Turkey in Europe & Europe in Turkey
The Philosophies of Islam, Greece and the West
The Arabs, who had been converted to Islam and who lived in the regions
to the south and east of the Mediterranean, came into contact with the
Orthodox Greek, Jewish, and after them the Hellenic civilisations (as well
as the Roman civilisation as part of the latter) in the middle of the
seventh century, particularly in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt.
As they explored the countries to the north of the Mediterranean Sea as far as the Iberian peninsula, they communicated with Europe through Anatolia and Sicily. Moreover, by means of religion, commerce, and politics Islam brought together Iran, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.
Islamic doctrine disclaims coercion and the use of force. The Koran
defines the Prophet as a "messenger", and God declares: "We sent thee but
as a mercy for all creatures" (XXI, 107).
Until then the Arabs had been continually occupied in fighting among themselves. Islam unified them, and in so doing directed beyond their own boundaries the energies which they had been wasting in futile quarrels. The result was the creation by the Arabs of a great empire.
This empire was built not exclusively by Muslims though they were in the majority but also by Christians, for numerous Christian tribes fought in the ranks of the Arab armies which conquered Persia and the Byzantine territories.
The expansion of Islam had a profound influence on the ageing and
fragmented cultural heritage of these regions; Iran, for example,
experienced an important religious revival. The culture of India too was
diffused around the Mediterranean basin through the intermediary of Islam,
as were the cultures of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.
As these cultural riches reached Central Asia, Khorasan, and other territories inhabited by the Turks, Turkish thinkers were attracted by them to the shores of the eastern Mediterranean. This process had started even before the time of the Seljuks.
At the same time that this formidable expansion beyond the Arabian
peninsula was taking place, an enlarged vision of the world was imposing
itself on philosophy.
Probably the greatest contribution of Islam to universal thought was its absolute monotheism. With Islam, belief in God reached, theologically speaking, its ultimate position. The new religion advocated a more profound pursuit of knowledge and the use of reason in order to understand divine revelation.
The universe is perceived by the Muslim as being a unified system, which facilitates comprehension of the principles of causality and determinism that rule it. In response to the exhortations of the Koran, Muslims devoted much more time than hitherto to these new concerns.
Pre-Socratic philosophy also influenced Muslim philosophers, especially
those of the Mutazilite school. The influence of Plato and Aristotle was
such that they designated the former `divine' and the latter `first
The last and greatest philosopher of the Hellenistic period, Plotinus, also occupied a very important place in Muslim thinking. Plotinus extended Platonism by conferring on it a mystical dimension that rendered it compatible with monotheism. His theory was known as Neoplatonism.
Plotinus agreed with Plato that Ideas were the archetypes of everything that existed. According to him, the eternal and invisible One was everywhere present. From Him proceeded Mind; from Mind, Soul; from Soul, Matter; three hypostases of the Godhead.
The original One manifested itself in multiple appearances, but this multiplicity tended to reintegrate into Oneness by means of Love.
These concepts, as I have shown, marked the beginnings of Christianity, and were instrumental in reconciling the culture of ancient Greece with the new religion.
The philosophical ideas of Plotinus spread into Syria and Egypt, particularly Alexandria, which was the most important cultural centre of the Hellenistic era. Christianized Greek philosophy penetrated the Muslim world through Alexandria, especially following the closure of the Academy of Athens when the philosophers of the Academy took refuge there. At A.lexandria the works of Plato were translated first into Syriac, then into Aramaic, and finally into Arabic.
The scholars of Islam contented themselves initially with translating
and interpreting the works of the Hellenistic period, hence their
philosophy was at first scarcely original. Later, however, the numerous
translations under- taken at the beginning of the Abbasid period (ninth
century) provoked an expansion of thought which generated new philosophies
of religion and law, and a philosophy of mysticism.
As a result of this massive classicist movement, comparable only to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the translations of Greek philosophers reached Baghdad through Edessa (Urfa) and Harran, where Islamic philosophical schools were created. While the revival of the reasoning mind was creating great Islamic works in this part of the world, in the West, including the Eastern Roman Empire, intellectual activity stagnated.
It was Islamic philosophy, acting as a cultural relay, which kept alive and ensured the continuity of the Greek philosophical tradition until the Italian Renaissance.
