Skip to comments.Where Thought Flowered (The West Owes a Great Debt to the Intellectual Scholarship of Arabs)
Posted on 04/13/2009 8:59:52 AM PDT by nickcarraway
The House of Wisdom
By Jonathan Lyons
Bloomsbury / 272 pages / $26
Dust will never gather on Jonathan Lyons' lively new book of medieval history - the opening page of his The House of Wisdom cites a cleric scandalized by the Crusader ladies of Antioch and their penchant for the plunging neckline and the bejeweled merkin. If this is the Middle Ages, thinks the reader, bring it on! But this pleasure gradually gives way to another beguilement, to be found in Lyons' subtitle: "How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization." That phrase suggests a brave viewpoint for a historian nowadays, one at odds with the us-vs.-them mentality copied from the Cold War and pasted on to any consideration of things Islamic.
Whether it's the ecstatic Lt. Gen. William Boykin claiming his Christian God is "bigger" than the Muslim God, or the late Harvard professor Samuel Huntington peddling, like some harebrained imam, an inevitable "clash of civilizations," the twain of East and West has seldom seemed less likely to meet than in the past few years.
For Lyons, a former Reuters reporter who roved the Middle East for two decades, the task is much greater than reminding the general reader of the splendors of Umayyad Cordoba. He is out to reverse a long-standing prejudice regarding the stupendous flowering of scholarship in medieval Islam.
Even when that flowering is recognized - but does anyone really remember learning about it in school? - it is usually brushed off as an unfortunate hiccup in the transmission of classical Greek thought to the Renaissance. In this view, the translators and scholars of Baghdad,Cairo andToledo were mere copyists or, at best, librarians, unwittingly preserving the genius of antiquity's philosophy and science in their dimly lit mosques - until the West recovered its brilliance.
(Excerpt) Read more at baltimoresun.com ...
And the Arabs’ intellectual prowess since Islam?
In the immortal words of Janet Jackson: “What have you done for me lately?”
As I understand it, the “intellectual scholarship” of Islam was merely permitting the intellectuals of the subjugated nations to continue to practice their professions. It had nothing to do with anything Islam brought to the equation. Much like “Islamic architecture” and “Islamic engineering” and “Islamic art” were merely coopted from the conquered peoples.
Hey, muslims have given us great advances in propaganda and the use of human shields.
They can make evil look good and good look evil.
That’s hard stuff.
Much of the perceived Arab scholarship was the dying light of Roman, Greek and Persian culture. Once the last vestiges of those civilizations died, middle eastern culture stagnated.
All very well, but that was then, and this is now. And now they are barbarians at best, savages at worst.
The denigration of the superior scholar Samuel Huntington is reprehensible. Anyone who has not read The Clash of Civilizations really is missing a major historical landmark.
I asked one of the staff what happened to send Persian Art and Culture into a nosedive about that time and why there was so little after that time. She was evasive as any good government bureaucrat but finally admitted that time was a time of great warfare. I knew not to ask what brought on that warfare because I knew it was a time of forced conversion to Islam and replacement of the tolerant Zorastian religion with a religion of intolerance and political oppression.
The flourishing of Persian culture after that time coincided with periods when secularization forced relaxation of the iron grip of Islam, the most recent example being from the early 1930's until 1979.
But Islam contributed little on its own. And it turned a blind eye to outside influences centuries ago. The Silk Road ended, and European sailors began sailing around Africa to trade with the East, because the Arabs were inhospitable. Coincidentally (or not!) Arab civilization stopped shining so brightly. After perhaps 1500, the Arabs stayed the way the were, as Europe continued to progress.
I believe one could make a strong case that Arabs did little on their own, but made some good use of the work of others. When the Arabs stopped dealing with outsiders, and were left to their own devices, their progress came to a grinding halt.
Doersn't speak well of them, IMO.
You are absolutely correct, and the reporter of this piece from the Baltimore Sun is as ignorant of history as that lady who was head of HP before being fired, who gave a major speech about this very same subject. Why don’t the Christians of the United States know about the evil and the destructive power of Islam, instead of hearing it praised for the actual achievements of those whom it had enslaved?
There was a little more to it than that: because the Muslims conquered both provinces of the (Eastern) Roman Empire where classical Greek and Roman learning was preserved, and India, intellectuals in the Caliphate(s) could combine the fruits of those intellectual traditions.
There was a resulting brief attempt at a birth of empirical science in Muslim lands during the Middle Ages, but it was cut short.
Many of the vaunted Arab intellectuals were Christians, some were Muslims, but the latter ceased to provide any scientific contributions of any note when the occasionalist epistemology and ontology of Al Ghazali won out over the Aristotelian views of Avicennia and Averroes: If Allah is an arbitrary tyrant, and all things, even each instance of water boiling or ice freezing, happen by the direct will of Allah, then there is no basis for empirical science. And that, was the view of Al Ghazali, which is now the dominant view in all of Muslim thought.
Didn’t the mooselimbs give us Zero?
And you can take that either way you want.
I saw Persian reliefs at the British Museum that were the
equal of Greek and Roman ones.However,I agree with the posts
about the Arab Muslims co-opting other groups works.
As in... Since the 7th century or so.
never mind the Libary of Alexandria or how it came to be destroyed...
In his GREAT book “What Went Wrong?” by Bernard Lewis, he points out that a time frame from thirteenth to the 17th century sometime (I don’t remember exactly where) only one book was translated from the western world into Arabic.
It was a book on venereal diseases, and because that was considered to be a “Frankish” disease, it was acceptable for a muslim physician to own and use a Frankish book, or at least to translate it.
During that same time, tens of thousands of books were being tranlated from a multitude of languages into other languages, but only one was translated into Arabic.
I recall it was a period of more than 100 years with only one book translated from ANY language into Arabic.
That is what went wrong with Islam. They never thought infidels had anything constructive or worthwhile to offer, not much different from today.
Even more telling, when a european ship was beached after the crushing defeat of the Muslims at Lepanto in the 16th century, there was a debate amongst the muslims who were undecided on whether they could steal any features from the beached European ship and implement those changes into their own ships. Because it was an infidel contraption, they had to have a religious ruling on it.
THAT is why Islam is where it is today.
The heavy media saturation (and “art world conversion”) regarding the greatness of Islam came after the 9-11 attacks. It sickens me.
I don’t need institutional condemnation of all muslims but I don’t need to see lockstep celebration of a religion that converts by the sword and enslaved generations.
I looked at it once and it seemed to me that whatever great things came from the conquered nations ended after about 40 to a hundred years of Islamic rule.
Fr. Stanley Jaki has an interesting book called “Savior of Science” that talks about why science hit dead ends in most cultures, including Islam. Islam failed to put together many realizations received from other cultures and advance them to the next level. The Christian West flowered soon after it got access to much of that material putting ideas together that never occurred to Islamics or to the cultures to absorbed.
Islam failed to add much to the accumulated knowledge because their concept of Allah was not bound by internal consistency. Since Allah’s will was subject to change at anytime, so was the reality of the world and there was no philosophical foundation on which to build a systematic study of creation. Christianity had the foundation of an ex nihlo creation and an unchanging and loving God whose will was absolute but firm that allowed Western science to quickly outpace the rest of the world.