Civilisational Dialogue: Medieval Social Thought, Latin-European Renaissance, and Islamic Influences
S. M. Ghazanfar*
Note of the editor
This article was published in Encounters vol. 9:1 (2003) pp. 21–36. We thank the author for having accepted republishing.
Table of contents
II. European Renaissance: A Brief Paradigmatic Critique
III. Islamic Scholastics and their Influence: Ibn Rushd and Company
IV. Some Concluding Observations
* * *"Civilizations no longer exist as separate entities in the way they once did. But modern societies still bear the strong stamp of history, and still identify with each other along cultural fault lines. Among these fault lines, the one that generates the most discussion today runs between Islamic and Western societies" (UN General-Secretary, Mr. Kofi Annan, June 28, 1999) .
The above quote is taken from a 1999 speech by the United Nations General Secretary in which he called for a Dialogue among Civilisations, as a counter to the clash of civilisations theme propounded by Harvard University's Samuel Huntington in 1993. His reference to the stamp of history and cultural fault lines provides some context for the present paper; about the most significant among those stamps and fault lines were, of course, the Crusades.
Figure 1: Aristotle's Metaphysics with the commentary by Averroes (Ibn Rushd) Merton College, UK, MS 269. (Source).
Yet few problems in civilisational dialogue are as delicate as that of determining the extent of influence of one culture upon another. This is especially true with respect to the links between medieval Islam and Latin-Europe. As Durant puts it, civilizations are units in a larger whole whose name is history (Durant, pp. 343-44); they do not disappear. The past always rolls into the present; indeed, transplanted ideas, no less than transplanted plants, tend to develop new characteristics in their new environment (Hitti, 221). The medieval Islamic civilisation absorbed Greek Hellenism, Judaism, Christianity, Hindu mathematics, and Chinese alchemy, and developed its own intellectual edifice. This is true also for Western civilisation whose evolution was crucially impacted by the intermediate Islamic civilisation.
The mainstream literary-history paradigm, however, has tended to present the evolution of social thought as one straight line of events, moving almost entirely across the Western world, as if denying history to the rest of the world. Thus, one observes a literature gap in discussions of medieval history of the West. This gap encompasses just about every discipline (see Ghazanfar, 1991). A very large part of the period includes the multi-dimensional development of Arab-Islamic thought. During this period, Islamic scholarship not only absorbed and adapted the rediscovered Greek heritage but also transmitted that heritage, along with its own contributions, to Latin-Europe. Thus was provided the stimulus for developing the human intellect further, for conveying a mold for shaping Western scholasticism, for developing empirical sciences and the scientific method, for bringing about the forces of rationalism and humanism that led to the twelfth century Medieval Renaissance, the fifteenth century Italian Renaissance, and indeed, for sowing the seeds of European Reformation (see Dawson, Gilson, Haskins, Makdisi, Sarton, Southern and others).
Having thus set the tone, my purpose here is two-fold. First, I briefly argue that the European Renaissance depended crucially upon the intellectual armory acquired through prolonged contacts with and knowledge-transfer from the medieval Islamic civilisation. Second, the paper will document the influence of several key Islamic scholastics, particularly Ibn Rushd, whose writings contributed to the European Enlightenment.
II. European Renaissance: A Brief Paradigmatic Critique
Charles Homer Haskins, on the very first page of his magnum opus, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (1927), anticipates criticism by those for whom the fifteenth century Italian Renaissance is more significant. He argues that the Middle Ages was less dark and less static and the (Italian) Renaissance less bright and less sudden than was supposed (Haskins, p.vi). Then he insists that such a view ignores the influx of new learning of the East, the shifting currents in the stream of medieval life and thought (Haskins, p. 4). Further, it was during the twelfth century when Europe experienced the revival of learning in the broadest sense, armed with new knowledge of the Greeks and Arabs and its effects upon Western science and philosophy, and the new institutions of learning... (Haskins, pp. viiiix). After the reconquest, Spain's part was to serve as the chief link with the learning of the Mohammadan world... (Haskins, p.11). But, he says, the story begins in Syria (Haskins, p. 281). His reference is to the first age of translations, from Greek to Arabic, that began in Syria and then flourished during the ninth century in Baghdad's House of Wisdom (Bait al-hikmah). He goes on, to their Greek inheritance, the Arabs added something of their own. The reception of this science in Western Europe marks a turning point in the history of Western intelligence (Haskins, p.282).
