slam: Facts & Fictions

August 07, 2019

I'm Joan Weeks, head of the Near East section that is sponsor of today's program. And we're very pleased to present this program on Islam Facts and Fictions. But before we start today's program and introduce our speaker, I'd like to just give you brief overview of the division and its resources in hopes that some of you who are newcomers will come back and do research in our reading room. So this is a custodial collection, a division which is comprised of three sections that build and serve our collections to researchers from around the world. We cover of 78 countries, and more than two dozen languages. The Africa section includes the countries of all of Sub Sahara Africa. The Hebraic section is responsible for Judaica, and Hebraica worldwide. And the Near East section covers all of the Arab countries including North Africa, and the Middle East, and covers Turkey, Turkic Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, and the Muslims in Western China, and the people of the Caucases. After the program we'd invite you to fill in these surveys that we've left in your chairs. This helps us plan and evaluate programs for the future. And I'd also like to invite you to try out our Four Corners blog, and I've left this little paper that tells you where you can find that, with special stories and very in depth research by our specialists. And we're on Facebook, so if you like us on Facebook you'll hear about all our latest programs, and you'll receive alerts. So, we invite you to take advantage of this. Also we invite you to ask questions at the end, but just so that you know, this is being videotaped, and if you ask questions you're implicitly giving permission  to be videotaped. Also we'd like to invite you after the program to the book signing event. Our authors got a number of books here for everyone that would like one to have it signed. And so without further ado I'd like to call on my colleague Dr. Muhannad Salhi, our Arab of world specialist to introduce our speaker. Thank you. >> MUHANNAD SALHI: Good afternoon everybody, thank you all for joining us. It gives me great pleasure to introduce our speaker today. We're very lucky to have him, Dr. Chase Robinson, who is the president and distinguished professor of history of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Since 2013, Chase F. Robinson has served as president of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the hub of research, doctoral education, and advanced learning for the nation's largest urban university. Between 2008 and 2013, Robinson was provost and senior vice president. Before joining the Graduate Center, he was professor of Islamic history and chairman of the faculty board of Oriental studies at the University of Oxford. Educated in the United States, France, and the Middle East, he holds a BA from Brown University and a PHD from Harvard. A historian of the premodern Middle East, Robinson holds the faculty rank of distinguished professor, and teaches courses on Islamic history. He has held the visiting appointments at the University of California Los Angeles, and the Institute for Advanced Studies Princeton. A member of the council on foreign relations, he is the author, or editor of eight books, and more than forty articles, most recently Islamic Civilization In Thirty Lives. He serves on several editorial boards, including past and present in the Cambridge Series in Islamic Civilization which he chairs. He has written commentaries that have appeared in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Times Higher Education Supplement, The Times Literary Supplement, and many others. As Joan mentioned, we are going to have a book signing at the end, so please stay and ... The book that I mentioned Islamic Civilization In Thirty Lives will be available for purchase. So without further ado, Dr. Chase Robinson. [applause] >> CHASE ROBINSON: Thank you so much for coming, what a pleasure it is to be here. I'd like to thank Dr. Salhi as well as Joan for her kind comments in welcoming me. I'm especially grateful to all of you for venturing out on such inopportune day. I do appreciate it. It's a great pleasure to talk about my work, and rather than just talk about my work- I don't know my dog, or my cats, or my wife, it's nice to talk about what I feel strongly about with those who I think, at least to judge by your presence, and overcoming the obstacles of the day, obviously share an interest. I should also say before I get going on the substance of my, for the most part informal comments, that as an educator, as a scholar, a researcher, a university president, it is a particular pleasure to be here. Can you hear me? You can't hear me, I will bark. A particular pleasure to be here in a library in which I did some research a long time ago, during my PHD. Along the same lines, I think it is a glory of our democracy that our civic institutions are as strong as they are. It's to our collective credit, and I think it's also a function of our democratic spirit that we cultivate learning, we maintain learning, and we respect the past the way that we do in libraries. So, what I'll do is I'll say a few words of autobiographical nature. I will try not to slip into solipsism, or self-indulgence. I think it'll become clear why I'm speaking autobiographically, at least initially.  