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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 4    Issue 19   16-28 February 2010

The Contribution of Islamic Civilization to Globalisation

Professor A. R. Momin
University of Mumbai

A great deal of hype, rhetoric and controversy surrounds the concept and process of globalisation. The protagonists of globalisation hail it as the promised messiah of mankind and wax eloquent about the end of geography, a borderless world, deterritorialization and the emergence of the global village. There are two basic definitions or conceptualisations of globalisation. One focuses on its economic and technological aspects, while the other views it as an essentially social and cultural phenomenon. One of the leading American economists and Nobel Laureate, Paul Krugman, defines globalisation as “a catchall phrase for growing world trade, the growing linkages between financial markets in different countries, and the many other ways in which the world is becoming a smaller place”. Likewise, another eminent economist and Nobel Laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, views globalisation as primarily characterised by the closer integration of national economies. On the other hand, scholars and commentators who emphasise the social and cultural character of globalisation, focus on the global movement of people, ideas and cultural patterns, the intensification of worldwide social interdependence and exchanges, growing homogenization around the world in respect of lifestyle and entertainment and the deepening connections between global and local conditions and contexts.

Most commentators trace the beginnings of globalisation in the second half of the 20th century. However, globalisation is neither such a recent nor an absolutely unique phenomenon. The distinguished economist and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen emphasises that “globalisation is neither new nor a folly, but a global movement of ideas, people, technology and goods from one region to others, benefiting the people at large”. Sen argues that globalisation’s history spans several centuries and that it has contributed to the progress of the world through travel, trade, migration, the spread of cultural influences and the dissemination of knowledge and understanding.

Historians A. G. Hopkins and Christopher Bayly have used the term proto-globalisation to describe the phase of increasing trade links and cultural exchanges that characterised the period from 1600 to 1800, which preceded modern globalisation. I would like to make three submissions in this connection. First, the current discourse on globalisation, which is manifestly Eurocentric or West-centric, needs to be deconstructed and decentred. Amartya Sen has rightly argued that the active agents of globalisation have sometimes been located quite far from the West. He points out that around 1000 AD, some of the most important technological inventions and innovations such as the clock, magnetic compass, paper, printing, gunpowder and the wheelbarrow were invented by the Chinese and subsequently spread across the world, including Europe. Second, we need to look at globalisation not as an isolated phenomenon that emerged in the West in recent times, but as the outcome of historical, social and cultural processes that took place in many non-Western contexts and that preceded modern globalisation by many centuries. In other words, we should look at globalisation from the perspective of social and cultural history and, as in the case of science and technology, as the product of cumulative progress and development. Third, a distinction needs to be drawn between modern globalisation and proto-globalisation or incipient globalisation. Furthermore, the scope and span of proto-globalisation or incipient globalisation needs to be extended beyond the 17th century. Proto-globalisation or incipient globalisation should not be looked upon as merely an earlier phase of globalisation, but as an important precursor or forerunner of globalisation which significantly impacted processes and linkages that have become a hallmark of modern globalisation.

Proto-globalisation or incipient globalisation encompasses all those historical events and processes that covered a vast expanse of territory, entailed transcending geographical barriers and national borders and involved diverse peoples and cultures. These include the Silk Road (a vast network of trade and cultural linkages and transmission routes that linked East and West for nearly two millennia), the worldwide sweep of global religions such as Christianity, Buddhism and Islam, the worldwide diffusion of Chinese technology, especially papermaking, printing, magnetic compass and gunpowder, and world empires such as the one created by Genghis Khan and his son and successor Ogodei and the Ottoman Empire. Islamic civilization made an enduring and highly important contribution to proto-globalisation as I will presently show.

