Thursday, 15 August 2013

Islamic Jihad - The Just War !

By Brokaan

It's not every day that religion appears as a front page story in today's newspapers all over the world, particularly on a regular basis! But over the past 20 years one religion has really made the front pages perhaps more than any other…it is the religion of Islam.

Islam claims more than one billion followers worldwide. It is not only the fastest growing religion in the world, but its influence touches virtually every area of life -not only the spiritual, but the political and economic as well. What is more, its influence is being felt closer and closer to home. There are now up to 5 million Muslims in the U.S., and over 1,100 mosques or Islamic centers.

What does Islam teach? How are the teachings of Islam similar to those of Christianity the pre-dominant religion in the U.S? How are they different? What should our attitude be towards Islam, and towards those who follow this powerful religion? These are some of the questions we want to address in this essay.

In February 1998, long before the September 11 terrorist attacks on America, Osama bin Laden and four other leaders of radical Islamist groups in various countries issued a fatwa, or Islamic religious ruling, calling for jihad against “the crusader–Zionist alliance” in the following language:

“In compliance with Allah’s order, we issue the following fatwa to all Muslims: the ruling to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al–Aqsa Mosque [Jerusalem] and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of the holy lands of Islam… This is in accordance with the words of the true Almighty Allah, and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together and fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God.”

While more examples of Osama bin Laden’s thinking emerged after the September 11 attacks, this fatwa stands as a fundamental statement of his rationale for a campaign of violence against America and the West: an appeal to the Islamic tradition of defensive jihad by which every Muslim is obligated, as an individual’s duty, to take up arms against such invaders. It lays out the justifications, not only for the attacks of September 11 but also for other terrorist attacks linked to bin Laden’s al–Qaeda group, notably, the bombings of the two American embassies in East Africa and of the U.S.S. Cole. It also provides a warrant for future attacks by
every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it —in short, for a continuing war by terrorist and other means by Muslims against Americans and their allies,” an ongoing clash of civilizations. How should this call be understood in relation to the Islamic traditions? And how does it compare to the just war tradition of Western culture?

The classical Islamic conceptions of jihad in the sense of warfare comes not from the Qur’an directly, where the term jihad is used to refer to the believer’s inner struggle for righteousness, but from the jurists of the early Abbasid period (the late eighth and early ninth centuries c.e), who developed it in the context of a general effort to clarify the nature of the Islamic community, the proper leadership of that community, and the community’s relations with the non–Islamic world. Central to this conception was a legal division of the world into two realms: the dar al–Islam or abode of Islam, and the remainder of the world, defined as the dar al–harb or abode of war.

The dar al–Islam, as the jurists understood it, had existed since its creation by the Prophet Muhammad himself, who had been its first head –the holy messenger of Allah. It is a community at once religious and political, and thus its ruler, like the Prophet, was understood to be supreme in both spheres. There could be at any time only one right ruler, understood to be the successor of the Prophet and inheritor of his authority. Because of its character —its essential unity, its rule by a successor of the Prophet, its governance according to divinely given law —the dar al–Islam is fundamentally different from the rest of the world, which is torn by perpetual conflicts and is a constant threat to the peace of the dar al–Islam. A general, lasting, universal peace is impossible until the dar al–harb is no more, when the whole world has become the dar al–Islam, a place within which submission (Islam) to Allah is the law of the land. Until then war between the two realms is the normal state. Yet at the same time extended periods of peace are possible by means of treaties between the dar al–Islam and non–Islamic societies.

This conception formed the background for the jurists’ conception of the idea of jihad as warfare. As they described it, this warfare could take two forms: that of the dar al–Islam as a body under the authority of its legitimate ruler, the caliph for the Sunni tradition, the imam for the Shiite —a conception that encompassed offensive wars against the general threat and organized collective defense against any attack and an emergency form of defensive jihad against a direct attack on the dar al–Islam by a force from some part of the dar al–harb. In the former case the duty to take part in jihad was conceived as a collective one, with some Muslims fighting and others playing other roles, including simply going about their normal lives; in the latter case, though, to fight was an individual duty, incumbent on all Muslims who were able to do so in the immediate area of the aggressions.

These were significantly different forms of warfare. The collective jihad was a thoroughly rule –governed activity, from the requirement of the caliph/imam’s authority to that of a declaration of hostilities and a call for peace to a form of combatant –noncombatant distinction to extensive discussion of the disposition of spoils by the ruling authority. The jurists clearly understood this as the norm for the warfare of the dar al–Islam. This form of jihad drew upon the religious unity of the Islamic community even as it depended on the social and institutional relationships that comprised the Islamic state; the proper exercise of jihad on this model strengthened the dar al–Islam and the role of its ruler both religiously and politically.

The jihad of emergency defense was another matter entirely. It assumed an acute emergency in which normal religiously and socially prescribed relationships and structures were erased. The model the jurists had in mind was simple: a direct attack across the border of the dar al–Islam by a force from the dar al–harb in some particular place remote from the dar al–Islam’s center of authority and power. Against this attack Muslims in the area were to rise up in arms, on their own authority, as a kind of levée en masse. The individual duty to take up arms crossed and eliminated all the usual divisions: not only healthy men of fighting age but women, children, the aged, and the infirm were to fight to the limit of their ability to do so. Correspondingly, the rules of engagement of collective jihad did not apply: the enemy was the invading army, so noncombatants were not present and thus played no part in the conflict. While the jurists admitted this form of jihad in time of dire emergency caused by overt aggression, there was an inherent tension between it and the collective jihad of the dar al–Islam under the authority of the caliph/imam. In practical terms, local leaders on the frontiers might (and did) use the excuse of the jihad of emergency to challenge the legitimacy of the central authority. However, this form of jihad was originally meant to be an exceptional response to an exceptional circumstance, not the norm for Muslim warfare.

