Islamic world contributions to Medieval Europe  

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"Gouguenheim attacks the "thesis of the West's debt" as advanced by the historians Edward Said, Alain de Libera and Mohammed Arkoun. He says it replaces formerly dominant notions of cultural superiority advanced by Western orientalists, with "a new ethnocentrism, oriental this time" that sets off an "enlightened, refined and spiritual Islam" against a brutal West."[1], 2008 review of Sylvain Gouguenheim's Aristote au mont Saint-Michel by John Vinocur


"The Islamic Arabs developed in the course of a few years a culture which has influenced all the subsequent developments of Europe, and which, even when we allow for the cultural impulse which it inherited from Persia, was marvellous in the rapidity of its growth. Our own modern civilization has risen out of darkest barbarism in the course of three or four centuries." --The Making of Humanity, Robert Briffault


"It was Islam that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed." --Obama, June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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During the high medieval period, the Islamic world was at its cultural peak, supplying information and ideas to Europe, via Andalusia, Sicily and the Crusader kingdoms in the Levant. These included Latin translations of the Greek Classics and of Arabic texts in astronomy, mathematics, science, and medicine. Other contributions included technological and scientific innovations via the Silk Road, including Chinese inventions such as paper and gunpowder.

The Islamic world also influenced other aspects of medieval European culture, partly by original innovations made during the Islamic Golden Age, including various fields such as the arts, agriculture, alchemy, music, pottery, etc.

Many Arabic loanwords in Western European languages, including English, mostly via Old French, date from this period. This includes traditional star names such as Aldebaran, scientific terms like alchemy (whence also chemistry), algebra, algorithm, etc. and names of commodities such as sugar, camphor, cotton, etc.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
In the history of ideas, the continuity thesis is the hypothesis that there was no radical discontinuity between the intellectual development of the High Middle Ages, and the developments in the Renaissance and early modern period. Thus the idea of an intellectual or scientific revolution following the Renaissance is a myth. Continuity theorists argue that the real intellectual revolution came earlier, either in the 12th century, with Averroes' revival of Aristotle and its embrace by the Latin West during a Renaissance of the 12th century, or even earlier at the turn of the millenium in the Islamic civilization. (See Scientific Revolution for the contrary view.)

Briffault on Islamic world contributions to Medieval Europe

Robert Briffault (1876-1948) criticized the idea of a Renaissance taking place in the 15th century. He instead argued that "a real Renaissance" took place centuries earlier in the Islamic civilization at the turn of the millennium:

"It was under the influence of the Arabian and Moorish revival of culture, and not in the fifteenth century, that the real Renaissance took place. Spain, not Italy, was the cradle of the rebirth of Europe. After steadily sinking lower and lower into barbarism, it had reached the darkest depths of ignorance and degradation when the cities of the Saracenic world, Baghdad, Cairo, Córdoba, Toledo, were growing centres of civilization and intellectual activity. It was there that the new life arose which was to grow into a new phase of human evolution. From the time when the influence of their culture made itself felt, began the stirring of a new life."
"The fact has been set forth again and again. But it has been nevertheless stubbornly ignored and persistently minimized. The debt of Europe to the 'heathen dog' could, of course, find no place in the scheme of Christian history, and the garbled falsification has imposed itself on all subsequent conceptions."
"The debt of our science to that of the Arabs does not consist in startling discoveries or revolutionary theories; science owes a great deal more to Arab culture, it owes its existence. The ancient world was, as we saw, pre-scientific. The astronomy and mathematics of the Greeks were a foreign importation never thoroughly acclimatized in Greek culture. The Greeks systematized, generalized and theorized, but the patient ways of investigation, the accumulation of positive knowledge, the minute methods of science, detailed and prolonged observation, experimental inquiry, were altogether alien to the Greek temperament. [...] What we call science arose in Europe as a result of new spirit of enquiry, of new methods of experiment, observation, measurement, of the development of mathematics, in a form unknown to the Greeks. That spirit and those methods were introduced into the European world by the Arabs.":
"It is highly probable that but for the Arabs, modern European civilization would never have arisen at all; it is absolutely certain that but for them, it would not have assumed that character which has enabled it to transcend all previous phases of evolution."

--The Making of Humanity [2]

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