Highlight text to annotate itX
While the monks of the West
were hoarding their wisdom
on scraps of expensive parchment,
paper enabled Islamic civilization to spread
its newfound knowledge far and wide,
creating single community,
linking three continents.
So, the chief distinction, therefore,
of Islamic civilization,
in addition to the fact
that it made new leaps of originality,
new transformations in traditions
of learning and everything else possible,
is the fact that it enabled human beings
to consider the possibility
of thinking about the globe
as a single unit... humanity.
In all the broad empire,
there was one place the Christian world
could experience the lifestyle
Muslims now took for granted...
Here, on the European continent itself,
Islamic culture would begin to have an effect
on the European civilization around it.
A thousand years ago,
the Spanish city of Cordoba
was a centre of learning and culture
that rivaled Baghdad.
Today, Cordoba's narrow lanes hearken to its medieval past.
During the Dark Ages,
this was the most prosperous and
sophisticated metropolis on the continent.
It had streetlights and paved roads,
libraries, hospitals and palaces.
This was a city of light...
a Muslim city.
The city of Cordoba in the 9th and 10th centuries
was one of the biggest
and most exciting in Europe.
We have descriptions of it
by people coming and saying
"All these flowers everywhere, open streets,
"this wonderful light coming down..."
Northern cities were dark.
Cordoba had running water.
People lived in big houses.
In contrast, in Paris,
people lived in shacks by the side of the river.
The glory of medieval Cordoba is here,
in what is now the great Roman Catholic cathedral
in the middle of town.
But the Cordoba Cathedral of today
began its life as a mosque...
one of the grandest of the Islamic empire.
The Great Mosque in Cordoba was simply the biggest mosque
in the biggest city in southern Europe.
When you climb the church tower which used to be a minaret,
you look out over this expanse of roof.
It's quit amazing to see cathedral
complete with flying buttresses,
popping up out of the middle of this massive mosque.
Many, many people came to visit it,
to view the wonders of the mosque,
which had rib vaulting.
The kind of vaulting which is like this and which,
100 years later,
by a mere coincidence, you might think
but not at all a conscience
appears in the Gothic cathedrals
of northern Europe,
in Lincoln Cathedral in Chartres Cathedral in France.
Where does that come from?
Obviously, influenced by the Great Mosque of Cordoba
in the south of Spain.
For the occasional European Christian traveler,
Cordoba was the one opportunity the glimpse the Islamic world
What they saw, was shocking.
Most of Europe at that time
languished in poverty and squalor.
Cordoba was a pageant of prosperity and enlightenment.
In the 10th century there was a Saxon nun
with the unpronounceable name of Hrotswitha
who called medieval Cordoba "the ornament of the world".
She was very, very taken with the place.
and there you are she was a Christian nun.
As Europeans made their way from the cold stone
of their northern castles
into the glorious Muslim cities of Southern Spain,
they couldn't help but be impressed.
In the green hills above Granada,
was a palace of startling elegance.
A shining example of the richness
and sophistication Islam brought to medieval Europe.
It's called the Al Hamra.
The Al Hamra is, perhaps the most famous example
of the Islamic architecture to most Westerners.
It is the best remaining example of
what a medieval Muslim palace would've look like.
Echoed in the finely carved, geometric plaster work
and marbled pillars
in a vanished lifestyle of extraordinary luxury.
The Al Hamra reveals the pinnacle of Islamic culture
and of her vanity.
The beauty of the Al Hamra is not so much in the
it's more of the combination of everything.
That is, this wonderful sort of orchestrated interplay
of different textures and surfaces of light,
and space, and water playing inside and outside
It's almost like a symphony of different elements
that are very carefully brought together,
to provide exquisite enjoyment.
Here the Muslim elite relished the good life.
Reposing on lush carpets, surrounded by perfume and music
the privileged few debated the nature of God,
the subtleties of Greek philosophy,
or the most recent mathematical revelation from India.
While they dined on spiced delicacies,
served on Chinese porcelains.
