Fact

There was a "Golden age of Islam".

The Golden Age of Islam Explained

The Islamic Golden Age lasted from roughly the 8th – 13th century. In this time, Islam helped spread, persevere, and advance science, wisdom, reason, and learning.[1][2][3]

A Summary of the Islamic Golden Age

Although the story is more complex than can be said in a sentence, and although the exact dates are contested, we can generally say:

Islam began in the Arabian Peninsula in the early 7th century. Then, beginning with Abbasid Revolution of 750 and thus beginning with the Abbasid Caliphate (the Abbasid Kingdom), Islamic culture (the “middle eastern” Muslim people, a faith and culture, not a race) began integrating different Arab, Persian, Greek, Egyptian, Indian, Jewish, and European cultures and traditions over time, building on their past knowledge, advancing, maintaining, and innovating in the tradition of enlightenment (including all academic and scientific fields and the military arts.[4]

This era of expansion, enlightenment, and colonization is really no different at its core than that of the Persians and Cyrus the Great, or the Greeks and Alexander the Great, or the Romans to some extent (at times; from the era of the Roman Republic to the era of Italian Republics and Machiavelli), or other more modern cultures who have colonized swaths of the world in the name of enlightenment (although certainly each people and era has its own story).

This Golden Age of Islamic Enlightenment is then one of the many stories of global culture sharing and progress that spanned the globe over the eras.

The height of the Age happened in-between the Fall of Rome and the rise of the West during Europe’s dark ages (which weren’t “that dark”; but that is a different topic we will touch on below), and thus, for westerners the story provides a much need explanation of world history (lest we think history begins in sub-Roman Europe in the 500’s).

Notably, the era contains the origin stories of new developments in math, science, astronomy, medicine, and education and the origin stories of great thinkers like al-Khwarizmi (who helped popularize al-jabr, or algebra).

The era even resulted in the first modern degree granting universities!

Regarding colonization (a main property of most historic superpowers in any age), although Islam colonized many of their neighbors, they tended to rule fairly, letting Jews practice their religion and customs in the west in Spain, and letting Indians do the same further east in India (certainly not every conquering and colonizing power in history has both embraced a people and their customs in an effort to promote wisdom and learning and let those concurred live with dignity in their colonization; this alone is enlightened).

Here, we can not only offer respect where it is due, but we can learn something, that is “to ensure a large empire one must rule with a light hand, or live close by” (the same lesson Machiavelli teaches us)… well that and, politely as possible, “no empire is immune to barbarians [in those days, the Mongols].”

Sadly, the Golden Age of Islam began to decline due to complex factors including war and a lack of trade in the late 1200’s, but the culture generally declined at different times in different regions and did so as late as the 1600’s (or arguably never in some places; as this depends on how we define the Age).

Regardless of exactly when we place the rise and fall, we can say for a period in the 9th – 13th centuries Baghdad was not only the Capital of the Muslim world, but the cultural epicenter of the world in general as well.[5]

Below we tell the story of the Golden Age of Muslim culture, look at famous scholars like Ibn Khaldun (who revolutionized mathematics) and Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (the polymath, mathematician, and social philosopher), and discuss some of the inventions and discoveries of this age.

Lastly, we’ll also address historical bias for or against the age, from the praises of Voltaire to the skepticism of some modern thinkers, so we can put some of the myths about the Golden Age of Islam to rest.

See the videos and links for more information on each subject.

FACT: The terms algebra and algorithm are Arabic words. They both come from Latin forms of al-Khwarizmi’s name, as he was the one who brought the Indian numeral system to the middle-east (long before Fibonacci brought it to the west).

TIP: We can’t cover everything here, see this list of early Muslim scientists and scholars and this one.

Science and Islam, Jim Al-Khalili – BBC Documentary.

Golden Age of IslamTexts from the Golden age of Islam, Socrates is featured in the middle. If there is one constant in enlightened societies since the Greeks, it is that their thinkers studied greats like Plato and Aristotle.

THE GOLDEN AGE MYTH?: Some say the Golden Age concept is a myth created by liberals like Voltaire (supposedly due to a affinity against the Catholic church, and perhaps to show that the principles of the European Enlightenment weren’t bound by culture). My research shows that there was a Golden Age, and while it wasn’t all pretty (see “what is progressive militarism and colonialism” and “how things change over time and are different under different rulers”), we can point to it as a time when science and reason brought together Christians, Jews, and Muslims in great cities, just like it had in past ages, and just like it does in some places today. It is easy to glorify the story and give more credit than perhaps any colonizing power of the past deserves (we do it with Rome, Sparta, Athens, certain ages in China, etc; we likely do it a bit with Islam’s Golden Age too, sure), but on that same token, there is a lot of propaganda out there pushing for just the opposite (saying this age is not an age at all), that argument I think we can pretty clearly refute, and will attempt to below well telling the story of how religion and science co-existed in an enlightened environment and thrived for one of many times in history in the middle-east.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Vs Al Ghazali – On the Islamic Golden age. <— Liberals pointing to the Islamic Golden Age. See “what is liberalism?“. This video offers corrections to Tyson, I didn’t catch any that I fully disagreed with (although the commenter wasn’t exactly unbiased). The video mentions the crusades in Andalusia (the Christians sacking Muslim Spain) as part of the decline of the Golden Age before and after the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols. Prior to the decline Jews and Christians lived in Andalusia [mostly peacefully] under Muslim rule. See Al-Andalus and the fall of Muslim power and non-Muslims under the Caliphate.

Al-andalus

A Jew and a Muslim playing chess in 13th century al-Andalus.

Enlightenment in the Muslim and European Worlds

Islam carried the torch of enlightenment after the fall of Rome in its period of colonization. In this time science and knowledge were the first order of Islamic religion. The Muslims learned the works of the Greeks like Aristotle and Plato, combined and integrated Egyptian, Persian, Arabic, Indian, etc influences, and generally preserved and innovated enlightened culture, economics, ethics, arts, and science.

This enlightenment is notable from a historical standpoint, but is especially notable from an western-intellectual standpoint, as it occurred during the dark ages of Europe, and in ways, helped propel Europe’s Renaissance and own Age of Enlightenment.[6][7]

This isn’t to say Europe didn’t innovate in the European dark ages, they did; And it isn’t to say Islam didn’t carry its enlightenment until the present day, aspects of this can be seen. It is to say, that from around 1,100 to 1,300 all the inhabitants of the region (including Europeans, Christians, and Jews) mixed and shared culture, learning in Madrasas, and translating old texts. This, in-part, led to Europe’s own Renaissance which included, among other things, adopting the trend of erecting universities modeled after the Islamic Madrasas.

Pre-Islamic history of the Middle East. The story of the pre-Islamic middle east is a lot like the story of the rise and fall of the Golden Age of Islam.

