The common idea that western civilization originates in Greece was born twice. Its last birth took place in the eighteenth century, before the social science had been created and before the richness of our Mesopotamian heritage had been discovered. The time has come to investigate the roots of western civilization …
Islam was born in the seventh century. The faithful were less skeptical towards the quest for knowledge than the Christians. At the same time, they were a bit more skeptical about Greco-Roman culture, which resulted in the creation of a law system of their own that did not resemble earlier systems. The jurists involved demanded freedom to discuss important issues, organized themselves in madrassas, and set professional standards.
The Turning point
When the contacts between Western Europe and the Islamic world increased in the age of the Crusades, a climate was created in which Europe could acquire knowledge in the East. Among the most important borrowings is the university, which is essentially a European madrassa, where the professional standards and the freedom of discussion of the Islamic jurists lived on: an important structuring element of western culture.
Origins of the Modern State
In this age of close cultural contact, Roman Law was reintroduced in Western Europe, but even though Medieval Law was inspired by ancient forms, it is in fact a pragmatic selection from existing traditions, which became a structuralizing element. At the same time, new elements were introduced, like the ideal of equality, which has no roots in ancient or feudal society, but is derived from Islam. The separation of Church and State, another important structuralizing element, could not be created without philosophical theories from the Islamic world.
Ideology and Science
European civilization is a fusion of elements from earlier cultures. The incorrect idea that it had its roots in Greece, goes back to the eighteenth-century art historian J.J. Winckelmann.
Jona Lendering: Forgotten heritage (2009); www.livius.org
You are invited to read my own research on the subject: How Europe came to forget about its Arabic heritage (Alislam eGazette, january 2011).