Islam’s Pyrite Age

June 30, 2020 Category: History
13th-century depiction of the House Of Wisdom


{1  “Bayt” mustn’t be confused with “bay’at”, which means “oath of allegiance”.  Note that a colloquialism for warehouse in the Maghrebi dialect is “makhzen” [literally: place used as a treasury].  “Bayt” was used in various ways–as with the the caliphs’ treasuries: “bayt al-maal” [house of wealth].  Other than “bayt” (household; emphasizing the group of people within), a common Arabic term for house is “dar” (abode; in the sense of a structure or a domain).  This makes sense, as abode has intimations of a sanctuary; a place to feel “at home”.  (See footnote 26 below.)  In the Koran, heaven [“Jannat”] is variously described as “Dar al-Salam” [Abode of Peace] and “Dar al-Akhirah” [Abode of the Hereafter].  “Bayt” is a variation on the Semitic “bit”, from which the Hebrew “beit” (Romanized to “beth”) is also derived. (See footnote 2 below.)  Thus one of the (fascist) Judean Settler Movement’s illegal settlements is called “Be[i]t El” [House of God]–reminding us that Judeo-Supremacy is, at root, theocratic.  (“Beth-El” is, unsurprisingly, also the name of an institute specializing in Revisionist Zionist propaganda.)  Solomon’s fabled temple was actually called the “Beit HaMikdash” (i.e. House of the Abrahamic deity).  The same idiom is found in Arabic.  Notably, “bayt-ullah” [house of god] is an alternate name for a mosque; while “ahl al-bayt” [“people of the house”] is the moniker used to refer to MoM’s family.}

{2  The Old Semitic lexeme for house, “bit” may have had Akkadian origins.  The palace of Aramaean King Kapara of Guzana (c. 1,000 B.C.) was known as “Bit Hilani” [House of Pillars].  That was likely Old Aramaic.  For further discussion of the term, “Beth Israel”, see my essay: “The Land Of Purple”. The Arabic word for domicile (i.e. domestic abode) is “manazil”.}

{3  For more on the deleterious influence of Al-Ghazali, see part one of my essay on the history of Salafism.  Any “Golden Age” that may have occurred in the Muslim world would have occurred IN SPITE OF, not because of, degenerate thinkers like Al-Ghazali.}

{4  Why the obsession with this errant Roman physician, better known as “Galen of Pergamon”, rather than with (the far more valuable) Hippocrates of Kos?  It seems that, during the Middle Ages, denizens of Dar al-Islam were far more partial to certain superstitions (e.g. predestination, arrow-tossing, alchemy, astrology, geo-centrism, demonology, etc.) than to others (e.g. precognition, spirit-channeling, animal sacrifices, hexes, exorcisms, witch-burning, etc.)  Why some superstitions rather than others?  Simply because the former superstitions are prevalent in the Koran; the latter are not.  To put it plainly: It was their decision to follow the Koran’s queue that led them so astray.    A plethora of examples of the Koran’s scientific errancy are enumerated in the monograph.}

{5  Note that “algebra” is simply a Romanization of the Arabic term for the completion / restoration (i.e. transposition) of equations [“al-Jabr”].  The terms in the title of Al-Khwarizmi’s magnum opus (“al-Jabr” and “al-Muqabala”) were rendered “Al-Gebræ” and “Al-Mucabola” in Latin.  (Meanwhile, the term “algorithm” is a Romanized bastardization of the author’s name: “Al-Khwarizmi”.)  As it happened, in seeking sources of wisdom, thinkers like Al-Khwarizmi spent much more time sifting through Indian, Persian, and Greek manuscripts–which, it turned out, offered a bounty of insights–than in perusing the 114 Surahs of the Koran…which, it would have become immediately clear, offered no help whatsoever.}

{6  The Great Library of Alexandria was also an academy of science and philosophy.  The renown institution endured through the 4th century A.D., and boasted such luminaries as Hipparchus, Euclid, Hero, Philo Judaeus, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, Diophantus, Theon, Hypatia, and the great (Pyrrhonic) skeptic, Sextus Empiricus.  We know why there are no traces of the extensive works of Hero of Alexandria or Hypatia of Alexandria to be found in the Arabic translations.  In the 390’s, (Roman Catholic) Emperor Theodosius had the great library of Alexandria (the Museion, replete with the magisterial Serapeum) all-but-razed, destroying much of the material inside.  (Julius Caesar had done extensive damage to the library in the 1st century B.C.; yet the institution persisted for centuries thereafter.)  But it was the Rashidun Caliph Omar [ibn al-Khattab ibn Nufayl] who, in 642, finished the job–destroying whatever was left.  The caliph is said to have used the rational: “If those books are in agreement with the Koran, then we have no need for them.  And if they are opposed to the Koran, then destroy them.”  Since the Koran did not yet exist as a unified work at the time, this is probably not a direct quote. (See footnote 7 below.)  What the apocryphal proclamation DOES tell us, though, is that this was the sentiment embraced by the powers-that-be then and THEREAFTER.  Today, Boko Haram and Daesh are echoes of this very attitude–a continuation of an odious legacy that dates back to the Salaf.  (See my essay on the history of Salafism.)}

