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The Impact of Islam on Medieval Europe

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To what extent did Islam impact medieval Europe? This article is an interesting look into it, although some points in it would raise disagreements, and, hopefully, an interesting debate...

battle between Cross and the CrescentIn my shortly-to-be-released book, Holy Warriors: Islam and the Demise of Classical Civilization, I have argued that it was Islam, and not the Barbarians of Germany and Scythia, which ended Classical Civilization. It is, of course, true that the Barbarians terminated the Western Roman Empire; but the Roman Empire was not the same thing as Classical Civilization. This appeared in Greece in the fifth century BC, and spread to Italy at least as early as the fourth century BC. The Romans subsequently spread Classical culture throughout the western Mediterranean and parts of northern Europe.

So, Classical Civilization, with its humanism and rationalism, preceded the rise of the Roman Empire, and it survived the fall of that Empire. It survived, in fact, until the middle of the seventh century AD. Until the coming of Islam!

The impact of Islam on Europe was twofold: economic and cultural. As long ago as the 1930s, Belgian medievalist Henri Pirenne demonstrated that it was Islam, with its blockade of the Mediterranean, which had definitively terminated Classical Civilization. With the ending of trading links between Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, the great cities of the West, in Gaul, Spain, and Italy, which depended on that trade, began to die. This marked the disappearance of the urban civilization of Antiquity. The West became impoverished, and the termination of the supply of papyrus from Egypt meant a return very quickly to almost pre-Roman levels of illiteracy.

But Islam's impact was by no means confined to economics, profound though such an impact undoubtedly was. It was more far-reaching than that. From the mid-seventh century onwards, the almost perpetual war and banditry experienced all along the southern coastlands of Europe meant a militarization of these regions and their cultures. The Viking raids, coming a little later, and elicited, as Hugh Trevor-Roper emphasized, by the Muslim demand for white-skinned female slaves and eunuchs, produced the same result in the North.

Indeed, the Islamic invasions of the seventh century launched what can only be described as a tidal wave of violence against Europe. One of the fundamentals of the Islamic faith, an article of belief not fully understood by the majority of commentators, was the acceptability, even the duty, of Muslims to wage war against the infidel. Islam divided the world into two starkly opposing camps: that of Islam, the “Dar al-Islam”, and that of the unbelievers, which was known as the “Dar al-Harb”. But Dar al-Harb literally means "House of War".

‘Jihad’ or Holy War was a fundamental duty of all Muslim rulers. Truces were allowed, but never a lasting peace. In the words of historian Robert Irwin, "Since the jihad [was] ...a state of permanent war, it [excluded] ...the possibility of true peace, but it [did] ...allow for provisional truces in accordance with the requirements of the political Situation" (Islam and the Crusades: 1096-1699, in Jonathan Riley-Smith (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, Oxford, 1995, p. 237-8). Irwin also notes how "Muslim religious law could not countenance the formal conclusion of any sort of permanent peace with the infidel." In such circumstances, it is evident that, when the Islamic forces were in a position of strength, almost all contact between them and the outside world was warlike. And this was not war as is waged between two kingdoms, empires, or dynasties: This was total war, war that did not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, and war that did not end. In this spirit, Islamic generals launched attack after attack against the southern shores of Europe during the seventh and eighth centuries; and these "official" actions were supplemented by hundreds, even thousands, of lesser raids, carried out by minor Muslim commanders and even by private individuals: For it was considered legitimate that the Muslim faithful should live off the infidel world. Whatever spoils could be taken, were divinely sanctioned.

The coming of Islam therefore signaled a wave of banditry and piracy in the Mediterranean such as had not been seen since before the second century BC, when such activities were severely curtailed by Roman naval power. Indeed, it seems that this new Islamic piracy surpassed in scope and destructiveness anything that had come before. We could mention here, from the seventh and eighth centuries and later, quite literally hundreds of accounts of attacks in Greece, Italy, southern France, Spain, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica, carried out by Muslim freebooters and slave-traders. Neither Eastern nor Western Christendom was safe, and Crete, for a long time, was the centre of the Mediterranean slave-trade; a dubious honor she retained till the island was retaken by the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas around 956. These cut-throats, it seems, did not confine themselves to capturing towns and their inhabitants, but plundered churches and monasteries too, putting their occupants to the sword or selling them into slavery. No part of southern Europe was immune from their attentions, and "In the Occident ...the coast of the Gulf of Lyons and the Riviera to the mouth of the Tiber, ravaged by war and the [Muslim] pirates, whom the Christians, having no fleet, were powerless to resist, was now merely a solitude and a prey to piracy. The ports and the cities were deserted. The link with the Orient was severed, and there was no communication with the Saracen coasts. There was nothing but death" (Henri Pirenne, Mohammed and Charlemagne, p. 184).

