Mandaean Contributions to Islamic Civilization

Mandaean Contributions to Islamic Civilization July 13, 2015

I received word about the new book series below, and wanted to share it here, since it explicitly mentions the Mandaeans!

New book series: Edinburgh University Press

Non-Muslim contributions to Islamic civilisation

Series editors: Professor Carole Hillenbrand and Dr Myriam Wissa

Non-Muslim contributions to Islamic civilisation is a new edited series which deviates from the traditional focus on interfaith relations, and vividly brings to life the long, complex and varied contributions of non- Muslims in Islamic history and culture from late antiquity to early modernity (500 and 1800 CE.).Professor Carole Hillenbrand will edit the series along with Dr Myriam Wissa to explore a ground-breaking topic which has the opportunity to define a new school of thought in the field of Islamic studies.The series examines the contributions of Jews, Christians (including Armenians, Copts, Ethiopians, Georgians, Mozarabs and Syriacs) Samaritans, Mandeans, Hermetics, Harranians, Zoroastrians and peripheral cultures such as the Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, “Shamanist” and African traditions to the intellectual, ideological, legal, economic and technological development of Islamic civilisation. These contributions have yet to be investigated and thoroughly studied: indeed there is a rich and complex story to be told.

The series embraces the wide range of approaches and scholarship, transforming our view of the driving forces behind the formation of Islamic civilisation and how the management of its development has run hand in hand with its political expansion. It will highlight the social and cultural interactions that this expansion produced, while the new interactions with India, China and Central Asia set them in a broader context.

It aims to promote a more holistic approach which provides a new analysis of non-Muslim contributions in order to transcend issues from various disciplinary perspectives: philosophy, methods of theological debate, science, medicine, astronomy, astrology, alchemy, literature, administration, notions of rule, law, techniques such as irrigation and agriculture among other topics.

The series also considers the relationships between trade, religion and state practices and documents the work of people in the trading towns connecting the Middle East, the Mediterranean, India, inland Asia, South Asia and beyond. By doing so it offers insights into how this dynamic shaped the contours of the diverse Islamic space.

It consists of monographs, edited volumes, and advanced textbooks written in English from established and younger scholars alike, offering a balance of interests, vertically through the period from 500 to 1800 or horizontally across the Islamic Caliphate and beyond. Proposals are invited from authors with a completed Book Proposal Form.

We welcome ambitious writing projects, niche titles and as well as important books requiring translation.

For further information please contact:

Professor Carole Hillenbrand c.hillenbrand@ed.ac.uk

and

Dr Myriam Wissa mw7tech@gmail.com

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  • “Non-Muslim contributions to Islamic civilisation” could easily be shortened to “Islamic civilization” and barely loose meaning!

    • arcseconds

      (psst! EH! Your bigotry is showing!)

      • What bigotry? Muslim cultures (and not just races; these are different things) have, over the course of the twentieth century, generally underperformed equivalent non-Muslim ones, with the biggest exception being in South-East Asia (and even there, that’s ambiguous, and due to only one nation)*. For example, Turkey and Northern Cyprus have underperformed against Greece and Cyprus, Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina have underperformed against Serbia and Montenegro, Pakistan and Bangladesh have underperformed against India (though this is a phenomenon dating from the 1980s).

        Malaysia, an incomparable nation, has been by far the most successful Muslim country. I attribute these to the nation’s strategic location and its interaction with non-Muslim Chinese people.

        *Africa is also really ambiguous. It’s hard to find comparable nations, and all its countries perform really poorly on whatever measure you look at, except freedom of speech, which is also in this case ambiguous due to lack of comparable countries.

        Seriously, Islamic civilization largely concerned itself with the maintenance of Greek, Persian, Buddhist, and Roman civilization. Which cannot be said of any of those four civilizations, BTW.

        • arcseconds

          In the title of the book, ‘civilization’ is used in the usual sense of the word: a large-scale society, implying perhaps some degree of urbanization. There definitely was an Islamic civilization in this sense, and if it isn’t warranted to speak of an Islamic civilization now, it’s not warranted to speak of a Western European civilization either, but rather of a global civilization.

