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The Spread of Islamic Culture in Europe
 
It is a well known fact that the cultural and scientific life of Europe in the Middle Ages and some time thereafter was to a great extent indebted to Islam, in the sense that Muslims played the role of mediators in transmitting the scientific and philosophical heritage of the ancient world to the Europeans of this period.
The Crusades provided the first opportunity for the spread of Islamic culture and civilization to Europe, which was to culminate in the transmission to that continent of the scientific achievements of Muslims during the period of the Islamic conquests. During the reign of the Umayyads, Muslim armies managed to nearly conquer the entire Iberian Peninsula – the present-day Spain and Portugal – within the span of a few years (91 – 95 AH / 710 – 714 AD), where a succession of the Umayyads, Muwahhidun, Murabitun, and an assortment of feudal kings ruled for several centuries. The subsequent seven hundred years (2nd – 9th cen. AH / 8th – 15th cen. AD) witnessed the continued military efforts of the kings of Castile and Aragon to recapture the previously Christian territories and to put an end to the Muslim rule, what came to be known as the Reconqista. Granada, as the last seat of Muslim rule, was captured in 897 AH / 1492 AD by King Ferdinand of Aragon, who thus put an end to several centuries of Muslim rule in Europe.
Among other important historical events was the Muslim conquest of Mediterranean islands, especially Sicily (Siqiliyyah). The occupation of the island began in 211 AH / 826 AD by the Aghlabids, the rulers of Qirawan in North Africa, and was completed during the reign of the Fatimids of Egypt. The island remained part of the Islamic territory for a period of 189 years before it was recaptured by Count Roger in 485 AH / 1492 AD.
In terms of cultural florescence, the centuries of Muslim reign should be considered as the most brilliant period in the medieval history of Spain. Various branches of science introduced from the eastern parts of the Islamic world attained unprecedented advancement in Spain. Spain spawned a whole host of geographers, astronomers, mathematicians, physicians, philosophers, and poets and men of letters who gave birth to a large corpus of invaluable literary and scientific works. The cultural and scientific elements of Greek, Roman and Islamic civilizations met and mingled in Spain and Sicily and resulted in a rich amalgam of human wisdom.
Interestingly, the actual impact of Islamic civilization on European life began after Muslims had been driven from the continent. As was mentioned above, the Crusades which were initiated and pursued by Christian rulers of Europe between 11th – 13th centuries AD (5th – 7th cen. AH) played a crucial role in the introduction of Islamic civilization, culture and art into Europe.
Another important factor was the so-called translation movement which initiated soon after the establishment of Muslim rule in Europe, and which served as a conduit for the transmission of Islamic culture, science and philosophy to that continent. The Christian Europe of the medieval period had lost its ties with its Greek and Roman scientific and cultural heritage, just at a time when the Muslim east had already brought to completion its colossal task of translating into Arabic the vast corpus of Greek science, a development which had nearly encompassed every major work of Greek science and philosophy and which had transformed the Arabic language as one of the best tools for the study of scientific and philosophical ideas. This was at a time when in Europe the knowledge of Greek language was confined to certain parts of Sicily and the Byzantium, where a nascent scientific movement had come into being.
The resurgence of European interest in Greek language and culture began from the period known as the Renaissance, especially ever since the fall of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, in 857 AH / 1453 AD which forced many scholars to escape to the west and take up the task of translating into Latin – the liturgical and scientific language of medieval Europe – the original Greek works of science and philosophy. In the meantime, several European scholars, especially those of Spanish extraction, had come to master the Arabic language and had embarked on the translation of major works of Muslim scientists and philosophers from Arabic into Latin; efforts which received the patronage of certain Christian rulers.