It is generally agreed within Islam that jihad of the first sort is impossible today, as there is no central caliph or imam. This gives new importance to what was originally considered to be an exceptional case: the idea of jihad as an individual duty in the face of external aggressions. In the Islamic mainstream this conception has developed along the lines compatible with the international laws to allow Muslim heads of state to organize and execute defense collectively, though on the juristic model they do so on the basis of the individual responsibility of all their people to respond to aggressions. The historical model for such action is the medieval hero
Salahuddin Ayubi [1], who though only a regional commander (not the caliph) organized and led a successful defense against the armies of the second Crusade. In theory, this mainstream conception of defense respects the patterns of relationships within the society as well as the limits to be observed in fighting, the most important of which are understood to come from the Muhammad himself. However, the last hundred years or so have seen the development of another line of interpretations of the Islamic Jihad. First appearing in North Africa as an ideology for resistance against colonialism, by 1960 it was being used as a justification for terrorist attacks against Israel, and in the 1970s and 1980s it was adapted to justify armed struggles by terror and assassinations in such states as Iran, Egypt, and Algeria against the rulers who were nominally Muslim but were judged to be tools of the Western Imperialism. It is out of this tradition that Osama bin Laden’s fatwa has emerged.

This radical form of jihad makes several critical assumptions not found in the traditional conceptions or in the mainstream Islamic theories. First, the dar al–Islam is conceived as any territory whose population is mainly Muslim and which was once a part of the historical dar al–Islam. By this reasoning any non–Islamic state(s) existing within the territory of the historical dar al–Islam, as well as all non–Islamic presence within that space, must be resisted and subdued or be eliminated. Further, the “aggressors” are deemed to be all those who support such states or non–Islamic presence, so that the usual lines of distinctions between combatants and noncombatants are to be erased, with the result that all individuals are considered acceptable targets. Furthermore, because of its origins in an “emergency,” there are no limits on the means in this struggle. Finally, all Muslims are faced with the duty to take part in this struggle -Jihad, so that it ultimately becomes one involving individuals rather than politically organized communities; anyone who accepts this duty —men of fighting age, women, children, or even the aged or infirm becomes a combatant in the war.

This extreme interpretation of the idea of defensive jihad(s) implicitly rejects much of the actual history of the Muslim societies and of the Muslim faiths. It leaves scant room for toleration of “people of the book,” as prescribed in the Qur’an, because it treats the simple presence of Christians and Jews in dominantly Muslim societies as an act of aggression. It also leaves no room for differences of interpretations as to what Islam requires; its reading of Islamic law is narrow and unyielding on the doctrines and behaviors alike. Social developments identified with modernity are rejected as un–Islamic, even if large numbers of Muslims have accepted them without losing their faith.

Osama Bin Laden’s fatwa reflects all these assumptions. The United States is deemed as an aggressor against all Islam because of the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, Iraq & Afghanistan, despite the fact that they are there by agreement, and despite the fact that their purpose is to protect Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the Afghan people from the Islamic Extremists, not to dominate it. Likewise, the “protracted blockade” against Iraq is viewed as an assault on the Iraqi people, despite the fact that Saddam Hussein’s diversion of resources for his own purposes is the real cause of their sufferings. The same could be said of bin Laden’s hostility to the U.S. support for “the Jews’ petty state” and “its occupation of Jerusalem and the murder of Muslims.” In other words, the United States has become the embodiment of the dar al–harb, engaged in aggression against Islam, despite the fact that millions of Muslims live and enjoy freedom of religion within its borders. But bin Laden’s fatwa takes the radical line of jihad to new extremes when it calls for any and all Muslims to kill any and all Americans —“civilians and military” alike —“in any country in which it is possible to do it.” No longer a defensive war, this is jihad on the one offensive.

Bin Laden and his associates in the fatwa of course lack the religiously mandated authority to wage such wars, as they do not bear the mantle of succession to the Prophet of Islam. That is why they try to describe the war against America as a defensive one. By painting the entire nation of America as guilty of “aggressions,” the fatwa can set aside the limits imposed on warfare by normative Islamic traditions, which includes no direct, intended killings of non combatants and no use of fire, which is prohibited among Muslims because it is the weapon Allah will use in the last days. Bin Laden’s jihad not only pits Islam against America, the West as a whole, and ultimately the rest of the non–Islamic world; it also seeks to overthrow the contemporary Muslim states and mainstream views of Islamic traditions among the great majority of contemporary Moderate Muslims.

To be sure, the early Abbasid jurists also thought the relation of the Islamic and non–Islamic worlds to be one of inherent conflict, and their notion of the collective warfare aimed at ensuring the eventual submission of the entire world to Allah reflected this. Yet they never defined this eschatological goal as one that could be achieved only by war or even primarily by wars. And in the absence of any universal Muslim ruler bearing the mantle of authority of the Prophet, Muslim traditions and Muslim life have found ways of pursuing this goal by other, nonmilitary means. The radical ideology of jihad changes this, making the use of violent means, indiscriminately and without principled limits, a binding obligation for all Muslims.

While the idea of a just war is deeply rooted in Western cultures, it is perhaps more strongly institutionalized today in international laws, in American military doctrines and practices, and even in political cultures than at any time since the age of Vitoria. Though the just war tradition has important Christian roots, it differs from the Islamic juristic traditions in that it can be employed without explicitly religious premises. Similarly, in Western political thoughts and theology more generally, the nature of the political community, the role of the government, and the use of armed forces are conceived in secular rather than religious terms. All these features differentiate a just war tradition from the juristic traditions of the Islamic Jihad by the dar al–Islam on the authority of the caliph/imam.