Philosophy and theology were thus continuing to develop and to produce important works, especially between the seventh and fourteenth centuries. I will try simply and briefly to show how and to what extent they were influenced by ancient Greece, and how they in their turn have influenced Western thought. I will choose for my examples either Turkish philosophers or those related in some way to Anatolia.
Abu Nasr Farabi (870-950), called Avennasar, was born at Bukhara in Central Asia, homeland of the Turks. Equally devoted to music, medicine, and mathematics he was not only a celebrated musician but more particularly one of the greatest philosophers of the Aristotelian school. He was called the `second teacher', the first being Aristotle. He was the first and greatest of the Turks who have commented on, and refined, the thought of Greek philosophy.
Al-Farabi was an eclectic thinker who was familiar with the works of
Plotinus, Porphyry, and Zeno, the systems of Pythagorus, the school of
Cyrene and Aristippus, the Stoics, Diogenes, Pyrrhon, and Epicurus. He
tried to form a synthesis of the concepts of Plato and Aristotle, and to
harmonise science with Koranic law.
The primary activity of the Muslim and Christian philosophers still under the influence of Greek thought was an attempt to reconcile the rational side of Hellenistic philosophy with the principles of monotheistic religion.
According to Al-Farabi, only philosophers were capable of contemplating
naked truth; others needed to be taught through the veil of religious
symbolism. This effectively placed the intelligence of philosophers above
He was much criticised for this stance and for his efforts to reconcile incompatible notions. Nevertheless, Islamic doctrine occupied a very important place in his work.
In politics he seems to have found no need for reconciliation. While
advocating a Utopian political philosophy inspired by Plato's views on the
State, he accepted the existence of a different real society.
He dreamed of a humanist State, gathering the whole of humanity into a sort of cosmopolitanism reminiscent of the universal citizenship of Zeno. He was probably influenced to an equal degree by the idea of a universal Islamic society.
Like Hobbes, he saw in the universe a continual struggle where the
strong triumphed over the weak. It appeared to him necessary that the
strong and the weak should come to an understanding with each other in
order to survive, anarchy being the only other outcome.
To sum up, he believed that man had created society by a voluntary agreement. He thus revealed himself to be the distant precursor of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his Social Contract.
Al-Farabi was a determinist as far as nature was concerned. This was a
consequence of his metaphysical doctrine, founded on the belief that God
was a necessary Being, and that He gave His creation only to Himself.
Al-Farabi perceived creation in the same way as Plato, God being neither nature, creative and without conscience, nor an arbitrary will. God, the One, created Intelligence, and also the heavens, from the empyrean level to the sub-lunar universe that we inhabit, this material universe being subject to births and changes.
Al-Farabi differed from theologians on several points. The main issue was his refusal to admit that the union of the spirit and the body survived after death. On this point Farabi diverges from dogmatic theology.
His theory of knowledge, inspired by Aristotle, rested on an empirical
and rational base. He distinguished three sources of knowledge:
perception, intellect, and speculation. Locke accepted only the first; the
second produces what Descartes called 'innate ideas'.
Al-Farabi considered the intellect as having four aspects: the active intellect (`aql fa al), the intellect in potential (aql bi'l quwa), the actualised intellect (aql bi'l fi'l) and the acquired intellect ('aql mustafad).
Al-Farabi could not discover any rational passage between metaphysics
and mysticism. He accorded mysticism a place in his doctrine, but did not
try to systematise it, considering it to be an individual spiritual state
and not communicable.
It is impossible, he said, to conceive God in his Oneness, because He does not reveal to us all His attributes. It is the power of His manifestations which prevent us from seeing Him.
Several scholars, including Steinschneider (1868), have studied
Al-Farabi and have noted his influence on the West. A number of his works
were translated into Latin, though some of the more important ones were
not known in the West during the Middle Ages.
However, the distinction of the four degrees of the intellect was taken up by the Latins. The treatise De divisions philosophiae by D. Gondisalvi, one of the principal Spanish translators of the Middle Ages, adopted Al-Farabi's classification, inspired by Aristotle, leaving aside the then traditional trivium and quadrivium.
