The Golden Age of Islam
The golden age of Islamic (and/or Muslim) art lasted from 750 to the 16th century, when ceramics, glass, metalwork, textiles, illuminated manuscripts, and woodwork flourished. Lustrous glazing was an Islamic contribution to ceramics. Islamic luster-painted ceramics were imitated by Italian potters during the Renaissance. Manuscript illumination developed into an important and greatly respected art, and portrait miniature painting flourished in Persia.Calligraphy, an essential aspect of written Arabic, developed in manuscripts and architectural decoration. This paper will examine the Islamic literature, music and philosophers.
The most well known work of fiction from the Islamic world was The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), which was a compilation of many earlier folk tales told by the Persian Queen Scheherazade. The epic took form in the 10th century and reached its final form by the 14th century; the number and type of tales have varied from one manuscript to another.All Arabian fantasy tales were often called “Arabian Nights” when translated into English, regardless of whether they appeared in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, in any version, and a number of tales are known in Europe as “Arabian Nights” despite existing in no Arabic manuscript (L. Sprague de Camp, pg. 10). This epic has been influential in the West since it was translated in the 18th century, first by Antoine Galland. Many imitations were written, especially in France.
Various characters from this epic have themselves become cultural icons in Western culture, such as Aladdin, Sinbad and Ali Baba.However, no medieval Arabic source has been traced for Aladdin, which was incorporated into The Book of One Thousand and One Nights by its French translator, Antoine Galland, who heard it from an Arab Syrian Christian storyteller from Aleppo. Part of its popularity may have sprung from the increasing historical and geographical knowledge, so that places of which little was known and so marvels were plausible had to be set further “long ago” or farther “far away”; this is a process that continues, and finally culminate in the fantasy world having little connection, if any, to actual times and places.A number of elements from Arabian mythology and Persian mythology are now common in modern fantasy, such as genies, bahamuts, magic carpets, magic lamps, etc (John Grant and John Cute, pg. 52). When L. Frank Baum proposed writing a modern fairy tale that banished stereotypical elements, he included the genie as well as the dwarf and the fairy as stereotypes to go.
Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, the national epic of Iran, is a mythical and heroic retelling of Persian history.Amir Arsalan was also a popular mythical Persian story, which has influenced some modern works of fantasy fiction, such as The Heroic Legend of Arslan. A famous example of Arabic poetry and Persian poetry on romance (love) is Layla and Majnun, dating back to the Umayyad era in the 7th century. It is a tragic story of undying love much like the later Romeo and Juliet, which was itself said to have been inspired by a Latin version of Layli and Majnun to an extent. Ibn Tufail (Abubacer) and Ibn al-Nafis were pioneers of the philosophical novel.Ibn Tufail wrote the first fictional Arabic novel Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus) as a response to al-Ghazali’s The Incoherence of the Philosophers, and then Ibn al-Nafis also wrote a novel Theologus Autodidactus as a response to Ibn Tufail’s Philosophus Autodidactus. Both of these narratives had protagonists (Hayy in Philosophus Autodidactus and Kamil in Theologus Autodidactus) who were autodidactic feral children living in seclusion on a desert island, both being the earliest examples of a desert island story.
However, while Hayy lives alone with animals on the desert island for the rest of the story in Philosophus Autodidactus, the story of Kamil extends beyond the desert island setting in Theologus Autodidactus, developing into the earliest known coming of age plot and eventually becoming an early example of proto-science fiction (John Grant and John Cute, pg. 52). Theologus Autodidactus, written by the Arabian polymath Ibn al-Nafis (1213–1288), is an early example of proto-science fiction.It deals with various science fiction elements such as spontaneous generation, futurology, and the end of the world and doomsday. Rather than giving supernatural or mythological explanations for these events, Ibn al-Nafis attempted to explain these plot elements using the scientific knowledge of biology, astronomy, cosmology and geology known in his time. His main purpose behind this science fiction work was to explain Islamic religious teachings in terms of science and philosophy through the use of fiction.A Latin translation of Ibn Tufail’s work, Philosophus Autodidactus, first appeared in 1671, prepared by Edward Pococke the Younger, followed by an English translation by Simon Ockley in 1708, as well as German and Dutch translations.