FACT: The brightest stars in the sky of Earth are also the ones with the most ancient names. Names such as Betelgeuse, Achernar, Sirius, Deneb, and Algol are usually Arabic, dating from around the tenth century when Arab astronomy flourished. Whether we are discussing Algebra, Sirius, or Californium “naming rights” give us a hint at what cultures thrived in which eras.[8]

What is a Golden Age?

A golden age, or age of enlightenment, is characterized by intellectual exploration and progress in the arts, sciences, and ethos. It typically involves colonizing and spreading its ideas. It is not primarily concerned with waging war or proselytizing religion, but of course, we see this happen from Homer’s Troy, to Alexander the Great. Any period of conquest and cooperation brings military strength and diplomacy. With great power typically comes the imposition of religion and war, so we can’t exactly ignore the point.

Key attributes of these golden ages of enlightenment, including the Islamic Golden Age, are centered around a drive to push the bounds of understanding and to preserve the great works of past cultures.

What Inventions Spread During the Golden Age of Islam?

In their hundreds of years of enlightenment and colonization, the Islamic people were prodigious inventors.[9] You can see partial lists here and here.

Notable discoveries include either inventing, improving, or contributing to ethics, algebra, universities, trigonometry, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, and astrology, healthcare, economics, the arts, calculus, optics, theoretical physics, medicine, theoretical computers, firearms, and much more.

TIP: See Islamic contributions to Medieval Europe.

BBC What Islamic World Did For Us – Documentary over ancient Islamic inventions. A Documentary on ancient islamic inventions.

FACT: The Guinness World Records recognizes the University of Al Karaouine, founded in 859 AD, as the world’s oldest degree-granting university. Al Karaouine was founded by a Muslim woman.[10]

The Golden Age of Islam – National Geographic Live! – Salim Al-Hassani: 1001 Inventions – National Geographic.

TIP: The other thing the Islamic world rediscovered is… the modern slave trade (which notably the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, and others had previously taken part in; Aristotle famously [and unfortunately] justified slavery). The Arab slave trade starts in 700 and continued into the height of the Atlantic Slave Trade in Europe. This is to say, whether it is religious wars, the slave trade, enlightenment, or colonization, its hard to point to a major nation today that doesn’t have a history of both the good and the bad. Thus, it is, in ways, hard to see more than superficial differences between even the most seemingly at odds cultures.

Alexander the Great and the Situation … the Great? Crash Course World History #8. Aristotle was Alexander the Greats teacher, Alexander colonized much of the known world, brining enlightenment and founding Alexandria. History has a tendency of repeating.

The Rise and Decline of the Golden Age of Islam

The Golden Age began with the expansion of the Islamic Caliphate in 622 – 750 and then started to decline in the Middle East in the 12th century during the crusades, then in the 13th century due to the Mongol invasions and the the Siege of Baghdad (1258) AD, and then as late as the 16th century in other Muslim lands.

When we say “Golden Age”, we are mostly referring to the cultural flourishing of science and mathematics under the Islamic caliphates during the 9th to 11th centuries. However, because the Muslim people had colonized swaths of Africa, Spain, the Middle East, and India, the culture of enlightenment declined and rose at different times in different places.

When Does the Golden Age Start?

  • Some scholars argue that the Golden Age of Islam started as early as the 6th or 7th Century AD with the expansion of the Islamic Caliphate in 622 – 750 (perhaps starting in 639 AD when the Muslims conquered Egypt and thus obtained some amount of its knowledge).
  • Others argue for 8th century (perhaps when the Abbasid dynasty rose to power in 750 in Baghdad, as explained in the video below).[11]

The Histories Part 62: The Abbasid Dynasty.

When Did the Golden Age End?

Some argue the Golden Age ended with the Siege of Baghdad (1258) during the Mongol invasions by the Mongol Empire (who also sacked the Kievan Rus’ and most of the rest of the eastern world).

The Mongols!: Crash Course World History #17.

Some argue it ended with a series of events beginning with the Crusades (which began way back in 900 BC and targeted just about everyone of every culture including Turks in Palestine, Muslims in Spain, pagan Slavs in the Baltic, and “heretics” in southern France).[12]

The Crusades – Pilgrimage or Holy War?: Crash Course World History #15.

Others argue it ended as late as the 15th or even 16th century (implying the decline begins with the Mongol invasion in the Middle Eastern lands, but doesn’t fully settle in until after struggles with the expanding Ottoman Empire, the Crusades, and the rise of European industrialization in the Age of Discovery). [13].

THE HISTORY OF THE TURKISH AND OTTOMAN EMPIRE – Discovery History Ancient Culture (full documentary).

While there is truth in all the above, aspects of Islamic enlightenment never ended. The Islamic Mughal Empire continued in what today is Afghanistan, Pakistan, and part of India, as enlightened Muslims and traders fled the Mongols and the Mughals colonized more eastern lands; See the History of India. India is one of the only places outside of Europe that managed to ward off the Mongols, Ottomans, and the Crusaders.

TIP: The three videos below explain the Mughals, Islamic Africa, and the ship trade in the Age of Exploration.

The Mughal Empire and Historical Reputation: Crash Course World History #217.

Mansa Musa and Islam in Africa: Crash Course World History #16.

Int’l Commerce, Snorkeling Camels, and The Indian Ocean Trade: Crash Course World History #18.

AN EXPERT TIMELINE: To take excerpt from The Air of History Part III: The Golden Age in Arab Islamic Medicine An Introduction, “In the 7th century, Islam emerged from the desert of the Arabian Peninsula, conquering the old Egyptian, Persian, Roman, and Near Eastern Empires. Islam integrated elements of these cultures into its own, and between the 7th and 12th centuries, it became the center of a brilliant civilization and of a great scientific, philosophic, and artistic culture. Its language was Arabic, but it absorbed and added its culture to the heritage of Greece, Rome, Judaism, Christianity, and the Near East. The medieval Islamic world spanned the outer edge of the Latin world, in Spain, Sicily, and North Africa, and surrounding Byzantium in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria… Some historians of science refer to the period from the 8th to the 16th centuries as the Islamic Golden Age. While the rest of Europe was plunged in darkness and learning stagnated, scientific activity in the Muslim world during this period was phenomenal.”

THOUGHTS: People often point to a few factors when discussing the decline of the Golden age. However, one can argue that no one factor truly ended the Golden Age. These factors that some claim to have ended the age, but I would argue didn’t, include: 1. The mongol’s sacking Baghdad. Which although widely accepted is true; didn’t directly effect the rest of the Muslim world continue to thrive, 2. al-Ghazali’s championing of religion over “falsafa” (“philosophy”, like Aristotle). According to historians who have studied al-Ghazali, it is short sighted to see his work as dismissive of philosophy and science (despite his work and times being emblematic of a changing culture) and thus it is questionable that his work truly marked the end of an entire era, and 3. The rise of the Europeans (where much of the east and west started to industrialize and focus on global trade, while Islam had long stopped expanding. All of those factors are worth noting, but no single one along clearly marks the end of an era. See a reddit discussion for many sides to the al-Ghazali debate or see a historians account here.

