Read: Islamic Contributions to Civilization




About the Author

STANWOOD COBB      was born in Newton, Mass. In      1881. He attended Newton High
School and Dartmouth College. In graduate work at Harvard he specialized in
the history and philosophy of religion. He then taught for three years at
Robert College, Istanbul, and in 1914 published a book, based on his
experiences in the Orient-one of the first books in America to give
sympathetic treatment to the Turk and to Islam.

In 1919 Stanwood Cobb founded the Progressive Education Association of which
he was later president. That same year he also founded the Chevy Chase
Country Day School in Washington. He is a member of the Cosmos Club and is
founder and president of the Washington Authors Club.


My interest in Islam dates from the time I lived in Istanbul, teaching at
Robert College. I soon felt at home with the educated Turk. In fact, one of
my closest friends then, and ever since, was a young Turkish teacher, a
liberal Moslem, subsequently dean of the college.

As I moved among the common people I was particularly struck with their
serenity and calm at all times. Along the quai of the Bosphorus, for
example, one had an opportunity to see the difference in temperament which
set the Moslem trader apart from his competitors. While others, were always
on the watch for customers, shouting loudly and waving as they saw potential
patronage, and often jumping out of their boats in order to induce trade,
the Moslem sat in lordly calm, waiting in peace for whatever customer Allah
willed to send him. Actually, this attitude was more persuasive to us than
the hurry-scurry of the Greek and Armenian boatmen, whom we brushed aside in
order to reach the boat of a Turk.

This Moslem attitude of immense calm in the midst of the life of commerce
was even more noticeable in the Istanbul bazaars. There many of the rug
merchants sat in front of their bazaars in order to entice passers-by. But
the Turkish rug dealers sat calmly on a platform in the rear of their
bazaars, not deigning to move until you had found a rug you were interested
in and asked them its price. It was the custom of the Turk to name a price
about twenty-five per cent more than normal, and come down to normal in the
course of that bargaining which then was an indispensable element of
commercial life in the East. On the other hand, it was the custom of many
other rug merchants to name to greenhorns a price three or four times
greater than normal. American tourists, having been told that one should
always bargain, would take delight in bringing the price down to half the
original amount demanded and go away proud (their bargaining skill-not
knowing that they had paid in the end twice the normal value.

The Turks were not only honest as merchants, but the were also honest as
servants. It was a common saying among the American missionaries that if one
by accident lost an article in a Turkish village, nine times out of ten it
would be returned. This was hardly true in other Eastern villages Common
pilfering seems to have been stamped out early it the history of Islam by
the very stringent rules enforce against it. I was amazed, in a Turkish
town, to see a haberdashery stall open to the sidewalk left entirely
unguarded or. a. Friday while the proprietor was attending mosque service.

The piety of the Turk, his faith in Allah, evidenced a calmness in the midst
of the busy life of the world, was evidenced as reverence in the daily
prayer and in the Friday mosque service. Previous to the Young Turk
Revolution in 1908 non-Moslems had never been allowed to enter a mosque
during such a service, which remained perforce somewhat a mystery to Western
historians. But the Young Turks, taking pride in being cosmopolitan, decided
to open the Friday service to any and all, similarly to the Christian

I thus had an opportunity to attend a mosque service in St. Sophia and
observe the kind of service which took place. Much of it consisted of
genuflection. The worshippers, as they prayed, would repeatedly fall to
their knees, then place the palms of their hands on the floor, rise and lift
their palms on high. There was also a short sermon.

I was greatly struck with the reverence expressed by these worshippers - a
much greater reverence than I was to observe later in a week 's tour of
Mount Athos, the stronghold of monasticism of the Eastern Catholic Church.
In fact, I had never witnessed such intensity of worship in any Christian

Later that year I had the privilege, with a few other foreigners, of
watching from a high balcony the annual celebration of the Night of Power,
the night in which the Koran was supposed to have descended from heaven. The
floor of St. Sophia was packed with some five thousand worshippers, who fell
to the floor and rose in absolute rhythm. The thud of their knees, then of
their palms, the swift rise again, all this was as synchronous as the
wheelings of a huge flock of birds. It was an awe-inspiring spectacle.

In addition to deep reverence the Moslem worship was also characterized by a
spirit of absolute democracy and brotherhood. I saw street porters in clean
rags stand or kneel by side with rich pashas in furs. I saw burly Negroes
worshipping alongside dainty Turkish fops of the city. Islam from its very
beginning was a vital brotherhood, and it has remained so to this day.
But what has all this to do with Islamic Contributions to Civilization? My
purpose here is to create an atmosphere, to create a subjective approach to
an objective subject. For the history of Islam can never be appreciated save
by those who realize somewhat its inner spirit and the effect of this inner
spirit in conferring some degree of dignity and tranquillity to the life
even of the common man.
I can testify to this in a personal way. For I came home from Turkey a
rather changed man - less intense in facing disappointments, less nervous
and less apprehensive. Thus does the tranquillity of the Orient steal in
upon one.

Therefore, I ask the reader (in case he reads the introduction first, as few
do) to approach this history of the Arab-Islamic culture in a sympathetic
mood. To understand a people we have to try to feel as they do. And to
understand an epoch we need to imagine ourselves as living in it.

Chevy Chase, Md.


A Blind Spot in History

Even in this modern age of enlightenment few people are aware of the
significant contributions made by the Islamic world to the progress of
humanity. Yet for more than five centuries that civilization not only led
the world in science, but was the only portion of mankind actively engaged
in the systematic pursuit of knowledge.

Beginning with the rise to power of Baghdad in the mid-eighth century and
continuing beyond Islamic political decline five hundred years later,
science and education flourished under Moslem influence. No such activity
characterized any other part of the contemporary world. The lights of
Graeco-Roman culture had been extinguished and Europe was engulfed in the
Dark Ages; India was languishing in a period of stagnation; and China, while
blossoming richly in the arts, was almost wholly devoid of science.

These contrasting facts are little known for several reasons. For far too
long our histories have concentrated on the rise and fall of empires, the
militaristic clash of nations, and the succession of dynasties. Only lately
have historians begun to trace the rise of civilization itself. Moreover,
until relatively recently the West remained insular. Not until the Age of
Enlightenment and the French Revolution did the history, arts and religions
of Oriental countries begin to interest the Western mind.

The inherent conflict between Islam and Christendom further contributed to
the indifference - if not hostility - o£ West to East. The Crusades are a
vivid evidence of the acerbated relationship which existed between these two
great religions. Up to the nineteenth century it was as if a gigantic
curtain separated the cultures of Islam and Christianity.

Lack of proficiency in the Arabic language has also been a considerable
obstacle. Until the present century, few Western scholars could read, let
alone translate, this once fluent tongue.

It is not, however, the purpose of this book to lament the past limitations
which have tended to circumscribe peoples and civilizations. Today we may
rejoice that in every part of the world - Orient and Occident alike -
scholars are viewing history objectively and comprehensively. One of the
first modern historians fully to realize the importance of Arabic for the
study of world history was George Sarton, World War I Belgian refugee who
found scholastic sanctuary at Harvard and continued there for years his
valuable studies in Orientalism as well as his editorship of the magazine,
Isis. His epoch-making work, An Introduction to the History of Science, was
the very first to give due credit to the Arabic - Islamic culture as regards
the proportion and weight of its contributions to civilization. We are also
greatly indebted to Philip K. Hitti, professor of Semitic literature at
Princeton, for his History of the Arabs, a treasure-trove of information
about Arab culture in the Middle East and in Spain.

To a substantial extent the story of civilization finds its best expression
in the works of anthropologists who study not so much countries as man
himself-man as he has striven forward from the dimness of cave life to the
dawn of the Space Age.

In this story of man the Arab-Islamic period forms a very important chapter.
It was one of the world's three great scientific epochs, standing midway and
providing a link between the embryonic science of the Greeks and the birth
of modern science and technology.

The rise of Moslem rule was dramatic. So also was its decline to the point
where in 1492 the Caliph Abdullah abandoned Granada to the conquering
Spaniards, "weeping like a woman for what he could not defend like a man."

But how did this expiring culture hand on to Europe the torch of scientific
enlightenment which was soon to set all Christendom aglow? And through what
channels did the Western world come to possess the accumulated knowledge of
prior ages on which she was to base her momentous progress? Herein lies a
fascinating episode in the drama of civilization.


Out of the Desert

THE seventh century which saw the rise of Islam also saw Christian Europe
enter the Dark Ages. In the western area the invading Goths had almost
obliterated the culture and technology of the Romans. In the Eastern Roman
Empire, centering in Constantinople, the Church had all but suppressed Greek
science and philosophy.

Both the Lyceum at Athens, so long the center of Greek thought, and the
Museum in Alexandria, had been closed, down. Greek scholars, pagan as well
as Nestorian Christian had either been expelled from Constantinople or had
migrated to Syria in order to escape persecution.
It was during the period of the decline of Greek learning that the Arabs
moved ahead to become the vanguard of civilization. This crude people was
presently to dominate half the known world, revive the dying culture and
science of the Greeks, and transmit to dormant Europe the knowledge and
skills gleaned from the classic age.

The cultural change in this desert race was brought about by one of the most
remarkable figures in history. Western scholars differ as to Mohammed's
character and the source of his inspiration, but all acknowledge the
extraordinary influence he exerted on the Arab people, and the transforming
progress they made under his stimulation and direction.

Born around 570 A.D. and orphaned at an early age, Mohammed spent much of
his childhood and youth accompanying his uncle on long journeys through
Arabia and Syria. During these travels he heard of the God of Israel and of
Christ, and as he grew to manhood he spent much time in spiritual
reflection. Inspired by a vision at the age of forty, he felt himself called
to be a prophet of God (Allah) and so began his teachings as the leader of
Islam, ("submission" to God).

The initial rejection of his religious ethics and morality in certain
quarters forced him to flee from Mecca in 622 (the Hegira, which now marks
the beginning of the Moslem calendar). It was in nearby Medina, where he had
a large following, that his influence began. Spreading the gospel of Allah
through Arabia, he was able to unite warring tribes and start these
semi-barbarous people on the road to civilization. At the end of a decade he
was the undisputed ruler of a united Arab nation and was receiving embassies
from foreign countries.

The influence of the religion which Mohammed gave his people did not
diminish after his death in 632. On the contrary, it increased year by year
through the Koran, the sacred book believed to have been revealed from
heaven to the Prophet. Though caliphs came and went, though military
commanders were capable or inept, the power of the Koran kept the Arabs true
to their course and maintained that spirit of unity for which Mohammed had
laid the foundations.


The Middle East at this time was chaotic and ripe for conquest. It was a
political vacuum in which the mixed population had no effective loyalties.
The region had been successively conquered by the Chaldeans, Assyrians,
Persians, Greeks and Romans, and remnants of all these now composed the
population. Not only the weight of constant warfare, but the heavy burden of
an iniquitous taxation lay upon the peasantry, planting the seeds of ready

In Syria, now under the rule of Constantinople, there was both political
discontent and religious unrest. The Eastern Church had persecuted those
Christians whose Nestorian belief and practice they considered heretical.
This alienated body of Christendom gained further strength in Syria as
sectarians fled or emigrated from Constantinople to escape similar
oppression. Here, if ever, was a situation that invited the injection of new
blood, new enthusiasms, and a new order of existence. The Arabs, fired with
zeal in their new political-religious Faith, stood ready to furnish all

Abu Bekr, Mohammed's successor and first Caliph of Islam, lost no time in
initiating a series of conquests which soon brought the whole Middle East,
Egypt and North Africa under Moslem rule.

The Eastern Roman Empire was open to penetration by vigorous attack, all the
more so because the Islamic invaders offered better social and economic
conditions than those which prevailed.

Syria, adjacent to Arabia and weakened by disaffection and discord, was the
first logical target for Arab assault: In addition to the impotence of Roman
rule, the Moslems had a further advantage in that much of the population of
the region, Arabs who had migrated into the Fertile Crescent over the course
of centuries, was of similar stock. As the Moslems moved into Syria they
gained new adherents from among these kindred masses. In accordance with the
teachings of Mohammed, the armies of Islam were careful to abuse neither the
countryside nor its inhabitants. In fact, the orders later given by the
Caliph Ali regarding merciful treatment of non-combatants was the first
humanitarian step taken in the history of warfare.

Arab rule introduced a more stable situation than any previously known in
the Middle East. The condition of the peasants was improved by means of new
and more democratic land division and less stringent taxation. Many of the
conquered peoples enlisted in the armies of Islam, becoming Moslems in order
to do so. As such they were freed from taxation and permitted to share in
the rich booty of future conquests.

Thus the military power of Islam gained momentum as swiftly as an avalanche.
With the fall of Damascus in 635 A.D., all Syria came under Arab rule.
Palestine and Phoenicia soon followed.

Egypt was the next country on which the Arabs loosed their conquering hosts.
As with Syria, the oppression of harsh Roman rule and the bigotry of the
Eastern Roman Church rendered this ancient country vulnerable. The field
marshal Amru, a most capable general, invaded the valley of the Nile with a
force of only 4,000 men and easily established himself on the right bank of
the Nile; and later, through the desertion of a large part of the Egyptian
army, obtained possession of all Egypt except Alexandria. This key city,
greatest center of Greek culture since its founding in 330 B.C. by
Alexander, was finally captured in 641 after In a stubborn siege of fourteen
It remained for the mighty warrior Omar, Islam's second caliph, to annex the
one remaining power in the Near East, the still potent Persian Empire. It is
doubtful that this conquest could have been achieved had not the Moslems of
Arabia added to their ranks the enlistments from Syria previously mentioned.
Not only was much needed military equipment acquired, but the Arabs gained a
body of soldiery well trained under Roman rule in the arts of warfare.

