USU 1320: History and Civilization
SECTION 14: The Nature and Triumph of Islam
The Saudi Arabian peninsula south of the Holy Lands and east of Egypt contains, and has ever since antiquity, an enormous desert. Accordingly, there is little mention of it in the historical record prior to the rise of Islam. Most ancient conquerors—including the Persians in the Classical Age, Alexander the Great, and even the Romans—ignored Arabia, largely because the scarcity of resources found in such a place does not attract or facilitate human habitation.
The few who have ever managed to survive there, a people known collectively as Bedouins, eke out a life on the edge. These nomads herd camels and travel from place to place, subsisting on milk, meat and the date palms which grow by the springs at oases. Of their earliest culture, little is known other than that they were polytheistic, prone to worshiping features of nature like trees and stones, and they were not Indo-European. Their language, the forerunner of modern Arabic, is Semitic, tying them linguistically and culturally to the Babylonians and the Assyrians of ancient Mesopotamia. But living where they did, the Bedouins' political and technological life lagged far behind that of their powerful, urbanized cousins to the north.
All that, however, began to change dramatically in the sixth century CE. The powers-that-be in the day, the Sassanian Persians and the Byzantines—both remnants of once-great empires, Persia and Rome respectively—were engaged in a protracted and debilitating war which had forced a diversion in the lucrative trade routes coming up out of Africa and Asia into the Near East. With Egypt at the center of much of the fighting, it became unsafe to move goods along the Nile, and a new route had to be sought through Arabia. The sort of money that comes when one lives near a railroad or interstate started working its way into Bedouin society, and the lifestyle of these desert denizens evolved quickly from nomadic to commercial.
Cities also began to grow up at important intersections in trade networks crossing the desert. Particularly at Yathrib and Mecca—both were communities situated on the western side of Arabia—commercial municipalities of a sort not seen before in this part of the world began to rise from the sand. This is not to say that there hadn't been settlements in these localities before. Mecca, especially, had long been a religious center since it housed the sacred Ka'aba ("the cube"), a structure built over the holiest of holies, the Black Stone. Around the Ka'aba various shrines to the many deities which the early Bedouins worshiped had accumulated over time, making Mecca a well-established site of pilgrimage long before Muhammad's day.
Thus, at this time the Meccans were not only overseeing a healthy industry based on religious tourism but were also becoming entrepreneurs whose city was growing into a lucrative center for business and trade. As wealthy foreign caravans passed through this part of the world, money began pouring in. Of course, fortune favored some more than others which produced a nouveaux-riches aristocracy called the Kuraish—also spelled Quraysh, it's the name of the largest of the family clans inhabiting Mecca—this new upper crust was soon prosperous enough to start sending out caravans of its own, making the community even wealthier. It was a heady time indeed, which means it was ripe for revolution.
Muhammad (ca. 570-632 CE), the founder of Islam, was born and grew up in Mecca during the later half of the sixth century. Though belonging to one of the lesser clans of the Kuraish, Muhammad was orphaned early in life and went into the service of an older widow whom he later married. Spending most of his early adulthood running her affairs—which means embarking on trading expeditions—Muhammad carved out a reasonably comfortable existence but, far more important for later history, among these various business ventures he visited the urbanized civilizations around Arabia which brought him into contact with Jews, Persians and Christians.
To judge from the subsequent nature of Islam, Christianity seems to have been particularly interesting to him, since Muhammad adopted and adapted quite a few Christian ideas. The reverse, it should be noted, is equally true. In the wake of Muhammad's successes and the triumph of the world view he created, Christianity absorbed more than one Islamic notion, such as the image of an angel blowing a trumpet on Judgment Day. Indeed, the prophet may have initially conceived of his religion as a reformation or completion of Christianity, but whether or not he did, it went much further than that in the long run.
Relatively little is known about Muhammad's life until he reached his forties and started experiencing a series of intense visions which he said had been sent to him from Allah—originally Al-Illah ( "The God"), Allah was the chief god of the early Arabic pantheon—and in which Allah declared himself the one and only god, the single divine presence in the universe, laying the groundwork for a very strong form of monotheism. Seen as both the god of the ancient Hebrew scriptures and the Christian New Testament, Allah ordained Muhammad as his prophet the same way several others had served before, including Abraham, Noah, and Jesus. But according to Allah, Muhammad was to be the last in this series of divine messengers, the final chance given humanity to rescue itself from the morass of impiety into which it seemed always to fall so easily and regularly.
