Muslim Heritage: A Forgotten Contribution to Human Civilization (Part 1)
By Youssef El Kaidi
Morocco World News
Fez, January 12, 2013
Many people rush into a simplistic definition of civilization understanding it as the overall way of life! Civilization, however, is a complex concept that incorporates history, culture and the processes of human development. It’s, as Braudel defines it “a cultural area; a collection of cultural characteristics and phenomena.”
Wallerstein holds that civilization is “a particular concentration of worldview, customs, structures, and culture (both material culture and high culture) which forms some kind of historical whole and which coexists (if not always simultaneously) with other varieties of this phenomenon.”
Another interesting definition provided by Dawson states that civilization is “a particular original process of cultural creativity which is the work of a particular people.” The erudite 14th century Arab historiographer and historian Abderrahman Ibn Khaldoun (1332- 1406) defines civilization in the following passage by saying that:
Human social organization is something necessary. The philosophers expressed this fact by saying “Man is political by nature.” That is, he cannot do without the social organization for which the philosophers use the technical term “town” (polis). This is what civilization means.
In fact, Ibn Khaldoun in a seminal book entitled The Mugaddimah split so much ink on various complex human phenomena and on civilization in particular. He believed that any civilization cannot escape undergoing three different stages in its life; the stage of origination, the stage of power and prosperity and the stage of degradation and demise.
Human civilization and history is, thus, but the rise and fall of civilizations and empires in a cyclical way. Each new civilization comes to feed on the achievements of the one it replaces. Each emerging civilization builds on, absorbs and integrates the accomplishments of the preceding one to refine its values and institutions. Human civilization, so, is the outcome of an ongoing collaborative construction. Western civilization which is in its heyday nowadays after a monumental economic growth and scientific development should not be amnesiac towards the contribution of other civilizations such as the Muslim civilization.
This may seem weird and unbelievable to many but the truth is that at a time when some Catholic people in Europe used to regard bathing as a blasphemy and, thus, keep their dirt on as part of their religious devotion to the Catholic Faith, in Cordoba alone there were about five hundred public baths! At a time when Europe of the Middle Ages was wallowing in superstitions and various backward beliefs, Andalusia was teeming with Madrasas and scholars –males and females- who imprinted the history with their inventions and findings.
In this series of essays, I intend to shed light on Muslim cultural and scientific heritage and render tribute to many Muslim scholars who considerably contributed to human development through various subject areas such as mathematics, astronomy, medicine, physics, alchemy and chemistry, cosmology, ophthalmology, geography and cartography, sociology and psychology.
I do not mean to denigrate any culture or civilization because that would be a big mistake. Colonialism has always assumed that Western culture is superior to other cultures and justified conquest and hegemony on this basis. However, can we talk of cultural superiority with the principle of cultural relativism? Certainly not. There is no superior culture or inferior culture.
All I mean is to revive a forgotten rich history that hasn’t been noticed by most people in the West due to many reasons. Media discourse and other representational forms, for example, have been consistently representing Arabs and Muslims in very negative terms, nurturing, thus, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and other stereotypes. Hopefully, these articles will contribute to cross-cultural understanding and mutual respect, for any cultural conflict or clash, I believe, is first and foremost the result of ignorance!
 Quoted in: Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996 ), p. 41.
 Abderrahman Ibn Khaldoun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, Vol.1 (New York: Princeton University press, 1967), p.89.
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.