To explain that, we need to step back in time again, to Maimonides. This important Jewish thinker (and personal physician of Saladin) was a contemporary of Averroes. Confronted with Averroes′ writings, he adopted the former′s philosophy almost entirely. For centuries thereafter, the books of Maimonides were considered standard works in the Jewish world.

The manifesto of the Renaissance

One of the central 15th century Jewish thinkers in Europe was Elia de Medigo, a professor at the university of Padua who referred to himself as a ′follower of Maimonides′. At the time, Padua was known as a breeding ground of Averroism. There, de Medigo was the teacher of humanist Pico della Mirandola, who wrote the influential ″Oration on the Dignity of Man″(1486), which is often referred to as the ″Manifesto of the Renaissance″.

Portrait of Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677), ca. 1665 (source: Wikipedia; public domain)
Baruch Spinoza, advocate of independent, critical thought: one of the great rationalists of 17th century philosophy, Spinoza picked up where Averroes left off. Not satisfied with denying the immortality of the soul, he went one step further and questioned the existence of God himself

The biography of Pico was immediately translated into English by Thomas More, after Erasmus encouraged him to do so. The so-called Jewish-Christian tradition appears spun through with Islamic influence.

Averroes probably won his most important victory more than 400 years after his death. Baruch de Spinoza, one of the Fathers of the Enlightenment, came from a Jewish family that had to flee Spain and Portugal for Amsterdam after the Reconquista. Via the Jewish intellectual tradition, Spinoza discovered Aristotle, de Medigo, Maimonides and Averroes. Spinoza too was accused of denying the immortality of the soul and the very existence of God. His advocacy for critical, independent thinking had a lasting influence on the Enlightenment.

There is no doubt that Muslim scientists and philosophers played a considerable role in shaping European thought. That being said, it is also true that the Arab world has faced an intellectual crisis spanning centuries. Dictatorships and religious bigotry have destroyed Arab science and philosophy, while the West has made spectacular leaps forward.

However, denying the role of the Muslim world in the history of philosophical thought is a violation of history itself. The West cannot be credible if it reproaches others for falsifying history while not doing much better itself. It is time to restore the historical truth its rightful place.

Koert Debeuf

© Raseef22

Koert Debeuf is director of The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) Europe

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Comments for this article: An intellectual earthquake

One of the loveliest Egyptian film classics hit the movie theatres in 1997. Youssef Chahine, the legendary film director who discovered international stars like Omar Sharif, was strongly rooted in the multi-cultural "Levantine" Alexandria, and ingeniously combined popular Egyptian movie culture with song and dance with some exciting intellectual flavour, celebrated the heritage of one of the greatest Arab thinkers, Ibn Rushd, in that film. The film was a reaction of the persecution Chahine, himself a Levantine Christian with Lebanese roots, faced by Islamists, who had already in the Mubarak era infiltrated the Egyptian judicial system, when he published the film "The Emigrant" in 1994, about his biblical namesake Joseph. Since Joseph is also a prophet of Islam, Chahine was accused of blasphemy and even went on trial. This infuriated the intellectual so much that he started realizing his project "Destiny", which earned him the "Special 50th anniversary palm" of the International Film Festival in Cannes 1997, one of the greatest French cinema prizes ever awarded. This film is still largely unknown beyond the French-speaking world, it is high time that this great work of art is discovered by a wider audience beyond the Arab world and the Francophonie.

Jochen Schrader18.12.2017 | 16:09 Uhr