Then I'll make some stray comments about scholarly responsibility, and then I'll talk about the book proper. I've decided just to let the attractive slides scroll. I'll let you draw your own connections between the comments I'll be making, especially in the second half of my remarks, but they are attractive. And I thought if nothing else they are a good break from the monotony of my appearance at the stage. Do enjoy them, they should be for the most part self-explanatory. So, a few years ago I gave a paper at a community college within the CUNY system, which was called, Not An Obvious Thing To Do. And the reason I've given this paper this title, is that by that point of my career I'd been asked, I don't know 500 times, Jane McAuliffe in the audience, she's probably been asked 500 times, why do you do Islamic history? It's not an obvious thing to do. None of my forbearers are Muslim, or Arab. I'd never been to the Middle East before I'd taken interest in Arabic. It was not an obvious thing to do. My own background is I think utterly ordinary in America, which is to say that I've got immigrants on both sides of my parents. My mother, her parents came from what is now, well the former Yugoslavia, and they were ethnic Ukrainians. So I grew up in a house in which my mother and my grandmother spoke Ukrainian, obviously to keep secrets from me. But at the same time I grew up in a house that was filled with kind of third rate Chin Wazari, kind of beaten up late 19th century Chinese furniture, because my grandfather on my dad's side had been a missionary doctor in China. As it happens my mother was a French teacher, so I think I grew up, and again I think utterly ordinary, at least in the respect that my parents were immigrants, or the sons and daughters of an immigrant. But fortunate, and I do want to underline how fortunate I feel, to have grown up in a household in which foreign cultures, foreign languages were taken for granted, were understood to be part of one's education, learning foreign languages, and appreciating foreign cultures. Now as it happened when I was a teenager, the Middle East began to, how shall I put it? Grow more salient, at least in the American public imagination. I have dim memories of the long lines when the price of gas spiked. I have clearer memories, by this point I was a teenager, of course of the Iranian revolution, of Camp David, the Iranian revolution, and the controversy that attached to Salman Rushdie and the affair of the fatwa. So, I think those were the circumstances in which I either wisely, or unwisely decided not to do what to my thinking would have been the obvious thing to do, which is to study Chinese, and instead study Arabic. As many of you will know Arabic is a devilishly difficult language, but an extremely rewarding language, a language that reveals culture in a very powerful way. I began the study of Arabic and spent some time in the Middle East, after having spent a year in France in high school. I spent two years living in Cairo, and at that point I threw myself into early Islamic history. Now what is early? Historians like to periodize, it's not always clear what we mean. Early Islamic history is typically thought to be the seventh, eighth, or ninth century, then sometimes historians talk about classical Islamic history. As many of you in this room will know, that means the origins of Islam.  Muhammed we think was born around 570, maybe 580. We certainly know that the Hijra, he grew up in Mecca in a small oasis town in Western Arabia. We know that in 622, we have good evidence for that, he made his emigration, his Hijra from Mecca to Medina. And we know that, and this date is slightly less secure, but we're pretty confident in 632 he died. So, early Islamic history covers the appearance of Islam, the career of Muhammed, and then the successor caliphs, the Umayyad dynasty, and the early Abbasid empire. What I like to say about this period, and I say it shamelessly, when I'm teaching I brook no dissent from my students. I say there is no period in recorded human history more interesting than early Islamic history. The first century of Islam is unprecedented as I like to put it, in its cultural productivity. In the first century of Islam, maybe first century and half if you'd like to be more conservative, a religion was created, Islam, a language was created, Arabic. There were varieties of Arabic that predate Islam, but it had not been systematized, hadn't become a written language. A religion was created, a language was created, an empire was created, the Umayyad caliphate, the Abbasid caliphate when at its