Figure 2: Two pages from the Hebrew translation of Lilium medicinae by Bernardus de Gordonio (c. 1258–c. 1320). Decorated manuscript on paper, written by Moses ben Shmaya de Castro. Escalona, Spain, 11 January 1466. (Source).
Others have talked similarly. Thus, medieval scholars crossing the Pyrenees found the quintessence of all preceding science distilled by the theorists and practitioners of Islam. Historically, by entering the arena of Islamic civilization they had indeed entered the whole vast vibrant world of antiquity as well (Goldstein, p. 98). And, what Islam had to offer them now was not only a spate of enlightening digests of the whole, long, rich evolution but an intelligent discussion of all its essential features, screened and refined through Islam's own intensive experience (Goldstein, p. 102).
While this intensive experience included the Islamic world's own philosophic battles between reason and revelation (thus originated the voluminous scholastic literature), similar battles were later ignited in Latin Europe through the transmission of that experience. Indeed, Western scholasticism was inspired by medieval Islamic scholasticism and takes shape beginning in the twelfth century, not by chance in regions in contact with the Islamic world: Arab Andalusia and the Sicily of Frederick II (Amin, p.56; see Makdisi, 1974).
Now, while Haskins emphasises continuity and change as the hallmark of the Middle Ages, one typically observes discontinuity and almost a universalisation of European Dark Ages in literary history in almost all branches of knowledge. Much of the literature, unlike Haskins' works, reflects painstaking efforts to minimise the significance of Islamic linkages; the Greek heritage becomes the primary emphasis. Such omissions in historiography persuade one eminent medievalist to argue that the Arabic component of our paradigmatic view of the Middle Ages has always remained incidental; it has never been systemic and the myth of Westernness is too much shaped by cultural prejudices that are still quite powerful in the real world of literary historiography (Menocal, p. 9, pp.13-14). Thus, Arab-Islamic scholarship is treated as nothing more than a holding operation ... as a giant storehouse for previously discovered scientific results, keeping them until they could be passed on for use in the West. But this is, of course, a travesty of the truth (Ronan, p. 203; also see Amin, Daniel, Dawson, Crombie, Sarton, Southern, and others).
Occasional references notwithstanding, what is almost endemic concerning Islamic heritage is the tone and style that is other-oriented, exclusionary, remote, denigrating, or outright offensive. Further, we can readily agree on the more recent Western impact on the Islamic world, for we are our own witnesses. However, it becomes somewhat unsettling when we learn of the distant, far more significant impacts in reverse. The names of a few medieval Islamic scholars are tolerated, but mainly as transmitters of the Greeks (see Makdisi, 1974). Such posturing is garbled falsification and colossal misrepresentation (Briffault, p. 189, p. 201), a travesty of truth (Ronan, p. 203), and worse than a lie (Sarton, 1952, p. 27).
Having stated a secondary theme of my paper, I now proceed to the main task: that is, to document some evidence as to the influence of a few prominent early Islamic scholars' writings which contributed immeasurably to European awakening.
III. Islamic Scholastics and their Influence: Ibn Rushd and Company
Presently our task is to briefly explore the intellectual sources of medieval Islamic-European connections that gave rise to what Haskins called the vision of a profoundly secular renaissance (quote from Benson-Constable, p. xxiii). That vision was inspired through the scholarship of medieval Islamic giants (as Sarton referred to them), such as Al-Kindi (801-873), Al-Razi (865-925), Al-Farabi (870-950), Ibn Sina (980-1037), Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), and, in particular, Ibn Rushd (1126-1198). The Europe of the late Dark Ages was receptive, but such a vision had no roots in the earlier medieval culture of the West. It is neither Christian, nor Latin, nor German. It appears abruptly in Southern France about the time of the First Crusade, without any preparation and previous development ... The origins of the new style are to be found in the rich and brilliant society of Muslim Spain (Dawson, 1950, p.153). Thus emerged, the confidence in the power of reason and that faith in rationality of the universe without which science will have been impossible (Dawson, 1967, p.230).
