Middle East, Cradle of Civilisation                     الشرق الأوسط والعربية

16.04.2020
Broken Dhow in the Pacific, from Al-Hariris Maqamat (early 12th Century)
Broken Dhow in the Pacific, from Al-Hariris Maqamat (early 12th Century)

The Arab world

The first spark, that triggered my curiosity, regarding the Arab world, was invoked by the fact that this small tribe from the Arabian peninsula was able to create a massive empire in just one hundred years! In 732CE they were finally stopped in Poitiers in France, but in 751CE they defeated the Chinese Tang army at Talas in the Fergana valley in Central Asia. How was this possible? So i went to study this problem for years. My conclusion is that it was not because they had a new religion and a fantastic prophet, as the muslims claim. No! I think we have to consider two important factors. The first is that they abandoned slavery! A muslim can not be a slave, and due to the fact that the large majority of people were slaves at this time, Islam was very attractive. Everyone wants to be free!
The second factor, I think, is that the Arabic script was easily adapted, because the lingua franca of the day was Aramaic, written in a similiar script. Aramaic is also a Semitic language, and voila! Easy to learn Arabic then! The intelligentsia of the day, the Greeks and the Persians, never really adjusted to pure Islam. The Persians, and still, many of the Turks, are Shiites, and they dont have iconoclasm (prohibition of human depiction). The Alevis of Turkey don't have a ban on alcohol either, and their women don't wear viels. So it was not Islam really, that concured the world! It was freedom and ability to communicate! But they were really sucessful, and soon traded with both China, India and East Africa. There is evidence (Chinese written records) of muslim Arab visitors to Indonesia as early as the 700s. 

According to archeological evidence, the Arabs went further into East Asia as early as the 9th century. The Phanom Surin shipwreck in Thailand is proof of that. An interesting Arab was Ibn Battuta (1304-1368), also called the Arabic Marco Polo. Battuta was born in Morocco and travelled the world and gave us reports about many countries, i.e. what is todays Indonesia, Central Asia and China.

The second factor that made me interested in the Arab world is their achievements in science. Two fields made them famous, and we are talking about medicine and astronomy, of course. But they also made inroads in social and political science.

Tunisia was the birthplace of the famous political scientist Ibn Khaldoun بن خلدون , the author of Al-Muqaddima, the Introduction (to world history). Khaldoun (1332-1406) is by some called the first sociologist and marxist, 500 years before Karl Marx himself.

Phanom Surin Shipwreck, 9th Century (picture: Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology)
Phanom Surin Shipwreck, 9th Century (picture: Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology)

The Phanom Surin shipwreck (late 800s) was discovered one kilometer from todays shoreline, and that is how much the coastline has moved in 1200 years. This picture shows the planks sewn with fiber. A sewn boat was much more flexible and in reef infested South East Asia this prevented the boat from breaking up if it hit a coral rock. Ibn Battuta mentioned that "coconut fiber is better than hemp, and coconut fiber can be bought in the Andaman islands".