These translations later inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, regarded as the first novel in English (James Thurber, pg. 64). Philosophus Autodidactus also inspired Robert Boyle to write his own philosophical novel set on an island, The Aspiring Naturalist (James Thurber, pg. 64).The story also anticipated Rousseau’s Emile: or, On Education in some ways, and is also similar to Mowgli’s story in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book as well as Tarzan’s story, in that a baby is abandoned but taken care of and fed by a mother wolf. Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, considered the greatest epic of Italian literature, derived many features of and episodes about the hereafter directly or indirectly from Arabic works on Islamic eschatology: the Hadith and the Kitab al-Miraj (translated into Latin in 1264 or shortly before (James Thurber, pg. 4) as Liber Scale Machometi, “The Book of Muhammad’s Ladder”) concerning Muhammad’s ascension to Heaven, and the spiritual writings of Ibn Arabi.
The Moors also had a noticeable influence on the works of George Peele and William Shakespeare. Some of their works featured Moorish characters, such as Peele’s The Battle of Alcazar and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Titus Andronicus and Othello, which featured a Moorish Othello as its title character. These works are said to have been inspired by several Moorish delegations from Morocco to Elizabethan England at the beginning of the 17th century (Nazami, 1980).A number of musical instruments used in classical music are believed to have been derived from Arabic musical instruments: the lute was derived from the al’ud, the rebec (ancestor of violin) from the rebab, the guitar from qitara, naker from naqareh, adufe from al-duff, alboka from al-buq, anafil from al-nafir, exabeba from al-shabbaba (flute), atabal (bass drum) from al-tabl, atambal from al-tinbal, the balaban, the castanet from kasatan, sonajas de azofar from sunuj al-sufr, the conical bore wind instruments, the xelami from the sulami or fistula (flute or musical pipe), the shawm and dulzaina from the reed instruments zamr and al-zurna, the gaita from the ghaita, rackett from iraqya or iraqiyya, the harp and zither from the qanun, canon from qanun, geige (violin) from ghichak, and the theorbo from the tarab.A theory on the origins of the Western Solfege musical notation suggests that it may have also had Arabic origins. It has been argued that the Solfege syllables (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti) may have been derived from the syllables of the Arabic solmization system Durr-i-Mufassal (“Separated Pearls”) (dal, ra, mim, fa, sad, lam). This origin heory was first proposed by Meninski in his Thesaurus Linguarum Orientalum (1680) and then by Laborde in his Essai sur la Musique Ancienne et Moderne (1780).
See as well the gifted Ziryab (Abu l-Hasan ‘Ali Ibn Nafi‘). Ottoman military bands are thought to be the oldest variety of military marching band in the world. Though they are often known by the Persian-derived word Mehter. The standard instruments employed by a Mehter are: Bass drum (timpani), the kettledrum (nakare), Frame drum (davul), the Cymbals (zil), Oboes and Flutes, Zurna, the “Boru” (a kind of trumpet), Triangle (instrument), and the Cevgen (a kind of stick bearing small concealed bells).These military bands inspired many Western nations and especially the Orchestra inspiring the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. Arab philosophers like al-Kindi (Alkindus) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Persian philosophers like Ibn Sina (Avicenna) played a major role in preserving the works of Aristotle, whose ideas came to dominate the non-religious thought of the Christian and Muslim worlds. They would also absorb ideas from China, and India, adding to them tremendous knowledge from their own studies.