It is known that the various translations of the works of Al-Farabi influenced Albertus Magnus and St Thomas Aquinas. Robert Hommand compared some treatises of AI-Farabi to certain chapters of the Summa Theologica, and showed that there were great similarities between the two.
With regard to Neoplatonism and Aristotelianism, Al-Farabi served as a reference for Christian philosophers who attempted in the Middle Ages to regenerate Augustinianism.
Ibn Sina (Avicenna) was born at Afshana, in the vicinity of Bukhara. He acquired in his lifetime a prodigious reputation. It is astonishing that he found enough time to write such an extraordinary number of works during such a relatively short and eventful life.
His first interest was medicine, and he gathered together, classified, and codified all the medical knowledge of his time. His Canon of Medicine merits him a place beside Hippocratus and Galen among the greatest doctors.
Just as St Thomas Aquinas represents the summit of Scholasticism in the West, Avicenna represents its peak in the East. In his work, empiricism and rationalism are allied. His triple classification of sciences into those of forms not detached from matter (natural or inferior sciences), those of forms detached from matter (metaphysics, logic, or superior sciences), and those of forms detachable from matter only in the mind (mathematics), anticipates Leibniz.
He considered logic to be a tool which could be used either within
philosophy or outside it. Like Al-Farab he believed that some kinds of
knowledge could be acquired directly by intuition, while other knowledge
was deduced from certain categorical principles.
He attached a great deal of importance to experience, but considered it to be subordinate to logical rationalism to the extent that his system led, like that of Leibniz, to idealism.
Avicenna was the first to use the Ontological Proof as a point of
departure. According to him, thought and being were one; being was
inconceivable without thought. Being was the object of metaphysics.
But Avicenna did not prove being by thought, as did Descartes; he identified being with thought. This proof, utilized for the first time in the West by St Anselm, later became part of Scholastic thinking.
The image of the 'flying man', invented by Avicenna, spread through the medieval West and was used by both St Bonaventura and Albertus Magnus. To the question: 'Can the soul be aware of its existence without the body?' Avicenna replied: 'Imagine a man flying in a void. His organs would not register any sensation, and perhaps he would not feel like a three dimensional being. But he would be aware of not experiencing his body, which means that the soul is a spiritual reality.'
The influence of Avicenna on the West was considerable. A Latin translation of the Shifa, his most important work after the Canon, was made and published in the sixteenth century under the title of Sufficentia.
At the beginning of the tenth century the West knew nothing of Plato except the Timeaus. A century later, talk of Avicenna was heard for the first time when a book by the Jewish philosopher, Salomon Ben Gabirol, published in Latin under the title Fons vitae, was criticised by St Thomas Aquinas.
Latin translations multiplied in the twelfth century. Farabi, Avicenna, and the Organon of Aristotle were discovered. These encounters enlarged the intellectual horizon of the West. Another Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, made special mention of Avicenna in one of his own works, praising him highly and preferring him to Aristotle.
In the thirteenth century new translations of Avicenna began to circulate. His ideas were also used by those who sought to revive Augustinianism.
Avicenna is the thinker who most influenced the medieval Christian. The
most developed form of Avicennism is found in the illuminism of Roger
Bacon. The classification of the intelligence according to Al-Farabi and
Avicenna was adopted by Albertus Magnus.
Later it was the Jew, Johannes Hispalensis, who contributed to spreading the work of Avicenna in the West. It was he who, together with Gondisalvi, translated the De anima. Then in 1495 and 1500 he had published in Venice, under the title Opera, a compilation of all the translations of Avicenna's works.
St Thomas Aquinas, while studying Averroes, compared him to Avicenna,
and criticised both in Contra Averroistas. Certain of his criticisms are
interesting. According to Avicenna, in order to achieve knowledge of the
general it is necessary to start with that of the particular.
This type of reasoning demands the intervention of the 'lower faculties' such as imagination and memory, and amounts to saying that a metaphysical integrity cannot be achieved without a naturalist and analytical approach.
In other words, according to Avicenna, 'the intelligible' is attained only through the universe of sensations. St Thomas judged this approach to be contrary to Platonism, and in his view 'the intelligible' was attained through distancing oneself from sensations.