          It’s not necessary that a civilization measure up to our judgement of ‘civilized’ or ‘advanced’ to warrant the term. It’s not even necessary for a civilization to have unique features to , but it’s hardly conceivable that any civilization could be entirely derivative, with no local innovations or alterations whatsoever. That in itself would be a unique feature, and worthy of serious discussion.

          (But as it happens, by our usual standards of advanced and civilized, the Islamic civilization was once the most advanced and civilized civilization on the planet.)

          Yet you take the opportunity to sneer at contemporary Islamic society by denying the term applies.

          You’re not so ignorant as to be unaware of what the word ‘civilization’ means in this context, so you’ve either quite deliberately ignored its meaning in order to sneer, or the mention of ‘Islamic’ has bought up so much emotion in you that you can’t help but sneer.

          Either way, it’s bigotry, and it’s on display — also making you look kinda ignorant too, I’d be concerned about that if I were you.

          • “There definitely was an Islamic civilization in this sense, and if it
            isn’t warranted to speak of an Islamic civilization now, it’s not
            warranted to speak of a Western European civilization either, but rather
            of a global civilization.”
            – I wasn’t denying Islamic civilization existed (obviously, it did, as surely as Greek civilization did), but was making the point that the Non-Muslim contributions to Islamic civilization were large enough that Islamic civilization could be described as basically the sum of them with only a moderate to small degree of inaccuracy.

            “Yet you take the opportunity to sneer at contemporary Islamic society by denying the term applies.”
            -Totally untrue. I wasn’t denying the term applies, just smiling at the grandiosity of the ambitions of the title of this book (and belittling Islamic civilization’s original accomplishments in the process). Again, Islamic civilization existed. The Dome of the Rock isn’t just a mythical apparition that’s seen by some of the more deluded members of the Islamic religion and its sympathizers. It exists, just as surely as the Rock of Gibraltar.

          • arcseconds

            but was making the point that the Non-Muslim contributions to Islamic civilization were large enough that Islamic civilization could be described as basically the sum of them with only a moderate to small degree of inaccuracy.

            No, you didn’t make this point at all. To do this with any adequacy, you’d have to acknowledge the period where Islamic civilization was making significant advances in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, architecture etc. and show how those advances were somehow not indigenous.

            You didn’t even mention the centuries of Islamic history prior to the contemporary period, but just proceeded with a charge-sheet based on the contemporary situation: something that seems completely irrelevant both to the book, and to your assertion that Islamic culture is (almost) entirely derivative.

            So it looks like I was right: your sneer had nothing to do with Islamic culture actually being derivative, and your response when I challenged you on this shows this — it was just an opportunity for reflexive Muslim-bashing with nothing to do with the topic at hand. IOW, bigotry.

          • No, you didn’t make this point at all.

            -Yes, I did! From my very first comment!

            To do this with any adequacy, you’d have to acknowledge the period
            where Islamic civilization was making significant advances in
            mathematics, astronomy, medicine, architecture etc. and show how those
            advances were somehow not indigenous.

            -I was making a snide remark when I made the first comment here; I wasn’t building a grand historical case.

            You didn’t even mention the centuries of Islamic
            history prior to the contemporary period, but just proceeded with a
            charge-sheet based on the contemporary situation:

            What, I did mention the Dome of the Rock? Did you want some kind of exhaustive list of Stuff that Happened in the 7th-13th century Middle East?

            but just proceeded with a charge-sheet based on the contemporary
            situation: something that seems completely irrelevant both to the book,
            and to your assertion that Islamic culture is (almost) entirely
            derivative.

            -But very much relevant to your claim my “bigotry” was “showing”.

            So it looks like I was right: your sneer had nothing to do with Islamic
            culture actually being derivative, and your response when I challenged
            you on this shows this — it was just an opportunity for reflexive
            Muslim-bashing with nothing to do with the topic at hand. IOW, bigotry.

            “Muslim-bashing” is debatable, but my first comment here had everything to do with “the topic at hand” and “Islamic culture actually being derivative”. And you didn’t challenge me, you just arbitrarily claimed I had bigotry (not quite sure against what, but presumably to something relating to Islam or Muslims) without any evidence.
            James, why do you like this comment? It’s inspid and wrong thrice over.

