Friday, November 20, 2009

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were the most revered and awesome structures in all of history. Philo of Byzantium compiled the first list of Seven Wonders for travelers of the Hellenistic Era, which included only unique man-made structures, such as the Pyramids at Giza or sculptures like the Colossus of Rhodes . One Wonder that evokes a great deal of interest is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Philo highlighted the various qualities that made the gardens worthy of incorporation onto the list of Wonders in the 3rd century B.C. These gardens portrayed the majesty of the Babylonian culture and the advanced technology of its people. It was a terraced garden that exhibited many beautiful plants and held many fountains. Nebuchadnezzar II ordered this wonder to be built during his reign of 43 years between the years of 604-562 BC. He built it to please his homesick wife, Amyitis, who was from Media. She longed for the meadows and mountains of her homeland. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon awed and astounded many travelers and historians in ancient times. Although they no longer exist, the idea of such a magnificent feat of engineering still fascinates people today.

Nebuchadnezzar, the builder of the gardens, was the most important ruler of his dynasty. He was the son of Nabopolassar, and lived from 604-562 B.C. As a military commander, he followed in the footsteps of his predecessors, conquering many Cities. He marched through Palestine and besieged Jerusalem twice. Nebuchadnezzar was also one of the most renowned builders in the Near East, making Babylon the most beautiful city in the region. Around his city, he built walls, which formed a square. The walls measured 9 miles long. Beyond the wall was a deep moat, which kept the city safe from invasion. Herodotus states that the wall was 80 feet thick, 320 feet high, with 250 watchtowers, and 100 bronze gates. Nebuchadnezzar also built the Ishtar Gate. It was a double gate at the south end of the processional way, which was dedicated to the goddess Ishtar. It was covered with brilliant blue glazed bricks and bas-relief animal sculptures. When visitors came upon this gate they would be in awe. In addition to the Ishtar gate Nebuchadnezzar built a majestic palace for himself. Travelers marveled at the walls decorated with colorful friezes of blue and yellow enameled bricks. Nebuchadnezzar paved the street sidewalks with small red stone slabs. Along the edge of each stone were carved, "I am Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who made this," demonstrating Nebuchadnezzar's absolute power and influence over Babylon . Nebuchadnezzar used these works as a means of self-promotion and self-glorification, not unlike other kings of that time. “Although Nebuchadnezzar suffered from insanity at some point during his 43-year reign, he transformed his city into an urban wonder”, states Herodotus . Nebuchadnezzar died a world conqueror and an architectural role model.

Nebuchadnezzar built the Hanging Gardens, breaking natural law by creating a botanical wonder, an "impulse deriving from the love of a woman" . He wished to please his homesick Median wife Amyitis, whom he had married to make an alliance between Media and Babylonia. She was raised in a green and mountainous land. Amyitis found Mesopotamia depressing, as it is a flat and sun-baked environment. Nebuchadnezzar, with hope of making her happier, decided to build a “recreated homeland” which was an artificial mountain with rooftop gardens. What made it special was that it was a man-made paradise, and it “defied nature.” In a barren region, Nebuchadnezzar succeeded where nature had failed. The gardens were made to look like a natural Median wilderness. Nebuchadnezzar had man made hills covered with many different types of trees, which satisfied his wife's passion for mountainous surroundings. The gardens were sloped down like a hillside, and were also terraced into different flowerbeds. The beautiful landscape of the Hanging Gardens helped make it a special structure, and transformed the desert-like environment into a pastoral countryside.

The gardens had exotic flourishing plants. These plants were cultivated above ground level. Nebuchadnezzar imported the plants from foreign lands. The plants may have included “cedar, cypress, myrtle, juniper, almond, date palm, ebony, olive, oak, terebinth, nuts, ash, firs, nightshade, willow, pomegranate, plum, pear, quince, fig, and grapevine.” The plants were suspended over the heads of observers on terraces, they draped over the terraced walls. Arches were underneath these terraces. The brilliantly colored trees and flowers that dangled from the walls created a lush and magical environment.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were an impressive example of architecture. The gardens formed a quadrilateral shape. There were stairways that led to the uppermost terraced roofs. The plants hung over terraces that were supported by stone columns. There were arched vaults, which were located on cubed fountains. The fountains created a humidity that helped keep the area cool. The shade from the trees also helped keep the gardens cool. The garden ascended in closely planted levels to form a man-made replica of mountain greenery. The gardens were supported by an intricate structure of stone pillars, brick walls, and palm tree trunk beams. These trunks were made watertight. “Palm beams were laid over with mats of reed and bitumen as well as two layers of baked mud brick.” All of this was covered in a layer of lead. There were fourteen vaulted rooms and underground crypts. The entire structure measured 400 feet by 400 feet. The gardens were as tall as the city walls, which Herodotus reported to be 320 feet high. Conflicting sources report that the walls were 80 feet high, a less remarkable, but still majestic height. The architecture of the Hanging Gardens demonstrates the majesty of Babylonian structural design under Nebuchadnezzar's rule.

The gardens were as much of a technological feat as they were an architectural triumph. The technique of hydro engineering demonstrated their knowledge of irrigation. Since Babylon rarely received rain, the gardens had to be irrigated. Streams of water emerged from elevated sources and flowed down the inclined channels. This kept the whole area moist and thus the grass was always green. Historians have questioned whether the Hanging Gardens used hydroponics as a way of growing plants. Hydroponics means that nutrients are added to the water swirling around the plants roots. No soil is used in a hydroponic system. Excavations have found an elaborate tunnel and pulley system that brought ground water to the top terrace. The water was dispersed by means of a chain pump. A chain pump consists of two large wheels, like a ski lift, with one wheel at the top and one at the bottom. Buckets hanging from the chain were continuously dipped into the reservoir at the base of the gardens. By turning handles slaves provided the power to turn the wheels. The source of the gardens' water was from the Euphrates River. The water from the pool at the top of the gardens could be released from gates into channels. The channels acted as artificial streams, designed to water the garden. This chain pump showed the technological ingenuity of Babylonia and helped sustain the Hanging Gardens.

