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Sunday, June 7, 2009

"Did Islam give anything of value to the modern world?"

"Did Islam give anything of value to the modern world?" - Answered by Sheik Yusuf Estes.

The Muslims played a principal role in the history of Spain. Their presence illuminated the Iberian Peninsula while the rest of Europe was engulfed in darkness. And so, Andalusia produced a great civilization far ahead and advanced than the rest of Europe. Under their rule, Muslims made Spain a center for learning and knowledge. The Muslims were taught reading, writing, math, Arabic, Qur'an, and Hadith (Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH), and became leaders in math, science, medicine, astronomy, navigation, etc. Al-Andalus became renowned for its prosperity as people who quested for knowledge journeyed from afar to learn in its universities under the feet of the Muslims. As a result, Andalus gave rise to a great many intellectual giants. Muslim Spain produced philosophers, physicians, scientists, judges, artists, and the like. Ibn Rushd, (Averroes) Ibn Sina, (Avicenna) Ibn Zuhr, (Avenzoar), Al-Kwarizmi, (Algorizm) and Al-Razi, (Razes) to name a few, were all Muslims educated in Andalus. (14) Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, was also educated in Andalusia. It is from the Andalusian philosophers, Ibn Rushd, and Ibn Sina that great renowned Christian men like St. Thomas Aquinas borrowed their philosophies. Both St. Thomas Aquinas and Dante called Ibn Rushd or "Averroes" the "The Commentator" and incorporated the views of Muslims. Through the works of Aristotle, Ibn Rushd reconciled reason with religion. However, Aquinas attempted to refute Ibn Rushd's ideas because they placed a great deal of emphasis on human reason over faith, which were a "threat" to Christian beliefs. (15) Interestingly enough, Thomas Aquinas described Arabs as "brutal men dwelling in the desert." Dante himself was familiar with Muslim figures. It is reported by countless historians, including William Phipps, in his book, Muhammad and Jesus: A Comparison of the Prophets and their Teachings, that the theme of Divine Comedy was inspired by the mi'raj or ascension of the Prophet (PBUH) into heaven from upon the rock which today sits below the dome of Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. (16) Roger Bacon, another individual who refrained from describing Arabs and Muslims in kind words, consulted Ibn Sina's (Avicenna) work. Ibn Sina's work, Al-Qanun, (Canon) the widely studied medical work was used in European Universities for over 300 years, and formed half the medical curriculum. (17) In any case, the list of contributions from the Andalusian Muslims is endless.

The Islamic civilization had reached its peak in the 10th century, and by 1100, the number of Muslims rose to 5.6 million. 18 There existed in Cordoba alone, 200,000 houses, 600 mosques, 900 public baths, 10,000 lamps, 50 hospitals, lighted and paved streets. Muslims introduced public baths because of their need to to wash in preparation for prayer 5x a day. Libraries and research institutions grew rapidly in Muslim Spain, while the rest of Europe remained illiterate.

In Muslim Spain, knowledge from Greece and Rome was preserved. Arab scholars produced encyclopedias on medicine and astronomy in 11th century, also including astrology, psychology, zoology, biology, botany, chemistry, physics, mathematics, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, etc., which Christian scholars acquired and translated. Toledo thrived essentially because of its Muslim rule, and became the "cradle of learning," and the chief point of interaction between the Muslims, Christians and Jews. Western scholars traveled to Spain and Sicily to learn Arabic and to make transcripts of texts in Latin. Muslims produced cotton, paper, salt, silk, satin, pepper, stamps, clocks, soaps, rulers, maps, globes, furs, velvets, described over 200 surgical instruments, and named over 200 stars with Arabic names. Hence, it was this Islamic civilization in Spain that was the main threshold behind the European Renaissance. During the time the Muslims set foot in Spain in 711 until 1084 (a year before Toledo was taken) Muslim Spain had become an area unique to the entire world.

The Muslim artisans applied their remarkable skills to architecture in making mosques (masajid) and palaces. The Muslims mastered technique and design. The Alhambra Palace, and The Great Mosque of Cordoba, are just two of the famous magnificent architectural masterpieces of the Muslims which can still be seen today. Of the Alhambra, it is called, "a utopia, the brightest memory of a lost golden age of pleasure, poetry, tolerance, art, and learning." (19) One Muslim poet wrote:

"A sun dwells in this place and even its shadow is blessed. In this palace a multitude of pleasures capture the eye and suspend the intellect. Here a crystal world teaches marvels. Everywhere Beauty is carved, opulence is manifest."

The Islamic architecture in Spain is elaborate and decorative with intricate designs. Stone, and stucco, plaster for coating exterior walls, were widely favored. Later, brick replaced stone. (20) The "Mezquita" or The Great Mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra of Granada are two Islamic monuments that utilize this design. There are, however, not many examples of Islamic architecture remaining today in Spain because many were destroyed or converted from mosques to churches when Muslims were later exterminated (officially) in the year 1492 and beyond. The Alhambra is the only palace left nearly intact and preserved of all the Muslim masterpieces in Spain.

(21)Narrated by Ibn Abbas (RA), the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: "Whoever creates a living image in this world (i.e, human, animal) will be charged with putting a soul in it which he will never be able to do."

Muslim artists were prohibited from making images of living things so that they could concentrate on the oneness of God. Paintings of inanimate objects, trees and flowers were permitted. Islamic ideology teaches that the making of images can lead to idolatry. It can also lead to praising of one's own work, which does away with humility and humbleness, important virtues stressed in Islam. Inevitably, it leads to one's neglect of the remembrance of Allah, and one's neglect of the fact that it was Allah who gave the artist the talent from birth. It is also rivaling with Allah Himself who is the sole creator of the Universe and its inhabitants. Though many of Muslims therefore abstained from painting figures of people and animals, Islamic art was far from lacking beauty. Muslim scribes in Spain developed calligraphy into art form. Islamic art is known for its repetitious patterns, a constant reminder of the uniqueness of God. (22) Calligraphical, floral, arabesque, and geometric designs flourished in the Muslim world.


Foot Notes:

14. For a list of bios of outstanding Andalusian intellectuals visit: Muslim Scientists and Islamic Civilizations. By Dr. A. Zahoor.
15. Shubert, Adrian. The Land and People of Spain. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992.
16. Chejne, Anwar. Muslim Spain: Its history and culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1974.
17. Saud, Muhammad. Islam and Evolution of Science. India: Adam Publishers & Distributers, 1994. and Vernet, Juan. Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Abrams, 1992.
18. Harvey, L.P. Islamic Spain: 1250-500. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
19. Barrucand, Marianne. Moorish Architecture in Andalusia. Italy: Taschen, 1992.
20. King, Geoffrey. Architecture of the Islamic World. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978.
21. Rodriguez, D.C. Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Abrams, 1992.
22. Grabar, Oleg. The Alhambra. Massachusetts: Harvard University, 1978.

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