The period 6th – 7th centuries AH (12th – 13th cen. AD) witnessed the florescence of translation efforts from Arabic into Latin, Hebrew and, on occasion, some local languages. In the second half of the 6th / 12th century, the British scholar, Robert of Chester, who was a resident of Spain in the years 535 – 542 AH / 1141 – 1147 AD, in collaboration with another translator named Hermanus Dalmata produced the first Latin translation of the Qur’an in 1143 AD. Roger had previously opened a new chapter in the mathematical history of Europe through his translation into Latin of Khwarazmi’s book on algebra. However, the translation of Arabic works into Latin only began in earnest by Christians after the capture of the city of Toledo (Tulitaliyyah) in 478 AH / 1085 AD. Henceforward, Toledo became a major center of Muslim learning. The city’s archbishop, Raymond I (520 – 546 AH / 1126 – 1151 AD), was an enthusiastic patron of Arabic translations into Latin. The first school of Islamic and oriental studies in Europe was established in Toledo in 648 AH / 1250 AD, with the aim of preparing missionaries for the propagation of Christianity in the east. However, it should be borne in mind that European reactions to Islamic science and culture was not always uniform. In fact, there were cases of opposition and outright animosity to Islam and works produced by Muslim scholars, especially with regard to the subject of philosophy. A case in point was Cardinal Ximenex (839 – 923 AH / 1436 – 1517 AD), who embarked on a widespread campaign of Christianization of Jews and Muslims in 904 AH / 1499 AD and who imposed a ban on the circulation of Arabic writings, thousands of whose manuscripts were fed to the flames in Granada’s central square at his order. This, however, was not a common occurrence. In fact, the previous two hundred years had witnessed the more or less complete translation of the entire scientific and philosophical corpus of Muslims into Latin. In the second half of the 6th / 12th century, tens of Arabic works on mathematics, astronomy and medicine were rendered into Latin by such eminent translators as Constantinus Africanus, Adelardus Bathoniensis and Hermanus Dalmata. Around 545 AH/1150 AD, translators such as Johannes Hispalenis (Yuhanna Ishbili) and Dominicus Gundisalus, at the behest of the same Archbishop Raymond, produced Latin translations of a number of Arabic works, which included those of Farabi, Ibn Sina and Gazzali, at times, based on their translations in the Castilian language. There existed complete Latin translations of Ibn Sina’s logic and the theological section of his Shifa’. Other major translators included Gerardus Cremonesis (d. 583 AH/1187 AD) and Michael Scotus (d. 632 AH / 1235 AD). The latter, who was based in Toledo, was especially famous for his Latin renditions of Ibn Rushd’s commentaries on the works of Aristotle. There were also several Christian and Jewish translators who rendered a wealth of Arabic works of science into Latin and Hebrew. In fact, the major factor which contributed to the spread of Averroesism in the academic circles of Europe after the 7th / 13th century was the existence of the Latin versions of his works. Interestingly, today, his major commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima (On the Soul), in Arabic, is only extant in its Latin translation. As was mentioned previously, the second major centre of Muslim learning in Europe was the island of Sicily, whose Christian rulers kept in place the Islamic system of administration established in the period prior to the recapture of the island. For instance, Roger II (488 – 549 AH / 1095 – 1154 AD) had not only retained the Islamic system of government, his court was populated by Muslim scientists, philosophers, astronomers and physicians, while a large segment of those under his dominion were given free reign in terms of following their Islamic belief and practicing their religious rituals. The renowned Muslim geographer, Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad b. `Abd Allah Idrisi (d. 560 AH / 1165 AD) dedicated his Nuzhat al-mushtaq fi ikhtiraq al-afaq, or Kitab al-Rajari, to Roger II.
The most eminent ruler of Sicily by far was Frederick II, the king of Germany (590 – 648 AH / 1194 – 1250 AD), who also ranked as one of the most enlightened sovereigns throughout the history of Europe. During his reign, the florescence of Islamic-Arabic science and culture in Sicily reached its zenith. Frederick was acquainted with the Arabic language. In 1228 AD he set out for Bayt al-Muqaddas (Jerusalem) in order to take part in a Crusading campaign, during which he gained first-hand knowledge of the thought and customs of Muslim people. Frederick was endowed with a scientific spirit and was especially interested in zoology and ornithology. His court was home to a number of Muslim scholars and scientists. In spite of his thorny relations with the papacy, he displayed an unusual level of tolerance toward Muslims. He had close political and commercial ties with the Ayyubids of Egypt, especially with Kamil Muhammad, with whom he had a scientific correspondence through which he posed questions for the Egyptian scientists. The replies to his enquiries by the renowned mystic and philosopher Ibn Sab`in (d. 669 AH / 1271 AD) has been preserved in the latter’s al-Awjubah `an al-as’ilat al-saqliyyah, which elaborates such topics as the eternality of matter, providence, the immortality of the soul, and sundry theological issues.