Ultimately, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon lasted through the time of Alexander the Great. This great masterpiece, with its keen architectural style, cleverness in hydro engineering, lush, flourishing plants and well-constructed landscape belongs on the list of the Wonders of the World. Nebuchadnezzar was great in many ways surpassing all other rulers of his dynasty. The elegance of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon demonstrate his leadership a strong esthetic sense and great architectural and engineering foresight. Even if Amyitis never resolved her homesickness, Nebuchadnezzar and the people of the ancient world who experienced the gardens all benefited by her depressed nature.


Nubia: from 3000 BC

The region known in modern times as the Sudan (short for the Arabicbilad as-sudan, 'land of the blacks') has for much of its history been linked with or influenced by Egypt, its immediate neighbour to the north. But it also has a strong identity as the eastern end of the great trade route stretching along the open SAVANNAH south of the Sahara.

Soon after the UNITING OF THE KINGDOMS of Egypt, in about 3100 BC, the pharaohs extend their control as far up the Nile as a boat can easily travel. This brings them to the first cataract (or rapid), in the region of modern Aswan.

Over the centuries the Egyptians push further south, past a succession of cataracts, first to raid and then to build fortified settlements among the people of these middle reaches of the Nile. By about 1500 BC the Egypt of the pharaohs extends as far up the river as the fourth cataract, in the region of the modern Merowe.

The area between the first and fourth cataracts is known to the Egyptians as Cush. To the Greeks, from Homer onwards, all the known people living south of Egypt are called Ethiopians (inhabiting the areas of modern Sudan and Ethiopia). Later again Sudan as far south as Khartoum becomes widely familiar under the Latin name Nubia, deriving from a local word
nob meaning 'slave'.

During the most expansive period of dynastic Egypt, from the 16th century BC, it becomes conventional for pharaohs to build temples, monuments and proud boundary inscriptions in Cush (or Nubia).

Thutmose I, in about 1520 BC, penetrates further south than any of his predecessors and leaves an inscription some fifty miles upstream of Abu Hamad. In the north the most flamboyant statement of possession is the four colossal statues of Ramses II, carved in the sandstone cliff at Abu Simbel in about 1250 BC.

As in any outpost of a long-lasting empire, the ruling class in Cush adopts the customs and beliefs of their imperial masters. The first lasting Cushite dynasty, established at some time before the 8th century BC with its capital city at Napata (near modern Merowe), is entirely Egyptian in style. And the Cushite god by this time is AMEN-RE.

Indeed Kashta, the king of Cush in the early 8th century, maintains a court so authentic in its Egyptian manner that his descendants, after conquering Egypt, are willingly accepted as a dynasty of pharaohs.

The Cushite Dynasty: from c.730 BC

The first incursion of the kings of Cush into Egypt occurs in about 750 BC, when Kashta conquers upper Egypt (the region north of the first cataract and Abu Simbel). But it is his son Piye, also known as Piankhi, who from about 730 BC captures cities the entire length of the Nile as far north as Memphis and receives the submission of the local rulers of the delta region.

After this achievement Piye retires to his capital at Napata, where be builds a great temple to AMEN-RE. But it is impossible to remain in control of Egypt from as far south as Napata. The final establishment of the Cushite or 25th dynasty is therefore the work of Piye's brother, Shabaka, who succeeds him in about 719 BC.

Shabaka renews the campaign to the north, defeating Bochoris (a descendant of the previous Egyptian dynasty, whom Shabaka is said to have burnt alive) and installing himself securely in Thebes and Memphis.

Here he and and his descendants might well have ruled peacefully for some time, since they are widely welcomed for their pious safeguarding of the cult of Amen-Re. But it is their misfortune to coincide with the greatest external threat yet to confront the Nile civilization. The new power in the middle east is the formidable state of ASSYRIA, now brutally subduing the many small states and cities of Palestine and Phoenicia.

From about 705 BC, when Assyria has a new king (Sennacherib), there is a widespread rebellion in the middle east against Assyrian rule. In support of the rebels the pharaoh (now Shabaka's nephew Shebitku) marches north from Memphis with an Egyptian army. He is heavily defeated. Egypt becomes the next Assyrian target.

In 663 the Assyrian king (Esarhaddon, son of Sennacherib) captures Memphis, seizes the royal treasure and harem and claims the title 'king of Egypt'. When the Assyrian army withdraws, leaving Egypt under the control of vassal rulers, the Cushites briefly recover Memphis. But another Assyrian expedition, in 663, settles the issue. This time Thebes is reached and plundered.

The traditional date for the end of the Cushite dynasty in Egypt is 656 BC. But this is very far from the end of the dynasty itself, which survives in the Sudan for another thousand years - still interring the royal family in Egyptian pyramids, at Napata and subsequently at Meroe.

The move further up the Nile to Meroe is made after an Egyptian expedition sacks Napata in about 590 BC. Over the centuries, living in remote isolation (as PERSIAN,GREEKS and ROMANS follow each other in control of Egypt itself), this southern outpost of Egyptian culture gradually fades away. Pyramids begin to be built in brick instead of stone. The knowledge of writing is forgotten. Finally, in the 4th century AD, Meroe is sacked by an army from neighbouring AKSUM.

Christians and Muslims: AD 543-1821

Nubia has Christian neighbours to the north and to the southeast from the 4th century, when Egypt formally adopts the religion (along with the rest of the Byzantine empire) and when the ruler of EHTHOPIA is converted to Christianity by Frumentius. But it is another 200 years before Dongola, by now the main kingdom in Nubia, is brought within the Christian fold.

In about AD 543 the king of Dongola is converted to the monophysite version of Christanity, associated in particular with the COPTIC CHURCH of Egypt and . A few years later, in about 569, the ORTHODEX CHRISTIANITY of the Byzantine empire reaches Mukarra, a neighbouring kingdom to the south.

During the following century the Christians of Egypt and north Africa succumb to the expansionist vigour of Islam. But Nubia is left free to follow its new Christian path, thanks partly to a treaty agreed in 652. In this year MUSLIM ARABS invade the northern part of the region from Egypt. But they agree to withdraw on condition that they are sent an annual tribute of 400 slaves.

The treaty holds for more than six centuries, during which the trade routes bring many Muslims south into Nubia. But Muslim raids begin in earnest in the 1270s during the reign of BAYBARS, the energetic Mameluke sultan of Egypt. In 1315 the annual tribute is finally abolished and a Muslim is placed on the throne of Dongola.

