Dr. S. M. Ghazanfar

Books and E-Books
On Muslim History and Civilization

While the "occidental-oriental" dichotomy of recent centuries identifies the World of Islam as separate and `Eastern,' that world, is inextricably linked with the West. In general, however, "Westerners - Europeans - have great difficulty in considering the possibility that they are in some way seriously indebted to the Arab [Islamic] world, or that the Arabs [Muslims] were central to the making of medieval Europe" (Maria Menocal, The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History; 1987; p.xiii). Two notable contemporary exceptions are: Carl Sagan, the Nobel laureate astronomer (Princeton University) and John Esposito, Director, Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University. Both have candidly talked of West's Judeo-Christian-and-Islamic heritage. Esposito talked of this heritage recently, and added, "Nobody ever told me that," and that he "was always taught the linkages between Judaism and Chistianity..." (CNN, 12/15/95).

This thesis may be corroborated by merely presenting a few quotations from eminent past and present scholars (interested readers may wish to consult the references for greater detail):

1. "No historical student of the culture of Western Europe can ever reconstruct for himself the intellectual values of the later Middle Ages unless he possesses a vivid awareness of Islam looming in the background." (Pierce Butler, "Fifteenth Century of Arabic Authors in Latin Translation, in the McDonald Presentation Volume; Freeport, N.Y., 1933; p.63)

2. "The Arab has left his intellectual impress on Europe, as, before long, Christendom will have to confess; he has indelibly written it on the heavens, as anyone may see who reads the names of the stars on a common celestial globe." (John W. Draper, History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, Harper & Row; Vol.2, 1876 & 1904; p.42)

3. "Because Europe was reacting against Islam it belittled the influence of Saracens [Muslims] and exaggerated its dependence on its Greek and Roman heritage. So today an important task for us is to correct this false emphasis and to acknowledge fully our debt to the Arab and Islamic world" (W. Montgomery Watt, Islamic Surveys: The Influence of Islam on Medieval Europe; Edinburgh, England; 1972; p.84).

4. "One of the hallmarks of civilized man is knowledge of the past - [including]the past of others with whom one's own culture has had repeated and fruitful contact; or the past of any group that has contributed to the ascent of man. The Arabs fit profoundly into both of the latter two categories. But in the West the Arabs are not well known. Victims of ignorance as well as misinformation, they and their culture have often been stigmatized from afar" (John Hayes, The Genius of Arab Civilization: Source of Renaissance; MIT Press, 1983; p. 2)

5. "Too often science in Arabia has been seen as nothing more than a holding operation. The area has been viewed as a giant storehouse for previously discovered scientific results, keeping them until they could be passed on for use in the West. But this is, of course, a travesty of the truth. Certainly the Arabs did inherit Greek science - and some Indian and Chinese science too, for that matter - and later passed it on to the West. But this is far from being all they did" (Colin Ronan, Science: Its History and Development Among World's Cultures; New York; 1982; p.203).

6. An eminent mid-20th century scholar, George Sarton (Harvard Univ.), traces the "roots" of Western intellectual development to the Arab tradition, which was "the outstanding stream, and remained until 14th century one of the largest streams of medieval thought." Further, "The Arabs were standing on the shoulders of their Greek forerunners, just as the Americans are standing on the shoulders of their European ones. There is nothing wrong in that." Then Sarton criticizes those who "will glibly say `The Arabs simply translated Greek writings, they were industrious imitators...' This is not absolutely untrue, but is such a small part of the truth, that when it is allowed to stand alone, it is worse than a lie" (George Sarton, A Guide to the History of Science; Mass.; 1952; pp.27-28).


The list is almost endless, but here are a few prominent names:

Adelard of Bath, Peter Abelard, Robert Grossetteste, Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventura, Duns Scotus, Roger Bacon, Marsilius of Padua, Richard of Middleton, Nicholas Oresme, Joannes Buridanus, Siger of Brabant, John Peckham, Henry of Gant, Williams of Occham, Walter Burley, William of Auvergne, Dante Algheri, Blaise Pascal, and numerous others.

The well-known early 12th century Englishman, Adelard of Bath, often proudly acknowledged his debt to the Arabs - "trained (as he says) by Arab scientists....I was taught by my Arab masters to be led only by reason, whereas you were taught to follow the halter of the captured image of ancient authority [i.e., authority of the Church]" (Tina Stiefel, The Intellectual Revolution in Twelfth Century Europe; St. Martin's Press, N.Y., 1989; pp.71, 80).


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