Why Did the Decline of the Golden Age of Islam Happen?

The decline can be attributed to many things, some perhaps avoidable, some not.

This includes War and natural cycles, a changing of culture from Enlightened principles to other factors, and a corresponding lack of participation in the Age of Exploration. Also, it should be noted that the decline was not universal (as the culture continues in Spain and India for instance).

First, on war and natural cycles we can refer directly to Ibn Khaldun’s Kitāb al-ʻIbar and Muqaddimah i.e. his Book of Lessons (read Kitāb al-ʻIbar online in English) which was written by the Muslim Polymath in the late 1300’s and was thus a reflection on the decline from within the decline.

Khaldun points out the natural cycle in which cities are erected, become great, but then become complacent, and finally “desert warriors” “barbarians” conquer a city thus completing a cycle. We can muse here on the different ways the original city was treated and reacting and how this colors the next evolution of the city (is it now run by fear, honor, faith, virtue, enlightenment, etc? Did they peacefully co-exist? Was the cities culture preserved and embraced, or was it forgotten?) [that is certainly a comment on certain modern groups, but also a nod to the start and end of the Golden Age with the Abbasid Revolution and Siege of Bagdad, and specifically just a nod to Khaldun who was an Enlightened scholar after “the decline”].

Scholar’s Chair interview: Dr. Charles E. Butterworth – Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah. Ibn Khaldun outlines an early (possibly even the earliest) example of political economy. He describes the economy as being composed of value-adding processes; that is, labour and skill is added to techniques and crafts and the product is sold at a higher value, that surplus and that required for the reproduction of classes respectively. He also proposed new ideas in science and other fields.[14]

In terms of culture, an aspect of the decline is the general dismissal of science, reason, and fraternity over time a cities fell and cultures put specific faiths before religious tolerance. Science, reason, liberty (of faith and right), and fraternity (the brotherhood of all peoples, not one people) are the keystones of enlightenment.

Modern Afghanistan Women before 1992 Mujaheddin and Taliban. When aggression, despotism, and restrictions are put before Education the result is often the same. This is true in the 700’s, 1300’s, 1900’s, etc… in Afghanistan, Baghdad, Europe, or anywhere else.

Also of note is a lack of participation in European trade in the Age of Exploration, something the Mughals enjoyed, but the Middle East didn’t. See the decline of the Golden Age of Islam.

Despite the decline of this Golden Age, elements of Enlightenment can still be seen across Islamic culture today, and of course, in the cultures who have since picked up the torch in the modern era. In fact, the enlightened relationship between the middle east and west has continued into modern times, despite bumps along the way. See European Colonialism and the Emergence of Modern Muslim States.

TIP: Muslim history doesn’t really ever stop intertwining with the west, or the Ottomans, or Spanish, or India, etc. See England’s Forgotten Muslim History.

The History of the Middle East (Part 1/5) FULL DOCUMENTARY. The British take on the history of the Middle East leading to where we are today. The very uncomfortable truth is that the Middle East’s decline happened at a time when the West was rising. Due to the advent of technology, the Turks, and the World Wars the Middle East got fast-tracked to becoming nation states… and that state building had consequences. The story is far to complex to paint with a broad brush, but here we are again, trying to co-exist in the Middle East with each other, and the principles of the enlightenment.

FACT: The Crusades may have contributed to the fall of Islam’s Golden Age, but they don’t directly bring about European enlightenment; there are many factors. An important factor in spreading knowledge was the printing press. The printing press was invented in China earlier, but in Europe it was invented around 1440. In many ways the printed word is responsible for ushering in the next age of enlightenment in the west. The printing press expanded access to knowledge exponentially and promoted the democratizing of ideas for the first time in history. Another important factor was the modern ship trade in the Age of Exploration noted above. Today, information and trade are no less important.

The Great Civilizations in Western History

In other words, the great civilizations relevant to western history in terms of enlightenment, include, but aren’t expressly limited to:

  1. Early Civilizations like the Sumerians and Assyrians: 3,500 BC – 1,700 BC. Where the first complex written language occurs.
  2. Babylonian and Egyptian Empires: late 1700 BC – 600 BC. The rise of the enlightenment.[15][16]
  3. Early Greek and Roman Empires: starting with Homer and ending with the emergence of Christianity. This includes Alexander the Great and Alexandria in the 8th Century BC – 1st Century.[17]
  4. The Great Greek and Roman Empires (including the great Roman empire to its fall): late 700 BC – 1st Century. Many of the vital Greek texts were written in Athens, 400 – 300 BC.[18][19]
  5. Islamic Golden Age of Enlightenment: at least 8th – 13th Century and arguably could range from the 7th – 15th Century if we consider Africa, Spain, and India.
  6. European and American Enlightenment: 15th Century – now. It can be said to start earlier in the 13th – 14th Century, and it rightly does in many respects in the Italian Maritime Republics (where trade, religion, cultures fleeing other areas of the world (and bringing with them the Muslim’s Hindu–Arabic numeral system and related accounting practices for instance), and a republican form of Government begin a new age of Enlightenment).

In other words, half of the great western civilizations were influenced by the middle east. Conversely, many of the great middle eastern civilizations share clear roots with the West because of this clear lineage of protecting, learning, progressing, and then passing on the human race’s collected knowledge throughout history. Every field of study today has been influenced by nearly every major culture on earth at some point in it’s history. The written language, for example, is arguably one of the most profound human achievements is handed down from early cultures from the middle east, but quickly became a practice in everywhere. See our page on naturally occurring systems.[20]

NOTE: There were ups and downs between Sumer and Homer to say the least, this is only meant to give a rough idea of why the 1,000 years between the fall of Rome and the age of Enlightenment are oddly blank in many western history books. There is a long entwined history of the west and middle-east.

How Dark Where the Dark Ages?

The Middle Ages, or the Dark Ages, was a time when Europe had an age of “darkness” as opposed to an age of “enlightenment”. Remember, the Muslim world had an age of enlightenment at the time. The Dark Ages refers specifically to Europe at the time, and generally to any civilization going through a “Dark” and perhaps oppressed period at any point in history.[21]

The 7th century to the 13th and to the 15th century certainly weren’t entirely “dark” in all respects in Europe. But, compared to where we are today, and compared to what the Muslim world was doing at the time, there was considered to be little cultural advancement, few brilliantly written works, and notably lots of warring states vying for power and a focus on religion over science.

It isn’t that nothing happened or that nothing was recorded, it is just that outside of the church and the aristocracy the average person was a peasant. The focus of much of life was to get enough food to eat, not die from plague and support the current King so he could protect and tax you.

There was no upward mobility and no quest for knowledge for the average person or for the culture in general. Compare this to today where any young American can become the next Bill Gates, David Koch, Barak Obama, or George Bush, and we have a time that as a people we should agree we don’t want to go back to.

