Friday, February 01, 2008

In the Arab world, we have the habit of repeating - like a tired mantra - the idea that the Arabs and Muslims were leaders in science, philosophy (From Spain to China etc etc.). In Europe, they have a different - but just as tired mantra - that after the Greeks and Romans there were the Dark ages and then we had the glorious Renaissance. This article is interesting in that it charts a course between both narratives, but what I noticed was how borderline racist and the level of effort placed by some in the comments section to dismiss each point al Khalili had tried to make. Would they do the same if someone was pointing out the legacy of Indian or Chinese philosophy and science?

We read in most accounts of the history of science that the contribution of the ancient Greeks would not be matched until the European Renaissance and the arrival of the likes of Copernicus and Galileo in the 16th century. The 1,000-year period sandwiched between the two is dismissed as the dark ages. But the scientists and philosophers whom Ma'mun brought together, and whom he entrusted with his dreams of scholarship and wisdom, sparked a period of scientific achievement that was just as important as the Greeks or Renaissance, and we cannot simply project the European dark ages on to the rest of the world.

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