In 635 A.D. Khaled, "the sword of Allah," one of the greatest military
geniuses that Islam produced, inaugurated attacks on various outposts of the
vast Persian Empire. Through his victory at Hira, he gained possession of
the whole region west of the Euphrates. Four years later Arabs undertook the
invasion of Persia itself. The battle of Nehavend, one of the decisive
battles of history, took place in 641. There a large force was defeated, and
all Persia in the power of Islam. Within a few decades from the death of its
Prophet, the Arab nation ruled from the gates of India to the Straits of


This seeming miracle was the result of various factors some of which have
already been discussed. But more than anything else, it was due to the
religious zeal which possessed the Moslems. Within the lifetime of the
Prophet they had already been forged into a militant and powerful body, and
after his death victory led on to victory. An inner force, an Žlan and
daring sustained the Arabs in all their military enterprises, and they began
to feel themselves invincible. No fear of death kept them from wielding the
sword for Allah. For Mohammed had declared that all who fell in holy wars
would be received immediately into Paradise. On the other hand, when an Arab
had complained during a summer campaign that the sun was too hot for
fighting, the Prophet had looked at him warningly and said: "Hell is

It must be realized that this was not solely an Arab campaign and victory.
Men of other racial backgrounds and religious faiths were attracted to their
ranks. For these hardy desert warriors possessed a magnetic quality unknown
to the more refined and cultivated races whom they fought They were capable
of fighting to the death for a principle.

The Arabic-lslamic Civilization

With the conquest of Spain in 711 A.D. (described in
the following chapter) a vast and variegated stretch of territory was now
under Arab domination. Islam had gained a sphere of influence more extensive
than the Roman Empire; for in addition to Spain and North Africa, it
embraced Oriental regions never affected by the pax Romana.
Faced with the task of achieving order and harmony throughout this
sprawling empire, the new rulers were for a while too occupied with
military enterprise and administrative problems to consider the
opportunities for cultural expansion.
                  Yet in establishing peace and unity they were actually
ad laying the foundations for a great Islamic civilization which was to
realize Alexander's ancient dream of amalgamating
the Occident and the Orient and mingling the two world cultures. The seeds
of unification which the Greek conqueror 'se and visionary had planted from
India to Egypt were to - provide a rich harvest for Islam, and hence for
much of the world.
Alexander had planned before his death to create from simplified
Greek a universal language. Such a plan was
actually carried out by the Moslems, and Arabic became the ~ predominant
tongue from India to Spain. Wherever the Arabs conquered they remained as
rulers and chief administrators. But as their numbers were limited, they
gradually built up native bureaucracies trained in the expression of Arabic.
The language of the conquerors thus became the language not only of the
court, but also of administration and soon of all higher education.
With the possession of a common language and with a common rule under the
aegis of Allah, this Islamic region. enjoyed for the first time in history
the blessings of peace. Racial energies which had been wasted in internecine
war- fare were turned into channels which led to prosperity and progress. .
The dawn of Islamic culture and technology broke first in the newly founded
city of Baghdad, which became the archetype of an urban civilization that
began to spread throughout the Moslem world. Its location on the banks 0£
the Tigris was ideal for Islam's capital city. Accessible to all the water
traffic of the Tigris and Euphrates, and situated at the natural hub of
caravan trading routes connecting India, Persia, Constantinople and
Alexandria, Baghdad was in an unrivaled commercial position. Profiting by
the peace and protection of Islam, merchants traveled safely between India
and Egypt, paying tribute to the commercial overlordship of Baghdad. The
city grew rapidly. A new and wealthy class of merchants, some of whom
attained huge fortunes, came into existence, favored by the caliphs as well
as by the Koran. Their prosperity soon seeped down to even the humblest
Scientific agriculture was vigorously fostered by the caliphs. The ancient
irrigation system which had once made Mesopotamia the breadbasket of the
world was renovated and enlarged until the environs of Baghdad became a
fertile land of gardens so fruitful that they evoked the admiration of all

A crude but practical justice, which later developed into the Islamic law,
was set up and administered. The "cadi", or judge, was available to the
lowliest citizen, as in lion fact even the caliph was at times. A new
taxation system,
more equitable than that under Roman rule, helped to stabilize the economy.
A general exuberance and atmosphere of
adventure pervaded the life of Baghdad. Something of the spirit of
these head, times has been captured and preserved in Arabian Nights, which
portrays vividly, albeit naively, life in Baghdad under the rule of Harun
This fabulous ruler, whose reign was of great material brilliancy, was
succeeded by his son al-Mamun, during whose
twenty years of rule from 813 to 833 A.D. began the scientific activity
, which resulted in important contributions to world civilization.
We must here consider the geographical and racial situation prevailing
in and around Baghdad which favored the rise there of culture and science.
For centuries prior to its conquest by the Arabs, the territory had
intermittently been
part of the Neo-Persian Empire under the rule of the Sassanian Dynasty,
whose last representative, Yazdegard III, had been conquered by the Arabs
and was now dying in exile.
Chosroes, Yazdegard's grandfather, had been an admirer the Graeco-Roman
culture, long neglected under the Neo-Iranianism of the Sassanians.
Throughout his reign he had attempted to revive and re-introduce this
culture to Persia, me offering hospitality to the philosophers turned out of
Athens when the Emperor Justinian closed its school. In Jundishapur, not far
from the new city of Baghdad, a medical center of sorts had been
established. Chosroes expanded it and welcomed to it Greek exiles from.
Athens and Alexandria, and Nestonian Christians from Syria. Chosroes was
ambitious and he knew history. It became e his dream to establish at
Jundishapur a center of learning on like that in Alexandria. Copying the
Alexandrine curriculum, he introduced the texts of Galen, greatest of Greek
physicians. As the medical center grew a hospital was built to serve it.
Soon] Jundishapur had a faculty of astronomy and an observatory; and
instruction in mathematics was introduced.
With its cluster of educational and medical facilities, Jundishapur grew to
be second only to the Museum of Alexandria. Here the Greek language was
abandoned and instruction was given in Syriac. Greek classic texts were
translated into that language. Scholars of various races and religions
gravitated to this cultural center until Jundishapur became the world's
greatest clearinghouse of philosophic and scientific thought. Greek,
Jewish, Christian, Syrian, Hindu, and Persian ideas were constantly compared
and exchanged in its cosmopolitan environment. Thus was the stage set in
Persia for the flowering of Islamic culture.
It was this Persian influence which kindled in the Arabs, newly arrived at
the outposts of civilization, interest and zeal in the acquisition of
knowledge. Persian scholars in the court of Harun al-Rashid had already
established cultural affiliations between Baghdad and Jundishapur by the
time Mamun mounted the throne in 813 A.D., one of the dramatic moments of
Mamun himself was not pure Arab, his mother having been a Persian. His wife
was also Persian and he inherited the services of a Persian Prime Minister.
Mamun was hardly a model of Islamic piety; in fact, his opponents called him
the "Prince of Unbelievers." He was a ruler molded for the very purpose of
yielding his imagination, intellect and heart to the collective learning of
ancient Persia and pagan Greece to which he was heir. : A century and a half
of caliphs had come and gone since
the death of Mohammed, yet none until Harun and Mamun had taken any interest
in the Greek learning; scholarship, such as it was in the Islamic world,
being dedicated to theology, jurisprudence and the practical arts of
geography and
desert navigation. Mamun invited to his court scholars from all parts of
Eastern Asia. Persians, Greeks and Armenians jostled elbows with Arabs.
Christians and Jews were as welcome as Moslems. These scholars were kept
busy translating and codifying works of science from the Greek and Aramaic
languages. Their emoluments were generous and their prestige great.
Now a zealous patron of education, Mamun dispatched agents to search out and
bring back to Baghdad Greek manuscripts from all parts of Syria, and even
from distant Byzantium and Armenia. The treasures of Greek learning that had
strangely lapsed under the theologically obsessed and scientifically sterile
culture of Byzantium were now translated into Arabic, the universal language
of the Islamic Empire.
I, It was not an easy task to translate Greek science into the somewhat
primitive idiom of the Arabs which had formerly lent itself chiefly to
poetry and oratory. A whole new terminology, adequate to convey the ideas of
science, had to be created. Thus forced to become a vehicle of both
scientific and religious thought, the Arab language achieved a power of
expression considerably greater and more subtly diversified than any other
existing tongue.

: Baghdad was now the focal center of the world's learning. Scholars flocked
to it from all parts of the Islamic Empire. For here was to be found the
greatest existing area of opportunity and reward. Every past
civilization-Greek, Persian, Hindu, and Egyptian-made its contribution to
the rapidly growing universal culture of Islam. It was a period of great
exaltation, similar to that which later, partly through Islamic influence,
was to inspire Europe and to be known as the Renaissance. It was a period of
discovery, of progress, of rapid assimilation of all the science and
technology of the past and present. Even distant China made, via Samarkand,
a contribution which has been a basic factor in all the world's subsequent
learning and culture - the art of manufacturing paper.
In order better to coordinate the work of his translators Mamun founded what
many students of history consider to be the world's first modern university,
his famous "House of Wisdom." This institution combined the functions of a
library, an academy and a translation bureau. Soon other leading Islamic
cities such as Cairo, Fez, Samarkand and Cordova were engaged in similar
Mamun also erected observatories. And his mathematicians correctly estimated
the circumference of the globe as 25,000 miles. About 200 B.C. the Greeks
had conjectured that the earth was round, but it remained for the Arabs to
give scientific exactness to the concept.

The Arabs showed a practical bent in their resurrection and
expansion of the world's forgotten or neglected sciences. Mamun was a
perfect example of this practicability. His zeal for abstract learning did
not lessen his concern for the welfare- fare of the humble peasant, the "man
with the hoe", upon whose shoulders has always rested fundamentally the
burden of civilization. For he fully realized the importance of the soil and
its tillage both as a source of state income and as a means of prosperity
and happiness to the masses.

Farms which had been abandoned during the turbulent period of warfare
between Persia and Rome were gradually restored, and ruined villages were
rebuilt. With the reorganization of the irrigation system the fertile
Tigris-Euphrates valley was made to produce an abundance of dates,
apricots, peaches, plums, figs, grapes, olives and almonds. The staple, diet
of wheat and rice was increased to meet all needs. Sugar- the cane
plantations with adjoining refineries were established. Eggplants were
grown; also radishes, cucumbers and beans. Most delicious of all, the
cultivation of the orange was introduced about this time, probably derived
from Persia.
Scientific horticulture became a flourishing and progressive
practice in all the Moslem caliphates. The whole known, world was scoured
for new varieties of plants, and the art of irrigation was intelligently
utilized to increase production. Flowers were cultivated by the smallest
householder; and the caliphs and courtiers had magnificent fountained
gardens in which to while away their leisure hours.
Prosperity and culture were not peculiar to the wealthy class alone. For
this rapidly growing Islamic civilization was as built upon the broad
foundations of the welfare of the common people, in accordance with the
precepts of the Islamic to brotherhood founded by Mohammed, upheld by the
and practiced by all the early caliphs. Probably never in previous centuries
had the well-being of the masses been so deeply and intelligently considered
as on it was in all these Islamic caliphates. The new socio-economic pattern
in religious and political life gave a dynamic unity to all phases of
Moslem activity. The extraordinary rise of the Arabic-Islamic culture
cannot be viewed separately from this factor of unity which, beginning on
the spiritual plane, reached down to dominate all aspects of secular life.
The Koran had praised generosity as one of the greatest spiritual
attributes and alms-giving was one of the five practices required of all
Moslems. The ruling class and the
wealthy merchants often distributed a large portion of their wealth among
the common people.
Fortunate for the peasant class, the Arabs who became
wealthy through trade had little inclination to acquire large landholdings.
Fortunes were easily made, and to become prosperous it was not necessary to
oppress the hardworking peasant, who was left in inviolate possession of his
own little plot of land embodying the ideal of Israel that every man should
"sit under his own fig tree.'
All of these factors combined to create a seemingly more harmonious and
universally prosperous economic pattern than had existed before the coming
of Islam. A proof of the satisfactory condition of the masses during the
first few centuries of Islamic rule is that practically all of the Middle
East and Persia, ninety percent of the population of Christian Egypt, and
all the peoples of North Africa became Moslems. This they did of their own
choice, for conversion was never forced upon the conquered.