Instead, we are arguably better advised to look to the east and middle east for examples at this time. Obviously, things have changed in many respects today, but not in all ways, and that is an important fact to keep in mind.

Likewise, when we see parts of the world “in darkness” today, it reminds us that this is a symptom of a deeper problem and not a comment on a people’s ability to be enlightened.

TIP: From here on we use one of the best online history channels around Crash Course to illustrate large parts of history. See more on the history of the middle east from Judea to the end of the Dark ages (from a European perspective) here.

The Dark Ages…How Dark Were They, Really?: Crash Course World History #14. How Dark where the Dark Ages? 

FACT: Dark Ages and Enlightened Ages are important in terms of understanding world history, we see certain mechanics in play at the begging middle end of Dark Ages and Enlightened Ages. We can use critical thinking to understand how to lift up and protect the cultures of today.

What Does this Mean in Context From The Lens of Modern Western Society?

The takeaway of this article shouldn’t be that Islam is good or bad, and in no way should support the far-right views (as there isn’t much enlightened about the far-right).

Rather, it shows that humans of all backgrounds can carry the torch of enlightenment. This isn’t something unique to Europeans, rather, if we trace roots far enough back we find common roots between most major civilizations and religions.

If we are looking for the origin of our modern technology, we must look to China, Arabia, Egypt, Babylon, Germania, Rome, Greece, Persia, Prussia, etc.

The overarching war isn’t one of religion versus religion, or race versus race (although that happened often), it is between knowledge and repression.

Below is a video showing the European Age of Enlightenment. History repeats itself and this has both rosey and grave implications. How can we learn from our mistakes and avoid another Dark Age? How can we help lift those in Dark Ages today out of the darkness?

The Renaissance: Was it a Thing? – Crash Course World History #22



Conclusion

The Islamic Golden age led to many important scientific discoveries, the establishing of some of the world’s oldest universities, and the preserving of ancient texts and knowledge from the past civilizations.

At the same time Islam was coming into their age of enlightenment, Rome was falling to the Germanic tribes (who would later become Europeans and European Americans). Religions, cultures, and histories share more roots than we always remember here in the 21st century, but it is important to remember our past so we can understand where we are today. With this in mind, one cannot understate the importance of the Golden age of Islam.


Citations

  1. Islamic Golden Age” Wikipedia.org
  2. Golden Age of Islam” Regentsprep.org
  3. Islamic Golden Age” Islamichistory.org
  4. Islamic contributions to Medieval Europe” Wikipedia.org
  5. Baghdad in Islamic History
  6. Islamic Golden Age” Wikipedia.org
  7. Europe’s Renaissance” Wikipedia.org
  8. How Stars Are Named
  9. The Air of History Part III: The Golden Age in Arab Islamic Medicine An Introduction” NIH.gov
  10. The Guinness Book Of Records, Published 1998, P.242” Guinnessworldrecords.com
  11. History of Islam – Middle East during the Golden Age” Wikipedia.org
  12. Timeline for the Crusades and Christian Holy War to c.1350” USNA.edu
  13. History of the concept” Wikipedia.org
  14. Ibn Khaldun
  15. Babylonia” Wikipedia.org
  16. History of Egypt” Historyforkids.net
  17. Classical antiquity” Wikipedia.org
  18. The civilization of Ancient Greece was one of the most brilliant in world history” Timemaps.com
  19. Fall of the Roman Empire” Rome.info
  20. Medieval Philosophy” Wikipedia.org
  21. Early Middle Ages” Wikipedia.org


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Boomer Bramblewood on

1. Europe was “dark” because the Huns, Vikings, Mongols, and MUSLIMS were all slicing it up, not to mention the plagues which killed up to 1/2 the populations.
2. Attributing progress to a religion is absurd first of all. We don’t say Buddhist Golden Age, or Christian Golden Age, but we’re okay when it comes to Islam?
3. “Islamic Golden Age” wasn’t very Islamic, why? Islam conquered 1/3 of the lands that were majority Christian in a generation. The Muslim rulers or Caliphs of the realms were minorities when it came to religion, this directly lead to their tolerance, as they didn’t want to offend their subjects whom the majority were NOT Muslim. Additionally, most of there rulers knew little about their own religion as the Koran wasn’t collected and was very new, and Sharia Law wasn’t codified. Ironically it was their LACK of religiosity (secularism) that provided an environment for discovery.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Good feedback. Generally, agree with the facts you lay down, not completely on the assessment. Here are my thoughts.

1. Generally agree that war and disease hinder Europe in the Dark Ages (also religion does, as when religion usurps reason we get less liberty, and thus less enlightenment). With that said, western Europe probably had more in-fighting than out-fighting due to their location. Also, Europe was dark because, minus some parts, it was young. Sub-roman Europe sees the fall of Rome and Rise of the Franks, Britons, Anglo-saxons, etc who overtime embrace the Roman Christian religion and convert from paganism around the 500’s (each culture is different)… so by the time the Islamic Enlightenment happens what many westerners think of as their ancestors are dealing with that environment. //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxons#Conversion_to_Christianity_.28590.E2.80.93660.29 . They weren’t unenlightened, they just weren’t in the same space and weren’t dealing with the ancient cities and cultures of the Middle East, they were building new cultures. //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sub-Roman_Britain#Kingdoms

Then, later the age is dark in terms of science, technology, and writers. However, it gets less and less dark starting in the 12th century, specifically as cultures are built up and trade occurs, but as you say… then the Black Death (and more war and religion) slow down growth a bit. //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/England_in_the_Middle_Ages#Political_history

2. I don’t mean this as a way to attribute progress to the religion as a whole. I think the note that the Islamic religion put knowledge and science (and the spreading of enlightenment) at the top of the priority list is important for us all to remember in the modern day, as it shows the roots of Islamic religion, and it shows that religion can co-exist with enlightenment and it doesn’t always have to dampen it.

I think me, and most people who write on the topic, are referring to the Muslim people (the Islamic people) in the same way one refers to the Jews. So if there was a Jewish Golden Age… oh Wait there was //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_age_of_Jewish_culture_in_Spain…. but this too is a debatable and sticky topic, still historically worth discussing and pointing to, especially with where we are today. If there is a better term to describe the Muslim people of this time who colonized the middle east then i’m all ears. For now we have to use the historical terms so people know what we are talking about.

As for the Christian Enlightenment (which is better referred to as the European Enlightenment), we call it the Renaissance, Scientific Revolution, and Age of Reason or the Liberal Enlightenment (many were deists, but it is a time when the predominately christian became enlightened)…. also while the Crusades weren’t directly enlightening, they did lead to more Enlightened times (minus the killing it opened the door for culture mixing… with Muslims and Jews… and trade). //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crusades#Legacy

3. Very true, the secret sauce of enlightenment is the liberal principles that come with it. //www.columbia.edu/acis/ets/CCREAD/etscc/kant.html

That means co-existing with people who have different views. Many of the successful Islamic “states” of the Golden Age had mixed populations. It is largely the Muslims embracing and combining different cultures outside their own that leads to their enlightenment, same for the European Enlightenment.