Islam as a Global Faith

The Islamic faith is inherently and by design universalist. Islam considers itself heir to a long line of divine revelations that began with Adam. The Quran says that God has sent down prophets to all regions of the world at different points of time, who spoke to their respective people in their own language and invited them to the path of righteousness. It also says that Muhammad (SAAW) was sent as a divine messenger to all mankind and not just to the Arabs. Muslims are required to believe not only in the prophecy of Muhammad but also in that of all other divine messengers. Likewise, they are required to believe not only in the Quran as a divinely revealed scripture but also in all other sacred scriptures revealed to mankind at different points of time. The universality and global character of the Islamic faith is reflected in the role of the Ka’ba in Mecca as the centre of global Islamic pilgrimage. It is no exaggeration to say that the Ka’ba is the only global centre of pilgrimage which has witnessed an uninterrupted, around the clock flow of millions of devotees from across the world. The worldwide Muslim community or ummah is a truly global community of believers which includes people from all nationalities and from a wide variety of ethnic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, who are bound together by commonly held beliefs, moral values, rituals and traditions. Across the Islamic world, Arabic continues to be used as a global language of Islamic prayers and liturgy.

Time-space Compression

A distinctive feature of globalisation is what some scholars have described as time-space compression, or the shrinking of distances and the shortening of time, made possible by unprecedented developments in science and technology. The term globalisation encapsulates processes that encompass vast geographical regions as well as their interconnectedness. It may be pointed out that this particular feature of globalisation has not emerged out of the blue from nowhere. Rather, it has been made possible by a series of explorations, discoveries and scientific and technological inventions and innovations made in earlier times and in different parts of the world.

Muslim astronomers, scientists, mathematicians, cartographers, navigators and seafarers in the medieval period made an outstanding contribution to the processes that led to the shrinking of distances and the reduction of time. In the 10th century, Al-Biruni calculated the dimensions of the spherical earth with remarkable accuracy and calculated, with amazing precision, the circumference of the earth. He also worked out with remarkable precision the difference in longitude and latitude between Ghazni in Afghanistan and Mecca. Maps prepared during the medieval period greatly contributed to the knowledge about the expanse and boundaries of the earth and the location of continents and oceans. The celebrated historian of Islamic science and technology, Fuat Sezgin, has shown that Muslim cartographers combined the navigators’ knowledge with studies of astronomy and mathematics to compile maps of astonishing precision. In 820 the Abbasid caliph al-Mamun had commissioned the preparation of a global map, in which a number of distinguished astronomers and geographers were involved. The map, which was discovered by Sezgin at the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul and announced by him at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2004, shows with remarkable clarity and precision the oceanic expanses surrounding the continents as well as large parts of the Eurasian and African continents with recognizable coastlines and major seas.

Muslim navigators and seafarers in the Golden Age of Islamic Science (from the 8th to he 16th centuries) undertook long sea voyages eastwards and explorations deep into Africa. By the 9th century, Arab maritime traders had reached as far as Canton in China. The sea voyages undertaken by Muslim navigators gave them a more complete view of geography than that of ancient Greeks and Romans. Portuguese and Spanish navigators drew on the knowledge and information provided by Muslim cartographers in Spain. Marco Polo, Johannes Kepler and the cartographer Nicolas Sanson were informed and influenced by Arab geography and cartography. Down to the 15th century, scientific activity in Europe was heavily indebted to the discoveries and researches of Muslim scientists, astronomers, mathematicians and cartographers. Prince Henry of Portugal established, under Muslim and Jewish teachers, a splendid nautical academy at Cape St Vincent, which facilitated the voyages of Vasco da Gama and the subsequent expansion of Europe to the farthest reaches of the earth. Shihab al-Din ibn al-Majid, who was an experienced sailor and navigator, was in Africa when Vasco da Gama arrived there. He secured the services of Ibn al-Majid as an escort and guide, who led him directly to Calicut in 1498.

Muslim navigators and explorers from West Africa and the Iberian Peninsula traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and the Americas between the 9th and 14th centuries, long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Leo Weiner, Professor of Slavic Languages at Harvard University, in his book Africa and the Discovery of America (1920), has written that Columbus was well aware of the presence of Muslim traders and explorers from West Africa throughout the Caribbean, Central, South and North American territories. The famous map of the Turkish general and cartographer Piri Reis shows the presence of Muslims in America centuries before Columbus set foot there. The map also provides a remarkably accurate measurement of the distance between America and Africa. Leo Wiener carried out extensive philological researches in Amerindian languages. He discovered scores of Arabic words in these languages, which had entered into their vocabulary 200 years before Columbus, through contact with the Muslim traders of Ghana who used to carry gold to the Americas.

