Indefinite sources of wealth

Ali Bulaç

Tuesday, 09 November 2010 08:21

A book titled “Gökbiliminde Türk İslam Bilginleri” (Turkish-Islamic Scientists in Astronomy) was recently published. In this book, Vural Altın and Necmi Dayday posit arguments that might offend Western scientists.

The book provides extensive information on al-Jazari’s elephant water clock -- the historic Kasımıyye Madrasa in Mardin is currently being converted into a museum for al-Jazari -- al-Zarqali’s theory on celestial motions, al-Farghani’s discovery of the sun’s revolution around its own axis, Ibn Sina’s observation of the transit of Venus across the sun and Abul Wafa Buzjani’s trigonometric identities.
Western scholars who study the history of philosophy and science generally refrain from providing details about the contributions of Muslim scientists and scholars to philosophy and science, and they are content with making brief mention of them, saying they played a sort of postman role between the Greek philosophers and the Renaissance. Yet, philosophical thought was not started by the Greeks and science was not introduced by the West. Philosophy and science are as old as human history.

According to Professor Himmet Uç from Dicle University, even the novel, a literary genre that is believed to have originated in the West, has roots in Muslim masnavis. Masnavis heavily influenced the romance and picturesque novels that are considered the predecessors of the Western novel. A masnavi author would know that s/he had to keep a certain distance between himself/herself and the events, characters, theses, themes and narration. In addition to masnavis, there was another traditional literary genre known as “takhkiya” in which interesting and engrossing events are narrated or related using the techniques provided by the oral tradition. French philosopher Ernest Renan thought Nur ad-Din Abd ar-Rahman Jami’s “Yusuf and Zulaykha” should be considered a novel. Andalusian philosopher Ibn Tufail’s work “Hayy ibn Yaqdhan” is regarded by many as the first precursor of the modern novel. Distinguished historian professor Kemal Karpat from Wisconsin University holds similar views of the novel. There is a rumor that Miguel de Cervantes had some help from an Arab author as he wrote “Don Quixote.”

One way or another, no honest Westerner can ignore the fact that there has been a significant transfer of knowledge from the Muslim world to the West. Westerners returning from the Crusades brought back a wealth of materials from the Muslim world to the West.

However, this is not to say that the Western Renaissance, Western Enlightenment and Western scientific accomplishments belong to Islam as whole or that we are actually reclaiming our own legacy and endowments and transferring the basic assumptions, world view of the Enlightenment and credit for scientific accomplishments to ourselves. No, this will be utterly incorrect and misleading. During Abbasid rule, the Eastern/Muslim word made significant contributions in the forms of translations of ancient Babylon, Iranian, Indian, Egyptian and Greek texts in the field of science and philosophy. However, Muslims never copied anything verbatim, but opted for interpreting and developing them within new contextual frameworks and references. They used these contributions as auxiliary elements in bringing into existence a new philosophy based on a Quranic perspective. The Abbasids showed much interest in Greek philosophy and science, but ignored Greek tragedies, poetry, art and drama. Because they knew what they really needed.

During the transfer of knowledge that started toward the end of Umayyad rule and continued for some time under Abbasid rule, a good record of what was taken from whom was kept. Plato and Aristotle were famous in the Muslim world. In contrast, Renaissance and Enlightenment philosophers or scholars did not make references to the contributions of their Muslim counterparts, but chose to introduce these ideas and concepts as if they themselves had developed or discovered them.

It can be said Westerners took three main sets of wealth from the East to Europe, and then to the US, but they never gave credit to the true owners of these sets. The first set consisted of gold, silver and other precious materials that served as one of the catalysts for capital accumulation and capitalism. The second set was the transfer of knowledge and philosophical thought that made many scientific and artistic breakthroughs in the West possible. The third is the ongoing theft of historical works of art. During the first year of Iraq’s occupation, 60,000 historical works alone were smuggled to the West.

There is also a political aspect to this issue. By claiming that Muslims have not made any positive contributions to the establishment of the modern world, Muslims can be easily turned into the “other,” excluded and pressured.

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