I think we could very easily call the Islamic Enlightenment the Middle Eastern Enlightenment, but it is semantics. Today many people around the world are Muslim and with modern international politics I think its important for us all to remember Enlightenment is not bound by race or religion, and is rather in the history of many if not all people.

So, generally agree with you, just see a few bits through a different lens. Certainly hard-line far-right modern religious zealots of any culture have rarely done anyone a favor, while tolerant enlightened cultures can be attributed most of the worlds inventions and discoveries.

Adena on

THE NON-EXISTENT MUSLIM GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE
The notion of a ‘Golden age of Islamic Learning’ is a myth created to counter the current sorry state of intellectual life in the Islamic world.

Most intellectual advances claimed as ‘Islamic’ were made prior to Islam or by non-Muslims. Most of the Islamic ‘polymaths’ not only weren’t Arabs, they were usually highly critical of Islam in greater or lesser measure. Most were also harassed, exiled, maimed or killed and many of their works were destroyed by Muslim rulers or religious authorities during their own lifetimes or after they died.

At a period when many prominent philosophers / polymaths in the Islamic world were starting to embrace Neo-Platonic thought and Hellenistic ideals, the Muslim religious and secular authorities cut it to the quick and put a stop to the liberalisation. Inquisitiveness into the natural world, man’s place in the universe and a striving for ‘independence’ from religious authority were immediately shut down. ‘Islamic Learning’ went into a deep freeze. The ‘philosopher’ Al Ghazali ( Algazelus / Algazel / The ‘Proof of Islam’ ), decreed that all such endeavours were foreign, dangerous and anti-Islamic. His work, ‘The Incoherence of the Philosophers’, essentially shut down science and intellectual development in general.

Al Ghazali didn’t believe that events could happen independently of the Will of Allah. This, of course, essentially marginalises all scientific endeavour and investigation. If all causal events and interactions are not the product of material conjunctions but rather the immediate and present whim of heaven, science is…irrelevant. The Incoherence also marked a turning point in Islamic philosophy in its complete rejection of Aristotle and Plato. The book took aim at the ‘Falasifa’, a movement of Islamic philosophers from the 8th through the 11th centuries ( notably Avicenna and Al-Farabi ) who were intellectually aligned with the ancient Greek philosophers.

A century later, Averroes drafted a lengthy rebuttal of al-Ghazali’s Incoherence entitled ‘The Incoherence of the Incoherence’, but the die had been cast and there was no recovering from the reversal. Al-Ghazali gave as an example of the illusion of independent causation: The fact that cotton burns when coming into contact with fire is simply not cause and effect and it cannot be predicted. While it might seem as though a natural law was at work, it happened each and every time only because Allah willed it to happen–the event was “a direct divine intervention as with any miracle”. Averroes, by contrast insisted whilst Allah fashioned natural law, humans “could more usefully claim that fire itself burns cotton–because creation had a pattern one might discern.” Al Ghazali diverted effort completely away from science, stymied independent thinkers and re-launched the Islamic sphere back into the depths of religious dogma, mysticism and the pre-scientific, Arabian Dark Ages.

It is not an idle comment that Al Ghazali is still widely known in the Islamic world as the second most influential person after Mohammed himself. He is revered as ‘The Reformer’ who ‘returned’ Islam to its proper course at a time of spiritual crisis and existential threat.

Islam–throughout its history–has had a chilling effect on scientific inquiry, intellectual discourse and cultural development. The advanced pre-Islamic centres which previously had vibrant philosophical and scientific development have in fact regressed or been obliterated under Mohammed’s shadow.

Among the many ‘scientific discoveries’ frequenty claimed to be made by Muslims or described as ‘Islamic’, most actually predate Islam itself or were created or developed by non-Muslims:

ARABIC NUMBERALS
The world uses ‘Arabic Numerals’ that were actually developed by Hindus in India (the medieval Arabs themselves referred to them as ‘Hindu Numerals’ in acknowledgement of this ).

ALGEBRA
We have the Arabic word ‘Algebra’ but Algebra was actually developed by Hindu Indians and Hellenistic Greeks.

ALCOHOL
Alcohol is also an Arabic word, but obviously Muslims didn’t invent it ( and had little use for it ). Simply because they named something doesn’t mean they invented it.

ASTRONOMY
Most of the astronomical observations and learning of the ‘Islamic’ world was done in pre-Islamic India, Babylon, Persia and Greece. This closely parallels the genesis of other ‘Islamic’ sciences in its assimilation and amalgamation of foreign material into the cultural fabric of Islam, with Islamic characteristics. A significant number of stars and astronomical terms are still referred to by their Arabic names.

ISLAMIC ARCHITECTURE
The beauty of some Islamic architecture is undeniable, but they didn’t invent these major design elements. The soaring domes, vaults, arches and corbels of mosques and palaces were from Roman palace and Byzantine ecclesiastical design, for example. The ‘advances’ of water supply, drainage and irrigation were from ancient Roman, Persian and Egyptian sources. Many desert areas of the world are yet today irrigated with Persian ‘quanats’ invented over 3,000 years ago. The Romans had adapted this Persian technology centuries before the Islamic conquests.

All these advances were ‘borrowed’ from the centres of Persia, the Levant, Byzantium and Visigothic Spain by their Islamic conquerors. The beauty and design of ‘Islamic’ gardens is actually mostly Persian, and dates from the Achaemenid dynasty from 500 BCE. Even the distinctive ‘horseshoe arches’ of Andalusia and Damascus were actually developed–separately, it turns out–in Visigothic Spain and the pre-conquest Levant.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE KORAN
The status of Indian, Persian, Armenian, Central Asian, Visigothic and Byzantine civilisations was very much higher prior to the Islamic conquests of these centres of civilisation. These conquests were amongst the bloodiest and most brutal in all human history, with India being particularly hard hit. In fact, the Islamic conquests ushered in a Dark Age lasting centuries. India was only ‘freed’ from this enforced slumber once the British gained control.

*****

Islam never had a ‘Golden Age’; it has created an enduring Age of Darkness, ignorance, brutality and repression. At a time when it might have been on track to have a cultural ‘awakening’, the pathway was simply land-mined and roped off.

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THE LIE OF AN ISLAMIC GOLDEN AGE; THE MYTH OF ISLAMIC SCIENCE
( Introduction by Dr. N.S. Rajaram )

It is widely believed and taught ( even in India ) that there was a Golden Age of Islamic learning that made a major contribution to science and the arts. In India we are told that this ‘synthesis’ between Hindu and Muslim thought gave rise to a great ‘syncretic’ civilization that was suppressed and eventually destroyed by the British. However, this flies in the face of the fact that not a single name of a major scientist from the five-plus centuries of Islamic rule of India has come down to us. We have to go to pre-Islamic India to invoke names from the past— names like Aryabhata, Varahamihira and the like.

