This article presents a general sketch of some significant fields in Islamic civilization that inspired and influenced Indian and Western scholars during the medieval period.
Islamic civilization in Baghdad, Cairo, and Cordoba during its prosperous times had many famous and influential educational centers and universities. The mosques in Islamic countries were centers of educational activities, like Al-Zaytunah (734A.D) in Tunisia, Al-Azhar (970 A.D.) in Cairo, Bait Al-Hikmah (830 A.D) in Baghdad, Al-Qarwiyin (959 A.D.) in Morocco, and Jame`a Cordoba (784 A.D.) in Spain.
Robert Briffault says in this context:
“The cities of the Saracenic world, Baghdad, Cairo, Cordova, Toledo, Were glowing centers of civilization and intellectual activity. It was there that the new life arose which was to grow into a new phase of human evolution. From the time when the influence of their culture made itself felt, began the stirring of a new life.”(1)
He adds saying:
“There is not a single aspect of European growth in which the decisive influence of Islamic culture is not traceable.”(2)
These Islamic capitals were attractive cities for students and research scholars from different backgrounds and various disciplines including Christians, Jews and Hindus who took advantage of the sciences taught by Muslim scholars in those learning centers, which were characterized by the independent reasoning. On the other hand, Muslim civilization has benefited from previous scientific traditions and Muslim scholars were always zealous to study other civilizations’ achievements.
The movement of translation in the reign of Al-Ma’moon (d. 833) played a distinct role in transforming the knowledge and sciences of various human civilizations in the Islamic world, such as Greek, Babylonian, Indian, etc. Muslims studied the heritage of Greece enthusiastically and comprehended the points of strength and weaknesses within it. There is no doubt that Muslim thinkers were influenced by Greek philosophy, as the books of theology that emerged in Islamic civilization after the known translation movement attest this opinion. But at the same time, Muslim scholars have left a significant impact on the legacy of the Greek textual tradition. The compelling historical evidence clarifies that Muslim scholars examined Greek philosophy through their own experiments and made many valuable modifications to Greek ideas.
Moreover, Christians and Jews in the Islamic capitals studied the Arabic language and understood principles of Islam, the love of Christians for Arabic and Islamic studies was so high that Alvaro de Cordoba (d. 861) said:
“My Christian brothers study the books of Muslim jurists and philosophers eagerly, not to refute them but to learn the method of eloquent Arabic, while I do not find in today’s world anyone who loves to read religious books or recites the Bible. The young Christians who are highly talented do not know any language or literature except Arabic, because they are fond of the books of Arabs, they love to collect them to make huge libraries that cost them huge amounts of money, while they hate Christian books and belittle them.”(3)
It is worth mentioning that the French Pope Gerbert d’Aurillac (d. 1003 A.D.) studied Arabic and Islamic sciences in Jame`a Cordoba. Some of them were inspired by the thoughts of Muslim thinkers, which led them to translate hundreds of books from Arabic into European languages. This resulted in the rise of reforming movements and activities in Western societies that attempted to reshape the mentality of their people and reform them religiously, culturally, and intellectually until the West was prepared to carry out a scientific, religious, and intellectual revolution.
The Christian thinkers were subjects of persecution by the church; any new idea was regarded as anti-Christian doctrine and every scientific notion was seen contrary to the common faith. Such thought was regarded as a punishable crime rather than an act of apostasy. Many liberal thinkers were killed and their books were burned on the pretext that their thought was a deviation from the true Christianity. When some Western intellectuals during the medieval ages in Islamic capitals met eminent Muslim scholars and saw their scientific and cultural movements at their peak, they were inspired and influenced by the glory of Islamic civilization, especially in Spain and Baghdad. This led them to rebel against their own churches’ hostile attitudes towards science and innovation.
Such environment sharpened the hearts and minds of the people in the West and inspired them to further scientific research and religious reformation. The activities of intellectual reformers in the West were directly influenced by Islamic culture and science. Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) says in his celebrated book The Discovery of India:
“But still Baghdad continued as the cultural center of the Islamic world and even far-way Spain looked to it for inspiration. Europe was backward then in learning and science and art and the amenities of life. It was Arab Spain, and especially the University of Cordoba that kept the lamp of learning and intellectual curiosity burning throughout those dark ages of Europe and some of its light pierced the European gloom.” (4)
The influence of Islamic civilization upon the East and West has been extensively recorded in Arabic and Urdu sources. The most famous figures who mention this subject in the Islamic world include Abul Hasan An-Nadwi, Dr. Muhammad `Imarah and Dr. Raghib As-Sirjani. Moreover, evidence is abundantly available in Arabic historical resources and encyclopedias of Islamic history such as Al-Bidayah Wan-Nihayah by Ibn Kathir, which verifies the role of the Islamic civilization in awakening Eastern and Western minds to research and innovation.
Intellectual influence and the transmission of information have historically formed the evolution of human civilizations through intercivilizational dialogue and the flow of knowledge between cultures. Such a phenomenon confirms the strong bonds of brotherhood among all human beings.