The example of Mamun in encouraging the cultural progress of Baghdad was
later followed by the caliphs of Cairo, Fez, and Cordova; also by rulers in
Persia and in distant Bokhara and Samarkand.
In all these Islamic centers libraries and universities were founded, and
schools for the common people were established. Learning and scholarship
were highly honored. The new common language enabled scholars to move from
court to court in search of career opportunities. Thus a constant exchange
of ideas stimulated the focal centers of Moslem culture; scientific advances
and discoveries were quickly spread from caliphate to caliphate.
Among the sciences which the Arabs resurrected from Greek learning was
astronomy, to which they added fully as much as they received. Plane
geometry they picked up from the Greeks also, adding to it analytical
geometry. The science of trigonometry, both plane and spherical, was largely
founded by the Arabs. And algebra indicates by its derivation its great
indebtedness to the Arabic scholarship. Their greatest creative contribution
to the science of mathematics, however, was the decimal system, which they
derived from Iran India and greatly expanded.
From Chinese origins the Arabs devised the compass, with the aid of which
they not only traversed the Mediterranean but even ventured far out into the
Atlantic. Also from China they derived and augmented an invention which has
literally shaken the world, gunpowder. The Chinese had used it in more or
less unconfined flares to honor their dead. But an Arab inventor is said to
have conceived the idea of confining this material-the explosive quality of
which had been improved upon by Moslem science- in a sort of improvised
cannon which was the forerunner of modern artillery.
The science of chemistry was developed by the Arabs from the ancient
practice of alchemy. Broadening their research far beyond the unpracticable
endeavor to turn baser of metals into gold, these new scientists made
discoveries which- added both to the wealth and the health of the Moslem
The Arab 'artisans, applying this new knowledge in chemistry, became
the leading metallurgists of the world. For centuries the finest swords and
the finest metal decorative work of Europe came from Damascus, Baghdad and
Cordova. The very word "damascene"-meaning to adorn metal work-carries back
to the origin of this art in Moslem Damascus.
Of even more value to the world was the Arabic application of chemistry
to medical science. The Moslems may as justly be called the founders of
medical chemistry. For not only did they make remarkable discoveries as to
the curative use of drugs in the treatment of internal disease, but they I
founded the world's first school of pharmacy.
The art of healing, which the Arabs energetically


researched from Greek, Egyptian, Persian and Hindu sources, they enhanced to
such an extent that Islam maintained all through the Middle Ages an
incontestable supremacy in this field. Their physicians, who were true
scientists, went deep into the origin and evolution of maladies, making for
the first time in history scientific clinical observation.
The highest tide of Islamic culture, 800 to 1100 A.D., was coincident with
the lowest ebb of European culture. While the Moslems enjoyed general
standards of living equal to if not surpassing those of the preceding
Graeco-Roman civilization, the Europeans were living in the semi-barbarous
squalor and restricted regime of feudalism-a pattern unilleviated by
comforts and luxuries.
These centuries of European history have aptly been termed the Dark Ages.
The Church alone kept alive sparks of learning amidst the ashes left by the
barbaric hordes of Goths. It took centuries for Latin Europe to digest this
illiterate mass of barbarism and to assimilate it into a vital and
intelligent organism capable of progress.
"' One of the strangest dramas of history is that at the very moment when
Europe, prodded by contacts with the Islamic culture in Sicily and Spain and
by the Crusades, began to recover from its prolonged descent toward
darkness, Islam entered a decline that was to carry it down into the very
fog of obscurantism from which it had helped to rescue Europe.
As Baghdad had been the first Islamic center to arise in a plenitude of
splendor, so it was the first to fall into that decay which seems an
inalienable concomitant of success. As in the case of Rome, the corruptions
of luxury and the selfish grasping of power by rival political elements
contributed to her decline.
The justice which had characterized the rule of the early caliphs yielded to
an inequitable system of taxation and to corrupt government.
That martial spirit which had so characterized the Arab conquerors had
disintegrated to the point where military support was sought from foreign
mercenaries. As early as 940 A.D. the Chief of the Bodyguards, a group of
such mercenaries, so usurped the power of the Caliph al-Radi as to cause
Arab historians to list him as the last real Caliph of Baghdad.
After a century and a half of disorganization under this new military
dynasty, the Seljuk Turks, whose aid was enlisted by one of the rival
claimants of the Caliphate, became the rulers of the Arabs they had been
requested to deliver. The Caliphate now passed under their jurisdiction.
These Seljuks, who styled themselves "Sultans", were untutored and
illiterate, but they were able rulers and knew how to draw for assistance
from the more cultured races they dominated. They had already adopted the
religion of the Arabs. Known to Europe as the Saracens, these were the
Moslems with whom the Crusaders chiefly contended; and from their number the
Sultan Saladdin attained immortal fame.
In 1258 A.D. a mortal blow was struck to Islamic civilization as it was
represented in Baghdad. Mongolian hordes under Hulagu captured and almost
completely destroyed the splendid city of the Arabian Nights. The city was
engulfed in flames and the majority of its population of 200,000 perished,
together with its library of over 400,000 volumes. More disastrous still to
this region was the devastation and subsequent neglect of the famous
irrigation system-a neglect which turned the grain-bearing fields of the
Fertile Crescent into pestilential swamps, a condition in which they have
remained largely until this day.
These same Mongolian hordes, under the conqueror Ghengis Khan, had
previously destroyed other great centers

of Islamic culture: Bokhara, Samarkand, Balkh, Harat and other cities beyond
the Oxus. The eastern area of the Islamic empire was thus completely
disrupted for a time. When order and peace returned to the Middle East, it
was under the rule of another branch of Turks, the Ottomans, also converted
to Islam-a race able in military and political organization but lacking
those essential requirements of civilization possessed by the ancient
cultured races of the Middle East.
The Arab Moslems, viewing the historic decline of their progressive
civilization, can lay blame on these incursions of semi-barbarous races,
just as the responsibility for the fall of Rome may be attributed to the
But in each case the cause of downfall was more deep- seated and internal: a
moral and spiritual decay due to too much wealth, luxury and
pleasure-seeking. Sexual laxity and indulgence weakened the fibre of the
ruling families of Islam. In addition to maintaining large harems, the
wealthy became addicted also to homosexuality.
Another cause of the weakening of the Caliphates, not only in Baghdad but in
other centers of the Islamic world, was the resurgence of that innate
individualism which characterizes the Arab. The early rulers of Islam,
during the period of conquest, had been strong enough to allay this
separatist tendency and for a while had given sufficient unity to the
far-flung Islamic empire to bring about remarkable progress in prosperity
and the arts of civilization.
But now Islam was unable to control the rival ambitions of the quarrelsome
progeny spawned by the numerous wives. and concubines of the rulers. The
very spirit of adventure and conflict that had enabled the Arabs to conquer
half the known world now spurred them into conflict among themselves.

The vastness of their territory was another factor militating against the
stability of the Arab state. Their numbers were sufficient to furnish only
a skeleton bureaucracy of administrators. The native inhabitants were in an
immense majority. If they had not been welded by conversion into the unity
of Islam, they would have soon flung off the Arab yoke as Persia actually
did language and all, in a few centuries.
Despite the great decline 0£ Islamic civilization and the backward
condition of most of the Moslem countries, Islam is still a vital force in
the world, and enlightened Moslems are working earnestly to restore it to
its early purity and of simplicity. Islam "per se" was never antipathetic
to science and progress, they assert. The Koran, the Hadiz, and history
itself prove this. How to recapture Islam's dazzling past: this is the
fervid question that confronts pious Moslems of today!

New Heights in Spain
While the Caliphate of Baghdad was declining, a caliphate at the other end
of the Mediterranean was rising
toward its zenith. Islamic civilization was destined to reach its height,
not in Asia or Africa, but in European Spain. Bordering so closely upon
Africa, Spain lent itself easily to invasion, especially when the invaders
were actually encouraged by malcontents, as indeed was the case. A
rebellious group of Visigothic nobles finally sought the aid of Musa,
conqueror and governor of North Africa who had succeeded in amalgamating the
mixed population of that area with the Arabs under the name of Moors.
Musa, learning by careful reconnaissance that Spain lay ready for conquest,
dispatched his subordinate, Tarik, with a force of 7, 000 men, mostly
Berbers. Landing in Spain in 711 A.D. at a point near Gibraltar, Tarik,
reinforced by 5,000 additional Berbers, advanced to meet in battle Roderick, King of the Visigoths. The Visigoths were routed and the conquest of
the rest of Spain was swift and easy; for the country was torn by religious
disputes between Arians and Athanasians, Jews and Christians, and by jealous
rivalry for power among Gothic nobles.
Musa, jealous of Tarik's success, led to Spain a force of some 10,000
troops, all Arabs, and completed the conquest of cities and strongholds that
had been able to resist Tarik.

Leaving his son Aziz in command of Spain, Musa returned to Damascus,
traveling overland through North Africa with immense booty, a great retinue
of slaves and many prisoners of war including four hundred Visigoth princes.
The triumphal procession was given an official reception by the Caliph
al-Walid as a mark of the importance of this greatest of Islamic victories.
The Arab armies endeavored to penetrate still further into Europe. Passing
through the country of the Basques in northwest Spain, they invaded Gaul.
But here, in the historic Battle of Tours in 732 A.D., Charles Martel
inflicted a decisive defeat upon the Moslems-a defeat which saved the main
rising continent of Europe for Christendom.

After the retirement of the powerful Musa from Spanish affairs, the country
endured vicissitudes and factional rivalries until Abd al-Rahman, sole
remnant of the Omayids became ruler of Spain and founder of the Omayid
Caliphate of Cordova. This new caliphate became a segment of the Islamic
Empire separate from the central Caliphate of Baghdad, though it enjoyed
harmonious cultural and commercial relations with its Eastern counterpart.
Abd al-Rahman proved to be one of the best sovereigns Islamic Spain was
to know. Just and generous, scrupulously honorable in all his dealings, he
was careful to appoint subordinates who were similarly virtuous. Rahman
interpreted the Islamic law in such away as to secure order and prosperity
in his new kingdom. He encouraged commerce, and had dockyards established
all along the Spanish coast. Soon the merchant class, which was already
powerful in Spain, was achieving wealth by sea-borne trade with every
quarter of
the known world. ...
The new ruler adorned his capital with lovely gardens
land magnificent architecture. In Cordova he caused to be built one of the
most superb mosques in the world-an edifice which still stands as testimony
to the skill of Islamic architects.
Himself a pious Moslem, Rahman promoted religion, founded schools and
encouraged literature. During his long reign of thirty-two years he laid
solid foundations for the prosperity and happiness of Moorish Spain.
The Arabs found in Spain a versatile and enterprising population of
exceedingly mixed character out of which to shape their unique civilization.
Interspersed with the native Iberians had been for over a thousand years
enclaves of Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians, all of whom excelled in
trade and who had built and maintained flourishing cities. The Romans had
conquered this heterogeneous population, settled among them and introduced
them to their civilization. Under Roman rule Spain developed into the
leading adjunct to Italy. Aqueducts and roads were built, harbors were
improved and agriculture prospered. Town life every- where was Roman, at
that period the world's acme of comfort and splendor. And when in the Fifth
Century the Visigoths invaded and conquered Spain they were less
destructive than the barbarians who had successively invaded Italy.
The Arabs, therefore, found themselves possessors of a stable and fairly
prosperous country; and falling heir to the wealth and culture of ancient
Rome they wisely refrained from pillage and destruction. Upon Roman
foundations they built a progressive and equitable civilization.
The inhabitants of Spain had for centuries been char. characterized by
enterprise, energy and spirit. To this potent mixture the Arabs added
ingredients of even greater daring and adventure. Following the conquest of
Spain, Arabs mi.
grated there in large numbers from Africa and Arabia bringing with them
wives, families and property and many of the luxuries of the Islamic East
hitherto unknown to Europe.
The Arab conquerors claimed for themselves the best properties but secured
to the peasant population its minor holdings. Arabic became the new and
universal language of Spain and the Moslems introduced to the peninsula the
progressive customs and manners of the Eastern Caliphate, so that this
European country soon became as thoroughly Arab as North Africa and Baghdad.
Many Christians among the conquered population adopted the religion of the
rulers. To some of the Arian sect . indeed, the monotheism of Islam was a
welcome relief. For they had endured persecutions under the prevailing
Athanasians-who swore, lived and died as devout Trinitarians. However,
those who wished to remain Christians were permitted to do so. Their
property and lives were not threatened. And for the first few centuries of
Islamic rule their lot was better than it had ever been.
Great tolerance was shown also to the Jews, of whom there were a
large number. Never in fact since the downfall of Jerusalem had the Jews
enjoyed such security as they did now under the Caliphate of Cordova.
The victory of the Arabs was far from a disaster for Spain. It brought
greater equity and opportunity to the common people. Those peasants who had
been serfs under the feudalism of the Visigoths became free landholders and
their taxes were reduced to one-tenth instead of one-third. In fact the
heavy weight of feudalism-which was to hold the rest of Europe in the
deadening inertia of the Dark was abolished in Islamic Spain, a significant
factor in its agricultural prosperity.

Important too to the economic progress of Spain was the introduction there
of the irrigation which had previously turned barren districts of Syria and
North Africa into productive areas. Spain had an abundance of mountain-fed
streams upon which to base an irrigation system that soon stood unequalled
in the world.

The Arabs also brought to Spain all those agricultural developments which
had been successful in Persia and Syria. The Cultivation of rice, sugar and
cotton was introduced. The orange, unknown to the Mediterranean world, was
received enthusiastically and along with the peach and other small fruits
helped enrich the meager diet of Visigothic Spain.

The manufacture of fabrics - silks, cotton, woolen and linen - soon
employed thousands of people and brought great wealth to the merchant class.
metallurgy flourished until the swords and armour of Toledo held a
reputation unequalled in the world. Ceramics, glazed pottery and oriental
tiles embellished the homes of the Moors and gradually found their way to
European markets.
Commerce developed not only between the cities of Spain but also with
North Africa, Syria, and Persia. The Moors found a great advantage in being
part of the vast Islamic Empire, united with distant lands by religion and
language. This stimulus revived the ancient commercial prowess of Spain and
brought it to new heights.


The pinnacle of progress in Moorish Spain was reached under the rules of
Rahman 111 and his successor Hakem 11 - two gifted caliphs who reigned from
912 to 976 A.D. This period marks the flowering of Spain to its greatest
degree of prosperity, culture and happiness.

Under Rahman 111 - a man distinguished by high intelligence,
liberality and inflexible justice - Spain flourished as never before.
Commerce thrived and large fortunes were accumulated. The Caliph built a
powerful navy, which together with other Islamic navies in the east,
protected trade and turned the Mediterranean into a virtual Moslem monopoly.
Science and art were encouraged everywhere in Islamic Spain, by caliph
and courtier alike. Artists, poets, philosophers and scientists were amply
rewarded by their wealthy patrons. Public libraries were founded ion all
the large cities of Spain, an academies for the advancement of science and
literature. The science of medicine, little known outside the Islamic
world, advanced so far in Cordova that Christian princes came to the court
of the Caliph to be cured of their diseases.
Before he died in 961 A.D. the fame of Rahman 111 was so widespread
that embassies from Europe and even from Constantinople came to visit him.
Even more glorious than the reign of Rahman 111 was that of Hakem 11 who
succeeded him. Rarely does a kingdom have two such enlightened rulers in
succession. Hakem disliked war and devoted all his energies to the arts of
peace and progress. he had an intense fondness for literature and sent
agents throughout the world of Islam - even further - most Bokhara - to
secure scarce manuscripts. And to distinguished authors he personally wrote
to request copies of their works for which he paid handsomely. Books which
he could not thus purchase he caused to be transcribed. At one time his
library contained more than four hundred thousand manuscripts, all of which
the Caliph had personally examined and catalogued.
Hakem 11 attached a number of scholars and creators of literature to his
court. He took a deep interest in education, establishing twenty-seven new
public schools in his
capital and enlarging the scope and reputation of the University of Cordova.