Figure 3: The Latin translation of Kitab al-taysir by Ibn Zuhr: Avenzohar (1091–1161), Liber teisir, sive Rectificatio medicationis et regiminis. Antidotarium, printed with the Colliget of Averroës (1124–1198). Edited by Hieronymus Surianus. Venice: Otinus de Luna, Papiensis, 23 December 1497. (Source).
The primacy of reason in pursuing human affairs was indeed the singularly unique and revolutionary attribute that the Islamic legacy bestowed upon the medieval West. And reason emerged as a force to counter the authority of the Church, for the popes judged all and could be judged by none (Strayer, 8; also see Durant, p.954). It was this social environment and contacts with the Islamic civilisation that persuaded the twelfth century English heretic, Adelard of Bath, trained (as he says) by Arab scientists, to assert, for I was taught by my Arab masters to be led only by reason, whereas you were taught to follow the halter of the captured image of authority (Stiefel, p.71 and p.80).
While Ibn Rushd's role in this rational evolution is acknowledged to be the most pronounced, there were others who not only influenced Ibn Rushd but also directly impacted subsequent Latin-European discourses. The task of introducing Greek philosophy into Islam and of underscoring its essential conformity with the Islamic worldview fell, first, to Abu Yusuf al-Kindi. But there were also others.
1) AL-KINDI (801-873)
The founder of the Islamic peripatetic school of philosophy and the author of 270 treaties ranging from logic and mathematics to physics and music, Abu Yusuf al-Kindi, in recognition of his tireless efforts to make philosophy acceptable to theologians, is known as the philosopher of the Arabs. He is also the only great Muslim philosopher of antiquity. A thorough Mu'tazilite, he wrote that truth is universal and supreme, and that philosophy is but another form of the message which the prophets have carried.
Despite his profound philhellenic sympathies, Al-Kindi remained thoroughly committed to the Islamic system of beliefs, as interpreted chiefly by the rationalist theologians of the eighth and ninth centuries, the Mu'tazilah. He was virtually alone in attempting to give philosophical support to the basic Islamic scriptural concepts. Al-Kindi's two treatises on geometrical and physiological optics were utilised by Roger Bacon (1214-1292). His influence was so widely felt that the Italian physician and mathematician, Geromino Cardano (1501-1576) considered him one of the twelve giant minds of history (Myers, p.11).
2) AL-RAZI (865-925)
Famed as the greatest physician of Islam, Muhammad Abu Bakr Ibn Zakariya al-Razi earned the title of Arabic Galen and the most brilliant genius of the Middle Ages for achievements in medicine, but also called the founder of philosophy of nature in Islam. He was a free thinker and an important philosophical figure who was even more radical than Al-Kindi in his attachment to Greek rationalism. Constantine the African translated into Latin two of Al-Razi's philosophical works and Gerard of Cremona translated his medical work, Tibb al-Mansuri, under the title of Liber Almansorius. Al-Razi's greatest work, Kitab al-Hawi (Liber de Continens) was translated into Latin and reprinted several times.
3) AL-FARABI (870-950)
Muhammad abu-Nasr al-Farabi wrote extensively in different fields. He wrote the Introduction to Logic and Abridgement of Logic; his interest in natural science led to his commentaries on Aristotle's Physics and on the movement of the celestial bodies. He also wrote The Power of the Soul, The Unity and the One, The Intelligence and the Intelligible, and a commentary on Alexander of Aphrodisias' De Animis. His The Model City continues to be of sociological interest even today. However, Al-Farabi is best known for The Encyclopedia, a definitive account of all branches of sciences and art, and The Political Regime, also known as The Book of Principles.