largest, stretched from the Western Mediterranean all the way to what is now Afghanistan and beyond. And finally a people were created, the Arabs. Because the Arabs as we now know are very much a function of Islam,  and early Islamic history. So, I threw myself into this, of course at the time I wasn't able to theorize it in the way that I do now. But I found it hugely fascinating, and again to emphasize the fortune that I experienced, I was very very fortunate not only to have received terrific training, but then to be as was mentioned in the introduction, at Oxford for many years in what was probably the strongest department in the world in what I do. [pause] Having been educated, having been as it were invested in, I think I was failing. I think I was being irresponsible. I didn't feel this at the time, but in retrospect I think I was being irresponsible, I think I was failing because it's not enough to publish articles in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, or the Journal of the American Oriental Society, or an Annual Journal of Syriac studies, or the Bulletin of the School of Royal African studies. It's not enough, at least it feels to me now, to write to pretty small audiences of scholars about fairly arcane topics without speaking to the larger public, especially in a moment in which as I've already intimated, the Middle East was becoming much more salient. So, about seven or eight years ago, as it were I woke up and I began to consider ways in which I could be more responsible, and address what I think we all understand to be some deep entirely understandable, but deep levels of both ignorance, and it must regrettably be said, hostility towards Islam and Muslims. Let me just give you three or four indexes of that ignorance and that, again I regret to say, a measure of hostility. I found myself being asked the kind of questions that were so fundamental that it made me wonder how is it that we as scholars have been so poor at informing the public. Fundamental questions, why do they hate us? What is Jihad? Does Islam need a reformation? What's the difference between Sunnis and Shiites? Was Islam spread by the sword? What is Sharia? Fundamental questions, which were for the most part were being left to polemicists, or apologists, or ill-informed commentators to answer. That's one index. Another index, and indulge me a little bit of irreverence here, is what I call the tale of Agrabah. Some of you will know the tale of Agrabah. In the heat of the primary season last year, voters were asked whether or not they favored the city of Agrabah.  30% of Republicans favored bombing Agrabah, 19% of Democrats favored bombing Agrabah, 13% of Republicans thought it was a bad idea, 36% of Democrats thought it was a bad idea. I'm not poking fun at any political party, I have made an oath to be nonpartisan. 44% of Democrats, when asked a week later in a follow up poll that was commissioned, do they favor welcoming refugees from Agrabah, 44% did favor welcoming refugees from Agrabah. Of course you all know that Agrabah is a confection of the Disney corporation. It was concocted in 1992. It's a setup of course. And I think a question like that demands a response. Your average respondent does not want to sound ignorant, so he or she opines. I don't think you would get that kind of question if there were a greater cultural awareness, historical awareness, geographic awareness. I think it says something about attitudes that we so readily answer questions about places that don't exist. Another index would be the terrific work that the Pew does. They've done it in 2015, they did it again in 2017. They asked Americans how they felt about other religious groups. And they asked Americans to assign a temperature as a measurement of their warmth, to assign a temperature about their feelings about other religious groups on as it were a feelings thermometer. The warmest Americans felt was towards Jews, Catholics, and Evangelical Christians, at 62, 62, 63, 61 degrees. The chilliest they felt, this was the data from 2015, was about Muslims, 40 degrees. It says something in a culture as religious as the United States that Muslims fared even worse than atheists on that feelings thermometer. The same question was put more recently and some of the chilliness has subsided, we're now up to, I don't know what you'd call 48, it's obviously not warm. A fourth and final index, and here much is said about this, so I'll say very little, and this is highly politicized, but I think it is uncontroversial to acknowledge that there is a measure of Islamophobia at the intellectual political discursive level on both the right, and the left. On the right, it tends to be associated with a neoconservative point of view, on the left it tends to be associated with the new atheists. And the one example that I would mention, and there are several others, would be Christopher Hitchens' book, God Is Not Great. It strikes me as utterly understandable that a polemic