Mainstream commentaries have successfully rebranded Islam as a liberal and progressive religion. Opinion pages in the traditional media frequently tout the exploits of the Islamic “Golden Age” to neutralize criticisms as bigoted. Unfortunately, political correctness precludes sober discussions of the pitfalls of Islam. New evidence showing that Islamic rule is correlated with underdevelopment can no longer be ignored.
The Medieval Ages are prominently singled out as the apex of Islamic civilization, however, the narrative is more complicated than previously thought. Although some Muslims contributed to the expansion of knowledge during this era, they would not have been able to do so without the intellectual input of Nestorian Christians, Persians, and other outsiders responsible for translating classical works. Foreign influences were the primary motivation for Islamic intellectual works in the medieval era rather than an internal culture of dissident scholarship.
In Islam, there was a strict separation between Islamic sciences predicated on the Koran and Islamic laws and the foreign sciences which comprised Greek science and natural philosophy. Medieval Islam did not possess a favorable view of secular philosophy, and those who veered beyond the boundaries of orthodox thought were considered heretical. Edward Grant comments on the uneasy relationship between Islam and science “Not only was Greek philosophy regarded as a foreign science, but the term philosopher (faylasufs) was employed pejoratively.”
Unlike, Christianity, in Islam, religion is an all-encompassing force that cannot be divorced from other aspects of society. This type of thinking made it difficult for dissident thinkers to examine secular issues without facing backlash. The consensus was that nothing should be studied without showing how it complemented religion. Critical students will remark that there was not a great distinction between Islam and medieval Christianity because Galileo was censored by the Church for his theories.
Yet sophisticated analyses proposed by books like Galileo, Science, and the Church (1992), and Galileo Goes to Jail and Others Myths about Science and Religion (2010), demonstrate that Galileo’s story is more about politics, personalities, and egos than the suppression of science. Some schools in Islam are more amenable to controversy than others, but for the most part, Islam is an orthodox religion that struggles to reconcile faith with the secular world. Hence, new studies posit that Islam is linked with destruction rather than enabling progress.
Although Barbarian tribes are blamed for the dissolution of classical civilization after the Fall of the Roman Empire, Northwestern University Scholar Dareo Fernandez-Morea credits them with preserving classical culture. He argues that the Visigoths, for example, had assimilated into Roman culture and were therefore Romanized and considered themselves heirs to classical civilization upon seizing Spain from the Western Roman Empire in 415. However, Muslims presided over the ruination of Visigoth Spain and its classical legacies.
Fernandez-Morea explains that Muslims only advanced culturally after their engagement with foreigners:
Only later, with Islam benefiting from the superior civilizations of the Greek Orthodox Roman Empire and Persia, did Arabs begin to raise their cultural level, while their destruction of the Visigoth kingdom and their domination of the Mediterranean Sea cut off Christian Spain, and indeed Christian Europe, from the previous direct contact with the science, medicine, art, and literature of the Greek.
Furthermore, Emmett Scott in his revisionist text, Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy, presents archaeological evidence showing that it was Islam rather than Germanic tribes that initiated the collapse of classical civilization. Scott explains that contrary to popular belief archaeological evidence does not imply that societies flourished under Islamic rule:
No matter where we go, it is the same story. Spain, as we have seen is supposed to have witnessed, a flowering of Islamic civilization and culture in the two centuries after the Arab conquest of 711; and the city of Cordoba is said to have grown to a sophisticated metropolis of half a million people or more…Yet it is admitted that ‘Little remains of the architecture of the period’…the only standing Muslim structure in the whole of Spain dating before the eleventh century is the so-called Mosque of Cordoba; yet even this, strictly speaking, is not an Islamic construction. It was originally the Visigothic Cathedral of St. Vincent, which was converted, supposedly in the days of Abd er- Rahman I to a mosque.
Empirical literature also dispels the claim that Spain prospered intellectually under Islamic rule. Recent research asserts that by impeding commerce and self-governing institutions Islam obstructed the demand for education and as such, this led to a negative relationship between Islamic rule and human capital levels in modern Spain. According to another study, areas in pre-colonial Africa governed by Islam experience higher infant mortality, fewer years of education, and lower density of night lights in the contemporary period relative to places governed by Christian Kingdoms or stateless regions.
In explaining these findings the authors conclude that Islamic regions are worse off because Christians and colonial administrators were less likely to reside in such places. But this is an indirect admission that Christians and colonial administrators would have provided better governance than Islamic leaders since their absence in Islamic spaces lowered performance. The paucity of colonial intervention in Islamic spaces is explained by the conservatism and aggression of Islam. Islamic territories were likely to resist change and could be quite uncharitable to Europeans, so avoiding these areas was in their best interest.
Islam is lauded by politically correct pundits as a progressive religion, but as the evidence indicates it is often a predictor of stagnation and intellectual barrenness. Western countries should be wary of those who obscure the anti-progressive elements of Islam