"If we lose the past, how would we enter the future?"
This is how former US diplomat and author Michael Hamilton Morgan summarized the idea behind his book "Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim scientists, Thinkers, and Artists" which talks about how the Islamic civilization contributed significantly to our modern world.
Michael Morgan is both a novelist and non fictional author. He was an Echols Scholar at the University of Virginia, where he graduated with High Distinction in 1973. He worked as a diplomat from 1980-1987, and he was Deputy Staff Director of the bipartisan White House commission overseeing the U.S. Information Agency and the Fulbright Scholarships from1985-1987. Mr. Morgan is also the founder and the President of the New Foundations for Peace, non profitable organizations created to teach leadership skills to young people worldwide.
On Monday, March 10, 2008, Morgan spoke at Sultan El-Ghouri palace in Cairo's historic district Al- Azhar, Egypt, on the occasion of publishing the Arabic translation of his book.
The book is based on the premise that there is no clash of civilizations or war enduring of religions between Islam and the West. Instead, people today have a single global civilization, based on digital innovations that are derived from the achievements of Muslim thinkers, writers, and artists during what Europe calls the middle ages.
"When I first started writing, there was disagreement about calling that civilization an Islamic or Arabic one", Morgan explained. He added also, "There was also disagreement about whether Muslims have a civilization or not ". But at the end, it became clear how Islam acted as a binding force for this civilization and culture. This was clear when he said, "For decades, Islamic civilization was the most progressive force in the world. This is a thing that we in the West do not remember."
He asserted that although Americans and Europeans refer to their culture as “Judeo-Christian”, other histories cry out for inclusion, and Islam is the first among them. Mr. Morgan stressed that he was using the term “Islam” not in a religious sense, but as a cultural and a civilization term. Under this banner he included not just the Abbasid Empire of the Arab world, but also Moghul India and Ottoman Turkey. There is a popular view that Muslims safeguarded the knowledge of the Roman and Greek civilizations during the dark ages, this concept is known as the “refrigerator theory.” Mr. Morgan decried this notion as being incomplete and demeaning, contending that Islam also produced a vast array of original ideas in addition to preserving older ones.
He illustrated his point by relating the stories of several Muslim scholars derived mainly from translations of authentic primary source texts. He started with the Persian mathematician al-Khwarizmi. He worked for the “House of Wisdom”, a translation institute in the Abbasid-era, and was responsible for the diffusion of the Hindu number system in the Middle East and the West. Armed with the concepts of zero and negative numbers, al-Khwarizmi greatly broadened the ancient Greek geometric understanding of mathematics to include these abstract concepts that lead him to formulate the notion of the algorithm. Because the algorithm underlies all modern software, Mr. Morgan praised al-Khwarizmi’s work as one of the most single influential discoveries in intellectual history. According to Mr. Morgan, the scholars of classical Islam were the first true renaissance men and women laying the foundation for the European renaissance.
He explained that the flowering of knowledge during this period was attributable to the high status of learning that was accorded in the religion of Islam, recalling for example the Qur’anic verse which states that “the ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr.” He opined that, of the three Abrahamic religions, Islam held knowledge in the highest regard. The rise of the great cities of the Caliphate, including Baghdad, Damascus, and Cairo, further aided in the development of a large scholarly community. Although the empire began to fracture, competition among rival regional rulers for intellectual capital continued to elevate the value of knowledge.
Mr. Morgan went on to give brief sketches of other prominent Muslim scholars, including physicist al-Haytham, mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam, and physicians Abu al-Qasim and Mussa bin Maimun. In closing, he stressed the artificiality of the distinction between the West and the Muslim world.
By Somia Mohamed Badry