Frederick’s seat of power in Sicily was Palermo, one of the most vibrant centers of Islamic culture, sciences and arts. The above Michael Scotus was a residence of Sicily between 617 and 632 AH (1220 – 1235 AD), during which time he produced, for Frederick, an epitome of Aristotle’s works on biology and zoology in Latin, along with translations of Ibn Sina’s Arabic commentaries on them. However, the most momentous cultural measure ever taken by Frederick was the establishment in 1224 of a public university in Naples, Italy, which was the first of its kind in Europe. Heretofore, European universities, e.g. those in Paris and Padua, had focused on specific subjects such as theology and law while the University of Naples adopted a well defined syllabus, where, for instance, no physician was allowed to practice medicine without having secured a license from the university. Among the activities pursued in earnest at the university was the production of Latin translations of Aristotle’s works, as well as those of his commentators, Ibn Rushd in particular. The greatest medieval theologian, Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274 AD), was among the university’s alumni. The spread of Islamic science and culture in Europe, especially their florescence in Italy and Sicily, was among the major factors giving rise to the movement of cultural revival in the 15th century AD, which came to be known as the Renaissance.
The field in which the influence of Islamic thought was felt the deepest was philosophy. In fact, it would be impossible to imagine medieval scholastic philosophy without the impetus it received in the from of ideas from seminal Muslim philosophers, such as Farabi, Ibn Sina, and especially Ibn Rushd, who played a crucial role in the formation of the philosophical outlook of the medieval Europe. The traces of this influence can be detected in the post-Renaissance period, and even up to this very day. The modern European philosophy is in many ways but a reaction to the challenge of the Islamic philosophy. As was mentioned above, the philosophy of Ibn Rushd, who was the ultimate interpreter of the views of Aristotle throughout the Middle Ages, had remained the final reference for a true understanding of the Greek master. It should be noted that though Averroesism in Europe was mainly based on the views of Ibn Rushd himself, it was none the less tinged with many elements alien to the thought of the Muslim philosopher, the most prominent of which was the notion of the “dual truth”, i.e. that philosophical truth stands independent of that which is based on religious faith, a notion in stark opposition to the thought of the Andalusian master. The ideas of Ibn Rushd extended their reach into the Renaissance and provided new impetus for research in natural sciences, especially in the University of Pedua. It may even be considered to have played a role in the works of scientists such as Galileo and his masters.
In Europe, the 10th and 11th centuries AH were a period of renewed interest in Islam, one which was ignited by the historical researches of Protestant scholars about the Bible. The most outstanding examples of these historians were Joseph Juste Scaliger (1540 – 1609 AD) and his father, who were based in Leiden. The pursuit of Islamic studies continued to assume broader dimensions. A chair of Arabic was established at Cambridge University in 1632 AD, followed by a similar development at Oxford, four years later. Edward Pocock (1604 – 1691 AD) and his son, Edward (1648 – 1727 AD), were among those active in the study of Arabic language. The former, who had spent several years in Aleppo and Constantinople mastering the Arabic language, was appointed to the chair of Arabic at Oxford, while his son produced a Latin translation of Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy b. Yaqzan, titled The Self-Educated Philosopher, in 1671 AD. The academic study of Islamic culture and history, as well as its science and philosophy, gathered more steam ever since the 18th and 19th centuries AD, an effort which continues apace to this very day.
 
source:  Khorasani , Sharafaddin "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.465 - 467
 
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