Avicenna defined the soul, after Aristotle, as the 'form' of the body (entelecheia), and as substance not depending on the body (substantia). The second definition leads to the conclusion that the soul is independent of the body, an opinion later formulated by Descartes.
Finally, in contrast to Al-Farabi, Avicenna placed prophets above philosophers, since a prophet is one who unites theory and practice, intelligence and faith. Revelation does not come to him through the intermediary of the Angel Gabriel, but is the result of high intuition, proper to the intelligence.
Islamic philosophy accords an important place to what is called 'kalam', a term which signifies `theology', literally, like the `logos' of Heraclitus, `word'. However, 'kalam' does not indicate in this instance the influence of Heraclitus but that of Ghazali (1050-1111), who was born at Tus, a town of Khorasan in Central Asia.
Ghazali studied philosophy and the sciences and, doubting the validity
of certitude's obtained via the intelligence and sensations, inclined
towards scepticism. According to him, the sciences did not allow access to
Mathematics was a simple instrument of demonstration, and did not take account of the complexity of the universe. Logic was a more general device which could be used for or against an idea. In so far as one stayed within the limits of logic and mathematics, one could trust them. On the other hand, metaphysics was contentious.
Ghazali produced twenty books in which he criticise the philosophers
who, like Avicenna, followed Plato and Aristotle. He particularly attacked
their attempts to reconcile intelligence and faith, since he deemed faith
not to be explicable by intelligence. Eternity of matter is contrary to
dogma. According to Greek philosophy, the God who makes use of this matter
is a 'demiurge' (craftsman) whereas, according to Islam, God is 'creator'.
Furthermore, it is unthinkable that God, who knows universal laws, genres, and the All, does not know about particular events. To claim that such events obey natural laws tends to deny the will of God. Now the will of God exists, and the fact that events seem to obey laws demonstrates only that our reason is shaped by habitual occurrences. God can always alter the mental habits which we call natural laws.
This is the explanation for miracles. This criticism of the principle of causality is the basis of Ghazali's scepticism, and is similar to later critiques by Hume.
At the point where intelligence and faith part company, Ghazali found
no option other than mysticism.
Because it is impossible to base a system of metaphysics on the intelligence, the only recourse is to a mystical knowledge perceived by intuition.
Ghazali thus became the Muslim philosopher nearest to the West, and the
most modern. In one of his works he speaks of an 'external eye' turned
towards the world, and an `internal eye' turned towards spiritual reality,
as well as two intelligences related to them.
That which he calls the 'internal eye', or the `eye of the heart', has no relation to reason. One thinks of St Augustine's `gaze turned towards God', or Pascal's 'reason of the heart'.
The influence of Ghazali on the West was considerable. The priest,
Ramon Marti, without naming him, gave an important place in his work to
the ideas of Ghazali. Pascal did the same in his `Thoughts', without
St Thomas Aquinas used certain ideas of Ghazali in Contra Gentiles; William of Occam, Gondisalvi, and C. Baemker derived their scepticism from his.
It was the philosopher and historian Bar Hebraeus who, in the
thirteenth century, made Ghazali known to the West. This priest of the
eastern Church exerted a great influence.
Not only did he copy the plan of Ghazali's Ihya but he used certain examples from it. His accurate quotations prove that Christian theological thinkers found in Ghazali the most highly evolved form of the ideas which they agreed with.
However, Bar Hebraeus did not mention Ghazali by name because of the hostility then existing between Christianity and Islam.
The Spaniard, Miguel Asin Palacios, is the present-day thinker who has
most widely studied the influence of Ghazali on Western thought. He
accords to Pascal a special place among the modern thinkers who were
influenced by Ghazali.
The great similarity of their ideas on the `beyond' is interesting. The `beyond' and the wager it involves are almost the same in both Ghazali and Pascal.
The wager is described thus: If you win by gambling that the `beyond' exists, you win everything; if you lose, you lose nothing. This wager is recommended to those who hesitate to believe in a `beyond' because there is no absolute certainty of its existence.
Ghazali and Pascal arrive at the same conclusion: even supposing that the `beyond' does not exist, the non- believer who acts virtuously in this world and subdues his passions will find a peace of the soul greatly preferable to transient pleasures.