The strolled the grounds, through gardens,
irrigated by complex gravity feed water systems.
How far Muhammad's followers had come
from the life of desert nomads.
How distant they felt from the rest
of the European continent they now shared.
Christian Europe, due north,
was struggling on through the Dark Ages.
But at the dawn of the 11th century,
a tragedy in Jerusalem would put Muslims and European Christians
on a collision course.
Jerusalem was ruled by an Egyptian caliph,
an infamous man named Al-Hakim.
Al-Hakim was certainly a deviation from the norm.
Clinically speaking, I suppose,
today we'd regard him as a madman,
And someone who was as simply insane.
For 200years, the Christian holy places in Jerusalem
had been respected and protected by Muslim rulers.
In 1009 the Egyptian ruler Al-Hakim
broke with that tradition.
He ordered the holiest church in Christendom destroyed.
And, horror of horrors,
he burnt down the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Nobody knows quite why he did it,
and you can have your own theories about it,
but the fact of the matter was that that sent shivers
of terror and anxiety through Christendom.
In a way, of course,
Al-Hakim was the one exception
that proved the rule for Christians
that Christians had been speaking of for centuries,
of Muslims as intolerant, mad,
slavering heretics who simply could not be
expected to abide by the
rules of civilized human beings.
The fact that Al-Hakim's successor
rebuilt the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
it was done by 1048 with Byzantine help
didn't cut any ice.
There was this perception now that things were not going well
in the Holy Land.
In Europe anti-Muslim sentiment simmered.
By 1095 it reached the boiling point.
Pope Urban II spent most of that year traveling through France,
imploring his feudal lords to unite
in a campaign of bloodshed.
'Hasten to exterminate this vile race
from the lands of your eastern brethren'
the Pope demanded.
'Jerusalem is the navel of the world.
'She cries out to be liberated.
'Christ himself commands it.'
So we've got a merging or a coming together
of military service and religion,
which served the purposes, if you like,
of a Pope who in 1095 made his famous call to crusade
to rescue the endangered holy places in the East
and in particular Jerusalem.
In 1097, Muslim shepherds in Syria
caught their first glimpse
of a sight that would soon strike terror
throughout the Holy Land.
When the Crusaders struck, by sheer chance,
the Arab empire was at its most vulnerable,
broken into feuding kingdoms and petty dynasties.
They couldn't have chosen a better moment
because the Muslim world was in a very fragmented state.
The great rulers of the time
had died and into that power vacuum
there came this most unexpected enemy,
the Crusaders from Western Europe.
Who would have thought that a new enemy
would come to the Islamic world from that unexpected quarter?
It was completely unprecedented.
It was a real surprise.
The Muslims didn't really know who they were.
They thought they were just another lot of Byzantines
who were coming, as usual to be a nuisance
and fight on the borders.
They had no idea that
there was this extraordinary surge
of religious fervor and fanaticism
coming from Western Europe
and that the aim of this group was Jerusalem.
History is haunted by days of incomprehensible horror.
Few are darker than July 15th, 1099
when the Crusaders entered Jerusalem.
The massacre must have been terrible.
The fleeing of the population.
It must have been horrendous.
From a letter to the Pope from the Crusaders
"If you want to know what was done to the enemies we found
in the city; know this,
"Our men rode in the blood of the Saracens
up to the knees of their horses."
They saw the Holy city and
they were in a state of exultation.
And perhaps that's why,
when they flooded through the gates of the city,
that they were fired up with fanaticism and zeal.
And that's why there was this terrible massacre
in the name of Christendom.
It was a blot on the name of Christendom
in the Muslim view and justifiably so.
Even Christians weren't spared.
At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,
dozens of worshippers from Eastern sects were massacred.
To the Crusaders,
they were nothing more than foreigners.
The Christian chronicles record the carnage.
'The Saracens who were still alive
'dragged the dead ones out and made huge piles of them.
'Such a slaughter of pagans
'no one has ever seen or heard of.
The pyres they made were like pyramids.'
They shocked the Muslim world when they came.