The history of Muslim freebooting in the Mediterranean has never, I feel, been properly written. This is a great omission, as its effect upon history and the development of western civilization was profound, even decisive: For it was Muslim piracy, much more than regular warlike activity, that brought classical civilization in Europe to an end. This was the force which terminated, once and for all, the cultural and economic contacts between east and west, and which gave birth, as Pirenne rightly saw, to what we now call the Middle Ages. Of the situation at the time, we might agree with the judgment of a Dutch economic historian, who wrote: "One could say, in modern parlance, that an iron curtain now divided the Mediterranean, whose littoral had once formed an economic whole." (B. H. Slicher Van Bath, The Agrarian History of Western Europe, AD 500 - 1850, Edward Arnold, London, 1963).

The pillaging and slave-raiding which began in the seventh century never really came to an end. It continued incessantly, with varying degrees of intensity, until the beginning of the nineteenth century, and was to have a devastating effect not only on trade, but on the culture of every society bordering the Mediterranean, and eventually on the whole of Europe. And we should not imagine, as some authors do, that the revival of Europe during the eleventh century and the advance through the Mediterranean of fleets of Crusaders brought Muslim piracy to an end. This was emphatically not the case. Large, heavily armed fleets might move safely through the Mediterranean, but it was very different for merchant vessels. These, travelling alone, or in small and lightly-defended groups, were never safe. The Mediterranean remained a very dangerous place for all merchant shipping until the early nineteenth century!

The reality is that with the Muslim conquest of North Africa and Spain, a reign of terror was to commence that was to last for centuries. The war inSpain dragged on until the fifteenth century. By then, a new front was opened in Italy, as the rising power of the Ottoman Turks, having already engulfed Greece and the Balkans, threatened to penetrate Italy. This danger remained active and alive for the next three centuries, until the Turks were finally beaten back at the gates of Vienna in 1683. In the interim, the Pope was ready to flee from Rome on more than one occasion, as Ottoman fleets scoured the Mediterranean. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, it seemed that all of central Europe, including Hungary and Austria, was about to be overwhelmed; and though the imminent danger was averted by the victory of John Hunyadi at Belgrade (1456), it was renewed again in the sixteenth century, when an enormous Turkish invasion force was stopped by the Holy League at the naval battle of Lepanto (1571). And it is worth noting here that the Turkish losses at Lepanto, comprising 30,000 men and 200 out of 230 warships, did not prevent them returning the following year with another enormous fleet: Which speaks volumes for their persistence and the perennial nature of the threat they posed. A short time before this, in the 1530s, the Turks had extended their rule westwards along the North African coast as far as Morocco, where they encouraged an intensification of slaving raids against Christian communities in southern Europe. Fleets of Muslim pirates brought devastation to the coastal regions of Italy, Spain, southern France, and Greece. The Christians of the islands, in particular, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearics, had to get used to savage pirate raids, bent on rape and pillage.

These events had a profound effect on the character of the Christian peoples of the region, a fact which has never been fully appreciated by Northern Europeans. From the vantage-point of London or Paris, the Saracens, Ottomans and the Barbary Pirates do not loom large. From Rome however things looked quite different. Rome, the very seat of the Catholic faith, was for centuries on the front line of this never-ending war. Viewed from central Italy, the paranoia of Medieval Popes about heresies and internal enemies becomes somewhat more understandable.

And the people of Spain, who held the front line of the bloody boundary for centuries, were transformed. The war against Islam became the raison d'être for almost all Spanish kings. It was a perennial project: Not an obsession, more like a normal part of life. It was taken for granted that there could never be peace with the Islamic world. How could it be otherwise, when making war against the infidel world was a religious duty for every Muslim. Jihad was a state of permanent war which excluded the possibility of a true peace.