When Muhammad set out to preach this extended form of Christianity, he met with little success at first. No one converted except his immediate family and a few poor people who had little to lose. The rich and well-born Kuraish, especially, scoffed at his notion of being a prophet and scorned him because of his less-than-lofty birth, but behind this mockery surely lay the fear that any change in the way people worshiped might detract from the lucrative business pilgrimage brought to Mecca. The future would prove such apprehensions spectacularly misguided, for Muhammad would turn Mecca into the single greatest pilgrimage site ever in human history.
The Meccans' hostility toward Muhammad increased until he was forced to flee to Yathrib, north of Mecca in 622. Having previously been invited there by the locals to serve as an impartial judge, Muhammad and a few loyal followers, including a man named Ali who later played an important role in Islamic history, resettled there during what was to become a central moment in the establishment of Islam, the Hegira (or hijrah), Muhammad's famous emigration—the Hegira is often but wrongly termed a "flight"—from Mecca. The Hegira marks the turning point in the prophet's fortunes and as such is remembered as the "year one" in the calendar system used by Moslems today. As a testament to the force of his charisma and the power of his new world vision, Muhammad converted the inhabitants of Yathrib en masse to his new religion and became both the political and religious leader of the city, renamed in his honor Medina (Medinat al-Nabi, "City of the Prophet").
Now angry and bent on revenge against his Meccan detractors who, according to some records, were out to destroy the new Moslem community, Muhammad's policies became more openly militarized, resulting in what he called a jihad ("holy war") against the "infidels" who included the people of Mecca as well as Jews living in Medina. Winning many followers across the Arabian peninsula, his attentions now turned from a more universalistic outlook to immediate, pragmatic issues like advancing his own interests and those who had joined his cause. Fired up by their fervor for the new religion, Muhammad's followers began raiding the many, well-laden caravans coming out of Mecca and blockading the trade that made life so comfortable there.
Furthermore, as a people accustomed to traveling in the desert, Muhammad's Bedouin faithful were uniquely well-equipped to use the harsh landscape to their advantage, where sandstorms can cover sneak attacks or retreats and camels, not horses, rule. Indeed, the formation of a camel cavalry must all on its own have looked like an act of god, much less that Moslem jihaders (in Arabic, mujaheddin) could charge with lances while riding on such creatures. Allah or not, it must have seemed to many that some sort of powerful deity was backing these people.
By 630 CE, less than a decade after the Hegira, Muhammad was able to return to Mecca, whereupon he converted the Kuraish along with the entire city to his religion. By then a living legend, Muhammad saw Arabic tribes near and far line up to join his religion. In triumph, he entered the holy district of Mecca, cleared out the idols—that is, the statues of every god there—and anointed the Ka'aba an Islamic holy site and pilgrimage destination. Leaving only the Black Stone and its "cubic" shrine intact, Muhammad had reformed his city, his people and his world.
A mere two years later (632), however, Muhammad unexpectedly died in mid-life, having forged a united Arabia as it had never been before and, of more immediate consequence, a new highly energized, well-armed military power. At the same time as well, a period of peace and high culture was beginning to dawn, the Pax Arabica, so named because it's the Islamic counterpart of the Pax Romana, the centuries of peace accompanying the early period of the Roman Empire (see Chapter 1). The level of prosperity and civilization initiated by the Moslems' conquest and cultural domination of much of the world over the next five hundred years has rarely seen its equal in history.
Accordingly, Muhammad forbade translation of the Koran. This later popularized Arabic as a language, turning it from an obscure desert dialect of Semitic into an international language capable of great finesse and nuance, though that can hardly be Muhammad's primary motivation for such a stern injunction. More likely, he saw the troubling controversies surrounding Christian texts—that the various translations of Christ's message presented all sorts of challenges to its interpreters and impeded the formation of a coherent doctrine—knowing that, Muhammad resolved to avoid the same problem by enforcing linguistic uniformity.
From the Koran it's also clear Muhammad envisioned Allah as the sole god in the universe, not only unrivaled by other deities but not even accompanied by any other divine presence. Simply put, Allah was, to Muhammad, all that is holy, pure and unadulterated. It's hard not to see this, too, as a reaction to Christian controversies, in particular, the difficulties presented by a conception like the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
That is, to the foolish, unenlightened or anyone without an advanced degree in Byzantine theology from Constantinople U, the Christian Trinity could be mistaken as a form of polytheism. Muhammad made certain that no such divisive controversy would ever rend Islam the way Arianism and other heresies plagued early Christianity. In Islam, God was Allah and that was that, a notion which had considerable appeal in the philosophically "realist" East where pure ideas untainted by pragmatism tended to fare well anyway. Little wonder, then, that Islam later spread across the Near East with remarkable ease and efficiency. It was the sort of thing people there liked already.
