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What happened to our “glory days”?

So I went to a lecture last night at a place called the Aware center in Surra. A scholar (who is also teaching here at a school in Kuwait) gave a lecture on the influence of the Muslim world on the Western world. The lecture by Mr. Bryn Bernard (hopefully I spelled his name right) discussed several aspects of Islam and in a general sense. It wasn’t really about the religion of Islam but the innovation that came out of the countries that were dominantly practicing Islamic faith. I believe the speaker wanted to use the term Arab but did not as some of the Islamic countries such as Indonesia or Malaysia are not really considered Arab, even back at those times.

So what was so interesting about this lecture? I’ll post a few key points from the lecture that you may or may not have known were Arab/Muslim innovations as well as some talking points (possible points to debate?).

Firstly, the lecture opened up with why he wrote his book and why he gives presentations based derived from the content of his book. It was purely a contrast between the hype the Muslim world was getting after the tragic 9/11 attacks and his experiences in the Muslim world prior to the 9/11 attacks. He felt that the view on Muslims/Arabs and the Islamic world was skewed in one direction due to 9/11 and that in the states, no one really knew anything about the Islamic world of today or the history of the Islamic world.

He went on to discuss how knowledge was key to the Islamic world. It’s great to hear that he used the word knowledge. I’m a big believer in being able to differentiate between knowledge and information. As I’ve mentioned before in an earlier post, information is static. It’s data. Knowledge, is being able to take information and truly understanding it. Being able to add on to it, make deductions, inferences, to form opinions on these data sets and to basically absorb more than just the data but an understanding of it  (and potentially being able to innovate the data).

You’ll be surprised to know that the Islamic world was so innovative and knowledgeable in almost all key aspects, that during this era the kings and richest of European countries used to send their students to the university of Baghdad and other universities in the region to study and learn. To exchange information. To create a wider knowledge base.

As you know the number system we have today was derived by the Hindus and Muslims. Khwarizmi (sp?) created the concept of Algebra and logarithms. This is actually considered common knowledge around our area of the world right now but definitely not around the rest of the world.

But that’s not all that came out of the Middle Eastern world. We had the most advanced astronomy/astrologers, our medicine and health care system at the time could not be rivaled, we began the idea of mixing science with religion, philosophy with logic, we invented the idea of arches to distribute weight in architecture, we had what was and is still considered to be some of the most beautiful art and calligraphy. The list goes on. I won’t ruin the book for you or his presentations if you end up going to one.

We invented and innovated a lot. Not all of our “inventions” were original although a lot were, but we were able to use knowledge to innovate other current inventions to improve them and make our own. This goes back to the idea of taking information and creating value from it. Knowledge and adding value through that knowledge.

However, after hearing the questions and answers segment as well as the presentation. It was evident to me that everyone had the same question on their mind. What happened? We had an excellent government system with some of the brightest scholars in the world. We had the best medicine and standard of living. One of the longest lasting ancient civilizations and the largest/strongest armies?

Well, it’s actually quite simple. Although it was a question that no one really wanted to answer in public. The speaker did a good job of dancing around the subject. He did provide an answer that was logical. But it didn’t fulfill my desire to seek out the full picture. He said there were/are too many factors to consider, and that there were as many “answers to that question” as there are “scholars in that field”. Ergo, put the blame on hundreds of factors and avoid massive confrontation.

I will say before I go into this that the speaker had nothing but the greatest amount of respect for the Islamic world and Islamic faith, but I think he may have felt that the answer to his question was out of his scope. Indeed it’s hard to provide a definitive answer with all of these theories out there. But, I believe a combination of a few could simply answer this.

Queue Niall Ferguson.

This man indirectly answers what I believe to be the reason why we fell. It’s the reason why the “west” came up on top of us so to speak. We lost our roots, we lagged behind. These “6 killer apps” started to disappear from our way of life and other factors started to creep in. I’d go on and explain but honestly, this video will connect the dots very nicely for you and explain it all in a way that I could not even come close to explaining.

Now the question at hand is, can we get back to the “glory days”? No historian or person can answer that. It’s going to need direct action and the information is already out there. We just need to get back to our “knowledgeable” days where the richest of the rich had their homes filled with thousands of texts that cost fortunes instead of cars and furniture that costs fortunes. Almost the whole world is either already or becoming a consumer society culture. We’re all guilty of it. But, let’s take that culture and mix it in with the knowledge based culture.

You know there’s a saying that “knowledge is power” for a reason.

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