematical sciences and gained a high degree of excellence and they were really our teachers in this field. When we take stock of all that got transferred from Arabic to Latin, we find that a great doorway was made in the name of Gerbert Sylvester II, through which during the period between 970-980 AD, all those sciences he had acquired in Andalusia had entered Europe. Our searching gaze rests on the Malikite Law, since we have had contacts with Africa, and France had ordered its competent learned men to translate into French the short compendium on Fiqh (jurisprudence) compiled by Ishaq bin Yaqub (d. 1242 AD, his book titled "Kitab-e-Khalil"). For full six hundred years his (Ibn Sina, Avicenna) works held sway over the educational institutions of Europe. His book Al-Qanun (Canon) was translated in five volumes and had repeated reprints, since the instruction in the universities of France and Italy totally depended on it."

Islam is not and was not a perpetrator of annihilation. After the Spanish takeover of Andalusia, the entire Islamic society existing then was subjected to perpetual holocaust for decades to uproot their practices and customs. As mentioned by H. Kamen, in his work, The Spanish Inquisition, "As a result of his (Cardinal Ximenes' coercive) endeavours, it is reported that on l8th December 1499 about three thousand Moors were baptized by him and a leading mosque in Granada was converted into a church. 'Converts' were encouraged to surrender their Islamic books, several thousands of which were destroyed by Ximenes in a public bonfire. A few rare books on medicine were kept aside for the University of Alcala... (Ximenes) claimed... the Moors had forfeited all their rights under the terms of capitulation (of Granada). They should therefore be given the choice between baptism and expulsion... At Andarax the principal mosque, in which the women and children had taken refuge, was blown up with gun-powder...all books in Arabic, especially the Qur'an, were collected to be burnt... Cardinal Ximenes was reported during his conversion campaign among the Granada Moors in 1500 to have burnt in the public square of Vivarrambla over 1,005,000 volumes including unique works of Moorish culture."

The war of ideas where Islamic clergy, for its own limited interests, has tried to introduce elements of bigotry and fanaticism in mainstream Islamic thought is not new to Muslim societies. It has made them weak and backward and if it continues in its most dangerous form, such a schism will fragment the country whose only reason to exist as a nation is theological unity of belief. Today, our Darul-Ulooms are a breeding ground for sectarian terminators. Unless our Darul-Ulooms become and are redesigned on the pattern of House of Wisdom, of Baghdad and, instead of producing human terminators, we produce men of letters who may recognize how to respect life, our prospect as a nation is bleak.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Ike Latif


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