Thursday, 16 April 2009

Debuking the mith about Islam contribution to European Civilisation.

An introduction to the “Islamic Science” issue..

European science merged the
Greek traditions with Roman practicality, and added a layer of something that was new and unique to Europe: the idea that coherent laws as ordained by God lay behind the observed manifestations of natural phenomena. Christian doctrine asserted that God’s laws were consistent and could be discerned by observation. The men who laid the foundations of modern science began their investigations under the assumption that they were uncovering the laws of God through the power of human reason.

Even in military technology — which the Arabs had an interest in mastering —
Europe forged ahead. The Chinese invented gunpowder, but it was the ingenuity of Europeans that turned the explosive substance into the deadliest of weapons. The different political entities of Europe competed with each other to find the most effective ways of destroying city walls, or blowing up advancing infantry, or penetrating the most well-crafted armor, In “This text is written in response to
God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215  the author David Levering Lewis, an American historian and two-time winner of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize mentions that there was continuous "out-migration to the Christian kingdoms" from al-Andalus. Why did they move to Christian lands, whose economy was "little better than late Neolithic," if life was so sweet in al-Andalus?

The West ended up with the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and the Scientific Revolution and the Islamic world got chronic underdevelopment, a pervasive religious obscurantism, Al Qaeda and the trust fund states of the Arabian peninsula?

"Another person who wanted Islam to win and wipe out Christianity was Adolf Hitler. Those who want a second opinion can start with reading the online essay
Andalusian Myth, Eurabian Reality by Bat Ye'or and Andrew G. Bostom: "There were rarely periods of peace in the Amirate of Cordova (756-912), nor later. Al-Andalus represented the land of jihad par excellence. Every year, sometimes twice a year, raiding expeditions were sent to ravage the Christian Spanish kingdoms to the north, the Basque regions, or France and the Rhone valley, bringing back booty and slaves. Andalusian corsairs attacked and invaded along the Sicilian and Italian coasts, even as far as the Aegean Islands, looting and burning as they went. Thousands of people were deported to slavery in Andalusia, where the caliph kept a militia of tens of thousand of Christian slaves brought from all parts of Christian Europe (the Saqaliba), and a harem filled with captured Christian women."

The Portuguese had been liberated in 1249 under King Afonso III.

The concept "
Holy War" was originally alien to Chris and was imported to Europe only after Europeans had been confronted with centuries of Islamic Jihad.

Bernard Lewis himself writes that people during this "golden age of tolerance" were executed for criticizing Islam. Isn't that a bit disturbing, given that al-Andalus is now supposed to serve as the blueprint for our coexistence with Islam, according to our authorities and much of our media?

The problem is that Islam gets too little criticism, not too much.

The French writer Remi Brague explains this in his interesting book
Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization:: "It is now fashionable to hurl at European culture the adjective 'eurocentric.' China saw itself as the 'Middle Kingdom.' Europe
never did. 'Eurocentrism' is a misnomer. Worse: it is the contrary of the truth." Europe, on the other hand, represents the perhaps unique case of self-reflection brought about through its relation to peoples whose land it had just conquered.

One such example is the Spanish
Dominican priest Bartolomé de las Casas, who in the sixteenth century chastised his countrymen for abuses against natives in the Americas. The Aztec religion was evil, and whatever else the Spanish have been guilty of in their former colonies, stamping out the Aztec religion should definitely count among their good deeds. In the process of converting the Aztecs (Mexica), the missionary Bernardino de Sahagún nevertheless took great care to record the language and customs of the people he was working with. In India, the discovery of the
Indo-European language family, the world's largest in terms of speakers today, was made by Sir William Jones, a gifted British classical scholar who had mastered French, Italian and some Hebrew and Arabic at an early age. According to Ibn Warraq in Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism, Jones is said to have known 13 languages well, and 28 fairly well, at the time of his death. In 1786 he elaborated a theory of the common origins of most European languages and those of Iran and northern India.

According to Nicholas Ostler in
Empires of the Word, the Mughal rulers in India, largely of Turkish origins but influenced by Persian culture, had never made the same connection: "The new Muslim masters, despite their independent knowledge of Arabic, Persian and Turkish, did not distinguish themselves for their linguistic scholarship."