The influence of Al-Farabi upon two of thirteenth century's most prominent Latin scholastics, Albertus Magnus and his student, St. Thomas Aquinas, is profound. Hammond documents the similarities by placing Al-Farabi's arguments side by side with those of St. Thomas in order to aid the reader in comparing them (Hammond, p.65). Thus, we see without doubt the influence of the former [Al-Farabi] on the latter [St. Thomas] but not vice versa (Hammond, p.29). Further, Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas and others borrowed from him a great amount of material hitherto regarded by many as a product of their speculation, while in reality it is not (Hammond, p.ix; also see Sarton).
4) IBN SINA (980-1037)
Abu Ali al-Husayn Ibn Sina was another precocious genius of medieval Islam whose work spanned vast areas of knowledge. Soon after he had mastered the metaphysics of Aristotle, his magnum opus, The Canon of Medicine (al-Qanun fi ‘l-tibb), remained the standard text until the birth of modern medicine. He has been credited with at least 99 books on various topics. His Kitab al-Shifa' (The Book of Healing) covered practical knowledge on civic affairs and theoretical knowledge on physics, mathematics, and metaphysics.
Ibn Sina's writings not only formed a bridge between the Greeks and Renaissance Europe, but also constituted a distinctive school known as Latin Avicennism in medieval Europe, led by William of Auvergne. Less well known than the Latin Averroism, it was an attempt to reconcile the ideas of St. Augustine with Aristotelianism.
Ibn Sina's influence reached out to make its mark on two great minds -Ibn Rushd and the eminent Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1135-1204)- and into Christendom to the various Latin-scholastics (Albertus Magnus, St. Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, John of Seville, and others). Roger Bacon called him the chief authority in philosophy after Aristotle, and Aquinas spoke with as much respect of him as of Plato (Myers, p.34). Avicenna and Averroes were lights from the East for the Schoolmen, who cited them next to the Greeks in authority (Durant, p.342).
5) ABU HAMID AL-GHAZALI (1058-1111)
The most prominent of the medieval Islamic theologian-scholastics is Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, acclaimed as the greatest ... certainly one of the greatest (Watt, 1963, p.vii). He "exerted great influence upon Jewish and Christian scholasticism and succeeded in reconciling his pragmatic tendencies with strict Moslem orthodoxy" (Myers, p.35). The most significant of his writings is the four volume Ihya' ‘Ulum al-Din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences), which parallels St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica (Sarton, I, p.914, Durant, p.950). Incidentally, Al-Ghazali's works, including the Ihya', were translated into Latin before 1150 (Myers, p.39).
Al-Ghazali's scholarship assumes its greatest significance in relation to the larger philosophical-theological controversies of the time. He challenged other Islamic scholastics, whose Aristotelian rationalism threatened Islam itself. His attempt at reconciliation appeared in his Tahafut al-Falasifah (The Incoherence of Philosophers), which was later countered by Ibn Rushd, as we shall see.
As the works of Islamic rationalists, chiefly Ibn Rushd, reached medieval Europe, they even threatened the liquidation of Christian theology (Durant, p.954). Thus, relying heavily on Al-Ghazali's synthesis, St. Thomas was led to write his Summas to overcome that threat (Durant, p.954). And, since Ghazali placed science, philosophy and reason in a position inferior to religion and theology, the Scholastics accepted his views, which became characteristic of most medieval philosophy (Myers, pp.39-40). Thus, Europe as well as the Muslim East felt the impact of Al-Ghazali's teaching. Echoes of his voice are heard in the reflections of Blaise Pascal, and his work was paralleled by Thomas Aquinas in the discourse on Christian doctrine and in other portions of Summa Theologica (Jurji, Collier's Encyclopedia, 1979, 13: pp.312-13). His teaching is quoted by St. Thomas and other scholastic writers (O'Leary, p.208); and it is generally known that St. Thomas' Christian synthesis was deeply influenced by Muslim philosophers, chiefly al-Ghazali (Sarton, p. 914; see also Copleston, p.181; Myers, p.42; Rescher, p.156).
