Document Analysis of “A History of Medieval Islam” by J.J. Saunders

Scientific Essay 2008 9 Pages

History - Miscellaneous


Document Analysis of “A History of Medieval Islam” by J.J. Saunders

One can crucially think and intellectually assumed that the civilization of the Arabs brought a medieval golden age that unified the whole West and South Asia, Northern Africa, and Southeastern Europe; stretching from Mesopotamia (Iraq), Persia (Iran), Asia Minor (Turkey), Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and India to the backdoors of the European continent (Spain) – was a product of the propagation of one powerful ideology, which is Islam. In the book written by J.J. Saunders, a historian of middle age Islam, poignantly narrated the Islamic and Arab historiography in his book published in 1965 entitled “A History of Medieval Islam,” which have explicitly expressed a well-crafted academic research work during the medieval society of West Asia and the political interventions of different empires who have had occupied the whole boundless yet fragile region.

The proponent will succinctly try to examine this hypothesis, whether an indispensable Islam have unified half of the world through an inconsequential Arab civilization and factors that brought occupations into reality. The document in the last chapter, “The Civilization of Medieval Islam” will be the subject to a critical analysis. The author argued that for some four centuries (roughly between 800 and 1200 A.D.) the lands conquered by the Arabs were soil from which grew and blossomed one of the most brilliant civilizations in the history of humanity, which has been variously styled Arab, Muslim, Islamic and Arabic[1].

According to Saunders, favorable conditions were outlined that had led to the growth of the Islamic hegemony in the medieval period, the following were his contentions:[2]

- The Arab conquests politically unified a huge segment of the globe from Spain to India that remained unbroken due to the disappearance of so many dividing frontiers, above all the one which had so long separated Rome and Persia, was a useful preliminary to the building of a new civilization.

This was reveled until the fall of the Omayyads in 750 and enters the Seljuk Empire from neighboring Turkey to the emergence of the Macedonian and Mongol regimes.

- As the Arabs overran one country after another, they carried their language with them, which possessed a unique status to every Muslims for it is the language that God had chosen to deliver his final revelation to the mankind.

Arabic was ‘God’s tongue’, and as such enjoyed a prestige which Latin and Greek and Hebrew had never known. The Qur’an (Islam’s holy book like Bible or Torah) could not, must not be translated: the believer must hear and understand and if possible read the divine book in the original, even though Arabic were not his mother tongue. To study, illustrate and elucidate the text became a pious duty: the earliest branch of science developed by Muslims was Arabic philology, traditionally founded at Basra in the late Omayyad age. The further Islam spread among non-Arabs, the further a knowledge of Arabic spread with it. A century or so after the conquests even the Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians within the Caliphate found it convenient to speak and write Arabic. Thus to political unity was added the widespread use of a common language, which immensely facilitated the exchange of ideas.[3]

- The Caliphs cultivated friendly relations with the non-Muslims such as Christians.

From motives of policy, the Caliphs established amicable relationships with the Jacobite and Nestorian Christians, who constituted the bulk of the people, and who during the long period of Roman rule had learnt a good deal of the science and philosophy of the Greeks. This learning, translated into Syriac, a Semitic tongue closely related to Arabic, was at the disposal of the newcomers, who were inspired and impressed by the rich and ancient culture of the region, and it was this region, and not Arabia proper, which was the birthplace of the Arabic civilization.[4]

- The lands under the sovereignty of the Caliphs enjoyed immunity from serious external attack for three to four centuries.

There was plenty of fighting on the frontiers and many internal revolts and disturbances, but no prolonged and ruinous barbarian assaults such as the Latin Christian West had to endure from the Vikings and Magyars. Under the shield of Pax Islamica, which may be compared with the Augustan and Antonine Peace of the early Roman Empire, the arts and sciences rose to a new and flourishing life. Not until about 1050 did this peace begin to break down: Islam was then exposed to a series of attacks from the nomads of the steppes and deserts, culminating in the dreadful Mongol explosion of the thirteenth century.[5]

- The creation of the vast Arab Empire, besides leveling barriers and abolishing frontiers, brought into existence a great free trade area, promoted safe and rapid travel, and gave tremendous stimulus to commerce.

During these four centuries (800-1200) international trade was more vigorous than at any time since the heyday of imperial Rome. Merchants from the Caliphate were found in places as far as Senegal and Canton. The hoards of Arabic coins ug up in Scandinavia reveal the brisk exchange of goods between Northern Europe and cities of Iraq and Persia via the great rivers of Russia. The negro lands south of Sahara were drawn into the stream of world commerce. The ancient Silk Road through the oases of Central Asia which carried the products of China to the West had never been so frequented. Cities expanded, fortunes were made, a wealthy middle-class of traders, shippers, bankers, manufacturers and professional men came into being, and a rich and sophisticated society gave increasing employment and patronage to scholars, artists, teachers, physicians and craftsmen.[6]

- The pursuit of knowledge was quickened by the use of paper and the so-called ‘Arabic’ numerals were established.

Neither originated in the Islamic world, but both were widely employed by the ninth century. The manufacture of paper from hemp, rags and tree-bark seems to have been invented in China about 100 A.D., but it remained unknown outside that country until some Chinese prisoners of war skilled in the art were brought to Samarkand in 751. In 793 a paper manufactory was set up in Baghdad; by 900 the commodity was being produced in Egypt and by 950 in Spain. The Arabic numerals, despite their name, are probably Hindu, and many have reached Islam through the translation of the Siddhanta, a Sanskrit astronomical treatise, made by order of the Caliph Mansur in 773. The oldest Muslim documents employing these signs date from 870-890: the zero is represented by a dot, as has always been the case in Arabic. These innovations multiplied books and facilitated calculation, and the rich scientific literature of the next few centuries undoubtedly owes much to the Arab civilization.[7]

Through here, we can see the tremendous impact of Islam during the middle age though it is not only the presence of Islam that help shaped in the propagation and expansion but it is also from the mere fact of good governance of the Caliphate which have had extended their rules and regimes. It gives a suffice satisfactions to every subordinates and people under their administration that relentlessly aspire for a supranational region. However, what seems to be the antecedence of this supranational region? Saunders opined that there are possible causes of the rise of the Arabic civilization. He later gave possible considerate peculiarities and certain notable features:[8]

- Islam provided a framework and a universal language, nut its only creations which possess a definitely Muslim character are Arabic grammar, law and theology.

All else came from non-Muslim sources, even Arabic poetry and belles-lettres, which were based on a literary tradition going back to pre-Islamic times, the ‘days of ignorance’ of the sixth century.[9]


[1] Saunders, J.J., “‘The Civilization of Medieval Islam,” in A History of Medieval Islam (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1965), 187.

[2] ibid, pp. 187-189.

[3] ibid, p. 188.

[4] ibid, pp. 188-189.

[5] ibid, p. 189.

[6] ibid, p. 189.

[7] ibid, p. 189-190.

[8] ibid, pp. 190-194.

[9] this ‘days of ignorance’ is referred by the Muslim scholars of Ulamas as ‘Jahiliyah’.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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474 KB
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Institution / College
Technological University of the Philippines – Middle East studies
Islam Medieval History J.J. Saunders Middle East Nassef M. Adiong Muslim



Title: Document Analysis of “A History of Medieval Islam” by J.J. Saunders