Why the ‘Golden Age of Islam’ is a fabrication and a successful PR exercise

What stops the philosophers of Islamic theology to venture into the realm of science and reason?

Whenever we talk about the medieval period, immediately our mind associates itself with brutality, ignorance, backwardness, superstition, illiteracy and plagues like 'Black Death' – the scourge of the medieval period in the West. At the same time, a Muslim fanatic, moderate and ever apologist for Islamism will always say that the very same period had the Golden Age of Islam.

First of all the medieval needs to be understood as the period when the various scientific discoveries and inventions started especially in learning centres like monasteries and many classical texts were painstakingly translated into various languages and preserved for posterity.

At the centre of this is the Mont Saint-Michel monastery which did a wave of translations of Aristotle, copies of which came to be available in Moorish Spain – the basis for which was the foundation of the Golden Age of Islam in which Islamic scholars adopted those texts; forgetting that the translations were done by Christian missionaries and monks, later passed on to Syrian, Arabic-knowing Christian monks who further translated them into Arabic.

That the Islamic world chose al-Ghazzali's Asharite leanings fortified in Imam Hanbal's teachings over Ibn Rushd's (Averroes) Mutazalite leanings is proof that the Golden Age of Islam is a fabrication or at best a PR exercise to take attention away from the dhimmitude policies in al-Andalus.

I am always suspicious of academic scholarships, the US/UK Mirpuri-funded Kashmir studies kind, considering that most of them have been found to have been sponsored by our 'ever-friendly and helpful' neighbour in South Asia. Critics have documented the way money from Islamic nations has compromised Islamic and Middle-Eastern studies in Western Universities. No Arabist or Islamic studies academic expert, says Dario Fernandez-Morera in his book The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise - Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain, would have been likely to write a book questioning the claims made by Arabists and Islamic Studies academic experts regarding the beneficial influence of medieval Islam on Christian Europe.

He further adds:

 "... A hermeneutics of suspicion would point out that such questioning would endanger the attractiveness of the field of research that provides a living for the Islamic studies experts, and that such questioning would also risk an end to travel to Muslim countries to do research, a loss of funding for the heretical scholars and their universities (not only from grant-giving institutions but also from governments such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Libya under Gaddafi, and Turkey), ostracism as graduate students, and difficulty finding university positions (assuming the scholars were able to complete a PhD. in a department of Middle East Studies).”

Which brings me to the fearlessness demonstrated by professors when unmasking horrors in such dangerous areas of investigation as Christian Europe (the burning of witches, colonialism) and Catholic Spain (the Spanish Inquisition) which is absent in those areas concerning medievalism in Islamic Spain. Professional self-preservation, political correctness, and economics have affected academic research in certain fields of study. University presses do not want to get into trouble presenting an Islamic domination of even centuries ago as anything but a positive event, and academic specialists would rather not portray negatively a subject that constitutes their bread and butter. Also, fear of the accusation of "Islamophobia" has paralyzed many academic researchers.

James Hannam in his book God's Philosophers - How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science writes:

"...Popular opinion, journalistic cliché and misinformed historians notwithstanding, recent research has shown that the Middle Ages was a period of enormous advances in science, technology and culture. The compass, paper, printing, stirrups and gunpowder all appeared in western Europe between AD 500 and AD 1500. True, these inventions originated in the Far East, but Europeans developed them to a far higher degree than had been the case elsewhere. The Italian doctor, mathematician and astrologer Jerome Cardan (1501–76) wrote that next to the compass, printed book, and cannon, ‘the whole of the ancient world has nothing to compare.’ A compass allowed Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) to navigate his way across the Atlantic Ocean, sailing far from the sight of land to discover the New World in 1492. The development of printing and paper meant that an incredible 20 million books were produced in the first 50 years after Johann Gutenberg (c.1398–1468) had published his printed Bible in 1455. This dwarfed the literary output of antiquity.

Printing probably had an even greater effect than gunpowder which, like the stirrup before it, revolutionised warfare and allowed Europeans to dominate the rest of the world. Meanwhile, the people of medieval Europe invented spectacles, the mechanical clock, the windmill and the blast furnace by themselves. Lenses and cameras, almost all kinds of machinery and the industrial revolution itself all owe their origins to the forgotten inventors of the Middle Ages. Just because we don’t know their names, this does not mean that we should not recognise their achievements. Most significantly, the Middle Ages laid the foundation for the greatest achievement of western civilisation, modern science. It is simply untrue to say that there was no science before the ‘Renaissance’. Once medieval scholars got their hands on the work of the classical Greeks, they developed systems of thought that allowed science to travel far further than it had in the ancient world. Universities, where academic freedom was guarded from royal interference, were first founded in the twelfth century. These institutions have always provided scientific research with a safe home. Even Christian theology turned out to be uniquely suited to encouraging the study of the natural world because this was believed to be God’s creation."

So what stops the philosophers of Islamic theology to venture into the realm of science and reason? If the medieval monks of yesteryears could solve their dilemma between faith and reason, what is stopping Allah's philosophers from taking their Ummah to glory and prosperity? Remember, even when they adopted scientific advancements from the Western world or were exposed to Hellenistic knowledge, they chose to calculate the 'qiblah' rather than the circumference of the Earth or used maps to chart out shorter routes for pilgrimage; or used clocks to time their five prayers. Nothing wrong in that, but then they lost out on the true Golden Age of medical and scientific discoveries, the benefits of which they are owing to the Western world today.

It is still not too late for God's philosophers to change course and steer us away from radicalism towards reason.

Arshia Malik is a Srinagar-based writer and social commentator with focus on women issues and conflict in Kashmir. She makes her living as a school teacher and is an avid collector of literature. She is currently writing a book about her life as a female in Kashmiri Muslim society

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