If History Can Be Of Any Lesson

The middle of the 8 A. D.

One of the most powerful and flourishing empires in the world in 8 A. D. was that of the Abbasid empire in Arab. It ruled for about 150 years. At its height, it included all the important centres of civilisation in the area- parts of North Africa, Egypt, Syria, Iran and Iraq. And, it was the greatest civilisation of that period.

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
― Joe Klaas

During the Abbasid empire, the Arabs boasted of having the wealthiest merchants, the most magnificent buildings, the splendid palaces, the most advanced centres of learning, the most progressed in scientific knowledge and so on. In fact, the Arabs were the best in everything in the world at that time. They established the gold dinar and the silver dirham which became the currency of trade in the world during the period. They were great geographers and made maps that advanced the knowledge of the world and about travelling across the open sea. There was growth in geometry, algebra, geography, astronomy, optics, chemistry, medicine and so on in the Arab world during this period.

While the Europe and most parts of the world including India were witnessing the period of the Dark Age, why was Arab excelled in everything creating a remarkably advanced civilisation of the time?

The answer lies in their openness. Yes, O P E N N E S S.

The Arabs displayed a remarkable capacity of assimilating the scientific knowledge and administrative skills of the ancient civilisations they had overrun. Their administrative workforce included non-Muslims, such as Christian and Jews, and also non-Arabs. Although the Abbasid caliphs were orthodox Muslims, they also opened wide the gate of learning from all quarters as long as it did not challenge the fundamental tenets of Islam. During the rule of al Mamun, he set up a House of Wisdom at Baghdad for translating into Arabic the learning from various civilisations- Greek, Byzantine, Egyptian, Iranian and Indian. Almost all the important scientific works of the various countries was thus available in Arabic. It soon became the leader in the field of science. Some of the best stocked libraries in the world, and the leading scientific laboratories were established in the Arab world during the period.

The most significant factor in the remarkable growth of Arab science and civilisation was it openness. The people from various countries could move freely and work or settle down anywhere they liked. The remarkable degree of intellectual and personal freedom enjoyed by scientists and scholars as well as the patronage extended to them greatly contributed to the kind of unparalleled civilisation that the Arabs witnessed.

This freedom, this openness was absent in Europe and we know what this absence caused the condition of Europe at that time. The historians call it the “Dark Age”. We also know that the growing orthodoxy which stifled the free thought caused the fall of the great Arab civilisation.

When we have already learnt the faultiness of curbing freedom and closing the doors, why is it that certain leaders of the world are relying on building walls and keeping people away? The advancement of knowledge lies in openness and in freedom. With our knowledge limited, we cannot move ahead. This is true of individuals as well as of societies.

We need freedom of all kinds. We need openness in all things. What is to be afraid of if all of us can respect the thoughts of one another? Only those who lack ideas or those who do not want others to have an equal voice must be afraid of freedom and openness. May be the world today is ruled by those who are afraid of openness and freedom. And, if this continues, we should prepare for what is coming to us.


Referred work: History of Medieval India by Satish Chandra (Orient Blackswan).

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