Islamic Background of Western Renaissance
The nomadic Arabs, who rose from
their desert tents, founded in remarkably short space of time, the mightiest
empire of the Mediaeval era, which stretched from the shores of the Atlantic in
the West to the Great Wall of China in the East. Their success in the field of
territorial conquests was no more spectacular than their achievements in the
realm of knowledge.
In fact they brought about the greatest revolution in the history of mankind-a
revolution which embraced all aspects of human activity. The memorable words of
the Holy Prophet of Islam, "Go in quest of knowledge even unto the distant
China'', awakened a spirit of enquiry among the Arabs which, hitherto lay
dormant in them, The Muslims, who were the pioneers in all branches of knowledge
during the Mediaeval times provided the necessary link between the ancient and
The light of knowledge which illuminated the lands of Moors in Spain and Sicily,
was greatly instrumental in dispelling the gloom of ignorance that had enveloped
the Mediaeval Europe. "It was under the influence of Arabian and Moorish revival
of culture", writes Robert Briffault in his well-known work The Making of
Humanity, "and not in the 15th century, that the real renaissance took place.
Spain and not Italy, was the cradle of the rebirth of Europe.
After sinking lower and lower in barbarism, it had reached the darkest depths of
ignorance and degradation when the cities of the Saracenic world Baghdad, Cairo,
Cordova, Toledo, were growing centres of civilization and intellectual activity.
It was there that the new life arose which was to grow into a new phase of human
evolution. From the time when the influence of their culture made itself felt,
began the stirring of a new life".
Another great orientalist Philip K. Hitti, acknowledges the greatness of Arab
culture when he writes in his History of the Arabs "Moslem Spain wrote one of
the brightest Chapters in the intellectual history of mediaeval Europe. Between
the middle of the 8th and the beginning of the 13th centuries, as we have noted
before, the Arab speaking peoples were the main bearers of the torch of culture
and civilization throughout the world.
Moreover they were the medium through which ancient science and philosophy were
recovered, supplemented and transmitted in such a way as to make possible the
renaissance of western Europe. In all this Arabic Spain had a large share".?
The quest of knowledge was not confined to intellectuals only. Even the great
Caliphs and their courtiers vied with each other in the patronage and pursuit of
knowledge. "In the midst of all this luxury", writes John William Draper, in his
The Intellectual Development of Europe, which cannot be regarded by the
historian with disdain, since in the end it produced a most important result in
the South of France, the Spanish Caliphs emulating the example of their Asiatic
compeers, and in this strongly contrasting with the Popes of Rome, were not only
the patrons, but the personal cultivators of all the branches of human learning.
One of them was himself the author of a work on polite literature in not less
than fifty volumes, another wrote a treatise on algebra. When Ziryab the
musician came from the East to Spain, the Caliph Abdur Rahman rode forth to meet
him in honour" Another reputed Western historian says, "The incorruptible
treasures and delights of intellectual culture were accounted by the princes of
Baghdad, Shiraz and Cordova, the truest and proudest pomps of their courts.
But it was not a more appanage of princely vanity that the wonderful growth of
Islamic Science and learning was fostered by their patronage. They pursued
culture with the personal ardour of an overmastering craving. Never before and
never since, on such a scale, has the spectacle been witnessed of the ruling
classes throughout the length and breadth of a vast empire given over entirely
to a frenzied passion for the acquirement of knowledge. Learning seemed to have
become with them the chief business of life. Caliphs and Amirs hurried from
their Diwans to closet themselves in their libraries and observatories. They
neglected their affairs of State to attend lectures and converse on mathematical
problems with men of science".'
Western historians have purposely avoided acknowledging the debt which their
modern civilization owed to the Muslims and till the beginning of the 18th
century A.D., the factors which brought about the renaissance in Europe were
shrouded in mystery. The greatness of Muslim achievements in diverse branches of
learning was hidden behind the thick cover of Western partisanship.
Writing in his celebratedwork, The Intellectual Development of Europe, John
William Draper says, "I have to deplore the systematic manner in which the
literature of Europe it has contrived to put out of sight our scientific
obligation to the Muhammadans. Surely they cannot be much longer hidden.
