From Persia to Andalucía

The month of spring and for many Iranians the month of Nowruz, represent new beginnings or by its literal meaning a ‘New Day’ of a new year.  With this we would like to start 2016’s blog with honouring these important influences.

The Persian traditions in every possible way have influenced the modern world of Europe, especially Spain. In the Muslim society there was little hesitance in adopting any type of knowledge or technique from other civilisations if it did not conflict with the fundamental teachings of Islam. Empires such as the Great Mughal India, the Ottoman Empire and the late Andalucía were Persianate societies. These were Societies strongly influenced by Persian culture, literature, architecture and language.

Most of the sciences known by Muslims in the 10th century were introduced long before, by generations of geniuses mainly coming from Bagdad.
No wonder that Ibn Khaldun, the 14th century Arab historian and scholar, had a clear observation of Iranian culture being the preeminent influence in the Islamic world.

’It is a remarkable fact that, with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars both in the religious and in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs [ajams/Persians]. Even if a scholar is of Arab origin, he is Persian in language and upbringing and has Persian teachers […]

Most of the hadith scholars who preserved traditions for the Muslims also were ajams (Persians), or Persian in language and upbringing, because the discipline was widely cultivated in the ‘Iraq and the regions beyond. (Furthermore,) all the scholars who worked in the science of the principles of jurisprudence were ajams (Persians), as is well known. The same applies to speculative theologians and to most Qur’an commentators. Only the ajams (Persians) engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus, the truth of the following statement by the Prophet [in Sahih Muslim] becomes apparent: “If scholarship hung suspended at the highest parts of heaven, the Persians would (reach it and) take it.”

From Greek to Arabic

The Greek and Arabic academic studies started in the 8th century when the caliphate moved to Baghdad. Around this time available texts in Greek were translated into Arabic.  These translated works were mainly science and philosophy oriented, with a special interest in the achievements of Aristotle. One of the leading philosopher and physician of that time was Averroes, born in Cordoba, Spain.

From Greek to Latin via Arabic
After the 8th century and the collapse of the Roman empire, most of the Greek literary achievements got lost in translation. Mainly because western Europe had no interest in anything that had to do with the Greek. But luckily the Arabic taught intellects continued having interest in the Greek sciences and philosophy. This caused for a strong connection between the already established set up of translators (Greek into Arabic) in Baghdad during the 8th century and continued until a new establishment of translators (Arabic into Latin) in Toledo, Spain, during the 13th century. The Arab rulers in Spain of that time had a strong wish in acquiring knowledge and as a consequence there were different cultures mainly from Jewish and Christian communities living together. This caused for a highly multi-cultural society in which Jewish and Christians contributed to bringing the Latin translations of Greek philosophy, innovations and sciences into the ‘medieval’, backward Europe.

So knowing these little facts, it is pretty easy to imagine the scope of many other influences Persia had on Europe. From the highly rich patterns found in carpets and architecture, to the instruments used in flamenco music and the agricultural pearls. Persia has always been very well known for its weaving techniques and choice of excellent material to work with. Most typical elements used in the carpets were animals, flowers and geometric figures. The commonality of these weaving techniques found its peak in the 8th century Spain, including the use of silk as the main material in the textile industry. The weaving work was also used by Muslims to make prayer mats and tapestries to decorate their houses with.

So when we celebrate the coming of this season, lets also celebrate the many great things that have enriched our daily lives Europe, thanks to the Persian culture.


 

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