Yet there are also significant points of contact, which reveal important common interests. I have already suggested this by noting that mainstream Islamic thoughts and political practices have developed in a way compatible with the international laws and orderly, peaceful interactions with the non–Muslim nations. More specifically, both traditions link the right to use the armed forces to the exercise of legitimate governing authorities for the protection and common good of the governed communities. That common good, moreover, is defined normatively in terms of high ideals of values and behaviors, not in the terms of repressions and intolerance. Both traditions recognize that even the use of force justified in this way is not without limits when it comes to the questions of who may be targeted and the means that may be used against the aggressors. These are all matters on which there can and should be a pursuit of common causes. The radical doctrines of jihad advanced as the justifications for contemporary terrorism is a challenge to both of these traditions, and the people of good will from both communities have reasons to reject it.

So the present killing by the lone crusader in the guise of the ‘hate doctor’ Major Nidal Malik Hassan’s actions are the cause of this Islamic Jihad. We need to understand this conclusively that every Muslim –whether moderate or religious, are indeed sleep walkers and can wake up on any given day!



Monday, 12 August 2013

The impossibility of the revelation of the Qur’an

Bassam Khoury

The Qur’an presents the concept of Allah in a way which makes the Qur’an’s revelation itself impossible. To understand this, let us have a closer look at one Qur’anic verse:

“… nothing is like him, he is the All-hearing, the All-seeing” (Q. 42:11).

To begin with, if we consider the characteristics of Allah that the Qur’an displays and the way Muslims have dealt with them, we find that they are meaningless words. The author of Nahj Al-Balagha, defining Allah’s characteristics, says:

The foremost in religion is the acknowledgement of Him, the perfection of acknowledging Him is to testify Him, the perfection of testifying Him is to believe in His Oneness, the perfection of believing in His Oneness is to regard Him Pure, and the perfection of His purity is to deny Him attributes, because every attribute is a proof that it is different from that to which it is attributed and everything to which something is attributed is different from the attribute. Thus whoever attaches attributes to Allah recognises His like, and who recognises His like regards Him two; and who regards Him two recognises parts for Him; and who recognises parts for Him mistook Him; and who mistook Him pointed at Him; and who pointed at Him admitted limitations for Him; and who admitted limitations for Him numbered Him. Whoever said in what is He, held that He is contained; and whoever said on what is He held He is not on something else. He is a Being but not through phenomenon of coming into being. He exists but not from non-existence. He is with everything but not in physical nearness. He is different from everything but not in physical separation. He acts but without connotation of movements and instruments. He sees even when there is none to be looked at from among His creation. He is only One, such that there is none with whom He may keep company or whom He may miss in his absence. (

Ibn Ishaq Al Kindy
1 says: “Allah, may he be blessed and exalted, is absolutely one, and does not allow any multiplicity or composition. He is beyond description, and can not be described by any category. (The magazine of the University of Umm-Al-Qura, Vol. 6, p. 123)

This makes all talk of Allah meaningless, not to mention that it gives rise to self-reference paradoxes like: Allah, who cannot be described by any category, is in the category of that which is not composite. Or, Allah is in a category all his own, namely, the category of that which cannot be categorized. Or, Allah may be described as that being which cannot be described.

Muslims may say that those who have such views are not the people of the Sunnah. But the views of Sunni Muslims hardly represent an improvement upon the views just mentioned. The doctrine of Sunni Islam relating to the names and characteristics of Allah states: “The names of Allah –may he be exalted– depend on the Qur’an and Sunnah, without addition or subtraction; and because reason cannot comprehend the names which Allah is worthy of, it is unavoidable to solely depend on the text. (Al-Majla Sharh Al-Akeeda Al-Muthla – Ibn Otheimeen 1:8)

At this point the Sunni Muslims would tell us that they are confirming what pertains to Allah according to the Book and the Sunnah. But this does not explain anything; we had already admitted that those characteristics are there. The problem is that by viewing them in the light of the Muslims’ doctrines they are mere empty words. The text of Sura 42:11 tells us that, “He is the All-seeing, the All-hearing.” But what do those words mean according to the belief of Sunni Muslims? The reason for considering only the Sunni belief is the fact that others
2 have exempted us from this discussion by their own admission, as the Shia, for example, put it: “the perfection of His purity is to deny Him attributes,” and in fact, “He cannot be described by any category.”

As for the Sunnis, they confirm the characteristics, but they say the fundamental belief of the Sunnis is that Allah is to be described by what he described himself or by what the Messenger of Allah described him without any comparison or likening, or interpretation and nullification.

The confirmation of this characteristic of Allah and other characteristics does not necessitate any attempt to liken them to the characteristics of humans. In fact they are not similar to the characteristics of human beings but rather characteristics that befit his majesty and glory: “nothing is like him, he is the All-hearing, the All-seeing” (42:11).

In order to understand a certain thing we need to know what is the meaning of the terms used.

Likening: to believe that any of Allah’s characteristics is like the characteristics of human beings.
Analogy: to believe that Allah’s characteristics are analogous to human characteristics.
Nullification: to deny Allah’s characteristics or attribute completely.
Interpretation: it means to try to understand the words in another way than the obvious meaning, like to say "hand" means power or "eye" means care or any thing of that sort.