Throughout the Islamic Empire education, art and science were unified by a
common faith, a common language and common customs. Moslem scholars could
travel freely between Bokhara north of India, and Cordova. The extent of
this Islamic civilization, as well as the progress and achievements of its
component parts, proved an inspiration to Moslem scholarship and creative
The University of Cordova, for instance, drew Teachers and students not
only from Spain but also from Iran, Syria, Egypt and North Africa. Thousands
of pupils filled its halls when favorite professors lectured. Some of these
students attended from pure love of learning; but most of them for the sake
of professional advancement in the Moslem bureaucracy. They prepared for
posts in theology, jurisprudence or civil service.
This devotion of Hakem II to the arts of peace made Cordova the most
brilliant center of intellectual life not only of Islam but of the whole
"All this intellectual activity was not the artificial creation of an
autocratic monarch," says Dr. Henry Schurtz in Helmolt's History of the
World. "It was the healthy and brilliant bloom of well-nurtured material
prosperity. In truth, the inhabitants of Christian Europe, living as they
did in gloomy city alleys or miserable village hovels clustered around the
castles of rude uncultured nobility, would have thought themselves in
fairyland, could they have been transported to this joyous brilliant world.
And in witnessing the noble spirit of toleration and of intellectual freedom
which breathed over the happy plains of Andalusia, they would have been
forced to admit that their own religion
of love might learn something in the way of generous fellowship of faiths
from the hated Moslems.
"Herein lies the fascination which today impels us to look back with
yearning and regret upon the too rapid flight of that happy period, that
dreamy beauty of Andalusian civilization when Cordova and Toledo guarded
the sacred fire of civilization upon European ground-a fascination which
still throws a glamour around the halls of the Alcazar of Seville or the
pinnacles of the Alhambra."
It is necessary at this point to make a digression" in order to consider the
creation by the Moslems of a high culture in Sicily, comparable to that in
Spain and an important bridge for the transference of Islamic science and
learning into Christian Europe.
Sicily had been conquered by the Moslems in 902 A.D.; and it remained under
Moslem rule until it was conquered by the Normans under Count Roger in a
prolonged campaign culminating in 1091 A. D. Under the rule of Roger
I-who, though Christian, admired greatly the culture of the Moslems-Sicily
witnessed a remarkable coalesce of Islamic and Christian cultures. Here the
legacy of Greece and Rome found a unique flowering under the Arab-Norman
genius. Roger I patronized Arab learning and surrounded himself with
Oriental teachers, physicians and poets. He did not destroy the previous
Moslem system of administration. He even kept in high office Moslem
personnel. In fact, his court at Palermo seemed more Oriental than
Roger II of Sicily was also deeply appreciative of the Islamic culture. He
dressed in the Moslem style, ornamented his chapel with Arabic inscriptions
and attracted Moslem scholars to his court.
During this century the trade of the country was left

largely in the hands of the Moslems. And the tolerant and enlightened
rulers favored the cultivation of the land by the Arabs who had brought
here, as to Spain, the most advanced methods of irrigation and
Roger lI's grandson Frederick II adopted even more than his predecessors the
culture and customs of the Islamic civilization which surrounded him. . He
kept a harem and led a semi-Oriental life. He invited to his court scholars
and philosophers from the Middle East and maintained close commercial and
political relations with Syria and Egypt. The industries and arts of the
Moslems spread under his rule from Sicily into Southern Italy, which had
become part of the Norman Kingdom. The manufacturing of Arabic textiles was
taught the Italians by Moslem workers; and "so great was the. demand for
Oriental fabrics that there was a time when no European could have felt
really well-dressed unless he possessed at least one such garment."
More important still was the educational and scientific legacy, which flowed
from Sicily into Europe. Through the influence of the Moslem University of
Salerno medical schools were founded in Europe. It was especially in Sicily
under the tolerant reign of the Normans that Arabic and Greek works of
science were translated into Latin and thus introduced into medieval Europe.
Hitti, in his History of the Arabs, sums up this influence of Islamic
culture on Italy as follows: "This almost modern spirit of investigation,
experimentation and research which characterized the court of Frederick
marks the be- ginning of the Italian Renaissance. Italian poetry, letters
and music began to blossom under Provencal and Arabic influence. On the
whole, Sicily as a transmitter of Moslem culture might claim for itself a
place next in importance to Spain and higher than that of Syria in the
period of the Crusades."

These halcyon periods of humanity such as the Moorish epoch in Spain do not
last. Why and how did this prosperous, progressive and dynamic civilization
of the Moors come to an end? Its doom was sealed, it seems, long before the
Christian warriors of North Spain gathered enough strength and zeal to win
back Spain to Christendom. It is a story of the same moral and political
decadence that had ruined Baghdad. The rulers-victims of luxurious
sensuality and sex-became so effete that anarchy frequently prevailed.
Of one of these rulers, al-Mustakfi, it was stated by a Iakr Arab historian
that his "interest in life centered in sex and stomach." The Praetorian
 Guard, composed of Berbers and Slavs, took advantage of this weakness to
make themselves the virtual rulers of Moslem Spain.
At the end of a succession of weak caliphs the people of Cordova in 1027 A.
D. abolished the Omayid Caliphate.
: This act gave rise to a score of small states ruled by so called kings,
the most important of which was Seville. Here, under l al-Mutadid, Islamic
culture began to thrive again until the pressure from the Christian King
Alphonso II of Leon and CastIle (to which Navarre had recently been added)
compelled al-Mutadid to the fatal step of inviting to his aid against these
warring Christians a Berber Chief, Yusuf, leader of a powerful Islamic
military brotherhood in Morocco.
Yusuf responded with alacrity. Bringing an army of some 20,000 men
he inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Christians. Alphonso's army was
annihilated and Alphonso barely escaped with his life.
This victory over the Christians postponed for over two centuries
the fall of Islamic civilization in Spain. But it was a Pyrric victory for
al-Mutadid. For Yusuf, admiring the luxurious life of Spain, returned the
following year to the
peninsula and conquered not only Seville but also Granada- subsequently
annexing almost all of Moslem Spain.
And now began a fatal decline of the great Moorish civilization. For the
newly arrived Berbers were a semi- barbarous race and their Islamic zeal was
of a fundamentalist nature destructive to the progress of science and
philosophic thought. Just as the scientific progress and high civilization
of Baghdad had been vitiated by Turkish rule long before it fell a prey to
the invading Mongols, so the Moorish culture of Spain went into an eclipse
under the rule of the Berbers.
Moreover, that part of the native population which had remained Christian
and had thrived under the enlightened rule of the Caliphs of Cordova was now
restricted and in petty ways persecuted by the fanatical Berbers, to such an
extent as to cause them to become disaffected subjects of Islam. Thus there
existed throughout southern Spain a fifth column, which was to prove of
great advantage to the Christians in their subsequent attacks upon the
Moorish cities.
In 1212 a powerful and zealous joint military force of Christians,
brought together by a zeal which was the by-product of the Crusades, met the
Moorish forces near Cordova in a decisive battle. The Christian army, under
Alphonso VIII of Castile, won an overwhelming and annihilating victory over
the reputed 600,000 Moorish soldiers, of whom few escaped. This event, more
than the subsequent fall of Granada in 1492, marks the beginning of the end
of Moslem Spain.
At the time of their reconquest of Spain, the Spanish Christians were a
somewhat barbarous people, having become so during their forced exile in the
mountains of Austrurias.
It must be remembered that previous to the incursion of the Moors, they had
been established in Spain-
to which they had come as uncivilized Visigoths-only a couple of centuries;
and what little of culture they had acquired during this brief period
tended to evaporate in their primitive mountain life. Deprived of their
former cultural and economic resources, they had quickly degenerated and
lost the scanty civilization they had attained while living under the
Romanized culture of Spain. In this desperate condition they had abandoned
the habit of washing either their clothes or their bodies.
It was this illiterate group who in 1212 A. D. returned to Spain and
found themselves again in happy occupation of the sunny, fertile plains of
Andalusia. How they gradually absorbed the technological and aesthetic
culture of the Moors during the ensuing centuries is described in the
following chapter. .
How Islamic Culture Was Communicated to the Spaniards

How was it that the splendid Moorish civilization of Spain had declined to
the point where it invited defeat
at the hands of the hardy Christian warriors of the North, who for centuries
had followed little other profession than fighting? The same factors that
had diminished Islamic power in Baghdad were operative in Moslem Spain.
Let us review these factors, already discussed in the previous chapter:
:-the individualistic quality of the Arab and his incapacity for large
loyalties except to the Koran and Allah; the undermining of the character
and energy of the rulers by a harem system which not only permitted but
encouraged extreme sensuality; the enervating effect of the softly pleasing
climate of Andalusia, the very charms of which were dangerous to the
maintenance of moral and energetic character; and the growing discontent of
the Christians, a large element of the population whose inferior position as
second-class citizens of the caliphate, combined with increasingly
oppressive taxation, deprived them little by little of any loyalties they
may previously have had to their Moslem rulers.
In the titanic contest at Las Navas de Tolosa near Cordova in 1212 A.
D., as previously mentioned, the Moslems
were utterly defeated by Alphonso of Castile, who led a. zealous Christian
army composed of forces from Aragon, Navarre, Portugal, and France. Only one
thousand out of hundreds of thousands of the Moors escaped. Though this
battle clearly marked the end of Moslem political dominance in Spain,
Moorish influence continued to be felt in other areas of Spanish life for
almost three centuries.
Why did not Alphonso make a clean sweep of it and drive the Moors
completely out of Spain? Probably because he was better prepared for
military victory than for rule.
What he actually did was to parcel Spain out to various petty Christian
rulers and to local Moslem dynasties, many of which preserved and even
enhanced the civilization of Islam.
Strangely enough, it was during the period of Islamic political
downfall that Islamic culture exerted its greatest and most benign influence
upon Spanish, and subsequently upon all European civilization. For once the
Spanish conquerors had satisfied their burning desire to reconquer Spain
from the infidels, they apparently lost much of their fanatical hostility
toward the Moslems and learned to live side by side, and to an extraordinary
degree share with the Moors the daily life of toil and productiveness.
The reason for this friendship was a practical one. The Christians
desperately needed these conquered Moslems in order to learn from them those
arts of living, which had been evolved over the centuries. The Moors were
possessed of a technology that. could be transmitted to the crude Spanish
conquerors only by personal tuition over a prolonged period of time.
The Christians needed the Moors to teach them the cultivation of
the silk worm, and the weaving of silk and other textiles. They needed from
them instruction in the ceramic arts and in the technology of metallurgy.
They needed Moorish carpenters and masons to instruct them in
the art of building. They needed all that the Moorish agriculturist could
teach them about irrigation, horticulture and stirpiculture.
Hence Moors and Christians continued to live peacefully together for over
two and a half centuries, a period
pregnant with progress for the Spanish. Such friendly contact between
Christian and Moslem had never existed before, and has never existed since.
It was in many ways an idyllic period, an episode in the story of humanity
that deserves fuller treatment from historians and romantic writers.
The Moorish kingdom of Granada remained for almost three hundred years the
center of Islamic culture in Spain. Its climate was excellent and its
environs fertile. Abundant streams furnished water for irrigation and for
baths and fountains. The air itself was laden with perfume.
Here for a time the rulers revived the glory of the previous Cordovan
caliphate. By encouraging commerce they made Granada the most prosperous
city of Spain. On a hill bordering this beautiful city al-Ghalib built a
splendid palace, superb with decorations and arabesque moldings. Later
known as the Alhambra, it is still a shrine for admiring travelers.
The rulers' patronage of art and learning attracted numerous scholars to the
court. Many Jews had previously settled there, - a minority race that was
favored because of its great contributions to the science and art of
medicine. Moslem refugees from parts of Spain under Christian rule also
flocked to Granada, until its population reached half a million.
In all the leading cities of Spain lived now a composite group of
citizens made up of the (1) Christian conquerors from the north of Spain;
(2) Christians of Andalusia who
had remained Christian, but who lived and dressed like the Moslems and
spoke and read Arabic; (3) Moslems descended from previous Christian
families who now reverted to the religion of their forebears and became
Christians; (4) similar Moslems of Christian antecedents who remained
Moslem; (5) the Moors, largely Berber though with some traces of Arab blood,
who were steadfast and zealous Moslems; and (6) Jews, who had played a
prominent part in the progress of Islamic civilization in Spain.
What a hodge-podge of races and religions! It was a rich admixture and
one well suited for progress. The Christian ruling class, coming from the
dark castles and crude surroundings of the barren north country, adopted
willingly the greater graciousness of Moslem life-much as the Mongol
conquerors of China gradually took on the amenities of Chinese living.
Almost a coalescence took place. An urban refinement was imparted to the
lives of the Castilians by the ~ cultural influence of the Moors.
It was this intimate association between Christians and Moslems, in
Spain and also Sicily, which imparted. to Europe the awareness and the
Implements of a civilization which she was to borrow, just as the Moslems
half a millennium earlier had borrowed and expanded the culture of the
ancient classic world.
"From the ninth to the eleventh century the only civilization of the
West had been Islamic," says Salvador de Madariaga, liberal Spanish
historian and philosopher now living in exile. "Christendom was in the dark,
while Islam shone in Baghdad and Cordova with all the lights of science,
art, politics, culture and refinement. during this period Christian northern
Spain was divided up into petty barbarian kingdoms on whom the mighty and
refined Caliph of
Cordova looked down very much as the French much later were to look down on
the Moroccan tribes who were the decadent descendents of the Moors.
"Islamic Spain gave the world her philosophers, astronomers, mathematicians,
mystics, poets and historians. In one of the smallest courts of Andalusia
there were five thousand looms weaving all kinds of cloth from brocade and
silk to wool and cotton; and the Prime Minister of another small state had
400,000 books in his library-at a period in which the most famous of the
Christian libraries in Spain, in the Repoll Monastery, boasted of its paltry
192 volumes.".
The influence of Moorish culture was not confined to Spain. Many
Christians from other countries visited the hospitals and universities of
Moorish Spain to study and take home with them greater knowledge of
medicine, of astronomy and of mathematics-fields of science in which
fortunately difference of religion interposed no barriers. Among these
visitors to Spain were two famous monks, Gregory of Cremona and Abelard of
More important still, when Cordova, Toledo and Seville were
conquered one by one by the Christians, many of the Jewish physicians
attached to Moorish universities of those cities migrated to Italy and
southern France where they contributed greatly to the development of medical
schools at newly founded Christian universities.
As for the Spanish conquerors, they had full need of all that these
Moorish hospitals and universities had to offer. The spread of books, made
easier through the invention of paper, brought a wave of fresh learning.
Books, indeed, were the most important factor in the influence of Islamic
culture upon the uncultured Christian world of Spain and of Europe. Moslem
Spain had collected in its libraries the literary and scientific wealth of
the ages. Now began a period in which, by means of translation from
* Salvador de Madriaga- Spain-A Modern History
Arabic into Latin, this treasury of human knowledge and philosophy was
disseminated from Spain to Italy and France, thus planting the seeds of
modern European civilization, as will be fully described in a subsequent

