Monday, June 13, 2011

The Muslim in You (3)

Post 28—

Back in Posts 17 (Dec. 12, 2010) and 18 (Dec. 18, 2010), I wrote on this subject but interrupted it with other subjects.  Sounds like I am full of interruptions, doesn’t it?  But I did promise I would come back to it.  This is the day and the post.  You do well to go back to those earlier ones to refresh your memory.  In addition, the subject is directly related to Post 27, the one preceding this one, where I ask and provide a sketchy answer to the question what Christians can learn from Islam.

More Muslim Contributions to World Culture
In addition to the aspects of Muslim culture and religion already treated in those previous posts, there are a number of other significant contributions and accomplishments with which Islam has blest both Christianity and Western culture.  In Post 17, I refer to Stephen Glain’s Mullahs, Merchants, and Militants, in which he has a chapter on Syria that, chaotic as it is today and far behind in modern development, was at one time a major centre of international culture and economics.  I return to the same pages, this time with a few more specifics. 

Science and Culture
Syria’s capital, Damascus, was known as the “Queen of Cities” and the “Garden of the World” during its heyday. In the 8th century A.D.—yes, I continue using this term, since no one has explained satisfactorily to me what is so common about the CE--, Damascus was the centre of “the largest empire the world had yet known and more prosperous than ancient Rome,” wrote Glain.  “The world’s most accomplished scientists, physicians, artists and musicians came to Damascus” to enjoy the patronage of the Caliph, he went on.  “Astrologers measured the…movements of the stars,” while “poets and preachers celebrated the virtue of romantic love.” (Of course, given the shaky state of Western monogamous marriages based on this mythical romantic love, it is legitimate to ask whether this has any virtue at all.) It is even claimed that “Medieval Arabs pioneered the theory of blood circulation,” a millennium before “the royal physicians of Victorian Britain.”  This is where the seeds of many modern sciences and disciplines sprouted.

Still on Glain, Iraqis also helped to pass on, spread and further developed various cultural and scientific products they borrowed from Persia, India, Greek and others.  Syrian glass products and Samarkand paper were carried by their ships all over the known world while the emerging Muslim bourgeoisie popularized chess from India and polo from Persia and thus helped internationalize these pastimes by breaking them free from their original cultures.  As Glain records it, though not without ambiguity, the Iraqis adopted an “arithmetical system” from India and used it “to pioneer algebra.  The counting system—today’s Arabic numerals—would be re-exported to Europe in the thirteenth century by an Italian. Leonardo Fibonacci, who studied in North Africa under a Muslim teacher.”
J. Dudley Woodberry, in his Foreword to Encountering the World of Islam, an anthology edited by Keith E. Swartley, tells us how the early Muslim universities in Cairo created charitable endowments that would pay professors’ salaries. These endowments developed into “endowed chairs” that eventually became the model for such chairs in international academia and supported much academic learning over the centuries, not the least in the West.  (For an interesting description of life and classroom a century ago at the  famous and ancient Cairo Al-Azhar University, one of the universities referred to above, you can read Abraham Kuyper’s account of it in our joint e-book, A Kuyper & J. Boer--Faith, Science, Miracles, Islam: Four Kuyperian Essays. Go to and search for A. Kuyper & J. Boer.  Or go to and search for A. Kuyper: The Mystery of Islam.)
Arousing Your Curiosity
I believe you get the point even, though I have not by any means exhausted the subject.  Why do I emphasize this Western Muslim heritage?  Why would a Christian like me engage in this?  You’ll just have to keep your curiosity in check for a while, but in due time I will explain. 

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