It is a similar story when we look at universities or centers of learning. Pre-Islamic India was renowned for its universities: Takshashila, Vikramashila, Nalanda, Ujjain and other places attracted students and scholars alike from far and wide, much like the United States of today.

After the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, not a single center of learning ( other than Islamic religious seminaries ) was established for over seven centuries. The first modern universities came to be established only during British rule.

Also worth noting is the fact that the so-called ‘synthesis’ of learning took place before Islamic invasions engulfed both India and Persia in a Dark Age. The Sassanid emperor Kosrau I ( Chosroes / Khosrow / Khosraw / Khusro / Khusro The Just / Anushiruwan / Anushirvn / The ‘Immortal Soul’ ) deserves much of the credit for work that is wrongly attributed to Islamic rulers and scholars.

Khosrau I ( reigned 531–79 CE) known as Anushirvan or ‘The Immortal Soul’ was a great patron of philosophy and knowledge. He gave refuge to scholars from the Eastern Roman Empire when the bigoted Christian Emperor Justinian closed down the neo-Platonist schools in Athens in 529 CE. Earlier, in 415 CE, Christian goons led by ‘Saint’ Cyril burnt down the great library in Alexandria and murdered the neo-Platonic scholar Hypatia who taught there, because another ‘saint’, Paul, had decreed that women must keep their silence.

Khosrau was greatly interested in Indian philosophy, science, mathematics, and medicine. He sent multiple embassies and gifts to the Indian court and requested them to send back philosophers to teach in his court in return. Khosrau made many translations of texts from Greek, Sanskrit, and Syriac into Middle Persian. He was lauded as ‘Plato’s Philosopher King’ by the Greek refugees that he allowed into his empire because of his great interest in Platonic philosophy.

A synthesis of Greek, Persian, Indian, and Armenian learning traditions took place within the Sassanian Empire. One outcome of this synthesis created what is known as bimari-stan ( ‘Home for the Ailing’ ), the first hospital that introduced a concept of segregating wards according to pathology. Greek pharmacology fused with Iranian and Indian traditions resulted in significant advances in medicine.

Regrettably this pre-Islamic era of learning came to an abrupt end following the Arab ( Muslim ) invasions and the defeat of Sassanid Persia The reality is that most of this ‘synthesis’ took place in the pre-Islamic period until Islamic invasions sank both Persia and India into a Dark Age lasting centuries.

SCIENCE IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD
( from an essay by Waseem Altaf )

Rational thought in the Muslim world developed during the reign of liberal Muslim rulers of the Abbasid dynasty. However it was after the rise of scholars like Al-Ghazali that all scientific reasoning came to an end in the 13th century. As we remain enamored by our past achievements in the sciences, we forget that there is very little ‘original’ we as Muslims can celebrate and be proud of.

It was during the reign of the early Abbasid caliphs, particularly Mamun-ur-Rashid ( around 813 CE ) that in his Dar-ul-Hikmah ( the house of wisdom ) in Baghdad, Muslim scholars would begin translating the classic Greek works, primarily toeing the Aristotelian tradition. In addition, they were heavily relying on Persian and Indian sources. They also penned huge commentaries on works by Greek philosophers. However, the Muslim translators were small in number and were primarily driven by curiosity. In fact, more than Ninety-nine percent of the Arabic translations of works of Greek philosophers were done by either Christian or Jewish scholars. It is interesting to note that Islamic astronomy, based on Ptolemy’s system, was geocentric. Algebra was originally a Greek discipline and ‘Arabic’ numbers were actually Indian.

[ N.S Rajaram: Indians invented algebra, calling it bija-ganita. Greeks considered some special cases in number theory like Diophantine Equations, also known to the Indians. The cumbersome letter-based notation ( like the later Roman numerals ) did not lend itself to problems in algebra. The major Greek contributions were the concept of proof ( known also to Indians ) and above all the axiomatic method at which they excelled. The Arabs themselves never denied their indebtedness to the Hindus in astronomy, medicine and mathematics. They called their numbers ‘Hindu numerals’. As noted in the Editor’s Introduction, much of this took place in pre-Islamic Iran, especially under Khusro I. ]

Most of these works were available to the West during 12th century when the first renaissance was taking place. Although Western scholars did travel to Spain to study Arabic versions of classical Greek thought, they soon found out that better versions of original texts in Greek were also available in the libraries of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium.

NOTABLE MUSLIM SCHOLARS
However, it would be unfair not to mention some of those great Muslim scholars, though very few in number, who genuinely contributed in the development of philosophy and science.

AL-RAZI
Al-Razi ( 865 – 925 CE ) from Persia, the greatest of all Muslim physicians, philosophers and alchemists wrote 184 articles and books, dismissed revelation and considered religion a dangerous thing. Al-Razi was condemned for blasphemy and almost all his books were destroyed later.

IBN-E-SINA ( AVICENNA )
Ibn-e-Sina or Avicinna ( 980-1037 CE ), another great physician, philosopher and scientist was an Uzbek. Avicenna held philosophy superior to theology. His views were in sharp contrast to central Islamic doctrines and he rejected the resurrection of the dead in flesh and blood. As a consequence of his views, he became main target of Al-Ghazali and was labeled an apostate.

IBN-E-RUSHD ( AVERROES )
Ibn-e-Rushd ( 1126-1198 CE ) or Averroes from Spain was a philosopher and scientist who expounded the Quran in Aristotelian terms. He was found guilty of heresy, his books burnt, he was interrogated and banished from Lucena.

AL-BAIRUNI
Al-Bairuni ( 973-1048 CE ), the father of Indology and a versatile genius, was of the strong view that Quran has its own domain and it does not interfere with the realm of science. [ NS Rajaram: Al-Bairuni, or Al-Biruni as he is better known in India, makes it clear that the Islamic invasions made Hindu ( and Buddhistic ) centers of learning their special targets. In his words: “…Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions. …This is the reason too why Hindu sciences have retired far away from those parts of the country conquered by us, and have fled to places which our ( Muslim ) hands cannot reach.” The last great center of mathematics was in Kerala, far from their reach. ]

AL-KHAWARAZMI
Al-Khawarazmi ( 780-850 CE ) was another Persian mathematician, astronomer and geographer. The historian Al-Tabari considered him a Zoroastrian while others thought that he was a Muslim. However nowhere in his works has he acknowledged Islam or linked any of his findings to the holy text.

OMAR KHAYYAM
Omar Khayyam ( 1048-1131 CE ), one of the greatest mathematicians, astronomers and poets, was highly critical of religion, particularly Islam. He severely criticized the idea that every event and phenomena was the result of divine intervention. [NS Rajaram: Omar Kyayyam is known to the world mainly as the author of the Rubayyat ( in its English translation by Fitzgerald ), but native Persians see him as onlyl a minor poet but a great scientist. Like all free thinkers he was denounced as a heretic.]