For the next five centuries the Muslim rulers of the Sudan are sometimes the representatives of a powerful administration in Egypt (for example in the EARLY OTTOMAN YEARS , after 1517). But they are more often tribal dynasties, managing to assert control for a while over a territory more extensive than their immediate local area.

This changes in 1821, when the the region is forcefully taken in hand by the most aggressive ruler of Egypt since the time of Baybars - the Ottoman viceroy MOHAMMED ALI.

Egyptian rule: from AD 1821

In 1820 MOHAMMED ALI sends two armies south into the Sudan, each commanded by one of his younger sons. By 1821 they have conquered sufficient of the territory to establish themselves in military headquarters on the point of land formed by the confluence of the Blue and White Niles. The long narrow shape of the camp, coming to a point where the waters join, gives it the name 'elephant's trunk' - or Khartoum in Arabic.

A few years later Khartoum is made the administrative centre of an Egyptian province in the Sudan, acquiring the status of a capital which it and OMDURMAN, on the opposite bank, have retained ever since.

Though at first seen as part of the OTTOMAN EMPIRE, the independence claimed by Mohammed Ali means that the Sudan becomes once again what it has been in ancient times - the SOUTHERN PROVINCE of Egypt. And Egypt steadily claims more and more of the surrounding territory.

From 1846 there are Egyptian officials in the Red Sea ports of Suakin and Mits'iwa. And in 1869 SAMUEL BAKER returns to the southern Sudan, this time with an army, to annexe the vast region known as Equatoria on behalf of the khedive of Egypt (now ISMAIL a grandson of Mohammed Ali). But Egyptian control remains tenuous in much of this region. And it is made particularly unwelcome by the western influences to which ISMAIL inclines.

One cause of friction is the secular nature of ISMAIL's westernized administration, which is deeply offensive to the traditionally pious Muslims of the Sudan. Another is the policy, inspired by western pressures but fully accepted in Cairo, of putting an end to the slave raiding and trading which is a central feature of the Sudanese economy.

When Baker marches south into Equatoria, as the khedive's governor general, the suppression of the slave trade is part of his brief - together with the imposition of order in some very unruly regions. Four years later the same two tasks still confront his rather more effective successor in this role, Charles Gordon.

General Gordon accepts in 1873 the khedive's appointment as governor general of Equatoria. His role is extended in 1877 to cover the whole of the Sudan. In six years of ceaseless effort, employing the decisive vigour for which his Chinese exploits have already made him famous, Gordon subdues rebellious groups in many different regions of the Sudan.

On his return to England, in 1880, he appears to leave a Sudan in which the Egyptian garrisons have the province well under control. But the situation is tranformed a year later by the emergence of a charismatic religious leader who takes advantage of the widespread discontent of the local Muslims.

The Mahdi and the British: AD 1881-1898

In or shortly before 1881 an ascetic religious leader, Mohammed Ahmed, living with his disciples on an island in the White Nile, is inspired by the revelation that he is the long-awaited MAHDI. Publicly announcing his new role, he calls for the creation of a strict Islamic state. The immediate result is an order from Khartoum for his arrest, followed by the escape to the mountains of the MAHDI and his followers.

The fervour of the faithful, combined with the MADHI'S own skills, results during 1883 in a series of astonishing victories - the rapid defeat of three Egyptian armies (the last of them under a British general) and the capture of several key towns, including El Obeid.

The Egyptian garrisons further to the south are now dangerously isolated. So is the capital, Khartoum, with its vulnerable population of non-Sudanese civilians. In this crisis the British government, led at the time by Gladstone, hastily appoints Gordon to rush south to Khartoum on a rescue mission. But he is provided with woefully inadequate support.

Gordon reaches Khartoum on 18 February 1884 and begins to organize an evacuation. Some 2000 people - mainly women, children and the sick - have escaped by the time the Mahdi's forces close in, on March 13, to begin the siege of the city.

Gordon has only a demoralized Egyptian garrison under his command, but he contrives to defy the Mahdi's forces for a space of ten months. For nine of these London has no news of what is happening, for the Sudanese cut the telegraph line to Cairo in mid-April.

The unknown but all too imaginable fate of Gordon, already a hero from past campaigns, galvanizes public opinion in Britain and eventually forces a vacillating government to plan for the relief of Khartoum. In September 1884 Garnet Wolseley sails from London to lead an expedition up the Nile. His vanguard reaches Khartoum on 28 January 1885 - too late by just two days.

On 26 January the Mahdi's forces have finally breached the walls of Khartoum and have massacred Gordon and the starving troops and citizens. Wolseley's small army withdraws. The remaining Egyptian garrisons in the Sudan make their way north as best they can.

The Mahdi has made his camp around the small village of Omdurman, on the left bank of the Nile a short way downstream from the confluence of the two rivers. This now becomes the capital of a Sudan administered as an Islamic state in imitation of the early CALIPHATE. The Mahdi rules until his death in June 1885, when he is succeeded by the man whom he has appointed as caliph - Abdullahi ibn Mohammed, usually known simply as the Khalifa.

For thirteen years the Khalifa maintains a military Islamic state in keeping with the early traditions of the CALIPHATE, and on occasion his efforts at expansion meet with some success - as in his interference in 1889 in neighbouring ETHOPIA.

But in the long run the Anglo-Egyptian alliance to the north has an irresistible military advantage. The death of Gordon is finally avenged in 1898 when Herbert Kitchener (a member as a young man of WOLSELEY'S failed expedition) mows down the Khalifa's forces at Omdurman with artillery and machine-gun fire. This victory restores British and Egyptian control in the Sudan - though it is challenged two weeks later by France in a dangerous incident at Fashoda.

Anglo-Egyptian Condominium: AD 1899-1956

The victorious army at Omdurman is mainly composed of Egyptian troops, though led by senior British officers, and the avowed purpose of the campaign is to restore order in this southern province of the khedive of Egypt. The Anglo-Egyptian partnership continues in the arrangements now made for the government of the Sudan. Sovereignty in the region is to be shared by the British crown and the khedive. British and Egyptian flags are to fly side by side.

