In his latest essay, Fjordman examines what Barack Obama called "civilization's debt to Islam."
US President Barack Hussein Obama’s speech delivered at
“As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like
Is there even a single truthful statement in this entire paragraph? Perhaps Muslims had some decent calligraphy, and a few of their scholars made contributions to algebra, but apart from that it's almost total nonsense. The magnetic compass was invented by the Chinese, and possibly by Europeans independently. Printing of books, too, was invented by the Chinese, and was stubbornly and persistently rejected by Muslims for a thousand years or more due to Islamic religious resistance. They liked the Chinese invention of gunpowder a lot more.
No direct link has ever been proven between Gutenberg’s printing press and printing in East Asia, although it is conceivable that the basic idea of printing had been imported to Europe. In contrast, we know with 100% certainty that Muslims were familiar with East Asian printing but aggressively rejected it. Scholar Thomas Allsen in his book Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia has described how the authorities in
“Certainly the Muslim world exhibited an active and sustained opposition to movable type technologies emanating from
It is likely that due to trade, Middle Easterners were familiar with printing centuries before this incident, yet because of Islamic religious resistance they did not adopt this great invention until a thousand years or more after it had been invented in
As for music, Greek theory on the subject evolved from Pythagoras before 500 BC. The Church was the dominant institution in post-Roman
Historian Bernard Lewis writes in The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years:
“Since Muslim worship, with the limited exception of some dervish orders, makes no use of music, musicians in the Islamic lands lacked the immense advantage enjoyed by Christian musicians through the patronage of the Church and of its high dignitaries. The patronage of the court and of the great houses, though no doubt useful, was intermittent and episodic, and dangerously subject to the whims of the mighty. Muslim musicians devised no standard system of notation, and their compositions are therefore known only by the fallible and variable medium of memory. There is no preserved corpus of classical Islamic music comparable with that of the European musical tradition. All that remains is a quite extensive theoretical literature on music, some descriptions and portrayals of musicians and musical occasions by writers and artists, a number of old instruments in various stages of preservation, and of course the living memory of long-past performances.”
There are those who are critical of Mr. Lewis as a scholar and consequently believe that he shouldn’t be quoted as an authority. You should always maintain a healthy criticism of any writer, but I know from other sources that the above mentioned quotes are largely correct.
Many forms of music are banned in Islam. The Reliance of the Traveller by Ahmad Ibn Lulu Ibn Al-Naqib and Noah Ha Mim Keller has been formally approved by al-Azhar in
While I certainly do disagree with Mr. Lewis sometimes, in my experience he occasionally errs by being too positive when writing about Islamic culture, not too negative. If you believe Lewis, “The earliest specifically anti-Semitic statements in the
I wouldn't say that absolutely no scholarly achievements were made in the medieval Islamic world, only that they are greatly exaggerated for political reasons today. Let us divide scholars into three categories: Category 1 consists of those who make minor contributions, Category 2 medium-level ones. Category 3 consists of scholars who make major, fundamental contributions to an important branch of science or found an entirely new scholarly discipline. Examples of the latter would include Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Nicolaus Copernicus, Aristotle, René Descartes or Galileo Galilei. Not a single scholar of this stature has ever been produced in the Islamic world even at the best of times. Finding some medieval Muslim scholars who made minor contributions to mathematics or alchemy is not very difficult, and I can probably name half a dozen to a dozen individuals who might qualify under category 2.
The highest-ranking contribution of any Muslim scholar in my view came from Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham) in optics. The mathematician Muhammad al-Khwarizmi did not “invent” algebra; the ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Indians, Chinese and others had early forms of algebra; the most important pre-modern scholar was arguably Diophantus of Alexandria in the third century AD, and modern algebra was created in
Geber (Jabir ibn Hayyan) did good work in alchemy for his time and may have been the first person to create some acids, but he falls far short of Antoine Lavoisier and those who developed modern chemistry in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Europe. The Persian Omar Khayyam was a creative mathematician, and fellow Persians Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and well as Rhazes (al-Razi) were capable physicians for their time, but Khayyam was at best a highly unorthodox Muslim and al-Razi didn't believe a single word of the Islamic religion. Whatever contributions they made were more in spite of than because of Islam. Moreover, while I do consider al-Razi to have been a competent physician, the greatest revolution in the world history of medicine was the germ theory of disease, championed by the Frenchman Louis Pasteur and the German Robert Koch in late nineteenth century Europe. They were aided in this by the microscope, which was an exclusively European invention.
