Sunday, February 5, 2012

Unit 7: The wisdom of the ages

Overview of the unit
  1. A rare gift from a distant land
    This unit begins by referring to the place that knowledge and learning had in Cordova in medieval times. The text helps us to become aware of how great works of knowledge were treated by the caliphs. As an example, we learn how a rare and ancient book on plants sent as a gift by the Byzantine emperor was received byAbd al-Rahman Ill.
  2. The caliph who loved to read
    In this section, we read more about the Cordovans' love for knowledge. We learn about the example of al-Hakam II who built a magnificent library in Cordova, and collected a large number of valuable works in his collection. We also become aware of the wide range of subjects that were studied in al-Andalus, such as astronomy, medicine and geography.
  3. The torch of knowledge
    In the eleventh century, the period of Cordova as the capital of al-Andalus came to an end. The text helps us examine factors that led to its fall as a great centre, and how this event affected the everyday life of the people. We also learn how Greek and Arabic works preserved by Muslim scholars were translated from Arabic into Latin, helping to bring about a new period in Europe called the Renaissance.
  4. Farewell to Cordova
    In this final section of the book, we focus on the end of Muslim rule in al-Andalus and the conquest of Spain by Christian rulers in the fifteenth century?We learn about the migration of Muslim and Jewish communities from Spain, and conclude our study of Cordova.
    7.1     A rare gift from a distant land
    A messenger comes galloping on his horse to the caliphs palace with some important news. The caliph is informed that three Byzantine ships have arrived at Pechina, one of the seaports of al-Andalus. The caliph has been expecting the Byzantines to arrive in al-Andalus for some months now. The emperor of Byzantium is interested in joining forces with the caliph of al-Andalus so that they can defend themselves against the Fatimid navy. The caliph sends his men to receive the Byzantine ambassadors who are brought all the way to Cordova.
    Gifts from the Byzantine emperor
    The ambassadors 6nalJy reach the caliph's palace. The caliph is seated cross-legged on his soft couch, dressed in a simple white robe. Around him are his guards and slaves in their smart uniforms, together with the caliph's courtiers.
    The Byzantine ambassadors are received with great courtesy. Some of the courtiers are curious to know what gifts the guests have brought for the caliph.
    Kneeling before the caliph, the ambassadors hand to the caliph a finely carved silver box with a lid of solid gold. Inside is a blue scroll that carries a heavy gold seal. The scroll, written in Creek, is a list of all the gifts that the envoys have brought The gifts include, among other things, rolls of silk, bars of gold, precious gems and rare books.
    A book for healing illnesses
    The gift which is received with great excitement is an ancient work written by a Creek doctor known as Dioscorides. It is a very- rare and valuable work that doctors all over the Mediterranean lands have been searching. The book contains pictures and descriptions of some five hundred plants. The ancient Greeks believed that these herbs could be used for curing various illnesses.
    The doctors who are present in the court – Muslim, Christian and Jewish are all excited, by the work. They pore over it as if it is some kind of precious gem. Much to their disappointment, they find that they cannot understand the, words because they are written in strange characters. The rare work is written in Greek language which no one in the court knows too well.
    Then the ambassadors leave for home, the caliph sends a request to the Byzantine emperor, asking him to lend him a scholar who can translate Greek into Latin.
    The doctors who are present in the court – Muslim, Christian and Jewish are all excited, by the work. They pore over it as if it is some kind of precious gem. Much to their disappointment, they find that they cannot understand the, words because they are written in strange characters. The rare work is written in Greek language which no one in the court knows too well.
    Then the ambassadors leave for home, the caliph sends a request to the Byzantine emperor, asking him to lend him a scholar who can translate Greek into Latin.
    Translating Greek
    A few years Later, a monk final[y arrives to help the Cordovans translate Dioscorides' work. The caliph arranges for a team of doctors and scholars who have special knowledge of herbs to help the monk. The Christian monk spends many months with the Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars until the work is finally translated into Latin and Arabic. The caliph is very proud of what has been achieved.
    Precious knowledge
    Many of the Greek works, like the one written by Dioscorides, were lost for centuries. Then scholars working in Muslim lands came across some of the lost works and translated them into Arabic. The Muslim caliphs encouraged scholars to translate these works because they valued the knowledge of the ancient Greeks.