Further, the Spanish Dominican monk, Raymand Martin directly benefited from Al-Ghazali's texts in his books entitled, Pigio Fidei and Explanation Symboli; and the arguments have been taken exactly as they were in the originals (Sharif, p.1361). And, St. Thomas used some texts of Al-Ghazali's in Contra Gentiles, either directly or through the mediation of Raymund Martin. St. Thomas, who had received his education from the Dominican order in the University of Naples, had known al-Ghazali's philosophy well, and used his arguments in attacks on Ibn Rushd and his Aristotelian commentaries. This university was established in 1224 by Frederick II, chiefly to assimilate Islamic philosophy and science.
6) IBN RUSHD (1126-1198)
Having provided a glimpse of a few prominent Islamic scholastics, we now turn to the most famous intellectual of Cordoba, Ibn Rushd. The heresies of iconoclasts, such as Ibn Rushd, generated unprecedented intellectual turmoil which for ever transformed social thought in both medieval Islam and Latin-Christendom.
Abul al-Walid Muhammad Ibn Rushd (known as Averroes in the Latin-West) was the ultimate rationalist, the Aristotelian heretic of medieval Islam and Christianity. His singular influence in stimulating the Western Renaissance is acknowledged as the landmark in the history of Western civilization (Gilson, 1938, p.30). Along with Ibn Sina, he is the greatest name in Arabian [Islamic] philosophy... whose influence spread, in many directions, through the duration of the middle ages, then in the epoch of the Renaissance up to the very threshold of modern times (Gilson, 1955, p.217). Indeed, he was the greatest Muslim philosopher of the West, and one of the greatest of medieval times (Sarton, II-1, p.356). Roger Bacon ranked Ibn Rushd next to Aristotle and Ibn Sina (Durant, p. 338).
Ibn Rushd came from a family of Cordoban scholars; his father was a local q´dì, as was his grandfather (also the Imam of the Cordoba Mosque). Trained as a lawyer and a physician, his role as the Caliph's advisor initiated him into philosophy. He wrote extensive commentaries on Aristotle, and others. He also wrote a seven volume medical encyclopedia, Kitab al-Kulliyyat fi ‘l-tibb (hence the Latin name colliget, a corruption of the word kulliyyat, meaning generalities), used at European universities until the eighteenth century. Though his scholarship in medicine has been eclipsed by his fame as a philosopher, he was one of the greatest physicians of the time (Sarton, II-1, p.305).
Ibn Rushd's philosophy was in the tradition of prevailing Islamic scholasticism, with attempts to synthesise Islamic faith and reason in light of the available Greek heritage. His Commentaries on Aristotle were translated into Latin and Hebrew. There soon appeared supercommentaries on his commentaries - which itself is a commentary on the extent of Ibn Rushd's influence. The works of Aristotle and Ibn Rushd in their Latin translations were used not only in the curriculum at Naples (where St. Thomas studied), but were also sent to the Universities of Paris and Bologna. Nowhere did Averroism strike deeper roots than in the Universities of Bologna and Padua, the later became the hot-bed of Averroism (Sharif, p.1381).
Like others before him, Ibn Rushd was criticised for suggesting that revelation must be guided by reason. In his view, the noblest form of worship was to study God through His works, using the faculty of the mind. For his rebuttal (Tahafut al-Tahafut, or Incoherence of the Incoherence) of Al-Ghazali's arguments, Ibn Rushd is rather well known. His dispute with Al-Ghazali provides a fascinating view of the issues which engaged medieval minds. In Al-Ghazali's scheme, everything is the result of continuous divine intervention, the divine will; any causeal link is secondary. But, for Ibn Rushd, while divine may be the ultimate cause, to deny the existence of efficient causes which are observed in sensible things is sophistry ... Denial of cause implies the denial of knowledge and denial of knowledge implies that nothing in the world can really be known (quoted in Hoodbhoy, p. 114).