Under these definitions it is impossible to understand any word whatsoever. Suppose we ask about the meaning of “the All-hearing, the All-seeing”. The answer should be, ‘they mean “the All-hearing , the All-seeing”’. However this meaning - according to Muslims - should not be associated with any picture perceived by human reason. Their scholars stressed this to the extent to say: “it is impossible that Allah -glory and power to him- would have in himself and his characteristics anything imagined or perceived by humans, because Allah is different from anything you could think of.” (The Explanation of the Tahawi’s belief – Saleh Al Al-Sheikh – a lecture on Saturday 13 Thee Al Kaadeh, 1417 H - quoted from the Comprehensive Encyclopaedia;
source, page (1/168))

But if such words cannot be defined, then what is the difference between saying that Allah isthe all-hearing” and Allah is “the all-seeing”? On such an approach, all such “characteristics” of Allah collapse into one meaningless “characteristic”.

Even when the characteristics of Allah agree in wording with the characteristics of creatures, they do not mean the same thing according to Muslims. Thus they say: “it is not permissible for a man to say: Allah is knowing and I am knowing, Allah is existing and I am existing, Allah is living and I am living, Allah is capable and I am capable. I should not say this in a free manner but rather specifying that Allah’s knowledge, capacity, existence and life are different from our knowledge, capacity, existence and life.” (The Essence of Explaining the Islamic belief - the subject of Allah’s characteristics;
source, 3rd point: The un-likeness to creation)

If we consider the above discussion logically we would find out that the Islamic doctrine makes the revelation of the Qur’an impossible.

- The Qur’an says about Allah “nothing is like him”.
- This means that Allah is other than anything that comes to your mind about him.
- Muslims believe in the doctrine of "Mukhalaft" ‘unlikeness’, which means there is no likeness whatsoever between Allah, and his characteristics, on one hand and all that pertains to creatures on the other.
- The Qur’an is Allah’s word which is not like human words. (
Arabic source for the fourth point.)

The above demonstrates that it is impossible to use human language to talk about Allah. That means if the Qur’an is credible in what it tells about Allah’s nature and characteristics, then it cannot be a revelation from that Allah. In other words, if it is false, it is false; if it is true, it is also false; therefore, it is false.

This teaching of the Qur'an leads to the impossibility of using human language to define Allah.

Therefore, since the Qur’an is written with human language, it can not be an expression of Allah, it cannot be a revelation from him, nor can it be his word.

That is to say if the Qur’an is true about who Allah is, it cannot be true about what the Qur’an is, and vice versa.

The only way, for Muslims to solve this dilemma is by considering that all words of the Qur’an are other than facts and that they are not equivalent to any human concept even if the wordings of both agree. Expressed differently, those words actually mean nothing, they are in fact only empty words.

Thus, the Muslims’ teaching that Allah is other than what comes to our minds logically means that if we have understood what the Qur’an said about Allah, He is other than what the Qur’an has said about him.

1 Ibn Ishaq Al Kindy was not a Shiite. He was a Muslim philosopher influenced by Mutazilite theology. For more information, see the Wikipedia entry on Al-Kindi.
2 I.e. various other sects of Islam, the Mutazilites being the most prominent group besides the Shia.



Saturday, 10 August 2013

Fjordman: The Legend of the Middle Ages

Here is the latest from the insightful European essayist Fjordman:

The book that inspired this text was
The Legend of the Middle Ages: Philosophical Explorations of Medieval Christianity, Judaism, and Islam by Rémi Brague, a French professor and specialist of medieval religious philosophy. He is also the author of the fine book Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization, which I have written an extensive essay about previously. Thematically this text overlaps to some extent with my essay Why Christians Accepted Greek Natural Philosophy, but Muslims Did Not and my reviews of the books Science and Religion by Edward Grant and Defending the West by Ibn Warraq. It also overlaps with some of the material I have included in my book Defeating Eurabia. I will include page references to the various book quotes so that others can use them and will supplement with some quotes from two good online interviews with Mr. Brague.

Medieval Muslims were reluctant to travel to infidel lands. According to Islamic jurists Muslims should not stay for too long in the lands of non-Muslims if they cannot live a proper Muslim life there. Muslims had little knowledge of or interest in any Western languages. Only Italian had some currency for commercial purposes, but mainly involving Jews and Eastern Christians, especially Greeks and Armenians. Few Muslims knew any non-Muslim languages well, the knowledge of which was considered unnecessary or even suspect.

Consequently, the translators of Greek and other non-Muslim scientific works to Arabic were never Muslims. They were Christians of the three dominant denominations plus a few Jews and Sabians. The language of culture for these Christians was Syriac (Syro-Aramaic or Eastern Aramaic) and their liturgical language was Greek. The translators already knew the languages they were to translate. We do have examples of translators who travelled to Greece to perfect their skills, but they were Christians for whom Greek was already at least a liturgical language. Here is Rémi Brague in The Legend of the Middle Ages, page 164:

"Neither were there any Muslims among the ninth-century translators. Almost all of them were Christians of various Eastern denominations: Jacobites, Melchites, and, above all, Nestorians (though I am not sure why the latter predominated). A few others were Sabians, a somewhat bizarre religious community with an intriguing history, whose elites were perhaps the last heirs of the pagan philosophers of the School of Athens. No Muslim learned Greek or, even less, Syriac. Cultivated Christians were often bilingual, even trilingual: they used Arabic for daily life, Syriac for liturgy, and Greek for cultural purposes. The translators that helped to pass along the Greek heritage to the Arabs were artisans who worked for private patrons, without institutional support. One often hears tell of the 'House of Wisdom' (bayt al-hikmah), a sort of research center subsidized by the caliphs that specialized in producing Arabic translations of Greek works. This is pure legend. The further back in time we go, the less the chroniclers connect the activity of translation with that 'house.' As an institution it was above all a propaganda office working for the Mu`tazilite doctrine supported by the caliphs."