{7  The “Recitations” were–at most–a collection of orally-transmitted sayings, not a holy book.  For more on this point, see my essays on the Syriac origins of the Koran.}

{8  The Mutazili sect was more affiliated with Shiism than with Sunnism.  It may come as little surprise, then, that the only sectors in which scientific / philosophical inquiry tended to subsist were Shiite–as attested by the most renown Persian polymaths: Al-Farabi, who was supported by the Shiite Hamdanids; and Ibn Sina (a.k.a. “Avicenna”), who was supported by the Shiite Samanids and Shiite Kakuyids.  Also note Hasan ibn al-Haytham of Basra (a.k.a. “Alhazen”), who was supported by the Shiite Buyyids (vassals of the Seljuks) and the Isma’ili (Shiite) Fatimids. (See footnote 30.)  Even during Islam’s Pyrite Age, Sunnism had very little to do with any intellectual achievements that may have occurred in the Muslim world.  Throughout the Sunni realm, madrassas were chartered under the auspices of “waqf” [religious endowment], which meant that they were legally obligated to hew to the pieties ordained by the powers-that-be.  A rigid religious curriculum was enforced as a matter of course; and patrons were obliged to toe the line.  Rote memorization was the sine qua non in such “places of learning”.  Free inquiry was inimical to such a program.  Critical thinking was out of the question.  Norms of scholarship were thus unable to coalesce.  To wit: Every measure was taken to ensure than another Avicenna would not occur.  To thank Dar al-Islam for Avicenna, then, would be to confuse “in spite of” with “because of”.}

{9  Abd al-Rahman [ibn Ali ibn Muhammad Abu al-Farash] ibn al-Jawzi played an integral role in propagating the Hanbali creed in Baghdad during the 12th century.  His primary vocation was denouncing heretics in the public squares (i.e. upholding the practice of the “taqfiris”).  Al-Jawzi’s disdain for the liberalism of Mu’tazili thought was captured in his screed, “Talbis Iblis” [“Delusions of Iblis”; alt. the Devil’s Delusion].  Note that it was during this time that the reactionary icon, Al-Ghazali rose to prominence.  There were signs elsewhere that the Pyrite Age was in decline–as with the rise to prominence of the staunch reactionary, Ibn Taymiyyah, shortly thereafter.}

{10  The fact that we now have much of what was in Bayt al-Hikma cannot be attributed to second-hand accounts from other places.  This is for the obvious reason that if we are only aware of certain information because it was found elsewhere, there is no reason to attribute its survival to the existence of Bayt al-Hikma.  We know that so much was curated at Bayt al-Hikma because we have evidence that it came from Bayt al-Hikma; which, in turn, means its contents were not destroyed (i.e. by the Mongols).  As it turns out, we DO know what happened after Hulagu Khan captured the city in 1258.  He immediately had most of the books transported to his new capital at Maragheh, where he had a NEW LIBRARY built (as part of the magisterial astronomical observatory, “Rasad Khaneh”).  We might ask: FOR WHOM did he build the new facility?  As it turns out, he did it for an Isma’ili (Muslim) scientist: Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hasan of Tus (a.k.a. “Nasir al-Din Tusi”).  Indeed, Nasir al-Din Tusi pioneered trigonometry under the Hulagu’s patronage.  This bore prodigious fruit, as is documented in the groundbreaking “Zij-i Ilkhani” [Astronomic Tables of the Il-khanate], which were promoted by Hulagu’s (Buddhist) heir, Abaqa Khan.  So any claim that the Il-khanate ended scholarship in the Muslim world is completely unfounded.  It exhibited avid interest in FACILITATING scholarship…by people of ALL Faiths.  Later, the great observatory at Samarkand (erected for the “mirza”, Ulugh Beg) would be modeled on the observatory at Maragheh.}

{11  Tengri was equated with the sky.  He was the godhead–worshipped over all things.  Alas, it has become fashionable in the modern age to demonize what is depicted as the barbaric “Mongol hordes”.  This vulgar, worn-out trope is a gross mischaracterization of Mongolian culture.  The Mongols were, indeed, ferocious conquerers; but no more-so than several other hegemonic empires.  (Funny how we rarely hear of Macedonian or Roman “hordes”.)  It is arguable that if Tengri-ism had continued to become the world’s preeminent monotheism (transplanting the Abrahamic monotheisms), the world would now be a much better place.  (Imagine a world without the Roman Catholic Church!)  Alas.  Demonization of “the other” is par for the course when constructing a self-ingratiating historiography.  This is why few people flinched with the depiction of the Persians in the film “300”, who–in reality–hailed from a far more sophisticated culture than did the Spartans.  Westerners were fine with the portrayal of the Greeks as valiant men defending their cherished homeland against a scourge of grunting ogres.  In fact, the world would arguably have become a better place had Zoroastrianism (the world’s FIRST major monotheistic religion) been the go-to Faith…and the Persians had come to rule Europe.}

