MUSLIM CONTRIBUTION TO EUROPE
Saturday, November 03, 2007
PRESENTATION AT AWARE CENTER ON “MUSLIM CONTRIBUTION
TO EUROPE” WITH SPECIAL FOCUS ON TOLERANCE
PRESENTATION AT AWARE CENTER ON “MUSLIM CONTRIBUTION TO EUROPE” WITH SPECIAL
FOCUS ON TOLERANCE
By Kevin A. Stodaa
This month of November, the AWARE CENTER in Surra, Kuwait is focusing on the
theme of “tolerance” in a series of lectures and discussion. On the first
evening, Thursday November 1, Dr. Farhat Hussain presented on the topic of
“Muslim Contribution to Europe, with a special focus on Tolerance”.
In part, this educated presenter, Dr. Hussain, sought to clarify the dual forces
in world historiography which have kept buried the positive relationship which
Islam provided the West approximately a millennia ago--essentially helping the
West to eventually exit the Dark Ages and Middle Ages by providing it with
higher levels of scientific, medical, astronomic, and mechanical insight. This
technological insight had (a) never existed in Western Europe after the Fall of
Rome, and/or (b) had been forgotten or lost.
Most interestingly, Dr. Hussain pointed out that the Islamic sciences and
academics of the 7th to 12th Islamic had made virtual quantum leaps in the
sciences and mathematics over their predecessors-- Greeks, Indians, and
Persians--who had historically influenced scientific and medical developments in
the Middle East.
Moreover, within the sphere of tolerance, Dr. Hussain, in his short lecture,
noted that institutions of learning in Spanish Cordoba and Sicilian Palermo set
up by Muslim (and a few non-Muslims) academics greatly influenced directly and
indirectly many European educators and scientist throughout the first centuries
of the second Millennium A.D.
For example, many of the medical doctors and others who founded and built up
Oxford University in England had studied (or learned from those who had studied)
in Spain at the schools and libraries founded by Muslims there after the 8th
As well, Renaissance artists, scientists, and universal-men, such as Leonardo Da
Vinci, were directly influenced by works written and sketches drawn by Islamic
scientists and writers, such as Al-Kindi’s work on “proportions”.
As well, many “un-copyrighted” works from Arab and Islamic scholars served as
the basis for many of the medical books produced in the early days of the
These are some of the areas in which Islamic institutions blossomed, while
Europe as a whole was trying to find its way out of the Dark Ages: agriculture,
medicine, pharmacy, irrigation, nutrition, dental care, architecture,
urbanization, education, urbanization, astronomy, trade, and economy
In terms of tolerance, Dr. Hussain, takes a wide view of history and includes a
broad definition of tolerance—a definition which bridges upon humanistic
definitions. He looks at the Roman coliseum and asks whether Romans today are
proud of what Imperial Rome had done to citizens and non-citizens there in the
name of entertainment.
Naturally, the Romans are not particularly proud of the Roman Circus, murders
and fighting of gladiators there. Dr. Hussein would ask Egyptians the same thing
about the pyramids built on the backs of so many mistreated and often unpaid
laborers. Dr Hussein asks what other good buildings might the laborers have
constructed which would have benefited the entire people. In this enquiry, he
turns to the lasting institutions of the “masjids” and schools of learning and
to the hospitals created by the Islamic world a millennia ago states that those
were things a civilization both then and now could be proud of implementing and
As both an archeologist who looks at artifacts of history and as a historian who
looks at the written contribution of civilizations, the speaker points out that
the Islamic approach to medical care and access was not only far ahead of any
previous civilization in the Mediterranean and Middle East. The tolerant
attitude of the day in the world of Islam in its hey-day (the first 5 or so
centuries of Islam) was one of universal access, regardless as to whether one
was Muslim, Christian or Jew--all had access to the same level of medical care
within the Islamic realm, according to Dr. Hussain.
For Dr. Hussain, this sort of contribution to civilization is representative of
a society that is not only oriented towards the wealthy, powerful and elite, but
is centered on greater involvement of and respect for humanity
As far as gender relations in early Islamic societies were concerned, Dr.