There are a number of extremely moving
lamentations in poetry
which date from that period.
And the Arab poets of the time
talk about the feelings of anguish and terror
which the Crusaders, or the Franks,
as they're called in the Arab sources,
caused the local people
the old women, the young girls.
Those who are cloistered away
in their houses are trembling with fear.
The whole imagery is that of the *** of their land
and the terrible impurities
caused by these barbarian infidels
coming into their sacred space.
'We have mingled blood with flowing tears
'and there is no room left in us for pity.
'To shed tears is man's worst weapon
'when the swords stir up the embers of war,
'when blood has been split,
'when sweet girls must hide their lovely faces
in their hands for shame.'
The First Crusade was over.
Of the 100,000 men who began the campaign
most would eventually return to Europe,
having had only a glimpse of Muslim life.
The job of occupying Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside
fell to the 20,000 who remained, indefinitely.
To secure their occupation the intruders did here
what they had done in Europe
they built castles.
The Crusaders built the finest castles
that the Near East has ever seen.
And the proof of that is that they're still there.
When everything else may have faded away,
the Crusaders castles remain a living testimony
to their presence and Crac des Chevaliers in Syria
is the Crusader castle of them all.
It's very, very big.
It's strong. It's impenetrable.
It's a living example of the way
that a number of the Crusader castles
couldn't be taken by siege.
You can see for miles and miles from it
and see the other castles that
would have been in visual distance
for communication by fire and smoke signals.
It's got all the accoutrements of a good medieval castle
with battlements and turrets
and places for pouring boiling oil
and other liquids down onto the enemy.
But inside that castle,
what was life really like?
It wasn't merriment and festivity.
It was constant fear.
You had to be on the lookout
in case someone was trying to mine the castle
or to climb over the walls with scaling ladders.
The people outside, the population,
the local peasantry they were not friendly.
So you had to watch their movements all the time.
It was a terrifying place.
The Crusaders made treaties and broke them.
They harassed the traders who passed by their castles.
As they raided caravans,
the Crusaders learned of a luxurious lifestyle
unheard of in Europe.
Materially, the Crusaders were just blown away
by what they found in the Middle East.
And they took a lot back with them.
things just never seen in such
quantities before the good life.
These things they brought back to Europe,
some as souvenirs.
In fact, a whole industry developed
in the Middle East.
of providing souvenirs for the Crusaders to take back.
It is perhaps a Western bias to imagine the Crusaders were
a decisive force in world events,
devastating to the Islamic culture and trade.
The truth is, while the Knights of the Crusades
were bunkering down in their castles,
Islam was spreading its influence and flourishing.
Muhammad's message rang out as clear and strong as it ever had.
Mosques were now on every horizon.
They welcomed traders.
They housed schools and hospitals.
Through Islamic architecture,
literature and music a vibrant culture was emerging
in celebration of a singular faith.
Faith had launched an empire.
Culture was now enlightening it.
But ultimately what united it was trade.
For the Muslims, trade,
like science, brought innovation.
Business was expedited by a revolutionary concept
called the sakk,
a cheque that could be written in Spain and cashed in India.
Writing a cheque assumes that someone is going to honor it
and cash it at the other end.
And that if you have money in one place someone will say
"I have access to that somewhere else."
So this imply that you have some kind of central bank
or central loan organization
who's going to be good for the money.
So it frees up your ability to travel.
It frees up commerce because
the money doesn't have to be moved
from Samarkand back to Cordoba,
and back the other way the next year.
So you can base it all on trust and faith.
And Muslims became some of the greatest merchants
of the Middle Ages.
And the greatest craftsmen as well.
From the Persians,
Muslim blacksmiths learned how to fold steel
to give it strength and flexibility.
The swords made in Toledo and Damascus
had no equal in the world.
But the economic backbone of
Islam's expanding wealth was textiles.
The demand for the products of Muslim looms was enormous
for cashmere, cotton and silk.
Textiles were simply the
gas and steel industry of medieval times.