But cooperation does not prove easy, particularly when politicians in CAIRO after World War I begin to demand the incorporation of Sudan within Egypt - a policy vigorously opposed by Britain.

In 1924 outbreaks of anti-British violence in Egyptian units in the Sudan are followed by the assassination in Cairo of Lee Stack, the British governor general of the southern colony. The British response is to force the withdrawal of all Egyptian forces. For twelve years the British govern the Sudan on their own, until an Anglo-Egyptian treaty in 1936 restores the role of Egyptian officials.

There are further disputes. In 1951 Egypt's king FAROUK, indignant that Britain has facilitated the first steps towards Sudanese independence (in the form of a legislative council), unilaterally declares himself ruler of a united kingdom of Egypt and the Sudan.

This declaration has little meaning on the ground, pleases no one in the Sudan and is soon rendered irrelevant when Farouk is himself overthrown in the 1952 coup by NAGUIB and other officers.

NAGUIB immediately recognizes Sudan's right to self-determination, and in 1953 Britain and Egypt jointly agree to facilitate the transitional period. Elections in 1954 are won by the National Unionist Party, led by Ismail al-Azhari who has campaigned on a policy of merging Sudan with Egypt to achieve the 'unity of the Nile Valley'. However his views are altered by the experience of office as prime minister. Contrary to his campaign rhetoric, he leads the nation into a separate independence at the start of 1956.

Independence and civil war: AD 1956-1985

In August 1955, less than six months before the agreed date of independence, the southern Sudan is convulsed by mutiny, riot and violent loss of life. The reason is alarm at the approaching event by the non-Muslim African majority in the south, where people are mainly Christian or ANIMIST. These southern Sudanese fear control by the more numerous Muslim Arabs of the northern regions.

With hindsight this event can be seen as a disastrous omen for the new nation. For the rest of the century the recurrent feature of the troubled political life of the area is the attempt by northern Muslim groups to transform the Sudan into a fundamentalist Islamic state.

The underlying strength of the Islamic movement derives from the strong Mahdist tradition in the Sudan. Indeed two of the main parties are at various times led by direct descendants of the Mahdi.

The political ambitions of the Muslim community fuel two separate long-running conflicts. One, in the north, is between religious and secular rivals, with the secular side at first advocating a Marxist economic policy. The other, between north and south, is a civil war in which insurgent groups in EQUATORIA fight for independence and freedom from the threat of Muslim domination.

The struggle for power in the north goes through several distinct phases. After a spell of military rule (1958-64), elections in 1965 bring in a Muslim government and a ban on the communist party. A left-wing coup in 1969 brings to power a colonel in the army, Gaafar Mohamed el-Nimeri, who establishes single-party rule by the Sudanese Socialist Party.

Nimeri aligns himself internationally with the socialist bloc, but at home he is a pragmatic ruler. This enables him in 1972 to end a 17-year-civil war in the rebellious southern province by signing the Addis Ababa Agreement, allowing for the internal autonomy of Equatoria.

However, ten years later, Nimeri reverses his policy - partly because violent unrest has recently revived in the south, but also in deference to the growing strength of the Muslim Brotherhood in the north. In 1983 Nimeri amends Sudanese law to bring it into line with the strict and punitive Islamic legal code, the sharia. In the same year he abrogates the Addis Ababa Agreement, bringing the south back under central administration.

The result is an escalation of rebellion in the south and protest everywhere by moderates at the harsh application of the sharia. Nimeri vacillates, in an apparently hopeless situation. In 1985 he is toppled in a bloodless coup by his chief of staff.

National Islamic Front: from AD 1989

Elections are held within a year of the 1985 coup, bringing to power a succession of ineffective coalitions. Once again the situation is soon resolved by military intervention, in 1989. But this time the army and the Muslim fundamentalists are of one mind.

The general in command of the coup is Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. He rules at first through a Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation, a body closely linked to the NIF (National Islamic Front) which is the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1996 elections are held. Bashir is confirmed in the presidency. The NIF, the only permitted party, wins all 400 seats in the national assembly.

With the coup of 1989 the outcome long feared by the south has come to pass. Sudan is in the hands of Muslim fundamentalists. Here, as elsewhere, they maintain control with a ruthlessness previously associated with secular dictators. Political liberties are suppressed, along with an independent press and judiciary. Extreme puritanism in everyday life is decreed for the population.

These developments add a new intensity to the civil war in the south, vigorously renewed by the SPLA (Sudanese People's Liberation Army) after the collapse of the ADDIS ABABA AGREEMENT. It now acquires the profile of a holy war with ethnic undertones. Impassioned Arab MUJAHEDEEN move south to confront the African infidels.

The result is another region of devastation and suffering, one of several which deface Africa at the end of the millennium. Since the resumption of the civil war in 1983 it is calculated that the Sudanese conflict has resulted in about 1.4 million deaths and 3 million displaced refugees.

In the second half of the 1990s there are steps towards peace, culminating in an agreement in 1998 between the government and the SPLA to hold a referendum on self-determination. No date has been set. But there are other signs that Bashir and the NIF wish to take tentative steps in the direction of democracy. Rival political parties are allowed legal existence from the start of 1999.

However the fragility of any such hope is evident in December 1999, when Bashir declares a three-month state of emergency just two days before a parliamentary vote on a proposal to limit the president's powers.


It is believed the country got the name 'Bhutan' from the Sanskrit word 'Bhu-Uttan' which means 'High Land'. Another theory says that it comes from the Sanskrit word 'Bhots-ant' meaning 'end of Tibet or south of Tibet'. However, to the Bhutanese themselves, their country is known as "Druk Yul" and its inhabitants as 'Drukpa'.

In Bhutanese language, Druk means dragon and 'Druk-Yul' means 'the land of the Dragon'. This is because when the sect of Buddhism, which was later to become the dominant religion in BHUTAN was first initiated at the Ralung monastery in Tibet, 'a loud roar of the thunder dragon' was heard echoing to the south. This was taken as an auspicious sign that the sect would fluorish in the south of Tibet, where Bhutan is, and the sect was named as the 'Drukpa sect'. The country where this sect later flourished was henceforth known as 'Druk-yul'.

