By Kevin A. StodaThis month of November, the AWARE CENTER in Surra, Kuwait is focusing on the theme of “tolerance” in a series of lectures and discussion. On the first evening, Thursday November 1, Dr. Farhat Hussain presented on the topic of “Muslim Contribution to Europe, with a special focus on Tolerance”.
In part, this educated presenter, Dr. Hussain, sought to clarify the dual forces in world historiography which have kept buried the positive relationship which Islam provided the West approximately a millennia ago--essentially helping the West to eventually exit the Dark Ages and Middle Ages by providing it with higher levels of scientific, medical, astronomic, and mechanical insight. This technological insight had (a) never existed in Western Europe after the Fall of Rome, and/or (b) had been forgotten or lost.
Most interestingly, Dr. Hussain pointed out that the Islamic sciences and academics of the 7th to 12th Islamic had made virtual quantum leaps in the sciences and mathematics over their predecessors-- Greeks, Indians, and Persians--who had historically influenced scientific and medical developments in the Middle East.
Moreover, within the sphere of tolerance, Dr. Hussain, in his short lecture, noted that institutions of learning in Spanish Cordoba and Sicilian Palermo set up by Muslim (and a few non-Muslims) academics greatly influenced directly and indirectly many European educators and scientist throughout the first centuries of the second Millennium A.D.
For example, many of the medical doctors and others who founded and built up Oxford University in England had studied (or learned from those who had studied) in Spain at the schools and libraries founded by Muslims there after the 8th Century.
As well, Renaissance artists, scientists, and universal-men, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, were directly influenced by works written and sketches drawn by Islamic scientists and writers, such as Al-Kindi’s work on “proportions”.
As well, many “un-copyrighted” works from Arab and Islamic scholars served as the basis for many of the medical books produced in the early days of the printing press.
These are some of the areas in which Islamic institutions blossomed, while Europe as a whole was trying to find its way out of the Dark Ages: agriculture, medicine, pharmacy, irrigation, nutrition, dental care, architecture, urbanization, education, urbanization, astronomy, trade, and economy
In terms of tolerance, Dr. Hussain, takes a wide view of history and includes a broad definition of tolerance—a definition which bridges upon humanistic definitions. He looks at the Roman coliseum and asks whether Romans today are proud of what Imperial Rome had done to citizens and non-citizens there in the name of entertainment.
Naturally, the Romans are not particularly proud of the Roman Circus, murders and fighting of gladiators there. Dr. Hussein would ask Egyptians the same thing about the pyramids built on the backs of so many mistreated and often unpaid laborers. Dr Hussein asks what other good buildings might the laborers have constructed which would have benefited the entire people. In this enquiry, he turns to the lasting institutions of the “masjids” and schools of learning and to the hospitals created by the Islamic world a millennia ago states that those were things a civilization both then and now could be proud of implementing and developing.
As both an archeologist who looks at artifacts of history and as a historian who looks at the written contribution of civilizations, the speaker points out that the Islamic approach to medical care and access was not only far ahead of any previous civilization in the Mediterranean and Middle East. The tolerant attitude of the day in the world of Islam in its hey-day (the first 5 or so centuries of Islam) was one of universal access, regardless as to whether one was Muslim, Christian or Jew--all had access to the same level of medical care within the Islamic realm, according to Dr. Hussain.
For Dr. Hussain, this sort of contribution to civilization is representative of a society that is not only oriented towards the wealthy, powerful and elite, but is centered on greater involvement of and respect for humanity
As far as gender relations in early Islamic societies were concerned, Dr. Hussain, noted that female doctors and pharmacists practiced alongside male ones in those days—something that was unheard of in Europe until 6 or 7 centuries later!
In terms of myths created in Europe about Muslims taking over the Christian world, Dr. Hussain points out that in the 8th century, Spain had many different types of Christians during the time of the evil Rodrick, a Visogoth King.
Rodrick was specifically persecuting those who were of the bent that Jesus had been a prophet but had not been the son of God.