Perusing the mini-history lesson ensconced in Safiyyah’s holiday pictures, I found her caption to one particular picture interesting, ‘The fascinating Nourias (water wheels) in Hama, from back in the day, when Muslims used to think’. ‘What led the wheels turning the mental processes of Muslims to grind to a halt?’I wondered. Later that evening, I began reading The Measure of Reality, Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600, and was astounded by the opening page:
In the mid-ninth century AD Ibn Khurradadhbeh described Western Europe as a source of “eunuchs, slave girls and boys, brocade, beaver skins, glue, sables, and swords,” and not much more. A century later another Muslim geographer, the great Masudi, wrote that Europeans were dull in mind and heavy in speech, and the “farther they are to the north the more stupid, gross, and brutish they are”. This was what any Muslim sophisticate would have expected of Christians, particularly the “Franks”, as Western Europeans were known in the Islamic world, because these people, barbarians most of them, lived at the remote Atlantic margin of Eurasia, far from the hearthlands of its high cultures.
(Crosby AW 1997:3)
Such were the Muslims of afore! To have held others in such censure their achievements were cetainly great. Yet today, the converse rings true.
Later in the week my interest was piqued by the headline ‘A Saudi King’s Western Dream’ on the LA Times blog, From Babylon and beyond:
Up the corniche, along the Saudi Arabian coast where boats carrying pilgrims bound for Mecca sailed for centuries, a thicket of cranes rises over whitewashed mosques along the Red Sea.
Steel flashes and blowtorches glow as 20,000 workers build a $10-billion university ordered up by a king who hopes Western ingenuity will revive the economy of this ultraconservative Muslim nation. When finished next year, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology will offer coed classes, Western professors, a curriculum in English and other touches loathed as dangerous liberalism by Islamic fundamentalists.
The West may be dependent on Saudi crude, now as high as $145 a barrel, but this campus outside the ancient fishing village of Thuwal is a recognition that the country that is home to Islam’s holiest shrines needs the likes of USC, Oxford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to survive globalization.
How times change! As Crosby notes in The Measure of Reality, six centuries subsequent to writings of Masudi, the Franks had not only equalled, but in some aspects also progressed ahead of the Muslims and the rest of the world. He sees the change to have been determined by a change in the pervasive mentalité of the day. The dire disregard for education, of any form, in my own Muslim community is to be lamented. The fervour with which knowledge was once sought, now serves only to drive the pursuit of the trappings of hedonism.
The first word of the Quraan revealed to the Prophet Muhammad was Iqraa, an invocation to read. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) has said “The pursuit of knowledge is compulsory on every Muslim man and women.” The credence Islam gives to education is thus clear. In another tradition of the Prophet (Peace be upon him), he is reported to have said, “Seek knowledge, even unto China.” How sad, that a Muslim’s quest for knowledge should now be looked at as strange!