Injustice founded on religious rancour and national conceit cannot be
perpetuated for ever.....The Arab has left his intellectual impress on Europe,
as, before long, Christendom will have to confess; he has indelibly written it
on the heavens, as anyone may see who reads the names of the stars on a common
The fair minded Robert Briffault has more convincingly exposed the game of early
historians who totally ignored the influence of Muslim culture on the revival of
the West. He says, "The debt of Europe to the 'Heathen Dog', could, of course,
find no place in the scheme of the Christian history, and the garbled
falsification has imposed itself on all subsequent conceptions". Even Gibbon
treated Islam depreciatingly, an instance of the power of conventional tradition
upon its keenest opponents. Until the last century there did not even exist
anything approaching accurate knowledge of Saracenic history and culture. 'These
accounts of Muhammad and Islam which were published in Europe before the
beginning of the 19th century are now to be regarded simply as library
curiosities'. (Prof. Bevan--Cambridge Mediaeval History).
The history of the rebirth of Europe from barbarism is constantly being written
without any reference, whatsoever, except to mention, the 'triumphs of the Cross
over the Crescent', and 'the reclamation of Spain from the 'Moorish Yoke', to
the influence of Arab Civilization--the History of the Prince of Denmark without
Hamlet. Dr. Osborn Taylor has even achieved the feat of writing two large
volumes on The Development of the Mediaeval Mind without betraying by a hint the
existence of Muhammadan culture.
That a brilliant and energetic civilization (of the Muslims) full of creative
energy should have existed side by side and in constant relation with
populations sunk in barbarism (the Christian West), without exercising a
profound and vital influence upon their development, would be a manifest
anomaly...... "It is highly probable that but for the Arabs modern European
civilization would never have arisen at all; it is absolutely certain that but
for them, it would have not assumed that character which has enabled it to
trascend all previous phases of evolution.
For although theres not a single aspect of European growth in which the decisive
influence of Islamic culture is not traceable, nowhere is it so clear and
momentous as in the genesis of that power which constitutes the permanent
distinctive force of the modern world and supreme source of its victory--natural
science and the scientific spirit".l
Thus Christian Europe was rather slow to recognize the greatness of Islamic
learning and its influence on the Revival of the West. Westerners like John
Davenport, Stanley Lane Poole, M.P.E. Berthelot and more recently Holmyard, Max
Meyerhof, George Sarton, Philip K. Hitti, Robert Briffault and John William
Draper have gratefully acknowledged the part played by Muslims in the
advancement of learning and the awakening of Europe. "Down to the 15th century",
writes a western historian, "Whatever scientific activity existed in Europe was
engaged in assimilating Arab learning without greatly adding to it."
The Muslim State of Spain had cultivated a great civilization and a high degree
of culture. Its well planned cities and well organised public works including
the well laid out streets, parks, schools, colleges and hospitals made it a
model State in the West whose phenominal cultural, industrial and social
progress was viewed with wonder by the Christian visitor. The Moors had
introduced beneficial irrigation systems and new crops in Spain.
The high class fabrics manufactured in their textile factories were used in the
Royal Houses of Europe. Cordova, the Capital of Moorish Spain was the most
cultured city of Europe. With its 113,000 houses, 21 suburbs, seventy big
libraries and numerous colleges, mosques, palaces, parks and gardens it had
acquired international reputation. With its well-illuminated streets, Cordova
provided a striking contrast to the European cities and according to John
William Draper, "Seven hundred years after this time there was not so much as
one public lamp in London....... In Paris, centuries subsequently, whoever
stepped over his threshold on a rainy day stepped up to his ankles in mud".'
When the student of the University of Oxford abhorred baths as heathen custom
the Moors enjoyed baths in luxurious establishments. Whenever the Christian
rulers of European States needed an artist, physician or technical hand, they
applied to the Cordova Government. "The fame of the Muslim Capital penetrated as
far as the distant Germany where a Saxon nun (Hrosvitha) styled it as 'The Jewel
of the World'.' The great social and cultural progress of Cordova inspired awe
and admiration in the hearts of European travellers"
The Muslims of Spain had taken long strides in almost all branches of knowledge
and had evolved an educational system which embraced all sciences and arts. A
large number of educational institutions had sprung up in the four corners of
the State including in Cordova, Granada, Toledo and Seville, where learned
teachers imparted lessons in the sciences and arts.
