Rise and fall
Islamic apathy vs 400 years of forgotten renaissance
By Iqbal Latif, Paris
August 28, 2001
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
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
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
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,
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
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.