{12  This was barring two notable things: circumcision and “halal” dietary restrictions.  The Mongols saw the former as genital mutilation (and thus immoral), so disallowed it.  Mongols saw the latter (“halal” food services in the marketplace) as discriminatory against non-Muslim food proprietors; which it was.  Thus their bone of contention with such practices was one of basic justice; it was not an attempt to oppress.}

{13  After the waning of intellectual activity in Baghdad, some isolated cases persisted in the Ummah–primarily in Andalusia.  Recall that in southern Iberia in particular (a.k.a. Andalusia; i.e. the western frontier of the Muslim world), intellectual activity had flourished during Islam’s Pyrite Age.  In the 10th century, Muhammad ibn Mu’adh al-Jayyani and Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbas al-Zahrawi (a.k.a. “Albucasis”) appeared in Cordoba.  In the 11th century, Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Yahya al-Naqqash al-Zarqalluh (a.k.a. “Al-Zarqali”) appeared in Toledo.  And in the 12th century, Ibn Rushd (a.k.a. “Averroës”) appeared in Cordoba…while Abu Bakr ibn Tufayl appeared in Granada.  During the 12th century in Seville, there appeared Abu Muhammad Jabir ibn Aflah, Abu Muhammad Abd al-Haqq al‐Ghafiqi al‐Ishbili, and Abu Marwan ibn Zuhr (a.k.a. “Avenzoar”).}

{14  This is especially so with what was dubbed “kalam”: Greek philosophy.  In its worst tradition, it was simply a euphemism for Islamic theology.  In its best tradition, it referred to the willingness to subject the Koran to critical scrutiny.}

{15 In modern times, the rubric “Arabic numerals” caught on–eliding the actual history of the numeric system.  For other examples of onomastic snafus, see “French fries”, “Danish” pastries, Chinese “fortune cookies”, “Swedish meatballs”, and “Russian” salad dressing.  Both the French horn and the English horn have German origins.  We should keep this in mind the next time we hear someone cavil about “cultural appropriation”.  In the meantime, don’t expect any French kissing after going Dutch on a Swedish massage.}

{16 The great thinker, Omar ibn Ibrahim al-Khayyam was also from Khorasan; but he lived in the early 12th century, prior to Temujin’s birth.  In fact, during Islam’s “Golden Age”, MANY great thinkers hailed from Persia / Bactria / Khorasan–as the list of Muslim luminaries listed in this essay attests.  Many of these thinkers worked in Baghdad during its heyday.}

{17  I say GENUINE “ijtihad” as opposed to the ERSATZ “ijtihad” sometimes touted by religious fundamentalists; specifically the Ayatollahs in Iran.}

{18  Anyone familiar with Tengri-ism TODAY knows that there is nothing–nor has there ever been anything–remotely evangelical about the Faith.  Pursuant to the Mongols’ encounter of Dar al-Islam, the evangelism was entirely uni-directional.  This is made obvious by the fact that virtually NOBODY–let alone large swaths of the population–in the newly conquered lands converted to Tengri-ism.  Rather than Muslims converting to the (monotheistic) Faith of their conquerers, they persuaded their conquers to leave the Mongol Faith and adopt the Mohammedan brand of monotheism.  This is rather unprecedented.  In other words: The (Tengri-ist) Mongols were SO open to other religions that they were quite easily converted to a potpourri of Faiths–Buddhism, Taoism, Syriac / Nestorian Christianity, Manichaeism, and–of course–the most evangelistic religion of them all: Islam.  All religions were not only TOLERATED under Mongol rule, but even FACILITATED–as all religious leaders were exempt from taxation and public service.  Rather than razing the sacred structures of foreign Faiths, Mongol rulers often funded their CONSTRUCTION (as an act of good will).  Ögedei Khan had houses of worship built for Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Manichaeans, Christians, AND Muslims.  Both Chagatai Khan and Hulagu Khan had Nestorian cathedrals erected.  In fact, Chagatai Khan was known for his religious tolerance, allowing the building of mosques throughout his realm.  This is attested in the “Tarikh-i Rashidi” by “Beg” Mirza Muhammad Haidar of the Dughlat in Kashmir.}