Globalisation entails a conception of the earth as spherical, and not as flat. It is interesting to note that nearly all Muslim astronomers, geographers, cartographers and navigators in the medieval period, including Al-Biruni, Al-Sharif al-Idrisi (d. 1166), Ibn Khurdadhbih (d. 912), Ibn Rustah (d. 922), Al-Masudi (d.957) and Abul Fida (d. 1331), conceived the earth as a globe. The earliest maps prepared by Muslim geographers represent the earth in a spherical shape.

Globalisation of Science and Technology

There is a close, inseparable linkage between globalisation and modernity. The term modernity encapsulates the complex and dynamic economic, technological, social and political processes that were unleashed in Western Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries and that rapidly accelerated during the 20th century. Karl Polanyi has described the massive historical processes that marked the onset of modernity as the Great Transformation. The process of globalisation has greatly facilitated the worldwide diffusion of modernity. The celebrated British sociologist Anthony Giddens has spoken of a globalised modernity.

Modernity was the outcome of a fairly long series of events and processes, especially in science and technology, that took place in the medieval period in the West, in the Islamic world, especially in Andalusia and the Middle East, and in China and India. The foundations of modern science in particular and of modernity in general were laid during the Renaissance. Italy is generally regarded as the birthplace of the Renaissance, but as the eminent scientist and historian of science Jacob Bronowski has pointed out, the Renaissance was originally conceived in Islamic Spain in the 12th century.

The wide-ranging and enduring contribution of Islamic civilization to the West, in science and technology, medicine, philosophy, architecture, language and arts, has been amply documented and widely acknowledged by Western historians. The eminent British historian J. M. Roberts describes Western civilization’s debt to Islam in the following words: “…..to no other civilization did Europe owe so much in the Middle Ages as to Islam”. A significant feature of the contribution of Islamic civilization to the West in particular and to the onward march of humanity in general is the role of Muslims as intermediaries and interlocutors between different cultures and traditions and as synthesisers, catalysts and disseminators. When Muslims came in contact with the legacy of the ancients, including Greek science and philosophy, Indian mathematics and medicine, Egyptian and Roman technology and Persian literary sensibility and political wisdom, they critically sifted it, imbibed its spirit and added to it their own reflections, researches and innovations and raised the level of knowledge in wide-ranging fields to unprecedented heights. Furthermore, they did not keep the fruits of their researches and innovations to themselves but made them available to large parts of the world.

It has widely been recognised that one of the most important contributions of Muslims to Western civilization was the transmission of the scientific and philosophical legacy of the ancient world to medieval Europe. A movement for the globalisation of science, medicine and philosophy was set in motion in Baghdad during the reigns of the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur (754-775) and his great grandson al-Mamun (d. 833). This movement was marked by extensive translations of scientific, medical and philosophical works from ancient Rome, India, Persia and Egypt, a creative synthesis of the researches of Muslim scholars and scientists and those of the ancients, the establishment of scientific institutions, the employment of Arabic as the lingua franca of scientific communication, and the creation of a multiethnic, multi-religious community of scientists and scholars. From 622 to 1492 Arabic replaced Greek as the international language of science and medicine. Roger Bacon (d. 1293) acknowledged that almost all of Aristotle’s works were available only in Arabic translations and that without Arabic, Greek knowledge would have never reached Europe. The Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has remarked that “as leaders of innovative thought in that period in history, Muslim intellectuals were among the most committed globalisers of science and mathematics”.

Muslim mathematicians borrowed the decimal system from India around 750 AD. Al-Khwarizmi (d. 846) synthesised the Indian mathematical knowledge with his own original researches. In the middle of the 12th century, Robert Ketton, who was well versed in the Arabic language and Islamic sciences and had worked in the libraries of Toledo, translated the mathematical work of al-Khwarizmi into Latin, whereby Latin Europe was introduced to the Arabic numerical system and algebra and algorithm, which would revolutionize computation in later years. The term algorithm was derived from Al-Khwarizmi’s name while the term algebra was appropriated from the title of one of his books on the mathematical sciences. Leonardo Fibonacci (d. 1250), a Pisan mathematician who is considered one of the founders of modern mathematics, was deeply influenced by Al-Khwarizmi and had translated his work on algebra and popularised Arabic numerals in Europe.

