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The Legacy of Muslim Societies in Global Modernity | 8. Panel 6: New Scholarship on Science, Ideas and Philosophy
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8. Panel 6: New Scholarship on Science, Ideas and Philosophy

George Saliba, Columbia University

Ahmed Rahim, University of Virginia

Nabil Matar, University of Minnesota

George Saliba, Presentation Summary

To view videos of Dr. Saliba's lectures on closely related topics, which include  slides and animations synced to the audio, follow these links:
A lecture on the book
Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance, MIT Press, 2007 (now in paperback as of 2011) at the Library of Congress,  webcast at

A lecture at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London sponsored by the Muslim Heritage foundation on the 1001 Inventions website at

Prof. Saliba’s studies have gone far beyond golden age and decline, and have actually attempted to re-define the golden age of Islamic science. Some of his material is in the form of PowerPoint presentations because of the restrictions on illustrations in academic books, whereas it requires illustrations for understanding [see video links provided for animated illustrations of his talk]. Prof. Saliba presented his ideas on what exactly is meant by the golden age of Islamic astronomy on the level of planetary theories and on the level of very sophisticated mathematics. He spoke about the period mainly after the 12th century, which is the standard period when that decline is said to have set in. Prof. Saliba noted with reference to earlier panels that poor al-Ghazali gets murdered every time this subject is mentioned. He proposed to demonstrate that if there ever was such a negative effect on science, it definitely did not come from al-Ghazali. If it is necessary to point the finger at something, it would be more useful to revive the code word “colonialism” in order to explain the “decline.”

Prof. Saliba’s focus was on novelties and original ideas in astronomy after al-Ghazali. He began with a quote from an early 11th century, Andalusian text, showing that the continuation of work in astronomy was widespread and not a final, flickering flame. Saliba’s other examples were chosen to show the geographic and chronological range, illustrating that very vital activities were going on during this period, and not a few isolated cases.

The author of this Andalusian text [see image] is unknown, but information internal to the text indicates that he was a friend of al-Zarqali, around 1070 CE. The author of the text stated in Arabic that he was very cognizant that he was doing something new in astronomy but that he would provide the information in a separate text which he would call Kitab al-Istidrak, a book that Saliba does not possess, and thinks that it is lost. If it were ever found it would most likely re-emerge from one of the vast Turkish manuscript collections. The book is very important for in it the author declared that he was presenting something completely new in astronomy.

Ibn Haitham, a scientist living in Cairo, saw all sorts of problems with the Ptolemaic tradition of the Greeks. He wrote that a good number of the Greek theories do not make cosmological sense, and that consequently, astronomers needed to look completely afresh at all of the issues in that Greek tradition; these scientific mistakes of the Greeks, he maintained, require a completely new look at the problem, since the mistakes in the Ptolemaic models could not be tolerated. In science, it is a significant statement that there is a need to start a whole new science afresh. This statement by Ibn Haitham was written at the beginning or the middle of the 11th century.

Ibn Haitham was talking specifically about the following phenomenon: from the Greek tradition we inherited a geometric configuration proposed originally by Ptolemy (d.c. 170) who in turn based on the cosmology of Aristotle depicting the manner in which the planets move around us, and in the diagram you have over here [indicates slide with diagram], Ptolemy tells us that for an observer sitting here on earth, the planet is fixed on a small sphere that is rotating, and this small sphere itself is in turn carried within this light blue sphere, and this light blue sphere should, by Ptolemy’s definition, run uniformly in place so that everything is in uniform motion, so that from the earth we will see this planet looping around. This is the phenomenon that we see, except that Ptolemy, the interpreter of Aristotle, tells us that this light blue sphere does not run on an axis that goes through the earth, nor does it run on an axis that goes through its center, but on an axis called the “equant” which is off center. Yet Ptolemy still says that it needs to run in place, at uniform speed, on an axis that does not go through its center. The animation of a basketball spinning on the finger of a basketball player [indicates images] which was acquired through the help of Dr. Al-Hassani [in the audience], demonstrates what happens [when the ball drops when it is no longer spinning on an axis through its center]. The minute the finger moves away, the whole Aristotelian universe collapses. Astronomers who read this description of Ptolemy said this is impossible. No physical sphere can actually do that. Hence, Ptolemy was not describing a real world, but an imaginary, ideal one. Hence, Ibn Haitham’s statement that we must look afresh at the whole of Aristotle’s and Ptolemy’s explanation, meant that astronomers of his age should junk this astronomy and start over. Scientific advance is just that—when there is a need to start over, because the inherited explanation is no longer good enough.