{19  Sometimes, the 9th-century Persian polymath, Abu al-Abbas of Nishapur / Khorasan [alt. dubbed “Iranshahr”; hence “Abu al-Abbas Iranshahri”) is mentioned.  However, he was not explicitly Muslim (he was largely influenced by Zurvanism); and actually considered HIMSELF a prophet.  (He claimed to have received a divine revelation from the angel, “Hasti”.)  We might also note that, since history is written by the victors, any great thinkers who ended up eschewing Islam were likely expunged from the official record–as was the case with the 9th-century freethinker, Ibn al-Rawandi of Khorasan.  During Islam’s Pyrite Age, there were various thinkers of dubious significance.  Here are twenty.  First, four from the 9th century:

  • Arab “Mutazili” expositor, Abu Uthman Amr ibn Bahr al-Kinani of Basra (a.k.a. “Al-Jihaz”), who penned an adaptation of Aristotle’s “Book of Animals”.  He is best-known for his anthology of satirical stories: the “Kitab al-Bukhala” [Book of Misers].
  • Persian “astronomer”, Abu Ma’shar of Balkh (a.k.a. “Albumasar”), an employee of the Abbasid court who’s primary vocation was astrology (rather than astronomy).
  • Persian mathematician / astronomer, Abu Abd’ullah Muhammad ibn Isa of Mahan / Kerman (a.k.a. “Al-Mahani”)
  • Persian mathematician / astronomer, Ahmad ibn Abd’ullah Habash Hasib Marwazi of Merv / Khorasan

Next, ten from the 10th century:

  • Egyptian (Fatimid) “astronomer”, Ibn Yunus of Fustat, who’s primary vocation was astrology.  He was most known for his “Kitab Bulugh al-Umniyya”.
  • Palestinian herbalist, Muhammad ibn Sa’id al-Tamimi of Jerusalem.  He is often considered a “physician”; however all he did was concoct theriac remedies; and so did not advance medical knowledge in any significant way.
  • Persian polymath, Abu Zayd Ahmed ibn Sahl of Balkh, who dabbled in psychology.
  • Persian physician, Al-Natili of Tabaristan, who translated “De Materia Medika” (by the 1st-century Greek physician, Pedanius Dioscorides) into Classical Arabic.
  • Persian geometer / physicist, Abu Sahl Wayjan ibn Rustam of Kuh [Tabaristan] (a.k.a. “Al-Quhi”), who worked for the amir, Sharaf al-Dawla in Baghdad.
  • Persian instrument-maker, Abu Hamid Ahmed ibn Mohammed of Saghan / Hormozgan was known for refining astrolabes in Baghdad.
  • Persian mathematician / astronomer, Abu’l-Abbas al-Fadl ibn Hatim of Nayriz / Fars
  • Persian mathematician / astronomer, Abu Sa’id al-Dharir of Jurjan / Astrabad (a.k.a. “Gorgani”)
  • Persian mathematician / astronomer, Abu’l-Hasan Kushyar ibn Labban of Gilan / Khwarezm
  • Persian mathematician / astronomer, Abu Jafar al-Khazin of Khorasan

Finally, six from after c. 1000:

  • 11th-century Persian mathematician / astronomer, Abu Nasr Mansur [ibn Ali ibn Iraq] of Gilan / Khwarezm
  • 11th-century Andalusian polymath, Maslama al-Majriti of Cordoba, who’s main concerns were alchemy, astrology, and magic (ref. the “Rutbat al-Hakim” and “Ghayat al-Hakim”).  His other major achievement was translating Ptolemy’s (geocentric) “Planispherium” and “Almagest”.
  • 11th-century Andalusian polymath, Abu Muhammad Ali ibn Ahmad [ibn Said ibn Hazm] of Cordoba; who was little more than a conservative Islamic apologist (who masqueraded as a scholar).  He promoted the “Zahiri” (literalist) interpretation of scripture.  
  • 12th-century Persian (Hanbali) jurist, Abdul-Qadir of Gilan
  • 13th-century Andalusian (Sufi) mystics, Ibn Arabi [a.k.a. “Shaykh Al-Akbar”] and Ibn Sab’in of Murcia

While oft-talked about, such men did not contribute anything significant to the advancement of human knowledge.  For an account of the iconic Islamic thinkers who were NOT estimable, see part one of my essay on the history of Salafism.  There, I list a prominent figures who are erroneously accorded high esteem by many Islamic apologists–sometimes even by ostensibly “liberal” Islamic polemicists.  For further comment, see footnote 27 below.}

{20  Plato’s academy was razed by the Roman General, Lucius Cornelius Sulla in the early 1st century B.C.–not because he was a religious fanatic, but because he was a hyper-militaristic sociopath (infatuated with wreaking havoc on the conquered).  In other words, it was Sulla’s megalomania, not a concern for destroying heretical books, that drove him to sack Athens.  By contrast, India’s magisterial “Mahaviharas” at Nalanda and at Vikramshila were both destroyed by Islamic conquerers for explicitly religious reasons.  Gratuitous destruction has many motives.  It is important to distinguish between them.}

