Back to the culture wars then

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 14, 2020

Abbasid Caliph Harun Al Rashid receiving a delegation from Charlemagne in 768, oil on canvas (1864; Maximilianeum, Munich)

The gains from the Greek-to-Arabic translation movement were many. It proved to be a great investment for the Arabs.

Not only did they create a vibrant environment of intellectual enquiry, they were able to use their very appetite for Hellenic knowledge as a cultural cudgel against their rivals next door, the Christian Byzantines.

Interestingly, Muslim intellectuals blamed Christianity for the Byzantines’ lack of interest in the ancient philosophical sciences. They didn’t extol paganism at the expense of Christianity, but advanced the argument that Christianity had somehow dulled the senses and the intellect of Byzantines.

As scholars have noted, the moral sought to be conveyed was that the Greek sciences, as transmitted through the translation movement, were a cultural good. And that the Christians, in hock to an illogical faith that required them to believe in the trinity, had proved to be an evil for the Byzantines.

Ergo, were Muslims to reject the Greek sciences they would be no better than the Christian Byzantines.