The main centres for the Latin translations of Arabic works on science and philosophy in the Middle Ages were Toledo and Norman Sicily. A number of European scientists and intellectuals, who played a key role in the scientific and cultural transformation of Europe and thereby paved the way for the Renaissance, were conversant with the Arabic language and Islamic sciences and some of them had received their education in the institutions of higher learning in Islamic lands. These included Gerbert (d. 1003), who later became Pope Sylvester, Constantine the African (d.1087), Alfred the Englishman (d. 13th century), Robert Ketton (d.1157), Gerard of Cremona (d.1187), Michael Scot (d.1235), Daniel de Morley (d.1210), Robertus Grosseteste (d.1253), Raymond Lull (d.1316) and Roger Bacon (d.1293). Gerard of Cremona translated more than 70 Arabic books into Latin. His translation of Avicenna’s Canon was used as a textbook in several European universities from the 12th to the 18th centuries and was printed more than 35 times in Europe. Daniel de Morlay traveled to Cordoba to learn mathematics and astronomy and, on his return, became a lecturer at Oxford. Frederck II, who played a catalytic role in the flowering of the Renaissance, was a patron of Islamic science and arts. He established colleges, on the model of institutions in Islamic lands, in Naples, Messina and Padua.

From the 12th to the 17th century, the teaching and practice of medicine in Europe was heavily influenced by the works of Al-Razi or Rhazes (d. 925), Al-Zahrawi or Abulcasis (d. 1013) and Ibn Sina or Avicenna (d. 1037). One of the numerous printed editions of al-Zahrawi’s magnum opus al-Tasrif was published in Oxford in 1778. Almost all European writers on medicine and surgery from the 12th to the 18th century extensively quoted from al-Tasrif, which remained a standard textbook in surgery in all leading European universities until the 18th century. Many of the founding fathers of modern science and medicine, including Gabriel Fallopius (d. 1562), William Harvey (d. 1657) and Andreas Vesalius (d. 1564), drew upon the works of Al-Razi, Al-Zahrawi and Ibn Sina. Vesalius’s Latin text of anatomical tables contained a large number of Arabic terms.

The astrolabe, a well-known astronomical instrument of the Middle Ages used for making precise astronomical and navigational measurements, was originally invented by the Greeks but perfected by Muslim scientists and astronomers. It reached Europe via Andalusia and continued to be used for nautical observations in the West until the 17th century. Chaucer (d. 1400), the first great English poet of the Middle Ages, drew on the works of Muslim astronomers in his famous work Treatise on the Astrolabe.

Muslims acted as global carriers of ideas, innovations, technology and material culture. Muslims learned the technology of papermaking from the Chinese, who had invented paper around the second century AD, in the eighth century, added significant innovations to it and disseminated it across large parts of Europe and Asia. The first paper factory in Europe was established in the Spanish city of Jativa in 1150, whence the technology of papermaking passed into Italy and subsequently into other parts of Europe. Before the 13th century paper was brought to European cities from Andalusia, Sicily and Morocco. Interestingly, the earliest European document written on paper is a deed of Sicily’s King Roger II, inscribed in Arabic and Greek.

Muslim scientists and engineers introduced new hydraulic and water management techniques, including the technique of irrigation in the form of acequias in medieval Spain, which made possible the cultivation of crops, fruits and vegetables and the pasturing of animals on parched and dry lands. The Spanish word acequias comes from the Arabic al saqiya, which means water conduit. The system of acequias was taken by the Spaniards in the course of onward expansion to the American southwest in New Mexico, where it is still in use. It may be pointed out in passing that traditional acequias irrigation systems provide broad ecological benefits to local communities.

One of the important features of proto-globalisation is global trade and commerce. During the medieval period, Venice and the Ottoman Empire acted as conduits for global trade. From the 11th to the 17th century, glassware and ceramics produced in Islamic lands were exported on an extensive scale to Venice, whence they were taken to other parts of Europe. Chinese porcelain reached Europe via Mamluk Egypt, notably through the port of Alexandia. Lustre-painted glassware made by Muslim artisans in Fatimid Egypt and Iraq were highly valued and traded as far away as China, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Thousands of Islamic coins have been discovered in the course of archaeological excavations in Scandinavia, Finland and Russia, which testify to the existence of wide-ranging trade networks in the Islamic world.

