Monday, April 28, 2008


. . . the contact with the Brahmin Hindu thinkers whose religion does quite well without prophecy (which the Islamic religion declares on the contrary necessary to the happiness of man and to a good social order) posed a problem for the Muslim thinkers; the real or fictitious dialogue with the Brahmins was able to serve to mask a critique of the Islamic religion in a free thinker like Ibn al-Rawandi.

An excerpt emphasizing India from "Fjordman: Socratic Dialogue vs. Islamic Dialogue" at Dhimmiwatch. The entire Fjordman essay can be found at

[quoting Fjordman:]

I will start with quoting a book called Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization by the French writer Rémi Brague.

According to Brague, Muslims did translate many Greek, Sanskrit and pre-Islamic Persian scientific works. However, one crucial difference between Muslims and Christian Europeans was that Muslims usually didn't preserve the original texts afterwards, since these were now seen as unnecessary. Here is how Ibn Khaldun explains this mentality in his Muqaddimah:
"(The Muslims) desired to learn the sciences of the (foreign) nations. They made them their own through translations. They pressed them into the mold of their own views. They peeled off these strange tongues [and made them pass] into their [own] idiom, and surpassed the achievements of (the non-Arabs) in them. The manuscripts in the non-Arabic languages were forgotten, abandoned, and scattered. All the sciences came to exist in Arabic. The systematic works on them were written in (Arabic) writing. Thus, students of the sciences needed a knowledge of the meaning of (Arabic) words and (Arabic) writing. They could dispense with all other languages, because they had been wiped out and there was no longer any interest in them."

As Brague says, the consequence of this disappearance of the original texts and the neglect of the original languages was that the Muslim world has not been able to return to what it translated and deepen their examination. "In doing this, the Islamized world made the phenomena of 'renaissances' impossible – that is, of a return to the original texts against the traditions that claimed to follow them." In European history, "one witnesses a constant effort to go back up toward the classical sources. One can thus describe the intellectual history of Europe as an almost uninterrupted train of renaissances."

Another crucial difference was that the Islamic world, in sharp contrast to Europe, hardly dreamed of using its knowledge of the foreign as an instrument that would permit it to understand itself better and more critically. According to Rémi Brague:
"It may be that its geographers made a eulogy of India and of China in order to address a discreet critique of the Islamic civilization of their time, often compensated in the last instance by an affirmation of the religious superiority of the latter. The examples that one could find of such a vision 'reflected' in the mirror are exceptional and come from marginal or heretical thinkers. Thus, the contact with the Brahmin Hindu thinkers whose religion does quite well without prophecy (which the Islamic religion declares on the contrary necessary to the happiness of man and to a good social order) posed a problem for the Muslim thinkers; the real or fictitious dialogue with the Brahmins was able to serve to mask a critique of the Islamic religion in a free thinker like Ibn al-Rawandi. The only incontestable exception is without doubt the astonishing work of Al-Biruni on India. This universal scholar (973-1048), astronomer, geographer, historian, mineralogist, pharmacologist etc., had taken the trouble to learn enough Sanskrit to be able to translate in both directions between this language and Arabic (for him also a learned language). He presented a tableau of Hindu society and beliefs with perfect impartiality."

John Keay in his book India: A History states that al-Biruni (Alberuni) owed much of his scientific celebrity in the Arab world to his mastery of Sanskrit and access to Indian scholarship. He also notes that in India, Muslims were initially viewed as just another group of foreigners, sometimes annoying, but essentially marginal: "There is no evidence of an Indian appreciation of the global threat which they represented; and the peculiar nature of their mission – to impose a new monotheist orthodoxy by military conquest and political dominion – was so alien to Indian tradition that it went uncomprehended."

Parts of northern India had been invaded by outsiders before, but Muslims represented a very different breed of conquerors. Keay again:
"Unlike Alexander's Greeks, Muslim invaders were well aware of India's immensity, and mightily excited by its resources. As well as exotic produce like spices, peacocks, pearls, diamonds, ivory and ebony, the 'Hindu country' was renowned for its skilled manufactures and its bustling commerce. India's economy was probably one of the most sophisticated in the world. Guilds regulated production and provided credit; the roads were safe, ports and markets carefully supervised, and tariffs low. Moreover capital was both plentiful and conspicuous. Since at least Roman times the subcontinent seems to have enjoyed a favourable balance of payments. Gold and silver had been accumulating long before the 'golden Guptas,' and they continued to do so. Figures in the Mamallapuram sculptures and the Ajanta frescoes are as strung about with jewellery as those in the Sanchi and Amaravati reliefs. Divine images of solid gold are well attested and royal temples were rapidly becoming royal treasuries as successful dynasts endowed them with the fruits of their conquests. The devout Muslim, althoughostensibly bent on converting the infidel, would find his zeal handsomely rewarded."

In his book Technology in World Civilization: A Thousand-Year History, Arnold Pacey writes that after Baghdad fell to the Mongols in 1258, Delhi became a haven for many Middle Eastern scholars who took refuge there and taught Greek mathematics. According to Irfan Habib, a historian of Indian technology, new techniques spread into the region, including the magnetic compass, which was probably used on Indian ships at this time. Centres for paper-making also developed, but it should be remembered that these inventions were Chinese.

Paper-like fabrics, some made from mulberry bark, were used for clothing and as wrapping material in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands (which were settled by people from Southeast Asia), and in this form paper may have originated as early as 200 BC in China. When it comes to paper used for writing, it definitely existed in China at about AD 100, and was used in Tibet by AD 650 and introduced into the Indian subcontinent by Buddhists at around AD 670, possibly imported from Tibet. However, apparently paper never did come into widespread use there before the Islamic conquests and the Delhi Sultanate. According to Arnold Pacey:
"Indian documents written on paper survive from before this time, but the number is much greater from the thirteenth century onwards. While Islamic domination of North India may have had these positive aspects, the initial conquest by Turkish–speaking armies in the 1190s did great damage to Indian learning, both technical and general. The conquest was particularly destructive in Bihar and Bengal, where Buddhist monasteries were sacked and many monks were killed. One consequence was the virtual elimination of Buddhism in the region, which is where it had originated seventeen centuries earlier. In 1194, the great centre of Indian learning at Benares was attacked, and numerous monuments as well as books, records and probably an astronomical observatory were destroyed. The scale of this vandalism was probably alasting setback for Indian science, and astronomy was not again seriously studied until the fifteenth century. The last celebrated Indian astronomer for a long time was Bhaskara, who was working in the 1150s, and whose writing had some influence in the West."

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