The life of the common people in Spain was deeply affected by the skill and
habits of the Moors, and Moorish culture has left an indelible imprint on
Spanish life to this day. Indeed, Moorish blood itself still flows
generously in die veins of the Spanish people.
Moorish culture is discernible even today in the music of the Spanish
people. The feeling, the tempo and the lilt of Spanish music is more akin to
Arabic than to European music; and the guitar, that most "Spanish" of all
instruments, was an Arab invention.
"As the Christian population accepted the lyric models of the
Moslems, Arab songs grew more popular throughout the peninsula. Moslem
musicians flourished at the courts of the kings of Castile and Aragon. Long
after the fall of Granada, Moorish dancers and singers continued to
entertain the natives of Spain and Portugal. The recent researches of Ribera
tend to show that the popular music of Spain, in fact, of all southwestern
Europe, in and after the thirteenth century, like the lyric and historical
romance of that region, is to be traced to Andalusian and thence through
Arabic, to Persian, Byzantine and Greek sources.".
It was a blissful time for the Spanish people. Relieved from the stress of
constant warfare, they could relax and bask in the sunny culture of the
Moors, and imbibe their art and learning. The Moorish culture was a happy
one; and all Andalusia, both Moslem and Christian, shared for a time this
easeful joy of living.
* Hitti-History of the Arabs-Macmillan
his period, too, marks the highest point reached by Jewish culture
subsequent to the dispersal from Israel. Spanish history of this era reveals
rich contributions of Jewish religious thought, philosophy, poetry and
science. The Jews were prosperous, honored and happy, and the fame of their
achievements spread through all the capitals of Europe.
It was nothing palpable, no serious friction among the various peoples of
this Christian-Jewish-Moslem Spain. that put an end to this happy epoch. The
disaster that befell Spain was chiefly ideological in its nature.
When in 1469 A.D. Ferdinand of Aragon married lsabella of Castile, their
union struck the death-knell of Moslem power in Spain. The local rulers were
no match for this newly evolved Christian power, who conquered Granada in
1492 and so established their powerful rule throughout Spain.
These intrepid conquerors under Ferdinand and Isabella were fired by
a religious zeal as great as that which had inspired the Arabs; an
adventurous spirit which eventually led them to conquer and colonize South
America and to found there a great Hispanic culture.
But while they were culturally fruitful in the New World, they
proceeded to destroy the remains of the great Islamic culture in Spain.
Moreover, they founded that dread engine of fanaticism, the Inquisition.
Forced conversion of the Moslems was inaugurated. Arabic books were
withdrawn from circulation, and Arabic manuscripts were burned in huge
In 1556 A.D. Philip II promulgated a strict law forbidding Moslems to
practice their worship, language or habits of life. The public baths-so
plentiful in Spanish cities because of the abundant water supply from
neighboring mountains
and so beloved by Moslems and Christians alike- were destroyed, Henceforth
any citizen of Spain overfond of bathing was suspect of heresy and liable to
Inquisitional investigations!

In 1609 A.D. Philip III signed a final order of expulsion, and practically
all the Moslems then remaining on Spanish soil were forcibly deported. Some
three million Moors had been executed, exiled or deported since the fall of
Granada in 1492. How different this policy was from that of A!phonso XII of
Castile, who in the thirteenth century had been a kindly and sympathetic
patron of Moorish scholars and artists!

The final expulsion of the Moors in the name of Christianity was a racial
tragedy. When the prime minister Lenna, at the instigation of the Church.
announced to the king that the exile of the Moriscos had become necessary.
In Philip replied, "The resolution is a great one. Let it be executed."
"And executed it was." 'says Buckle in his " History of a
Civilization, " with unflinching barbarity. About one million of the most
industrious inhabitants of Spain were hunted out like wild beasts because
the sincerity of their forced conversion to Christianity was doubted. Many
were slain as they approached the coast. Others were beaten and plundered,
and the majority were in most wretched flight. During the passage the crew
in many of the ships rose upon them butchering the men, ravishing the women
and throwing the children into the sea."
In addition to the Moors, all the Jews of Spain were, shortly expelled-a
dispersal almost as tragic as that from in Palestine centuries before. For
the second time in history the wide world was thrown open to the "Wandering
Islamic civilization never recovered from this fatal blow. Morocco, to
which the exiles fled. did not provide a favorable environment for the
culture which had flourished in
Moorish Spain. The Moors in Morocco turned to piracy and harassed for
several centuries Europe's trade in the Mediterranean.
If this obliteration of Islamic culture was a disaster to Islam, it was also
a disaster to Spain. Agriculture suffered from the loss of Moorish skill and
enterprise. The irrigation system fell into disrepair, transforming one of
the garden spots of the world into a semi-arid and half-sterile country. The
arts of living languished. And the gaiety, insouciance, and "joie de vivre"
which had characterized Moorish life were lost in the sombre shadow of the
The mines which had always been a source of wealth to Spain were either
abandoned or inefficiently worked. The weaving of textiles declined
markedly. In Seville, one of Spain's richest cities, the number of looms
fell from 16,000 at the peak to 300. Toledo lost almost all of its woolen
manufactory; and also its manufacture of silk which had employed 40,000
persons. The making of gloves, for which Spain had been famous, came to a
stop. Trade halted. Sea- borne commerce and fisheries declined, because the
Spanish were not sufficiently versed in navigation.
In fact, the dislocation of the Spanish economy by the expulsion of the
Moors and Jews was so severe that want and starvation reigned in many
"The Moors were banished," says Lane-Poole, in his " Moors in Spain.. " and
for a little while Spain still shone with her borrowed light. Then came the
eclipse, and in that darkness Spain has grovelled ever since."

Summary of Arabic-Islamic Contributions

VIEWING the Arabic-Islamic epoch in retrospect, one is inclined to
marvel at both the momentum and the magnitude of scientific activity during
that period-"unparalleled in the history of the world", according to George
Sarton. "The Moslem empire was created with the willing collaboration of
Greeks, Persians, Copts.... Christians, Magians, Sabeans and Jews. But this
assistance does not wholly explain what might be called the miracle of
Arabic science, using the word miracle as a symbol of our inability to
explain achievements which were almost incredible. There is nothing like it
in the whole history of the world, except the Japanese assimilation of
modern science and technology during the Meji era. But the Japanese had the
great advantage of the marvelous tools of modernism which accelerated every
educational process.
"Both of these peoples had the best of teachers - necessity,
compelling the kind of spiritual energy which overcomes insuperable
difficulties. Indeed, they had not sufficient experience nor enough patience
to consider difficulties and be frightened by them. They simply rushed
through." * 'George Sarton-Lecture on Islam-Middle East Institute.
The immenseness of the Arab contribution can best be
realized by recapitulating the most significant of her activities,
considering at the same time their impact on a Europe struggling upward
through the barbarism of the Dark Ages.

Medical Science

Probably because the science of medicine is so important to human welfare,
its advancement has been continuous from ancient times to the present day,
overcoming the barriers of race and religion which have sometimes impeded
the progress of other sciences.
The Arab contribution in this area is immense. Drawing on the medical
lore of the Greeks, Persians and Egyptians, the Moslem world eagerly
assimilated all the available knowledge in this field. Recognizing the
importance of medical science, the Arabs raised physicians to a high social
rank and rewarded them with generous emoluments. The science of
medicine-allied in the Moslem as in the Hellenistic world to the study of
philosophy-flourished in every caliphate and court of the Islamic empire.
Thus stimulated, the Arab scientists made significant advances in the
art of healing, especially in the use of curative drugs. The world's
pharmacopoeia is the richer for these discoveries. They established
hospitals far and wide and even provided medical care in some prisons. They
made careful clinical observations of diseases. They did creative work in
the field of optics.
The greatest contributions of Islamic medical scientists to Europe
of the Middle Ages, however, were in the encyclopedic field. AI Razi, known
to Europe as Rhazes (865-925)- a Persian living near the present city of
Teheran-wrote an important encyclopedia of medicine, Al Havi, later known to
Europe in Latin translation as Continens. This book sums up the knowledge of
medicine possessed by the Arabs in the tenth century as gleaned from Greek,
Persian and Hindu
48 -
sources. It was translated and published in Sicily in 1279 A.D. Further
editions of it were printed and circulated for centuries with considerable
influence in Christian Europe.
The greatest of the Moslem encyclopedists was Ibn Sina, known to Europe
as Avicenna (980-1037). Avicenna, one of the world's great intellects, had
an encyclopedic mind and a photographic memory. By the age of twenty-one he
had read and absorbed all the books in the royal library of the Sultan of
Bukhara. He then set to work to systemize the knowledge of his time.
Averroes in his Quamin (Canon) presented to the world the final
codification of Graeco-Arabic medical thought. Translated into Latin by
Gerard of Cremona in the twelfth century, this work became the most
authoritative medical text of the Middle Ages, and was used in all the
medical schools of Europe, passing through numerous editions.
"The materia medica of this Canon contains some seven hundred and
sixty drugs. From the twelfth to the seventeenth centuries this work
served as the chief guide to medical science in the West, and it is still in
occasional use in the Moslem East. In the words of Dr. OsIer, "it has
remained a medical bible for a longer period than any other work.". *
'History of the Arabs-ob. cit.
The medical doctrines of Galen, greatest of Greek physicians, as
improved upon by the Arabs, dominated Europe through her Middle Ages. As the
Renaissance brought a new awakening of the human intellect, Europe which had
been stimulated by its contacts with Islamic culture, proceeded on its own
energy and initiative toward those discoveries which have so greatly
affected the health and longevity of man upon this planet.


The Arabs, upon the conquest of Alexandria in 642 D., fell heir to all the
science of ancient Egypt as devel-
oped and reconstructed by the brilliant Hellenes of the Alexandrian period.
The Egyptians had done more in the development of what is now called
chemistry than any other race of ancient or classic times.
The Moslems, picking up this applied science from the Alexandrians, expanded
it and handed it on to Europe under its Arabic name, al-chemr, known to
medievalists of Europe as alchemy. Up to the Renaissance alchemy and
chemistry were synonymous; and the most important discoveries in the field
of chemistry were those made by the alchemist in his search for a formula
which would convert baser metals into gold.
In this search for the magical creation of gold, and in their researches in
materia medica, Arab chemists developed formulas for making the three chief
mineral acids used by the modem world-Ditric acid, sulphuric acid and
hydrochloric acid. They discovered the arts of distillation, oxidation and
crystallilation; also the making of alcohol.
Europe was indebted for all of its beginnings in alchemy and chemistry
to the chemical science of the Arabs, which reached them through translation
of Arabic works into Latin. In this science, as in other arts and sciences
which they practiced, they developed an objective and experimental method as
opposed to the purely speculative method of the Greeks.
The father of Arabic chemistry and its greatest genius was Jabir, known
to Europe as Geber. He made significant advances in the theory and practice
of his science, developing new methods for evaporation and sublimation and
perfecting the process of crystallization. His works, translated into Latin,
exerted a tremendous influence in Europe until the beginning of modern
chemistry .

Astronomy, Geography and Navigation

The Arabs absorbed all the astronomical, geographical and navigational
science and skill of the ancient world and set about formulating it into a
practicable body of knowledge. Drawing heavily from Greek sources, they
introduced the works of Ptolemy into the scholastic life of Europe.
Accepting the contention of Eristosthenes and other Greek geographers
that the earth is round, the Arabs established correctly its circumference
and measured quite accurately the length of terrestrial degrees. They
devised tables of latitude and longitude of places throughout the world, and
worked out means of determining positions.
Navigation in the Mediterranean required only star lore. But for
navigation in the Atlantic Ocean something more was needed. This something
more - the compass - was borrowed by the Arabs from the Chinese. And from
the Greeks they borrowed the astrolabe - an instrument which mapped the
position of the stars for navigational use.
The Arabs were expert navigators. For millenniums they had boldly
traversed the Indian Ocean in quest of trade with India and with the east
coast of Africa. The Mediterranean they dominated for centuries. And they
had anticipated Columbus in venturing into the Atlantic, as far perhaps as
the Azores.
It was under the tutelage of these skilled Arab navigators that Prince
Henry, the Navigator trained his pilots, soon claiming for Portugal the best
seamen and the fastest ships in Europe.
" Portuguese pilots and navigators became the foremost masters of
nautical science of their day, possessing the most exact instruments then
known. It was in Portugal and on the newly won Portuguese islands of
Madeira and the Azores that Columbus studied navigation. There the explorer
sought information before setting out from Spain to find the seaway to
India." * 'Portugal, Wharf of Europe, Elizabeth Colman, Chas. Scribner &
Sons, 1944
It is safe to say that without these navigational skills
which the Arabs bequeathed him, and without the revival of the Greek concept
of a round earth which the Arabs restored to Europe, Columbus would never
have ventured forth over the Atlantic or even have conceived the idea of
such a voyage.

