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Europeans became acquainted with the East through the Crusades. They not only discovered its treasures but also its culture and civilization. Inspired by this, they illuminated the Middle Ages. What happened next?
20 Eylül 2023 Çarşamba


For Europeans, history begins in Palestine, continues in Greece and Rome, and finally culminates with the advanced civilization that Europe developed from the 16th century onwards. Apart from the Bible, historical materials other than Greek epics such as Homer and Roman chroniclers such as Tacitus were not respected or could not be relied upon.

Therefore, even today, the history of law, politics, economics, and art all follow this trajectory of Palestine-Greece-Rome-Europe. Other ancient civilizations are only considered in terms of archaeology and tourism. Thus, the line of humanity's success has consistently followed an upward path and reached its zenith in Europe.

"This is a level of civilization that humanity should follow with admiration. Those who have achieved this are Christian Europeans!" This is the idea that is sought to be imposed.

Heart Rate Graph

The ancient Roman civilization, in turn, is a product of Greece, and Greece is a product of Egypt. The Greeks adopted city-state organization from the Mesopotamians, while the Romans derived their "monumental" architecture from the Iranians. Mathematics and music have their origins in India, astronomy in Mesopotamia, and anatomy in Egypt.

Civilizations have often crumbled over time, disappeared from the world, and in many places even life has been wiped out by floods, disasters, and then reestablished. The trajectory of civilization is never a straight and upward line; it is filled with ups and downs, much like a heart rate graph.

However, centuries ago, long before Greece and Rome, in the Middle East and Asia, even across the oceans, there were high civilizations whose traces continue to astonish people up to now.

When you look at the works of Muslim historians, you can see that they discuss previous civilizations within the framework of the information available to them without harboring an inferiority complex or making prejudiced judgments. In the 16th century, the Ottoman historian Nişancızade included in his history book, "Mirat-i Qainaat" (Mirror of the Universe), not only the history of Muslims from Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) to his own time but also dedicated significant sections to the histories of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, India, and even Greece and Rome.


For centuries, Western thought has held onto the notion that civilization originated in Greece, developed in Rome, and finally reached its pinnacle in Europe. Strangely enough, they managed to convince the entire world of this idea.

According to them, "There is no such thing as Eastern civilization. There are only primitive people with eccentric but primitive cultures in the East." They initially viewed the East as a formidable enemy to be wary of, and then as an exploitable market. They tried to understand it within this framework.

However, after the dissolution of Roman civilization, European society lived a rather unremarkable life, unaware of luxuries like baths and basic sanitation. They got to know the East through the Crusades. They not only discovered its treasures but also its culture and civilization. Inspired by this, they illuminated the Middle Ages and even ushered in the Renaissance.

Especially during the Third Crusade, cultural exchange between Europe and the Islamic world was at its peak. Europe's most important figures, whether they were warriors, merchants, travelers, or pilgrims, went to the East. They became more aware of what was happening there than even today.



However, as time went on, Europe began to overlook the Eastern origins of its civilization, much like how the apprentice may not appreciate the master's skills. By the 14th century, Europe denied the influence of the East on its culture. They slowly began to perceive what they had borrowed as wrong and ugly. This change was partly due to the evolving and increasing conflicts with the Ottomans as they made their way into Europe.

In reaction to this, Europe not only denied what they had taken from the Arabs but also started to dislike, then demean, and ultimately disregard Arab culture.

Since it was believed that what the Arabs had known was merely copied from Ancient Greece, there was a sentiment that they should not waste time with the Arabs but rather return to the source. They believed they should drink water directly from the spring. The Arabs had learned from Greek and Roman culture and synthesized it. There was no reason for Europe to take from them and make a new synthesis.

This bold and somewhat naive approach took hold in Europe. In this chain of transmission, the Arab element was erased. The works on Ancient Greece that had previously been translated from Arabic were now being retranslated from Greek. The educated class developed an interest in learning Greek. This trend allowed them to bypass the Arab bridge and return to Antiquity.

Greek culture began to serve as a lever or crutch for Europe to break free from Arab influence. In this way, they believed they could overcome the "corruption" and "backwardness" that Arab culture had brought. Europe was now embarking on a new cultural adventure. This is the essence of the Renaissance and Humanism ideology – a concept that can be described as the rejection of an inherited legacy or ingratitude for the blessings received.

Changing Perspectives - Resisting Minds

After World War II, this prejudiced viewpoint gradually began to change. A perspective led by thinkers like René Guénon began to see the East as an independent civilization, which forms the key and essence of Western civilization.