In response to all of those doubts and cosmological failings, a series of astronomers living and reading during the so-called age of decline produced what Prof. Saliba called a veritable golden age of astronomy. His examples, distributed geographically and chronologically, show that these developments were not a flash in the pan, or a last gasp, but part of a sustained creative effort. Modern scholarship has to get out of this kind of paradigm of decline and look at what these figures actually said, and re-assess their impact on astronomy as a science.

Prof. Saliba highlighted six astronomers and gave examples from their original work: Muayyad al-Din al-‘Urdi of Damascus, d. 1266; Nasir al-Din a Tusi, d. 1274; Qutb al-Din al-shirazi, d. 1311; Ibn Shatir, d. 1375; Ala’ al-Din al-Qushji, d. 1474; Shams al-Din al-Khafri, d. 1550. That period was the limit of Prof. Saliba’s research, but it was not the end of material in the sources, which will require more time to research.

With the texts of Muayyad al-Din, the reader can find the novelty of his work in the middle of the text, when the author states that what scientists have learned about astronomy is not sufficient. He stated that he would introduce a new mathematical theorem, since then called ‘Urdi’s Lemma, that was naturally nowhere to be found in Greek astronomy. He stated that he needed this new mathematical tool in order to resolve the Greek mathematical problems. In the midst of this text, he proposed a theorem and explained its proof and provided an illustration. He was clearly talking about something new.

The next example was Muayyad al-Din’s employer, a man by the name of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi. Nasir al-Din al-Tusi also read the text of Ptolemy, and when he reached the critical stage in Ptolemy’s text, he said, “Aqul, hadha kalaamun kharijun an al-sinaa‛a.” To state it politely, he was saying that this kind of speech was utter nonsense. He was speaking about the most important text in the entire Greek tradition here, but he said that in order to actually save Ptolemy from himself, he, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, must propose a new theorem. He proposed the theorem on the margin of the page, which is now referred to as the “Tusi Couple.” Here again with al-Tusi, we have a new mathematical idea that was being plugged in to achieve the solution of problems that the Greeks could not solve in Ptolemy’s day, nor had others achieved it down to al-Tusi’s day, thus his proposal of the new solution.

About ten years later, al-Tusi realized that this theorem was not trivial, and that it was worth developing further, because it was useful in many applications. We have the Arabic text in which he developed and gave the mathematical proof for it. Approximately 200-300 years later, this same proof appeared in a Latin text, but this time it was written by Copernicus (died 1543). So this novelty, when it came into the Islamic sources, was highly appreciated during the Renaissance in Europe, but unfortunately not by modern Arabs and Muslims, who seldom read this material.

This theorem that al-Tusi proposed is a simple theorem that Prof. Saliba explained with illustrated diagrams [see images]. He needed to produce linear motion as a result of two circular motions. This has all sorts of mechanical and geometrical implications, but it is very useful for astronomical research, and al-Tusi was the one who proposed this new theorem and he proved it as we have seen. The late Willy Hartner of Germany first noticed this proof and noted in particular that the Arabic text and Latin text are similar, in that wherever the Arabic text had alphabetic letters to designate geometric points, the identical corresponding Latin letters were used in the Latin text. (a, b, g, d, etc.) Hartner asserted that Copernicus had even reproduced the labels of the points on his diagram that al-Tusi had used before. If it had been his own original diagram, he could have put the letters in any order he pleased, but he committed to putting them in exactly the same positions as Tusi a couple of centuries earlier had done. Therefore, Copernicus must have been looking at the diagram of al-Tusi. There is other evidence that he was looking at [an existing] diagram, and that at times he didn’t fully understand those diagrams. For example, here [indicates the image] the Z in Arabic is transliterated as F in Latin, since the resemblance between Z and F in Arabic is very close and easy to confuse. There is also a Ptolemaic problem related to the planetary model of Mercury; it is a very difficult model and Ptolemy had proposed it in this fashion: while this audience is not made up of mathematicians or astronomers, one can observe the visual difference in the model. In this model, as the planet Mercury moves around, from the point of view of observers on earth, Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi showed how this planet Mercury should move with a sophisticated explanation. The late historian of science Edward Kennedy managed to translate the ideas of Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi into vectors, showing the sophisticated mathematics which Qutb a-Din envisioned Such work does not normally appear in an age of decline, but grows out of an ongoing discourse among scientists who work intensively on a problem, who have their heads on their shoulders and know how to use them to produce such sophisticated work.