against religion would take the form of, as it were, poking fun at an Islamic expression "God is great," God is not great. So, we find ourselves in a world with 1.7 billion Muslims. We find ourselves in a world in which Islam is the world's largest, fastest growing religion. A child born in 2017 will probably live in a world in which Islam is more populist than Christianity, by the end of this century. And that will be the first time in roughly four or five hundred years that's been the case. So, I return to this question of the scholar's responsibility, and I turn now directly to the book that I wrote, a book which gave me great pleasure to write. It's a scholars responsibility obviously, this is benow, but I'll say it all the same, to speak out, to educate, to inform, to escape from disciplinary jargon, to escape the vernacular or the cant of an academy which can be, shall we say very forbidding to those outside of it. In my case, what I wanted to do was to make a millennium of Islamic history, a thousand years of Islamic history readable, intelligible, provocative, interesting. The way I organized the book was in 30 short chapters. Let me say one or two, three words about the organization of the book, and then I'll talk about the context of the book. 30 short chapters, we live in an age of shall we say declining attention span, in which shorter form literature ... I was more than happy as it were, to embrace the challenge of writing in such a way that one could spend 10 or 15 minutes and come away with an appreciation for an aspect of Islamic history, Islamic civilization. I chose obviously to write biography. Why biography? For a few reasons. Number one, there is a continuing, a vexed in my view, an entirely inconclusive, and increasingly sterile literature about what is Islam. Some of you will know Sahaba Maad's most recent book, hundreds of pages of long, it really doesn't answer the question. It tells you what Islam is not, not what Islam is. Biography to my thinking, refocuses the questions to what do Muslims do? What do Muslims think? What form do they give to Islam? It I think allows us to avoid, if not all, at least some of these problems of essentialism, and perennialism that attach whenever you try to define a religious tradition. I also found biographical writing an attractive medium because, and this ... Excuse me if it sounds a bit trite. Every day we write our own biographies by living, and remembering, and narrating. And I really wanted people, and this is fundamental purposes of the book, something about which I feel almost a kind of missionary zeal, I wanted people to understand Muslims as individuals. What better way than to tell their stories? And finally those of you who know the Islamic literary tradition, and it is an extraordinary literary tradition, you will know that biographical writing is a huge component. There are biographical dictionaries that feature biographies of hundreds of thousands of individuals. So this was a kind of homage, in my very modest way to such an important feature of the Islamic literary tradition. Islam is commonly seen as narrowly, sometimes severely legalistic. It is often seen as intrinsically violent, even nihilistic. I set out in this book not just to make Islamic history readable or accessible, but to complexify, to debunk, and I'll do a little bit of debunking in a moment, but never to apologize. If there are any apologetics in the book then it's a mistake, which I deeply regret. Islamic history, the Islamic tradition, intellectual and otherwise is an extraordinary feature, an extraordinary accomplishment which deserves respect, but is resilient to criticism in my mind. The achievement is so significant, 1400 years of history, the cultural productivity is so prolific, the insights are so trenchant, the creativity, the productivity are so impressive that to my mind the responsibility that a scholar has is to understand it, and present it, not to apologize for aspects which may seem less attractive than people would wish them to be. You will find, those of you who know something about Islam, and Islamic history, some familiar figures. There's a little bit of a test that I put to experts in the field. Only one person in the field knows all 30 subjects. Most of my colleagues know 26, or 27, I put a few jokers in the deck just to make things interesting for my fellow scholars. Salah ad-Din Saladin is the subject of a biography. Someone named al-Ma'mun who is a son of H r n al-Rash d is the subject of a biography. Muhammed Ali the cousin, and son in law of Muhammed, of course one can't understand Sunniism and shiism without understand Ali. A'isha some of you will know. Ibn Taymiyya, here we're one remove I think from a broad awareness, but those of you who follow Islamism and Salafism will be aware of Ibn Taymiyya as a very significant 14th century scholar. So, on the one hand, and this is by way of amplifying my comments about explaining the tradition as comprehensively