When Europe's populace languished in dark ages, a light shone in from the South - the Golden Age of Islam.

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The Islamic Golden Age
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The Perfumed Garden

Taslima Nasrin notes: "At one point in time, Islam was a powerful force for change, expanding throughout the world and winning the hearts of the multitudes. Historians tell us that Islamic civilization was the richest and most advanced civilization in the world during the early Middle Ages, particularly in the mid-eighth through the mid-eleventh centuries, and perhaps reached its peak during the ninth century. In comparison, the culture of Europe crept far behind.

The Splendours of
Al-Andalus


Interior of the Great Mosque of Córdoba, built by 'Adb al-Rahman I

The Golden Age of Islam

a Splendid Tapestry

by Zachariah Matthews

Islam, the youngest of all the world's religions emerged on the world scene in 622 CE (Current Era) with the Hijra (migration), of Prophet Muhammad (s) and his small band of followers, from Mecca to Medina in northwest Arabia. One hundred fifty years later the Muslim government where Allah is the ultimate authority had become the Islamic Empire, encircling the Mediterranean Sea from Syria and the Tigris and Euphrates Valley east to southern China and western India, south through what had been the Persian Empire and Saudi Arabia, west through Egypt and across North Africa, and north through Spain to the Pyrenees. With the founding of the city of Baghdad and the establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate (Muslim religious/political leaders, successors of the Prophet) in the mid-8th century, Islam's golden age began to emerge. For 400 years, from the mid-9th century until the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1256, Muslim culture was unparalleled in its splendor and learning.

A number of fortunate circumstances came together to make this golden age possible. Perhaps most significant was the creation of a vast empire without internal political boundaries, largely free from external attack. Trade began to flow freely across the Asian continent and beyond. The wisdom of India and China mingled with that of Persia, ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt. In most cases civilizations conquered by Islam remained administratively and intellectually intact, unlike those overrun by northern barbarians. Thanks in part to Prophet Muhammad's assertion that "the ink of scholars is more precious than the blood of martyrs," Islamic leaders valued -- in fact, sought out -- the intellectual treasures of their subject provinces. Further, the Muslim use of Arabic, the language of the Quran, led to its standardization throughout the empire as the language of faith and power, and likewise of theology, philosophy, and the arts and sciences.

Unification under one faith and language alone, however, did not produce the explosion of literacy and learning experienced by the Islamic Empire. In the mid-8th century, Chinese paper-making technology arrived in Samarkand, on the eastern border of the empire. Suddenly, the labour-intensive processing of hides and papyrus was replaced by mass-production of paper from pulped rags, hemp, and bark; large personal libraries -- as well as public ones -- became commonplace. At about the same time, the so-called "Arabic" numerals (imported from India) began to replace cumbersome Roman numerals, and introduced the concept of zero for the first time. Public education, also mandated by the Prophet (s), spread rapidly.

The Golden Age was a period of unrivalled intellectual activity in the field of literature (as a result of intensive study of the Islamic faith) - particularly biography, history, and linguistics. Scholars, for example, in collecting and re-examining the hadith, or "traditions" - the sayings and actions of the Prophet - compiled immense biographical detail about the Prophet and other information, historic and linguistic, about the Prophet's era. This led to such monumental works as Sirat Rasul Allah, the "Life of the Messenger of Allah," by Ibn Ishaq, later revised by Ibn Hisham; one of the earliest Arabic historical works, it was a key source of information about the Prophet's life and also a model for other important works of history such as al-Tabari's Annals of the Apostles and the Kings and his massive commentary on the Quran.

Charlemagne's legendary white elephant

Around the year 800, when Charlemagne's power was at its height, he succceeded in establishing good relations directly with the Abbassid caliph of Baghdad, Heroun al-Rashid, who became legendary as the caliph of the Thousand and One Nights, Two Frankish nobles, Sigismund and Lantfrid, left in 797 with Isaac, a Jewish traveller and linguist. Isaac returned in 801, without his two companions who had died on the long and arduous journey, but accompanied by ambassadors from the caliph. Their presents to the Emperor astonished the Frankish court; gems, fine plate of pure gold, rich embroidered ceremonial robes, delicately carved chessmen in ivory, water clocks with refined mechanisms and, wonderful to relate, rare and exotic animals, including a white elephant, which became Charlemagne's pet, and such a favourite at court that its name, Abul Abbas, has even come down to us. Charlemagne was so attached to it that he took it on all his campaigns, and was heartbroken when it died in the winter of 811 in Saxony.

