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Monday, November 17, 2008

A.G. NOORANI - The Andalusian interlude

“At the beginning of the eighth century the Arabs brought one of history’s greatest revolutions in power, religion, culture and wealth to Dark Ages Europe. The Arabs were to stay there until the end of the fifteenth century and for much of that time – until roughly the beginning of the twelfth century – Islam in al-Andalus [Muslim Spain] was generally religiously tolerant and, above all, economically robust.”

At the Battle of Poitiers in 732, Charles Martel beat back the Muslim forces. Gibbon’s well-known pronouncement influenced the value judgments rendered by historians as to the desirable outcome from the competition between these two world orders. “Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.”

This book provides a corrective to both sides. The West refuses to acknowledge its debt to Islam. Muslims refuse to reflect earnestly on their decline. “Andalusians assimilated the new learning in the sciences and humanities with an almost-untroubled alacrity, thereby creating a basis of knowledge that would provide the foundation for the Renaissance in Christendom certain to come. In the polarised twelfth century, the flow of knowledge gave way to a virtual flood. Muslim learning, having seeped into the Christian West for decades from Andalusia, commenced a torrential outflow. It was a process mimicking osmosis at first and later, a conveyor belt… by the first quarter of the twelfth century, philosophy and science fairly tumbled out of ‘occupied’ Toledo into Christian Europe.

“The seepage of early times had yielded the writings of Ibn Hazm, historian, jurist and Platonist of al-Zarqiyal (Zarquallu). Toledan astronomer (whose Toledan Tables shaped the development of Latin Astronomy) Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Sephardic philosopher and poet of Zaragoza, influential in the Latin West as Avicebron… A man of science and philosophy who became well known to literate Christians was a Persian who never travelled to al-Andalus. His Latinised name was Avicenna. A child prodigy born in a remote corner of the Muslim empire at the end of the tenth century, Abu Ali ibn Sina had assimilated the entire contents of a sultan’s library by the age of eighteen. Ibn Sina the philosopher caused the doctors of the Church much worry about his synthesis of Platonic pantheism and Aristotelian rationalism. Ibn Sina the physician was eventually received almost with veneration.”


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