          • arcseconds

            Is it possible that you’re this confused about your own motivations? I suppose with this kind of response it’s hard to believe you’re doing this deliberately, so I’m starting to believe that this is an example of confabulation.

            You admit that it was a snide remark. But why do you feel the need to make a snide remark about Islamic civilization? Especially when the context is an entirely academic one.

            One makes snide remarks when one holds the object of those remarks in contempt.

            But contempt is not an appropriate attitude to take towards a civilization in an academic setting. That kind of attitude is something that academia has spent the entire 20th century trying to get away from. Even if one has warrant for being contemptuous, one is required to do one’s level best to remove that from play. Apart from anything else, it’s obvious that contempt is a form of bias that can easily colour one’s judgements, to the point of being unable to see the achievements of a civilization.

            And do you have warrant for this contempt? Not as far as I can see. You must know that most legitimate historians do consider Islamic civilization to have had impressive indigenous achievements. If you do not know this, you aren’t qualified to have an opinion on the subject. And if you know that your opinion is at best a minority one, you know that you should give a defense for your minority view, not just say it as though it’s obvious.

            But you haven’t done this. When I suggested you were bigoted, you immediately started spouting forth about the current situation for Islamic society, which is completely irrelevant to the question of whether Islamic civilization is entirely derivative. Obviously Islamic society could be a total failure today, and yet historically the civilization could have been the most creative ever, or it could be the most derivative civilization ever and yet be amazingly successful today (think of South Korea – not that Korean society is entirely derivative either, but it’s a better candidate for having much derived from Chinese and Japanese society than the case you’re not even trying to make for Islamic civilization.)

            So, recapping:

            *) you make an uncalled-for snide remark
            *) indicating contemptuous attitudes to Islamic civilization
            *) that you don’t have warrant for
            *) and your response to being called on this is to bleat about the situation today, which is irrelevant to what you’re pretending (to yourself as much as anyone, apparently) your assertion is about, but is clearly what your real concern is.

            If this isn’t bigotry, what is?

            Did you want some kind of exhaustive list of Stuff that Happened in the 7th-13th century Middle East?

            Yes! Something along those lines, at least. It is, after all, what is required to prove your contention.

          • But why do you feel the need to make a snide remark about Islamic civilization?

            -‘Cause I think it’s overrated.

            One makes snide remarks when one holds the object of those remarks in contempt.

            -But not only “when one holds the object of those remarks in contempt”.

            Not as far as I can see. You must know that most legitimate historians
            do consider Islamic civilization to have had impressive indigenous
            achievements.

            -Name six achievements, with two serious references to “serious historians”.

            If you do not know this, you aren’t qualified to have an opinion on the subject.

            -Why do you claim this?

            you immediately started spouting forth about the current situation for Islamic society

            -Well, yeah. One can’t be bigoted about stuff that has no surviving successors.

            *) indicating contemptuous attitudes to Islamic civilization
            *) that you don’t have warrant for
            *)
            and your response to being called on this is to bleat about the
            situation today, which is irrelevant to what you’re pretending (to
            yourself as much as anyone, apparently) your assertion is about, but is
            clearly what your real concern is.

            -These three are definitely wrong.

            Also, go accept the Randi million dollar challenge. You’ve said you can read my mind better than I can, so I want to see that you can successfully do that with others.

          • arcseconds

            -Well, yeah. One can’t be bigoted about stuff that has no surviving successors.

            I’m glad to see you’re admitting your bigotry here.

            (Although it isn’t really true that one can’t be bigoted against stuff that has no surviving successors: Christians and Jews frequently show bigotry against the Caananites, for example, or ‘pagans’ in general)

            You must surely be aware that people can have biases and even emotions that they are not aware of or won’t admit to themselves, but can be very evident to others. It requires no psychic powers other than attentive reading for others to notice this.

            But, you know, you’ve just admitted your bigotry, and you’ve also admitted being snide, and you admit that you think Islamic civilzation is ‘overrated’. Is there really a gap between being snide and thinking something’s ‘overrated’, and being contemptuous wide enough for you to squeeze through?