Edward Said has accused Westerners of creating negative myths about others, but
some of the most stubborn myths are directed against our own ancestors, not against "the Other." As Edward Grant puts it in
Science and Religion, 400 B.C. to A.D. 1550: From Aristotle to Copernicus:: "Perhaps the most powerful illustration of bias against the Middle Ages concerns Christopher Columbus' voyage of discovery to the New World in 1492.

Many came to believe that the most significant achievement of
Columbus' voyage was the discovery that the earth is not flat – as was universally believed in the Middle Ages – but round. This is utterly false. No educated person in the Middle Ages believed in a flat earth (Russel 1991). They all knew it was round. Their authority was Aristotle. In his major cosmological treatise, On the Heavens, Aristotle emphatically declared the earth a sphere and even presented an estimate of its circumference. Aristotle even reported an estimate by mathematicians of the earth's circumference (400,000 stades = about 45,000 miles, roughly 1.8x the modern value).

David Levering Lewis in
God's Crucible mocks the state of learning in medieval Europe, yet largely ignores the Byzantine Empire. According to Lewis, while the libraries of Cordoba contained many thousands of manuscripts, "The great Benedictine abbey of St. Gall in CH numbered a mere six hundred books, all of them in vellum (calfskin) or parchment (sheepskin).

availability of paper in the Arab empire greatly enhanced the diffusion of knowledge and made large library holdings possible. Paper – made from bark, linen, and hemp rather than the papyrus of pressed reeds of the Egyptians – would have an impact on Muslims similar to that of the printing press on Europeans seven hundred years later." There is some truth in this. Europe after Rome: A New Cultural History 500-1000 by Julia Smith is a much better book on the Early Middle Ages in Europe. As Smith says: "Books required expert scribes and an abundant supply of high-quality animal skins for the parchment. Consider two of the most famous works from 8th century Northumbria: Bede's Ecclesiastical History, available today as a paperback of 290 pages, required the skins of about 30 animals for a 1 copy, while the magnificent, exceptionally large Lindisfarne Gospels was made from the skins of over 150 calves. Hildemar of Corbie (d. c.850) intimated that his monastery could sell a book made from 30 skins for 60 denarii (silver pennies), a sum approximately equivalent to the value of 4 fleecy sheep or 15 piglets: Corbie's own library possessed over 300 titles, most of them recently copied.

Stocking a library of this size was extremely expensive."
Before paper, the principal alternative to animal skins was Egyptian papyrus. As J. M. Roberts states in The New Penguin History of the World: "From pre-dynastic times it was used for historical record and as early as the 1st Dynasty the invention of papyrus – strips of reed-pith, laid criss-cross and pounded together into a homogeneous sheet – provided a convenient medium for its multiplication.

This invention had much greater importance for the world than hieroglyph; cheaper than skin (from which parchment was made) and more convenient (though more perishable) than clay tablets or slates of stone, it was the most general basis of correspondence and record in the Near East until well into the Christian era, when the invention of paper reached the Mediterranean world from the Far East (and even paper took its name from papyrus). Soon after the appearance of papyrus, writers began to paste sheets of it together into a long roll; thus the Egyptians invented the book, as well as the material on which it could first be written and a script which is an ancestor of our own.

It may be our greatest debt to the Egyptians, for a huge proportion of what we know of antiquity comes to us directly or indirectly via papyrus." Papyrus grows only in warmer climates and there was a limit to how much papyrus you could actually produce. The establishment of the Library of Alexandria required large amounts of it. When another library was established in
Pergamon in the 2nd century BC, parchment was perfected as an alternative and was named after that city. This was by no means the first time that animal skins had been used as writing materials, but their importance was enhanced. There are several types of parchment, for instance vellum, made from calf skin (or goat skin). Because parchment was expensive it was sometimes reused. The only surviving copies of 2 works of the Greek mathematician
Archimedes, who lived in the 3rd century BC, were copied from papyrus rolls onto parchment and copied again by generation of scribes, until a Byzantine priest in the 13th century reused the parchment for a prayer book, which was discovered in a Greek Orthodox monastery in 1906 by Johan Ludwig Heiberg. The reconstruction of the original text has revealed that Archimedes was working with understandings of the concept of "infinity" which would not be rivalled until Englishman Newton and German mathematician Leibniz invented calculus 2000 years alter. The fascinating story can be read in The Archimedes Codex. 