Tea and coffee are undoubtedly the most widely used beverages around the world. The word coffee entered English and other European languages in the 16th century via the Dutch koffie, which was a corruption of the Turkish kahve, which in turn was derived from the Arabic qahwa. From Mocha in Yemen, coffee spread to Egypt, North Africa, the Middle East, Persia and Turkey. Coffee was first imported in Europe by Venetian merchants in the 17th century. The first European coffee shop was opened in Venice in 1645. The first Turkish coffee shop in Britain was opened at Lomabard Street in London in 1650. The cultivation of coffee in southern India was introduced by a Sufi, Baba Budhan, who had brought the coffee shrub from Mecca and planted it in Mysore in the 17th century.

Ferment of Ideas and Perspectives

Globalisation is marked, among other things, by the recognition, tolerance and accommodation of cultural diversity, intellectual ferment, the openness and permeability of perspectives, the confluence and cross-breeding of ideas and philosophies and intercultural symbiosis. These features are not unique to the present era of globalisation. Medieval Spain, Sicily, Venice and the Ottoman Empire witnessed, in varying degrees, amazing intellectual and intercultural encounters and symbiosis. Edward Said has perceptively observed that “medieval Spain enacted an earlier version of our own hybrid world, one whose borders were also thresholds, and whose multiple identities formed an enriched diversity”.

The most remarkable feature of Moorish Spain was the evolution of an amazing cosmopolitan ethos and a culture of tolerance, harmonious coexistence and cultural symbiosis. The celebrated Spanish-American historian Americo Castro famously described the composite culture of medieval Spain as convivencia or living together. This syncretistic culture had wide ramifications and was manifested in science and technology, architecture, music, philosophy, language and literature, arts and crafts and popular culture. Christians and Jews enthusiastically took to Arabic as a vibrant language of poetry and elegance and soon lost touch with Latin. Almost all the Christian texts and liturgy were translated from Latin into Arabic and became a part of the community’s religious life. In Castile, Jews often sponsored Christians at their baptism, while Christians did likewise at Jewish circumcision ceremonies.

At the close of the 11th century and the early part of the 12th, Toledo became the intellectual hub of Europe. Even after it was reconquered by Alfonso VI in 1085, Arabic remained the language of culture and learning. The city boasted scores of fine libraries with vast collections of Arabic books, which served as vibrant centres of intellectual activities, including translations of Arabic works into Latin. Johannes Hispalensis, archbishop of Toledo (1152-66), sponsored translations of the works of Avicenna and other Muslim scholars and established the famous Toledo School of Translators.

The libraries and schools of Toledo attracted many scholars from different parts of Europe. In the 12th and 13th centuries, thousands of Arabic books, including Aristotle’s works with commentaries by Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars, were translated into Latin in Toledo. An early set of astronomical tables was drawn up in Toledo, as an encyclopaedia of star positions. Interestingly, the tables were Christian, but the numerals were Arabic. What is significant to note is that a Christian city played a pivotal role in the transmission of Islamic legacy to Europe.

A testimony to the pervasive cultural symbiosis that took place in medieval Spain is provided by the example of the Mozarabs, Christians who had imbibed a great deal of Islamic influences in their language, culture and literature. From the 9th to the 11th century, Mozarabs celebrated the Eucharist not in Latin, the liturgical language of Western Christendom, but in Arabic. Among the remnants of Toledo’s polymorphous culture that have survived the ravages of time is a Latin-Arabic glossary intended for teaching Mozarabs their sacred language in Arabic, as well as several bilingual Latin-Arabic epigraphs on Mozarab tombstones. The 3,300 descendants of Toledo’s Mozarabic community today still proudly call themselves Mozarabs.

Medieval Spain’s mosaic culture was also reflected in the Mudejars, Muslim artisans who had submitted to Christian rule in the wake of the Reconquest. The Mudejar specialised in the construction of churches, cathedrals and synagogues and were in great demand all over the peninsula for the decoration of churches, palaces and private homes. Their architectural designs, motifs and decorations reflected an ingenious synthesis of Islamic and Spanish traditions. King Pedro the Cruel’s Alcazar palace at Seville, which clearly reflects a synthesis of Arab and Spanish architectural styles, was built by Mudejar workmen. Spaniards carried the composite legacy of Moorish Spain to far-off lands in the course of their colonial expansion. Thus in Tlaxala, Mexico, they built a church with a wooden ceiling in the Mudejar style.