[p117. Friedrich Heer. Charlemagne and His World. ]

Jose Tapiro y Baro
The Spendours of al Andalus

The accomplishments of Islam's Golden Age are too numerous to list in detail

.

Massive translation and copying projects made Greek, Roman, and Sanskrit knowledge available to Arabic-speaking scholars across the empire. Medieval Europe received the Hellenic classics that made the Renaissance possible mostly through Arabic translations. Building on Hellenic, Persian, and Hindu sources, physicians within the Islamic Empire advanced medical knowledge enormously. Perhaps their most significant single achievement was the establishment of medicine as a science based on observation and experimentation, rather than on conjecture. Islamic scientists developed the rudiments of what would later be called the scientific method.

Seventy-five years after the death of Prophet Muhammad (s), the first of many free public hospitals was opened in Damascus. Asylums were maintained throughout the empire for the care of the mentally ill. In the early 10th century, Spanish physician Abu Bakr al-Razi introduced the use of antiseptics in cleaning wounds, and also made the connection between bacteria and infection. Al-Hasan published a definitive study on optics (the science of light and vision) in 965. Thirteenth-century Muslim physician Ibn al-Nafis discovered and accurately described the functioning of the human circulatory system long before Ambroise Paré. Islamic veterinary science led the field for centuries, particularly in the study and treatment of horses.

In fact the impact of Judeo-Islamic medical knowledge upon Europe was so great, both via Padua and from Spain itself, that the expression among the Dominican critics (before their own embrace of Scholasticism) was ubi tre physici dui athei. It was a slur, of course, on the influence of Averröism. "Where there are three physicians there are two atheists." Petrarch's attacks on the physicians of Padua (Iberians or at least Averröists) was notorious.

Muslim alchemists (early forerunners of modern chemists) in the 10th to 14th centuries, inspired by ancient chemical formulas from China and India, are famous for the endless experiments they performed in their laboratories. Their goals ranged from pursuit of a chemical elixir bestowing enhanced life, to the transformation of base metals to gold. Although they never succeeded in their ultimate goals, they did make numerous valuable discoveries -- among them the distillation of petroleum and the forging of steel.

Roman techniques of manufacturing glass lenses stimulated Al-Hasan's breakthrough in the field of optics (the science of light and vision), which demolished Aristotle's theory that vision was the result of a ray emanating from the eye, encompassing an object, and bringing it back to the soul. Al-Hasan's Book of Optics, published in 965, was first to document sight as visual images entering the eye, made perceptible by adequate light. This book remained the pre-eminent text in its field until 1610, when the work of European Johannes Kepler surpassed it.

Islamic mathematicians refined algebra from its beginnings in Greece and Egypt, and developed trigonometry in pursuit of accurate ways to measure objects at a distance. Muslim scholars also made important and original contributions to astronomy. They collected and corrected previous astronomical data, built the world's first observatory, and developed the astrolabe, an instrument that was once called "a mathematical jewel."

Islamic architects borrowed heavily from the Byzantine Empire which used domes and arches extensively throughout their cities. An example of this use can be seen in the Dome of the Rock, a famous mosque in Jerusalem.

Avid students of both the heavens and the earth, Muslim scholars made detailed and accurate maps of both. Muslim mapmakers to accurately map distances around the earth refined longitude and latitude. Twelfth-century Persian Omar Khayyam developed a calendar so reliable that over 500 years it was off by only one day. The list goes on and on.

Honor Woman, for it was Woman gave you birth
honor woman
Women in Islam ~ islamfortoday.com

Ornament of the World :: Caliphal Córdoba

The seventy-odd libraries of Córdoba would amaze modern scholars almost as much as they stunned literate Christians of the late tenth century. There would be nothing at all comparable elsewhere in the West to Córdoba's main library of four hundred thousand volumes of mostly paper manuscripts. The great Benedictine abbey of St. Gall in Switzerland numbered a mere six hundred books, all of them in vellum (calfskin) or parchment (sheepskin). The 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 ob Europeans seven hundred years later. Andalusia's own paper factory was finally established in the early eleventh century at Jativa, a valley town south of Valencia. Gibbon delighted at the book worship of Córdoba's citizens, a bibliophilia he disdainfully contrasted with the paucity of written works in the Christian West of the time. Córdoba's narrow streets were lined with thousands of small shops and workshops where weavers produced brocades, silks, woolens; craftsmen shaped crystal and tooled the famous Córdoban leather.