To this day, the state religion of Bhutan is 'Drukpa Kargyud' although other sects are almost equally popular and tolerated.

One thing that all Bhutanese are proud of is that Bhutan was never colonised. Despite many wars with Tibet, and some rough encounters with the British, Bhutan always managed to remain independent.

Recorded histroy begins from around the 8th century AD. In the 8th century, the great Tantric mystic Guru Padmasambhava (more popularly known as Guru Rimpoche in Bhutan) came to Bhutan from Swat, present-day PAKISTAN, and spread the Buddhist faith through the land, planting the seeds of the culture that flourishes today. Temples and monasteries dating from the 8th century still stand as honoured places in contemporary Bhutan.

The greatest event in the history of Bhutan was the arrival of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel from Tibet in 1616. He was aged 23. He was to become the first person to bring all parts of Bhutan under one central authority and unify the 'country'.

"Shabdrung" literally means "at whose feet one submits". He was the father and unifier of medieval Bhutan. He was a great man. After repelling numerous Tibetan invasions, the Shabdrung subdued the many warring feudal overlords and brought all of Bhutan under the influence of the Drukpa Kagyud School. His 35 year reign also saw the establishment of a nation-wide administration, aspects of which still endure, and the building of dzongs as easily defensible fortresses and seats of local government. In fact, many of the dzongs you see today were built during the Shabdrung's reign, although some future renovations were carried out.

Shabdrung set up a dual system of Government with a secular head known as the 'Druk Desi' and a spiritual head known as the 'Je Khenpo'. However after his death, before his reincarnation would be found and would come of age, rivalry between different lords and fight for power broke up, which took Bhutan through a tumultuous period until 1907, the hereditary monarchy was insititued in Bhutan with Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk as the first king of Bhutan.

Like the great Shabdrung, Ugyen Wangchuk pacified the feuding Regional Governors who had plunged Bhutan into a state of almost perpetual civil war. Having consolidated his authority across the entire country by 1885, he played the key mediator role between the British and the Chinese. Finally, on December 17 (Bhutan's National Day) 1907, Ugyen Wangchuk was unanimously elected by all Regional Governors and the Central Monastic Body, at the Punakha Dzong and crowned "Druk Gyalpo" ("Precious Ruler of the Dragon People).

The present king, the fourth hereditary monarch, is Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuk, upon whose coronation in 1974 Bhutan opened its doors to tourists.

Monarchy of Bhutan

Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (Founder)

The monk ruler, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651), a Tibetan native, is considered as the founder of modern Bhutan state. He was the first ruler of Bhutan. He ruled for 35 years. His successors ruled the country till 1907.


Ugyen Wangchuck ( 1907-1926 AD) was the son of Jigme Namgyel . He was born in 1862 . He was an able administrator and a wise diplomat. He took several reforms and introduced the system of western education. He opened many schools. He signed a new Anglo-Bhutanese Treaty with British India Raj in 1910. He ruled for 19 years. He died in August 21, 1926. He was married to Queen Ashi Tsendue Lhamo. His son Jigme Wangchuck became the second King of Bhutan after his death.


King Jijme Wangchuck ( 1926-1952 AD) was born in 1905. As the eldest son of King Ugen Wangchuck, he received education in English, Hindi and Buddhist literature. During his reign, Bhutan started to forsake its self-imposed isolation. In 1947 Bhutan participated in the Asian relations Conference in New Delhi, India. The Treaty of perpetual peace and friendship between the government of Independent India and Bhutan was signed in Darjeeling, on 08 August 1949. This Treaty governs the modern day Indo-Bhutan relations. Bhutan agreed to be guided by the advice of India in regard to its foreign relations, according to this Treaty. He was married to Queen Ashi Phuntsho Chhoedon


King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck ( 1952-1972) was born in 1928. He learned English and Hindi languages at early childhood. He ascended to throne as the third king in 1952. During his 20 years reign, Bhutan emerged as a modern nation. Bhutan achieved all-round development during his reign. He was a far-sighted monarch. He introduced land reforms putting a landholding ceiling of 30 acres. He distributed lands to land-less citizens. He put a ban on slavery and serfdom. He established a High court and reorganized the judicial system. In 1953, he established the Tshogdu or National assembly - Bhutan’s first unicameral Parliament. He established the Royal Advisory Council in 1963. During his reign Bhutan’s first planned economic development plan was drafted. In 1961, a five year economic development pan was launched for the years 1961-1966. Bhutan is still following this five-year economic development plan. He created Bhutan’s first Council of Ministers in 1968. In 1963, Bhutan joined the Colombo Plan. During his 20 years reign, 1770 Km of roads were constructed, the number of schools rose to 102 and 6 hospitals were established. In 1971, he set up a Planning Commission. Bhutan was admitted to the United Nations in 1971. He died on 21 July, 1972. He was the main architect of modern Bhutan he was married to Queen Ashi Kelzang Chhoedon wangchuck.


The fourth hereditary and the current King Jime Singye Wangchuck ( 1972 -) was born on 11 November 1955. His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, King of Bhutan is the reigning monarch and head of Bhutanese Royal Family. He received modern education. He briefly studied in India and the United Kingdom. He returned to the Ugyen Wangchuck Academy in Paro, Bhutan in 1970. However, he could not complete his school education due to the sudden death of his father. He became king on 23 July 1972 at the age of 17. His official coronation was held on June 02, 1974.

In 1979 His Majesty King Jime Singye Wangchuck married four sisters - Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck, Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck and Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck as queens. An official royal wedding and a public ceremony was held on 31 October 1988. They five princes and five princesses. HRH Dasho Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck is the Crown Prince.

His Majesty King Jime Singye Wangchuck also carried forward the socio-economic progress of the country initiated by his father. Bhutan has made tremendous progress in the filed of communications, hydro-electric power development, education, health, financial sector, environmental protection, and industrial and infrastructural development during his reign. The per capita GDP stood at its highest of US$ 712.8 (Nu 32,006) in 2000.

Bhutan became the member of. ESCAP in 1972, NAM in 1973, IFAD, IMF, IBRD, IDA and FAO in 1981, WHO, UNESCO and ADB in 1982, UNIDO in 1983, ITU in 1988, ICAO in 1989, ECOSOC in 1992.