Global Impact of Arabic

A notable aspect of the contribution of Islamic civilization to social and cultural globalisation is the diffusion of a large number of Arabic words into hundreds of languages around the world. Scores of Arabic words found their way into the technical vocabulary of science, medicine, technology and architecture as well as in navigation, agriculture, trade and commerce, textiles, art objects and cuisine. Arabic language and literature left a profound influence on European languages and literary sensibilities. Petrus Alfonsi, a Jewish convert to Christianity who was a product of Andalusia’s composite culture in the 12th century, introduced a form of writing that was influenced by Arabic and which had a deep and enduring impact on European fiction. Prominent European writers such as Chaucer and Giovanni Boccaccio were inspired by Alfonsi’s style. The transformation of many European languages from folk dialects into written languages owes much to the influence of Alfonsi.

In consequence of the pervasive Islamic influence on Spanish culture, a large number of Arabic words found their way into local languages and dialects. Castilian, for example, was literally born out of Arabic. Under the influence of Arabic, a hybrid genre of folk songs combining the Romance vernaculars and Arabic developed in medieval Spain. The Spanish language was taken to the Americas as well as to Africa and Asia Pacific with the expansion of the Spanish Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries. The speakers of Spanish language today are estimated to number around 500 million, making it the third most spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese and English. A large number of words of Arabic origin—estimated at about 4,000—continue to be used in Spanish. These words include names of fruits, vegetables and animals, names of musical instruments and the technical vocabulary in mathematics, astronomy, law, architecture and carpentry. Even today, most of Spanish family names betray their Arabic origin.

As a result of the patronage of Arabic by the Norman rulers in the 12th and 13th centuries, scores of Arabic words found their way into Italy’s Sicilian dialect. Even today the Sicilian dialect has a considerable vocabulary of Arabic origin.

Hundreds of Arabic words found their way into the languages and dialects of the Indian subcontinent. The Arabic script was adopted by Sindhi, Punjabi, Urdu, Tamil, Malayam and Gujarati languages. African languages contain hundreds of Arabic words. The Maltese language is a composite, hybrid language, composed of elements drawn from Arabic, Romance and English. The influence of Arabic on Maltese has been profound and many scholars consider it as an offshoot of Arabic. Some 43 per cent of words in Maltese have been derived from Arabic, an equal percentage from Italian, six per cent from English, and three per cent from Latin and Romance languages. Many family names as well as names of cities and streets reflect their Arabic origins.

Islamic International Law

International law, including international treaties, covenants and conventions, constitutes an important aspect of globalisation. Generally, the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius (d. 1645) is regarded as the founder of international law. But the fact of the matter is that the foundations of international law were laid eight centuries before him, by Muslim jurists, especially Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Zayd ibn Ali and Imam Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Shaybani. The first and earliest treatise in international law is Shaybani’s monumental book Kitab al-Siyar al-Kabir. Imam Sarakhsi wrote a detailed commentary on the book, called Sharh al-Siyar al-Kabir, which was printed, together with the original book, in Istanbul in 1827. When a German Orientalist Joseph von Purgstall read the book, he was amazed by Shaybani’s erudition and foresight and described him as the Hugo Grotius of the Islamic world. Another German orientalist, Hans Kruse, has written: “If we compare the views of Shaybani and Hugo Grotius, it become obvious at the first glance that even after eight centuries (after Islam), European law had not reached the lofty level of humanism that we find in Islamic law”.

Early Islamic international law influenced the development of European international law through various routes, including as the Crusades, the Norman conquest of Sicily and the Reconquista of Spain. The earliest European writers on international law, such as Francesco de Vitoria (d. 1546), Ayala (d. 1584), Albericus Gentitlis (d. 1608) and Pierre Bello hailed from Spain and Italy and were significantly influenced by the intellectual legacy of Islamic civilization. Hugo Grotius was influenced by a 13th century Spanish treatise Siete Partidas, written by Alphonso X, which owed a great deal to Islamic legal treatises written in Islamic Spain. He appreciated the contribution of Muslim jurists to international law. He expressed amazement over the fact that Muslim jurists had written about postliminium several centuries before European jurists began to touch upon the subject. In international law, postliminium refers to the rule by which persons or things captured in war resume their original status when restored to the jurisdiction of their own country.