David Levering Lewis. God's Crucible
historical outline

Religious Tolerance

When Islam was laying the foundations of its civilisation; it did not adopt a narrow-minded attitude to other religions. The behaviour toward other religions was in keeping with the principles laid down in the Quran:

"Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error." (Al-Baqarah 256)

"If it had been your Lord's Will, they would all have believed, all who are on earth! Will you then compel people, against their will, to believe!" (Yunus 10:99)

Say: "We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) Prophets from their Lord: we make no difference between any of them: and we submit to Allah (in Islam)." (Q2:136)

"Had not Allah checked one set of people by means of another there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure" (Al-Hajj 22:40)

The well known American writer, Draper, wrote: "During the period of the caliphs, the learned men of the Christians and the Jews were not only held in high esteem but were appointed to posts of great responsibility, and were promoted to high ranking positions in government. Haroon Rasheed appointed John the son of Maswaih, the Director of Public Instruction and all the schools and colleges were placed under his charge. He (Haroon) never considered to which country a learned person belonged nor his faith and belief, but only his excellence in the field of learning."

Sir Mark Syce, writing on the qualities of Muslim rule during the period of Haroon Rasheed said: "The Christians, the idolaters, the Jews and the Muslims as workers running the Islamic State were at work with equal zeal."

Liefy Brutistal wrote in his book: "Spain of the Tenth Century: So often the scribe writing out the terms of a treaty was a Jew or a Christian. Just as many Jews and Christians were holding charge of important posts in the State. And they were vested with authority in the administrative departments, even in matters of war and peace. And there were several Jews who acted as the ambassadors of the Caliph in European countries."

Impact on Judaism

"Arabic culture made a lasting impact on Sephardic cultural development. General re-evaluation of scripture was prompted by Muslim and Jewish religious interface and the spread of rationalism, as well as the anti-Rabbanite polemics of Karaite sectarianism (which took inspiration from various Muslim schismatic movements). The cultural and intellectual achievements of the Arabs, and much of the scientific and philosophical speculation of Ancient Greek culture, which had been best preserved by Arab scholars, was made available to the educated Jew. The meticulous regard which the Arabs had for grammar and style also had the effect of stimulating an interest in philological matters in general among Spanish Jews. Arabic came to be the main language of Sephardic science, philosophy, and everyday business, as had been the case with Babylonian geonim. This thorough adoption of the Arabic language also greatly facilitated the assimilation of Jews into Moorish culture, and Jewish activity in a variety of professions, including medicine, commerce, finance, and agriculture increased."

S. Alfassa Marks writes

The influence Islamic culture injected into Jewish life was significant. Jews accepted many customs and traditions of the Moors and interweaved them into their daily life. The Arabic language, instead of Spanish and Hebrew, was used for prayers. Ceremoniously washing of the hands and feet, which is an Islamic custom, became adopted by Jews before entering Synagogues. Moreover, Jewish music was sung to the tune of old Arabic melodies. Jews adopted [much of] the clothing style of their Moorish neighbors.

NOTE: "The Golden Age is most closely identified with the reign of Abd al-Rahman III (882-942), the first independent Caliph of Cordoba, and in particular with the career of his Jewish councilor, Hasdai ibn Shaprut (882-942). Within this context of cultural patronage, studies in Hebrew, literature, and linguistics flourished."

Jean Descola credits two Islamic imbued Jews with far reaching impact into the modern West. It was a Spanish Jew, Cheber (of Seville), who inspired Einstein; and another, Ibn Ezra (of Toledo), who influenced Spinoza.

Islam's Golden Age has many lessons to teach the greedy and intolerant world of today.

Nietzsche castigated the Christianity of Western Europe, the Franks and Saxons and Germans, for the collossal crime of the Crusades. He said the Crusaders more properly might have prostrated themselves in the dust before the Islamic culture which at that time so far exceeded the unwashed, illiterate barbarian culture of Western Europe. He says the Crusaders wanted loot, to be sure. The East, including Byzantium, was rich, was cultured, and possessed storehouses of learning and literature and philosophy. Nietzsche calls the Crusades nothing but Higher Piracy.

In Spain, "Christianity ... cheated us out of the harvest of the culture of Islam..... The wonderful world of the Moorish culture ... was trampled down. Why? Because it owed its origins to noble, to male instincts, because it said Yes to life even with the rare and refined luxuries of Moorish life."

Why did it all end?

Why did Islam's Golden Age come to an end? What forces shifted both political power and learning from the Islamic Empire to Christian Europe? Like all historical trends, the explanations are complex; yet some broad outlines may be identified, both within and without Muslim lands. With the end of the Abbasid Caliphate and the beginning of the Turkish Seljuk Caliphate in 1057 CE, the centralized power of the empire began to shatter. Religious differences resulted in splinter groups, charges of heresy, and assassinations. Aristotelian logic, adopted early on as a framework upon which to build science and philosophy, appeared to be undermining the beliefs of educated Muslims. Orthodox faith was in decline and skepticism on the rise.

The appeal by some erring theologians turned the tide back, declaring reason and its entire works to be bankrupt. They declared that experience and reason that grew out of it were not to be trusted. As a result, free scientific investigation and philosophical and religious toleration were phenomena of the past. Schools limited their teaching to theology. Scientific progress came to a halt.

During this same period, the European Crusades (1097-1291) assailed Islam militarily from without. Cordoba fell to Spanish Christians in 1236. When the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1256 (or 1258) the Islamic Empire never recovered. Trade routes became unsafe. Urban life broke down. Individual communities drew in upon themselves in feudal isolation. Science and philosophy survived for a while in scattered pockets, but the Golden Age of Islam was at an end.

Conclusion

Muslims rose to the height of civilisation in a period of four decades. For more than 1,000 years the Islamic Civilisation remained the most advanced and progressive in the world. This is because Islam stressed the importance of and held great respect for learning, forbade destruction, developed discipline and respect for authority, and stressed tolerance for other religions. The Muslims recognised excellence and hungered intellectually. The teachings of the Qur'an and Sunnah drove many Muslims to their accomplishments in all disciplines of knowledge.

Muslims of today must apply those same principles of success in order to rectify the current state of decay. May Allah (swt) grant us the strength and wisdom to accomplish just that!


Dr Matthews presented this speech at the Australian New Muslim Association (ANMA) Fundraising Dinner, Bankstown, Friday (1 October) 2004.

Uncovering hidden treasures: the glittering aspects of Islam's Golden Age. Muslim scholars, when Europe was in the Dark Ages, studied the texts of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle; of Euclid and the Ptolemys. They produced texts on medicine, astronomy and philosophy. They passed this wisdom on to the Christian fathers in the monasteries in Rome. From there it flowed through to the Renaissance, the industrial revolution, the Age of Enlightenment and to the power that would lead Europe into the Levant, into the Middle East and into the Holy Land in the form of colonialism.

La Convivencia

The Moorish-Jewish Flowering

The Moors literally transformed the Iberian penninsula that initially greeted them. Welcomed by the Jews as liberators, they found the land congenial to their own energies and inspiration. They rebuilt the great cities of Málaga, Córdoba, Granada, and Seville, gave them running water, and adorned them with sumptuous palaces and gardens. They introduced scientific irrigation and a number of new crrops, including citrus fruits -- the famous Seville oranges -- cotton and sugarcane (al-Andalus soon became renowned for its sugar production). They created textile industries in Málaga, Córdoba, and Almería; pottery in Málaga and Valencia; and arms in Córdoba and, for centuries to come, in Toledo, where dismal simulacra of "Toledan steel," damascened and gilded, is still produced for the tourist market. Leather was made in Córdoba, carpets in Beza and Calcena, and paper -- which the Arabs introduced into Europe from China in the eighth century, when it was at its prime, the Muslim emirate of al-Andalus, with its capital at Córdoba, had become the most prosperous, most stable, wealthies, and most cultured state in Europe.

Anthony Pagden. Worlds at War

La Convivencia

Moorish-Jewish Golden Age

References:

Mohammad's great achievement - the simplicity and morality of submitting to the One God, was phenomenal.

Islam - above all - seeks to set one name above all names. (Allah - or God)

Will & Ariel Durant
Will & Ariel Durant write:
"No student can understand the Scholastic philosophy of thirteenth century Europe without considering its Moslem and Jewish antecedents."

The Grandeur and Decline of Islam: "one of the major phenomena of history."

For five centuries, from 700 to 1200, Islam led the world in power, order, and extent of government, in refinement of manners, in humane legislation and religious toleration, in literature, scholarship, science, medicine, and philosophy. [p 341]

In fact (in 'Golden Age of Islam'), "the Muslims seem to have been better gentlemen than their Christian peers; they kept their word more frequently, showed more mercy to the defeated, and were seldom guilty of such brutality as marked the Christian capture of Jerusalem in 1099." [p 341]


Would you think it odd if Hafiz said,

"I am in love with every church
And mosque
And temple
And any kind of shrine

Because I know it is there
That people say the different names
Of the One God."

Would you tell your friends
I was a bit strange if I admitted

I am indeed in love with every mind
And heart and body.

O I am sincerely
Plumb crazy
About your every thought and yearning
And limb

Because, my dear,
I know
That it is through these

That you search for Him.

(Ladinsky's Hafiz)

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Bob Shepherd
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