The Moors in Spain(ESS6)|
How we almost lost our scientific roots
A number of comments I've received convinced me to add some clarification especially of the last paragraph. One person suggested that I was guilty of a "Euro-centric bias" while someone else believed I was enamored of and condoning the behavior of radical Muslims of today. As you will see, both missed the point. I've also included some references to the mythic hero, 'El Cid'.
The second half of the first millennium AD in Europe is sometimes referred to as the dark ages. In some ways that's a misnomer. Although in some parts of Europe it seemed that the beacon of civilization had indeed been extinguished, in other parts, notably Spain, things were far from dark.
In Spain the candle of knowledge was kept burning by the Muslim conquerers called Moors. Not only did they possess a vast body of knowledge based on their own learning, they had also become the custodians of much of the earlier knowledge from the Greek philosophers including those of Alexandria such as Ptolemy.
The Spanish occupation by the Moors began in 711 AD when a Berber Muslim army, under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from northern Africa and invaded the Iberian peninsula. Roderick, the last of the Visigoth kings of Spain, was defeated at the Battle of Río Barbate and by 719 AD the Moors had conquered the entire area from the coast to the Pyrenees.
The knowledge accumulated by the Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilizations was pretty much unknown to the primitive peoples of medieval Europe. What little knowledge was left was mostly because of the monks of the early church laboring in their scriptoria. Much of their output was limited to Holy Scripture and other Christian works.
This all began to change when in 1085 AD the Spanish city of Toledo was reconquered by Christian crusaders. During the next hundred and fifty years, much of the accumulated Arab knowledge was translated making it available to the rest of western Europe.
Ironically, a lot of this knowledge could have been available much earlier since in Toledo, Christians continued to thrive even under Muslim occupation and were in fact actively studying the Arab works. Elsewhere, another large body of Arab and Greek work became known via Sicily which fell to the Christians in 1091 AD. Much of Aristotle's work in biology as well as the Arab knowledge of alchemy arrived in Europe via this route.
Meanwhile in the rest of Europe, the dark ages which were characterized by the rule of marauding warlords and their minions, gradually gave way to a system of governance called feudalism. What had been a collection of rag tag bands became a more formal structure of Feudal lords, knights and indentured serfs. A similar hierarchical structure developed in the church.
While in some ways this structure helped the spread of knowledge, in other ways it became a hindrance as superstition of one kind gave way to another. The spread of Arab knowledge through the rest of Europe was a golden opportunity which if not lost was certainly delayed as empire building within the church carried on apace.
The ultimate irony is that while Europe languished in barbarism and ignorance the torch of learning was kept brightly burning by the Arab world. The more things change, the more they stay...
The story of the Moors in Spain beginning over 1200 years ago paints a picture of an Arab world that was very different from what we see today. In the 8th century, Islam was barely 100 years old and knowledge on a broad range of subjects was welcomed and nurtured. In addition the wisdom and philosophy of foreign cultures—ancient Greece and India—was eagerly embraced and assimilated.
This is a far cry from the Arab world of today where a kind of xenophobia has set in. Most "education" seems to now be limited to the inculcation and preservation of increasingly narrow views of the various forms of Islam. In addition there has developed an us-versus-them mindset that makes any kind of bridge-building an exercise in futility.
Most people in the "western" world who know their history should not be surprised by this. In spite of the best efforts of the liberal Christian spin doctors, xenophobia is a basic aspect of most, especially orthodox religions. When the Puritans sailed across on the Mayflower, the good brethren referred to the crew bringing them to the New World as "the others". Even today in some sects there is still an us-against-the-world mindset.
That's what I meant to convey by the implied comment that history does repeat.
It might be helpful to take a brief look at this legendary figure. In spite of the heroic portrayal by Charlton Heston of this Spanish Legend, Rodrigo Diaz ("El Cid") most likely didn't rout the Moors in a burst of glory. To get a more accurate picture you might want to check out this website. Some historians even suggest that the Caliph of Toledo simply left.
In any case, even during most of the time when the Muslims ruled the city there was evidently also a large contingent of Jews and Christians who coexisted quite nicely with the Moors. Only when the Christians succeeded the Moors did the life of the Jews in Spain begin to take a turn for the worse and by the 15th Century, the Inquisition actively persecuted them.
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