The problem of the movement of the moon was another point of argument among astronomers. Ptolemy noticed the moon, carried on a little epicycle. When this sphere is at the time of conjunction, meaning when the moon is close to the sun and can’t be seen, or when it is at the time of full moon, the maximum variation between where the moon is supposed to be and where it is actually placed is only a variation of about 5 degrees, but when the moon is at a quarter, the variation of where it is supposed to be and where it actually is, is about 7. 5 degrees. Now an astronomer must account for such a variation between 5 degrees and 7.5 degrees in appearance. Ptolemy concocted the idea of bringing the whole epicycle closer to the earth so it would look bigger, like the effect observed when you put your hand in front of your face so you can’t see the wall (even though the wall is obviously larger), because your hand is closer than the wall. This was an elegant solution because it allowed Ptolemy to account for the difference, except that he omitted to account for the fact that when you bring something closer, its own size will have to look bigger. If the moon is brought half way toward the observer than it should look twice as big. So Ibn Shatir of Damascus commented on that flaw, saying, “I have never seen the moon look twice as big when it is at ¼. Therefore we need a new mathematics for this.” And that is what he proposes: We can account for all the variations that Ptolemy is worried about, but then I can arrange the spheres that carry the moon in such a fashion that here it will be max 5 degrees, but when I bring it to 90 degrees, I can account for the longitude of the moon, and account for what is observed, but the size of the moon will be constant. Thus Ibn Shatir solved this problem. Copernicus offered exactly the same solution as Ibn Shatir, sphere for sphere, angle for angle. So today, historians of science are entitled to ask if Copernicus knew about the works of Ibn Shatir. Such a mathematical solution is not accidental. It must be constructed and accounted for with proofs.

Ibn Shatir was also unhappy with the Mercury model discussed earlier. So he proposed a new model for Mercury, Copernicus also adopted this model, but he made a mistake. Copernicus [referring to the image] tells us that the orbit of Mercury when it is 90 degrees away from its apogee is bigger than the orbit of Mercury when it is 120 degrees away from the same apogee (image) because Copernicus, like Ptolemy before him, forgot to pay attention to the distance of the object. In the image which is drawn to scale in order to help understanding this point we can see the angle that surrounds the orbit of Mercury when Mercury is 120 degrees away from its apogee, is distincly larger than the angle that surrounds the orbit when Mercury is only 90 degrees away from the apogee. A smaller circle when brought closer to the observer will cast a larger angle which is in the blue shown here. A larger circle that Copernicus thought was the real size, when it is farther away from the observer will have a smaller angle [points to the smaller red angle] than the blue as shown. So Copernicus introduced this confusion, when he said that the orbit of Mercury when it is ca 90 degrees away from the apogee is at its largest. Swerdlov, who edited Copernicus’ work, said that Copernicus did not apparently know how the model worked. Historians of science are entitled to ask (1) whether someone could invent a model that he doesn’t fully understand it himself, and (2) is it possible that he relied upon a model already invented by Ibn Shatir, one that Ibn Shatir himself had explained in great detail, while Copernicus did not fully understand.

In the last example of this presentation, there was Ala’ al-Din al-Qushji, who was not satisfied with these constructions of the orbit of Mercury, and who introduced a new mathematical model. There are two more examples. Shams al-Din, who is almost unknown to historians of science, wrote commentaries on Nasir al-din al-Tusi. The title of his book is The Solution of All the Problems That Have Passed Before And Could Not Be Solved. Shamsuddin discovered that the models that have gone before are mathematical descriptions of what we observe, and claimed that he could create new mathematical models to account for these things. He created four new models for the motion of Mercury, and said that one of them was in fact the work of al-Qushji. To sum up these models and prove that they are all identical, he provided the combination of all of them, and showed that they all predicted the same motion. So what was Shams al-Din al-Khafri doing in the middle of the 16th century? He was very aware of the explanatory power of mathematics, but realized in a very modern way, that mathematics was not a physical science, so ideal mathematical solutions don’t exist. They are merely possible explanations. Just as a phenomenon can be described in poetry, in prose, in English, French so it can be described in mathematics—which is just another language. This idea, Prof. Saliba claimed, is the epitome of originality. He understood the function of mathematics in science, with the quality that physical phenomena can be described correctly with mathematics in various ways.