Similar opinions are found in one form or another in the philosophers who preceded Pascal. The same views were also shared by his contemporaries, Silhon and Sirmond. Palacios describes the long journey of this idea from Ghazali to Pascal, by way of Blanchet.
Briefly, the distinction that Ghazali brought about had important
consequences. The rational metaphysicians, such as Al-Farabi and Avicenna,
had neglected the critical role of the intelligence, making it the servant
of a science yet insufficiently developed.
Philosophy was not able to free itself from Scholasticism until after the separation of the domains of pure intelligence and experience. This separation was brought about by William of Occam in the West, and in part by Ghazali in the East. Science only started to develop once the facts of experience were submitted to critical examination.
We have so far spoken only of the so-called Hellenizing philosophers, and among them only those of Turkish origin.
The works of the first Muslim philosopher, Al-Kindi, were translated into Latin. His fidelity to Aristotle caused him to be treated as a `heretic'.
The Andalusian, Averroes (1126-98), was the philosopher most translated in the West, where he was considered to be the most important commentator on Aristotle and the greatest Muslim philosopher, the others being less well known. On the other hand, Averroes was not so widely known in the East.
His works, and those of Aristotle, were translated and printed in Venice between 1472 and 1500, and by 1580 had been reprinted in Bologna, Rome, Paris, Strasbourg, Naples, Geneva, and Lyon. Averroism was disseminated by Siger of Brabant.
Islamic philosophy did not limit itself to borrowing's from Greek philosophy. While attempting to emphasize the relationship between Islam, a Mediterranean culture, and Greek culture, equally of Mediterranean origin, I also want to deal with the naturalist concepts of certain Islamic philosophers.
These were inspired by the pre-Socratic Anatolian scholars and
Physicists such as Democritus, Empedocles, Pythagoras, Thales,
Hippocrates, and Galen, and by the Stoics.
They were the first empiricists, utilising experimental method and inductive reasoning. They held that science could base itself only on the experience of the senses, but accepted that God and mind existed beyond the material world.
Rhazes, the founder of this school, perceived the possibility of
psychosomatic medicine, and considered that every physical illness also
had roots in the psyche.
His most important work was translated into Latin in the thirteenth century under the title Continens. Rhazes demonstrated a broad-minded liberalism towards all religions and beliefs. This was also the attitude of Emperor Akbar in the India of the sixteenth century.
The Abbasids were very tolerant, so Rhazes was never the object of persecution, even though he declared that there was one point in common between all the prophets, despite their contradictory opinions: their claim to be messengers of God.
The religious philosophy of thinkers influenced by the naturalists was
expressed in the Mutazilite movement. They were rationalizes and
individualists, and based their doctrine on reason and justice. God, in
their view, acted not arbitrarily but equitably.
They took the principle of human liberty as their basis for establishing a code of responsibility and punishment. They refused categorically to define God with adjectives applicable to man.
The influence of Greek philosophy is again evident. Mutazila spread over a wide area from the Iberian peninsula to Khorasan and Khwarizm where the Turks lived, and which remained the last bastion of this school until the Mongolian invasions.
The materialists, who were at variance with the naturalists, also established a school. For them matter was the only reality; God did not exist.
Ibn Rawandi, one of the founders of this movement, challenged the doctrine of Islam, the concept of prophecy, and belief in the creation of the universe. Having begun as a Mutazilite, he subsequently became an atheist.
I will not dwell at length on mysticism, which occupies a special place
in Islamic thought, but must mention the name of Ibn Arabi, since he is
relevant to my theme.
Although he was born in Andalusia, he composed some of his works in Anatolia, an interesting example of the extraordinary mobility of Muslims of long ago, who traveled the world of Islam from east to west or west to east with great ease.
His work shows how Islamic culture overcame political divisions. Ibn
Arabi was a contemporary of Mevlana Jalal al-Din Rumi. He professed a kind
of spiritual pantheism, God being the only Reality.
Like Plotinus, Ibn Arabi saw in the universe an act of God, the realisation of one of the infinite virtuosities of God. For him, truth consisted of the Tawhid, the divine Oneness: God was first and last, he was Unique.
The concept of 'the perfect man', a reflection of God, is important. The essence of God and that of 'perfect man' (al-insan al-Kamil) are the same, without any suggestion of incarnation. The highest summit to which man may aspire is Love, and the existence of each thing is an emanation of divine Love.
