“Scholar of Islamic thought to speak,” from the Ithaca Journal, April 11:
The second Arts and Sciences Humanities Lecture, “How the Muslims Saved Civilization: the Reception of Greek Learning in Arabic,” will be given by distinguished scholar of Islamic thought Peter Adamson, professor of ancient and medieval philosophy, King’s College London.
The lecture will be held at 4:30 p.m. April 13, at the Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium in Goldwin Smith Hall. A reception will follow the lecture in the Ruth Woolsey Findley Gallery of Art on the lower level of Goldwin Smith Hall. Both events are free.
Dr. Adamson is likely to be retailing the idea that Islamic culture was once a beacon of learning and enlightenment — a common myth, and one that is ultimately meant to make non-Muslims relax and love the jihad.
But in fact, much of the most common claims about the great achievements of Islamic culture have been exaggerated, often for quite transparent apologetic motives. The astrolabe was developed, if not perfected, long before Muhammad was born. The zero, which is often attributed to Muslims, and what we know today as “Arabic numerals” did not originate in Arabia, but in pre-Islamic India. Aristotle’s work was preserved in Arabic not initially by Muslims at all, but by Christians such as the fifth century priest Probus of Antioch, who introduced Aristotle to the Arabic-speaking world. Another Christian, Huneyn ibn-Ishaq (809-873), translated many works by Aristotle, Galen, Plato and Hippocrates into Syriac. His son then translated them into Arabic. The Syrian Christian Yahya ibn ‘Adi (893-974) also translated works of philosophy into Arabic, and wrote one of his own, The Reformation of Morals. His student, another Christian named Abu ‘Ali ‘Isa ibn Zur’a (943-1008), also translated Aristotle and others from Syriac into Arabic. The first Arabic-language medical treatise was written by a Christian priest and translated into Arabic by a Jewish doctor in 683. The first hospital was founded in Baghdad during the Abbasid caliphate — not by a Muslim, but a Nestorian Christian. A pioneering medical school was founded at Gundeshapur in Persia — by Assyrian Christians.
The point here is simply that the great achievements of Islamic culture are being exaggerated for political and apologetic reasons today. For this sort of thing to go on at jihad-justifying Islamic websites is one thing, but an academic should know better. Emphasis on “should.”
If anyone makes Dr. Adamson’s lecture and he takes questions, these would be some facts that one might politely and respectfully ask him about.