Ahmed Rahim, Presentation Summary

In lieu of a presentation summary, the following article serves as an overview of the argument presented in brief at the Forum: "Avicenna's Immediate Disciples: Their Lives and Works," in Avicenna and His Legacy: A Golden Age of Science and Philosophy, ed. Y.T. Langermann (Turnhout, Belgium, 2009). Download here

Nabil Matar, Presentation Summary

To decline or not to decline: Prof. Matar said that his presentation would open up the issue again, notwithstanding what George Saliba and Ahmed Al-Rahim have told us. He stated that the issue of decline figures in his presentation in the form of two communities that have not been touched upon in studies of “history from below” in the early modern period. Prof. Matar’s work concerns the period from the 1550s—exactly where George Saliba’s stops—until the middle of the 18th century, among the Arabic-speaking community of the Ottoman Empire. The term “Arab” raises eyebrows, and the term is indeed problematic, but he uses it to refer to a linguistic community, without nationalist implications. What Prof. Mater looks at, like Saliba and Al-Rahim, is material mostly in manuscript form, written by and for Arabs. There is a whole subculture, a linguistic subaltern that often gets ignored as historians look at imperial models of the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal Empires. As there is literature on the Greek and Jewish communities, so there should be on the Arab communities.

All writers were subjects of the Sultan - except for the Moroccans, of course, who never came under Ottoman rule, and they were different not only in language and custom, but also in jurisprudence, following the Maliki school in North Africa. Prof. Matar spoke of a Moroccan traveler who went to Istanbul toward the end of the 18th century. Muhammad ibn Uthman al Miknasi, the only Arabic writer who had earlier traveled to Spain, Malta, the kingdom of Naples, went on Hajj, traveled to Jerusalem and Istanbul, and then back to Meknas. Interestingly, he had no idea what coffee was, and expressed surprise that people in Istanbul served coffee. Coffee didn’t make it into Morocco, but did enter Europe. On his return he visited Algiers and its governor, and upon being offered coffee, he declined it. That expressed a sense of difference in social mores. In ransoming captives, he noted (as do English sources too) that in negotiations to ransom Muslim captives from European captors, Turks were willing to pay 150 pieces of eight to ransom their own, but only 100 pieces to ransom Moors/Arabs.

The climax of Islamic civilizations was in Agra, Isfahan, and Istanbul, but there was a self-understanding that was Arab/Arabic in North Africa as well as in the Eastern Mediterranean. I emphasize this because it was a period that witnessed the tragic inflow of half a million Moriscos from the Iberian Peninsula. These Moriscos had been arriving throughout the 16th century, and then the major expulsion took place between 1609 and 1614. These were people who came from the Spanish empire, who had been active in administrative and military affairs, so they knew about the workings and dynamics of an empire that stretched from South America to India to the Philippines. They had been expelled and so took the languages they knew (Spanish and Aljemiada) to use in their new homes. There are surviving texts from this group, describing their emotional response, and their travels as diplomats.

As refugees from ethnic and religious persecution, what they knew about Arabic or Islam was limited, but they clung to their linguistic identity as Arab because that is how they had been persecuted, as well as for being Muslim. Ultimately, vis-à-vis the Ottomans, they saw themselves as Arabic; vis-à-vis the Europeans, they saw themselves as Muslims. They did not claim they were weaker or less capable than the Europeans, but there is a motif that runs through their accounts, namely that the Europeans have the Dunya, the world, and we have the Din, the religion. As a consequence, whatever they do was just temporary, while whatever we do is eternal. And so much as travelers described for pages amazing inventions they saw in Western Europe, they always disclaimed them, stating, as one traveler did, that they were not worth the wing of a mosquito. They were aware and impressed, but there was no further mechanism with regard to adopting those inventions in their own society.