AL-FARABI
Al-Farabi ( 872-950 CE ), another great Muslim philosopher, highly inspired by Aristotle, considered reason superior to revelation and advocated for the relegation of prophecy to philosophy.

ABU MUSA JABIR-BIN-HAYAN ( GEBER )
Abu Musa Jabir- bin- Hayan or Geber (721-815 CE) was an accomplished Muslim alchemist cum pharmacist. Although he was inclined towards mysticism, he fully acknowledged the role of experimentation in scientific endeavors.

IBN-UL-HAITHAM ( HAZEN )
Ibn-ul-haitham or Hazen (965-1040 CE) was an outstanding physicist, mathematician, astronomer and an expert on optics. He was ordered by Fatimid King Al-Hakim to regulate the floods of the Nile, which he knew was not scientifically possible. He feigned madness and was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.

THE VITAL CONTRIBUTIONS OF UNORTHODOX THINKERS
As we go through the life histories of these great men we find that they were influenced by Greek, Babylonian, Persian or Indian contributions to philosophy and science, had a critical and reasoning mind and were ‘not very good’ Muslims or even atheists. A significant number of them were reluctant to even reveal the status of their beliefs for fear of reprisal from the fanatics. They never ascribed their achievements to Islam or divinity. And they were scholars and scientists because of a critical mind which would think and derive inspiration from observation and not scriptures which set restrictions on free thinking and unhindered pursuit of knowledge.

Hence bringing in Islam to highlight achievements of Muslim scientists is nothing but sheer rhetoric as these men did not derive their achievements from Islam, nor did they flourish due to Islam. And we find that whatever little contribution to science was made can be owed to ‘imperfect’ Muslims.

[NS Rajaram: Muslims are not alone in this. Many Hindu scholars also make extravagant claims in the name of ‘Vedic science’ and the like that have no basis. Considering their numbers, the Hindus don’t have a particularly good record, compared to say, the Jews. India and Israel became independent countries around the same time but in science there is no comparison. Retreat into religion in the name of ‘spirituality’ must take its share of the blame. Hindu ‘moneybags’ spend lavishly on religious endowments and dubious holy men, but are measly when it comes to supporting temples of learning. And the few they do ( like the Hindu University of America ) are an embarrassment and get bogged down in obscurantism and mismanagement.]

However it was these ‘perfect’ Muslims–the Islamists–from the 12th century who was to give the biggest blow to scientific thought in the Muslim world.

PUTTING ALLAH’S HANDS IN CHAINS
Imam Ghazali ( 1058-1111 CE ), who still occupies centre-stage among Muslim philosophers, openly denounced the laws of nature and scientific reasoning. Ghazali argued that any such laws would ‘put Allah’s hands in chains’. He would assert that a piece of cotton burns when put to fire, not because of physical reasons but because God wants it to burn. Ghazali was also a strong supporter of the Ash’arites, the philosophers who would uphold the precedence of divine intervention over physical phenomena and bitterly opposed the Mu’tazillites— or the rationalists who were the true upholders of scientific thought.

ORTHODOXY AND DOGMATISM VS. RATIONALITY AND REASON
In other words Ghazali championed the cause of orthodoxy and dogmatism at the cost of rationality and scientific reasoning. Today we find that all four major schools of Sunni Islam reject the concept of ‘Ijtehad’ which can loosely be translated as ‘freedom of thought’. Hence there is absolutely no room for any innovation or modification in traditional thought patterns.

We also find that as Europe was making use of technology while transforming into a culture of machines, the acceptance of these machines was extremely slow in the Islamic world. One prime example is that of the printing press which reached Muslim lands in 1492. However, printing was banned by Islamic authorities because they believed the Koran would be dishonored by appearing out of a machine. As a result, Arabs did not acquire printing press until the 18th century.

It also stands established that science is born out of secularism and democracy and not religious dogmatism. And science only flourished in places where religion had no role to play in matters of state. Hence there is an inverse relationship between religious orthodoxy and progress in science. Rational thought in the Muslim world developed during the reign of liberal Muslim rulers of the Abbasid dynasty who patronized the Mu’tazillites or rational thinkers.

However it was after the religious zealots’ compilation of the ahadis and the rise of scholars like Al-Ghazali that all scientific reasoning came to an end in the 13th century. As a consequence, Muslims contributed almost nothing to scientific progress and human civilization since the dawn of the 13th century. And while science and technology flourish in the modern world, a vast majority of Muslims, engulfed by obscurantism, still find solace in fantasies of a bygone era–the so called ‘Golden Age’ of Islam.

CONCLUDING COMMENTARY
( by Dr. N.S. Rajaram )

Whether one agrees with the author’s conclusions or not, it is undeniable that the contributions to science under the great Islamic empires was–rather disproportionately–small considering their tremendous wealth and power. We already saw that their record in India even during the supposedly ‘great’ Mogul empire was dismal. Part of the problem was that Islamic rulers, instead of encouraging learning, hired foreigners and mercenaries–like the Hindus in India and Jews and Christians in the Ottoman Empire.

Indian Muslim historians like Irfan Habib have tried to explain this intellectual vacuum of the Islamic period in India claiming that its rulers were mainly nomadic tribes from Central Asia ( like the Turks and Mongols ) who were more interested in military exploits than learning or scholarship. But why only under Islam in a belt from India to Turkey and beyond, and that too only after the coming of Islam?

One has to agree with the author Waseem Altaf that Islam ( like Medieval Christianity ) was mainly responsible for this continuing backwardness. Others–notably Hindus–should learn from this and avoid getting trapped in the past.

*****

Islam is a cultural and scientific black hole. Neither intellectual nor scientific advancement can occur in the shadow of the Koran.

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TRUE ISLAMIC CIVILISATION
The true inheritance of ‘Islamic Civilization’ exists in one place only: The Koran. Nothing else is Islamic civilization. What Muslims did is destroy those civilizations that existed before them. Persia, Visigothic Spain, Central Asia, Byzantium–all were sucked dry, hollowed out and physically and intellectually vaporised. Muslims have the goal of erasing the original identities of all such societies and all civilisations. They replace human intellect with the Koran, the various Hadith and the Sunnah. Thinking is a danger; independent thought is haram or apostasy.

THE KORAN IN A NUTSHELL
The Koran can be properly divided into two parts: the first part contain stories about Christians and Jews, whilst the second part calls for cursing them, lying to them, terrorising them, destroying their works and killing them–in addition to elevating the status of Muhammad, of course. It is the ultimate Cult of Personality: Mao Tse-Tung, Stalin and Hitler had NOTHING on him.

THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF MUSLIMS TO CIVILISATION
Destruction, hatred, mayhem, negation and idolatry; this is all that Islamic civilization contributes to the world–then and now. This is all they can offer us.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Thank you for providing a dissenting viewpoint. I’ll have to offer a rebuttal when I get a chance, but it seems generally seems critical and not hateful.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Said Rebuttal:

Any people in a state of shifting into enlightenment, be they the Chinese with their Confucianism or even their legalism, be it the Maritime Republics picking up on mathematics and trade, be it Britain moving toward Protestantism and enlightenment, be it the Muslims before that, the Greeks, the Romans in their Republic or Empire, the Egyptians, the enlightened absolutists monarchs, America in her ages of industrialization, computing, and information, or many more examples, we are concerned with growth in technology, knowledge, philosophy, wisdom, the military arts, economics, medicine, astronomy, mathematics and more; not whether or not some people were religious or if there was war (lest we lose all our heroes in any era).

We aren’t looking for saints, as I can tell you stories of actions anything less than saintly from all the above, we are looking for a culture that lifts themselves up embracing science and wisdom in any area of life.

We know for a fact that from the Abbasid revolution forward that Islam is a colonizing force in the middle-east (and Africa and India). We know that the knowledge of the Greeks and Romans was vast, not to mention the knowledge of the older middle-eastern cultures and other surrounding cultures. So be it, that is historical fact. When the Muslim people begin their conquest they find, translate, assimilate, and build off of that knowledge, and vitally work with others who they concurred but didn’t crush.

By assimilating not only the knowledge, but the people who had cultivated the knowledge before them, they were able to make great advances in (or at least maintain) the knowledge, wisdom, and tradition.

You cite Al Ghazali, but when I compare him to say Thomas Aquinas’ later view of “the philosopher[s]” I find they both are critical… but they are critical in a dense Tome of thoughtful philosophy in which they explain the works of past greats… so I mean, this is very enlightened. We don’t have to agree or be non-religious to be enlightened. (I’ve also noted Al Ghazali in the article above, including a historian of him who debunks the idea that he is somehow responsible for the decline of the age; he may be emblematic of it, but I don’t see evidence that he is responsible).

//plato.stanford.edu/entries/al-ghazali/#AlGhaRefFalIsm
//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Incoherence_of_the_Philosophers

Then, as you say, there is more than one school and the falsafa (philosophy) is rebutted, again this is true to some extent, but it is a bit like dismissing Aquinas fully just because he wasn’t as liberal or grounded as Aristotle. See //www.iep.utm.edu/ibnrushd/

This is just, in ways, the Islamic version of Kant vs. Hume, Aristotle vs. Plato, Kierkengaard’s spheres, or maybe even Protestantism vs. Catholicism (tip: wiki seems to agree with me //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Incoherence_of_the_Philosophers#Summary).

Surprise surprise, some people don’t agree, and some people are more religious than others. Welcome to always.

A free society can and must allow people the freedom to express themselves. Knowing that people have expressed themselves I think backs up the idea that there was a Golden Age.

Now

YOUR LIST OF THINGS: Numbers, yep they are Indian, Muslims maintained and refined them (we also cover this //factmyth.com/factoids/fibonacci-introduced-the-modern-numeral-system-to-europe/), Alcohol… guess who else didn’t invent things Europeans (China and India do many things first)… and i’m not going to go through this part, these are self arising systems that arise in the east, west, and sometimes both at multiple times. Inventing is a collective effort, it only shows how naturally equal we all are.

In the “shadow of the Koran” (well that is a nasty little name for an essay; it is a play on a great work that promotes freedom of religion… //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fi_Zilal_al-Quran)

So firstly, if you fast forward 500 years and look back at America, and you find a ol’ boy from the south who wants to regulate women, declare America a Christian nation, and shoot first and ask questions later, you might say “oh but those America’s were not enlightened” you of course would be very wrong, but the case can be made and facts presented…. which is all you are doing here.

So, my gut tells me i’m going to have this reaction for all the… yep. Short section. War is bloody, what do you want? Lets discuss heroes of WWII from an objective-removed angle. I’m sure all we will see is blood and grey areas. This is not the point of the Golden Age. We know how people lived under Islam after being colonized, and we know it was not bad. We can get into the Turks and British and compare who ruled a country better, but again, not the point. I personally think Indians rule themselves best, but I believe in the principles of Enlightenment and liberalism, like many of the great thinkers (including the Muslim ones) so of course this is what I would think.

And, now i’m realizing you put forth a lot of information (as I go through your rather long comment-essay here line-by-line). Anyway, I’ll let the reader know the above comment is filled with fact (but with a bias against there being an Islamic golden age). I’m sure anyone who read the article and the comment knows I err toward the other side (the side the recognizes the age and accomplishments)… but I sincerely think that history and the works of these men and women back up my side of the story.

Best way to find out who is right is to pick up and read the greats. Once you hear a philosopher explain their culture and position in their own words, from that point forward you can make your own decisions.

One thing is clear, a lot of math, science, philosophy, etc happened in the Middle East during what I call the Golden Age… and well… This is the point of the page.

Lastly, let me just say: The nasty little quips at the end imply that a religion, culture, or people can be inherently bad is the sort of toxic rhetoric that this site attempts to combat via fact. I appreciate all comments rooted in reason, but that sort of vitriol is… oh what is the word I am looking for… ah yes, unenlightened.

We know the Golden Age declined and the religious right sometimes oppressed enlightenment. And we know this follows sentiment such as what is presented by Al Ghazali (especially after the fall of Bagdad where people were depressed and were more susceptible)… but in all nations, for all enlightened people across the globe, we cherish wisdom, science, fraternity, and enlightenment and know hatred and division is the bane of mankind. This is why we remind people of the Enlightenment instead of trying to nit-pick a culture to prove why one group of our common human race is better or worse than another.

Antonio Kowatsch on

The whole notion of the Islamic Golden Age is nothing but Islamic propaganda. Most of their achievements actually originated in India. Like e.g. the concept of algebra. Muslims just “brought” those inventions to the Western world ergo claimed them for their own. But if you study old scripts that pertain to Vedic mathematics you’ll realize the truth.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

You are right in that there are aspects of middle-eastern and western culture borrowed from India (specifically Vedic mathematics). This is in part due to the fact that Islamic powers were colonizing powers prior to the European colonizing powers. This happened during “the Golden Age of Islam”.

The term doesn’t denote perfection, and it doesn’t excuse aspects that weren’t golden, but like any other age or term it is used for a reason. It describes a very real time when enlightened thinking and reason prevailed in a society. Golden like the sun, golden like the light; it was not a dark age. A dark age is one in which emotion trumps reason, when opinion trumps science, when hate trumps love, when war trumps peace, when authority trumps liberty, etc.

I know the extent of the Golden age is debated, and certainly a “globally minded western liberal” is more likely to frame the age in a positive light, but I do think the case can be made that the age was real. Even just embracing the wisdom of past enlightened cultures and weaving it into one’s culture without much innovation is enlightened (and Islam in the age did more than this).

All this to say, what you say is part of the story, but it doesn’t dismiss or disprove our claims and the history of the middle east pertaining to the golden age. And this makes sense, humans are born equal, why wouldn’t any people of any age have in them the potential for enlightenment? Culture was born in the middle east, why wouldn’t it arise there again in another era?