The Decimal System

"The introduction of Arabic-Hindu symbols for our numbers and of positional
notation (the decimal system) makes it possible for today's elementary
school children to perform operations beyond the capacities of learned
mathematicians of Greek, Roman and medieval times," says Morris Kline in his
Mathematics in Western Culture. (Oxford Press). ,
To the Arabs belongs credit for rescuing the useful zero from the heart of
India and putting it to work in the elaboration of the decimal system,
without which the achievements of modem science would be impossible.
It was Hindu philosophic genius that first conceived the idea that
nothing, as represented by zero, could have any mathematical value; and
further, that values of less than nothing could be indicated algebraically
as negative quantities. Working on Hindu foundations, the Arabs elaborated
what has become our present decimal system. They also introduced the
so-called Arab numerals, adaptations of the ten Hindu digits, which
gradually displaced the clumsy Greek symbols and the impossible Roman
The seven centuries beginning with 800 A.D. saw a development of
computational mathematics among the Islamic peoples that surpassed all the
achievements of the past. *
The use of the decimal system spread gradually into Europe through the
work of Leonardo of Pisa, a Christian who lived for many years in North
Africa, where he picked

*.About 1400 A.D. al-.Kashi invented decimal fractions. a century and a half
before Stevin began the use of them in Europe. He computed 2 pi to equal

up the Arabic system of numerals and the use of decimals.
Leonardo's work, says the Oxford History of Technology, "was the most
important western work by a Latin Christian in which this system of
numerals, then long in use by Arabic speaking craftsmen and merchants, was
expounded for technical and commercial use in the west."
It took Europe three hundred years, however, to fully accept and become
adept in the use of the decimal system.

The science of algebra owes much to gifted mathematicians of the
Islamic era. Its very name proves the magnitude of this debt, for the name
itself is Arabic, al gebr, "a binding together ."
Though of Greek origin, algebra was greatly expanded by Moslem
mathematicians. From about 800 to 1200 the Arabs evolved a more critical
study of equations, giving them for the first time some element of
scientific treatment. Algebra was then handed on to Europe via Spain and
The introduction of paper into the Moslem and European world was made
possible when Arab conquerors overran Asia and Africa in the eighth century.
In 751 A.D. the Arabs in Samarkand, just north of India, were attacked by
the Chinese. During the successful repulse of this attack the Arab governor
came across the first piece of paper ever to find its way westward from
China where it had been invented before the time of Christ.
The governor, eagerly questioning captives taken in the battle, learned
that among them were men skilled in paper-making. These artisans were sent
to Persia and to Egypt to give instruction in the art of manufacturing
paper from flax, rags and vegetable fibres.
The unusual interest of the Arab world in the manufacture of paper was
perhaps due to the fact that they were already acquainted with Egyptian
papyrus, which was beginning to displace the costly use of parchment for
manuscripts and books. The methods used in manufacturing paper and papyrus
were somewhat similar, but paper was far superior for printing.
Paper-making was introduced into Spain in the 12th century. From Toledo, the
center of paper manufacturing, it spread under the tutelage of the Moors to
the Christian kingdoms of Spain. Similarly the Moslems in Sicily taught the
art of paper-making to the Italians. The earliest recorded European document
on paper was a deed of King Roger of Sicily dating from 1102 A.D.
Paper mills were first set up in Italy in 1276 A.D. in the town of
Fabriano, and other factories soon followed in all the important cities.
Thus equipped with paper, Europe was prepared for the making of books in
large quantities when the !invention. of printing took place around 1440
The Immense Importance of paper is made clear by the realization that
in the Middle Ages the making of books on vellum or parchment was so
expensive that only cathedrals and monasteries possessed libraries.


The Arabs also learned from the Chinese how to make gunpowder, but they put
it to a use the Chinese had never conceived of. They experimented with the
idea that the ex- plosive power of gunpowder could be utilized to project a
missile from an enclosed chamber. It is claimed that the first effective
cannon was made in Egypt sometime in the twelfth century. Made of wood bound
with bands of metal, it discharged round stones. By the middle of the
fifteenth century the Moslems had so improved the cannon that it was
employed in the siege and capture of Constantinople.
The origin of small arms, of which the first known example was the
arquebus is shrouded in the mists of historical uncertainty. The earliest
important use, historically, of the arquebus was in Cortez's conquest of
Mexico, 1519-20 A.D. In Europe it was first used effectively by a corps of
Spanish arquebusiers who took part in the Italian wars of 1522 A.D.

It would appear likely, then, that the small-arm originated in Spain. Some
historians place its appearance as early , as 1300 A.D. No connection has
yet been traced between the invention and development of the small-arm in
Spain and the previous invention and development of the cannon. But if the
small-arm originated in Spain during a cultural period which was
Arabic-Islamic, the presumption is that it was developed logically from the
Arab's previous use of gunpowder as an explosive. Moreover, the word
arquebus suggests Arabic derivation.

The clothing worn by Europeans during the Dark Ages and most of the
medieval period was as crude as their diet was meagre. The Goths had
graduated, it is true, from skins and furs to coarse clothing woven of wool
and linen. The Crusaders brought back glowing accounts of the rich fabrics
of the East. Soon these fabrics became a part of the regular trade building
up between the port cities of Italy and the cities of the Near East. Better
still, the Moors of .Spain and Sicily taught the Christians of those
countries their skills in textiles; and taught them also how to cultivate
the silkworm for the production of silk.
As a result of this Arabic influence, Renaissance Europe , blossomed out
in delicate and lovely fabrics of delightful textures and hues hitherto
unknown to the sombre races of north Europe.

Agricultural Products
The diet of Medieval Europe was monotonous. It consisted chiefly of meats,
and bread washed down with wine, beer or ale; leeks, garlic and onions;
cabbage and a few root vegetables such as carrots and beets; and such fruit
as was native to Europe.
The Crusaders were naturally envious of the rich and delicate
tables set by the Saracens; rice prepared in many ways and served with lamb
or chicken; lentils and other vegetables cooked appetizingly in olive oil;
and delicious sweetmeats or fruits unknown to Europe.
The new foods gradually entered Europe via Spain and Sicily. Rice made a
welcome addition to the diet. And the cultivation of small
fruits-'-cherries. peaches, apricots and gooseberries-introduced to Europe
by the Arabs stimulated the European appetite.
The Arabs also contributed to Christendom a cup that cheers but does
not inebriate coffee. As alcoholic drinks were prohibited to them, the
Moslems found that they could derive a comparable enchantment from imbibing
coffee made with fine powdered grounds, brought to a quick boil and sipped
piping hot. Those who have indulged in the East in this form of "Dolce far
niente" can appreciate what coffee has meant to that Moslem world from which
alcohol has been debarred for some thirteen centuries. Coffee was introduced
into Vienna in the seventeenth century from Yemen, Arabia, its place of
origin. Soon famous coffee-houses sprang up all over Europe. The Dutch
managed to smuggle the prohibited coffee plant to Java where it was
extensively cultivated; and enterprising British made fortunes by raising it
in Jamaica. Sugar, which originated in India about the beginning of the
Christian era, had proved so popular that its cultivation soon spread from
India eastward into China and west-
ward into Persia. Learning from the Persians in the tenth century, the
Arabs raised it extensively in Syria, Spain and Sicily. The Egyptians,
believing sugar to have medicinal, qualities, invented methods of refining
it chemically.
The Crusaders developed in the East a taste for sugar and introduced
it to Christendom. For years Venice conducted a lively trade in sugar,
trans-shipping it from Syria to Europe.

The Rise of the University

The Moslems, as we have seen, began to found universities in the ninth
century, first in Baghdad and soon in Cairo, Fez, Cordova and other Moslem
cities. The el-Azhar University of Cairo boasts of being the oldest existing
university in the world. It was founded in the tenth century and has
remained from that day the world's leading Islamic theological center .
The Universities of Cordova and Toledo were well known to
Europeans, and their hospitals were frequented by Christian princes in need
of medical care such as Christian Europe could not furnish.
The first medical schools of Europe were the direct and result of
this Moorish influence, and of great importance to the development of the
scientific spirit in medieval Europe. For scientific inquiry, as it had
been developed by the Greeks has and Moslems, thus gained a foothold within
the precincts of a Europe dominated by the Church, by theology, and by
ecclesiastical culture.
The first university of Europe -that of Salerno in Sicily, -had
arisen from just such medical foundations. The origins of this university
are obscure. But it is reputed to have been founded in the ninth century by
a Latin, a Greek, a Jew and a Moslem. Its textbooks were translated by
Constantine the African (an important figure in the history of learning)
from Arabic works which were themselves partly original and partly
translated from the Greeks and Hellenes.

Salerno was eclipsed by the establishment of the university of Naples
in 1224 A.D. by Frederick 11, who as we have seen was a proponent of the
Moslem culture. Frederick had the works of Aristotle translated from Arabic
into Latin, as well as the works of Ibn Rushd (Averroes), the astronomer,
physician, Aristotelian commentator and greatest of the Moslem philosophers.
During the early thirteenth century universities sprang up al
lover Europe:-Bologna, Padua, Paris and Oxford. In these universities, and
in others founded later, the men of Christian Europe studied for the first
time subjects that were purely secular such as astronomy, philosophy and
medicine, having at their disposal texts created by the Greeks of classic
and Hellenic days, and texts created by the Moslem genius.


Machinery can be traced from its early invention by the Greeks to its
current elaboration in our modern industrial age. Around the third century
B.C. Archimedes discovered the principle of the lever, the pulley and the
screw and demonstrated them successfully. Another Greek mechanical genius,
Hero, developed the gear and the crank and-more important-summed up all the
mechanical knowledge of his day in a three volume treatise, Mechanics.
Nothing of importance was lacking for the creation of a machine
age except the will to produce it. But this inclination was totally lacking
in the Greeks. Slavery was prevalent and the ancient world felt no need for
labor-saving devices. Furthermore, the Greek mentality was dedicated to
theory and disdained the practical application of science.
When the Arabs in 641 conquered Egypt and took possession of
Alexandria, they fell heir to what remained of Greek creativity. Its
influence upon them grew as their own capacity evolved. They made
translations of Hero's Mechanics and applied its principles to two
important inventions, the water-mill and the windmill.
The water-mill was an improvement over the Roman water-wheel, and was
employed extensively to irrigate regions of Spain and North Africa. Its
success there led to its adoption in medieval Europe, where it was known by
the Latin name noria, derived from the Arabic, naurah.
The windmill, as far as can be ascertained, actually originated with
the Moslems. The first wind-mill known to history was built around 640 A.D.
by order of the Caliph Omar. A few centuries later an Arab geographer
reported that the windmill was used widely in Persia to pump water for
From Persia and Afghanistan the windmill spread throughout the
Islamic world. It ground wheat, crushed sugar-cane and pumped water. Later
it came into use in Europe by way of Morocco and Spain.
Leonardo da Vinci somehow came into possession of Hero's books and set about
to improve the ancient Greek inventions. In this he was followed by other
Italians, notably Ramelli. By 1600 the science of mechanics was well
established in Europe.
To sum up, let us envision the seventh century world into which Islam
was born, and realize the condition of the Graeco-Roman culture. This
classic civilization had come to a standstill. It now lacked vigor,
enterprise and spirit. In no world center was scientific activity being
carried on.
The Arabs, erupting into this ancient and tired civilization,
picked up the threads of ancient science and technology anywhere available
and wove them into a definite pattern of progress. They salvaged the
science of the classic world and developed it for five centuries. They
enlarged the boundaries of all the technologies then known. But they were
than mere encyclopedists. They made practical application of this knowledge
to the needs of the times. It was no accident that the Islamic peoples
attained such wide-spread prosperity and felicity.
In pursuit of these progressive goals the Arab scientists attained
an experimental objectivity that the Greeks had disdained. They took a long
step toward Bacon's noble vision of modern science: "by experimentation to
discover truth and by the application of this truth to advance human
This Arabic-Islamic science and technology, reaching Europe via Sicily and
Spain, awoke her from the Dark Ages in which she was slumbering. The
detailed elaboration of the actual routes by which this transference took
place have only recently been outlined by historians. A hundred years ago a
statement of the full influence of the Arabic culture on Europe would have
been incredible. But modem research has firmly established its
The Oxford History of Technology sums it up as follows: "There
are few major technological innovations between 500 A.D. and 1500 that do
not show some traces of the Islamic culture."
Greek Science Reaches Europe from the Arabs and not from

CONSTANTINE in 330 A.D. had selected the ancient Greek city of Byzantium as
the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, rechristening it Constantinople.
Such it remained until 1453 when the Turks, employing a new military
technique, blasted with cannon its hitherto insurmountable walls and become
its victorious rulers. In consequence many Greek scholars fled to Italy and
there introduced the artistic and philosophical riches of ancient Greece-a
heritance which was an immediate, if not sole, cause of the Renaissance. Yet
long before that time virtually all the science and technology of the
classic world had already been passed on to Europe by the Arabs-a process
which had begun before 1100 and was completed by the time Constantinople
fell. Although this Arab revival of classic learning was the chief influence
in Europe's scientific awakening, this fact has been popularly disregarded.
"Among writers who are not familiar with the history of science, it has been
the fashion to speak of the great intellectual awakening of the 15th and
l6th centuries as if it were closely connected with the artistic Renaissance
of Italy under Byzantine influence. "The truth is that the advance of
science owed very
little to the influx of classical models and classical texts from '1 the
Eastern Empire. That the fruits of Alexandrian science: were harvested by
the Arab learning and gradually intro- duced into northern Europe, was
largely due to the influence of Jewish physicians who founded the medieval
schools of medicine; and to the development of scientific navigation and its
influence upon Europe, before the tradition of the Moorish universities had
finally been extinguished,".
How was it that Constantinople, so long the center of Greek life and
culture, had communicated so little to Europe during eleven centuries of
alliance with the Eastern Roman Empire? The facts behind this situation
reveal much of interest as regards the rise and fall of civilizations.
The Greeks of Constantinople were of the same gifted race who for
the first time in history had dared to think. Standing on the edge of the
abysmal universe, their fore- fathers had ventured to analyze its processes
scientifically-an exploratory adventure which paved the way for much of the
world's subsequent scientific thinking.
After illuminating the ancient world for a while, the light of
Greek science gradually dimmed. From the era of Constantine, Christian
theology supplanted pagan philosophy and science and Greek genius was for
the most part manifested in non-scientific pursuits.
The life of Constantinople, if not brilliantly scientific, was brilliantly
luxuriant. Trade flourished with both the Orient and the Near East. The
Greeks of Constantinople lived elegantly-and exclusively. They had little
contact with their fellow Christians of Italy and Western Europe, for both
political and religious reasons.
Politically, the Eastern and Western parts of the Roman,