These Islamic institutions of Muslim Spain and Sicily were the cradle of modern
European civilization and the training ground of persons like Roger Bacon and
Gerbert Aurillec who ultimately paved the way for the renaissance of Mediaeval
Europe. The Christian students enjoyed absolute religious tolerance and complete
social freedom in Muslim Spain, which attracted large number of Christian
students from all parts of Europe, who after completing their studies in Moorish
Schools went back to their native places and taught new theories to astonished
"From all parts of Europe", says Robert Briffault, "numerous students betook
themselves to the great Arab seats of learning in the search of light which only
there was to be found. Alvaro, a Cordovan Bishop, writes in the 9th century A.D.
'All the young Christians who distinguished themselves by their talent, know the
language and literature of the Arabs, read and study passionately the Arab
books, gather at great expense great libraries of these, and everywhere proclaim
with loud voice how admirable is that literature'."'
The celebrated Gerbert of Aurillec who studied in Moorish school, brought from
Spain some rudiments of astronomy and mathematics, and taught his astonished
peoples from terrestrlal and celestial globes. His great knowledge which in the
word of William of Malmesbury was 'Stolen from the Saracen', had made him as
Pope Sylvester II.
The Jews, who soon mastered the Saracenic sciences and arts carried the Muslim
theology and philosophy to the distant Benedictine monasteries and the
metropolitan house of Monte Cassino, According to Alvaro, the Bishop of Cordova
in the 9th century A.D., a large number 'lamented that, during his stay in Spain
he had seen troops of students from Germany, France, England, flocking to the
Moorish seats of learning'. In spite of the strict restrictions imposed by the
orthodox Christian missionaries on the diffusion of Islamic learning in Europe
it penetrated as far as distant Germany and far off England.
Frederik II, the Emperor of Italy and Sicily was accused of being a Muslim due
to his patronage and love of Islamic learnings. Muslim Sicily did not lag behind
in the cultivation of a high standard of civilization including the founding of
big institutioas for teaching sciences and arts. Even after the fall of the
Muslim State, the Norman kings of Sicily continued to patronise Muslim
learnings, for which they were condemned by the Pope.
Gradually the Arabic sciences and arts made their way into Europe, which led to
the opening of a number of institutions in France, Germany and even in .England
where Arabian sciences were taught by teachers who had learnt them in Muslim
Spain and Sicily. Montpellier in the 14th century A.D., was the principal centre
for the teaching of Arabian medicine and astronomy in France.
"By the close of the 13th century", writes Philip K. Hitti, "Arabic science and
philosophy had been transmitted to Europe, and Spain's work as an intermediary
was done. The intellectual avenue leading from the portals of Toledo through the
Pyrenees wound its way through Provence and the Alpine passes into Lorraine,
Germapy, and Central Europeas well as across the Channel into England".' It was
in Marseilles, a French port on the Mediterranean that in 1140 A.D. Raymond
prepared planetary tables based on those of Toledo. The famous Abbey of Cluny in
southern France which housed a number of Spanish monks in the 12th century A.D.
became an important centre for the diffusion of Arabian knowledge. As early as
the 1Oth century A.D. Arabian sciences were introduced in Lorraine, which after
two centuries grew into an important region for scientific study. Cities like
Liege, Cologne, and Gorze provided the most congenial atmosphere for the growth
of Arabian knowledge.
"From Lorraine it radiated into other parts of Germany and was transported into
Norman England by men born or educated in Lorraine. Embassies between German
kings in the North and Muslim rulers in Spain were frequent and intellectually
fruitful. As early as 953 A.D., Otto the Great, King of the Germans, sent as an
envoy a Lotharingian monk, John by name, who resided in Cordova for nearly 3
years, probably learned Arabic and brought back with him scientific manuscripts.
Thus did Spanish Arabic learning premeate all Western Europe".'
The translated works of Arab scientists in botany, zoology, physics and alchemy
were taught in European universities specially those of Northern Italy and
France. Jews, after Muslims,were the great exponents of Arab learning and
founded schools along Spanish lines at Bari, Salerno, Tarentum and other places.
Bartholo Ceuse had named 4,000 Jewish scholars scattered all over southern and
western Europe who had imbibed Arab civilization and culture and were well
versed in Arabian learning.