Globalisation of Music

Some scholars and commentators have spoken of globalisation of music, including the worldwide diffusion of musical traditions and musical instruments. I would like to highlight three important aspects of the contribution of Islamic civilization to the globalisation of music. First, Muslim scholars and scientists considered music not as a fine art but as a science. Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina and Al-Khwarizmi made outstanding contributions to the scientific study of music and their works exercised a significant influence on musical traditions in Europe. Walter Odington, the greatest European musician of the 13th century, was greatly inspired by the theories of Muslim scientists. Second, the poems and songs in the European vernaculars, which the German philosopher Nietzsche described as the very essence of European culture, and the musical instruments on which they were played were suffused with Arabic influences. Stringed musical instruments, which are characteristic of Arabic music, reached western and southern Europe via Andalusia during the Middle Ages. The names of several musical instruments, which continue to be used across the world, such as guitar, lute, rebec, tambourine, tabor, anafil and naker, have been derived from Arabic.

Globalisation is a paradoxical phenomenon. On the one hand, it has brought about increasing homogenization in culture, lifestyle and entertainment around the world. On the other hand, it has reinforced and strengthened local cultural traditions and regional identities. Modern information and communication technologies such as TV, Internet, video-sharing sites such as YouTube, iPods and mobile phones played a highly important role in disseminating and popularizing regional songs and traditional musical traditions from across the world. Some of these traditional songs and music are imbued with Arab and Islamic influences.

Globalisation of Human Rights

The discourse of human rights, as reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the various international treaties, covenants and conventions ratified by the member-states of the United Nations, has become an important part of social and cultural globalisation. I would like to point out that quite a few ideas and legal principles, which are now an inseparable part of the global discourse of human rights, were anticipated and enunciated by Muslim scholars and jurists more than a thousand years ago. I would like to briefly dwell upon three issues in this connection: (i) the recognition of social, economic and cultural rights (ii) human rights and responsibilities (iii) humanitarian treatment of prisoners of war.

Islamic law recognises two sets of human rights: civil and political rights, and social, economic and cultural rights. The latter category of human rights was not recognised in the Western legal tradition until the adoption of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1966. Similarly, the right of privacy, which was not recognised in Western legal traditions until quite recently, was recognised in Islamic law since the early centuries of the Islamic era.

While Islam shares the basic tenets and concerns of the contemporary discourse on human rights, its view of human rights is much broader and deeper in scope. The Islamic discourse on human rights encompasses not only issues relating to human relationships but also to animals and the environment. Second, Islam views human rights as inseparable from human responsibilities. The Islamic term haqq (plural: huquq) connotes a fundamental linkage and reciprocity between rights and responsibilities. Third, the Islamic discourse on human rights is embedded in an overarching moral framework. This moral framework is defined by a consciousness of the ontological unity of reality, including cosmic, ecological and human, and a deeply-ingrained sense of responsibility and accountability to God. This sense of responsibility and accountability to God is exemplified in a Tradition of the Prophet: “All of you are (like) shepherds, and all of you are accountable for (the wellbeing of) your flock”. Seyyed Hossein Nasr has rightly pointed out that Islam never allowed the development of the idea of the Promethean man: man freed from any responsibility to a world beyond himself, to the sacred, to God, to humanity at large and to nature.

The Geneva Conventions, which set the standards in international law for humanitarian treatment of victims of war, was approved in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II and subsequently ratified by 194 countries. More than a thousand years ago, Muslim scholars and jurists enunciated the principles governing the conduct of war and the treatment of war prisoners. These principles relate to the avoidance of wanton destruction and barbarities, compliance with treaties with the enemy, avoidance of harm to civilians and non-combatants, the protection of women, children and old persons as well as places of worship (of other faiths) and the flora and fauna in the war zone, and kindness towards the prisoners of war.

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