Hussain, noted that female doctors and pharmacists practiced alongside male ones
in those days—something that was unheard of in Europe until 6 or 7 centuries
In terms of myths created in Europe about Muslims taking over the Christian
world, Dr. Hussain points out that in the 8th century, Spain had many different
types of Christians during the time of the evil Rodrick, a Visogoth King.
Rodrick was specifically persecuting those who were of the bent that Jesus had
been a prophet but had not been the son of God.
For this heresy and for many other reasons, many peoples in the Iberian
Peninsula joined the Moroccan invasion. As a matter of fact, Dr. Hussain states
that several Spanish envoys from the various persecuted- and downtrodden groups
had been sent to the Islamic Moroccan leadership to call for an expedition to
help rid the peninsula of the Cruel Rodrick and his kin.
After Islamic military success, a model of tolerance was quickly set up on the
Iberian Peninsula for generations to come.
Jews, Christians and Muslims lived and cooperated together in Iberia under what
was called Andalusia. It was in Andalusia where many great centers of learning
were set up—and which were visited by scholars from all over the continent. Dr.
Hussein notes that the library during Islamic Cordoba’s Golden Era had tens of
thousands of more books than did any of the libraries of England and northern
Prior to the arrival of Islam in Spain, Spain was a European backwater.
Both the present capitals of Portugal and Spain—Madrid and Lisbon—were largely
created by the Muslims. Many other new cities were built, as well. Eventually,
Islamic clock technology would make its way across Europe. This would be
followed by water wheels and water pumps for irrigation and fountains.
Meanwhile, in terms of tolerance, the much-feared Vikings of Scandinavian Lands
got along with the Muslims quite well.
The coinage of trade in Scandinavia throughout the Viking domination of Northern
Europe was of Islamic origin. Dr. Hussain passed one such Islamic coin that had
been found recently in Sweden for the participants in the audience at the AWARE
CENTER to see and to touch. Dr. Hussain stated that Vikings traveled as far as
to Baghdad in their trading journeys into the Islamic world.
Meanwhile, in Palermo and elsewhere in Southern Europe, Arabic scholarship in
the sciences was quietly being translated into Latin—even though the Roman
church’s opposition to revealing Islamic arts and sciences continued to be
strong throughout the 2nd Millennium.
Similar to the Catholic churches demeaning of the contributions of the Arabs and
Islam to Europe, many prominent western scholars have often pooh-poohed the
notion that Arabs and Islam contributed much to the West in its Darkest hours.
Bertrand Russell was one such mid-guided scholar who demeaned Arab contribution
to architecture and sciences. Another biased author is the currently popular
Western Civilization scholar Felipe Fernando-Armesto who entitles his chapter on
Islam: “The Tower of Darkness”.
“How did such bias hit even the ivory of towers like Oxford University in
England?” asks Dr. Hussain--a university that he claims cannot even write its
own developmental or early history without bowing to the scholarship carried out
in Islamic Spain during Europe’s Dark Ages.
There are two explanations.
The first is that Western European institutions of higher learning were
established and built up originally primarily after the 16th to 18th Century,
i.e. when the western European powers of Spain, Portugal, England, France and
other smaller nations had divided up most of the planet into colonies under
their hegemony. The archeology and history most sought by this particular
domineering western civilization of leaders was one that pointed its trail back
to Rome—not even to Greece!
This is because Greece and Greek literature and history had had next-to-no
direct influence on Western Europe until long after Rome had become Catholic.
Interestingly, during its own existence Imperial Rome had observed what today
are England, Spain, and northern Europe as periphery locations—far from its main
concerns or interests in Northern Africa and the Middle East, i.e. where Islam
In short, the victors of colonialization-era wrote modern world history for
nearly the entire most-recent 2 or 3 centuries of global .