            This last admission is particularly interesting, because it can only be overrated if other people have higher opinions of it than you do. So you’re aware of the high opinion many hold Islamic civilization, but you disagree with it.

            But you apparently can’t give any reason for thinking that it is in fact overrated.

            If you had any reasons for this belief, you’ve had plenty of opportunity to give them, but you haven’t done so. I can only conclude that you don’t actually have any reasons for thinking that it’s overrated, apparently not even post-factum rationalizations.

            Instead, you push the burden of proof back to me.

            Your challenge is easily met, of course, and I will do so later, but right now I’m not getting sidetracked into proving the obvious. Particularly as you’ve already practically admitted that you’re aware that Islamic civilization is generally considered highly.

            Instead, I want to keep you on the hook.

            Your behaviour can’t be explained on the basis of the fact you’ve looked closely at the putative achievements of Islamic civilization, and found they aren’t as original as normally thought, because if this were the case you’d have presented an argument along these lines by now.

            In fact, as far as I can tell you’re in nigh-complete ignorance about what is normally said to be the achievements of Islamic civilization, because the only thing you’ve mentioned is the Dome of the Rock.

            But it can be explained on the basis of bigotry. That explains the initial snide remark, the immediate connection to contemporary social problems in Islamic society (you do see that this is completely irrelevant now, right?) , and the fact you have a firm negative opinion on the achievements of Islamic civilization despite your apparent ignorance of the subject.

            So explain to me again why I should abandon the hypothesis that you’re bigoted against Islamic culture in all its manifestations, when it explains your otherwise baffling behaviour so nicely?

          • I’m glad to see you’re admitting your bigotry here.

            arcseconds, if you continue misreading me, I might have to consider you as intellectually dishonest as Azkyroth. I never “admitted my bigotry” here, you’re just lying about that. Even if I am bigoted against Islam/Muslisms/Jews/Christians/Atheists/Republicans/Democrats/Blacks/Asians/Mexicans, your original reply to me here was still Bulverism, not any kind of substantive reply I’d have expected from you before yesterday.

            You must surely be aware that people can have biases and even emotions
            that they are not aware of or won’t admit to themselves, but can be very
            evident to others. It requires no psychic powers other than attentive
            reading for others to notice this.

            -Okay, arcseconds, you win. I admit it, I desire the extermination of all Muslims, think each and every one of them are a bunch of sandniggers (less intelligent than apes) who deserve to be shot in the mouth for each and every one of them’s desire of the utter annihilation of the West, despise the present Iran nuclear deal, desire Iran should get nuclear weapons just so it can be nuked to glass by the U.S. air force, and dream for the day when all Americans wake up, realize that Dearborn is the capital of all serious plotters, terrorists, and militants against the United States, and burn it to the ground, leaving not a single sandnigger standing unless s/he converts to Christianity (or atheism). I am thoroughly and righteously bigoted against each and every Moozlam, for their religion is one of hate and tribalism alone, contributing nothing to humanity except death, destruction, and misery. For the millions of Muslims in Chad, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and the Caucasus to be wiped off the face of the Earth would bring the utmost joy to my heart, this being the greatest event in the history of all time since the Holocaust and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Blow me.

            Note: Srsly, I do not have those feelings against all Muslims. Only against all Erdogan voters. Srsly. And if you find my behavior baffling, ask yourself: why?

          • arcseconds

            Oh, Enopoletus Harding, I’ve clearly confused and upset you, and now I’m feeling sorry for you! Damn these human frailties like empathy!

            However, maybe it’s a good opportunity to try to put the conversation on a more constructive footing.

            First of all, let me clear the air by withdrawing the charge of bigotry. You know how people often say something without thinking it through too closely? Well, that’s what I did. I saw what I thought was a thoughtless anti-Islamic remark, and gave a somewhat thoughtless reply — but hopefully you understand that thoughtless anti-Islamism might merit such a charge.

            Also, regardless of whether it was merited or not, it’s not a constructive way to begin a reasonable discussion. However, I confess I wasn’t expecting to have one! I was expecting you to just ignore it, or perhaps just trade derisive snorts.

            Anyway, I apologise. It wasn’t very nice of me.