So, Islam destroyed the economy of Europe, and, by its devastating and incessant raiding along Europe's southern flank, produced a warlike and paranoid culture in those regions. But that was not all. For, in the centuries after the seventh, Islamic ideas, about all kinds of things, began to impact on Europe. In those areas of southern Europe where the Muslims became powerfully established, such as Spain and Sicily, Islamic culture early began to influence that of the Christians to the north.

It is of course widely accepted nowadays that Islam had an enormous ideological impact upon Europe. Historians tend to focus on certain scientific and philosophical ideas, especially those of philosophers such as the tenth-century Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and the later Averroes (Ibn Rushd), who made extensive commentaries upon Aristotle, and who are routinely touted as examples of Islam's benevolent impact upon Europe. But there was a darker, a much darker, side to Islamic influence, the side that modern historians, chained by the bonds of political correctness, do not dare mention. The real ideological impression of Islam was not the enlightened thinking of Avicenna and Averroes, who were in any case rejected and expelled from the Muslim canon, but the darker thinking found in the Koran and the Haditha: the doctrines of perpetual war against non-believers; of holy deception (taqiyya); of death for apostates and heretics; of judicial torture; of slave and concubine-taking as a legitimate occupation. These were the teachings, and not those of the philosophers, which left an indelible imprint on medieval Europe. And this began right at the beginning.

The first Islamic (or Koranic) idea to find followers in Europe, and the one most obvious and recognized, was the impulse to iconoclasm, to the destruction of religious imagery. Iconoclasm began sometime between 726 and 730 when the Byzantine Emperor Leo III ordered the removal and destruction of all sacred statues and images throughout the Empire. His justification for doing so came from the Old Testament denunciation of idol-worship, yet it is evident that the real inspiration came from Islam.

The question of the Iconoclast episode is one of primary importance. What—historians have asked—could have prompted Byzantine Emperors to go against one of the most fundamental tenets of their faith (honoring of sacred images) and commence destroying these in a manner reminiscent of Oliver Cromwell? Such action can only have been prompted by a crisis of the most profound kind. We know that in the early years the advance of Islam seemed unstoppable. The Empire suffered defeat after defeat. Within little more than a few decades she had lost all her Middle Eastern possessions outside Anatolia. These included the most prosperous and populous provinces, Egypt and Syria; core areas of the Empire, and part of Imperial territory for seven hundred years. The Empire was experiencing its darkest days; and the fall of Constantinople must have seemed inevitable. And it is precisely crises of such type—those which threaten our very existence—that lead people to question fundamentals. The Empire's losses had been so great that Constantinople, it seems, began to think the unthinkable. Perhaps God is angry with the Christians; perhaps they were doing something wrong that the Muslims had been doing right! A central tenet of Islam is the rejection of images, which are regarded as idols and their honoring condemned as idolatry. Perhaps the Saracens are right, and we are idolaters. Perhaps the Empire was offending Heaven, and its fortunes would improve once this was put right.

If this was the psychology behind the Byzantine Iconoclasm, then it is clear that Constantinople did not willingly and enthusiastically adopt Islamic thinking. Rather, the success of the new faith from Arabia was such that the Byzantines began to believe that it might enjoy God's favor. Islamic ideas were therefore considered as a way of resolving a terrible crisis. Yet, it is important to remember that, for whatever reason, Islamic ideas were copied. The whole of Christendom, East and West, was threatened; and, one way or another, ideas derived from Islam itself began to be considered by Christians as an answer to that very crisis.

The next Islamic idea to be adopted by the Christians was that of Holy War. Early Christianity, of course, was profoundly, even fanatically, pacifist. The idea of going to war and fighting for Christ was contrary to everything the carpenter of Nazareth had taught. What then could have produced the militant, aggressive, and even violent Christianity that emerged in Europe in the tenth and eleventh centuries, at the time of the Crusades? Strangely, although this is a question of fundamental importance to European history, it is one that has rarely been addressed. Nonetheless, over the last few years a new opinion has emerged among historians: Christianity learned Holy War from Islam. I leave it to renowned academic and Islamophile Bernard Lewis to articulate it: "We are now expected to believe that the Crusades were an unwarranted act of aggression against a peaceful Muslim world. Hardly. The first call for a crusade occurred in 846 CE, when an Arab expedition to Sicily sailed up the Tiber and sacked St Peter's in Rome. A synod in France issued an appeal to Christian sovereigns to rally against 'the enemies of Christ,' and the pope, Leo IV, offered a heavenly reward to those who died fighting the Muslims. A century and a half and many battles later, in 1096, the Crusaders actually arrived in the Middle East. The Crusades were a late, limited, and unsuccessful imitation of the jihad – an attempt to recover by holy war what was lost by holy war. It failed, and it was not followed up." (Bernard Lewis, 2007 Irving Kristol Lecture, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C., March 7, 2007).

