Monday, March 24

Beyond "Tolerance" and "Intolerance": Deconstructing the Myth of the Islamic Golden Age

An interesting article son. People keep on claiming golden ages all the time. Here in the uk. Or in the USA for example with the greatest generation or the attempts to go back to the American founders and constitutionalism. As you will find when you read economics and philosophy and politics, these are all constructions. Propaganda if you will. These are made up constructs. And the vast majority of people will buy into these constructs. Like there is a golden age of Hinduism. Or Islam. Or economics. Or industrialisation. Or what have you. Nothing of these constructs stands up to careful investigation. But I'm not saying that you ignore them. 

You've got to learn how to recognise them son. You've got to understand that the great unwashed herd will believe in things like this. Staying out is not an option. You're either the herder or you are the sheep :) so whenever anybody starts claiming god given truths or references to some kind of universal truth or a golden age, you know that you've got to be careful, smile inside and you know that it's possible to fool some people all the time. Sad but true. 

Incidentally the references in this article talk about roger who we met when we were in Sicily. He made that Norman cathedral and town in cefalu where we stayed. Interesting links eh? Good men can be found in every religion son. Just like bad men. 

You are a good man. And on the day we celebrate saraswati, the goddess of learning, my entreaties and prayers that she will always bless you and offer you her lap to lie down on and learn. 



Beyond "Tolerance" and "Intolerance": Deconstructing the Myth of the Islamic Golden Age


Like many other concepts that shape our understanding of medieval history, the idea of a “Muslim Golden Age” is a historiographical construct. It promotes the notion that, until at least the early eighteenth century, the Muslim world experienced an era of unprecedented stability, prosperity, and cultural production. More particularly, it emphasizes that the period between roughly 800 and 1200 (sometimes extended to 1700 in order to include the Ottoman Empire) can be considered to represent the pinnacle of human endeavor. There are many problems with this perspective. Putting aside the fact that it imposes an anachronistic framework on medieval Muslim history, its main argument that the period 800-1200 can be characterized mainly by tolerance, cultural efflorescence, political unity, and religious harmony is contrary to many of the facts that one encounters upon reading the history of the various civilizations which are subsumed under the category of “Islamic civilization”, a phrase which conceals the linguistic, cultural, intellectual, theological, and political diversity of the lands in which Muslims resided during the medieval and early modern periods. This is to say nothing of the fact that the narratives promoted by these “Golden Age” perspectives are usually a reworking of official histories which do not take into account the realities of marginalized groups during the same period. The “Golden Age” perspective is also problematic because it is in many ways reactionary and a response to the many political, religious, and intellectual challenges faced by the Muslim world in the modern period. History, or rather particular historical narratives about a “Golden Age”, therefore becomes an important repository for the “greatness of Islamic civilization” and a refuge in which Muslims can seek solace in order to refute the idea–promoted mainly by those hostile to Islam–that Muslim civilization was, is, and always will be characterized by death, destruction and chaos.

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