*Lancelot Hogben-Science for the Citizen, W. W. Norton, N.´.C.
62 ,

Empire after Diocletian were not only separate but often competitive. Their
rivalry for control of Egypt and North Africa was especially intense. Thus
during many periods the two governments were hostile to each other .
More serious still was the religious rift between the two parts of
the Empire. This cleavage developed in 378 A.D. when Christianity was made
state religion of the Eastern Empire and the emperor, by virtue of his
office, became the head of the Eastern Church. At first the Church was more
powerful in Constantinople than in Rome, where the popes were struggling to
establish their authority. The Western Church finally gained dominance in
Christendom by the adherence of the Visigoths to the Latin form of
and their consequent allegiance to the pope.
With the achievement of this dominance the Papacy in Rome became the
chief center of Christendom. Though many overtures were made to the Eastern
Church for unity with Rome, they were to no avail. The hostility between
the two erupted into violence in 1204 when the Fourth Crusaders, aided by a
large Venetian fleet and by treachery within the city, captured the citadel
of Eastern Rome. Their purpose, which had received the blessings of the
Pope, was to force the Eastern Church to submit to the rule of the Papacy.
This, in spite of their military victory, they were unable to do.
Though the Crusaders ruled the city until 1261, their acts of
cruelty, ravage and pillage did not endear them to their Eastern brethren.
The Crusaders found the Constantinople Greeks equally to their disliking,
and though Constantinople remained an outpost of the Graeco-Roman culture,
its people were antagonistic and aloof toward the Roman Church and Europe.
Constantinople loved its past. It was the only place on earth where
the "splendor that was Greece and the glory that was Rome" still survived.
While Europe was still sunk
in the vandalism, poverty, illiteracy and crudeness of the Dark Ages,
Constantinople was worshipping in St. Sophia- then and now the most
exquisitely beautiful house of worship in the world. It was enjoying the
sports of the Hippodrome, center of Byzantine life; and becoming rich with
the trade that arrived and departed from its artificially made harbors.
The countries of Europe, on the contrary, enjoyed no pride in any past.
Christian Europe had emotionally severed itself completely from pagan Rome
and Greece. "Byzantium in Western eyes aroused wonder, envy, hatred, malice
and a sense of perplexity at the difficulties which were raised by all
attempts at reunion; but it did not arouse respect or encourage
understanding." *
Such a hostile relationship was hardly conducive to the fruitful exchange of
ideas. Until mid-fifteenth century, therefore, little of the vast body of
Greek learning reached Europe from Constantinople, its logical source.

It was by a more circuitous route that the knowledge of the ancient Greeks
first reached the European continent, and under considerably more favorable
circumstances. Unlike the atmosphere of hostility which prevailed between
Rome and Constantinople, a climate of amicability surrounded certain areas
of Europe where Moslems and Christians lived side by side for centuries. It
was in those areas that the transfusion of Greek science to Europe actually
took place.
The Greek texts which the Arabs had translated into their own
language over the course of centuries aroused deep interest in the West, and
Latin scholars began to delve into Greek-Arabic learning. A stream of
*R. W. Southern-The Making of the Middle Ages-Yale
now flowed from Arabic into Latin and reached Europe in that language.
"This marked the beginning of a one-way traffic in ideas which,
hesitatingly in the eleventh century, but with rapidly increasing impetus
throughout the twelfth century, transformed the scientific knowledge of the
Latin West. Wherever the receding tide of Moslem power-in Spain, Sicily and
Southern Italy - left men who knew Arabic or Greek and could serve as
intermediaries between Christendom and the outside world, there were Latin
scholars anxious to make use of these new opportunities. Scholars came to
these centers from England, France, and Italy in search of knowledge; and
slowly by their efforts and those of their collaborators, a new scientific
library was built up more extensive than that which the European world had
ever known." *
The translation from Arabic to Latin was initiated by Constantine the
African, a Christian monk living in Sicily in the middle of the eleventh
century. As a member of the Benedictine monastery of Monte Carlo he
translated a number of Arabic works, chiefly in the field of medicine, into
The greatest translator of this period was Gerard of Cremona, who worked
in Toledo between 1175 and 1187. He was the most important single agent in
the rendering of Arabic texts into Latin, and was responsible for bringing
Greek and Arab science to the attention of scholars all over Europe.

Of the works translated and passed on to Europe, the medical works of Galen
and Hippocrates and the encyclopedic works of Arab medical scientists were
the most important. They were to serve as textbooks in all the medical
schools of Europe for several centuries. Aristotle's work on
* R. W. Southern, ob. cit.
physics, astronomy, and botany were also introduced to Europe, and
profoundly affected the theological, philosophical and scientific thought of
Europeans throughout the Middle Ages. In addition to the volumes of Greek
science, many scientific works of the Arabs-Avicenna, Averroes, and Rhazes
in particular-were translated.
It is to be noted that this important work of translation, which
inaugurated a new age for Europe, had been completed by the beginning of
the thirteenth century -the century in which the rise of the European
university took place:
Thus these scientific works salvaged from Greek culture, plus the
scientific contributions of the Arabs themselves, contained a body of
knowledge ready for use by these rapidly growing institutions. The
University of Milan, Padua, Paris, Prague, and Oxford -all of which used
Latin as their vernacular-fully profited by the learning bequeathed them in
these translations.
By the beginning of the fourteenth century Europe had at her disposal
the science and scholarship of the classic age, enriched and transmitted by
the Arabs, and the gulf which had fatefully divided Europe from her past was
finally bridged.

Europe Develops the Scientific Attitude

Research, scientific discovery and technological change have accompanied, in
due course of time, the development of Christianity in the West. But there
is historical evidence that Islam at one time looked more favorably on
scientific investigation than did Christianity.

From the beginning, Christianity appeared to be antagonistic to science. In
the early days in Rome the Christian, Church held itself apart from the
Graeco-Roman culture. It did not, it is true, find it necessary then to
persecute the devotees of this culture, since it was already dying, the
Gothic invasions having virtually obliterated it. But later on, when the
Eastern Catholic Church attained full power, it persecuted pagan
philosophers and scientists, shutting down the Lyceum in Athens and laying a
heavy hand on Greek philosophy in Alexandria.
For several centuries, therefore, the inheritors of the Arabic and
Graeco-Roman sciences in Europe had to proceed cautiously. The chemists, who
were at that period alchemists, had to keep their records in a sort of a
code language. Even Leonardo da Vinci, as late as the fifteenth century,
felt it wise to write his notebooks in a cryptic form.
Yet in spite of the Church, Europe was slowly emerging into a new
realization of existence. A yeast was at work which would not subside until
it had brought about, in
Medieval Europe, an entirely new attitude toward life-the scientific

The year 1492, which saw the fall of Granada and the final ebb of Islamic
culture, witnessed also a rising tide in Europe which was to culminate in a
wave of scientific modernism and the opening up of a newly discovered world.
Islamic science and much of Islamic culture may be considered to have
come to an end with the expulsion of the Moors and Jews from Spain. For as
we have seen, the Moors lapsed into a life of cultural stagnation in
Morocco, in spite of their feeble attempt to continue the culture they had
known in Spain. At the other end of the Mediterranean, the all-conquering
but semi-barbarous Turks were eroding the Islamic culture of the Middle East
as the Goths had eroded the Graeco-Roman culture of Europe.
From now on Islam existed in a twilight zone like that. in which Europe
had lived during her Dark Ages. The star of Islam had set. The star of
Christendom was on the rise.
Europe now began her cultural ascent to heights undreamed of in the
classical era, or in the period of Islamic culture. Wealth, the first
requisite for the building of a great civilization, was at hand. Many cities
of Europe and England prospered in manufacture and trade. Merchants and the
nobility grew rich. The conquests of Mexico and Peru poured a gold and
silver wealth into Europe. Colleges and secular schools received endowments,
and education was encouraged.
The atmosphere of Europe was charged with enthusiasm -the smell
of success was in the air. European countries no longer comprised the mere
fringe of a small continent. The whole of the New World now lay within their
waiting to be explored, conquered and settled. Africa was being navigated.
And Europeans were reaching Asia via the Cape of Good Hope -a route which
later made possible the conquest of the Philippines, Indonesia and India.
Europe was in a ferment of excitement, enterprise and 1 adventure
such as the Arab world had experienced seven centuries before, when it was
conquering and organizing the Islamic empire. The spiritual bond of a common
faith and culture held her together, and the use of Latin as the common
language of learning united European scholars.
Only one obstacle prevented Europe making the important scientific
discoveries which were to change the face of the earth. That obstacle was
scholasticism. This mode of thought-inherited from Platonism-imprisoned the
Catholic Church for centuries in the doctrinal philosophy of Thomas Aquinas
and Duns Scotus. It dealt with abstract ideas rather than with the concrete
world, and "spurned the lowly earth in its search for heaven.
This opposition to intellectual activity directed to practical
purposes and scientific progress was due partly to the Church and partly to
the limitations that had inhibited Greek thinking after the Age of Pericles.
The Greeks had investigated, travelled, observed and classified. But
with the exception of a few scientists such as a Archimedes they had not
made experiments. The dawn of scientific thinking which had preceded the Age
of Pericles was later dimmed by the growing popularity of logic.
To Plato, scientific study meant the study of the subjective world,
the attempt to understand ultimate causes. Belittling the observational
methods of the physical scientists, he once satirized astronomers: "It makes
no difference whether a person stares stupidly at the sky, or looks with
half shut eyes upon the ground. So long as he is trying to study any
sensible object, I deny that he can ever be said to have
learned anything. For no objects of sense admit the scientific treatment."
After Luther drove a wedge of separation between northern and southern
Europe, the ensuing Reformation brought about the secularization of
education. Protestantism allowed far more freedom to scientific
investigation than Catholicism. And the necessity to compete with
Protestantism forced the Catholic Church to compromise with science.
The restraints imposed by the Church upon scientific investigation
were gradually dispelled. The death of Bruno at the stake for asserting,
contrary to the Bible, Copernicus' theory that the earth revolved around the
sun, was the last successful attempt of the Inquisition to throttle science.
Though Galileo was later threatened with torture, the church made no attempt
to execute him, confining him instead in his Florentine residence and
assigning the recitation of psalms as penance for his heresies.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Europe was in possession of
almost all that body of sciences and practical arts which Islam had salvaged
from the ancient world, and the stage was set for the steady and rapid
progress- of European science and civilization.
Galileo must be looked upon as the inaugurator of the modern
age of science. For by means of the telescope, previously invented in crude
form in Holland and perfected by him, he established for all time the
validity of the Copernican theory. His experiments with falling bodies
brought him close to discovering the law of gravitation, and his
investigations were of assistance to Newton. His contributions to the
science of mechanics were numerous. Building on scattered ideas and
experiments of the past ages, he conceived the idea of force as a mechanical
agent. His writings
on dynamics and his solutions of dynamical problems pave( the way for the
discovery of steam power and the birth of the modern age.
Indeed, Galileo is the spiritual progenitor of the modern scientist.
His method of combining experimentation with mathematical calculation has
led to our age of power and the epoch of the atom.

Science made many forward leaps during the seventeenth century which
Galileo had so brilliantly inaugurated. Kepler constructed his first
telescope in 1611 and announced his discovery of the laws of elliptical
orbits of the earth and other planets around the sun. He realized the
influence of the moon on the tides, and discovered important truths about
In the field of medicine significant advances were being made. Based on
the earlier work of Vesalius and Servitus, William Harvey published his
theory of the circulatory system.
In 1620 Francis Bacon published his Novum Organum, one of the last
works to be written in Latin by an English speaking person. This monumental
work -dedicated to the progress of humanity, the advancement of learning,
and the development of science by the inductive and experimental
method -marks the definite turning point from the Greek and medieval
practices of deduction and speculative analysis. Bacon insisted that the
scientist must pursue investigation freed from all prejudices and
Realizing the social value of science, Bacon viewed it as one of
the chief instruments of human progress. "The true and lawful goal of
science," he said, "is none other than on that human life be endowed with
new powers and inventions." Thus did this great philosopher prevision the
modern technological aspect of science.

With the heightening of scientific activity and the practical
application of newly evolved theories during the seventeenth century, there
began the rapid development which was to eventuate in the Power Age and
transform daily living to an extent hitherto unimagined.
To Roger Boyle belongs the credit for a vast body of
experimentation in the expansive power of gases which led to the eventual
development of the steam engine and the harnessing of power. In many
respects Boyle may be considered the father of modern science. Though
inspired in his scientific work by Bacon, Boyle soon surpassed him in the
practicality of his methods, checking his observations and experiments by
precise measurements. He was one of the first of European scientists to wed
theory with practice, and mathematics with experimentation.
In the field of physics Boyle was an immense influence or progress. After
giving to the world "Boyle's Law"-that the pressure of gases varies
inversely with volume -he perfected the air -pump invented by von Guericke
which was the precursor of the steam-pump and the steam engine. He also
conducted important investigations on the expansive force of freezing water,
on specific gravities, on hydrostatics and on electricity.
Interested in philosophy and religion as well as science, Boyle was, in
fact, a universal mind -akin to the best that the Greek world and the
Islamic world had produced. Together with Bacon in England and Descartes in
France, he inaugurated the scientific age in which investigation is based on
experimentation, mathematical exactness and methodical planning. This was a
very different kind of science from any that had existed in the past.


