The Islamic roots of Modern civilisation and the construction of European identity
In this BBC documentary, English historian Bettany Hughes examines the Muslim contribution to the formation of modern Europe. She also reveals how European identity was then constructed by eradicating the islamic origins of the absorbed civilisation.
You are invited to read my own research on the subject: How Europe came to forget about its Arabic heritage (Alislam eGazette, january 2011).
A contradiction on violence
There is one remark I have about this otherwise exquisite documentary. At 12:35 minutes, Bettany Hughes seems to be excited by the thought that Muslims ‘believed they were inspired by God’ to conquer other lands. Yet, she leaves no means untouched to criticize the crusaders for their destructive religious fanaticism in conquering Spain. This is unfair; if the Muslims are to be praised for misplaced ideas of holy conquest, why not cheer the Crusaders for the same?
In my opinion Ms. Hughes here uses an outdated explanation of why Muslims fought wars in those early days. This may be due to some left-over Orientalism. Muslims had first been attacked by the Arab tribes, then by Byzantium and Persia. These wars were morally completely justified as self-defence. The conquest of North-West Africa and Spain is less easily justifiable. However, Islamic ethics of war would never allow for mere invasion.
There is evidence the Muslims were often asked by the inhabitants of a region to take over the rule from oppressors. The documentary touches upon this on the 24th minute, and is in this sense self-contradictory. In her conversation with Lauro Olmo Encisco of Alcalá University, Madrid, Bettany Hughes explains that evidence suggests no force at all was used in the take-over of Spain by the Muslims:
Lauro Olmo Encisco: [The Muslims] found cities in crisis. Social crisis. Urban crisis. The traditional explanation is that the Arabs came and then the society collapses and the city collapses. This is not true. The collapse of the city started during the Visigothic period.
Bettany Hughes: At many places like here at Recopolis, it seems that the newcomers were actually welcomed with open arms. We even have treaties where the Visigoths enthousiasticcaly hand over their land in return for effective Muslim protection. (…)
Lauro Olmo Encisco: We don’t have evidence of violence, not at all. The Muslims started to build a new society.
We could imagine this to have happened this way if we take a closer look at Muslim rule in those days. Described for example by Karen Armstrong in her account of the Caliph Umar (ra) in her book Jerusalem.
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Categories: Muslim Heritage