as I can within the framework of 30 biographies, I do address legalism, men commanders, fighters, caliphs. On the other hand, and of course you'll sense that this is where my provocative part of my work settles, an area in which I thought that most of my readers would be unfamiliar, you will find free thinkers, you will find philosophers, scientists, cartographers, historians, poets, one merchant tycoon of whom I'll say a word or two, mystics, and one courtesan, and I'll say a word about that courtesan as well. Let me just, for the sake of being a little bit more precise, read just a paragraph from the introduction. It puts the best words I could put to my ideas at the time. I've composed 30 brief biographies which can hint at the scale, diversity, and creativity of Islamic civilization over about a millennium. I should like to emphasize from the start that diversity and creativity which were generated in large measure by that scale. Not merely the size of polities, cities, wealth, networks of learning, even libraries, but also intellectual, and political ambition. We shall see that for some Muslim thinkers, the sky, not God was the limit. In using the terms, diversity and creativity, I aim to capture a wide and inadequately acknowledged spectrum of ideas, social practices, and personal styles, and commitments. There was legalism, and dogmatism of course, but so too was their hyper rationalism, skepticism, inventiveness, iconoclasm, and eccentric individuality. For the Islamic civilization that I shall be describing here, dynamism, experimentation, and risk taking were the rule. And I stop in the early 16th century, not because that diversity and creativity dried up, not because that civilization stultified, but because the underlying economic and political framework of the preindustrial Middle East began to undergo major changes. >> CHASE ROBINSON: Let me give you four examples very briefly. And I have considered pausing the scrolling. I considered pausing the scrolling images, but I realize I probably wouldn't be able to start it again. So I said earlier on that I wanted to debunk and problematize four examples, each a theme, each trying to debunk, problematize, what I regard to be, and I hope you'd agree a misunderstanding at the popular level. Islam and women, the stereotypes are about veiling, they're about seclusion, about privatized domestic space, they're about women disempowered by political tradition, even infantilized by Islamic law. I tackle four women, A'isha, a woman named Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya who was a mystic, a woman named Arib, and a great scholar named Karima al-Marwaziyya, she's one of the jokers in the deck. Very few scholars know of Karima al-Marwaziyya, a very significant scholar in her day.  Let me say a word or two about Arib. Arib was born in the early 9th century in Iraq, Southern Iraq. She was born in unclear circumstances, it would appear that she was born to a very wealthy family, a family even part of, or certainly closely connected to the Abbasid court, but for reasons that we don't fully understand, misfortune fell upon that family, she was sold into slavery, not an altogether uncommon event. Slavery was widespread in the ancient world, it survives into Islamic civilization as it does others. Now the story could have ended there, but Arib who lived to probably 95, or 97, we're not really sure, she died just two or three years left in the 9th century. She was someone of some extraordinary talents. She had a gift for music, she had a gift for literature. By the time she was a late teenager, she had gained the attention of many members of the court, and she had embarked upon what would be a six or seven decade long career as a performer, as a courtesan, as a public figure in Baghdad, a city with which you're all familiar, at least on the map, and also the city of Samarra. It is hard for a historian of Islam to watch what's happened in Samarra take place. Because Samarra in the middle of the 9th century was an imperial capital. Just again a few sentences to give you some sense of Arib. Arib confounds the social and gender categories that we typically impose upon Islamic civilization, a slave who sold her musical and personal services to the most powerful men of her time, she was pilot of a career that rode the waves of Baghdad culture for nearly a century. A self-promoting performer, an inventor of her own brand of fearless insouciance. In her time she was at once the most famous, and infamous of the qiyan, female slave performers of an urban elite in Iraq. Nowadays we would call her a singer songwriter, because she composed poetry that she set to music, reportedly some 1000 songs. But above all she was a celebrity, a mix of Elizabeth Taylor and Amy Winehouse. The glory and scourge of Abbasid Baghdad, and Samarra. "I never saw a more beautiful, or refined woman than Arib, " the leading 9th century authority on music held. "Nor one who sang, played music, wrote