Monday, Oct. 6, 2008

The Muslim Conquest

By David Luhrssen
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Western Europe was a backwater among world cultures in the Middle Ages, except for Spain, then an Islamic kingdom where learning and tolerance flourished.

In “When the Moors Ruled in Europe,” British historian-television host Bettany Hughes examines the wonders of a civilization that began as an outpost of the Islamic world but rapidly became a center of world civilization. The documentary, out on DVD, is a well paced and informative tour of Moorish Spain, so called because the Muslim invasion came from Morocco, across the straits separating Europe from Africa.

Although Hughes ignores the role of the Byzantine Empire in transmitting the knowledge of ancient Greece to the Arab Muslims, she is entirely correct that the advanced philosophy and science of Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras found a new home in Spain with the coming of Islam. At a time when Roman Catholic Europe was a place of much poverty and little learning, Muslim Spain thrived economically and intellectually. I

t didn’t last, but the Moors left behind many traces in the music and language of Spain along with monuments such as the famed Alhambra, an M.C. Escher palace of infinite geometry set in stone and tile.

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