The Baghdad-centered Abbasid Dynasty, which replaced the Damascus-centered Umayyad Dynasty after AD 750, was closer to pre-Islamic Persian culture and influenced by the Sassanid Zoroastrian practice of translating works and creating libraries. Even Dimitri Gutas admits this in his pro-Islamic book Greek Thought, Arab Culture. There was still a large number of Zoroastrians, Christians and Jews and they held a disproportionate amount of expertise in the medical field. According to author Thomas T. Allsen, Middle Eastern medicine in Mongol ruled China was "almost always" in the hands of Nestorian Christians.

One prominent translator was the Christian scholar Hunayn ibn Ishaq (808-873), called Johannitius in Latin. He was a Nestorian (Assyrian) Christian who had studied Greek in Greek lands, presumably in the Byzantine Empire, and eventually settled in Baghdad. He, his son and his nephew translated into Arabic, sometimes via Syriac, Galen's medical treatises as well as Hippocratic works and texts by Aristotle, Plato and others. His own compositions include the Ten Treatises on the Eye, which transmitted a largely Galenic theory of vision.

Thabit ibn Qurra (ca. 836-901) was a member of the Sabian sect of star worshippers who had adopted much of Greek culture. His native language was Syriac but he knew Greek and Arabic well. He worked for years in Baghdad where he produced influential Arabic translations or revised earlier ones of Ptolemy's Almagest and works by Archimedes and Apollonius. Later Arabic versions developed from his version of Euclid's Elements. He was also an original mathematician who contributed to geometry and the theory of numbers.

Aramaic is a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Arabic. It was once the lingua franca of much of the Near East after the ancient Persians had made it their Imperial language. It was supplemented by Greek after the conquest of this region by Alexander the Great. A young Jew such as Jesus of Nazareth in Roman-ruled Palestine would probably have known some Hebrew, still the religious language but no longer the spoken language of the Jews. He would most likely have used Aramaic for preaching although it is possible that he knew some Greek.

Syriac or Syro-Aramaic gradually gave way to Arabic after the Arab conquest of this region, but when the Koran was composed, Arabic did not yet exist as a written language. Author Ibn Warraq estimates that up to 20% of the Koran is incomprehensible even to educated Arabs because parts of it were originally written in another related language before Muhammad was born, if Muhammad as he is described to us ever existed at all, that is.

The author of the most important work on this subject, a German professor of Semitic languages, due to potential threats writes under the
pseudonym Christoph Luxenberg. According to him, certain obscure passages of the chapters or suras of the Koran usually ascribed to the Mecca period, which are also the most tolerant ones as opposed to the much harsher and more violent chapters allegedly from Medina, are not "Islamic" at all but based on Christian hymns in Syriac, Biblical texts adapted for liturgical use:

"In its origin, the Koran is a Syro-Aramaic liturgical book, with hymns and extracts from Scriptures which might have been used in sacred Christian services...Its socio-political sections, which are not especially related to the original Koran, were added later in Medina. At its beginning, the Koran was not conceived as the foundation of a new religion. It presupposes belief in the Scriptures, and thus functioned merely as an inroad into Arabic society."

While many philosophical and scientific works (but hardly any literary or historical ones) were translated into Arabic, Muslims didn't preserve the originals as these were now seen as unnecessary. This made the phenomena of "renaissances" impossible -- that is, a return to the original texts to reinterpret and study them with fresh and unbiased eyes. Muslims themselves virtually never learned Greek. Here is The Legend of the Middle Ages again, page 168:

"Those who knew Greek had been raised bilingual because they were sons of an Arab father and a Greek mother. No Muslim seems to have ever learned a foreign language for theoretical reasons rather than, for example, commercial reasons. The one exception is perhaps Farabi. One of his biographers relates that he is supposed to have spent years in 'Greece' in order to study there. This information is all the more interesting because the word used is not 'Rum,' which designated Constantinople, but rather 'Yunan,' which can mean only Greece. One might well wonder where, to what center of teaching, in Greece of the time might a student from the Muslim world have possibly gone. Farabi does not seem to have shown proof of a very profound knowledge of Greek. He does indeed cite a few words of that language. But the etymological explanations that he gives of the titles of some of Plato's dialogues are sheer fantasy. The only real exception is Biruni. But he is an exception that proves the rule: the language that he learned was not Greek, but Sanskrit. Biruni had learned that language to the point of being able to translate into it from Arabic."

Islamic civilization, in sharp contrast to the European one, never used its knowledge of the foreign as an instrument that would permit it, through comparison and distancing in relations to itself, to understand itself by becoming conscious of the non-obvious character of its cultural practices. An extremely rare exception to this rule may be the eleventh century Persian polymath al-Biruni. As Brague states in his book Eccentric Culture, page 112-113:

"It may be that its geographers made a eulogy of India and of China in order to address a discreet critique of the Islamic civilization of their time, often compensated in the last instance by an affirmation of the religious superiority of the latter. The examples that one could find of such a vision 'reflected' in the mirror are exceptional and come from marginal or heretical thinkers. Thus, the contact with the Brahmin Hindu thinkers whose religion does quite well without prophecy (which the Islamic religion declares on the contrary necessary to the happiness of man and to a good social order) posed a problem for the Muslim thinkers; the real or fictitious dialogue with the Brahmins was able to serve to mask a critique of the Islamic religion in a free thinker like Ibn al-Rawandi. The only incontestable exception is without doubt the astonishing work of Al-Biruni on India. This universal scholar (973-1048), astronomer, geographer, historian, mineralogist, pharmacologist etc., had taken the trouble to learn enough Sanskrit to be able to translate in both directions between this language and Arabic (for him also a learned language). He presented a tableau of Hindu society and beliefs with perfect impartiality."