{21  The theologian, Ibn Taymiyyah said something very telling to Mahmud Ghazan (who was Muslim) about Hulagu (who was not Muslim).  Comparing their respective treatments of Damascus, he noted: “You claim that you are Muslim and you have with you mu’addhin, muftis, imams, and shaykhs; but you invaded us for what?  While your father and your grandfather, Hulagu, were NON-Muslims, they did NOT attack; and they kept their promise.  Yet you [a fellow Muslim] broke your promise.”  This position prompted Ibn Taymiyyah to issue his notorious fatwa calling for jihad against fellow Muslims (that is: those who contravened sharia), thereby invoking the “takfiri” precedent.  Even more revealing is how he rationalized the excommunication of the (Sunni) Il-khanate.  It was not because they were killing civilians.  Rather, his bone to pick with them was religious: He contended that the Il-Khanate was still hewing too much to the Mongolian “Yassa” civic codes (rather than abiding by strict sharia).}

{22  The famed (Sassanid) academy at Gundishapur was the preeminent medical school in the Middle East during MoM’s lifetime.  It was the methods established there that would be emulated centuries later at Baghdad’s “Bayt al-Hikma”.  To reiterate: The primary function of the “Bayt al-Hikma” was poaching ideas from other cultures’ stockpiles of intellectual achievements.  As it so happened, the academy was shuddered once the Mohammedans conquered the region–hardly a sign that scholarship (read: science) was prized.}

{23  The academy at Sura had a subsidiary at Pum-Nahara.  The academy at Pum-bedita was moved to Mahuza (later rendered “Mada’in”) in the 4th century.}

{24 This does not count the myriad “vihara” (monasteries) where monks simply studied Buddhism–as with Bukrampur, Manyakheta, Nagarjunakonda, Odantapur, Ratnagiri (Odisha), and Shalban (Bengal); as well as Sunethra-devi, Vidyalankara, and Vidyo-daya Pirivenas.}

{25  These literary schools yielded such prominent writers as Chernorizets Hrabar, Joan Ekzarh, and Constantine of Preslav; as well as Naum and Clement of Ohrid (all in the late 9th century).  This was around the time the “Recitations” were being converted into CA script from the original Kufic script.  It is also when the earliest hadith were being compiled.}

{26  A noteworthy factoid: There is currently a fundamentalist Shiite organization named the Islamic “Dar al-Hikmah” [Islamic “House of Wisdom”] in the United States (Dearborn Heights, Michigan), which serves as a Shia indoctrination facility.  As it turns out, the meaning of “hikmah” is in the eye of the beholder.}

{27  Three more deliberate omissions (due to lack of qualification).  First: Shortly after 1600, the Safavid (Shia) illumination-ist, Sadr al-Din Muhammad of Shiraz / Fars (a.k.a. “Mulla Sadra”) made a name for himself as an “Ishraqi” (practitioner of a mysticism-infused Islamic theosophy, sometimes referred to as “al-hikmah al-muta’liyah”).  This is hardly an estimable intellectual feat.  (It might be noted that Mulla Sadra was one of Grand Ayatollah Khomeini’s favorite expositors.)  Second: Sultan Suleyman “The Magnificent” does not qualify as a stalwart either, as he was not a great thinker; and in fact was a brutal military conqueror who executed his own son for displeasing him.  Third: I abstain from listing 9th-century Muslim astronomer Al-Farghani, as he was a Ptolemist (in keeping with the errant cosmological model of the Koran); as well as 18th-century Naqshbandi (Sufi) “muhaddith”, “Shah” Wali’ullah Dehlawi, as he was a Hanafi fundamentalist who’s purported “reforms” were either insignificant or non-Progressive.  Note that, in speculating that the Earth was spherical (something that was already long-known elsewhere), Al-Farghani actually defied the Koran.  In other words, insofar as he got something correct, it was because he departed from his holy book’s flat-Earth depiction.  In any case, Eratosthenes of Cyrene had already not only established that the Earth was spherical, but managed to calculate its circumference to within a few kilometers.  That was in the 3rd century B.C.}