The analysis of such a broad range of sources makes an important contribution and fills a critical lacuna in present scholarship dealing with the influence of Islamic civilization on Western intellectual traditions. Such article helps to create an atmosphere of mutual understanding between Western and Islamic discourse and eases the tense relations between the West and Islamic worlds, since both civilizations come from one common human heritage that has historically shared mutual influences.
Role of Islamic Civilization in Illuminating the Hindu Intellectuals
As well as, Islam was an important factor in the liberation of minds in the Indian sub-continent from the shackles of myths and legends and from blind following of the distorted religious tradition. A steal look at the religious Hindu scriptures reveal the extent of the control of the myths on the ideas and philosophies of India. Hindu philosophy remained always indistinct in its opinion about God, the universe and human. Its basic nature is a theoretical not practical in most cases, such as the concept of incarnation, rebirth, mixing the divinity with humanity, god and goddess with the nature.
(For more information on this subject, please, click here.)
Unlike Islamic culture in various aspects, theology, philosophy, belief, Shari`ah and ethics; all these aspects are clear, specific and inclusive of all walks of life in Islam, unlike the Indian philosophy, which is surrounded by mystery in everything. Islamic culture is also characterized by the practical tendency more than the abstract philosophy. Islam has left a clear impact on the Indian culture after its first contact since the first century of Hijrah. Perhaps, the Indian mind became ready for embracing the modern science due to the intellectual liberation that was brought to Indian people during the golden age of Islamic culture in Indian subcontinent.
(For more information on this subject, please, click here.)
K. M. Panikkar says in this regard:
“One thing is clear. Islam had a profound effect on Hinduism during this period. Medieval Hindu theism is in some ways a reply to the attack of Islam; and the doctrines of medieval teachers, by whatever name their gods are known, are essentially theistic. It is the one supreme God that is the object of the devotee’s adoration and it is to His grace that we are asked look for redemption. All Bhakti cults are therefore essentially monotheistic.”(5)
Ghulam `Ali Azad Bilgrami highlights the role of Muslim scholars in the propagation of awareness and science and says:
“After India came under the rule of Muslim rulers, and the flags of victory fluttered on this country, a group of eminent Muslim scholars blessed the Indian soil with their auspicious presence and lit the lamps of mental and religious science spreading their lights of knowledge all over the country. And since then a group of scientists was present in every time who remained occupied with their intellectual contributions.”(6)
As a result, many reforming movements have originated in India after the Indian intellectuals studied Islamic culture and rebelled against Hinduism and adopted the Islamic principles in humanity and monotheism and rejected idolatry.
Jawaharlal Nehru says in this regard:
“The impact of the invaders from the north-west and of Islam on India had been considerable. It had pointed out and shown up the abuses that had crept into Hindu society — the petrifaction of caste, untouchability, exclusiveness carried to fantastic lengths. The idea of the brotherhood of Islam and of the theoretical equality of its adherents made a powerful appeal, especially to those in the Hindu fold who were denied any semblance of equal treatment. From this ideological impact grew up various movements aiming at a religious synthesis.” (7)
The Glorious Qur’an was the first book of pure divine guidance and comprehensive source of divine law in all areas of human life including basic principles of natural science, mental and intellectual philosophy. In the shade of the Glorious Qur’an and the divine revelation, numerous great personalities, philosophers, theologians, jurists, commentators, historians, linguists, experts of geography, geology came into sight who changed the shape of the world, like: Al-Khawarizmi (780–850 A.D.), Al-Ghazali (1058–1111 A.D.), Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980–1037A.D.), Ibn Rushd (Averroes) (1126-1198 A.D.), Al-Bayruni (973-1048 A.D.) and many others who filled the world with the light of science and knowledge. People all over the world have benefited from their knowledge, when the whole world was in the bottom of the darkness and ignorance, the Glorious Qur’an remained an important factor in awakening the thirst towards science and knowledge.(8)
(1) Robert Briffault, Making of Humanity, London: G. Allen & Unwin ltd. 1919, p. 189.
(3) See. Khalid `Abdul Halim Suyuti, Al-Jadal Ad-Dini, Dar Quba, Cairo, 2001, p. 74.
(4) Jawahar Lal Nehru; Discovery of India, Rekha Printers, Pvt. Ltd. Delhi, p. 229.
(5) K. M. Panikkar, A Survey Of Indian History, Asia, Publication House Bombay, 1954, P.130.
(6) Ghulam `Ali Azad Bilgrami, Ma’athir Al-Kiram, Mufid `Aam, Agrah, 1910, p. 180.
(7) Jawahar Lal Nehru, Discovery of India, Rekha Printers, Pvt. Ltd. Delhi, p. 264.
(8) Moulvi Chiragh Ali Khan, Islam ki Dunyawi Barkaten (The Worldly Blessings of Islam), Naval Kishor, Lahore 1909, p .104.