If you’ve been following this blog for the last few years, you know I’m an American convert to Islam. It’s been a joy and privilege to share my zany life and experiences. One of my first blogs was about my second home in Amman, Jordan. Happily, after a long hiatus due to the Corona Pandemic, I am here at last again this summer.
I not only have a foot in both countries but in two cultures as well. Juggling them is no easy feat. Although the Middle East follows evermore Western trends in culture and fashion – social media has certainly connected us all but also blurred some of our fascinating differences – West is West and the East, at least the Muslim East, has some very distinct differences – and for that I’m grateful.
Differences aside, what strikes me most after years of my comings and goings, researching and reflection, is how very much we are connected. Through our past, throughout scriptures, histories, discoveries, architecture, you name it, nothing emerges from a vacuum. People live, form communities, develop culture, knowledge, arts, and language. Civilizations rise and fall, but hopefully the next generation builds on what came before it and goes forward. There can be no ‘other.’ We are connected in a myriad of ways and channels that cannot be broken.
Since embracing Islam, I’ve become rather an insatiable learner. Knowing absolutely nothing, neither good nor bad about Islam prior to meeting a Muslim, once I knew, I had to learn more. So I’ve become a student of Islamic history. Most Muslims, rather sadly, leave off history after the death of Prophet Muhammad and his four predecessors and intimate companions, known as the Righteous Caliphs. Because knowledge was such a fard kifayah, an obligation, after the death of Muhammad, learning centers and great societies sprang up quickly within the next 100 years. Muslim Spain, better known as Moorish Andalusia, was a center for learning, medicine, invention, philosophy, science, and arts; and because of Islam’s tolerance for People of the Book, Christians and notably Jews prospered and were among some of the great names of that era. Many speculate that because Spain was part of Europe, there would be no Renaissance without the Muslim presence.
Muslims at that time studied well the Roman and Greek sciences and philosophies, experimented (actually originating what is our Scientific Hypothesis today), drew better conclusions and took the world quite a few great leaps into the future. Many of these developments were the forerunners of much of our advanced civilization today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxJ2OC7iXo0
No, this is not a lecture on Islamic history and civilization! But it’s good and surprising perhaps to know, right? It leads me to the idea of connectivity. Algorithms are amazing things. They can bring all sorts of mindless trivia into our social media pages, or if you’re a knowledge junkie like me, you get some pretty fascinating posts. In a recent one, a video Stealing from the Sacracens: How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe – a clever play on words “Thieves stealing from Thieves (English usage ‘sacracens’ from the Arabic word ‘saraqin’) – the well-respected historian Diana Darke states: “The bottom line is no one has a monopoly on ideas. Everyone’s contribution needs to be acknowledged. No one owns science, just as no one owns architecture. Cultures are intertwined and everything builds on everything else.” Just like the Renaissance crawling out of the Dark Ages of Europe, it simply doesn’t happen that way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LrSU7-bDK4&t=4s The more I study Islamic history, the more connectivity I see with our Western world.
Another example: Western vs Islamic clothing. Doing some research on the history of the Veil I found that Wikipedia has an amazing assortment of historical evidence about this controversial piece of cloth. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veil Back to my algorithms and another good video pops up about Orientalism, the imitation or depiction of aspects in the Eastern world, usually done by writers, designers, and artists from the West. Typically not positive. The speaker related that Westerners chose to perceive the harem according to their imaginations and perhaps fantasized about what they were forbidden to see behind closed doors. (Harem merely meaning ‘family quarters’ – you were already thinking something else, admit it!) They dreamed of all manner of lewd and lascivious behavior – yet – compared Muslim women so very unfavorably with their decent and modest Western women! How times have changed. These once unseen women of lurid imaginations are now objects of derision for the very same virtues they used to extol their own women! What goes around comes around or something like that.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Did Columbus sail westward to discover new lands or did he merely want a different route to India that avoided dealing with the Ottomans who controlled the waterways? And Muslims, who perfected the astrolabe, were among his crewmen! Was Dracula some crazed blood-sucking vampire or a Prince turned King with a grudge against the Turks who raised him and became infamous for dealing with his enemies by impaling them on a pike! Legend had it they could never kill him! The Order of Dracula was awarded to Vlad the Impaler by the Pope of the time for his antagonism toward all things Muslim! https://www.livescience.com/40843-real-dracula-vlad-the-impaler.html
Although I have visited Turkey numerous times, I never had the chance to study Ottoman history, but since the advent of Turkish semi-historical dramas such as Resurrection Ertugrul https://www.newonnetflix.info/info/80127001 that took the world by storm airing on Netflix with English subtitles, I am now obsessed with everything Ottoman – so stay tuned for more to come!
If I’ve hit a nerve, here are some links to some enlightening books and videos! Oh, and don’t forget –coffee! From an Ethiopian goatherd to a Yemeni Sufi Sheikh who called coffee the “drink of the righteous” to the Ottomans who shared it with Europe and the world! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_H_C7MGAYKM. We are ever so connected!
https://www.amazon.com/Lost-History-Enduring-Scientists-Thinkers/dp/1426202806 I like this one. National Geographic, non-Muslim author, in case you were worried about Muslim bias!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIvlx2kXiH8 Islamic Judaism The Emir-Stein Center is an initiative committed to the promotion of empathy and understanding through cultural and religious literacy.