It is true that some texts were reintroduced to Europe via Arabic translations, at least initially before they were supplemented by translations directly from Byzantine Greek originals, and that these have left traces in certain words. For instance, quite a few stars in modern European languages have Arabic names or Arabized versions of older Greek names. However, it is important to remember that astronomy in the Islamic world, with certain exceptions due to influences from India, was based on a Ptolemaic Greek theoretical framework, just as it was in Europe. After the translation movement, it is striking to notice how fast Europeans surpassed whatever scholarly achievements had been made in the
The best Muslim scholars could be capable observational astronomers, above all Ulugh Beg. A few of them made some adjustments to Ptolemaic astronomical theory, among them Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and Ibn al-Shatir, but none of them ever made a huge conceptual breakthrough comparable to that provided by Copernicus in 1543 when he put the Sun, not the Earth, at the center of our Solar System. With the work of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler afterward, Ptolemaic astronomy was in reality outdated in
“In the Indian subcontinent, Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98) was at the forefront of intellectual reform in
Among the major regions on the planet, the two with the most similar medieval starting point were the Middle East and
Muslims had access to Greek optical theory, which is why Alhazen could achieve what he did. It is puzzling that his Book of Optics, possibly the greatest original scientific work ever written in the Arabic language, was largely ignored in the Arabic-speaking world, yet was studied with interest in
Even though al-Azhar was a center of education in the Islamic world, it was a center of religious learning and sharia law, not secular learning and science. In contrast, Greek natural philosophy and secular learning was taught at medieval European universities in addition to religious subjects, which is why optics was studied by scholars at European universities. The excellent historian of science Edward Grant explains this in his book Science and Religion.
While university-educated people were a miniscule fraction of the total European population, their cumulative influence should not be underestimated. A striking number of the leading scholars in early modern Europe, from Copernicus to Galileo and
I have encountered few if any institutions outside of
“The four years I spent [at al-Azhar] seemed to me like forty, so utterly drawn out they were....It was life of unrelieved repetition, with never a new thing, from the time the study began until it was over. After the dawn prayer came the study of Tawhid, the doctrine of [Allah's] unity; then fiqh, or jurisprudence, after sunrise; then the study of Arabic grammar during the forenoon, following a dull meal; then more grammar in the wake of the prayer. After this came a grudging bit of leisure and then, again, another snatch of wearisome food until, the evening prayer performed, I proceeded to the logic class which some shaikh or other conducted. Throughout these studies it was all merely a case of hearing re-iterated words and traditional talk which aroused no chord in my heart, nor taste in my appetite. There was no food for one's intelligence, no new knowledge adding to one's store.”
Taha Husayn was the kind of intellectual who found absolutely no room for free inquiry at this leading Islamic madrasa. He enrolled at the secular
The Greek texts that were translated into Arabic were usually copied from manuscripts by Greek-speaking Byzantine Christians. As Timothy Gregory writes in A History of Byzantium, “It is often pointed out that the Arabs made use of the writings and ideas of the ancient Greek philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists, and they played a significant role in the transmission of that knowledge to the medieval West (in the twelfth century). What is not always recognized is that to the Arabs these works were 'Byzantine,' and they borrowed the books from Byzantine libraries, where the manuscripts had been preserved and copied, and translated them into Arabic as an important foundation for their own science and culture.”
Muslims rejected most of the Roman heritage and many aspects of the Greek one, from wine, sculpture and pictorial arts to theater; the only aspect of Greco-Roman civilization that was more compatible with Islam than with Christian culture was slavery. I have explained why in my essay Why Christians Accepted Greek Natural Philosophy, But Muslims Did Not.