According to the Right Honourable Lecky, the author of Rationalism in Europe,
"Jewish learning and Jewish genius contributed very largely to that bright, but
transienf civilization which radiated from Toledo and Cordova and exercised so
salutary an influence upon the belief of Europe". The educated Jews, whose
medium of education in Spain was Arabic, took a leading part in the translation
of Arabic works into Hebrew and other European languages. The Jewish teachers
disseminated Arabian medicine and other sciences in the medical schools of
Salerno and other European countries.
The Jews who enjoyed complete tolerance in Muslim Spain took a lively interest
in the development and popularisation of Arabian learning both during and after
the Moorish regime. They were scattered all over Europe after the Ahmohadeen
conquest and became the ambassadors of Arabian culture wherever they went.
French and German monks including Hildegard and Hrosvitha, the literary nuns of
the Thuringian convent, learnt Arabian sciences from them. The wandering Jews
founded numerous schools such as those of Kimhic and Ben Esra of Norbonne, where
the diffusion ofGrabian learning was carried on through translation and
teaching. A large number of these Jews accompanied William of Normandy to
England where they established the first English school of science at Oxford, in
which Arabian sciences were freely taught. It was in this school that Roger
Bacon learnt Arabic sciences from Jewish teachers.
The Christian Scholars who had studied in the institutions of Muslim Spain
translated several important works of Arab writers into European languages which
provided the firm ground on which the stately edifice of Western learning was
raised. During the 12th and 13th centuries A.D. the process of the diffusion of
Arab sciences assumed massive scale and there were several centres in southern
France for the dissemination of Arabian Culture.
Constantine, an African monk (1087 A.D.), who had acted as secretary to Robert
Guiscard, translated several Arabic works including the theoretical part of Ali
Ibn Abbas, al-Kitab aLMaliki.
The surgical part of the book was translated into Latin by John, a disciple of
Consrantine. Gerard of Cremona was one of the greatest exponents of Arabian
learning. He spent more than 50 years in Muslim Spain devoting himself to the
pursuit of Arabic learning and translated more than ninety Arabic works
including Al-IZanun, the monumental medical works of-Ibn Sina, Almagest of
Ptolemy, Tasrif of Al-Zahrawi, ;rlI-Mansuri of Al-Razi and the astronomy of
AlHaitham. Faraj ben Salim, the Sicilian Jew, translated in 1279, Al-Hawi, the
well-known medical work of Al-Razi as well as Taqwim al-dbdan, written by Ibn
Europe is chiefly indebted for its knowledge of Arabic medicine to Constantine,
Gerard of Cremona and Faraj hen Salim whose translations paved the way for the
growth of medical science in the West. Adelard of Bath, attached for a
considerable time to the house of Benedictine was the greatest Arabist of
England who popularised Arab learning in France and England. He brought a large
number of books from Cordova, which he translated and popularised in England. Of
his many translated works, the outstanding are theElements ofEuclid, the
astronomical tables of Majriti (1126 A.D.), the astronomical tables of
AlKhwarizmi, the astronomical tables of Abu Ma'sher Jafar and many other
astronomical and mathematical treatises. Toledo, after its fall into Christian
hands in 1085 A.D. became an important centre for the transmission of Arabic
literary treasures to the West..
Under the guidance of Archbishop Raymond I (1126--51 A.D.) there arose a regular
translation deparment in which Michael Scot, Robert Chester and Gerard of
Cremona made valuable translations of important Arabic works. Michael Scot
(1236) who is considered as one of the founders of Latin Averroism later became
the court astrologer of Frederick II of Sicily.. He translated among other works
Al-Hai'a (Bitruji's astronomy), Adstotle's De Coelo et-Mundo, with Ibn Rushd's
commentary, and many Arabic works on zoology. His translations of Ibn Rushd's
works greatly influenced the later European philosophers. Robert Chester made
the first translation of Al-Khwarini's algebra in 1145 A.D.
In 1143 he along with Hermann, the Dalmatian, completed the first translation of
the Holy Quran. Gerard of Cremona was the most prolific of Toledo translators.,
Leorardo Fibonacci, who travelled extensively in Spain and Algeria learnt Arabic
mathematical science and translated the great work of:-Al-Khwarizmi on algebra.
His translated works greatly influenced later writers, hence he is considered
the founder of modern mathematics in Europe.. He greatly. popularised the
perfected decimal notation in Europe.