    Scholars in Muslim lands went further than simply translating the Greek writers. They added their own knowledge to what the Greeks had found- They discovered new ideas of their own and deepened the knowledge that came to them from ancient times.
    What value did Muslim rulers place on knowledge and learning in tenth century Cordova?
  • Dioscorides
  • Greek
  • 1st century BCE: Dioscorides
Imagine that you are visiting Cordova in the tenth century. Make a list of ten books that you would take as gifts to the caliph. Why would you select these books?
Knowledge was valued by Muslim rulers and scholars in the past, no matter where it came from
Find out about other rulers in Muslim lands and in other civilisations who valued knowledge. What role did these rulers play in helping to advance knowledge?
In some parts of the world, people who think about new ideas are seen as a threat by those who hold power. What role should thinkers have in society?
Think of the knowledge you have acquired from your education so far. Which subjects have been of benefit to you? Which ones have you found to have little purpose? What areas of knowledge would you like to learn about in the future?
7.2    The caliph who loved to read
The four things Cordova surpasses
the capitals of the world.
Among them are the bridge over the river,
and the mosque
the third is the;
but the greatest of all things is knowledge
and that
is the fourth.'

The Palace Library of Cordova
Cordova is known for many for its monuments and palace-s. Now the new caliph, al-Hakam II, has made Cordova famous for something else — the Library in his palace. He is rearranging the library and increasing the collection of books and scrolls in it.
The caliph has sent his agents to all parts of the Mediterranean to buy books on different subjects — mathematics, astronomy, history, sciences, and any other subject which is of value. Where the books are not for sale, the agents have been instructed to have them copied by scribes.
The caliph intends to make the library in his palace one of the best in the Mediterranean world. Some say that the library already has 400,000 works. Whether this is true or not, we can only guess. What seems to be certain is that al-Hakim loves his books. There are rumors among the Cordovans that the new caliph spends more time in his library than anywhere else. They fear that he is not devoting enough attention to ruling the land. The library at the palace attracts great interest among the scholars visiting Cordova. They are also drawn to the other libraries and new places of learning which the caliph has set up. Here, they can find subjects such as poetry philosophy music and law being taught.
The libraries of Baghdad and Cairo
Al-Hakam II is not the only ruler who has a passion for learning. There have been many rulers in Muslim lands who have encouraged the search for knowledge in their lands. During the time of the Abbasid caliph, Harun-al-Rashid,1 Baghdad became an important centre of learning. So did Cairo during the Fatimid times. Here, the Ismaili Imam-caliphs set up new centers of learning, such as al-Azhar which became an important university. The Muslim caliphs valued knowledge and saw the benefits it could bring to the people in their lands.
Mapping the stars
Astronomers in al Andalus are keen to learn about the stars and movements of heavenly bodies. Using instruments such as the quadrant and the astrolabe, they have mapped many stars and constellations. Their work is useful in making calendars and for helping navigators find their way on the open seas.
Healing and curing
One of the subjects that is of great interest to scholars in the Middle Ages is medicine.. The art of healing is also highly valued by the al-Andalus.
Doctors in Muslim lands have made important discoveries about the human body.They have found out how blood circulates around the body. They have also built up a wide knowledge of different diseases and remedies that can be used during various illnesses.
Transporting water
Engineers in al Andalus are busy finding better ways of distributing water which is scarce in many parts of this land. Engineers have built a large number of canals and conduits to irrigate farms and bring water to the towns.
Some of the bridges and canals that have built by the Romans have been improved. New and old canals have been joined together in clever ways to make the best use of water and land. Close to Cordova, there are mills for grinding grain that are run from the power of flowing water.
Growing new crops
Some of the scientists in Muslim lands have special knowledge of plants and the type of soils in which they grow best. In al-Andalus, new plants, crops and fruit have been introduced, such as rice, oranges, bananas, dates, cotton, sugar-cane and saffron.
Exploring al-Andalus
Geographers and map-makers in al-Andalus have studied the Iberian Peninsula and produced maps and descriptions of the different regions. They give details of the climate and landscape of each region, and the riches to be found in various areas. Some of them have produced detailed descriptions of al-Andalus and the Maghrib using information from merchants who have travelled through these areas.