Because you have to think of textiles not only as
growing the plants but making all the dyes.
The dyes were particularly expensive
and imported the farthest.
Then you need all the fixtures
and mordents and equipment for looms,
then you need to transport these textiles.
So, collectively, the industry
of making and transporting textiles
was the mainstay of the economy.
While Europeans settled for coarse woollen
and linen garments,
Muslims wore brocaded fabrics of organdie,
damask and taffeta,
words that came into the English language
from Arabic and Persian.
The fabrics produced in the Islamic world were
among the finest ever produced.
And they were made of not only plain linen or cotton
but also very, very fancy silks,
cloth of gold, where silk thread is wrapped with gold,
and with very, very complicated patterns.
These complex patterns were coveted by wealthy Europeans
and the Church as well.
When the Christians needed a cloth worthy of wrapping
the bones of their saints, the choice was obvious.
They looked to a Muslim loom.
But sometimes the fabrics were trimmed
with decorative Arabic text from the Holy Quran.
And so the words of the Prophet
sometimes appeared in shocking proximity
to Christendom's holiest icons.
It is not unusual to find in
Italian Renaissance paintings, for example,
to find paintings of the ***
wearing a robe of very fancy patterned cloth
and precious silks embroidered with gold
or woven with gold designs.
Sometimes they would say things with an Arabic inscription on it
which says "There is no god but God
and Muhammad is his prophet", in Arabic.
After almost 100 years of broken treaties and sporadic fighting,
The Muslims reached a tuning point
in their struggles against the Crusaders.
It came in the person of one of Islam's most celebrated figures.
His name was Salah ad-Din.
But the West would remember him,
and come to revere him, as Saladin.
There is certainly one thing we must recognize about Saladin
and that is that he was successful
where many others of his faith
and his part of the world had not been.
He possessed one unusual feature.
In addition to his intelligence
and his robust physical strength,
he certainly seems to have been
a great inspirer of his military followers.
In 1187, Saladin amassed an army of 12,000
mounted warriors and lured the Crusaders out of Jerusalem
onto a plain between two hills called the Horns of Hattin.
On the evening of July 3rd,
after a long march,
the Crusaders camped on a barren hillside.
There was nothing but a waterless terrain.
And we're talking about July.
We're talking about the Middle East,
about incredible heat and no water.
As dawn approached,
Saladin's men set fire to the tall grass
and a strong wind carried the flames
into the Christian encampment.
And very soon they found themselves surrounded,
as in the Muslim tactic,
by their enemy,
and panic set in.
'The flames bore down on them and the heat became intense'
Saladin's secretary wrote.
'The people of the Trinity
'were consumed by the fire of flames,
"the fire of thirst
and the fire of arrows.'
The army of the Crusaders was totally decimated.
And the victory at Hattin
was a real turning point for Saladin.
It meant that he could then proceed
to take Jerusalem later on that year.
Three months later, Saladin entered Jerusalem.
For the first time in almost a century,
the call to prayer floated over the Holy City once again.
And yet, remarkably, Saladin leveled no retaliation
against Christians or their holy places.
In the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,
mass was celebrated as usual.
Saladin also decreed that Christians who wished to
could leave the city with their property.
Those who chose to stay would be allowed to worship freely.
When his reputation reached Western Europe
of the way he had behaved in Jerusalem over the conquest,
he gradually became the most famous Muslim of all time.
Saladin's victory did not put an end to
Western aspirations in the Near East.
Other crusades would follow,
though, as with the first,
they would hardly have an impact on the larger Islamic culture.
The Crusaders would eventually be driven from their citadels
along the coast and return to Europe,
their only lasting legacy a few abandoned castles.
But the returning Crusaders found themselves changed
by their contact with Islamic culture.
The long term impact on European life would be profound.
They were just amazed by the material culture
they found there.
The quality of the merchandise, the quality of the goods
was far better than anything at home
and they brought it home with them.
They came back, for example,
with a taste for highly spiced food.
