In his book, The History of the Mohammaden Empire in Spain, printed in 1816, James Cavanah Murphy bestows on the Arabs the honor of inventing rhyme, “the old mode of teaching music by sol-fa-ing,” and certain musical instruments [the lute]. He then goes on to say that Europe “is indebted” to them for their work in philosophy (Averroes or Ibn Rushd, Al Farabi, Al Ghazali, Ibn Tufail and Al Kindi), medicine (Avicenna, Al Razi), pharmacy (Ibn Zahr), chemistry (Al Kindi and Al Razi), trigonometry (Mohammad bin Moussa, Al Kindi), physics (Ibn al Haitham), arithmetic and algebra. Arabic numerals, the words alcohol and alkali (he could have added aspirin as well), and the inventions of paper, gun powder and the mariner’s compass are also attributed to Arabs*.
In his words, “modern Europe is indebted to them [the Arabs] for most of those useful inventions, which for so many centuries she has quietly and uninterruptedly enjoyed. Nor can the reflecting mind contemplate, without surprise, the very low rank which that nation at present holds in the republic of letters. Their climate has undergone no change, their customs, religion, governments, manners and sentiments, generally, have continued unalterably the same; what then, can be the cause of the existing ignorance which prevails among the Sarrassins?”
R. Ramsay Wright, who translated the book of Al Biruni (better known as Al Khwarizmi), The Tafhim (Kitab al Tafhim li Awa’il Sina’at al Tanjim) written in 1029 A.D., states that “its author is one of the most outstanding figures of the 11th century, which has been described as the blossoming of Mohammadan culture and as the climax of medieval thought.” He continues by saying that “that the translation of a book which served as a primer of science for two or three hundred years after it was published requires no apology.”
The region and Islam need not apologize either for their current state of affairs, but they must definitely search for the causes, mainly the intrinsic ones, and find the cure. Europe and the United States, who have given us almost all of what we have today in science, philosophy, technology, medicine, art and astronomy, from Newton, Einstein, Hawking, Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart, The Beatles and Bill Gates to the Mars Rover Mission, can proudly display their continuous contribution to humanity as well.
However, when it comes to international affairs, they seem always to take a path of folly. How have such great cultures designed such terrible “solutions” for our area? A few examples of questionable positions include the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Balfour Declaration, the support of tyrannical regimes and militant Islamic movements, the stance on weapons of mass destruction, the vetoes of UN resolutions condemning Israel and other blatant double standards in policy.
In his book, Moors in Spain, printed in 1811, Thomas Bourke wrote that “the great have still some kindness in reserve, they help to bury those they helped to starve.” This applies (with various degrees) to the past and present policies of both Europe and the U.S. in our region.
It is time for an open, deep and honest soul-searching journey by all of us. Perhaps, then, we will discover that “east” is not east and “west “ is not west, but that we are all one.
* Some historians might disagree with the association of specific names with certain disciplines.
See the next issue of Ii Monthly for Part II of this editorial series