Three speculative thinkers, al-Kindi, al-Farabi, and Avicenna (Ibn Sina), fused Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism with other ideas introduced through Islam, such as Kalam and Qiyas.This led to Avicenna founding his own Avicennism school of philosophy, which was influential in both Islamic and Christian lands. Avicenna was also a critic of Aristotelian logic and founder of Avicennian logic, and he developed the concepts of empiricism and tabula rasa, and distinguished between essence and existence. From Spain the Arabic philosophic literature was translated into Hebrew, Latin, and Ladino, contributing to the development of modern European philosophy. The Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, Muslim sociologist-historian Ibn Khaldun, Carthage citizen Constantine the African who translated ancient Greek medical texts, and the Muslim Al-Khwarzimi’s collation of mathematical techniques were important figures of the Golden Age.One of the most influential Muslim philosophers in the West was Averroes (Ibn Rushd), founder of the Averroism school of philosophy, whose works and commentaries had an impact on the rise of secular thought in Western Europe (Nawal Muhammad Hassan, 1980) He also developed the concept of “existence precedes essence”. Another influential philosopher who had a significant influence on modern philosophy was Ibn Tufail.
His philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, translated into Latin as Philosophus Autodidactus in 1671, developed the themes of empiricism, tabula rasa, nature versus nurture, condition of possibility, materialism, and Molyneux’s Problem. European scholars and writers influenced by this novel include John Locke, Gottfried Leibniz, Melchisedech Thevenot, John Wallis, Christiaan Huygens. George Keith, Robert Barclay, the Quakers, and Samuel Hartlib(Nawal Muhammad Hassan, 1980).Al-Ghazali also had an important influence on Jewish thinkers like Maimonides and Christian medieval philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas. However, al-Ghazali also wrote a devastating critique in his The Incoherence of the Philosophers on the speculative theological works of Kindi, Farabi and Ibn Sina. The study of metaphysics declined in the Muslim world due to this critique, though Ibn Rushd (Averroes) responded strongly in his The Incoherence of the Incoherence to many of the points Ghazali raised. Nevertheless, Avicennism continued to flourish long after and Islamic philosophers continued making advances in philosophy through to the 17th century, when Mulla Sadra founded his school of Transcendent Theosophy and developed the concept of existentialism.
Other influential Muslim philosophers include al-Jahiz, a pioneer of evolutionary thought and natural selection; Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen), a pioneer of phenomenology and the philosophy of science and a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy and Aristotle’s concept of place (topos); Biruni, a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy; Ibn Tufail and Ibn al-Nafis, pioneers of the philosophical novel; Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi, founder of Illuminationist philosophy; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, a critic of Aristotelian logic and a pioneer of inductive logic; and Ibn Khaldun, a pioneer in the philosophy of history and social philosophy. Despite a number of attempts by many writers, historical and modern, none seem to agree on the causes of decline.The main views on the causes of decline comprise the following: political mismanagement after the early Caliphs (10th century onwards), foreign involvement by invading forces and colonial powers (11th century Crusades, 13th century Mongol Empire, 15th century Reconquista, 19th century European colonial empires), and the disruption to the cycle of equity based on Ibn Khaldun’s famous model of Asabiyyah (the rise and fall of civilizations) which points to the decline being mainly due to political and economic factors.References 1. L. Sprague de Camp, Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy, p 10 ISBN 0-87054-076-9 2. John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, “Arabian fantasy”, p 52 ISBN 0-312-19869-8 3.
James Thurber, “The Wizard of Chitenango”, p 64 Fantasists on Fantasy edited by Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski, ISBN 0-380-86553-X 4. NIZAMI: LAYLA AND MAJNUN – English Version by Paul Smith 5. Nahyan A. G. Fancy (2006), “Pulmonary Transit and Bodily Resurrection: The Interaction of Medicine, Philosophy and Religion in the Works of Ibn al-Nafis (d.
1288)”, pp. 95–101, Electronic Theses and Dissertations, University of Notre Dame.  6. Dr. Abu Shadi Al-Roubi (1982), “Ibn Al-Nafis as a philosopher”, Symposium on Ibn al Nafis, Second International Conference on Islamic Medicine: Islamic Medical Organization, Kuwait (cf. Ibnul-Nafees As a Philosopher, Encyclopedia of Islamic World). 7.
Nawal Muhammad Hassan (1980), Hayy bin Yaqzan and Robinson Crusoe: A study of an early Arabic impact on English literature, Al-Rashid House for Publication.