Once the rediscovery of Aristotle through Ibn Rushd's writings was complete, the philosophers and theologians alike found themselves in possession of the greatest intellectual reservoir ever developed up to that time. Ibn Rushd the Great Commentator. Influenced by his writings, philosophers and theologians split into two major groups: the liberal, pro-Averroists, known as the Latin Averroists, with Siger of Brabant at their head, generally identified with the Franciscan friars; and the conservative, anti-Averroists, with St. Thomas Aquinas of the Dominician monks, at their head. The issues were legion -metaphysical, philosophical, and practical. It may be noted, however, that even Ibn Rushd's critics, including St. Thomas, did not escape his influence, and their understanding of Aristotle was conditioned by Averroes' interpretations.
In 1852, Ernest Renan expressed this paradox very well, St. Thomas is the most serious adversary that the Averroes doctrine has encountered, and yet one can go further to say, paradoxically, that he is the greatest disciple of the Great Commentator. Albert the Great owes everything to Avicenna, St. Thomas, as philosopher, but above all to Averroes (quoted in Fakhri, p. 5).
Etienne Gilson in his Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages accords Ibn Rushd the distinction of having asserted the primacy of reason or a purely philosophical rationalism long before the Italian Renaissance. Rationalism was born in Spain, in the mind of an Arabian philosopher, as a conscious reaction against the theologism of the Arabian divines (Fakhri, p.6; Gilson, 1948, p.37).
Gilson adds that when Ibn Rushd died in 1198 he bequeathed to his successors the ideal of a purely rational philosophy, an ideal whose influence was to be such that, by it, even the evolution of Christian philosophy was to be deeply modified (Gilson, 1948, p.38). Gilson attributes to Ibn Rushd the recognition, which became pivotal to St. Thomas' own philosophy, that nothing should enter the texture of metaphysical knowledge save only rational and necessary demonstrations (Fakhri, p.6; Gilson, 1948, p.79). However, unlike some of his adversarial Latin Averroists, St. Thomas was not willing to concede that either Aristotle or Ibn Rushd were infallible.
Despite the enthusiasm for Ibn Rushd's Aristotelian Commentaries in Paris during the thirteenth century, serious questions arose as to the compatibility of Ibn Rushd's Aristotelianism with the Christian doctrine. And there were condemnations en masse -medieval Mcarthyism and even a thirteenth century Papal Inquisition against the Christian heretics. The focus was mainly on Latin Averroists, led by Siger of Brabant, who were suspected of subscribing to the double-truth doctrine: some truths philosophical, others theological; and reason was superior to faith. St. Thomas in his On the Unity of the Intellect against the Averroists confirms this suspicion but denies the doctrine. Ibn Rushd himself did not subscribe to such a thesis and it is doubtful, according to Gilson and other medievalists that even Siger himself did so. This doctrine, however, was a godsend for the scientifically-minded people in the West, who were condemned and persecuted by the Church and the State. They found their best support in this and other Averroisms. For this reason, de Wulf calls Ibn Rushd the doctor of anti-Scholastics (Sharif, p.1380).
For Ibn Rushd, the primacy of reason is unquestioned but compatible with faith, and for this Gilson regards him as the herald of rationalism long before the Renaissance (Fakhri, p.34). In his Harmony of Philosophy and Religion (Fasl al-Maqal), which was not available to St. Thomas, Siger of Brabant or their contemporaries in Latin, Ibn Rushd maintains a position which may be called the "parity" or "harmony" of truth, philosophical and theological. Thus, philosophical truth, although superior to religious truth, is not really incompatible with, or even different, from it. The only difference is the path to truth –philosophical and theological. For any "apparent" conflict between the religious texts and the philosophical texts, it is the philosophers' duty, whom the Qur'an calls those who are confirmed in knowledge (Qur'an, Sura 3:5-6), according to Ibn Rushd's reading, to resolve the conflict by recourse to the method of interpretation. Thus, in response to Al-Ghazali's charge of infidelity (kufr), Ibn Rushd argues that, if the inner meaning of the Qur'anic passages is understood, the position of the philosophers accords with that of the theologians (Fakhri, pp.33-34).