Daniel de Morley who studied astronomy and mathematics in Cordova, published a
number of works and lectured at the Oxford School. Theodore of Antioch
translated into Latin, an Arabic work dealing with hawking, which is considered
as the first modern natural history. Abraham Ben Ezra(1167 A.D.) a Jew of Toledo
translated al-Beruni's commentary on Khwarizmi's Tables. John of Seville
translated among others the medical and philosophical works of al-Farghani, Abu
Mahsar, Al-Kindi and Al-Ghazali. Plate and Tivoli translated the astronomy of
AlBattani as well as other mathematical works.
Companus of Novara who had studied mathematics at Corodva taught the subject in
Vienna. Alfonso, the sage had established schools at Toledo for the translation
of Arabic works. Stephens of Egypt who received his education in Muslim Sicily
translated the important medical work of al-Majusi in 1127 A,D.
Sicily stands next to Spain in the diffusion of Arab culture. Muslim learning
was transmitted to Europe from Spain and Sicily. Even after the conquest of
Sicily at the hands of the Normans in 1091A.D. the Christian rulers exercised
great tolerance towards Muslims and contrary to their counterparts in Spain
patronised Muslim culture. The superior culture of the conquered race had won
the hearts of the conquerors, so much so that Roger, the first King of Sicily
and his successors were accused of being more Muslim than Christian.
Sicily, which even in the Christian era continued to be a great centre of Muslim
civilization, played a vital part in the awakening of Europe. The civil
administration of Sicily served as a model for Europe. It was Thomas Burn, who
introduced the English fiscal system during the reign of Henry II, which he had
learnt in Muslim Sicily. Sicily, with its central position served as an
intermediary between the two cultures, Christian and Muslim.
It provided an ideal centre for the dissemination of Arabic civilization. There
was continuous intercourse between the two Norman States of England and Sicily
which was instrumental in bringing many elements of Muslim culture to distant
Britain. Emperor Frederick II, in spite of strong opposition from-the orthodox
quarters, continued to be the greatest patron of Muslim culture in Europe. "Its
great far-reaching influence reached its height when the kingdom passed into the
hands of the great Italian born Emperor Frederick II," writes Robert Briffault,
"whose radiant figure filled the Middle Ages with wonder.
If the name of any European sovereign deserves to be specially associated with
the redemption of Christendom from barbarism and ignorance it was not that of
Charlemagne, the travesty of whom in the character of a civilizer is a fulsome
patriotic and ecclesiastical fiction, but that of the enlighted and enthusiatic
ruler(FrederickII) who adopted Saracenic civilization and did more than any
sovereignto stimulate its diffusion" The Jews of Sicily played a vital role in
the diffusion of Arabian learning in Europe.
Of them Farragut of Sirgent, Mese of Palermo and Faraz Ben Salem are noteworthy.
The first two translated the astronomical and mediCal works of Arabs into Latin.
Southern Italy which was ruled by the Norman Kings of Sicily considerably
assisted in diffusing Arab culture to nor them Italy and even to central Europe.
A number of translators worked in western Italy, Burgundio of Pisa (1130 A.D.)
translated ten books of Galen; Bonacosa, a Jew translated the colliget of Ibn
Rushd at Padua and Paravisius translated the Taysir of Ibn Johral at Venice. Due
to a lack of appropriate wards, Arabic technical words and scientific terms were
adopted in Latin. Thus the Arabic words alchemy, alcohol, azure, cipher, elixir
(al-Taksir) were introduced into the vocabulary of Europe and are still in use.
The work of translating Arabic works continued unabated till the middle of the
17th century A.D. Great attention was paid to the translation of Arabic chemical
works. Andrea Alphago of Baluno of Italy (1520 A.D.) translated the biographical
dictionary of Ibn Kifti as well as some of the important works of Galen, Ibn
Sina and Ibn Rushd. A work of Abdur Rahman on music and the Pyramids was
rendered into Latinby Piyare Vattier of Orleans in 1664 A.D.
The period of translation was followed by a period when Arabian knowledge was
systematised, assimilated and the ground prepared for the creative works which
brought about the renaissance in Europe. The systematisers arranged the vast
material obtained through Arabian sources and paved the way for the intellectual
growth of Europe.