In parts of the Arab world theologians were opposed to Ibn Arabi, and accused him of impiety. In Anatolia, in contrast, he was well received and respected, and his ideas became integrated into Turkish culture. When the attacks against him increased, Suleyman the Magnificent collected and published his ideas.
It has been claimed that Ibn Arabi was a significant influence on
Dante. That is not certain, though Asin Palacios did point out a great
similarity between the ascension as it is described in the Divine Comedy
and the celestial ascension (al-mi'raj) of the Prophet Muhammad (Koran,
sura XVII, verse 1).
In the nineteenth century the Frenchman Ozanam asserted that Dante had read the works of several Muslim mystics and philosophers. D. Ancona, C. Labitte, and Modi de Goeje were also of this opinion. Asin Palacios showed that Dante drew on Islamic legend in depicting the Inferno as a pit with a number of levels.
I hope I have shown, at least in part, how and to what extent Islamic philosophy was influenced by Greek philosophy, Anatolian natural science, and, above all, Neoplatonism.
Far from limiting itself to conserving and commenting on the works of
Greek philosophers, Islamic philosophy developed its own original works
based on them, through a process of criticism and synthesis.
At the same time as this Islamic Renaissance was taking place, the Eastern Roman Empire was passing through a period of stagnation, and western Europe was under the domination of barbarians.
I believe I am correct in saying that the University of Nizamiya at
Baghdad, founded by Nizam al-Mulk, a Seljuk prime minister, was the
world's first university.
Others were established later at Cordoba, Granada, and elsewhere in Muslim Spain, while in Italy the Universities of Salermo in Campagnia, Bologna (1119), and Naples (1224) were founded by Muslims and then continued by the Italians.
France during the thirteenth century saw the establishment of the Universities of Montpellier and Paris. The works of Muslim scholars were made known to the West through the Universities of Salermo and Naples.
The architecture of the buildings, the academic programmes, and the teaching methods of Western universities drew their initial inspiration from those of the Islamic universities. Greek philosophy, passed on to France by the Muslim philosophers of Italy, was later disseminated in England and Germany by the Universities of Oxford and Cologne.
A number of points seem to me to have particular significance. The Muslim religion, like the two other monotheistic religions, was revealed to peoples of Semitic origin. The Turks and the Europeans have in common the fact that each received and adopted a Semitic religion.
The doctrine of Islam is different and original in those aspects that
concern the Prophet, the Book, dogma, liturgy, and tradition. However,
considered from the angle of theology and philosophy, Islam shares with
Judaism and Christianity the heritage of Greek philosophy.
From this point of view, Islam is Mediterranean in the Western sense of the term. Greek culture, in so far as it was one of the first and principal foundations of Western culture, equally formed the basis of the philosophy of Islam.
Western Europe was first introduced to Greek philosophy by the philosophers of Islam. It may appear strange these days that the Europe of the Middle Ages first learned of Aristotle and Plato thanks to the Turks among others, since there continues to exist in the minds of some an abyss between Islam and Christianity, between the East and the West, between Turkey and Europe.
Islamic philosophy directly influenced not only the philosophers of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but also Leibniz, Spinoza, Descartes, Kant, Pascal, as well as Kierkegaard, Bergson, and Heidegger. In having prepared the ground for their ideas, or having been the precursor of them, it has made a major contribution to world culture.
The Turks established their place in Islamic philosophy two centuries before their entry into Anatolia in 1071. Their encounter with Greek thought was accomplished four centuries before the foundation of the Ottoman Empire, and six centuries before the conquest of Constantinople.
The Mediterranean and Western vocation of the Turks, or their westernization, began at the time of their adoption of Islam, and developed through the contribution of their philosophers and theologians to the Islamic Renaissance and their acquisition as Muslims of this system of thought.
Islamic philosophy was introduced to the West through Andalusia and
Sicily, despite the fact that these regions were far away from the Middle
East, Iran, and Khorasan, all great centers of Islamic culture.
The explanation for this does not lie only in the deterioration of relations between the Eastern Roman Empire and the West on the one hand, and the Islamic world on the other.
