The period from the death of Muhammad through the 13th Century marks the glory days of the Islamic empire. It was a period of commerce, industry and intra-cultural synergies and a flourishing of the sciences, art, medicine and architecture. It was the epitome of what civilization should be. Just ask Obama. In his 2009 Cairo speech the president said that Islam “carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment,” and praised the “innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed.”
While Central Europe languished in the Dark Ages of ignorance, fear and superstition following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century (so the story goes), it was the Islamic world that carried the torch of Classical civilization to a Europe finally stumbling out of the Dark Ages in the 15th century.
By contrast the Islamic world flourished during the Dark Ages: by the 13th century, both Africa and India had become great centers of Islamic civilization, and soon after, Muslim kingdoms were established in the Malay-Indonesian world while Chinese Muslims flourished throughout China.
Islam therefore is a religion for all people from whatever race or background they might be: Islamic civilization is based on a unity which stands completely against any racial or ethnic discrimination. Such major racial and ethnic groups as the Arabs, Persians, Turks, Africans, Indians, Chinese and Malays in addition to countless smaller units embraced Islam and contributed to the building of Islamic civilization.
Moreover, so the story goes, Islam was not opposed to learning from the earlier civilizations and incorporating their science, learning, and culture into its own world view. Each ethnic and racial group that embraced Islam made its contribution to the one Islamic civilization to which everyone belonged.
The global civilization created by Islam also succeeded in activating the minds and thoughts of the people who entered its fold. As a result of Islam, the nomadic Arabs became torch-bearers of science and learning. The Persians, who had created a great civilization before the rise of Islam, nevertheless produced even more science and learning in the Islamic period than before. The same can be said of the Turks and other peoples who embraced Islam. The religion of Islam was itself responsible not only for the creation of a world civilization in which people of many different ethnic backgrounds participated, but it also played a central role in developing intellectual and cultural life on a scale not seen before.
Quite a story. And it is a story being fed to US students from k-12 on through graduate schools. Quite a story? More like a fairy tale.
Victor Davis Hanson has taken down Obama’s version of the Golden age of Islam:
In his speech last week in Cairo, President Obama proclaimed he was a “student of history.” But despite Mr. Obama’s image as an Ivy League-educated intellectual, he lacks historical competency in both facts and interpretation. … Obama … claimed that “Islam . . . carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.” [In fact] medieval Islamic culture … had little to do with the European rediscovery of classical Greek and Latin values. Europeans, Chinese, and Hindus, not Muslims, invented most of the breakthroughs Obama credited to Islamic innovation. … Much of the Renaissance, in fact, was more predicated on the centuries-long flight of Greek-speaking Byzantine scholars from Constantinople to Western Europe to escape the aggression of Islamic Turks. Many romantic thinkers of the Enlightenment sought to extend freedom to oppressed subjects of Muslim fundamentalist rule in eastern and southern Europe.
Andrew Bostom has skewered the myth that Cordoba was a model of ecumenism: