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Buried gold

Reader comment on item: A Culture of Ambiguity
in response to reader comment: There is only one cause behind Islamic behaviors: Islam

Submitted by John Harvey (United States), Jan 4, 2022 at 05:51

There is of course truth in what reader Prashant says. But I was responding very specifically to some potent adjectives in Dr. Pipes' piece: "monomaniacal . . . humorless." These qualities do indeed characterize Islam since 1800 better than they do the Golden Age.
Dr. Pipes refers dismissively to the Thousand and one Nights, but it deserves a hearing. ( Here I may be repeating a point made in Bauer's book, which I have not read.) In this medieval collection of tales we find the humor, humanity and whimsy absent from and condemned by the brand of Islam pushed by some 21st century enthusiasts. Another testimony to the comparatively wide tent of medieval Islam is found in the poetry of Omar Khayyám. There we find not just references to wine but to taverns, indicating not just furtive tippling but tolerated public carousing.
Assessments of the Golden Age of Islam have committed distortions in both directions. Some say it is the best thing that ever happened, which is not the case. Some of its detractors say either (1) it was no good at all; or (2) everything good in it was derived from the cultures it absorbed: Christian, Hellenistic, Persian, Hindu. I believe this unfavorable view is also incorrect, though a defense of my position would of necessity be very lengthy.
Prashant's description of the Golden Age is very one-sided. One could produce, and some have produced, similar condemnations of western imperialism in the 19th century by pointing only to oppression and atrocities, and ignoring the benefits that the west brought to some regions (and that Dr. Pipes notes), such as improved hygiene and an end to sati.
I am not sure what Prashant means by saying that the Golden Age "hardly contributed to any enlightenment in Islam." I am sure he is aware of the work of Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd. Perhaps Prashant means that the enlightenment was impermanent. That is true, and it is a shame. But this does not unmake the fact that the flourishing of thought occurred, and left an undying legacy to the western thinkers who valued the thoughts of the Arabic philosophers.

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