Guénon points out that there is not a single world civilization that has gone through stages, but various civilizations that have developed independently in different directions, and thus it is wrong to classify them as superior or inferior to each other.

Many works have been written both in favor of and to some extent against the idea of Western culture having its origins in the East, that is, the way the East illuminated the West. However, in third-world countries that couldn't fully shake off the traces of colonialism and such as in Turkey where an inferiority complex still lingers, scholars still write and express their knowledge based on the pre-World War II perspective. This even surprises Europeans who find it difficult to comprehend.


Pope Graduated from Andalusia

Regardless of what anyone may say, during the Middle Ages, especially after the 11th century, European culture was profoundly and strikingly influenced by Muslim Arab culture. Europeans viewed Arab culture as a metropolitan culture.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, Europe looked at Arabs with envy and admiration, much like how the world views America today. They saw them as a cultural model. According to Europeans, the Arabs might have had a flawed religion, but in the name of God, they were ahead of the Europeans in fields like medicine, architecture, music, trade, law, botany, zoology, textiles, jewelry, clockmaking, and luxury goods.

Especially the influence of the urbanism concept, which was very advanced in the East, changed the social structure of Europe, which had been living in thatched-roof villages, except for a few small cities.

They Indeed Accomplished

The foundation of Roman civilization, Roman law, is based on the laws of Solon in Athens. Solon, in turn, derived these laws from Crete. The Cretan civilization, in its origins, traces back to Egypt. Therefore, the highly praised Roman civilization's origin is Egypt, where the mystery of the pyramids remain unsolved even today.

Rome and Greece are, in fact, part of Eastern civilization, not Western. The Mediterranean, primarily, is the heart of Eastern culture. In the Middle Ages, with the protection of Islam and through Andalusia and Sicily, a vibrant culture and civilization spread to Europe.

Andalusia, Sicily, and even Tunisian universities were filled with students from Europe. Pope Sylvester, for instance, graduated from the University of Cordoba. These students brought back what they learned to their homelands and established the civilization that Europeans later took pride in.

From Arabic to Latin

Indeed, thousands of European students who studied in Muslim universities learned Arabic. This is because Arabic is the language of science. Thousands of books on various subjects were translated from Arabic into European languages. The knowledge of ancient Greece and even the pre-Islamic culture of the Middle East were learned and recognized through the efforts of Muslim Arabs.

In Latin, which forms the basis of many European languages to some extent, there are no articles like "the," "el," "le," "la," "der," "die," or "das." However, Arabic has articles. Starting from the 9th and 10th centuries, Romance languages derived from Latin (Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, French, Romanian) began to use articles around the same time.

The Spanish definite article "el" bears a striking resemblance to its counterpart in Arabic. Much has been written and discussed about this. It may not have been directly borrowed from Arabic, but the pronouns in Latin, influenced by Arab culture, evolved into articles in modern languages. Moreover, the Latin alphabet itself is based on the Phoenician alphabet, which is of Semitic origin.

Arabic medicine entered Europe through the Salerno School of Medicine in Southern Italy. A Tunisian named Constantinus Africanus was invited to a hospital under the control of priests in Salerno, where he translated numerous medical books from Arabic to Latin. This institution is considered the ancestor of all medical faculties in Europe.

Alhambra Palace, Spain
Alhambra Palace, Spain

The Influence of Arab Culture in Academia

The European universities that emerged in the early 13th century were essentially replicas of Muslim universities. This influence extended beyond architectural designs and attire; it also encompassed administrative models, educational methods and curriculum. Even textbooks were adaptations of Arabic works.

Hastings Rashdall's three-volume work, "The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages," published in 1895, vividly illustrates the significant impact of Arab influence, especially in the field of academia, in Europe.

This influence, particularly in the fields where Arabs were highly advanced such as medicine, mathematics, and astronomy, was indeed quite direct. However, when it comes to law, which had different origins and systems, it was not directly copied. Islamic law, known as Sharia, is a highly developed and sophisticated legal system.

During this period, in Europe, legal practices were a mixture of Germanic customs and some remnants of Roman law. Europeans attempted to apply the Arab model to Roman law in order to create a systematic civil law.

From the 11th century onwards, the Law Faculties of Bologna and Pavia, which aimed to revive Roman law in Europe, greatly benefited from the systematic approach of Islamic jurisprudence while doing so. In this way, they established the logical and theoretical foundation of Roman law.