Coming Out of The Dark Ages

Muslim Cordoba – Europe ‘s Centre of Learning

In the Middle Ages, roughly between 800 and 1200 C.E., most of Europe was in its Dark Ages. Scientifically the continent was very backward, technologically and culturally. The majority of the population were illiterate and ignorant.

Although this period of history was ‘dark’ for Christian Europe, the Muslim lands were, in sharp contrast, very ‘illuminated’. Muslims lived in very beautifully planned cities. Most people were able to read and write. There were public hospitals, public and private libraries, colleges, universities, public baths, wonderful parks and gardens. The Muslims were advanced in mathematics, physics, astronomy, engineering, medicine, surgery, philosophy, geography, architecture, art, chemistry etc.

One such Muslim land was Islamic Spain. Whilst the rest of Europe was dark, Islamic Spain was an oasis of light. The capital city was Cordoba, a great centre of learning and culture. The university of Cordoba enjoyed the same reputation that those of Oxford and Cambridge have today.

The inhabitants of Cordoba were highly educated and had a great love for knowledge. This was evident by the number of bookshops, public and private libraries which existed in the city.

Just as today people like to furnish their homes with beautiful and expensive furniture, the people of Cordoba used to decorate their homes with beautiful and valuable books. The streets of Cordoba were lined on both sides with long rows of bookshops.

Caliph Hakam II (ruler 961 – 976 CE) is said to have had 400,000 books in his own private library. The books recording the names of authors and titles consisted of 44 volumes.

Ibn Futays, a merchant of Cordoba, had one of the biggest private libraries. It was set in a purpose-built building and had as its librarian the Cordoban scholar Abu Abd’Allah al Hadrami (died 1006 CE). He also served as the Imam of the family mosque of Ibn Futays. There were around 70 public libraries in Cordoba during the time of Caliph Hakam II. Included in this were the great mosque libraries which were open for anyone to go to and use. Professors, students and booksellers used to flock to Cordoba, which had become the intellectual centre of the West by the tenth century C.E. There is a famous letter written by King George II of England to Caliph Hisham III (ruler 1027 – 1031 C.E.) requesting permission to allow one of the English princesses to study at the university of Cordoba. The following is the wording of his letter:

“From George II, the King of England, Gaul, Sweden and Norway to the Caliph of the Muslim Kingdom of Spain, his majesty Hisham III.

We have been advised that science, knowledge, technology and industry are far advanced in your country, therefore we wish to take the opportunity for our youth to benefit from your achievements as our country lacks in these facilities and is in total darkness.

We hope this opportunity will give us the chance to follow in your footsteps to illuminate our people with knowledge. My niece Princess Dobant and a group of noble English girls seek the favour of your academic staff, with the honour of your favour to bestow upon us the opportunity to achieve our goal.

The young princess is carrying a gift to your majesty. Your acceptance will honour us.

Your obedient servant, George”

The universities of Muslim Spain served as models for subsequent universities in Europe. Two early universities which are believed to have been directly influenced were those of Palencia in Spain (founded by King Alfonso VIII of Castile in 1208 C.E.) and the university of Naples (built by Emperor Frederick II in 1224 C.E.).

by: Dr.Ibrahim Sheikh

The university of Montpellier in southern France was founded in the middle ages by Muslim and Jewish medical scholars. To this day the university has been keeping their names on scroll.

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