The invention of paper is one of
China's greatest gifts to mankind. The knowledge of paper-making spread west via the M.E., North-Africa and finally Spain after having been acquired by Muslims during a Jihad against Chinese troops in AD 751. Although it is probably historically accurate to say that Muslims helped spread the use of paper in both Europe and India, it is highly doubtful whether this makes up for the lasting destruction they brought to the lands they conquered. It is also likely that this Chinese invention would eventually have been adopted anyway, and it should be mentioned that Islamic countries stubbornly resisted the adoption of printing for more than 1000 years after it was first invented in China, despite the fact that Persians, Arabs and other Muslims were in regular contact with East Asia through trade and must have been familiar with the invention.

Huff suggests that the library resources of the M.E. were initially clearly superior not only to Europe but even to those of
China, where there was less emphasis on libraries even though the Chinese, unlike the Europeans at this time, had the tools to make them. He also believes that there was in Islamic civilization "a strong distrust of the common man, and efforts were made after the golden age to prevent his gaining access to printed material." David Levering Lewis picks every opportunity he can to dismiss medieval Europeans as backward fanatics and primitive simpletons, but he does have a couple of admissions of positive qualities in their culture.

He mentions that the Catholic Church
banned polygamy and imposed restrictions on divorce in order to establish monogamy as the norm: "The difference in the position of women was indeed one of the most striking contrasts between Christianity and Muslim practice, and is mentioned by almost all travelers in both directions. Christians, of all churches and denominations, prohibits polygamy and concubinage. Islam, like most other non-Christian communities, permits both

....Muslim visitors to Europe speak with astonishment, often with horror, of the immodesty and frowardness of Western women, of the incredible freedom and absurd deference accorded to them, and of the lack of manly jealousy of European males confronted with the immorality and promiscuity in which their womenfolk indulge."

David Levering Lewis expands on this with regards to another subject: "
Chess, a favorite pastime of Harun al-Rashid, would be taken up by Andalusians in the 820s. Precisely when chess underwent its startling revolution on the Iberian peninsula is uncertain – when, that is, the 'queen' would displace the 'vizir' as the most powerful piece in the game, empowered to move unrestricted in all directions. In any case, the fact that the chess game played among Andalusi Arabs would keep to the old rules along with the traditional pieces, while Christians and Jews accepted the 'queen,' raises enough thoughts about the politics of gender in early Islam and Christianity to fill many books." The
history of chess is still debated, but it is commonly held that the first version of the game was invented in India. It spread to Persia before the Islamic conquests, and was carried to East Asia and from the M.E. and the Byzantine Empire to Europe. It was called chaturanga in Sanskrit, which changed to chatrang and shatranj in the M.E., while many European languages adopted some version of the Persian word for king, Shah. Chess went through a numberr of mutations as it spread. During the Middle Ages in Europe, the names and moves of the pieces changed considerably, until the game was more or less settled by the end of the 15th century. The queen became the piece with the greatest freedom of movement. This was definitely not a feature of the form of chess played by Muslims, who would never allow an unveiled female character to move around freely between male characters. The chess queen looked like some kind of harlot to them, no doubt. Although an Indian game originally, it is Western chess, as it came to be known, that is played in international tournaments.

As Paul Fregosi says in
Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuries:: "Western colonization of nearby Muslim lands lasted 130y, from 1830s-1960s. Muslim colonization of nearby European lands lasted 1300 years, from 600s-mid-1960s. Yet, strangely, it is the Muslims…who are the most bitter about colonialism and the humiliations to which they have been subjected; and it is the Europeans who harbor the shame and the guilt. It should be the other way around." The Age of Exploration during the 15th and 16th centuries was undertaken in order to get away from Muslims and re-establish contact with the civilizations of Asia without hostile middlemen. The favorable geographical position of the M.E. is demonstrated by the early access to Chinese paper and the Indian numeral system. Europeans thus outperformed Muslims despite having a significantly weaker starting point



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