{28  There are countless case-studies of this infelicitous phenomenon.  One of the most notable was the short-lived Augustinian school of the “Victorines” in the 12th century.  Founded in 1108 in a Parisian suburb, the school thrived for 65 years.  Its demise came when (Christian) Reactionaries seized it.  Being doctrinal Roman Catholics, they were vehemently anti-intellectual; and exhibited chronic derision for anything resembling secular thought.  So in 1173, the pedagogical spirit of the school was decisively curtailed, and it was rendered a more conventional abbey.  The programmatic suppression of intellectual activity in Europe by the Roman Catholic Church began in Late Antiquity–as with the execution of Hypatia of Alexandria in 415, followed by the execution of Boëthius in 524.  Also note that the greatest intellectual–and pedagogue–of the 12th century, Peter Abelard, was a heterodox thinker who was persecuted for heresy.  That would be followed by the condemnations of 1277; the excommunication of William of Ockham in 1328; the execution of Jan Hus in 1415; Grand Inquisitor, Tomas de Torquemada’s reign of terror in the 1480’s and 90’s; the burning of Michael Servetus in 1553; the burning of Giordano Bruno in 1600; the persecution of Galileo in 1633; the imprisonment of Denis Diderot in 1749; etc. etc. etc.}

{29  For an excellent history of advances in mathematics, see Peter Beckmann’s “A History of Pi”.  For a history of advances in the sciences generally, Timothy Ferris’ “Coming of Age In The Milky Way” is a wonderful summation.}

{30  Al-Haytham is well-known for the quote: “The duty of a man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an adversary of all that he reads; and…attack it from every side.  He should also suspect HIMSELF as he performs the critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency.”  Contrast this approach to that of, say, Al-Ghazali (see footnote 3 above).}

{31  The fetishism of Classical Arabic is like any other lingual fetishism in that it involves delusion.  (Note, for example, that fundamentalist Jews still think that Classical Hebrew was the original language of mankind; and is thus “god’s language”.  Indeed, lingual fetishism usually takes the form of a liturgical language.)  When one is inclined to designate a language as somehow divine, one is forced to claim its eternality (as it can’t be merely man-made).  One is therefore compelled to countenance absurdities.}

{32  Note that the best source we have of what really occurred is Ata-Malek Juvayni’s “Tarikh-i Jahangushay-i Juvaini” [History of the World Conqueror].  It is quite possible that Juvayni, having qualms with the Nizaris, would have had all Isma’ili material in the library destroyed.  Such destruction would have been delimited; and done at the direction of a MUSLIM, not by the Mongols.}

{33  Note that I do not include men who were known primarily for promulgating dogmas (i.e. religious polemicists and apologists)–as with Abu Nu’aym of Isfahan: the Buwayhid muhaddith who promoted Ash’ari theology (with a touch of Sufi mysticism) in the late 10th / early 11th century.  Nor do I include the likes of, say, Abu al-Rahman ibn Ali ibn Muhammad Abu al-Farash al-Jawzi of Baghdad (a Hanbali preacher from the 12th century), who are often passed off as “scholars”.}

{34  Though purportedly established in the 8th century, the “Zitouna” madrasah in Tunis did not become an institution of higher learning until modern times.  The only institution that may have emulated “higher learning” established within the Ummah during the “Golden Age” was a Shia madrasah–founded at Fez, in Morocco (c. 859) by a Berber woman named Fatima al-Fihri.  A Shiite from Kairouin, Tunisia, she named the madrasah “Al-Qarawiyyin” after her hometown.  The madrasah was commissioned under the aegis of the (Zaydi) Idrisid Dynasty; and eventually received university status in 1963.  Ironically, it is now Sunni.}

{35  Thabit ibn Qurra of Harran (al-Jazira) was not a Muslim, though he flourished in the Islamic Golden Age during the Abbasid Dynasty (9th century).  He is described as a “Sabian”, which can mean several different things.  (He may have worshipped the moon-god, “Sin” or may have been a “Mandaean”.  Either way, he would have spoken Syriac.)  Though born in Harran (al-Sham), he lived most of his life in Baghdad.  He was a renown mathematician / scientist who pioneered physics.}

{36  It is apropos that one of the only gay-friendly mosques in the world is named after Averroës: the Rushd-Goethe masjid in Germany.  This Progressive mosque is an apt tribute to one of the great Progressive Muslims of history.}

{37  He was the student of noted Andalusian polymath, Ibn Bajja of Zaragoza (a.k.a. “Avempace”); and was best-known for his “Philosophus Autodidactus”.}

{38  Centuries later, Ismail al-Jazari of Diyarbakir became a renown (Turkic) engineer employed by the Artuqids.  He was best known for his compendium, “The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices” (early 13th century).  The work included enhancements of the designs by the aforementioned Banu Musa brothers (spec. the water-clock).  Al-Jazari may have been responsible for the invention of the cam shaft.  However, such work pales when compared to the works of the Florentine thinker, Leonardo da Vinci in the next century; or even when compared to Hero of Alexandria, who lived twelve centuries earlier.  In any case, such achievements can in no way be attributed to religious fervor; as no relevant insights were gleaned from doctrine.  (It should go without saying that the Sunnah did not inform Al-Jazari’s design ideas.)  It was the acuity–and dexterity–of his own mind that can be thanked for any knack for invention he may have enjoyed.  This is yet another illustration of the “in spite of” vs. “because of” distinction (vis a vis religiosity).}