poetry, or played chess so well." If you were to be a serious member of the Abbasid court in this learned culture you had to be a mean chess player. "She possessed every quality of elegance and skill that one could wish for in a woman." There is on one of the slides a picture of one of these slave performers, which is from an 8th century palace, probably drawn, painted, 40 or 50 years before Arib was born. Second theme, science in Islam. Again the popular imagination, well education is in crisis in the Middle East. A report issued in 2015, showed that although Muslim populations are about 25% of the world's population, the majority of Muslim populations produce about 6% of the worlds published research. Of course there are all sorts of reasons for that, but in the popular imagination there is an incompatibility between the irrationality of Islam and science. My answer to that, Biruni. Biruni is an extraordinary figure of 11th century learning. He was a genuine polymath. We tend to use the word a little bit recklessly. In Biruni's case he was a polymath. He was born in what is now Uzbekistan, he appeared to have been something of a prodigy as a child, studied music, but by the time he was advancing towards higher education, it became clear that he had very significant talents in the exact sciences, mathematics. By the age of 20, he was observing the summer solstice and deducing from observations, a number of astronomical facts. He was a very mean theoretical as well as an applied physicist. He was as I said, a quite extraordinary mathematician. He commanded the full spectrum of the sciences, a term used in Islamic learning to denote disciplined bodies of knowledge in ways that nowadays is hard to fathom. I mean the closest one would find would be a Voltaire, the person who's operating across that full spectrum of knowledge before what CP Snow infamously called the two cultures, humanities, the division between humanities and the sciences emerged. In addition to his extraordinary feats applied in theoretical science, he also was a prodigious historian who wrote arguably one of the earliest works of comparative history. And at the same time, and this is why one of the respects in which he's so interesting, he was born in Uzbekistan, but he was patronized by what's called the Ghaznavid dynasty, and the Ghaznavids were a dynasty that ruled from Afghanistan, and waged war, at least for the first 20 years almost ceaselessly in what is now India on the subcontinent. And Biruni followed those campaigning armies, sucking up Indian learning.  Biruni had not only Arabic, and Persian, and some Greek, and some Hebrew, and some Syriac, he also learned Sanskrit. So, in addition to being this extraordinary exact scientist, he was a very mean historian as well, and he certainly wrote what I would feel comfortable describing as the world's first work of comparative religion, a book on India in which he conceptualizes religious traditions and compares them to each other- an Indian tradition, a Jewish tradition, a Christian tradition, an Islamic tradition. There's really nothing else like it, and he's operating in the 11th century, quite extraordinary. Islam and capitalism. This is another one of my favorites. Capitalism is retarded one reads in the Islamic world, either because of Sharia , or because of politics, inheritance law, the relative weakness of partnerships, impossibility of joint stock companies, endowments that alienate capital from investment, tax evasion. There are a whole range of cultural and religious reasons given why Islamic economies don't prosper the way they should, or so we read. Abu al-Qasim Ramisht belongs to the 12th century. He was from what's now South West Iran on the coast. We know very little about him. I had to really work hard to piece together some details. Interestingly enough he appears in some histories as well as some archives. Let me read to you what one witness, someone who knew Abu al-Qasim Ramisht, how he described him. "Abu al-Qasim Ramisht was one such wealthy man, a merchant, a tycoon, and a benefactor." A native of the province Fars which lay in the South West part of Iran. He made his fortune by trade and shipping, especially through the port of Siraf. One observer has it that Ramisht was one of Siraf's most wealthy and celebrated men.  