One of the most outstanding characteristics of Medieval Europe, and one that above all other perhaps differentiates it from Classical Antiquity, was its theocracy. The Middle Ages were, par excellence, the age of priestly power. In the West, the influence of the Church was immense, reaching much further than it ever had under the Christian Roman Emperors or the Germanic kings of the fifth and sixth centuries. The Papacy now stood in judgment of kings and Emperors, and had the power to choose and depose them.

How did this come about? We know that the re-founding of the Western Empire under Otto the Great was intimately connected with the attempt to defend Western Christendom. This was a project undertaken jointly by Otto and Pope John XII. In years to come, the Empire would be renamed the Holy Roman Empire—a singularly appropriate title, for the Empire represented a symbiotic union, at the heart of Europe, of the spiritual and temporal authorities. The crowning of the Emperor—for which the inauguration of Charlemagne became the model—was an event loaded with religious significance and symbolism. Otto was ruler Dei gratis, and he made the Church the main instrument of royal government. His authority would henceforth not simply be derived from his own military and economic strength, as it had been under the Caesars and Germanic kings of the fifth and sixth centuries, but ultimately upon the sanction and approval of the Church.

There were of course several factors in this crucial development. Henri Pirenne noted that, with the decline in literacy and urban life in the seventh century—following the closing of the Mediterranean—kings were forced to look to the Church to supply the educated functionaries needed to run the apparatus of the state. Again, the loss of much of their tax revenue after the termination of the Mediterranean trade meant that the position of the monarch was weakened vis-à-vis the barons and minor aristocrats. These now gained in power and independence. The kings desperately needed a counterbalance to this, and the support of the Church carried great weight indeed. With the Church on their side the kings could - just about - keep the barons under control. But there was necessarily a trade-off. The Church might keep the king on his throne, but it gained in return an unheard-of power and influence. Eventually the kings of Europe became, quite literally, subordinate to the Pope, who could even, in extreme cases, dethrone them. Everything a medieval ruler did, or proposed to do, he had to do with the sanction of the Church. Even powerful and independent warriors, such as William of Normandy, could only proceed with a project like the invasion of England after gaining papal approval.

The Ottonian Emperors thus laid the foundations of the medieval theocracy; yet in their time (tenth century), the papacy was still relatively weak. It was to elicit the support of Otto I against his Italian opponents, that Pope John XII revived the dignity of Emperor in the West. Yet this was not the old Western Empire. Conditions had changed. Otto I and his successors staffed their administrations with churchmen, who by then clearly had a monopoly on learning and even literacy. The old, Roman world was very definitely a thing of the past. From this point on, the power of the Church would grow and grow. Yet even now the Church had to fight for supremacy, a struggle which commenced in the tenth century, with the aid of the Ottonians, and which ended in the eleventh, with papal victory. "They [Church reformers] fought to secure ultimate control of a self-contained, independent, dominant, monarchical Church. Such a contest was a frontal challenge to the old system of the Roman Empire. It was a frontal attack on the kings who presumed that they had inherited the rights of the Roman emperors. It was an indirect attack on the emperor of Constantinople who, in the East, continued to maintain the old system [of secular supremacy] and was now called schismatic for his pains" (Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Rise of Christian Europe, p. 137).

The very peak of the medieval Church's power came a century later in the age and in the person of Innocent III (1198 - 1216). This man judged between rival Emperors in Germany and had Otto IV deposed. He laid England under an interdict and excommunicated King John for refusing to recognize Stephen Langdon as Archbishop of Canterbury. His two most memorable actions however were the establishment of the Inquisition near the end of the twelfth century and the launching of the notorious Albigensian Crusade, which led to the elimination of the Cathar movement. Innocent III then, the most powerful of medieval theocrats, was a proponent of Holy War, and an enforcer of absolute doctrinal conformity. Apostasy under Innocent III became a capital offence. During his time too the other Crusades, against Islam in Spain and in the Middle East, continued to rage.

