The Arabs’ long journey into the heart of darkness

When they came out of their poor peninsula, the early Muslim Arabs when compared with the more sophisticated and advanced Byzantines of Asia Minor and the Eastern Mediterranean, or the Persians to the East, looked like haggard upstarts. But the tribes of Arabia, who were catapulted to a stagnant region by a new dynamic religion, and led by brilliant political and military leaders, had in addition to their memories of endless sands and unfulfilled dreams, the boundless exuberance and abundance of self-confidence that only people who are convinced that their moment has arrived and that they are at a rendezvous with destiny could possess.

Though the question of political legitimacy has haunted the Arabs ever since the dawn of Islam, and it is still one of the most fundamental problems vexing modern governance, the early generations of Muslims built magnificent centers of learning, creativity, trade, diversity and openness to other cultures in Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad, Cairo, and Cordoba.

They were so secure, that they realized immediately their limitations, and that they have to learn and borrow a lot from the advanced cultures that preceded them; the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Persians. Their embrace of these cultures led them to produce a significant body of knowledge in the areas of science, medicine, arts and philosophy that helped them dominate most of the Middle Ages. The Arabs and early Muslims were the first since the Romans to engage in their own version of globalized trade in the known world beyond the Mediterranean and deep into Asia and Africa. All of this was driven by an ethos of self-confidence and empowerment.

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