However, Ibn Rushd's Aristotelian commentaries and his own contributions rapidly became the ruling mode of social thought in the West. Scholars of medieval Europe were provoked and inspired by Ibn Rushd's writings. Whereas some Muslim scholastics and their Latin successors tried to Islamise and Christianise Hellenism, Ibn Rushd(s commentaries and rationalism seemed to excessively hellenise Islam and Christianity. Thus, his Muslim contemporaries persecuted him and the Muslim posterity almost ignored him and allowed his works to be lost.
The Jews, however, preserved many of them. In Latin Christianity, the commentaries were translated into Latin from the Hebrew, fed the heresies of Siger of Brabant and the rationalism of the Italian school of Padua, and threatened the foundations of Christianity. Relying on the more compatible Al-Ghazali, St. Thomas recognised that some dogmas of religion were beyond reason and must be accepted by faith alone. The aim of his life was to reconcile Aristotelianism and Muslim knowledge with Christian theology (Sarton, II-2, p.914); and Thomas Aquinas was led to write his Summas to halt the threatened liquidation of Christian theology by Arabic interpretations of Aristotle ... indeed, the industry of Aquinas was due not to the love of Aristotle but to the fear of Averroes (Durant, p.913, p.954).
Thus, driven by this fear, the Latin scholastic constructed the medieval synthesis; the Aristotelian-Averroistic heresies had been demolished and Ibn Rushd the infidel had been humbled, and St. Thomas' followers saw his glory in this synthesis. So perceived, this conclusion is reflected in a medieval sketch that one medieval scholar reproduced in his book; the sketch is entitled St. Thomas Aquinas overcoming Averroes, showing St. Thomas surrounded by angels and monks, displaying his synthesis to the vanquished Ibn Rushd lying at his feet (see Libby, p.55).
It was not to be so, however. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Latin-Averroism had far-reaching consequences for medieval and modern social thought, hardly foreseeable by medieval scholastics. It established a tradition in which it became possible to question the status of religion (Daniel, p.107); and from the end of the twelfth century to the end of the sixteenth century Averroism remained the dominant school of thought, in spite of the orthodox reaction it created first among the Muslims in Spain and then among the Talmudists, and finally, among the Christian clergy. These were the centuries that witnessed revolutions in the evolution in social thought, with medieval Islamic sources always lurking in the background.
As the Greek heritage had aroused the great age of Arabic science and philosophy, so now it would excite the European mind and inquiry and speculation ... would crack stone after stone of that majestic edifice to bring this collapse of the medieval system in the fourtheenth century, and the beginnings of modern philosophy in the ardor of the Renaissance (Durant, p.913).
The results were monumental in Western history. Harold Nebelsick puts it well. He discusses the achievements of the Arab-Islamic scholars and how they appropriated, appreciated and preserved Greek classical learning and built upon it (p.5), and thus, laid the foundations for a quite unprecedented revival of learning in Europe (p.ix). And, the results were the Renaissance in the thirteenth century, the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, and eventually the rise of modern science in the seventeenth (p.9). Even in our own time the contributions of those scholars, in the world of Islam and in the Christian West, represent the source of the most beneficent form of intellectual enlightenment (Fakhri, p.7).
IV. Some Concluding Observations
Our purpose in this paper has been two-fold. Though less immediate, first we provided a brief critique of the mainstream literary paradigm that dominates the discussions of European Renaissance, with the intermediation role of Islamic civilisation almost invariably noted as minimal and remote. Secondly, and relatedly, after briefly noting the influence of a few key Islamic scholars, we discussed in some detail the influence of Ibn Rushd, whose works, once transmitted and assimilated, generated unprecedented upheaval in social thought in Latin Europe.