Ironically, Innocent's attitudes to apostasy and doctrinal conformity, as well as to "Holy War", are completely in accord with Islamic notions, and we must consider to what extent these extreme positions of the European theocracy derived ultimately from the Islamic one.

Islam itself was, of course, from the very beginning, theocratic in nature. In it, there was no "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's". Right from the start, in the person of Mohammed, spiritual and temporal power was united. After Mohammed, under the Caliphs, the same situation pertained. Every Caliph was, first and foremost, a "commander of the faithful". For all that, we cannot judge that the founding of theocracy in Europe was a result of deliberate imitation of Islamic notions, as was iconoclasm and Holy War. Islam's contribution to the European theocracy was real enough, but rather more accidental. As we saw, the impoverishment of Europe and her monarchs caused by Islam's blockade of the Mediterranean left them little option but to turn to the Church for support. Also, the fight for the defense of Europe, because of the very nature of the enemy, took on a religious dimension (all faiths gain in strength when faced with opposition), and this too would have increased the power and prestige of the Church.

So, whilst the medieval European theocracy was not the result of a direct imitation of Islamic ideas, Islam was still instrumental in giving birth to it. Furthermore, the type of theocracy which took shape in Europe, and some of the underlying ideas associated with it, very definitely derived from Islam.

We know that, from its inception, Islam regarded apostasy and heresy as capital offences. The most notorious, though by no means the only, example of this is found in the fate of Mansur Al-Hallaj (858–922), the Persian mystic, whose death mimicked that of Christ, though first Al-Hallaj was dismembered. And the killing of political and religious opponents, or those who deviated in any way from orthodox Islam, occurred at the very start and was continuous throughout Muslim history.

Medieval Christianity, beginning in the twelfth century, adopted the same attitude, which was unknown in the early Church. We must then enquire as to the source of such intolerance.

It is of course widely believed nowadays that the medieval Church's totalitarian attitude was derived simply from notions found in the Gospels. At the very least, it is believed that intolerance has a long pedigree in the Church and, if not implicit in the Gospels, was at least derived from doctrines promulgated at early Church Councils. Yet if such be the case, there is no great evidence of it before Innocent III's time. It is true, of course, that in the early centuries, the Church was involved in a series of prolonged and bitter disputes over the correct interpretation of Christ's words. Those who disagreed with the mainstream dogmas, as laid down by various Councils, were decreed to be heretics, and fairly severe condemnation of these people and groups was common: indeed, it was almost endemic. Yet it has to be stated that, intemperate as was the language used in these disputes, they rarely turned violent; and even when they did, the violence was on a very small scale and invariably perpetrated by those with no official sanction or approval. And the use of force to enforce orthodoxy was condemned by all the Church Fathers. Thus Lactantius declared that "religion cannot be imposed by force; the matter must be carried on by words rather than by blows, that the will may be affected." He wrote, "if you wish to defend religion by bloodshed, and by tortures, and by guilt, it will no longer be defended, but will be polluted and profaned."

Later, St. John Chrysostom wrote that "it is not right to put a heretic to death, since an implacable war would be brought into the world." Likewise, St. Augustine was to write of heretics that "it is not their death, but their deliverance from error, that we seek." In spite of these and many other such admonitions, incidents of violence against heretics did occur; but they were isolated and it was never sanctioned by the Church authorities. Such, for example, was the case with the suppression of the so-called Priscillian Heresy in Spain in the latter years of the fourth and early years of the fifth century. But the killing of Priscillian had no Church sanction, and was thoroughly condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities. The same was true of another, and more famous case—the murder of Hypatia. This incident, in the early fifth century, has achieved, in some quarters, almost legendary status, and is seen as the example par excellence of Christian bigotry and obscurantism. From what little we know of this incident, it is clear that, like the killing of the Priscillians, the murder had no official sanction, and was carried out by a group of lawless fanatics.