Greek translations heavily influenced Middle Eastern scholars.
Al-Kindi (died ca. AD 873), commonly known as "the Philosopher of the Arabs," lived in Baghdad and was close to several Abbasid Caliphs. Al-Kindi did significant work on optics and made notable mathematical contributions to cryptography. Al-Farabi (ca. 875-950), "perhaps the greatest" Muslim philosopher according to Brague, came to Baghdad from Central Asia, emphasized human reason and was more original than many of his successors. In How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs, writer De Lacy O'Leary states that "It is significant that almost all the great scientists and philosophers of the Arabs were classed as Aristotelians tracing their intellectual descent from al-Kindi and al-Farabi." The attempt to reconcile Islam with Greek philosophy was to last for several centuries and ultimately prove unsuccessful due to religious resistance. For various reasons, al-Kindi and al-Farabi were not much translated into Latin.

As Rémi Brague states, "in the oft-romanticized city of Cordoba, the family of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides was banished, Averroes was exiled, and many Christians martyred." Ibn Rushd, or Averroes (1126-1198), was born in Cordoba, Spain (Andalusia). He faced trouble for his freethinking ways and is today often hailed as a beacon of "tolerance," yet he was also an orthodox jurist of sharia law and served as an Islamic judge in Seville. He approved, without reservation, the killing of heretics in a work that was wholly philosophical in nature. Nevertheless, he is remembered for his attempts to combine Aristotelian philosophy and Islam. He had a major influence on Latin scientists but was practically forgotten in the Islamic world, where philosophy went into permanent decline. The very influential al-Ghazali argued that much of Greek philosophy was an affront to Islam. Virtually all freethinkers within the Islamic world were at odds with Islamic orthodoxy and frequently harassed for this.

European Christians re-conquered Toledo in Spain and Sicily from the Muslims in 1085 and 1091, respectively. The great Italian (Lombard) translator Gerard of Cremona (ca. 1114-1187) was by far the most prolific translator from Arabic to Latin of works on science and natural philosophy. He lived for years at Toledo, aided by a team of local Jewish interpreters and Latin scribes. David C. Lindberg argues that Alhazen's Book of Optics probably was translated during the late twelfth century by Gerard or somebody from his school; it was known in thirteenth century Europe. Many works initially translated from Arabic by Gerard and his associates, among them Ptolemy's great astronomical work the Almagest, were later translated directly from Greek into Latin from Byzantine manuscripts. Obviously, Alhazen's work had to be translated from Arabic since it was written in that language in the first place.

The basic principle of the astrolabe, a working model of the heavens, was a discovery of the ancient Greeks. Stereographic projection, one way among several of mapping a sphere onto a flat surface, was probably known to the great mathematical astronomer Hipparchus in the second century BC and was certainly in use by the first century BC when Vitruvius, the Roman writer on architecture and engineering, mentioned it. The first treatise on an astrolabe in the modern sense was probably written by Theon of Alexandria (ca. AD 335-405). He was a teacher of mathematics and wrote commentaries on the works of Ptolemy, including the Almagest, and made an influential edition with added comments of Euclid's Elements. Writer James E. Morrison is the author of the book
The Astrolabe. As Morrison says:

"The earliest astrolabes used in Europe were imported from Moslem Spain with Latin words engraved alongside the original Arabic. It is likely that European use of Arabic star names was influenced by these imported astrolabes. By the end of the 12th century there were at least a half dozen competent astrolabe treatises in Latin, and there were hundreds available only a century later. European makers extended the plate engravings to include astrological information and adapted the various timekeeping variations used in that era. Features related to Islamic prayers were not used on European instruments. The astrolabe was widely used in Europe in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.. Astrolabe manufacturing was centered in Augsburg and Nuremberg in Germany in the fifteenth century with some production in France. In the sixteenth century, the best instruments came from Louvain in Belgium. By the middle of the seventeenth century astrolabes were made all over Europe."

The oldest surviving, moderately sophisticated scientific work in the English language is a Treatise on the Astrolabe, written by the English poet and philosopher Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1343-1400) for his son. His The Canterbury Tales are studded with astronomical references.

It should be noted that while it was a very popular device, the astrolabe was not a precision instrument even by medieval standards. Its popularity stemmed from the fact that approximate solutions to astronomical problems could be found by a mere glance at the instrument. The invention of the pendulum clock and more specialized and useful scientific devices such as the telescope from the seventeenth century on replaced the astrolabe in importance.

Nevertheless, its medieval reintroduction via the Islamic world did leave some traces. Quite a few star names in use in modern European languages, for instance Aldebaran or Algol, can be traced back to Arabic or Arabized versions of earlier Greek names. Today astronomers frequently identify stars by means of Bayer letters, introduced by the German astronomer Johann Bayer (1572-16259) in his celestial atlas Uranometria from 1603. In this system, each star is labeled by a Greek letter and the Latin name of the constellation in which it is found.

It is true that there were translations from Arabic and that these did have some impact in Europe, leaving traces in star names and some mathematical and chemical terms. Yet far too much emphasis is currently placed on the translations themselves and too little on how the knowledge contained within these texts was actually used. After the translation movement it is striking to notice how fast Europeans vastly surpassed whatever scholarly achievements had been made in the medieval Middle East based on largely the same material.

Moreover, it is simply not true that these translations "rescued" the Classical heritage. This survived largely intact among Byzantine, Orthodox Christians. When Western, Latin Christians wanted to recover the Greco-Roman heritage they translated Greek historical works and literature as well, in addition to philosophy, medicine and astronomy, and copied works by Roman authors and poets in Latin which had been totally ignored by Muslims.