These scholars and eventually shapers-of-politics looked not at China nor to the
Islamic histories, but instead created a myth of classical education that biased
has continued to politicians, religionists, and scholars in the west. Many of
these elites, leaders, and media moguls today are, starting from their years of
education and training, incapable of perceiving the need to reform the current
lapses in historical memory and cross-cultural education by revising educational
curricula and creating a system of training that would enable present and future
generations to comprehend civilization and its development in a more balanced
The other major reason for the lack of appreciation for the contributions of
Islam to the West has to do with Islamic historians and educator’s approaches to
That is, Islamic scholars, too, have been guilty of ignoring the links of
Islamic civilization with non-Muslim civilization historically.
This hyper-focus on teaching history through the eye of Islamic politics and
religion have left many in the Islamic world (and in the non-Islamic world)
ignorant of historical contacts and cross-cultural contributions & aspects of
This hyper-Islamic bias in historiography leaves out vast important and positive
histories of trade and technological sharing/borrowing with China, Southeast
Asia, the far-reaches-of Africa, and many parts of the European continent.
For example, Tunisians had direct representation in Imperial Rome but the Anglo
in England didn’t have such a right. Is this distinction in our culture’s
pre-civilization history clarified any where in Islamic states concerning either
courses on Western Civilization, on Roman history or even in Islamic history
classes? In short, Islamic histories are often blind to many realities and
pre-conditions to their own civilization.
In contrast to the West, though, Islamic Arabia has at times seen itself
historically as rooted in Persian, Indian, and Greek cultural empires.
However, a continuing antagonism towards memory of pre-Islamic history is
prominent in the Arab world (and Islamic world).
This bias is partially likely due to recent anti-colonial movements & ideologies
leading towards Arab-nationalism and pan-Arabism in North Africa and the Middle
East. These movements and ideologies in historical narration have sought to
define Islamic and Arab history in terms of a break-the-chains of colonialism
narration—as well as in a sometimes over-glorious and biased history of local
Further, extremist Islamist movements, including the Wahabi cult dominating most
of the Arab peninsula today, seek to deny pre-Islamic archaeology a proper place
in the memory of Arab and Islamic communities around the region. For example,
Kuwait University, which has over 30,000 students does not even have an
[NOTE: Over many decades, pre-Islamic places of animistic and Hindu worship
on Failaka Island, Kuwait have either been destroyed or left un-investigated for
Likewise, Christian influence and other ancient histories in the region are also
often covered up—literally.
Two years ago, a construction project in the Kuwaiti Free Zone northwest of
Kuwait University unearthed a large Christian church from three centuries
earlier. No one knows what the history of the church was or what happened to it.
The findings have since been covered back up and ignored.]
WHAT HAPPENED TO ISLAMIC CIVILIZATION?
Naturally, before Dr. Farhat Hussain finished his presentation, he took time to
answer questions from the audience.
One of these questions was: “What happened? How did Islamic Civilization fall?”
The questioner was an Egyptian Muslim, who like Dr. Hussain, is interested in
both archeology and history.
I thought to myself. It is good that Arabs, Muslims and Westerners are now once
again taking time to explore both the fall of and importance of early Islamic
For far too-long western-oriented universities and schools have focused too much
on Western civilization—ignoring, for example, the fact that Greek medicine was
much more a mix of science and superstitions when practiced in its heyday than
was medicine at the height of the so-called Dark Ages in the learned centers
(from Baghdad to Cordoba) and hospitals of Islam.
We, in the West, need to look at world history, especially Islamic history, to
understand ourselves and our histories of tolerance and intolerance better.
Likewise, Islamic peoples and Arab peoples in the Middle East need to study
(a) their own histories,
(b) their own international histories, including Islamic and Arab relations with
Europeans, Southeast Asian, Africans, and Chinese culture, and
(c) consider balancing their own histories more with histories from the
perspective of the poor, disenfranchised, and non-Arab, non-Islamic peoples of
the planet. Finally,
(d) more investment needs to be made into both recent and ancient archeology.
These educational expansions by Islamic and Arab societies would help reduce a
lot of myths related to Islamic historiography in both the East and the
West—both places where historiography is still too-dominated by extremists so
History archeology Islam "The West" historeography
education research science change cross-cultural trade international
by Kevin Anthony Stoda at