At the same time, however, Muhammad allowed that Allah could also manifest his will through agents, like the angel Gabriel who had brought Muhammad his first divine message. Likewise, prophets, too, were part of Allah's universe, even if none including Muhammad was a god. With this, Islam had no need for a clergy to oversee ceremonies, which consequently preempted any need for priests or celebrating mass since, according to Muhammad's reasoning, individual Moslems were directly responsible for their own salvation. Though at a later date Islamic holy men called sufis did finally appear, they were slow to be accepted and never attained the sort of power or influence popes, bishops or even monks wielded in the West.
Thus stripped of much of the mythology that underlay Hebrew and Christian worship, the Koran ordains a comparatively simple and straightforward regimen of ritual, involving the so-called "Five Pillars of Islam": faith, prayer, alms-giving (charity), fasting, and pilgrimage. Calling the faithful at least once in life to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, in Arabic a hajj—a haji is a pilgrim on a hajj—Muhammad gave new life to an old and well-established custom in Arabia. Joining the religion was also made easy—no baptism and its concomitant issues, either, for this prophet (see Chapter 13)—since converts only have to say La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad rasul Allah ("There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is his prophet") in front of a Moslem believer and they have joined the religion.
Other aspects of the new religion involved other, more complicated practices. Muhammad forbade the drinking of alcoholic beverages except for a very mild raisin or date wine called rabidh. While he endorsed polygamy, the Koran seems to suggest a limit of four wives, a restriction later accepted by very few among the Islamic ultra-rich, some of whom kept hundreds of women, even if never more than four were called "wives"—legal dodges are part of every culture that has laws—indeed, what seem to be restrictions in favor of women's rights championed by the prophet himself were often and widely undercut by later Islamic tradition. In the end was rendered one of the most socially repressive systems toward women ever known.
For Moslem men, however, Muhammad made the message of life very clear: to fight and die in a jihad was the supreme calling. And to drive that message home, the Koran describes in concrete and plentiful detail the rewards bestowed on jihaders—a garden of earthly delights including music, food and beautiful women—and for infidels, the converse was no less real, a hell featuring torture, fire and excruciating pain. Here Muhammad left no room for legalities.
Before his untimely death, Muhammad also left behind few indications about how to build proper houses of worship. With little to go on, his successors modeled Moslem holy edifices on Muhammad's house in Medina, the only construction project he'd been associated with in life. Eventually these evolved into Islamic "temples," known today as mosques ("places for prostration"), buildings designed for prayer and meditation, not for any presentation of formal services or ceremonies as in Western churches.
Among the few avenues available to artists in this context, rugs for kneeling on during prayers became a focus of creative activity, and from that was born the Persian rug. Also permitted were decorative prayer niches built into walls directing the faithful to bow toward Mecca as they prayed. But since all realistic images were forbidden in early Islam, none of these could contain images with depictions of anything in the visible world, on the reasoning that making images of animals or humans is to challenge Allah who created all things. The result was a system of ornate but non-realistic designs which Westerners eventually came to call "arabesques" (from the French for "Arabic"), which to this day characterize Arabic art throughout the world.
In much of this, it's hard not to see a reaction to the controversies sweeping Christianity in Muhammad's day. Indeed, many of these principal tenets of Islam deal with issues which had proven to be sources of crisis and upheaval within the early Christian community. For instance, iconoclasm—Greek for "image-breaking"—the systematic destruction of artwork was a movement that swept the Byzantine world during and after the seventh century. Watching such pointless and self-destructive strife might very well have taught the young Muhammad the wisdom of not admitting realistic art into the religious arena. To this can be added the role of saints in the Christian church, which also caused great controversy because it appeared to distract from the worship of God and Jesus and, to some, smacked of polytheism. Thus, Muhammad permitted no humans to be seen as deities of any sort.
And, finally, what most clearly distinguishes Islamic society from its Western counterparts, its union of religious and political structures, effectively undercut the formation of any Islamic clergy by firmly melding church and state together. With that, Muhammad's world view disallowed any possibility whatsoever that popes might end up at odds with kings, a growing crisis within the Christian world at that time. Whatever the real reason these aspects of Islam evolved—surely the full truth is vastly more complex than a series of knee-jerk responses to the controversies racking Christianity at the time—Muhammad was clearly a good student of religious history, at least inasmuch as he knew a losing proposition when he saw it. He had, after all, spent many years as a businessman before becoming a prophet.
