Thomas Jefferson and the Islamic Golden Age


It is fascinating these days to watch the American focus on the founding of their great nation.



A Great Christian Nation they might say. Yet, we read history and see what great debates actually occurred back then.  Just imagine the following words coming out of the mouth of any current US president. Imagine if Obama were caught writing such things. The scandal it would create.

"The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me. . ."
 But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear. 

I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians. 

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.  
Priests...dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subversions of the duperies on which they live. 
And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors. 

You can read more about Thomas Jefferson and religion here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Jefferson_and_religion

This is not to say Thomas Jefferson would not see himself as a Christian.  But look at the hostility towards the Church.  Even questioning the authenticity and basic writings of the Bible itself. I marvel at the discourse such people put out there.  Indeed, he was called an infidel by various religious groups.  Can you imagine a modern US politician saying such things?

Indeed, it seems the level of intellectual and philosophical discourse appears less today. People retreat to their comfort zone. The public sphere void of such discussions.  Perhaps it is that the fight is no longer and the church no longer a great political threat. So there is little need to address it. Yet even in such a state, the eternal questions of being and existence are at the heart of all people. That this philosophy does not exist at the public sphere is a detriment to society.

The Islamic Golden Age

Much like some Americans, Muslims have this myth of the Islamic Golden Age.  Great Muslim scientists roamed the Muslim lands. If only we could have Islamic rule, we would bring back the Islamic Golden Age. Or so goes the Myth.

The reality is much different.  The great debates during the Islamic Golden Age would shock Muslims today. The writings and actions of the thinkers, scientists, and rulers during those time who shock modern Muslims. As Islam spread into the other civilization in Persia and Europe, it captured much of the debate in those areas. By what right do orthodox Muslims claim the name of the great Muslim scientists, who they would probably denounce as an Infidel or Heretic if they were alive today?

  Abū Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakarīya al-Rāzi

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_ibn_Zakariya_al-Razi

He made great contributions to the field of medicine, music philosophy.
Some of it is disputed, but almost anyone would agree he held very controversial views. Some of his quality quotes

You claim that the evidentiary miracle is present and available, namely, the Koran. You say: "Whoever denies it, let him produce a similar one." Indeed, we shall produce a thousand similar, from the works of rhetoricians, eloquent speakers and valiant poets, which are more appropriately phrased and state the issues more succinctly. They convey the meaning better and their rhymed prose is in better meter. ... By God what you say astonishes us! You are talking about a work which recounts ancient myths, and which at the same time is full of contradictions and does not contain any useful information or explanation. Then you say: "Produce something like it"?
 If the people of this religion are asked about the proof for the soundness of their religion, they flare up, get angry and spill the blood of whoever confronts them with this question. They forbid rational speculation, and strive to kill their adversaries. This is why truth became thoroughly silenced and concealed

 as a result of [religious people] being long accustomed to their religious denomination, as days passed and it became a habit. Because they were deluded by the beards of the goats, who sit in ranks in their councils, straining their throats in recounting lies, senseless myths and "so-and-so told us in the name of so-and-so..."
The people who gather round the religious leaders are either feeble-minded, or they are women and adolescents. Religion stifles truth and fosters enmity. If a book in itself constitutes a demonstration that it is true revelation, the treatises of geometry, astronomy, medicine and logic can justify such a claim much better than the Quran.

Al-Ma'arri

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Ma%CA%BFarri

He was a very controversial rationalist. There is even a statue of him in Syria.
Do not suppose the statements of the prophets to be true; they are all fabrications. Men lived comfortably till they came and spoiled life. The sacred books are only such a set of idle tales as any age could have and indeed did actually produce.
The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts: those with brains, but no religion, and those with religion, but no brains.

Omar Khayyam

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omar_Khayy%C3%A1m
He was a Persian polymath: philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and poet. He also wrote treatises on mechanics, geography, mineralogy, music, and Islamic theology

There have been widely divergent views on Khayyám. According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr no other Iranian writer/scholar is viewed in such extremely differing ways. At one end of the spectrum there are nightclubs named after Khayyám, and he is seen as an agnostic hedonist. On the other end of the spectrum, he is seen as a mystical Sufi poet influenced by platonic traditions.

General Persona

I'm not going to go through an extensive list of such people. You are free to see them here:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_science

Many were religious while others were more spiritual or even people who rejected religion.  To debate which one was which or what their real views were is not of particular interest.  There was enough diversity and thought in all of them.

What I want to emphasize is the degree of thought and diversity that existed.  They drew heavily from Western philosophical thinking of Aristotle and others. Many tried to merge rationalism and science with religion.  It is in this interplay that the great science within Islamic lands occurred.

In these times, is it not strange the public discourse in Islam seems less... though it is changing.  The philosophical discourse seems lessened.  The desire of intellectuals to discover the world and the philosophical nature of humanity and existence is lessened.  Islamic science reduced to claiming these intellectuals as their own, while teaching dogma that wouldn't allow such thought today.  Reduced to mindless ranting on how vague versus in the Koran talked about embryology or other vague associations. How many  choose instead to actually be great scientists and discover the truth of existence? How many Imams read the great philosophical works?  How many reject it as Al-Ghazali did... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Ghazali ...?

The Islamic Golden Age has more to do with the desire to seek truth, seek the meaning of existence, asking question after question, rationalism, and diverse open thought, seeking knowledge from all sources, philosophical introspection... essentially things that are today stereotyped as being 'Western' and thus rejected.

With such great diversity of thought and introspection during the supposed Golden Age, how can we claim it progress to see such a lack of it today?

 




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