Among the foremost systematisers were Alexander of Halle (1245 A.D.), Robert
Grosseteste (1255 A.D.), St. Thomas Acquinas (1225-75 A.D.) Albertus Magnus
(1193-1290 A.D.)., Roger Bacon (1214-94 A.D.), Amold of Villanova
(1255-1320A.D.), and Peter of Abano (1250-1320 A.D.). "The impulse of this
intellectual activity", writes Campbell, "was derived in the main from the
Arabian writers and Albertus Magnus and Rager Bacon were the eminent types of
Arabo-Scholastics of the period who derived the basis of their learning from
Roger Bacon (1214-94 A.D.) is considered the father of the European renaissance.
He was educated by Jewish teachers in the Oxford School which was established,
for the propagation of Muslim science by Jews who had been driven out of Spain
by the Christians and had reached England along with William of Normandy.
According to M. N.. Roy,"Roger Bacon was a disciple of Arabs"..
Roger Bacon, who in the West is known as the originator of the experimental
method in Europe had himself received his training from the pupils of Spanish
Moors and had learnt everything from Muslim sources, The writer of the article
"Roger Bacon" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica claims that it is beyond all
doubt! that Rager Bacon was profoundry versed in Arabian learning and derived
from it many of the germs of his philosophy."
The influence of Ibn Haitham (Alhazen) on Roger Bacon is clearly visible in his
works. Europe was rather slow to recognise the Islamic origin of her much
advertised scientific (experimental) method. Writing in the Making of HumaaitY,
R. Briffault admits that "It was under their successors at the Oxford School
that Roger Bacon learned Arabic and Arabic science.
Neither Rager Bacon nor his later namesake has any title to be credited with
having introduced the experimental method. Roger Bacon was no more than one of
the apostles of Muslim science and method to Christian Europe; and he never
wearied of declaring that the knowledge of Arabic and Arabic science was for his
contemporaries the only way to true knowledge". As a reward for his love of
Arabic science, Roger Bacon was thrown into prison as a sorcerer and he died
shortly after his release from 10 years imprisonment.
The Crusadeb were partly responsible for popularising Puiuslim learning in
Christian Europe. The direct contacts of the Christian west with Muslims in
Palestine made the Christian scholars like Raymond Lull of Catalonia (1235--1315
A. D,X realise the futility of conquering Islam by brute force and attempt to
win their hearts by peaceful means. This necessitated the learning of Arabian
sciences and of training Christian missionaries in Arabic culture.
Such a training centre was established in Toledo in 1250 A. D. Raymond the
Martin, who was the principal scholar of this school, founded a monastic college
at Miramar in 1276 A.D. Probably it was Martin who influenced the ecclesiastical
council of Vienna in 1311 A.D. to adopt a Resolution to create the chair of
Arabic language at the Universities of Paris, Louvain and Salamanca.
According to Lec Clerc, "The contacts of the Arabs with southern Italy and the
Crusades contributed to the spread of Arabian medicine and culture generally in
the west of Europe". Campbell also testifies to the above view when he says,
"the crusaders were undoubtedly influenced by the medical and philosophical
doctrines of the Arabians". The superior culture and advanced knowledge of the
Arabs in several branches of learning greatly influenced the Christian crusaders
when they came in direct contact with the Arabs and the works of persons like
Hermon the Cripple bear testimony to this inffuence of Arab culture.
Influence on the West
The Muslims, who were pioneers in almost all branches of learning led the West
in diverse spheres Of mediaeval thought. "The mission of mankind was
accomplished by Muslims", writes George Sarton, The greatest philosopher,
Al-Farabi was a Muslim the greatest mathematicians, Abul Kamil and Ibrahim Ibn
Sina were Muslims; the greatest geographer and encyclopaedist, al-Musudi was a
Muslim; the greatest historian, Al-Tabari was still a Muslim".
The influence of the Muslims could be traced in almost all spheres of life in
the Mediaeval West including sciences and arts, commerce and industry, music and
painting. The brightest luminaries of the Mediaeval times were Jabir, Kindi,
Jahiz and Baytar in sciences; Zakariya Razi, Ibn Sinaand Zahrawi in medical
science; Khwarizmi, Omar Khayyam, Abul Wafa and Nasiruddin Toosi in mathematics
and astrbnomy; Farabi, Ibn Sina, Ghazali, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Arabi and Fakhruddin
Razi in philosophy; Tabari, Ibn Miskawayh, Ibn Athir and Ibn Khaldun in history;
Masudi, Idrisi and Ibn Hauqal in geography; Farabi, Zalzal, Ziryab and Ibrahim
Mausili in music; Behzad, Maani and Raza Abbasi in painting.