Under his reign, Bhutan established diplomatic relations with Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, EEC, Norway and NETHERLANDS, Kuwait, Japan, Finland, South Korea, Austria, THAILAND, Bahrain, Hongkong, Singapore, Macaw, MALDIVES, Sri Lanka, Pakistan , Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

A Brief History of Islam

The Spread of Islam

From the oasis cities of Makkah and Madinah in the Arabian desert, the message of Islam went forth with electrifying speed. Within half a century of the Prophet's death, Islam had spread to three continents. Islam is not, as some imagine in the West, a religion of the sword nor did it spread primarily by means of war. It was only within Arabia, where a crude form of idolatry was rampant, that Islam was propagated by warring against those tribes which did not accept the message of God--whereas Christians and Jews were not forced to convert. Outside of Arabia also the vast lands conquered by the Arab armies in a short period became Muslim not by force of the sword but by the appeal of the new religion. It was faith in One God and emphasis upon His Mercy that brought vast numbers of people into the fold of Islam. The new religion did not coerce people to convert. Many continued to remain Jews and Christians and to this day important communities of the followers of these faiths are found in Muslim lands.

Moreover, the spread of Islam was not limited to its miraculous early expansion outside of Arabia. During later centuries the Turks embraced Islam peacefully as did a large number of the people of the Indian subcontinent and the Malay-speaking world. In Africa also, Islam has spread during the past two centuries even under the mighty power of European colonial rulers. Today Islam continues to grow not only in Africa but also in Europe and America where Muslims now comprise a notable minority.

General Characteristics of Islam

Islam was destined to become a world religion and to create a civilization which stretched from one end of the globe to the other. Already during the early Muslim caliphates, first the Arabs, then the Persians and later the Turks set about to create classical Islamic civilization. Later, in the 13th century, both Africa and India became great centers of Islamic civilization and soon thereafter Muslim kingdoms were established in the Malay-Indonesian world while Chinese Muslims flourished throughout China.

Global Religion

Islam is a religion for all people from whatever race or background they might be. That is why Islamic civilization is based on a unity which stands completely against any racial or ethnic discrimination. Such major racial and ethnic groups as the Arabs, Persians, Turks, Africans, Indians, Chinese and Malays in addition to numerous smaller units embraced Islam and contributed to the building of Islamic civilization. Moreover, Islam was not opposed to learning from the earlier civilizations and incorporating their science, learning, and culture into its own world view, as long as they did not oppose the principles of Islam. Each ethnic and racial group which embraced Islam made its contribution to the one Islamic civilization to which everyone belonged. The sense of brotherhood and sisterhood was so much emphasized that it overcame all local attachments to a particular tribe, race, or language--all of which became subservient to the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of Islam.

The global civilization thus created by Islam permitted people of diverse ethnic backgrounds to work together in cultivating various arts and sciences. Although the civilization was profoundly Islamic, even non-Muslim "people of the book" participated in the intellectual activity whose fruits belonged to everyone. The scientific climate was reminiscent of the present situation in America where scientists and men and women of learning from all over the world are active in the advancement of knowledge which belongs to everyone.

The global civilization created by Islam also succeeded in activating the mind and thought of the people who entered its fold. As a result of Islam, the nomadic Arabs became torch-bearers of science and learning. The Persians who had created a great civilization before the rise of Islam nevertheless produced much more science and learning in the Islamic period than before. The same can be said of the Turks and other peoples who embraced Islam. The religion of Islam was itself responsible not only for the creation of a world civilization in which people of many different ethnic backgrounds participated, but it played a central role in developing intellectual and cultural life on a scale not seen before. For some eight hundred years Arabic remained the major intellectual and scientific language of the world. During the centuries following the rise of Islam, Muslim dynasties ruling in various parts of the Islamic world bore witness to the flowering of Islamic culture and thought. In fact this tradition of intellectual activity was eclipsed only at the beginning of modern times as a result of the weakening of faith among Muslims combined with external domination. And today this activity has begun anew in many parts of the Islamic world now that the Muslims have regained their political independence.

The Rightly guided Caliphs

Upon the death of the Prophet, Abu Bakr, the friend of the Prophet and the first adult male to embrace Islam, became caliph. Abu Bakr ruled for two years to be succeeded by 'Umar who was caliph for a decade and during whose rule Islam spread extensively east and west conquering the Persian empire, Syria and Egypt. It was 'Umar who marched on foot at the end of the Muslim army into Jerusalem and ordered the protection of Christian sites. 'Umar also established the first public treasury and a sophisticated financial administration. He established many of the basic practices of Islamic government.

'Umar was succeeded by 'Uthman who ruled for some twelve years during which time the Islamic expansion continued. He is also known as the caliph who had the definitive text of the Noble Quran copied and sent to the four corners of the Islamic world. He was in turn succeeded by 'Ali who is known to this day for his eloquent sermons and letters, and also for his bravery. With his death the rule of the "rightly guided" caliphs, who hold a special place of respect in the hearts of Muslims, came to an end.

The Caliphate


The Umayyad caliphate established in 661 was to last for about a century. During this time Damascus became the capital of an Islamic world which stretched from the western borders of China to southern France. Not only did the Islamic conquests continue during this period through North Africa to Spain and France in the West and to Sind, Central Asia and Transoxiana in the East, but the basic social and legal institutions of the newly founded Islamic world were established.


The Abbasids, who succeeded the Umayyads, shifted the capital to Baghdad which soon developed into an incomparable center of learning and culture as well as the administrative and political heart of a vast world.

They ruled for over 500 years but gradually their power waned and they remained only symbolic rulers bestowing legitimacy upon various sultans and princes who wielded actual military power. The Abbasid caliphate was finally abolished when Hulagu, the Mongol ruler, captured Baghdad in 1258, destroying much of the city including its incomparable libraries.

While the Abbasids ruled in Baghdad, a number of powerful dynasties such as the Fatimids, Ayyubids and Mamluks held power in Egypt, Syria and Palestine. The most important event in this area as far as the relation between Islam and the Western world was concerned was the series of Crusades declared by the Pope and espoused by various European kings. The purpose, although political, was outwardly to recapture the Holy Land and especially Jerusalem for Christianity. Although there was at the beginning some success and local European rule was set up in parts of Syria and Palestine, Muslims finally prevailed and in 1187 Saladin, the great Muslim leader, recaptured Jerusalem and defeated the Crusaders.

