Why Islamic civilization must be re-discovered


"It is high time for Islamic civilization to be rediscovered and celebrated by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, especially in the West. And it is equally important that we ignore all those who, for political reasons, have a longtime vested interest in dismissing or suppressing Islamic civilization, to the point where it has become scarcely known and not even a footnote on most school and university curricula."

You could hardly call Islamic civilization "lost" - not in the sense of fabled Atlantis, for example -- but few people today know very much about it, or are even conscious of how many aspects of Western society owe their very existence to Islamic roots.

In some way, we all come in daily contact with microchips, space travel, medicine, physical sciences, mathematics, engineering, music, literature, arts, architecture, and spirituality. But do any of us - including contemporary Muslims themselves - fully realize how directly all of these advances and disciplines have been built upon more than a millennium of achievements by Muslim scientists, scholars, engineers and artists? Probably not.

It is high time for Islamic civilization to be rediscovered and celebrated by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, especially in the West. And it is equally important that we ignore all those who, for political reasons, have a longtime vested interest in dismissing or suppressing Islamic civilization, to the point where it has become scarcely known and not even a footnote on most school and university curricula.

The need to share and celebrate (before it is too late) the remarkable diversity, beauty and ingenuity of Islamic achievement is what motivated Canadian Muslims to declare October as Islamic History Month. It is a creative and unprecedented venture that deserves to be emulated by other Western countries.

As one who has long been fascinated by Islamic history and culture, I was delighted recently to encounter an excellent book that positively addresses the same issues being promoted across this country by Islamic History Month Canada.

It is Michael Hamilton Morgan's Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists.[1] It is published by the distinguished National Geographic Society and includes a foreword by King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Lost History has been read by other significant authors on contemporary political and cultural issues, such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who said that Morgan's book "delivers a missing link to the story of an interconnected world: the achievements of Muslim civilization and its influence on East and West." I wholeheartedly agree with Carter's praise.

What makes this book so unique is that a post-9/11 American intellectual has dared to advocate for understanding the history of Islamic civilization and its many contributions. Being on the "side" of an entire culture targeted by association in the American-invented War on Terror is a risky business for any author. But Morgan pulled it off.

Why did he even bother to swim against the pro-Bush current in popular publishing? This is how Morgan's own introduction answers the inevitable question:

"To lose the conscious memory of an entire civilization is especially tragic and dangerous, because each civilization, no matter how grand or flawed, is a laboratory of human ideas and ideals, of dreams and nightmares. We can learn from all of them ... By writing Lost History, I hope to show not only the contributions of an old and rich civilization. I hope to show, as Caliph al-Mamun concluded, that reason and faith can be the same, that by fully opening the mind and unleashing human creativity, many wonders -- including peace -- are possible."

While each chapter of Lost History focuses on a specific historical era, it opens with interesting dramatized "what-if" scenarios that challenge the reader to connect both past and present.

By writing this book, Morgan explains, "I am entering a potential minefield. The minefield is now given greater intensity by the current convergence of radical Islamist terrorism, the rise in 'literalist' fundamentalist religious models for organizing societies and individual lives, continuing battles between Israel and her neighbors, outbursts of anti-Semitism, the United States' invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and its 'war on terrorism,' and political and economic crises in selected Muslim societies."

He continues: "Most Americans, including American Muslims, and even many Muslims from other parts of the world, know only the dimmest outlines of Muslim history, i.e., 'they were great once, they invented arithmetic, but then they fell behind.' Most Westerners have been taught that the greatness of the West has its intellectual roots in Greece and Rome, and that after the thousand-year-sleep of the Dark Ages, Europe miraculously reawakened to its Greco-Roman roots. In the conventional telling, this rediscovery of classical Greece -- combined with the moral underpinning of the Judeo-Christian faith -- led to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and the scientific and industrial revolutions. The intellectual contributions of Arabs, Persians, Indians, Chinese, Africans, and others in the Muslim world are relegated to mere footnotes."

And finally, he concludes, "... I hope that non-Muslims can gain greater respect and deeper understanding of their Muslim cousins than current headlines and policies would suggest and that today's Muslims can see how Islam was once applied in a way to support creativity, invention, tolerance, and diversity of thought and behavior in both society and in individual lives.

"Then ... maybe we can begin to understand the issues of today that will never be solved by force. Because if there is no other lesson to be drawn from Lost History, it is that force rarely [if] ever positively resolves issues of the spirit and the soul - whether in individuals or in civilizations."

I can only respond; Amen, Brother Michael, Amen!

Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. He contributed this article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Ontario, Canada


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  10 Comments   Comment

  1. Abdul A Eze Okey from nigeria

    The script is one of the wonderful i have ever read on islamicity.may Allah continue to give u guys the strentgh to do the work. it is so beautiful.thanks. ma-salam.

  2. ARK from USA

    Dear Romesh Chander,

    There is a saying in Sanskrit," Yasaya nasti swaang prgna, shastrrum tasyo karoti kim?" Meaning if your own eyes (internal and external) are closed..i.e. if you do not have any selfconciousness, even the scriptures cannot help you"

  3. Mohammad Syed from USA

    Muslims must rediscover their history and celebrate it. The Golden age of the Islamic world is well known. The history of Muslims in Spain, India, Turkey, Central Asia, Morocco, Egypt, Jerusalem, Indonesia, and Malaysia Is well known and documented.

