Admiral Ackbar Ahmed
Earlier this week, the Huffington Post published a propaganda piece by American Islamic Studies professor Akbar Ahmed, in which he attempts to discredit what he calls "one of the right-wing tropes about Islam in Europe", which is that the religion "has made no contribution to Western civilization." He does this through a series of lies, distortions and irrelevancies, which are debunked below.
Some of Ahmed's arguments involve nothing more than claiming this or that historical figure or leader admired Islam or was influenced by it, which even those sympathetic to his cause must admit doesn't amount to any direct influence on Western civilisation, and only shows that Westerners have always been open to ideas and cultures from outside, including Islam. Other arguments require a bit more detailed refutation, though.
"1. Contrary to common belief, Muslims did not first arrive in Europe with the intention of conquering it."
Ahmed's comedy alternative history here is really quite breathtaking.
Contrary to his fantasy history, in which Muslims took over Spain in order to prevent a genocide of Jews by Christians, Spain was brutally conquered by the Muslims in 710-716 AD. Most churches were converted into mosques. In 730, Cerdagne, near Barcelona, was ravaged and a bishop burned alive. The jihad persisted throughout the entirety of Muslim rule in Spain. Every year – sometimes twice a year – raiding expeditions were sent to ravage the Christian Spanish kingdoms to the north, the Basque regions, or France and the Rhone valley, bringing back booty and slaves. Andalusian corsairs attacked and invaded along the Sicilian and Italian coasts, even as far as the Aegean Islands, looting and burning as they went. Many thousands of non-Muslim captives were deported to slavery in Andalusia, where the caliph kept a militia of tens of thousands of Christian slaves, brought from all parts of Europe, and a harem filled with captured Christian women.
Prior to this, the Islamic armies had already invaded, conquered and subjugated much of the Middle East, including Jerusalem, Syria and Iran, as well as Egypt and North Africa, ALL unprovoked wars of aggression against Christian peoples. The idea that they did all this, and then went and conquered Spain for peaceful purposes is just laughable.
"2. By describing Muslims as "backward", "retarded" and "barbaric," it is suggested that they are not capable of balancing their religion with rational thought. Yet Muslims had already attained a balance between the two positions centuries before other European societies."
As evidence of this claim, Ahmed cites the 12th century philosopher Averroes. He was indeed a great philosopher who influenced many Western thinkers, but there is nothing “Islamic” about his approach, and while Western scholars and scientists learned much from his writings, he had no influence at all on the development of Islamic thought, and after his death, he was practically forgotten in the Islamic world. He was also discredited by the Sufi thinker al-Ghazali - a much more highly revered figure in the Islamic world than Averroes ever was - who declared him to be a heretic and wrote that he should be killed. Whatever good work Averroes did was effectively eradicated in Islamic societies from that point forward.
"3. The first man ever to fly was the scholar Ibn Firnas near Cordoba in the 9th century."
According to historian Lynn White, Ibn Firnas covered himself in feathers, attached a pair of hand-made wings to his arms, and jumped off a building, flying "some distance" before crashing and injuring himself. If you're wondering how this contributed to Western civilisation, you're not the only one.
"5. Islam is frequently accused of being intolerant and rejecting harmony with other cultures and religions. Yet Muslim Spain or Andalusian civilization offers one of the most shining examples of harmony, peace and prosperity between different religions in the history of Europe."
This is a common myth, but utterly discredited by history. In the regions under stable Islamic control, Jews and Christians did indeed live “peacefully” – but only as long as they agreed to live as dhimmis, denied basic rights. They weren't even allowed to build new churches or synagogues or restore old ones, and their ability to worship was often severely infringed. Ahmed mentions some isolated examples of Muslim tolerance in Cordoba, but doesn't mention that in the same region in the mid-eighth century, the Muslim ruler Abd al-Rahman I compelled the local Christians to cede their last surviving cathedral to the Muslims and it became a mosque, meaning that the Christians of Cordoba no longer had a single place of worship in the whole city. Criticism of Islam was also strictly prohibited, and many Christians were executed on charges of blasphemy for defending their faith and condemning Muhammad and the Qur’an.
Dhimmis were segregated in special quarters and had to wear discriminatory clothing. They were subjected to heavy taxes, leading many to abandon their land and flee to the towns. Moreover, if one dhimmi harmed a Muslim, the whole community would lose its status of protection, leaving it open to pillage, enslavement and arbitrary killing.
In short, Muslim Spain was not a tolerant and enlightened society even in its most cultivated epoch.
The artice goes on for a lot longer in this same vein, reminding us that there are some Muslim politicians and even cricketers in this country, before rounding up with the observation that some countries in eastern Europe, such as Albania and Kosovo, are predominantly Muslim - therefore, Islam is a part of Europe, so there. How these peoples became Muslim in the first place, Ahmed doesn't deign to tell us, but I'll give you a small clue: It begins with a J.
So there we have it: Islam contributed to Western civilisation, in part because some ancient Muslim scholars and scientists inspired some Western scientists, who went on to achieve almost everything that has benefitted the civilised world ever since; and also in part by brutally conquering some parts of it.
In your face, right-wing Europeans!