The Star Tribune is not my go-to paper for social critique, and I was not surprised to read a particularly puerile piece of apologia, History abounds with contributions of Islam to civilization, by the “writer and social activist” Omar Alansari-Kreger on its website today. The piece has all the signs of having been thrown together in haste, and I wonder whether the recent spate of terrorist car rammings and knife attacks perpetrated by Somali youths, of whom Minneapolis, the Star Tribune’s base, has a significant number, was the impetus. This is how Alansari-Kreger sets things up.
Islam has been portrayed as something reprehensible. …There exists an impression that Muslims are inherently oppressed by virtue of their faith, portrayed as a religion with little tolerance for dissent, and quick to liquidate detractors. …Certainly, extremists [read: critics of Islam] …help preserve the slanted narrative that drives the modern-day perception of Islam.
He then juxtaposes this with:
Yet, how many outsiders ask the simple questions: What is Islam? What are the beliefs of Muslims? And what are Islam’s core contributions to the world?
Does he then proceed to answer these “simple questions” that many outsiders are supposedly so loathe to ask? No. Instead, he takes his readers back more than a thousand years to what he perceives as safe territory, Islam’s Golden Age, and a safe aspect of the then culture, scientific discoveries and technical inventions. “Contrary to conventional belief,” says Alansari-Kreger, “the Islamic civilization of centuries past was the world’s premier intellectual superpower.”
Not only are Muslim scientists’ and engineers’ contributions to the world not in dispute, the irrelevance of this red herring couldn’t be clearer than from Alansari-Kreger’s own words: “modern-day perception of Islam,” to which he offers, “Islamic civilization of centuries past.” This is how Alansari-Kreger hopes to salvage the damned reputation of his religion (and it might work; if his readers are as willing to be manipulated as he assumes them to be).
Let’s just briefly look at what he does have to say about the world’s premier intellectual superpower of centuries past. He mentions the contributions of three individuals, Hasan ibn al-Haytham, Abbas ibn Firnas and Fatima al-Fihri, by no means amongst either the most important or the most prominent. Nevertheless, almost all of the examples can just as easily serve to answer the begged question that Alansari-Kreger does not ask, “What went wrong?” If Islam was the world’s premier intellectual superpower centuries past, why is it no longer? The answer might lie in the lives of these accomplished individuals themselves.
Hasan ibn al-Haytham was unquestionably a brilliant man. He had the perfectly sensible idea of damming the Nile at what is today Aswan. But his site analysis revealed such a project to be beyond the superpower’s technical abilities at the time. Rather than revealing this truth to the caliph and risking a beheading, he had to pretend to have gone mad and thereby managed to save himself, an effective self-beheading, one might say.
The only reason Fatima al-Fihri had set up her University of Quaraouiyine in Fez is because her family had to flee the bloody persecutions of the Aghlabid Emir in Qayrawan, capital of the then Emirate of Ifriqiya (present-day Tunisia), vassal of the Abbasid Caliphate. So large was the influx of refugees from Qayrawan into Fez, that that part of the city now bears the name Karaouiyne, as does the neighbouring Andalous from the influx refugees from one of the other jewels in the crown of the Islamic superpower, al-Andalus.
One such Andalusian refugee who spent his final years in Fez was none other than the great philosopher and jurist Abu al-Walid ibn Rushd (who died in Marrakech in 1198). He fell foul of the caliph after having spent years trying to reconcile the Qur’an with reason, and coming out on the side of reason. Alansari-Kreger’s “premier intellectual superpower” of centuries past was destroyed by Islam itself, exactly as it is trying to destroy today’s the premier intellectual superpower. Islam’s Somali foot soldiers are ramming cars into students on university campuses and then knifing them to maximise the killing.
…all of which makes me wonder what Alansari-Kreger is really up to.