What did Muslim rulers in Cordova do to support learning?
    • Astrolabe    • Harun al-Rashid    •Quadrant
• 10th century CE: Al-Hakam II
Imagine you are a scholar working in tenth century Cordova. What kinds of books would you find in the caliphs library? Which types of books would you only find in a modern library? What knowledge was not discovered in the Middle Ages?
Muslim rulers in the: past valued different forms of knowledge. They were patrons of scholars and built large libraries in their cities.
What kind of subjects were important to people of different civilisations in the Middle Ages? Why do you think they were interested in these subjects and not others?
Some people claim that more knowledge does not necessarily lead to bettor lives. Discuss this view.
What are some areas where the knowledge that human beings presently have is limited. Do you think there will come a time when human being will know everything?
The torch of knowledge
It is the early part of the eleventh century. A time of great troubles has begun for the people of Cordova. Their worst fears have come true. The time of peace seems to have come to an end. There is no strong ruler to bring order to the land.
Instead, one weak ruler has followed another in quick succession. Madinat al-Zahra has, become a battleground for those who are hungry for power. Rebellious troops have caused great damage to the countryside near Cordova, living off the land by forcing villagers to pay them money.
Floods, plague and famine
Crowds of refugees from the countryside are flocking into Cordova, fleeing from the troops in fear of their lives. But the worst is yet to come.
The banks of the Guadalquivir have broken after heavy storms, flooding parts of the city. A plague has broken out and many people are sick and dying of illness. Food is in short supply in Cordova, and the people are becoming desperate. The poor are starving, for they have nothing left with which to buy food. The wealthy are selling off their precious possessions to keep themselves alive.
We are standing outside the palace al-Madinatal-Zahra. Here, too, those who are controlling the palace have been forced to take extreme steps. They are selling off rare books and scrolls from the magnificent library, of al-Hakam II.
The break up of al-Andalus
Many more years of trouble lie ahead for the people of Cordova. Al-Andalus is beginning to break up into small states. At the same time, the Christian kingdoms from the north are capturing more land every year. In a few years time, Cordova will no longer be the capital of al-Andalus
On the trail of the royal collection
In the meantime, we have another short journey to make. Where are the scrolls and books from the library of al-Hakam II being taken? We follow the trail and find that some are being sold in different parts of the Mediterranean world. Some are ending up in monasteries and universities in Europe. Most are being taken to towns such as Seville and Toledo, not many miles from Cordova.
In search of lost books
It is the twelfth century. A scholar the name of Gerard of Cremona is making his way to the city of Toledo He has travelled all the way from Italy in search of an ancient work called the Almagest. It is a great work of astronomy written by a Greek scholar called Ptolemy.
Gerard has searched long and hard for a copy of this work in Latin, but without much success. Then he hears from other scholars that there are copies of many ancient works in Toledo. Perhaps he might find the Almagest there.
The treasures of Toledo
After a long journey, Gerard finally arrives in Toledo. Nothing has prepared him for what he finds in this town. He not only comes across the Almagest, but hundreds of other ancient works. He has heard about these works and thought he would never see them in his life time.
Gerard examines some of the books to discover that they are written in Arabic, a language he does not know. He sets about learning Arabic so that he can translate the ancient works into Latin.
Centre of translation
Gerard spends almost fifty years of his life translating the ancient works. By the end of his life, he has translated dozens of works on medicine, alchemy, mathematics, geometry, optics and philosophy.
Gerard is not the only translator working in Toledo in the twelfth century. –there are other translators who are busy in Toledo; Seville and other places. They are helped by Muslim and Jewish scholars who are familiar with both Arabic and Latin.
The Renaissance
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the translated works in Latin quickly find their way to scholars in Europe. A new age begins in Europe called the Renaissance, which means 'rebirth'. It is a time when the Europeans are beginning to rediscover the knowledge of the ancient civilisations.
It is an exciting time for scholars. They are coming across works which they thought they had lost forever. The European scholars also discover something else which is of great interest to them. They find new knowledge that has been added to the ancient works by scholars in Muslim lands.
The end of the Middle Ages
In the years to come, the European scholars begin to add their own knowledge to what has been passed on to them by different civilisations. New discoveries follow in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology and other subjects.