North Africa And Spain

When the Abbasids captured Damascus, one of the Umayyad princes escaped and made the long journey from there to Spain to found Umayyad rule there, thus beginning the golden age of Islam in Spain. Cordoba was established as the capital and soon became Europe's greatest city not only in population but from the point of view of its cultural and intellectual life. The Umayyads ruled over two centuries until they weakened and were replaced by local rulers.

Meanwhile in North Africa, various local dynasties held sway until two powerful Berber dynasties succeeded in uniting much of North Africa and also Spain in the 12th and 13th centuries. After them this area was ruled once again by local dynasties such as the Sharifids of Morocco who still rule in that country. As for Spain itself, Muslim power continued to wane until the last Muslim dynasty was defeated in Granada in 1492 thus bringing nearly eight hundred years of Muslim rule in Spain to an end.

After the Mangol Invasion

The Mongols devastated the eastern lands of Islam and ruled from the Sinai Desert to India for a century. But they soon converted to Islam and became known as the Il-Khanids. They were in turn succeeded by Timur and his descendents who made Samarqand their capital and ruled from 1369 to 1500. The sudden rise of Timur delayed the formation and expansion of the Ottoman empire but soon the Ottomans became the dominant power in the Islamic world.

Ottoman Empire

From humble origins the Turks rose to dominate over the whole of Anatolia and even parts of Europe. In 1453 Mehmet the Conqueror captured Constantinople and put an end to the Byzantine empire. The Ottomans conquered much of eastem Europe and nearly the whole of the Arab world, only Morocco and Mauritania in the West and Yemen, Hadramaut and parts of the Arabian peninsula remaining beyond their control. They reached their zenith of power with Suleyman the Magnificent whose armies reached Hungary and Austria. From the 17th century onward with the rise of Westem European powers and later Russia, the power of the Ottomans began to wane. But they nevertheless remained a force to be reckoned with until the First World War when they were defeated by the Westem nations. Soon thereafter Kamal Ataturk gained power in Turkey and abolished the six centuries of rule of the Ottomans in 1924.


While the Ottomans were concerned mostly with the westem front of their empire, to the east in Persia a new dynasty called the Safavids came to power in 1502. The Safavids established a powerful state of their own which flourished for over two centuries and became known for the flowering of the arts. Their capital, Isfahan, became one of the most beautiful cities with its blue tiled mosques and exquisite houses. The Afghan invasion of 1736 put an end to Safavid rule and prepared the independence of Afghanistan which occured fommally in the 19th century. Persia itself fell into tummoil until Nader Shah, the last Oriental conqueror, reunited the country and even conquered India. But the rule of the dynasty established by him was short-lived. The Zand dynasty soon took over to be overthrown by the Qajars in 1779 who made Tehran their capital and ruled until 1921 when they were in turn replaced by the Pahlavis.


As for India, Islam entered into the land east of the Indus River peacefully. Gradually Muslims gained political power beginning in the early 13th century. But this period which marked the expansion of both Islam and Islamic culture came to an end with the conquest of much of India in 1526 by Babur, one of the Timurid princes. He established the powerful Mogul empire which produced such famous rulers as Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan and which lasted, despite the gradual rise of British power in India, until 1857 when it was officially abolished.

Malaysia And Indonesia

Farther east in the Malay world, Islam began to spread in the 12th century in northem Sumatra and soon Muslim kingdoms were establishd in Java, Sumatra and mainland Malaysia. Despite the colonization of the Malay world, Islam spread in that area covering present day Indonesia, Malaysia, the southern Phililppines and southern Thailand, and is still continuing in islands farther east.


As far as Africa is concemed, Islam entered into East Africa at the very beginning of the Islamic period but remained confined to the coast for some time, only the Sudan and Somaliland becoming gradually both Arabized and Islamized. West Africa felt the presence of Islam through North African traders who travelled with their camel caravans south of the Sahara. By the 14th century there were already Muslim sultanates in such areas as Mali, and Timbuctu in West Africa and Harar in East Africa had become seats of Islamic leaming.

Gradually Islam penetrated both inland and southward. There also appeared major charismatic figures who inspired intense resistance against European domination. The process of the Islamization of Africa did not cease during the colonial period and continues even today with the result that most Africans are now Muslims carrying on a tradition which has had practically as long a history in certain areas of sub-Saharan Africa as Islam itself.

Islam in the United States

It is almost impossible to generalize about American Muslims: converts, immigrants, factory workers, doctors; all are making their own contribution to America's future. This complex community is unified by a common faith, underpinned by a countrywide network of a thousand mosques.

Muslims were early arrivals in North America. By the eighteenth century there were many thousands of them, working as slaves on plantations. These early communities, cut off from their heritage and families, inevitably lost their Islamic identity as time went by. Today many Afro-American Muslims play an important role in the Islamic community.

The nineteenth century, however, saw the beginnings of an influx of Arab Muslims, most of whom settled in the major industrial centers where they worshipped in hired rooms. The early twentieth century witnessed the arrival of several hundred thousand Muslims from Eastem Europe: the first Albanian mosque was opened in Maine in 1915; others soon followed, and a group of Polish Muslims opened a mosque in Brooklyn in 1928.

In 1947 the Washington Islamic Center was founded during the term of President Truman, and several nationwide organizations were set up in the fifties. The same period saw the establishment of other communities whose lives were in many ways modelled after Islam. More recently, numerous members of these groups have entered the fold of Muslim orthodoxy. Today there are about five million Muslims in America.

Aftermath of the Colonial Period

At the height of European colonial expansion in the 19th century, most of the Islamic world was under colonial rule with the exception of a few regions such as the heart of the Ottoman empire, Persia, Afghanistan, Yemen and certain parts of Arabia. But even these areas were under foreign influence or, in the case of the Ottomans, under constant threat. After the First World War with the breakup of the Ottoman empire, a number of Arab states such as Iraq became independent, others like Jordan were created as a new entity and yet others like Palestine, Syria and Lebanon were either mandated or turned into French colonies. As for Arabia, it was at this time that Saudi Arabia became finally consolidated. As for other parts of the Islamic world, Egypt which had been ruled by the descendents of Muhammad Ali since the l9th century became more independent as a result of the fall of the Ottomans, Turkey was turned into a secular republic by Ataturk, and the Pahlavi dynasty began a new chapter in Persia where its name reverted to its eastern traditional form of Iran. But most of the rest of the Islamic world remained under colonial rule.