{39  Al-Razi was primarily known for his work in Baghdad as a physician–reminding us that many aspiring intellectuals were drawn to the so-called “House of Wisdom” at the time.  (Note: He is not to be confused with the 12th-century theologian, Fakhr ud-Din of Rey, also referred to as “Al-Razi”; as “al-Razi” simply means “from Rey”.)  Al-Razi was a champion of Reason and an anti-literalist.  He boldly claimed that Faith without Reason had no value.  Alas, he adopted Galen’s theory of the humors–though later recanted this position in his notebooks (collected as “Al-Hawi”).  For much of his career, he indulged in alchemistic balderdash.  His contributions were minor and sporadic–mostly having to do with procedural issues.  (It is possible he innovated soap; though he knew nothing of bacteria.)  Needless to say, none of his worthwhile contributions came from the Sunnah.}

{40  Egyptian “Sheikh”, Mohammed Abduh (d. 1905) was what might be called a Kafka-esque Salafi, in that he–paradoxically–proffered a “Progressivism” by harking back to the Salaf.  In his mind, the Golden Age of Islam ended because people stopped being “Islamic” ENOUGH.  Therefore, his thinking went, if only the Ummah went back to ways of the Salaf, it could somehow PROGRESS.  The idea was that the Muslim world stagnated because Muslims became too “soft” (i.e. insufficiently pious; too libertine).  He thereby inverted what would have been the accurate diagnosis.  This trope has become commonplace in Islamic apologia: The heyday of Islam could be resurrected IF ONLY Muslims would more strictly hew to the Sunnah.  They are languishing not due to their religiosity, but because they are not being sufficiently pious.  Their panacea lay in becoming more religious.  Thus forwards is backwards and backwards is forwards.}

{41 He was a pioneer of algebra and geometry, esp. with his treatise, “The Demonstration Of The Problems Of Algebra”.  He was also a philosopher, and arguably the first major humanist in the Muslim world.  It is arguable that he was not even genuinely Muslim.  Indeed, he was regularly castigated for being a skeptic / freethinker; and was even banished from the Seljuk court.  His poetry had a quasi-Sufi ethos, yet it palpably anti-religious.}

{42  Not to be confused with his mentor’s teacher, Sharaf al-Din of Tus.}

{43  Any religious affiliation of great thinkers in Europe to Roman Catholicism was due ENTIRELY to the world into which they were born (where religiosity was de rigueur, and oftentimes compulsory).  It was NOT due to any conscious decision any of them made to (proactively) join the church–that is: for doctrinal reasons.  Michele de Montaigne’s contributions to thought certainly had nothing to do with the Vatican…any more than did those of Augustine-Louis Cauchy, Leonard Euler, or G.E.M. Anscombe.  While Gregor Mendel was affiliated with an Austrian Abbey, we can be quite certain that his association with clergy had nothing to do with his discoveries.  In sum: We would not chalk the insights of these quasi-Catholic thinkers up to some chimerical dedication to the catechism.  So why would we chalk the insights of the quasi-Muslim luminaries listed here up to some conjectured adherence to the Sunnah?}

{44  When explaining how the European Dark Ages began in the first place, the 10th-century Arab historian, Al-Masudi made the astute observation: “Ancient Greeks and Romans had allowed the sciences to flourish.  Then they adopted Christianity.  In doing so, they effaced the signs of learning, eliminated its traces, and destroyed its paths of inquiry.”  Science was eclipsed by institutionalized dogmatism.  Little did Al-Masudi know, the same thing would happen to Dar al-Islam; and for analogous reasons.}

{45  To be fair, Al-Masudi shot his own (Mutazili) cause in the foot.  In his fervor to promulgate his more rationalist version of Islam, he used draconian measures–commissioning a kind of Inquisition to enforce his decrees.  Predictably, such a drastic, heavy-handed approach caused resentment; thereby sowing the seeds for the demise of Mutazilism.}

{46  Centuries later, Shiite fundamentalists (read: Iran’s Ayatollahs) would contort the meaning of “ijtihad” to suit their own deranged purposes.  In a bizarre Orwellian inversion, they labeled their own Reactionary thinking a kind of “ijtihad”.}

{47  The attempt by Islamic apologists to demonize the pre-Islamic Mongols for their military aggression is especially ironic; as the Mongols used the same approach as had been used by their own prophet: submit or perish.}