They have left behind on the pages of history the imprint of their genius in the
respective branches of their activity. As already stated in detail in previous
chapters a number of their works served as standard text books both in the West
as well in the East till the beginning of the 18th century A.D.
The Arabs were the real originators of sciences in the world. Discarding the
speculative method of the Greeks, they based their scientific research on
observation and experiment.which gave birth to experimental method. This
experimental method introduced by the Arabs was in fact, responsible for rapid
advancement of science during the mediaeval times. Jabir, the father of modern
chemistry was the greatest chemical scientist of the mediaeval times whose
writings influenced the course of Europeam alchemy and chemistry.
The Kilab Al-Haywan written by Jahiz is an invaluable book on zoology containing
germs of, later theories on evolution, adoptation and animal psychology. Ibn
al-Baytar is universally acknowledged as the most eminent botanist of Mediaeval
times. According to the Historians' History, it was from Ibn al-Haitham's
Twilight that the illustrious Kepler took his ideas of atmospheric refraction
and "it may be that Newton himself owes to the Arabs, rather than to the apple
in his orchard at Woolsthorpe the first apperception of the system of the
universe, for Muhammad Ben Musa seems, when writing his books on the movements
of the celestial bodies and on the Force of Attraction, to have had an inkling
of the great law of general harmony."
In medical science Al-Razi's AI-Hawi (Continens) in 20 volumes and
Al-JudariwalHasbah (a book dealing with small-pox) which ran into more than
fifty editions during 1498--1866; Ibn Sina's (Avicenna's) AI-IZanunFi Tibb
(Canon) published 36 times and surgeon Zahrawi's al-Tasrif were recognised as
the highest authority on medicine during the mediaeval era. Avicenna's influence
on European medicine has been overwhelming.
In mathematics and astronomy, the works on algebra written by Khwarizmi and Omar
Khayyam, books on geometry and trigonometryleft behind by Abul Wafa, Nasiruddin
Toosi and the treatises on astronomy by Khwarizmi, Omar Khayyam, Al-Beruni and
Nasiruddin Toosi are the most outstanding contributions to these sciences during
the middle ages. The translation of Khwariumi's algebra marked the beginning of
The introduction of zero to arithmetic by the Arabs was a highly beneficial step
towards the simplification of arithmetic. The Muslims had specialised in
historiography and political science which were their favourite subjects.
Tabari, the father of Arabian historiography is considered as one of the
greatest historians of the mediaeval era, who has influenced the art of writing
history both in the East and the West. Ibn Khaldun, the founder of the science
of sociology has the unique distinction of treating history as a science by
supporting his facts with reasoning. More than any historian, Ibn Khaldun has
influenced the modern thought in historiography, politics, sociologl and
Among the eminent travellers, explorers and navigators who brought the distant
parts of-Mediaeval world closer through their discoveries and writings are Ibn
Batuta, Masudi, Beruni, Ibn Hauqal, Moqaddasi, Sulaiman Al-Mahiri and Ibn Majid,
They also paved the way for the growth of Arabian commerce which was carried on
with distant parts of the known world both through land and sea routes. The
products of the highly developed industries in Muslim countries found good
market throughout the world.
In fine arts and music too, Muslim artists influenced their European
counterparts and the musicians Farabi, Ishaq Mausili, Zalzal and Ziryab; the
paihters Maani and Behzad were the greatest figures of their time in the
respective spheres of theirarts. Muslims had developed a distinctive style of
their own in architecture and built some of the most magnificent and beautiful
buildings in the world including Alhambra, the Grand Mosque of Cordova in Spain,
mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo, the grand mosque of Isfahan and the Taj Mahal of
Agra. These are even now recognised as the architectural wonders of the world.