Muhammad's sudden death in 632 CE not only did not stop the progress of Islam but, in fact, accelerated it. Indeed, the seventh century came to belong largely to the Moslems, who claimed much of the western world during that time. There was, of course, a brief moment of confusion following the prophet's untimely and unexpected demise, especially since Muhammad had made no post-mortem provision for the future governance of the religion and society he'd created, naming neither a successor nor even a method of succession.
Worse yet, he had no surviving sons, only one daughter Fatima. Ultimately, Abu Bekr, an elder in the nascent Moslem community was nominated caliph, a title meaning "(Muhammad's) successor." An old man already, he ruled only two years, most of which he spent reconsolidating Arabia under Muhammad's religion—many of the tribes which had joined Islam had done so out of personal loyalty to Muhammad and, when he died, had defected—after re-unifying Arabia under Moslem control, he passed away two years later in 634.
The next caliph was Omar (r. 634-644), a zealous and younger convert to Islam, who pushed north into Persian and Byzantine territory. The Moslems' incredible success had as much to do with their warriors who were fired up with religious zeal as with the timing of their onslaught. Having just completed a draining war in which the Byzantines had badly beaten the Persians, both sides were exhausted and depleted of resources.
Attacking the Byzantines in 636, Moslem forces waited for a dust storm to blow up and, when the Byzantines were blinded, charged and scored a stunning victory. Syria, Jerusalem and much of the Near East fell to them. Wheeling east, they defeated the Persians the next year (637) so decisively that they captured the Persian capital of Ctesiphon. The next decade they spent consolidating their conquests and, although their siege of Constantinople failed in 646, by 651 they had stripped the Persians of their empire and all their provinces, making it a Moslem realm de facto.
The rest of the 600's proved hardly less triumphant for the Moslems. Heading to sea, they wrested the islands Cyprus and Rhodes in the eastern Mediterranean from Byzantine control and then surged across North Africa, reaching and crossing the straits of Gibraltar—in Arabic Jebel Tariq ("Tariq's hill")—between Morocco and Spain by 711. Both were absorbed into the Islamic sphere of cultural and political influence.
The reasons for such astounding success amount to more than a mere combination of lucky timing and well-organized hysteria, what had characterized the Moslems' first military adventures outside Arabia. In particular, the nature of their religion and governance played deftly into the hands of disgruntled Byzantine provincials, especially the Monophysites in Egypt who were ever ready to revolt from their orthodox oppressors enthroned in Constantinople. These Monophysites found it better to join with non-Christians who neither forced their beliefs on others nor envisioned a "poly-physite" deity.
What problems the early Moslems encountered stemmed less from foreign than internal strife. The history of the succession of Islamic caliphs is, in fact, a gruesome catalogue of assassinations leading invariably to wave after wave of civil disorder. The caliph Omar, for instance, died in 644, murdered by a Christian (or Persian) slave while he was praying. This did little to endear Christians (or non-Arabs) to Moslems.
Next in line was a weak "successor" named Othman from a Kuraish family, the Umayyads, infamous within Arabia for having resisted Muhammad in the early stages of his prophetic career. To some it seemed inappropriate for this clan, however powerful or influential, to assume the caliphate when it was so clearly ill-deserved. Consequently, a quarrel broke out between the Umayyads and Ali, Muhammad's cousin and Fatima's husband.
Insisting that a caliph must be designated through his relation to or through Muhammad somehow, Ali stirred up such discontent in the early days of the caliphate that in 656 mutinous troops assassinated Othman. Thereupon, Ali declared himself caliph, and disorder broke out within Islam. A short five years later (661), Ali joined Omar and Othman among the ranks of murdered caliphs, though his cause didn't die with him. His followers created a separatist Islamic sect called Shi'ites—that is, "factionalists" (literally Shiat Ali, "the party of Ali")—this splinter group still exists, accounting for about one-tenth of Moslems today. The rivalry between Shi'ites and mainstream Moslems has more than once sparked war, including several recently.
Despite their travails with Ali, the family of Othman managed to reassert themselves as the principal Moslem clan, inaugurating in 661 the Umayyad Dynasty (661-750). Using Damascus in Syria as their base, the Umayyads moved the center of Moslem power out of Arabia which was never again to serve as the center of political power in the Islamic world. With this important development, Islam now took up residence in the traditional corridors of power in the Near East. In other words, though born in sands of Arabia, it was no longer sequestered in some far-off desert land.