As for the issue of decline: in the Arabic sources I have read, the word inhithat (decline) as Nelly Hanna said, is the sort of thing we grew up studying in our high school curriculum, but Prof. Matar stated that he had never come across that word in the sources. There is no “decline”; the only word I saw was tarāju’, or regression. He emphasized that the authors he read did discuss regression, but without the sense of debauchery, decadence, and degeneration. (See Matar, Nabil. “Confronting Decline in Early Modern Arabic Thought.” Journal of Early Modern History 9, no. 1-2 (2005): 51-78.) They didn’t associate it with a sense of failure, For instance, one writer, Ahmed ibn Qassim, on the way back from Europe in the early 1620s, picked up a manuscript on the manufacture and building of artillery. He was Morisco, and the text was in Spanish, so he decided to translate it into Arabic. It is a fascinating text that survives in many manuscripts, meaning that it was very popular. It has not been edited to the present day. In this text he shows that he was aware of the crisis in technology (sinā’a), saying what “we” (Muslims) don’t have. Spain was actually not seen as being in decline, so he viewed Spanish technology as a great model that was worthy of imitation. He translated it, and by 1643, when his translation was completed, Bin Qasim indicated his willingness to translate other books if there was a positive response to it. In other words, he stated that the work was needed, and that he was willing to do it if it would help. Apparently, either no such encouragement was forthcoming, or the work has not survived.

The eastern Christians were another fascinating group. By serendipity, Prof. Matar came across the 4-volume catalog of Arabic manuscripts at the Bibliothèque Nationale (BnF) in Paris, and realized that a significant amount of material had been written by eastern Christians, and that these manuscripts were quite eye-opening. While these manuscripts have been excellently catalogued and described, they have not been studied as documents of historical importance. From Paris he went to London and Oxford, which also had quite a bit of material, and then went to Madrid, which had material chiefly from before the 16th century, but not much from the eastern Mediterranean. The big breakthrough was in Jordan, where Professor Adnan Al-Bakhit has been collecting microfilms of every Arabic manuscript he can lay hands on. At the University of Jordan, in the Center for Bilad al-Sham, these microfilms are present (though there is only one ancient microfilm machine, but a huge center is being built and will be completed in 2013). From one room, a scholar can access manuscripts from Yale to Beirut, and from the Monasteries of the eastern Mediterranean to Paris and Oxford.

These writings were by Christian Arabs who were slowly beginning to use the term ‘arab quite openly. Mikha’īl Brayk in his chronicle of the mid-18th century shows evidence of early use of terms such as Ard al-‘Arab, or Asqā‘ al-‘Arab. There are numerous travel accounts in Arabic by members of this community, as well as reports about travel to France, Russia, and elsewhere in Western Europe. And so, writers could not but see themselves in this vis-à-vis with Europeans. These manuscripts were written in Syriac and in Kharshooni, but the vast majority is in Arabic; there does not seem to be anything written in Ottoman Turkish. These texts belong to a community outside of the court. Bruce Masters and others, focusing on commercial history and court records, as well as the writings of European travelers and missionaries, have produced rich studies of the Christians and the Jews in the early modern Ottoman Empire. But they have not examined the vast writings in Arabic by those Christians who were writing about themselves, in Arabic, as subjects of the Ottoman sultan. What needs to be done is to examine those texts for their voices, their views as expressed in the writers’ own words and emotions. The writers were nearly all monks or priests—members of the clergy—who belonged to a religious hierarchy, but their manuscripts provide a picture of the largest Christian population in the world outside of Western Europe – and should be studied in the comparative context of early modern empires.

Prof. Matar explained what kind of writings these Christian Ottomans produced. Ecclesiastical travelers went to Paris, Moscow, or Rome in order to attend church councils. It is important to note that an account from the 1660s about Russia is the longest travel account about Europe in early modern Arabic. Other travel accounts describe Jerusalem, to which every pilgrim went, but more about St. Catherine’s and the Sinai Peninsula – which was farther out. The community was thriving, and there was no sign among those interacting with Catholic and Orthodox countries that they did not know anything of what was going on in terms of contemporary events. They had such a deep consciousness of their historical legacy that they did not feel compromised by using the Hijri calendar, at a time when the English never accepted the Gregorian change (until 1751) because they viewed it as a papal imposition. Within the Ottoman Empire they had no trouble working with the various Christian calendars, alongside the Hijri calendar.