In medicine, there is the phenomenon of “transplant rejection,” which happens when an organ is transplanted into another body and that body's immune system rejects it as an alien intrusion. This is a useful analogy to keep in mind when assessing how Muslims and Christians treated Greek natural philosophy during the Middle Ages. Muslims did engage the Greek heritage, but only parts of it, and eventually even this limited acceptance was rejected by theologians such as al-Ghazali. The immune system of Islamic culture considered Greek philosophical ideas to constitute an alien intrusion into its body, fought them and ultimately rejected them. In contrast, for Christian culture, the Greek philosophical heritage did not constitute something alien. Christians did not accept all parts of the Greek heritage as valid for them, but most of them didn’t consider Greek logic, modes of thinking and philosophical vocabulary per se to be something alien and hostile. We could say that Christianity was a Jewish child, baptized in water steeped in a Greek philosophical vocabulary and raised in a Greco-Roman environment. This new synthesis was personified by
French writer Rémi Brague believes that Muslims in particular usually lacked the European instinct for self-criticism and appreciation of “the Other.” They, or rather non-Muslims under their rule, did translate scientific works from Greek and a few other languages into Arabic, but they usually didn't bother to preserve the originals. This made “renaissances,” the act of going back to the sources to reinterpret them, impossible in the Islamic world. It also made it impossible for anything resembling the linguistic scholars of modern
European scholars not only translated texts from Greek, and later from Persian and Sanskrit; they proceeded to explore and explain how these languages came into existence in the first place, which was far beyond what any Muslim scholar had even contemplated doing. Greek shares a common history with Persian and Sanskrit: They are all Indo-European languages, as are Germanic languages such as English. The Indo-European family is the largest and most influential language family in human history, and it all traces back to a single, hypothetical Proto-Indo-European language which must have existed thousands of years ago.
Between 1600-1200 BC you could find horse-drawn chariots in use throughout Eurasia, from the border regions of Shang Dynasty
It is likely that a very early form of PIE existed before 4000 BC and a very late form slightly after 3000 BC. Before 3000 BC, PIE was rapidly expanding geographically, probably aided by early forms of wheeled vehicles, and gradually broke apart into what would soon emerge as different Indo-European branches. Scholars J. P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams tell the tale in The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World:
“[I]ndividual Indo-European groups are attested by c. 2000 BC. One might then place a notional date of c. 4500-2500 BC on Proto-Indo-European. The linguist will note that the presumed dates for the existence of Proto-Indo-European arrived at by this method are congruent with those established by linguists' 'informed estimation'. The two dating techniques, linguistic and archaeological, are at least independent and congruent with one another. If one reviews discussions of the dates by which the various Indo-European groups first emerged, we find an interesting and somewhat disturbing phenomenon. By c. 2000 BC we have traces of Anatolian, and hence linguists are willing to place the emergence of Proto-Anatolian to c. 2500 BC or considerably earlier. We have already differentiated Indo-Aryan in the Mitanni treaty by c. 1500 BC so undifferentiated Proto-Indo-Iranian must be earlier, and dates on the order of 2500-2000 BC are often suggested. Mycenaean Greek, the language of the Linear B tablets, is known by c. 1300 BC if not somewhat earlier and is different enough from its Bronze Age contemporaries (Indo-Iranian or Anatolian) and from reconstructed PIE to predispose a linguist to place a date of c. 2000 BC or earlier for Proto-Greek itself.”
Before Islam, Greek was still a major language throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond, including in Anatolia or Asia Minor, now occupied by Turkish-speaking Muslims and called “
As Bruce G. Trigger writes in A History of Archaeological Thought, second edition, “Serious archaeological work did not begin in
“Rich learnt from the inhabitants of Mosul that, some time previous to his visit, a sculpture, representing various forms of men and animals, had been dug up in a mound forming part of the great inclosure. This strange object had been the cause of general wonder, and the whole population had issued from the walls to gaze upon it. The ulema [religious scholars] having at length pronounced that these figures were idols of the infidels, the Mohammedans, like obedient disciples, so completely destroyed them, that Mr. Rich was unable to obtain even a fragment.”