{48  Genghis Khan established the precedent: Always, give a city the opportunity to submit to Mongol rule before attacking.  The Mongols were not automatically inclined to kill ANYONE; they simply employed draconian tactics when expanding their domain.  Their concern was political dominion…which did not in any way involve an agenda to kill a people based on ethnic identity.  The two most egregious cases of overmuch killing at the hands of the Mongols were committed in 1221.  One was by Genghis himself: the sacking of Old Urgench…though most of the descriptions of the slaughter are likely exaggerated, or even apocryphal.  (Within a few generations, the city was burgeoning, and undergoing a revitalization known throughout the world.)  The other was by Genghis’ son, Tolui, who sacked the Greco-Persian city of Merv.  In that attack, the casualties were–admittedly–stratospheric.  The city soon thereafter fell under the rule of the Il-khanate (the regime founded by Tolui’s son, Hulagu).  The Il-Khanate would not become Islamic until 1295 (under Hulagu’s great-grandson, Ghazan, who converted from Buddhism at the behest of the Oirat emir, Nawruz–who was a notorious Muslim zealot).  It was not until 1789, though, that Merv was razed.  That was done by the Sunni militants from the Emirate of Bukhara–who either massacred or banished the city’s Shiite population…FOR RELIGIOUS REASONS.}

{49 Brian Catlos’ “Kingdoms of Faith” is a good book on the interaction between Catholics and Muslims in medieval Andalusia.}

{50 Pursuant to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the Catholic Church banned “Oration On The Dignity Of Man” by the Italian humanist, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola in the late 15th century. It then banned the works of Francis Bacon and the Dutch Humanist Hugo Grotius in the 17th century. After that, book-banning went into full throttle during the Enlightenment: Pascal’s “Pensées”, Michel of Montaigne’s “Essays”, Locke’s “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”, as well as EVERYTHING by Hume, Voltaire, and Rousseau. Most telling was the banning of Kant’s “Critique Of Pure Reason”–a book that threatened nobody but, well, those who despised pure reason. The church even banned Diderot’s great encyclopedia. The banning went on through Mill, Marx, and Darwin…and into the 20th century.}

{51  What makes the Koran dangerous is that it passes itself off as the most insightful book in human history.  Not only does it get most things wrong; it–quite literally–gets nothing right (morally, scientifically, or historically).}

{52  It might be noted that, in the 19th century, more scientific journals were published in German than in all the world’s other languages combined.  (Social sciences like economics, sociology, and anthropology were primarily British and French.)  To this day, less scholarly material is published in Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, Punjabi, Bangla, and Indonesian “bahasa” (of whom there are over a billion native speakers) any given year than is published in German (less than 100 million native speakers) any given fortnight.}

{53  Though established by the (Isma’ili) Fatimids as a Shiite madrasah in Cairo (c. 972), Al-Azhar did not achieve university status until 1961, and is–not without significant irony–now considered the home-base for Sunni thought.  As with the aforementioned “Al-Qarawiyyin” at Fez (Morocco), such madrasahs were more SEMINARIES than institutions of higher learning–as with the Christian “Didascalium” (a.k.a. “Catechetical School”) of Alexandria, active during the 2nd and 3rd centuries (the legacy of which is now claimed by the Coptic theological seminary in Cairo).  Another point of comparison would be the Christian “school of Antioch”, active from the late 2nd to early 5th century.  NEITHER of those institutions would be considered a bona fide university by today’s standards; and for the same reasons.  Meanwhile, the Iranian “Nizamiyya” system of the 11th century (named after the Seljuk vizier, Nizam al-Mulk) was primarily established as a theological bulwark to combat the growing Isma’ili (Shia) influence in Persia–yet another glaring irony, as Iran is now a Shia theocracy.  The network’s most famous instructor was the Salafi fanatic, Al-Ghazali (see part 1 of my essay, “The History Of Salafism”).  During Islam’s “Golden Age”, NONE of these could be accurately called “universities”; and none were comparable to the schools at Nalanda and Vikramshila in India.  Moreover, none of them would come close to what the universities at Bologna and Oxford would become in the 11th century.  The criteria for “university” and “higher education” must be consistent if we are to draw comparisons across cultures.}

{54  The fact that, over the course of more than twelve centuries, throughout the entire Muslim world (almost a third of the world’s population for much of that period), only three dozen figures are worth mentioning attests to the larger point.  Is 36 men of letters an impressive tabulation?  Was their tenure really indicative of intellectual efflorescence?  Rather than engaging in flights of fancy in the service to specious apologetics, we must keep their (limited) achievements in perspective.  Juxtapose any of them to Renaissance thinkers like, say, Descartes or Bacon or Copernicus or Spinoza or Locke or Newton or Leibniz, and the proper perspective may be established.}

{55  The Assyrians invented aqueducts in the 8th century B.C. for the city of Nineveh.  Evidence for the technology during Late Antiquity exists at Hampi in Karnataka; as well as in the Nabataean ruins at Petra.  The Etruscans were the first to design water channels in the Occident (as with the “cuniculi” at Veii, used for irrigation, drainage, and to supply potable water).}

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