In mathematics, astronomy, and medicine Muslims had not only preserved
and mastered the achievements of their Hellenic predecessors, but also
learnt from India before going on to produce original work of their own.
In these fields a medieval Western Christendom took over from contemporary Muslim men of science the results of Muslim research, together with the so-called Arabic system of mathematical notation.
In the realm of poetry, the treasures acquired from the Andalusian Muslims were to inspire all the subsequent achievements o a Western school of poetry down to the end of Western civilisation's Modern age.
The impact of Muslim civilisation on medieval Western Christendom was still being visually proclaimed in the field of architecture by `Gothic' buildings which - in confutation of the absurd nickname conferred on them by eighteenth century antiquaries-bore on their face a patent certificate of derivation from models of Seljuk caravanserais, among others.
Throughout their historical evolution, the two peninsulas situated at
the eastern and western extremities of the Mediterranean, Anatolia and
Iberia, have had opposing destinies.
Shortly after the birth of Islam, the Arabs conquered Iberia (712) and established an advanced Muslim civilisation, which was tolerant of other religions. Anatolia, on the other hand, had been the place where Christianity had emerged, and where it had become an integral part of the State organisation.
The Christian reconquest of Iberia, and the regaining of Anatolia by the Turks and Islam, both occurred at virtually the same time, but were very different processes. The Christianization of Iberia was brief, determined, and destructive. After the fall of Granada in 1491, the Moors were converted to Christianity by force, yet remained excluded from the Christian majority.
Perhaps at this point I could refer to the Jewish question, and discuss
certain aspects of it. Although one might feel that it is not altogether
relevant in a chapter devoted to the interaction of religions, I suspect
that religion has always played a crucial part in the fate of the Jews.
What I want to consider is whether religion was the cultural catalyst which stimulated in Europe the general attitude of persecution towards Jews.
The Jewish diaspora in western Europe, from the medieval era onwards, has been victimized as a scapegoat by surrounding Christian communities whenever they were afflicted by natural disasters, epidemics, or defeats in war. Records of these sporadic incidents, such as pogroms in eastern Europe, have apparently been compiled in the `Persecution Documents' in the Vatican.
The Holocaust, the unique genocide in history, is the culmination of
these events, occurring under exceptional conditions which prevailed over
the continent at that time. Although in varying degrees of involvement,
the circle of complicity was much larger than previously assumed.
Recent attempts to attribute genocidal instincts and practices also to others by blurring the distinction of genocide from other painful pages of history are substantively futile. They may provide temporary relief but not redemption, hence their desperate tendency to recur.
The Turkish treatment of Jews offers a stark contrast with that of
western Europe. In the Uighur colonies in Tarim, in western Turkestan, and
especially in Khazar towns and cities, they coexisted peacefully. The
Thirteenth Tribe of Arthur Koestler, and the Turkish-speaking Jewish
Krimchaks of the Crimea testify to what I say.
The immigration of the Sephardi Jews from the Iberian peninsula in 1492 (the 500th anniversary of which we shall soon celebrate) into the Ottoman Empire is the direct consequence of this tradition, coupled with the Muslim tolerance towards the other two monotheist religions.
Our religion and our cultural tradition do not permit us to divide
human beings and communities into good and bad. Given the present level of
human evolution, good and bad necessarily coexist in all of us
irrespective of our civilisation.
It is therefore not for me to monopolise the good for my kind while generously leaving the bad for western Europeans as they usually do towards us. But it is of the utmost importance that we understand objectively the roots of the Jewish problem for the salvation of a world which is being rapidly westernized.
Many arialyses made up to now on the subject have been partially convincing. Naturally, almost all of them have dwelt on the objective external circumstances which led to this problem or on the weaknesses of Western institutions such as democracy in a given period and in a given country.
It is nevertheless a subject beyond the limits of this book. Perhaps I
should confine myself to posing a couple of questions. I think Christians
are identified much too strongly with the land on which they live and with
Therefore, the 'purity' of the land and the people in terms of religious and sometimes racial homogeneity are for them the sine qua non conditions of social life, hence the term of `Christian Europe'.
I wonder whether this comparatively stronger Christian identification with the land and its people as brothers of blood and faith is the result of the lesser identification with God the Father who embraces all human beings irrespective of race and religion, as in the case of ecumenical universal states?