Although this was a horrific manifestation of religious bigotry, it was an isolated one, and it occurred in Egypt, a land with a long tradition of religious fanaticism. During the time of Julius Caesar, for example, and Egyptian mob lynched a Roman centurion (an act which could have brought upon them a terrible retribution) for having the temerity to kill a cat. Such isolated acts of fanaticism have occurred in all faiths at all periods of history. Even that most pacifist and tolerant of religious ideologies, Buddhism, is not entirely free of it. So, in itself, the murder of Hypatia cannot tell us much. That the Christian writer Socrates Scholasticus, in the fifth century, regarded it as a deplorable act of bigoted zeal, is very significant. We must remember however that John of Nikiu, another Christian commentator, this time of the eighth century (about a century after the Muslim conquest) described Hypatia as "a pagan" who was "devoted to magic" and who had "beguiled many people through Satanic wiles." And whilst Socrates Scholasticus condemned her killing, John of Nikiu approved it, speaking of "A multitude of believers in God" who, "under the guidance of Peter the magistrate ...proceeded to seek for the pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments."

John of Nikiu's attitude is clearly that of a medieval bigot and obscurantist, who regards all dissention from orthodox Christianity as the work of Satan. His thinking would not have been far removed from that of Innocent III, yet it was a world away from that of Socrates Scholasticus, his fellow-countryman three centuries earlier. And whilst we might plausibly blame the medieval outlook on the general poverty and illiteracy of Europe after the termination of the Mediterranean trade in the late seventh and eighth centuries, we cannot attribute John of Nikiu's attitudes to the same cause. He, after all, lived in a land that was not cut off from the great centres of learning of the Orient. He came from a land which, supposedly, remained wealthy and prosperous, and which was moreover ruled by Caliphs friendly towards science and learning. The supply of papyrus was never cut off from Egypt! Whence, then, came John of Nikiu's dark and unenlightened view? And if his attitude had been confined to him alone, it would hardly be significant. Yet, the fact is, by the beginning of the eighth century, shortly after the Muslim conquest, all writers in Egypt and throughout the Near East, both Christian and Muslim, took the same attitude. This is a crucial point: If the medieval outlook were simple the product of the illiteracy and poverty that prevailed in Europe after the closing of the Mediterranean (as one interpretation of Pirenne's ideas might have it), then we should not expect to find it in Muslim-controlled lands. Yet find it we do—and it occurs here even before it appears in Europe.

The view of the world we call "medieval" was one in which the reason and humanism of the classical world had all but disappeared. Dark fantasies and superstitions took its place. Belief in the power of magicians and sorcerers, a belief associated with the most primitive type of mind-set, made a comeback. In the most primitive of modern societies we still find perfectly innocent people accused of "witchcraft" and brutally put to death for a crime which they never committed and which does not even exist. By the end of the Middle Ages this mentality had returned to Europe; and in the fifteenth century a papal Bull, named Malleus Maleficarum ("Hammer of the Witches"), pronounced the death of witches and satanists. Even in Innocent III's time the "heretics" of the age, the Cathars and Waldensians, were believed to be under the inspiration of Satan.

Yet Europe, as she emerged from the so-called Dark Age in the tenth century, still bathed in the light of reason and humanitarianism. Thus a tenth century canon of Church Law criticized and condemned the belief among countryfolk that "certain women" were in the habit of riding out on beasts in the dead of night and crossing great distances before daybreak. According to the canon, anyone who believed this was "beyond doubt an infidel and a pagan." Somewhat earlier, Saint Agobard, Bishop of Lyons, declared it was
not true that witches could call up storms and destroy harvests. Nor could they devour people from within nor kill them with the "evil eye". "Only a few generations later," note Colin Wilson and Christopher Evans, "any person who did not believe in night flying and witches as the Church defined them was in danger of being burned as a heretic." What, ask the authors, had happened in the intervening years to change the Church's attitude?

In answer to that question, let us recall the comments of Lious Bertrand, who noted how, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries inquisitive young men from northern Europe flocked to Islamic Spain to study their knowledge and learning. But it was not so much the "science" of the Moors that attracted them as the pseudo-science: the alchemy, the astrology and the sorcery. Largely deprived of books and the urban society which fostered them, Islamic Spain and Islamic North Africa became the teachers of Medieval Europe. But what these regions taught was a far cry from the learning now so widely praised in the politically-correct textbooks that fill our libraries and bookshops.

John J. O'Neill is the author of Holy Warriors: Islam and the Demise of Classical Civilization, (Felibri Publications; August 2009).

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