Those linkages gave rise to the twelfth century Medieval Renaissance, helping formulate the medieval Scholastic synthesis, facilitating the fifteenth century Italian Renaissance, and indeed, sowing the seeds for the sixteenth century European Reformation. Such were the medieval civilisational connections, made possible as medieval Islamic legacy transferred en masse to Europe, over several centuries, through translations, travels, trade and commerce, cultural diffusion, oral traditions, the Crusades, and so forth (see Ghazanfar, 1998). Having pursued these tasks though, perhaps provocatively, it is appropriate to now rely on three corroborative comments from well-known medievalists. It might be noted that such quotations could easily be multiplied.
1) We are so accustomed to regard our culture as essentially that of the West that it is difficult for us to realize that there was an age when the most civilized region of Western Europe was the province of an alien culture (i.e., Islam) ... At a time when the rest of Western Europe was just emerging from the depths of barbarism, the culture of Moslem Spain had attained complete maturity and surpassed even the civilization of the East in genius and originality of thought. ... All of this brilliant development of culture is completely ignored by the ordinary student of medieval European history. It is as though it were a lost world which had no more to do with the history of our past than the vanished kingdom of Atlantis (Dawson, 1932, pp.230-231).
2) This introduces what might be called the miracle of Arabic science, using the word miracle as a symbol of our inability to explain achievements which were almost incredible. There is nothing like it in the whole history of the world ... Some historians have tried to belittle those immense achievements by claiming that there was nothing original in them and that the Arabs were nothing but imitators. Such a judgement is all wrong. .... The achievements of the Arabic-speaking people between the ninth and twelfth centuries are so great as to baffle our understanding (Sarton, 1951, p.27, p.29, p.35).
3) Islam is the parent that beget and nourished European civilization ... We may be sure that those who accuse Muslim scholars of lack of originality and of intellectual decadence have never read Averroes or looked into al-Ghazali, but have accepted second-hand judgements. The presence of doctrines of Islamic origins in the very citadel of Christianity, the Summa of Aquinas, is a sufficient refutation of the charge of lack of originality and sterility (Guillaume, quoted in Bertram Thomas, p.190).
Yet, contemporary literary discussions of the evolution of social thought continue to reflect the persistent and stubborn blind spot. Thus, for the sake of ensuring continuity and change, as Haskins and others would want, and for the sake of doctrinal objectivity that is incumbent upon all scholars, there is this plea. Can Western Europeans somehow overcome the great difficulty in considering the possibility that they are in some way seriously indebted to the Arab world, or that the Arabs were central to the making of medieval Europe? (Menocal, pp.xii-xiii).
Resistance is deep-rooted, however, though the Aristotelian rationality of Ibn Rushd demands openness and flexibility. And the Dialogue among Civilisations, as suggested by the UN Secretary General recently, more than ever, is necessary for the enhancement of civility, whether at national or international level.
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 Quoted from his speech, The Dialogue of Civilizations and the Need for a World Ethic, Oxford University Centre for Islamic Studies, June 28, 1999; see UN Press Release SG/SM/7049, June 29, 1999. On November 16, 1998, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution, proclaiming 2001 as the UN Year of Dialogue among Civilizations. Also, for related discussion, see "Civilization: The Magazine of the Library of Congress", June-July 1999, pp. 73-87. A similar plea for an international dialogue was recently made in a speech by Mr. Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the League of Arab States and former Foreign Minister of Egypt; see OCIS News, No.31, Spring 2002 (Oxford University Centre for Islamic Studies).
* Dr. S.M. GHAZANFAR is a Professor of Economics (Emeritus, 2002); Director, International Studies Programme (1989-93), Department Chair, 1979-81, 1993-01, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho; Visiting Professor, King Abdulaziz University, 1983-86. He is the editor of Medieval Islamic Economic Thought: Filling the Great Gap in European Economics (Routledge, 2003). He also contributed to the 2001 TV series, Islam: Faith and Empire Public Broadcasting Service, USA.
by: S. M. Ghazanfar, Fri 17 August, 2012