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Contribution of Muslims in European Renaissance

During the Medieval ages, Muslim philosophy influenced Western thought in several ways. It contributed in the west the renaissance movement: introduced the historical sciences and the scientific method; stimulated western mysticism; laid the foundations of Italian renaissance and, to a degree, molded the modern European thought. The Muslims were the first humanists and they gave a humanist bend to the western mind. They were the first to reveal to the west that outside the prevailing Catholic Church it was not all darkness and barbarism but untold wealth of knowledge. The following verses from the Quran indicate that in Islam there is not obligatory doctrinaire but religious tolerance:

La ikra ha fi al din

(Religion is not to be forced on anyone).

Tolerance and humanism spread to Western Europe through contact between the Muslims and the non-Muslims in Spain: to Italy by a similar contact in Sicily: and throughout Europe by the impress of a culture received by the Crusaders in Syria and Asia Minor.

Interest in Muslim philosophy developed in Europe towards the end of the eleventh century. The Muslim rule in Spain, the Crusades, the seminaries in Sicily, the inadequacy of the old Western scholastic and scientific system and the density of population and internal congestion necessitated relations of the west with the world of Islam. In Toledo Muslim and Christians lived side by side. It was here that Raymond I, Archbishop of the provincial capital (1130 to 1150), established a translation bureau to render Arabic masterpieces into Latin. In France and especially in Normandy, scientific trend appeared first among the monks during the rule of Robert, the king of France of the Capetian dynasty. At the time he invaded southern Italy, Calabria, and Sicily, he observed the Italian seminaries and borrowed many things form Muslims. In that way, the seminaries of Sicily and Naples acted as transmission media of Islamic science to the West. The transmission of Muslim thought to the medieval west passed through the following phases.

In the first phase, a band of western scholars went to Muslim countries and made persona studies, Constantine of Africa and Adelhard made studies of this sort for the first time. Constantine, who was born in Carthage near the end of eleventh century, traveled all through the east. He made translation into Latin from the Arabic translations of Hippocrates” and Gale’s books in addition to those of the original works of Muslim scholars on medical science. On many students from Italy, Spain and southern France attended Muslim seminaries in order to study mathematics, philosophy, medicine, cosmography, and other subjects, and in due course became candidates for professorship in the first western universities to be established after the pattern of the Muslim seminaries.

The second phase starts with the founding of the first Western universities. The style of architecture of these universities, their curricula, and their method of instruction were exactly like those in the Muslim seminaries. First, the Salerno seminary was founded in the kingdom of Naples. Courses were offered in grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, music geometry, and cosmography. Books of Muslim Scholars and those on the interpretation of his philosophy wee brought to Italy by way of Salerno. Emperor Frederick of Sicily was known as a patron of Muslim science. He founded the seminary at Naples. Islamic books were translated from Arabic into Latin by his order. He corresponded with Ibn sabin on philosophical matters. Alphonso X, King of Castile and Leon (1252 to 1284), ordered that astronomical tables be made following a study of Arabic works. At that time important seminaries were also established at Padua, Toulouse, and later at Leon.

At last, the science of the Muslims was transmitted to France and to other Western countries via Italy. Bologna and Montpelier seminaries were founded at the beginning of the thirteenth century. The University of Paris opened its doors for instruction somewhat later. At that time Oxford and Koln Universities were established after the same pattern and thus the new science was transmitted to England and Germany.

During the thirteenth century, the oxford school became a center of the activities of translation and interpretation of Muslim books. In the University of Paris from the day it was established in 1215, much importance was given to Muslim texts and their interpretations in Arabic from 1231 on, the Pope Gregory IX renewed the decree against the instruction of Arabic and its texts.

The best known polish author during the translation period was St. Thomas’ friend Wittelo (1230). Wittelo went from Poland to Italy. He compiled an important work about Muslim scholars. In his book entitled perspective, there were important selections from Euclid, Appolonius, ptolemy’s  Optica, and Ibn Haitheam’s Kitab Al Manazir. Wittelo and Roger bacon carried further Ibn Haitham’s work in physical research. The translation into Latin of the works of Abu Bakr Zakariya Al Razi, founder of the philosophy of nature in Islam, was an important step in the transmission of Muslim philosophy to the west.

The famous Jabir Bin Hayyan is know among the naturalists as an alchemist, chemist and philosopher. He is known in the European world better than in Muslim world, not as a philosopher and chemist but as a magician and alchemist. In 1215, Frederick II became the Emperor of Rome. Having been educated at Palermo under Muslim teachers and having come into close contact with the Muslims of Sicily and during the Crusades also with those of Syria, he had became a great admirer of Muslim thought in general, and of Ibn Rushd in particular. In 1224 he established a university at Naples chiefly with the object of introducing Muslim philosophy and science to the people of the west. St. Thomas received his education at this university. Here both Christian and Jewish translators were engaged for rendering Arabic works into Latin and Hebrew. The works of Ibn Rushd in their Latin translation were used not only in the curriculum of this university, but were sent also to the universities of Paris and Bolognas.

The greatest benefit that the Muslim gave the West was the scientific or inductive method of inquiry. Although most of the Muslim thinkers used the inductive method in their scientific investigation in different fields, the tow of them who particularly expounded this method were Muhammad bin Zakarriya al Razi, Ibn Haitham, Ibn Hazm, writing on the scope of logic, emphasized sense perception as a source of knowledge.

Science is the most momentous contribution of Muslims civilization to the modern world, but its fruits were slow in ripening. Not until long after Moorish culture and sung back into darkness did the giant to which it had given birth rise in its might. It was not science only, which brought Europe back to life. Other and manifold influences from the civilization of Islam communicated its original glow to European life.

European mysticism was also much influenced by the mysticism of Islam. When we read the poems of the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross-without concluding that his entire process of thinking and imaginative apparatus owed much to those Muslim mystics who had also been natives of Spain. In the beginning of the fourteenth century, Raymond Lull wrote on mysticism. He was an accomplished scholar and founder of a school or Oriental languages at Rome. His mystical writings are “beyond question” influenced by the Muslim Sufi speculations.

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