Monday, September 18, 2023

How Islamic Scholarship Impacted the World and Empowered Women

By Fariha Sikondari, New Age Islam 18 September 2023 This article is about the impact that Islamic scholarship had on the world during the Islamic Golden Age. Middle Temple Library in London, UK, recently explored this theme in the exhibition, ‘Islam, Astronomy & Arabic Print’, which I co-curated with Jake Hearn. It was a successful exhibition which generated a lot of public interest. Due to its proximity to Europe, the Ottoman empire had a significant impact on European culture during the Renaissance. However, the exhibition does not focus on culture and arts. Rather, it looks at how European scholars and thinkers interacted with the Muslim world to acquire knowledge in the fields of science, mathematics, astronomy and Arabic language. Since the latest developments in all fields of knowledge could only be found from Muslim sources at that time. Specialist Arabic printing houses were established in Oxford, London and various cities in Europe during the Renaissance. The Arabic printing press was a response to the requirements of Orientalist scholarship which had developed significantly in 16th century Europe. Orientalist scholarship involved mastering the Arabic language in order to transmit knowledge to Europe. Middle Temple library has several early printed books containing Arabic script ranging from legal books to fiction. These books show the difficulty of capturing Arabic characters in print. Alongside the early printed books, Europe also took an interest in translating the Quran. Initially, Qurans had been translated for political reasons to counter religious doctrine as a response to the Islamic empires which had been dominating the world from the 8th century up until the Renaissance. Some of the early translations contained biased and prejudiced stereotypes, and offensive depictions of Prophet Muhammad. Unfortunately, this is quite similar to what is happening today in Europe. However, with the rise of Orientalist scholarship, there was a gradual change in approach to translating the Quran. In 1734, George Sale, a lawyer and member of Inner Temple, had the intention to create a translation of the Quran that was free from bias. To assist him in this endeavour, he consulted various authentic Ottoman sources to write detailed commentary to accompany the verses. It was regarded as a fairly accurate version and was well received by both Muslims and non-Muslims. The Quran, commonly called the Alcoran of Mohammed translated by George Sale (1734) ----- Also in the exhibition, we look at Quran verses relating to science and astronomy. Numerous verses of the Quran mention the celestial bodies and encourage the reader to contemplate why they exist and contemplate their function in the universe. Contemplation is an act of worship in Islam as it can bring a person closer to God. In observing the universe, the early Muslim scholars endeavoured to understand the design of the universe and in so doing, ultimately understand God. The field of Astronomy was seen as the height of scholarly pursuits as it was a way to truly know God. As the early Muslim astronomers and scientists were polymaths, most of them had a grounding in theology and the Islamic religious sciences, which include Tafsir (explanation of Quran), Hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) and Islamic Law. As such, they were well versed in these Quranic verses. Several verses refer to being exact in measurements and refer to calculations of celestial bodies. As Muslims believe that the Quran is a source of knowledge and wisdom, this no doubt inspired the study of advanced mathematics, algebra and trigonometry, and also the creation of various tools to accurately measure the movement of celestial bodies, such as astrolabes and quadrants. Cases Containing Quranic Verses ------ Islamic scholarship began in the 7th century when Prophet Muhammad started teaching the Islamic religious sciences to his followers. Over time, Islamic scholarship expanded to include various subjects such as medicine, mathematics, science, astronomy, philosophy, Arabic grammar and geography, amongst other subjects. The Quran places an emphasis on pursuing knowledge and as a result Islamic scholarship spread throughout the Muslim world during the Islamic Golden Age. The Islamic Golden Age saw the development of various public institutions which benefitted the Muslim world as well as the rest of the world. These included madrasas, schools, universities, hospitals, observatories and the first public library. Many of these institutions were funded by Muslim women as they were able to become patrons due to the changes in law. Since Islamic law recognises the rights of women, it enabled them to claim their inheritance, which they were previously prohibited from doing in pre-Islamic times. Islam honours women and protects their rights; this revolutionary principle empowered women. Muslim women were employed in a number of positions from managers of schools to religious scholars, teachers, writers, librarians, scientists, mathematicians and doctors. One of the earliest institutions was the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco, founded in the 9th century, by Fatima al-Fihri. Fatima al-Fihri was a visionary and after the death of her father, she used her inheritance to establish the institution to provide education to the masses. It began as a madrasa and is now the oldest university in the world. It still operates today and contains over 4,000 manuscripts. The Major cities of the Muslim world attracted scholars, scientists, thinkers and writers from across the globe, both Muslim and non-Muslim, since they were able to live there peacefully and thrive in the intellectual environment and attend the institutions. Cordoba in Spain, Andalusia, contained the second largest library in the Muslim world. It rivalled Baghdad, which was the centre of early Islamic empires. In the 10th century, Lubna of Cordoba, managed the library of Cordoba and wrote and translated manuscripts. She was also a mathematician and intellectual, known for her abilities in grammar, science, geometry and algebra. John Greaves, Savilian professor of astronomy at the University of Oxford, was one of those European scholars who travelled to the Levant to acquire several Arabic, Persian and Greek manuscripts. In 1652 he translated Astronomica Quaedam ex Traditione Shah Cholgii Persae which was originally in Persian and attributed to Mahmud Shah Khulji, a 15th century Sultan of Malwa, which is now central India. Shah Khulji established a number of educational establishments within his kingdom. Astronomica Quaedam contains detailed scientific content as well as diagrams of the planets and the moon. It is a result of a culmination of the previous works of Muslim astronomers from the past, and was influenced by the works of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, who developed a mathematical planetary model in his Tusi Couple, in the 13th century. Astronomica Quaedam ex Traditione Shah Cholgii Persae translated by John Greaves (1652) ------ Astronomy in the Muslim world progressed by developing and expanding upon earlier theories from predecessors. Europe looked to the Muslim world for these developments and often used the works as textbooks in their universities. The later works of the European Renaissance astronomer, Copernicus, contains the Tusi Couple. This advanced planetary model helped him to discover that the earth orbited the sun. It was previously believed that the earth was at the centre of the universe. Islamic scholarship still continues to this day and flourishes within Islamic educational institutions such as the renowned Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, which was established in the 10th century. We can learn a lot from the model of the Islamic Golden Age, particularly how to leave peacefully in coexistence with people of different cultures, religions and ethnicities, and also to empower women to live with dignity and have their rights protected. Note: A shorter version of this article was first published here. The exhibition ran from May – 11th September 2023 at Middle Temple Library. Although, it has now ended, an online version can be viewed here: Tip: click on the social media icon in the right-hand corner of the text cards to see the corresponding images. Also, our promotional video about the Quran can be found here: URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

No comments:

Post a Comment