The Umayyad regime inaugurated an age of prosperity and growth, well-evidenced by the construction of the famous mosque in Jerusalem, The Dome of the Rock, the oldest surviving Islamic monument. Built over the rock from which Muhammad purportedly ascended into heaven, this holy site's seniority in the tradition of Moslem architecture is shown in its essentially Byzantine design, for there was as yet no Islamic style in these early days. Still, the Dome of the Rock presaged Islamic things to come, especially in the addition of the minaret to the exterior of the site.
This explosive stage of early Moslem expansion ended in two great military defeats: the failed siege of Constantinople in 717-718, routed by the Byzantines' use of Greek fire; and Charles Martel's rebuff of Moslem forces at Tours (central France) in 732. The result was that the Moslems' northern progress was stopped, and they turned their ambitions eastward toward India, Southeast Asia and China. Another consequence of these failures was to undermine the Umayyad dynasty which eventually fell, its prestige severely battered. Nor did it help that the Shi'ite issue refused to go away, especially after the Umayyads were linked to the murder of Ali's son, the prophet Muhammad's only grandson.
Thus, another powerful Moslem family, the Abbasids of Persia took advantage of this opening and defeated the Umayyads in a brief civil war (747-749 CE), inaugurating the Abbasid dynasty (750-1258 CE). The last Umayyad ruler, however, escaped to Spain, where he established a separate Moslem kingdom, accelerating the growing separatism that had already with the Shi'ites begun to rend the Islamic world. But for the moment, under the Abbasids' guidance the Moslems produced a level of civilization unrivaled in that day.
In Mesopotamia along the Tigris river near the ancient site of Babylon, they established their capital at Baghdad, still a major urban site in modern Iraq. At that location, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers come within twenty miles of one another, enabling the Abbasids to link them with a canal. This, combined with ditches and walls laid out in concentric circles the largest of which were two miles in diameter, restricted the approaches to the city and turned the rivers and canal into functionally a large defensive moat. It's hard not to see Constantinople, also well-protected by water and walls, as the model for Baghdad—a lesson the Moslems learned, perhaps, from their unsuccessful siege of that city a generation or two before—and, like Constantinople, Baghdad rose and triumphed with amazing speed. From its ground-breaking in 762, the city was up and running within four years, a speed of construction which outstripped even its Byzantine prototype.
The lifestyle in Baghdad was very high by the standards of the day. Situated on a plateau that provides cool nights and few mosquitoes, the city delivers a remarkably pleasant climate for that part of the world most of the year. And because it sat on the intersection of several important trade routes and provided a link between the major rivers in the area, Baghdad also became a center of commerce and wealth. In that way, too, it seems designed to serve as a rival to Constantinople, but with the expansion of Moslem influence throughout much of the known world it far surpassed the Byzantines' range of contacts. To wit, a check written in Baghdad could be cashed in Morocco during the Abbasids' heyday.
Other such evidence abounds attesting to the luxuries and elegance characterizing life in this "Golden Age of Islam." Resplendent palaces featuring elaborate court ceremony, eunuchs and harems showcased the power Abbasid caliphs wielded, in many ways traditional eastern autocrats who, if not gods themselves, were seen as the "Shadow of Allah on Earth." This world known to ours as the age of The Arabian Nights brought with it tales of flying carpets and genies but bestowed more on the world than mythical brilliance. From it come many features of modern life: porcelain, polo, chess, backgammon, frying pans, pants and rag paper, all of which owe their popularity in the world today to the Moslems who constructed this golden era.
Not everything the Moslems touched, however, wrought splendorous advancement. Women's rights, for instance, suffered under the oppressive social restrictions grafted onto Islam after it merged with Persian society. This age of harems and veiled faces greatly diminished women's power within the Islamic world, and so a husband had only to say "I divorce you" three times to dissolve his marriage—of course, it usually took several months to finalize the divorce—but still women had no such recourse and depended almost entirely on men for their well-being. This oppression constituted a serious setback from earlier days in the Moslem world when Muhammad had apparently sought to protect women's rights.
Likewise, other constituencies in Islamic society suffered under a cloud of bigotry and repression. Wealthy Moslems enslaved black Africans, for instance, in large numbers, founding the notion that sub-Saharan peoples were somehow fit for such subjection. This behavior lay the foundation for similar attitudes among Europeans later and opened the door for the horrific abuses perpetrated through slavery during the period of European colonization, the tragedies of which still haunt the world.
Yet at its peak the Golden Age of Islam brought unparalleled civilization to a world despoiled by invasion and internal unrest. From the broken brilliance of ancient Mesopotamia, the Parthians and Sassanian Persians in the first half of the millennium before the coming of Muhammad had struggled to keep alive a moribund culture mired in its own past glory. To all this the Moslems gave new life, direction and a sense of unity, especially under the greatest of the Abbasid caliphs, Harun al-Rashid (r. 786-809). A contemporary of Europe's Charlemagne, Harun al-Rashid communicated widely and commanded respect from virtually every corner of the known world. He was remembered, for instance, in the records of the Holy Roman Empire for having sent an elephant named Abu'l Abbas as a gift to the king in Aachen. The elephant survived many years and became legendary in the history of the Carolingian Age.
Harun al-Rashid's reign marked, however, a downturn in Abbasid fortunes. Like the Roman emperor Augustus, he was unable to continue the expansion of his domain, which soon led to stalled fortunes and the general decentralization of Moslem governance. By 945, Shi'ites had captured Baghdad and turned all subsequent Abbasid caliphs into puppet rulers. And when Seljuk Turks, yet another invading Asiatic horde, seized the capital in 1055, the fate of the Abbasids as rulers of the Islamic world was sealed.
The Abbasids' nominal claim to power ended in 1258 with the Mongol invasion which ended their dwindling dynasty finally. This inaugurated the Turkish phase of Islamic history, culminating in the Ottoman Empire which rose during the fifteenth century to take control of the Moslem Near East and eventually even Constantinople, at last uprooting Byzantium in 1453. The Ottoman nation continued until after the end of World War I (1918), their empire's demise marking the final chapter in the long and luminous history of Medieval Islam.
Likewise, it was said that the ghost of Aristotle appeared to the caliph Ma'mun and told him there's no conflict between reason and faith, and so he built a "House of Wisdom" in Baghdad, a university of sorts housing many Arabic translations of Greek texts. These helped preserve much ancient learning and, at the same time, encouraged Islamic scholars to apply the principles and methods of Plato and Aristotle to the study of the Koran. A similar movement called Scholasticism in the West later imitated this notion of uniting theological and philosophical thought. That, in turn, laid the foundation for modern science.
To the Medieval Moslems are also owed several important aspects of modern art. Arising from a long-standing tradition of oral poetry among pre-Islamic Bedouins, Moslem poetry forged a strong and supple language, grounded in Muhammad's Arabic and best exemplified in the Koran. The result was a dynasty of magnificent love-poets, including the wife of the first Umayyad caliph who, haunted by a love of desert life, longed for the "uncouth, slim tribesmen I love, not these fat men," presumably the bureaucrats around her husband in the city of Damascus.
Later, the very popular poet Ma'arri exhibited for the age an unusual degree of freedom of expression, evidenced in his assertion of belief in Allah but not in any afterlife or the need for having children. Early Islam clearly tolerated dissent in a way few modern religions do. Last but not least, Omar Khayyam who died in 1123 is arguably the best known of Moslem poets. His Rubaiyat, a collection of love poems, was written in his native Persian, not Arabic, and its famous line, "a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou," ranks among some of the most famous and often quoted words ever uttered.
Perhaps most visible of all Moslem arts is, however, architecture. With injunctions against realistic art firmly ensconced in Islamic tradition, Moslem architects perfected the geometric designs which characterize their art. Evidenced nowhere better than at the Alhambra, a palace-fortress in Granada (southern Spain), the lush intricacy of Moslem architecture seen there features vine-like trails and the horseshoe arch, even if the latter is originally a Visigothic, not Islamic device.
In related fields, Moslem intellectuals combined Greek geometry with "Arabic" enumeration to advance mathematics and from this created algebra. Modern medicine also finds its roots in Islamic civilization. Moslem doctors and care-givers were the first to distinguish between diseases like measles and smallpox, to build hospitals widely, to train physicians and issue medical licences.
All in all, the medieval Moslem world represents one of the finest civilizations of its day, if not one of the finest ever. This fact should be borne in mind as aggressions and tensions persist between the East and West. As bombs fly back and forth, it's best to stop and recall how much is shared on both sides and how much is owed between us, and how we got to the point where the animosity between East and West is as sharp as it is today. And that's what we'll explore in the next Section.