It is easy to track how Arabic translations of Greek texts from Byzantine manuscripts, almost always made by non-Muslims, made their way from the Islamic East to Sicily and southern Italy or to the Iberian Peninsula in the Islamic West where some of them were translated by Jews and Christians, for instance in the multilingual city of Toledo in Spain, to Latin. It is true that some ancient Greek texts were reintroduced to the West via Arabic, sometimes passing via Syriac or Hebrew along the way, but these were usually based, in the end, on Byzantine originals. The permanent recovery of Greco-Roman learning and literature was undertaken as a direct transmission from Greek, Orthodox Christians to Western, Latin Christians.

The greatest translator from Greek to Latin was the Flemish scholar
William of Moerbeke (ca. 1215-ca. 1286), a contemporary of the prominent German scholar Albertus Magnus. He was fluent in Greek and made very accurate translations, still held in high regard today, from Byzantine originals and improved earlier translations of the works of Aristotle and many by Archimedes, Hero of Alexandria and others. Like his Italian friend the great theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), William of Moerbeke was a friar of the Dominican order and had personal contacts at the top levels of the Vatican, including several popes.

Thanks in part to William of Moerbeke's efforts, by the 1270s Western Europeans had access to Greek works that were never translated into Arabic, for instance Aristotle's Politics. This benefited Thomas Aquinas and his great theological work the Summa Theologica. The Spanish-born Jewish rabbi and philosopher Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), famous for his The Guide for the Perplexed, attempted to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy with Biblical Scripture. Aquinas was well aware of his work as well as Muslim Aristotelian commentators such as Avicenna and Averroes, but he could be critical of Averroes and his use of Aristotle.

Renaissance figures in Italy and Western Europe had at their disposal a more complete body of Greek thought than any of the major Muslim philosophers ever did. The translation movement, which began in the late eleventh century, continued during the Renaissance and culminated in its final and arguably most important phase during the second half of the fifteenth century and into the sixteenth with the introduction of the printing press. This invention vastly increased the circulation of books as well as the accuracy of their copying.

It was a major stroke of historical luck that printing was introduced in Europe at exactly the same time as the last vestige of the Roman Empire fell to Muslim Turks. Texts that had been preserved in Constantinople for a thousand years could now be permanently rescued. As Elizabeth L. Eisenstein says in her monumental The Printing Press as an Agent of Change:

"The classical editions, dictionaries, grammar and reference guides issued from print shops made it possible to achieve an unprecedented mastery of Alexandrian learning even while laying the basis for a new kind of permanent Greek revival in the West....We now tend to take for granted that the study of Greek would continue to flourish after the main Greek manuscript centers had fallen into alien hands and hence fail to appreciate how remarkable it was to find that Homer and Plato had not been buried anew but had, on the contrary, been disinterred forever more. Surely Ottoman advances would have been catastrophic before the advent of printing. Texts and scholars scattered in nearby regions might have prolonged the study of Greek but only in a temporary way."

Muslims and Christians treated Greek philosophy very differently, partly because Judaism, Islam and Christianity are monotheistic in very different ways. Brague points out that there are fundamental differences between them. It is a misunderstanding that there are "three religions of the book" because the meaning of the book is very different in each religion.

According to Rémi Brague, "In Judaism, the Tenakh is a written history of the covenant between God and the people of Israel, almost a kind of contract. In Christianity, the New Testament is the history of one person, Jesus, who is the incarnate Word of God. In Islam, the Koran is 'uncreated' and has descended from the heavens in perfect form. Only in Islam is the book itself what is revealed by God. In Judaism God is revealed in the history of the Jewish people. In Christianity God is revealed as love in the person of Jesus. Judaism and Christianity are not religions of the book, but religions with a book. The third misconception is to speak of 'the three Abrahamic religions'. Christians usually refer to Abraham as a person who binds these three religions together, and who is shared by them. In Judaism, he is the 'founding father'. But in the Koran it is written: 'Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian.' (III, 67)....According to Islam, the first prophets received the same revelation as Mohammed, but the message was subsequently forgotten. Or it was tampered with, with evil intent. So according to Islam, the Torah and the Gospels are fakes."

In Islamic lands, falsafa remained a private affair, an unofficial matter for individuals in fairly restricted numbers. Philosophy was always marginal in the Islamic world and was never institutionalized there as it was in the European medieval universities. According to Rémi Brague, theology as such is a Christian specialty. He even claims that "'theology' as a rational exploration of the divine (according to Anselm's program) exists only in Christianity."

states that "The great philosophers of Islam were amateurs, and they pursued philosophy during their leisure hours: Farabi was a musician, Avicenna a physician and a vizier, Averroes a judge. Avicenna did philosophy at night, surrounded by his disciples, after a normal workday. And he did not refuse a glass of wine to invigorate him a bit and keep him on his toes. Similarly, among the Jews, Maimonides was a physician and a rabbinic judge, Gersonides was an astronomer (and astrologer), and so on. The great Jewish or Muslim philosophers attained the same summits as the great Christian Scholastics, but they were isolated and had little influence on society. In medieval Europe, philosophy became a university course of studies and a pursuit that could provide a living....You can be a perfectly competent rabbi or imam without ever having studied philosophy. In contrast, a philosophical background is a necessary part of the basic equipment of the Christian theologian. It has even been obligatory since the Lateran Council of 1215."