Thus the Muslims kept aloft the candle of civilization during the Mediaeval era
and their contributions to the advancement of human progress provided the
necessary link between the ancient and modern civilizations. The Islamic
universities of Nizamiyah and Mustansariya at Baghdad, the Al-Azhar of Cairo,
and the universities of Cordova and Salerno diffused knowledge to students
composed of all communities who flocked to these seats of learning from distant
parts of the world including Europe.
The four factors
The four factors, which are generally recognised by European Historians as the
basis of Western Renaissance are (1) The recovery of Greek Classics, (2) The
diminution of ecclesiastical authority, (3) The discovery of the New World and
(4) The introduction of the Printing Press. But curiously enough these factors
are more or less resulted from the impact of Islamic culture with the west. The
Islamic influence may easily be trace in the birth and growth of these factors
which are said to have brought about the renaissance in Europe.
As regards the Greek Classics, it is universally admitted both in the East and
the West that it were the Arabs who patronised and saved them from total
extinction. Hence the Greek classics existed in Arabic version only, which were
later translated by the Christian scholars into European languages The
Historians History admits, "They (Arabs) merit eternal gratitude for having been
the preserver of the learning of Greeks and Hindus when those people were no
longer preducing anything and Europe was still too ignorant to undertake the
charge of the precious Depot. Efface the Arabs from history and the Renaissance
of letters will be retarded in Europe by several centuries''.
Writing in the History of Medicine in the Middle Ages, Max Kahn observes, "The
tolerance of Arabs was the saving grace of civilization. They relit the lamp of
learning which had been extinguished in Europe, and the light of Hippocrates,
Aristotle and Galen illuminated the mosques and cloisters of infidels".
According to Dr. F. J. C. Hearnshaw, writer of the Chapter on "European Life and
Manners" in Vol. 6 of the Universal History of the World, "Christian students
repaired to Islamic schools to learn the wisdom of the ancients and to' gain the
secrets of those arts and crafts which made Muhammedan Spain famous throughout
It was by way of Spain that the long lost works of Aristotle reached Western
Christendom, to revolutionise scholastic Philosophy and Theology." According to
Stanley Lane-Poole "What mediaeval Europe knew of Greek Philosophy, Mathematics,
Chemistry, Astronomy and Medicine was learned principally through Latin
translations. from Arabic treatises which held their places in the schools of
Europe down to the sixteenth and even well into the seventeenth century."
(Chapter on "Golden Age of Arab Culture" in Vol. IV. of the Universal History of
The second factor namely the diminution of religious authority in the Christian
authority was caused by Reformation and Crusades. Martin Luther, who was the
founder of Reformation was so much influenced by Islamic culture that he was
accused of being a Muhammadan by the orthodox Christians. The Crusaders, bailing
from different parts of Christian Europe came in direct contact with Muslims in
the Holy Land and were deeply influenced by the Islamic culture.
On return they introduced those reforms to their life which greatly weakened the
hold of the Church on the common Christian. Dr. B. W. Stevenson says in the
Chapter on "The Spirit and Influence of the Crusades" in Volume 3 of The
Universal History of the World (7 Vols., London, 1928) : "The learning and art
and science of the East, its public services and methods of government, its
highly developed industries and the superior luxury and comfort of the domestic
life of its upper classes, exerted a powerful and far-reaching influence upon
Europe in the Crusading period.
Another historian of the Crusades, Dr. Henry Elmer Barnes, says in Vol. I. of
his History of Western Civilisation "The Westerners learned many Muslim and
Oriental ways and developed a taste for the luxuries of the region. All this
promoted a demand for Eastern goods and accelerated the growth of commerce. The
Italians, who had acted as transporting agents for the Crusaders, took full
advantage of their opportunities to build up trading relations with the East.
Travel was promoted, and the explorations of Marco Polo and others followed on
the heels of the Crusaders. This still further encouraged trade between Europe
and the Orient. The revived trade promoted the rise of towns and a more
progressive element in European life. The science and culture of the Muslims
were brought back to Europe and helped to create the remarkable intellectual
revival of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries"
The third factor namely the discovery of America was actually the outcome of
Arab efforts. The latest researches carried on by Dr. Jeffrey, the celebrated
anthropologist of South Africa has proved that Arabs discovered America five
centuries ahead of C. Columbus.
The fourth factor namely the invention of the Printing Press is also indirectly
connected with the introduction and large scale production of paper in Europe by
the Arabs. Without paper there would have been no Printing Press....
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