            But I am left thinking that we actually haven’t had a particularly constructive discussion about this, and I’m not yet convinced that it wasn’t a thoughtless remark of yours, evidencing perhaps some bias in your thinking. Because it seems untenable to me (and not just to me, either, Bernier, who is a historian, agrees with me, and so I think does James).

            So let me ask you an open-ended question: what makes you think that Islamic civilization is overrated, and is largely bereft of indigenous achievements? And are you aware of what historians normally say about it?

            Please don’t just say that they took everything from the Greeks and Persians. That’s not evidence for the claim, it’s just restating it in a more detailed form.

          • “It’s not necessary that a civilization measure up to our judgement of
            ‘civilized’ or ‘advanced’ to warrant the term. It’s not even necessary
            for a civilization to have unique features to ,”
            -Agreed.

            “but it’s hardly conceivable that any civilization could be entirely derivative, with no local innovations or alterations whatsoever. That in itself would be a unique feature, and worthy of serious discussion.”
            -I don’t think so, but I said “barely loose meaning”, not “loose no meaning”.
            “(But as it happens, by our usual standards of advanced and civilized, the Islamic civilization was once the most advanced and civilized civilization on the planet.)”
            -So were the Greek, Roman, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian Persian civilizations (all of which, BTW, had roots in Indo-European culture), of which Islamic civilization was derivative!

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Okay. Sure, Islamic civilization was a successor to the great achievements of Greek, Roman, and Persian civilization, among others. Oh, and Jewish and Christian civilization (and for those who like to think in terms of 19th-century racialism those are Semitic traditions). So is modern civilization as a whole. So what? All that says is that civilization is a product of history, and who really thought otherwise? What it doesn’t do is speak to why Islam was so remarkably proficient at melding these various strands into a single, coherent, civilizational structure that endured for hundreds of years and obtained some of the greatest achievements in human history.

            Interesting enough, when one looks closely at the vitality of Islamic civilization one realizes that it in large part it has to do with certain socio-political structures that were undermined and destroyed by Western European imperialism and colonialism starting in the early modern period. This culminated in the final collapse of the old caliphate following the First World War. So, yeah, Islamic civilization is no longer in its golden age, but largely because Western Europeans have spent four centuries making sure that would be the case. To critique Islamic civilization for falling prey to our depredations seems remarkably perverse.

          • Jewish civilization made only one major original contribution to the world: monotheism. Likewise, Christian civilization was almost entirely derivative from Greek, Roman, and Jewish, and was not as original as any of those Indo-European-originated civilizations which I mentioned.
            “What it doesn’t do is speak to why Islam was so remarkably proficient at
            melding these various strands into a single, coherent, civilizational
            structure that endured for hundreds of years and obtained some of the
            greatest achievements in human history.”
            -I don’t think it was single at all, and I doubt its coherence. African-Middle Eastern, Indonesian, and Indian-Bangladeshi Islamic civilization cannot be reduced to something single.
            “obtained some of the greatest achievements in human history.”
            -Like what?
            “Interesting enough, when one looks closely at the vitality of Islamic
            civilization one realizes that it in large part it has to do with
            certain socio-political structures that were undermined and destroyed by
            Western European imperialism and colonialism starting in the early
            modern period.”
            -Maybe in Bengal, Algeria, and Indonesia, but not Malaysia, Tunisia, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Ottoman Empire, or Morocco.
            “This culminated in the final collapse of the old caliphate following the First World War.”
            -But a new Caliphate (from similar guys who ruled the old) was allowed by the West to have arisen in 2014. The old caliphate was weak, brutal, incompetent, and deserved to die.
            “So, yeah, Islamic civilization is no longer in its golden age, but
            largely because Western Europeans have spent four centuries making sure
            that would be the case.”
            -That’s B.S. (except in non-Middle Eastern Asia) Look at Muslim-majority countries in Europe. See how they compare to equivalent Christian-majority states. Turkey v. Greece, Albania v. Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo v. Serbia
            And who sez Islamic civilization is no longer in its golden age? The Arabian peninsula was a backwater before the 1930s.

            In any case, if Islamic civilization was kept down by Da Man, that’s no excuse. In the 7th-16th centuries, Da Man kept down Christian civilization, leading its centers to move North.