I quote, "It's inhabitants are very rich. I was told that one of them feeling ill drew up his will, and a third part of his fortune which he had in cash, amounted to a million gold coins, not including the capital in which he laid out to people who undertook to trade with it in a partnership." Those are technical terms actually, that partnership is a financial arrangement, according to which Ramisht and his colleagues pooled their capital and shared at least some of the risk for long distance shipping. "Then there is Ramisht." The source continues, "whose son Musa I met in Aden in year 539." Which corresponds to 1144, or 1145. "He told me that the silver plate used by him, when weighed was found to weigh about a ton. Musa is the youngest of his sons, and he has the least merchandise. Ramisht himself has four servants, each of whom is said to be richer than his son Musa. I met someone named Alia Nili from the countryside of Hela." A town in Southern Iraq. "Who was Ramisht's clerk, his secretary, and he told me that when he returned from China 20 years earlier his merchandise was worth half a million gold coins. If that's the wealth of the clerk, what must Ramisht himself be worth? It was Ramisht who removed the silver water spout Kaaba." The Kaaba as you know sits in the middle of the sanctuary in Mecca. "Replacing it with a gold one, and who draped the Kaaba in Chinese cloth whose value is beyond estimate. In some I have heard of no merchant nowadays who is equal Ramisht in wealth or prestige." These were acts of conscientious, he was showing off his wealth. He also established benefactions, and sheltered his wealth. He made his wealth by being just one example, and there would have been hundreds indeed thousands of shippers, merchants, by extension bankers because they lent money, who were part of a network of trade that connected the Western Mediterranean with the South Indian and China Sea. All of that trade was possible- it was facilitated by capital, by legal instruments, by coinage, by trust. In many respects, in fact many historians have argued this, this was preindustrial capitalism. This was a form of capitalism at work. A final example, and I'll end here. Islam and religious dogma. Islam we read more less constantly as fettered by faith, irrational. My answer there of course is Ibn Rushd, extraordinary philosopher. I mentioned Abu al-Qasim Ramisht belongs to the 12th century, I've just stayed here in the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th century, of course there other examples. The book begins with Muhammed and ends in the early 16th century, but I'm sticking with the 12th century. Ramisht was born Iran, Arib was born in Iraq. Ibn Rushd or Averroes was born in Cordoba, of course Spain in the 12th century was part of the Islamic world. He was born into a very distinguished family of jurists, of lawyers, but he clearly had had from an early moment in his life, a disposition to asking fundamental questions of the truth. How does one know things? What are the epistemological basies upon which the law sits? How do I understand revelation? How do I understand truth? Those are not always questions seek to answer. Lawyers like to find answers to problems, either applied problems or theoretical problems as thrown up by the law itself, not the underpinnings of the law. At a young age he clearly manifested an interest in that direction and he had the great good fortune to run into a patron, a ruler who commissioned and fueled his philosophical appetite. I'll read to you very briefly the anecdote, which in many respects is the pivot upon which Ibn Rushd's life swings. "When I entered into the presence of the caliph Abu Ya'qub, I found him with someone named Abu Bakr Ibn Tufayl alone." Ibn Tufayl was a philosopher himself. "Abu Bakr Ibn Tufayl began by praising me." This is Ibn Rushd speaking in the first person. "Mentioning my family, and my ancestors, and generously including in the recital achievements well beyond my real merits,  he was flattering me in the presence of someone who's patronage he was trying to arrange for Ibn Rushd. The first thing he said to me after asking my name, my father's name, and my genealogy, his bonafides, where do you from, are you come from a good family or not? The first thing he asked me was this, what is your opinion about the heavens referring to the views of the philosophers. Are they eternal, or are they created?" That's a fundamental question in Islamic and premodern philosophy, is the world created, or is it eternal? "Confusion and fear took hold of me, and I began making excuses and denying that I'd ever concern myself with philosophical learning. It was problematic to ask these fundamental questions. For I did not know what Ibn Tufayl had told him." In other words, his philosopher companion had already the caliph to the idea that here is a fellow philosopher who asks fundamental questions. Ibn Rushd didn't know that. "But the caliph understood my fear and confusion, and turning to Ibn Tufayl began talking about the question of which he had asked me, mentioning what Aristotle, Plato, and all the philosophers had said, and bringing in beside the objections of the Muslim thinkers against them." What's the point here? If we think about our own tradition, if we think about some of the categories of religion and secular, we think about the rise of modern science in the 17th and 18th century. We don't think really about Islamic learning. In fact Ibn Rushd is a fascinating example in which hyper skepticism was cross pollinating into Southern Europe. Ibn Rushd had more than a passing acquaintance with Aristotle. Ibn Rushd, in