The course of the seventeenth century thus represents one of the most epic
adventures of the human race. It was one of those periods when new things
are brought into the world by men's creative striving.
"We may say that in regard not merely to the history of science, but
the civilization and society as a whole, a transformation was becoming
obvious in the latter part of the seventeenth century. We may take the line
that here, for practical purposes, our modern civilization is coming out in
a perceptible manner into the daylight." *
We have seen the first steps toward one of humanity's greatest
achievements, the substitution of the power of the machine for animal and
human power, The next two centuries were to be marked by rapid strides
toward the liberation of mankind from his ancient servitude to nature.
Historians advance several explanations for the eventual development
of the steam engine. It has been suggested that climate was an important
factor. Coal had been used for heating purposes since about 1500, especially
in England which was favored with generous deposits of this mineral. It was
the interest in problems of combustion which the burning of coal engendered,
and interest in the nature of heat itself, which stimulated the discovery of
the laws of expansion of gases and subsequently the availability of steam as
a source of power. It is highly improbable that the discovery of steam power
could have taken place in warm countries
which had little need of artificial heat and which lack, sufficient supply
of the fuels that the steam age required,
Another factor leading to the Power Age was the non-existence of slavery,
and the increased need of manpower brought about by trade and industry. The
power age probably

*.Herbert Butterfield - The Origins of Modern Science - Collier Bros
would never have developed where manpower was cheap and plentiful.
The evolution of the steam engine was as follows. The first step in this
direction was Von Guericke's development of the air-pump in 1650. Later
perfected by Boyle, this device which employed the power of a vacuum to
raise weights led Newcommen to the invention of the vacuum pump in 1698.
Newcommen used steam to create the vacuum in his engine. But his
method was so inefficient that he is not credited with the final invention
of the steam engine. Credit is given to James Watt, the Scottish engineer
who began his career as a mathematical instrument maker at the University of
Watt's friendship with Joseph Black, professor of natural history
at the University, led him to consider the possibility of improving
Newcommen's primitive steam engine. In order to make the necessary
improvements and eliminate the enormous waste of steam, Watt undertook, with
the aid of Professor Black, to make a scientific study of the properties of
steam -the relation of its density and pressure to its temperature. Out of
these experiments came the world's first patented steam engine in 1769.
Devoting the next ten years to perfecting his first model, Watt developed it
until it included all the basic elements of the modern steam engine.
Great as had been the scientific contributions of the Greeks and the
Arabs, they had changed but little the conditions of practical living which
had prevailed since the dawn of history. Long before either of those
civilizations had appeared, man had made his first monumental
achievement -the introduction of settled agriculture which freed him from
the uncertainties of food-finding and transformed him from a hunter into a
Centuries elapsed before the Age of Power, man's second stage of
progress, lifted him firmly and finally above the position of "thinking
animal" and placed in his hands the tools for universal progress.
The world is entering now a third stage of development, the Space
Age. The time may yet come when we shall link our will-to-progress with
possible achievements on other planets of our solar system. More compelling,
however, is the necessity for assuring peace and unity on our own planet,
torn for millenniums by the cruel and wasteful ravages of war.

The Rhythm of the Civilization

We have traced the rise of Islamic civilization and its decline. We have
also traced the beginnings of Christian European culture, which was destined
to grow until it dazzled and dominated the rest of the world.
It is not difficult to determine the factors which contribute to the birth
of civilizations, for history clearly indicates that certain conditions are
conducive to the organization- and expansion of cultures. First of all, the
essentials of ordinary living must be readily available, in order to permit
the leisure which allows the genius of a race to blossom forth. There must
also exist a sufficient concentration of wealth to make possible the
patronage of arts and sciences.
These factors were present, as we have shown, when Islamic
civilization rose in Baghdad and Spain. They were present during the Age of
Pericles when trade brought wealth, and the labor of some 100,000 slaves
afforded leisure to the average Athenian citizen. It was the successful
cultivation of maize under state control which gave to the Incas the leisure
and energy to build up their historic civilization. And in Europe it was the
wealth provided by the rise of industry and trade and the accessibility of
precious metals for coinage that made possible the Renaissance and gave
Europe its start toward modernism.
Wealth and leisure, of course, are not enough. Carthage was rich,
but her contributions to world civilization were scant. Something more is
needed-a racial elan, a self realization and aspiration for progress, a
motive force created by economic and political power .
Still another element-perhaps the most important of all-is required. To
achieve cultural brilliance a race must have something to express. As in the
case of individual achievement, there must be present some innate genius,
some spark of creativeness..
A superior civilization, once started upon its development, serves
as a magnet attracting gifted individuals to its focus of opportunity. As
Athens represented, in one epoch, all the creative genius of Greece, so
Alexandria held the same position following the decline of Athens. Beginning
with the eighth century it was the Moslem culture that became the focal
center of world progress, attracting Jews, Persians, Christians, Copts, and
even Turks.
As Christian civilization began its ascent, the same gravitational
attraction was exerted by Rome, Florence, Paris, Burges and Oxford. The
greatest example of this gravitational pull is of course America, "the land
of opportunity", whose progress has been assured by the combined
contributions of the most ambitious and enterprising peoples of many
national origins.
It is more difficult to establish the causes of the decline of
civilizations than to trace the reasons for their rise. Decline of
civilizations has been attributed by historians to many £actors; and some,
like Toynbee, have attempted to find a pattern that will account for all
cultural descents. The facts remain that no greatly creative culture has
ever maintained its highest elevation. Cultural peaks have always leveled
off into plateaus, and it is our opinion that they always will.

Our modern age, however, presents a new cultural possibility -that of
constancy in the perpetuation of technological improvements. Mechanical
techniques, once arrived at, need never decline. In fact, they appear
destined to form the pattern of an ever-rising curve.
But mechanics and techniques alone do not constitute a truly vital
culture. Spiritual values, aesthetic expression, and a "joie de vivre" of
the people are the life-giving elements. How and when will the modern world
grasp the vision for the creation of a culture as noble as its technology is
great? How, in other words, will humanity rediscover its soul?
History Looks Ahead

History is more than a dramatic narrative of the world's chief events. Bacon
said that history makes us wise. It
does make us wise if we know how to read its truths. Arnold Toynbee has
devoted a lifetime delving into and elucidating some of the underlying
meanings of history. If his theories at times seem to override his facts, he
has never- the less induced the whole world to view history with a more
thoughtful and scientific attitude. We look back in order to look ahead. We
have visions and we plan for the further onward march of humanity. With this
philosophic attitude in view, what lessons for the needs of humanity today
can we learn from the Arabic-Islamic period of culture?
(1) That peace is a necessity for cultural advance is a special lesson that
the history of Islam teaches us. The regions which the Arabs first conquered
had been eroded by constant warfare. Under Arab administration, in the name
of Allah and the Koran, peace was established throughout the whole empire,
eventually reaching from India to the boundaries of France. Under Islam
merchants as well as scholars could travel from Samarkand to Spain. Trade
brought a wealth to the rulers and merchants which could be devoted to the
creation and spread of culture. Science, technology and the arts of daily
living began to flourish greatly. Never before, in fact, had the common
people lived
so well; and the luxury of the upper classes was legendary. (2) One of the
chief causes of the prosperity of the people under the Islamic regime was
the attention given to agriculture. The caliphs were very enlightened in
this respect. They scoured the known world for new plants or varieties; they
fostered with all the means at their command the use of irrigation; and they
protected the peasant in his modest individual holding of land. They seemed
to realize that agriculture is, indeed, the basic industry.
And so it is to this day. The greatest need of backward nations is
to develop agriculture by promoting greater use of fertilizers, better
plowing, better seeds and stock. The prosperity of all peoples springs from
the soil. Technology applied to agriculture will bring greater rewards than
in any other field of human endeavor. Such agricultural technology needs to
be established and upheld, of course, by broadly extended education.
{3) Another notable feature of the lslamic epoch was the spirit of elan
under which science flourished. Once the Arabs awakened to the values of
science, they set about with great avidity to revive .the knowledge of the
Greeks and supplement it with their own research and innovation. Every
Moslem center followed the example of Baghdad in founding universities,
spreading literacy among the masses, and attracting physicians and scholars
to their courts.
It is always in such periods of enthusiasm and zeal that civilization
advances most rapidly. Today there is great zeal in the field of nuclear
physics. That the chief motive in this field has been militaristic is not
entirely derogatory to the tremendous advances nuclear scientists have made
and are making. If the world's scientific energies can be channeled into
ways of peace, this new dedication of science will generate of itself new
enthusiasms, until our whole planetary life vibrates with a zeal for
progress such as has characterized all great cultural epochs.
(4) The importance of linguistic unity which Islam established over its
conquered peoples must not be over- looked. Arabic became the universal
language of administration and also of culture., much as English became the
administrative and cultural language of India. If the existence of a common
means of communication was an advantage to the merchant class, it was an
untold blessing to physicians, scientists, scholars and artists. These
creators and purveyors of culture were able to travel from court to court,
the whole Islamic empire offering them opportunity. Their horizons were
broadened and their ambitions whetted by this favorable situation.
Europe of the Middle Ages also possessed, as we have seen, the
advantage of having church Latin as a universal language for education,
science and culture; and the scholars of Europe could range from university
to university anywhere in Europe or in England and ply their scholarship in
a language that was understood by all.
The world greatly needs a universal language today. A descendant of
ancient Zoroastrian kings,
Bahá'u'lláh, suggested over a century ago how this could be accomplished.
Let all the countries of the world send delegates to an international
convention whose purpose should be the selection of some one language,
either existing or artificial. Then require this as a secondary language in
all the schools of the world, and in a generation there would be established
throughout the world a universal auxiliary language. This plan is so simple
that only the jealousies of nations could controvert it. It is for this
reason that the choice might fall on an invented neutral language like
Esperanto or Ido. It would hardly be economical, however, to choose an
artificial language possessed at present of only scanty literature in
comparison, for example, with English in which the whole world's literature
already lies embodied either originally or in translation.
The idea of a universal language may be one of those concepts
which today is a dream and tomorrow a reality. Such a consummation would not
only facilitate global communications but it would also promote greatly the
advance of science and general culture. In fact, the day may well arrive
when a planetary newspaper will be set up by teletype and published
simultaneously in every capital of the world.
(5) Last but not least of the factors which advanced civilization in the
Arabic-Islamic period was the devotion of the people to a common religion,
and the devotion of religion to the common people. Islam was simple enough
in its theology to be understood by all and demanding enough in its daily
ritual of prayer and month-long fasts to enforce a discipline that
engendered piety in the daily life. Islam lifted its adherents above
consciousness of race or color, establishing an effective brotherhood in the
name of Allah.
This religious unity underlay and fortified all other factors which
made for the prosperity and cultural creativeness of those who, over half
the globe. turned to Allah in prayer and gratitude five times a day. It was
this spiritual unity that kept the Islamic world united culturally, even
after it became divided into separate caliphates. Islam brought to pass a
unity of mores and daily habits which gave stability to the new culture
being created under the aegis of Allah.
* * *
The establishment of civilizations requires unifying forces. The more
unifying the force, the more stable the civilization. Ancient Egypt
maintained by means chiefly of religious devotion and motivation a
civilization that en- endured for three milleniums. In a later age in which
historic evidence is more available, we may trace some of the causes of the
remarkable stability of the Chinese empire. Here we find the cohesive force
of an ideographic script which united all varieties of spoken language and
dialects. More important still has been the influence of Confucianism,
at times by Taoism and Buddhism and absorbing the chief values of these
rival truths,
For humanity today the urgent need is the establishment of world
unity. Technology and science are modern forces of unification that exert
everywhere a powerful influence. But beyond these forces, some world
.thinkers are also envisioning a unification of religious life upon the
planet. Sorokin of Harvard suggests a synthetic religion combining valid
truths from all the world religions. Aldous Huxley's " Perennial Philosophy
" stands ready as the textbook for such a religion-a sort of universal bible
composed from the world's chief mystic writings, with further exposition of
his own - an admirable book for those who are striving to reach high
spiritual attitudes.
But Hocking, Harvard philosopher of religion, maintains that a
synthetic religion is impossible, in that it would violate the very nature
of religion. For all religions are believed by their adherents to be
revelatory, hence not a truth, but the truth. However, Hocking does not
elucidate how any of the existing world religions can successfully achieve
the task of spiritually unifying our planet.
Toynbee also realizes the value and need of spiritual to unity
as a foundation and cementing force for the "one world" which seems to be
approaching. A universal civilization implies a universal spiritual as well
as secular attitude toward life. Indeed, Toynbee seems to suggest that it is
the purpose of civilization to bring forth a universal church. He hopes that
Christianity can broaden its theology sufficiently o to accomplish this
monumental task. But if Christianity cannot accomplish this, some new
religion may arise, he states, capable of winning the whole world to its
adherence. One earnestly hopes that Toynbee's vision of the future may be
prophetic.-".When radiation has been followed by counter-radiation of
Influence, what will stand out will be a single great experience, common to
the whole of mankind-
a new common life. ...The historians of [the fortieth century-] will say
that the impact of the Western civilization on its contemporaries, in the
second half of the second millennium of the Christian era, was the
epoch-making event of that age because it was the first step towards the
unification of mankind into one single society. By their time, the unity of
mankind will perhaps have come to seem one of the fundamental conditions of
human life-just part of the order of nature .
"And the historians of [the fiftieth century] will say,.I fancy, that the
importance of this social unification of man- kind was not to be found in
the field of technics and economics, and not in the field of war and
politics, but in the field of religion." *
*Arnold ]. Toynbee. Civilization on Trial, Oxford.
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