They imported pepper and cinnamon
and other oriental spices
because their taste buds had been whetted
by a different cuisine.
We know that they found out the delights of using soap
when they were in the Middle East
and it would appear that that caught on back in Europe.
After the Crusades, many Europeans were far more open
to the ideas of what was going on to the East,
what was happening in other parts of the world.
They simply couldn't be as insular as before.
Lots of people were open to
'What's out there? Let's explore this.'
New intellectual thoughts
'Let's see what these people are writing.
This is when people start to learn Arabic,
slowly, in the West.
As the barrier of the language dissolved,
ideas born in the great Muslim cities
began to filter into Europe.
Ideas that would forever change Western thought.
The great Italian theologian
used the writings of the Muslim philosopher Averroes
To justify the clear separation of faith and reason,
a Muslim ideal that formed the basis of all scientific inquiry
and led to the European Renaissance.
Averroes himself appears in Raphael's
classic Renaissance painting of great Western thinkers.
Here, alongside Plato and Aristotle,
stands a vivid reminder of the debt the world owes Islam.
The scope of Islamic civilization
has now reached levels which certainly
were not accomplished by any other known
civilization of the world.
It actually unified parts of our globe
in ways that had not been witnessed before.
But this golden age of Islam
was not to last.
After shrugging off the Crusades
and bringing the precious gift of knowledge to Europe,
the great cities of the Islamic empire
would be brought to ruin
by a force more terrible
than anything the Europeans could muster.
Their libraries destroyed the wealth plundered,
the empty cities stood mute in the aftermath of a devastation
that descended upon them not from the West,
but from the East.
It's known as the Mongol Catastrophe.
The Mongols were Turko-Mongolian nomads
from the steppes of Central Asia.
In the 13th century,
they rampaged across much of Eurasia
between the Ukraine and China.
It wasn't long before they entered Islamic Persia.
To the cultured, urban Muslims,
these guys were a bunch of savages.
When you entered the Mongol army,
you came with three horses
and you lived off the horses.
First you drank their blood,
then when you'd moved far enough away
you killed them, you slaughtered them and ate their meat.
And that's why they could go so far and survive so long.
Terror was the Mongols' principal tactic.
One of the local Iranian leaders foolishly decides
to kill off the emissary that the Mongols have sent.
In doing that, he evokes the anger of the Mongols,
who want to use him as an example.
They use this retaliatory technique often,
of killing off entire towns,
wiping them out as examples.
So they build these fantastic towers of skulls,
piling up all the dead bodies as an example.
And then all the other towns around immediately give way.
City after city fell before them.
It was only a matter of time
before they reached the centre of Islamic power.
On February the 10th, 1258 the Mongols took Baghdad.
According to the Arab chroniclers,
the Mongols put Baghdad to the torch
and killed 10,000 inhabitants.
Mosques and libraries,
the collected knowledge of centuries,
were all set ablaze.
Within less than 50 years, the Mongols seized the heart
of the Islamic empire from the Arabs.
Islamic civilization seemed poised for destruction.
Lost to posterity.
But then something remarkable happened
While the consensus of opinion is that
Mongols were a devastating force,
I personally feel that they also had a very positive effect
on Western Asia and the world of Islam.
They opened the world tremendously.
Historically, the most significant thing
about the Mongols for us would be that they became Muslims.
Most of them in the end,
converted to Islam and then became,
after being these tremendously destructive forces,
some of the greatest patrons of the arts
and letters in all of Islamic history.
The conversion, and its lasting effect, was extraordinary.
Within a decade, the Mongols had gone from
building towers of human heads
to building mosques glorifying God.
It is not surprising to me
that the land conquered the conquerors.
The Mongols themselves became Muslims,
or Islamic leaders, par excellence.
The Mongols transformed Islam.
Now, Islamic power could be held by anyone,
not just the Arabs who had created it.
The Mongols threw open the door
for the great gunpowder empire to follow.
The empire of the Ottoman Turks.
Islam was now set on a new course of expansion
to both the east and the west
marching to the beat of Turkish drums.