fact wrote three separate series of commentaries on Aristotle, the last of which deeply learned which were translated into Latin very quickly, and began to inform Christian European learning in the 13th century. In fact there were controversies in Paris,  and other European cities based on Ibn Rushd's ideas. And in fact historians of the enlightenment will say that there was an underground heresy that is to say highly iconoclastic, highly skeptical views which passed fundamental questions about God, and the world, which owe themselves to the Islamic philosophical tradition, and particular to Ibn Rushd's contribution. "An underground intellectual heresy" is as one scholar put it. 13th, 14th, 15th century Europe, the soil out of which our own tradition grows that was mixed in with this Islamic form of hyper skepticism. I could go on, but I've run out of time. I hope I've given you some sense of what I've tried to achieve in the book, and I'd be more than happy to answer any questions. Thank you. [applause] >> CHASE ROBINSON: The process as [inaudible] put it, was organic. The process was non deliberate. On the one hand I wanted to say something about figures who are, for very good reasons extraordinary influential, and about whom your average reader may know already a thing or two, Ibn Khaldun, Salah ad-Din. On the other hand, and maybe it's just deeply selfish of me, I wanted to learn things. I wanted to say new things as well, and I wanted to stir not just to stimulate the curiosity of readers who don't know much about Middle Eastern Islamic history. But at the same time I did want to introduce figures into, if not the canon, then some sense of personalities and figures, who although not widely known, exemplifies certain traits. And a good example would be Karima al-Marwaziyya, she was a Hadith scholar, and as I said, only one Islamicist knows Karima, and that's because a student of his wrote a thesis about Karima al-Marwaziyya. She's a wonderful example of how women negotiated these challenging issues of modesty and privacy. So, Karima had enormous significance within the legal tradition, or more precisely the transmission of Hadith, those are sayings about the prophet, because she'd studied under a scholar who'd studied under a scholar who who'd studied under Bahari. So she was very close to Bahari who is a late 9th century Hadith compiler, and an immensely important figure. So how do you study with Karima al-Marwaziyya who is a woman? You want to study her Hadith because they come on such high authority. So, there are interesting stories about her just teaching girls, or interesting stories about her teaching boys before they become men. There are interesting stories of how she negotiates that public private space. She was arguably the most significant Hadith transmitter  of the time, even though she was a woman. It's a very interesting book about Islamic Spain which makes the argument very forcefully for [inaudible], this idea of Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Iberia, especially the 12th, 13th, 14th Century, 10th, 11th, 12th. Ideas, languages, themes, problems crossing disciplines that in retrospect, we tend to see as separate. An extraordinarily fecund, cultural environment which produced the likes of Maimonides, a great Jewish medieval thinker who in many respects is a Muslim, an Islamic thinker. Categories for instance, the law that Maimonides writes about is simply not understandable unless you understand Islamic law. So, it's also a beautifully illustrated book. I can recommend it. So, I think it's a very complex question and I won't even try to answer it adequately. But, I will say that the situation differs quite dramatically from one context to the next. So, for instance, I mentioned that I lived in Egypt for a couple years. At that point, this was the early 80's, early 90's. Birth control was being widely advertised and was having real effect on reducing population growth. There's no question- part of the reason the main driver of growth of islamicism demography in the sense that the Muslim populations tend to be younger than non-Muslim populations and they tend to be more prolific of children. Those populations are concentrated in Southeast Asia especially. Of course Indonesia as you know, is the world's most populous country, as well as sub-Saharan Africa and other parts. I would say this, that as female education is a very strong correlation to levels of female education and birth-rights. And those levels are going up all of the time. Algeria, Tunisia and there's a strong argument to be made, in fact it has been made, that population growth is starting, in the Middle East, given that close correlation, because of increasing. Places like Libya where there was a lot of women's education as well. So, I think in that respect, the problem is a complex one, but also one which is easing because of those other changes that are taking place.

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