Sara Saigol reflects on the topic of our last residential, 'A Tale of Two Civilisations', where we had a crash course in Islamic history
You may have heard it many times: the Renaissance was fuelled by the preservation, translation and development of Greek, Indian, Persian (plus more) intellectual property by Muslims.
Well as Muslims we’ve heard it, definitely. We’ve heard it and felt the wave of pride pass over us acknowledging the robust traditions of reason, rationalism, intellectual rigor, observation and experimentation that Muslim scientists, thinkers, philosophers, travellers, writers etc… engaged in during what has been dubbed ‘The Golden Age’ of Islamic Civilisation. The same period was ironically ‘The Dark Ages’ in the West.
We smell and taste the adventure and lust for learning that included:
All this cemented to form a springboard for further enquiry, research and new developments in such an exciting way.
However, I have two questions. Did we ever really understand the contributions of that era to Western development and the making of who we are today? Are the names and contributions of key players known and spoken of with the reverence they deserve?
Secondly, should this learning not be part of the mainstream curriculum, understood by generations of students as we solve the puzzle of who we are, how we relate to one another and how we forge our shared futures together. At a time when our communities seem to be so polarised and fragmented, would an understanding of how we built upon the legacies of one another; taking knowledge, translating it, understanding it, moulding it, constructing upon it and passing it on not be a balm to the angst and an antidote to arrogant dismissiveness? I suppose I should invert the question and ask why ever is this knowledge not a compulsory part of our school syllabi?
Having read “The House of Wisdom” by Jonathon Lyons, it reinforced my belief that there are key facts that we should all know and names we should all be familiar with. If we know the names of Thomas Edison and Isaac Newton, then so too should we know and say the names of Al- Khwarizmi, Ibn Sina and Ibn al-Haytham amongst so many others. It seems bizarre that a whole epoch, its innovations and intellectual capital have been erased from our collective conscience. Texts that fed the Renaissance such as Arabic translations of the works of Aristotle, were accepted in the West with great excitement and zeal, yet the conveyors, preservers, translators and innovators were erased.
Locally, we speak to primary and secondary schools regularly, reinforcing the syllabus and discussing issues relating to cohesion, respect and identity. We get a chance to fill in the gaps. We ensure we mention Ibn Sina, Al-Idrisi, al-Biruni amongst others. Equally we highlight that over 500 words in the English lexicon are from Arabic such as alchemy, algebra, coffee, elixir, sofa and so on. We get a short sharp chance to redress this gaping void of an omission but that is all- this one chance.
It’s important that we recognise one another’s contributions. Like a relay race, it seems our histories connected by the use of batons that were passed amongst civilisations. Each time the baton changed hands a new opportunity arose to polish it and develop it further before passing it on. And like a relay race, once the baton crosses the finish line, every hand that carried it played a role in the racers’ success. Surely to honour each carrier would on the one hand, tackle wilful neglect and on the other hand combat arrogance? Surely in the end, each hand should be acknowledged because that is only fair and right?
This was the topic at our latest ISB Campus residential.
Here are some fascinating facts; ones that we need to repeat and repeat till blue in the face if only to grant people, their endeavours and their achievements their dues.
Let’s start with Al-Khwarizmi, an eminent astronomer and mathematician. A Hindu delegation invited to the Abbasid court in 771 brought with them prized Sanskrit texts which included mathematical knowledge of the sine function...
Read the full reflection on Sara's blog!