This material gives rise to examination of the issue of dhimma in the region. Ahl al Dhimma is second-class citizenship, but these were communities traveling, worshipping, and trading and describing themselves, and at no point did they engage with the problem of the dhimma. They express feelings of being very open in terms of what they can do, what they write , how they can travel, worship, and so on. Perhaps the best way to present these feelings is to look at one example that contrasts the Ottoman with the English administration. In 1584, the Pope established the Maronite College in Rome in order to bring eastern Christians to be taught Catholic theology, as well as French, Latin, and Italian, with the intent that they should return and serve their home communities. In 1605, the Lebanese Druze prince Fakhr al-Dīn began to exchange letters with the papacy about a possible revolt that might be supported by the papacy, and some of the Rome-trained priests were intermediaries in the exchange. Clearly, there was much travel in and out of the empire. The contrast with the situation in England in that same period is striking. An English Catholic who decided to serve his parish, would have to go and train in northern France to become a priest; he would have to go there surreptitiously, return surreptitiously, and function surreptitiously as a priest. Mansions belonging to Catholics had holes in the walls where priests could hide to avoid capture by the government. If these priests were captured and convicted of treason, they were drawn, hanged, and quartered as traitors. And yet, in contrast, priests in the Ottoman Empire were traveling back and forth.

This material also gives the lie to the idea that the Ottomans (and these writers were of course Ottoman subjects) did not visit Europe. As an example, Prof. Matar read a text, a 1671 manuscript, “a short letter describing the happy conquest of the glorious king the Cesar of France, his conquest of the Flemish kingdom and several major cities in a short time.” The text is in Arabic, written in Aleppo, in 1671, written by Francis, son of the turjuman, in praise of the heroic French. [Matar cited the text describing the wars taking place between French, the Dutch, and the Flemish] The account is fascinating because it is an accurate description of wars taking place in Europe during the second half of the 17th century. Why was it written, and who was supposed to be impressed by this description? It was intended to challenge the Dutch, who were still active in trade in the Ottoman Empire in the Levant. This text may have been designed to undercut the Dutch in the major multi-national city of Aleppo. What this text is doing in the archive is an intriguing question. Think about it in terms of mobility and religious adherence. The issue is, could a Muslim cleric live in Madrid, say in 1671, and describe the war between the Ottomans and the Safavids, to his Turkish community, and praise the Ottomans, without a single reference to the Spanish monarch?

In conclusion, Prof. Matar noted that what the writers in the Ottoman Empire (but not the Moriscos) seem to have missed is the relationship of knowledge and utility, that knowledge is moveable, and one can acquire knowledge from others and utilize it. When the Druze prince Fakh al-Dīn fled to Italy, he had occasion to see the printing press, which stunned him. On returning to Lebanon, however, he did not think of bringing it with him. Another example, the traveler and the end of the 17th century, al-Nabulsi, a Damascene, visited Palestine. He went to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and was carried to the seventh heaven when he heard the music of an organ that had been donated to the church by the French mission. He was transported, wrote a poem about it, but it did not occur to him that he should urge the adoption of the technology; or at least he did not say so.

Another point is that knowledge serves power, and it is a power for empire. Prof. Matar concluded with a contrast between two writers—one from London, and one from Damascus. The London writer, Richard Hakluyt, wrote the most important text in the history of English imperialism, concerning the description of the English people and their navigations, voyages and “trafficks.” In 1600, England had no empire, had no navy, and did not even have a monarch interested in Empire. Queen Elizabeth I really had no interest in an imperial project of empire—the most the English could do was to beat up on the Irish. It was a political culture that as yet had nothing to do with world conquest - unlike the Spaniards and the Portuguese. The text by Abu-l-‘Abbas al Qaramāni, who wrote at the same time in Damascsu, was a three-volume history of the world, full of information, as in Hakluyt, some credible, some incredible. The work was entitled Akhbar al-Duwwal wa Athar al Uwwal (The History of Dynasties and Monuments of the Ancients). But it is a purely descriptive text. Where Hakluyt, notwithstanding the total absence of any imperial thinking or infrastructure in England, Hakluyt’s text became prescriptive and the groundwork for empire. It is often described as the first imperial epic of England. Prof. Matar concluded, would it have helped if Arabic had had a word for empire. It did not.

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