    And, readers please, do not make Romesh focus of your comments. Let him speak his mind. You comments should focus on this important article, not on Romesh.

  4. Al-Buruni from Borneo

    Dear Romesh Chander,

    Just because of this one article and you are quick to conclude that there isn't any muslim left to write about islamic Lost History??? Have you enough evidence for judging so?? Just because the author refers to a book by a non-muslim it doesnt mean there isnt any muslims intellectuals who are experts on the field? There are countlesss of them if you just care to research. how juvenile can your thoughts be!

    I'll just give you a few links below, if they are of interest to you:

    http://www.muslimheritage.com/

    http://www.harunyahya.com/index.php

    http://www.bibliaimpex.com/index.php?String=Religion:%20Islam%20%20&p=sr&Field=subject

  5. Romesh Chander from USA

    Note to Al-Bruni (from Borneo):

    In my post, there was no bias because I never expressed whether the writings of Mr Morgan are correct or not, because I have no way of knowing it? Rather, it was a sad comment on the sad educational status of muslims.

    Here is the relavent quote from my post "Funny, muslims look to non-muslims to discover their very own "Lost Islamic" history. That shows the level of muslim education. No muslims left to do discover their own history. And where do they publish it -- in the west, as if Muslims had already perfect knowledge of their own history?.".

    Now, don't you think, muslims should do their own discovery?

  6. Al-Buruni from Borneo

    Dear Romesh Chander,

    your comments today contradicts with you have ever expressed before. your previously claimed that the muslims are biased for relying only on muslims sources. but now when a non-muslim writes something in favour of islam you are making up excuses to discredit his work instead of accepting it. such a HYPOCRITE! you are so bent on your own agenda that whatever others say never make a difference. you always find fault due to your prejudiced mindset... Romesh, you might not be aware of it but your own words are going against yourself.

  7. zahir ahmed from USA

    visit: http://WWW.islamic-video.com

    WE NEED TO REVIVE THE ISLAMIC THOUGHT. Presently the Muslims are going through depression due to various causes. WE need to bring back IJTEHAD which the Muslim civilization practiced and built the platform science and technology and gave it to EUOROPE!!!!!! assalam, ZAHIR AHMED

  8. AS from United Kingdom

    History is obviously still a sore point with the Aryan fascist Hitler-loving RSS Hindutvadis! The epistemology of history in "India" is famously noted for being carried out by Muslims and latterly the British Raj. Prior to that, history was more like "his story" i.e. all that existed was virtually the realms of myth and legend. Never mind.

  9. Kris MacPherson from Malaysia

    Assalamualaikum and greetungs,

    Again, I'm called to reply to the posted opinion of Romesh Chander. It doesn't matter whom or which scholar wrote the books or research on Islamic civilization. Islam does not prohibit the followers to acquire knowledge. Romesh seems intend to despise Muslims particularly in his last paragraph. Obviously he is rather consciously ignorant of history.

    The world had seen the growth of Islamic civilization even in the age of Dark Europe. I'm sure no mathematician can ignore the contributions of Muslim mathematicians particularly the algebra. They, the west learnt from us. And great Muslims physicians, surgeons particulary Ibnu Sina, Ibnu Khaldun, Rhazen,a Persian, the first modern surgery was the work of these Muslims. The west then also learnt from us. Included in this list is Ibn Batutta.

    And even in the field of law, the legal knowledge, King Alonso of Spain in the 14th. Century wrote a legal book or encyclopaedia entitled " Sieta Partidas " which relied heavily on Islamic law principles. Even Grotious a Dutch, which is now renowned as the " Father of International Law ", it was believed that his writings on the principles of International law also borrowed heavily on Islamic writings. ( See the views of Professor Christopher G. Weeramantry on this. ) And by the way, law is my discipline. My profession.

    The contributions of Muslims to civilization are numerous, to the extent that even western scholars could not help but admit. So, what is so wrong about studying reasearch made by western scholars or historians on this point.

    After all, it was Islam that took the western world out of it's dark age. They learn from us before and even if they write an authentic historical research, what harm will it do to Muslims to acquire those knowledge as well ?

    Sometimes I find it unbelievable for me to reply to Romesh, taking into account on how juvenile his thoughts can be .

  10. Romesh Chander from USA

    Professor ElMasry writes "

    As one who has long been fascinated by Islamic history and culture, I was delighted recently to encounter an excellent book that positively addresses the same issues being promoted across this country by Islamic History Month Canada.

    It is Michael Hamilton Morgan's Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists.[1] It is published by the distinguished National Geographic Society and includes a foreword by King Abdullah II of Jordan.".

    Great. Now let us look at who is this fellow Michael Hamilton Morgan. He is an ex-US foreign service officer, who wrote novels involving CIA and book on John F Kennedy's PT-109 boat. Is he a scholar of history? I don't know and I doubt it. Is he a muslim? I doubt it. What is his relationship to the muslim countries? Nothing more than probably an assignment in one of the muslim countries.

    Funny, muslims look to non-muslims to discover their very own "Lost Islamic" history. That shows the level of muslim education. No muslims left to do discover their own history. And where do they publish it -- in the west, as if Muslims had already perfect knowledge of their own history?.