With these discoveries and new thinking, the Middle Ages slowly comes to end and the modern period begins. The knowledge that we have today comes from the great torch of knowledge which has been lit by many civilisations.
How al- Andalus did became an important bridge for the sharing of knowledge between civilisations?
  • Almagest
  • Ptolemy
  • Renaissance
1st century CE: Ptolemy
12th-13th centuries CE: Translation of Greek and Arabic works into Latin.
Al-Andalus was a bridge between civilisations through which knowledge was shared.
Write a story, from a book's point-of view, of the adventures, it experiences from the time it is removed from the library of Cordova. Think of the different places where the book would be taken, and the different types of people who might be interested in acquiring it in the Middle Ages.
Find out more about how Greek and Arabic works helped scholars in Europe to advance their knowledge. Try to learn more about the Renaissance in Europe, and the changes that came about as a result of it.
In the modern world, many advances have been made in all areas of knowledge. Some people claim that this new knowledge is not shared freely, but has become the property of those who discover it. What is your view on this issue?
How do we define what knowledge is? Should there be different rules for defining different subjects?
Farewell to Cordova
It is time to leave Cordova. We are now in the final years of the fifteenth century when all of al-Andalus has been conquered by Christian rulers. Cordova was among the first cities to be captured. A cathedral has been built in the centre of the great mosque of Cordova so that it is now a mosque cathedral.
As we leave for Gibraltar, we notice that there are large groups of Muslims and Jews who are travelling to the coast. The Muslims and the Jews have been told by the rulers either to become Christians or leave the Iberian Peninsula. It is a time of sadness. Many people are leaving behind what has been their home for centuries. The time of living together has ended.
We cross the old Roman bridge and look at Cordova one final time. A traveler who is with us recites a poem:
Weep for the splendour of Cordova,
For disaster has overtaken her……
She was at the height of beauty,
Life was gracious and sweet
Until all was over thrown and today
No two people are happy in her streets.
Then bid her goodbye, and let her go in peace
Since depart she must
We bid goodbye to Cordova and make our way to Gibraltar. The old of Tariq is still there, brooding deeply before the ancient sea. We climb the rock one more time. There at the very top, we pause. We see ships sailing from what was once al–Andalus towards the shores of North Africa.
This time for us to sail away as well, to our own new century. Perhaps we will be able to build many new Cordovas there, where people of all faiths can once again live together, this time with more lasting peace and understanding.
1492 CE: End of Muslim rule in Spain.
1492 CE: Colombus reaches America.
1498 CE: Vasco da Gama reaches India.
Cordova in the tenth century provides us with a valuable example of how Muslims live in one particular place and period created a civilisation where people of different cultures lived and worked together.
Make a list of some important points that you have learned from this module. Write down questions you would like to ask on topics which you did not understand or want to learn more about.
Identify other cities and periods in Muslim and other civilisations, that would be interesting to study What kinds of insights might these places give us?
Some people claim that the past has very little to teach us. List some of the advantages and disadvantages of studying the past for understanding the present.
What kind of history can we as Muslims help create today that will lead to a better future for all humanity?
Review of Unit-7
Review questions
1. A rare gift from a distant land
  • What information was in the ancient book that the caliph in Cordova received?
  • Why was this knowledge of value to him and his advisers?
  • Why was it difficult for the work to be read?
  • What did the caliph do to help the scholars so that they could read the text?
2. The caliph who loved to read
  • What kind of library did al-Hakam II build in Cordova?
  • Why was it thought to be one of the best in Muslim lands?
  • What were some of the different types of sciences that were of interest to scholars in al-Andalus?
3. The torch of knowledge
  • What were some of the factors that led to the downfall of Cordova as the capital of al-Andalus?
  • What happened to the books in the royal library?
  • What do we learn from the example of Gerard of Cremona about the translation process?
  • What was the European Renaissance? What important role did al-Andalus play in the period leading to the Renaissance?
4. Farewell to Cordova
  • In which century did Muslim rule come to an end in Spain?
  • What happened to the Muslims and Jews who lived in Cordova and other places in al-Andalus?
  • What were the feelings of those who were forced to leave their homes?
  • What important lessons do we learn from our study of Cordova?
Post a Comment