Did the Enlightenment reinforce this attitude by, at least partially, destroying God (ultimately `God is dead' of Nietzsche) and further identifying the land with Mother Nature and transforming the co-racial and co-religionist brothers into a nation?
The Christian perceives himself in the image of God. Historically, this
identification with God through Christ crucified for the sins of mankind
requires an exceptionally strict ethic which renders it very difficult to
house in the soul some vital natural instincts and impulses together with
Is it because of the need to tackle the evil which is embodied in everything negated by this ethic that Jewry, together with other groups, was unconsciously used as a target of projection, and hence subjected to segregation, inquisition, and genocide?
Let me point out in this context that Islam, on the other hand, sanctifies natural instincts provided that their activities be regulated and their abuse prohibited. Historically this aspect of Islam has been sarcastically criticised. Nevertheless, Muslims had fittle need for a projection mechanism.
This was what I had in mind when I answered a question on West German Television in 1988 to the effect that genocide could not have been a product of Islamic culture and civilisation.
One may say that the Holocaust took place at a time when the grip of
religion on natural instincts has been greatly relaxed following the vast
secularising effects of the Enlightenment. This is obviously true. But
there might be two connected processes here.
Firstly, despite the fact that the religion which in the beginning determined the ethics lost ground, ethical behaviour patterns mostly survived although they have been emptied of religious content.
Paralleling this social process, the individual felt, on a psychological level, unconscious guilt more deeply the more he moved away from ethical premises in his behaviour. In other words, cultural continuity provided the inner need for sanctions in case of breach despite apparent rationalization of the ethics.
The only way out was the culturally well established projection mechanism. This brings us to the third question.
During the era of the Enlightenment, which is characterised together
with Christianity as the basis of Western civilisation, hence as a
condition of EC membership by some prominent figures, the outburst of
reason did not only destroy the irrational elements in the religion, but
partly the religion itself.
Deism, even atheism, as byproducts implied a return to pre-Christian conditions with an emphasis on Mother Nature. Is it because of this excessive `decasualisation' that the sacrificial cycle of primitive religion has been revived (this time not only for lower-class heretics such as 'witches' who had already been subjected to inquisition, but for intellectual elites also) as a result of which hostility was generated towards target groups in the form of persecution and ultimately genocide along with the increase in wars between nation states?
I do not defend the superiority of one civilisation over another. All I
try to do is to point out the social cost involved in what is called
progress. The cost in terms of persecution, genocide, and wars cannot be
redeemed through confession to having committed them.
Even analysis should not have a redemptive effect. But if we understand the causes, I hope we can be spared ethnocentric arrogance, and embrace humility through which we can have salvation in the future.
When we revert to Anatolia, however, we observe that it regained its
unity and became both Turkish and Islamic during a long, gradual, and
peaceful synthesising process, in line with the historically tolerant
attitude of Turks towards other religions and ethnic groups, as evidenced
by their relations with the Jews.
Established Christian communities remained intact though they gradually decreased in number due to the attraction of a particularly tolerant Turkish Islam, and for a thousand years participated in fruitful exchanges with the Muslims in spheres ranging from daily life to art, from affairs of State to metaphysics.
The departure of Christians from Anatolia began with the advent of
nationalism, which originated outside the Ottoman Empire and then came to
Anatolia. Nationalism was adopted first by the Christians living in the
west of the Empire, and gave rise to wars of independence.
Even before the existence of nationalist movements, it is quite understandable that the Western Christian, having himself encountered many difficulties in coexisting with adherents of other religions, should have judged the struggle of the Christians of the Ottoman Empire from the viewpoint of his own historic experience, and assumed that they were being persecuted.
- Islam Versus Deism
- Left vs Right, Montesquieu, Corporatism
- Eastern Roman Empire and Islam
- Philosophies of Islam, Greece, and the West by Turgut Ozal
- Example of Islam and science.
- Maimonides Versus Aristotle and the Jews of Spain, Thirteen Rules
- Handbook on the History of Modern Science
- Pelagius and why he was right
- Islam Versus Judaism and Christianity
- Islam to Deism: Why I became a Deist
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