For years its waves carried ships of students and ships of soldiers; ships of fruit and ships of guns; those who sought knowledge and bread and those who sought war and gold. The output of this flow was a relationship of love and conflicts and a symbiosis of infinite colorful, creative and vivid elements. Located in the middle of this most used sea, the Arab world had always been a principal partner of Europe. The treaty signed between Charlemagne king of the Franks and Haroun al-Rachid is the best example for understanding this partnership. This treaty gave birth to diplomatic and trade agreements to the extent that by the end of the Middle Ages, trading towns had emerged such as Genoa, Venice, Pisa, Amalfi in Italy, or Marseilles and Barcelona in France and Spain; as well as a chain of prosperous ports like Alexandria, Beirut, Tunis, Tripoli and Istanbul. These towns served as centers of trade transit between Europe and the Orient and a final destination for the caravans coming from Africa and Asia. Trade was a bridging factor, but even more than its great impact on the mobility of people, the promotion of cultural exchange and influences on everyday life, it was accompanied by a better opening onto other cultures and was associated with technical, intellectual and scientific knowledge transfer. ”When science spoke Arabic” was a metaphor used until the Renaissance when great thinkers like Gerard of Cremona and Roger Bacon spoke Arabic and when the schools of medicine in Europe founded their curricula on the works of Avicenna. Science and the acquisition and transmission of the Enlightenment were the project of Arab institutions, whose respect was earned in Europe; cultivating universal values such as tolerance and justice which are today called human rights, as well as scientific thinking, the principles of trade, all of which were the subject of European admiration. It was no coincidence that centuries ago Hegel said that “science and knowledge came to the Occident from the Arabs”. Let us base our work of today on treaties like that of Charlemagne and Haroun al-Rachid. The genesis of this old Occidental view of Arab achievements and values should enhance our dialogue today. Arabs and Europeans are going through a historical moment of intercultural dialogue with the aim of restoring trust and creating a world of harmony and coexistence as a base for our common future.
The tree of civilization
His Royal Highness Prince Turki al-Faisal
Founder and trustee of the King Faisal Foundation Former ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United StatesEurope is the repository and incubating chamber of what emanates from the Middle East. It was, and is, the bank from which the Middle East drew and draws credits in ideas, technology and skills. The Greeks, the first European people of culture, drew on pharaonic, Phoenician, and Persian cultures, which they then conferred on the succeeding Roman culture, which, in turn, bequeathed it back to the peoples of the Middle East. They took their alphabet from Phoenicia; and Euclid and Archimedes, Socrates and Aristotle learned from the Egyptian Imhotep, and Hammurabi and Xerxes. From Anatolia to Syria to Nabatean Arabia to North Africa, Greco-Roman artifacts and architecture dot the landscape. When Muslim Arabs superseded the Byzantium and Persian empires, in the seventh and eighth centuries, they distilled Byzantium-Persian culture through translation and produced the building blocks of what became the European Renaissance from Andalusía, Sicily, the Balkans and Venice. Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn al-Haythem and al-Khwarazmi taught Europeans Socratic and Aristotelian logic, Hippocratic medicine and Euclidean geometry. They also introduced into Europe Arabic numerals, including the concept of “zero”, algebra and logarithms, as well as the dissection of cadavers, glass lenses, water clocks, astrolabes and the compass, paper and gunpowder, Chinese silks and porcelain, Damascus cloth and steel. Arab-Muslim architecture, irrigation, plants and herbology, medicines and pharmacology were all transferred into Europe through the Iberian peninsula, the Crusades, and Norman Sicily. The Ottomans introduced Europe to coffee and chocolates; the fez became the fashion in the seventeenth century in Vienna and Krakow. Pope Sylvester II, who introduced Arabic numerals into Europe, was called the Muslim pope. Thomas Aquinas, Bacon, Galileo, Copernicus and Descartes learned from Arab-Muslim scholars, and built on that knowledge. Today, the trend has been reversed. Arabs and Muslims migrate to Europe to find jobs and sustenance. Students from Arab and Muslim lands seek knowledge and skills in European universities. Science and finance, philosophy and religion, are exchanged unstoppably. Europe and the Arab-Muslim world are umbilically linked.
Europe: continent or goddess?