Demand usually precedes the presence of a product on the market and it is the demand that needs to be explained. As Brague notes, translations are made because someone feels that a certain text contains information that people need. The real intellectual revolution in Europe began well before the wave of translations in Toledo and elsewhere. This was demonstrated by the American jurist Harold J. Berman in his important 1983 book Law and Revolution. The efforts of the Catholic Church to make a new system of law required refined tools, which meant that the West sought out Aristotle's and other Greek work on logic and philosophy.

The "Papal Revolution" starting in the eleventh century was an effort to apply ancient Greek methods of logic to the remnants of Roman law dating back to Late Antiquity and the reforms of the active Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian the Great. Justinian's revision of existing Roman law, the Corpus Juris Civilis (Body of Civil Law) was compiled in Latin in the 530s AD and later influenced medieval Canon Law. While they did utilize Roman law and Greek logic, medieval Western scholars through their intellectual efforts created a new synthesis which had not existed in Antiquity. Prominent among them was the twelfth century Italian legal scholar
Gratian, a monk who taught in Bologna. His great work, commonly known as the Decretum, appeared around 1140 as a synthesis of church law. Harold J. Berman writes in his book Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition, page 225-226:

"Every person in Western Christendom lived under both canon law and one or more secular legal systems. The pluralism of legal systems within a common legal order was an essential element of the structure of each system. Because none of the coexisting legal systems claimed to be all inclusive or omnicompetent, each had to develop constitutional standards for locating and limiting sovereignty, for allocating governmental powers within such sovereignty, and for determining the basic rights and duties of members… Like the developing English royal law of the same period, the canon law tended to be systematized more on the basis of procedure than of substantive rules. Yet after Gratian, canon law, unlike English royal law, was also a university discipline; professors took the rules and principles and theories of the cases into the classrooms and collected, analyzed, and harmonized them in their treatises."

With the papacy of the dynamic and assertive Gregory VII (1073-1085), the Roman Catholic Church entered the Investiture Struggle, a protracted and largely successful conflict with European monarchs over control of appointments, investitures, of Church officials. Edward Grant explains in his book
God and Reason in the Middle Ages, page 23-24:

"Gregory VII began the process that culminated in 1122 in the Concordat of Worms (during the reign of the French pope, Calixtus II [1119-1124]), whereby the Holy Roman Emperor agreed to give up spiritual investiture and allow free ecclesiastical elections. The process manifested by the Investiture Struggle has been appropriately called the Papal Revolution. Its most immediate consequence was that it freed the clergy from domination by secular authorities: emperors, kings, and feudal nobility. With control over its own clergy, the papacy became an awesome, centralized, bureaucratic powerhouse, an institution in which literacy, a formidable tool in the Middle Ages, was concentrated. The Papal Revolution had major political, economic, social, and cultural consequences. With regard to the cultural and intellectual consequences, it 'may be viewed as a motive force in the creation of the first European universities, in the emergence of theology and jurisprudence and philosophy as systematic disciplines, in the creation of new literary and artistic styles, and in the development of a new consciousness.' . . . the papacy grew stronger and more formidable. It reached the pinnacle of its power more than a century later in the pontificate of Innocent III (1198-1216), perhaps the most powerful of all medieval popes."

The power of the secular states grew as well, but the separation between Church and state endured because the Papal Revolution had established a virtual parity between them. It was the internal dynamism of Europe during the High Middle Ages that drove the recovery of Classical learning. Here is The Legend of the Middle Ages by Rémi Brague, page 180:

"The European intellectual renaissance preceded the translations from the Arabic. The latter were not the cause, but the effect of that renaissance. Like all historical events, it had economic aspects (lands newly under cultivation, new agricultural techniques) and social aspects (the rise of free cities). On the level of intellectual life, it can be understood as arising from a movement that began in the eleventh century, probably launched by the Gregorian reform of the Church. . . . That conflict bears witness to a reorientation of Christianity toward a transformation of the temporal world, up to that point more or less left to its own devices, with the Church taking refuge in an apocalyptical attitude that said since the world was about to end, there was little need to transform it. The Church's effort to become an autonomous entity by drawing up a law that would be exclusive to it -- Canon Law -- prompted an intense need for intellectual tools. More refined concepts were called for than those available at the time. Hence the
Rémi Brague is a highly competent scholar and I can easily recommend his works to those who have a serious interest in studying these subjects. I will conclude by adding some other books that people can read. About Islam I recommend essentially everything written by
Robert Spencer. Bat Ye'or's books are groundbreaking and important. The Legacy of Jihad by Andrew Bostom should be considered required reading for all those who are interested in Islam. It is the best and most complete book currently available on the subject in English, possibly in any language. Ibn Warraq's books are excellent, starting with Leaving Islam. Understanding Muhammad by the Iranian ex-Muslim Ali Sina is worth reading, as areDefeating Jihad by Serge Trifkovic and A God Who Hates by Wafa Sultan. For Western and European readers especially I could add my own book Defeating Eurabia.

For books about the history of science, I recommend everything written by Edward Grant.
The Beginnings of Western Science by David C. Lindberg is good, though slightly more politically correct than Grant when it comes to science in the Islamic world. The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West by Toby E. Huff is highly recommended. Huff's work is carefully researched and should be considered required reading for those who are interested in this subject. These books are easy to read for an educated, mainstream audience.

For books that are excellent, yet more specialized and slightly more challenging, I can recommend
Victor J. Katz for the history of mathematics and The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy by James Evans for the history of pre-telescopic astronomy up to and including Kepler. Evans' book is extremely well researched and detailed, almost too much so on European and Middle Eastern astronomy, but contains virtually nothing on Chinese or Mayan astronomy. For a more global perspective, Cosmos: An Illustrated History of Astronomy and Cosmology by John North is good and not too difficult to read.