It was only after the Second World War and the dismemberment of the British, French, Dutch and Spanish empires that the rest of the Islamic world gained its independence. In the Arab world, Syria and Lebanon became independent at the end of the war as did Libya and the shaykdoms around the Gulf and the Arabian Sea by the 1960's. The North African countries of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria had to fight a difficult and, in the case of Algeria, long and protracted war to gain their freedom which did not come until a decade later for Tunisia and Morocco and two decades later for Algeria. Only Palestine did not become independent but was partitioned in 1948 with the establishment of the state of Israel.


In India Muslims participated in the freedom movement against British rule along with Hindus and when independence finally came in 1947, they were able to create their own homeland, Pakistan, which came into being for the sake of Islam and became the most populated Muslim state although many Muslims remained in India. In 1971, however, the two parts of the state broke up, East Pakistan becoming Bengladesh.

Far East

Farther east still, the Indonesians finally gained their independence from the Dutch and the Malays theirs from Britain. At first Singapore was part of Malaysia but it separated in 1963 to become an independent state. Small colonies still persisted in the area and continued to seek their independence, the kingdom of Brunei becoming independent as recently as 1984.


In Africa also major countries with large or majority Muslim populations such as Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania began to gain their independence in the 1950's and 1960's with the result that by the end of the decade of the 60's most parts of the Islamic world were formed into independent national states. There were, however, exceptions. The Muslim states in the Soviet Union failed to gain their autonomy or independence. The same holds true for Sinkiang (called Eastem Turkestan by Muslim geographers) while in Eritrea and the southern Philippines Muslim independence movements still continue.

National States

While the world of Islam has entered into the modern world in the form of national states, continuous attempts are made to create closer cooperation within the Islamic world as a whole and to bring about greater unity. This is seen not only in the meetings of the Muslim heads of state and the establishment of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) with its own secretariat, but also in the creation of institutions dealing with the whole of the Islamic world. Among the most important of these is the Muslim World League (Rabitat al-alam al-Islami ) with its headquarters in Makkah. Saudi Arabia has in fact played a pivotal role in the creation and maintenance of such organizations.

Revival and Reassertation of Islam

Muslims did not wish to gain only their political independence. They also wished to assert their own religious and cultural identity. From the 18th century onward Muslim reformers appeared upon the scene who sought to reassert the teachings of Islam and to reform society on the basis of Islamic teachings. One of the first among this group was Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, who hailed from the Arabian peninsula and died there in 1792. This reformer was supported by Muhammad ibn al-Sa'ud, the founder of the first Saudi state. With this support Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab was able to spread his teachings not only in Arabia but even beyond its borders to other Islamic lands where his reforms continue to wield influence to this day.

In the 19th century lslamic assertion took several different forms ranging from the Mahdi movement of the Sudan and the Sanusiyyah in North Africa which fought wars against European colonizers, to educational movements such as that of Aligarh in India aiming to reeducate Muslims. In Egypt which, because of al-Azhar University, remains to this day central to Islamic learning, a number of reformers appear, each addressing some aspect of Islamic thought. Some were concerned more with law, others economics, and yet others the challenges posed by Western civilization with its powerful science and technology. These included Jamal al-Din al-Afghani who hailed originally from Persia but settled in Cairo and who was the great champion of Pan-Islamism, that is the movement to unite the Islamic world politically as well as religiously. His student, Muhammad 'Abduh, who became the rector of al-Azhar. was also very influential in Islamic theology and thought. Also of considerable influence was his Syrian student, Rashid Rida, who held a position closer to that of 'Abd al-Wahhab and stood for the strict application of the Shari'ah. Among the most famous of these thinkers is Muhammad Iqbal, the outstanding poet and philosopher who is considered as the father of Pakistan.

Reform Organizations

Moreover, as Western influence began to penetrate more deeply into the fiber of Islamic society, organizations gradually grew up whose goal was to reform society in practice along Islamic lines and prevent its secularization. These included the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-muslimin) founded in Egypt and with branches in many Muslim countries, and the Jama'at-i Islami of Pakistan founded by the influential Mawlana Mawdudi. These organizations have been usually peaceful and have sought to reestablish an Islamic order through education. During the last two decades, however, as a result of the frustration of many Muslims in the face of pressures coming from a secularized outside world, some have sought to reject the negative aspects of Western thought and culture and to return to an Islamic society based completely on the application of the Shari 'ah. Today in every Muslim country there are strong movements to preserve and propagate Islamic teachings. In countries such as Saudi Arabia Islamic Law is already being applied and in fact is the reason for the prosperity, development and stability of the country. In other countries where Islamic Law is not being applied, however, most of the effort of Islamic movements is spent in making possible the full application of the Shari'ah so that the nation can enjoy prosperity along with the fulfillment of the faith of its people. In any case the widespread desire for Muslims to have the religious law of Islam applied and to reassert their religious values and their own identity must not be equated with exceptional violent eruptions which do exist but which are usually treated sensationally and taken out of proportion by the mass media in the West.

Education and Science in the Islamic World

In seeking to live successfully in the modern world, in independence and according to Islamic principles, Muslim countries have been emphasizing a great deal the significance of the role of education and the importance of mastering Western science and technology. Already in the 19th century, certain Muslim countries such as Egypt, Ottoman Turkey and Persia established institutions of higher learning where the modem sciences and especially medicine were taught. During this century educational institutions at all levels have proliferated throughout the Islamic world. Nearly every science ranging from mathematics to biology as well as various fields of modern technology are taught in these institutions and some notable scientists have been produced by the Islamic world, men and women who have often combined education in these institutions with training in the West.

In various parts of the Islamic world there is, however, a sense that educational institutions must be expanded and also have their standards improved to the level of the best institutions in the world in various fields of leaming especially science and technology. At the same time there is an awareness that the educational system must be based totally on Islamic principles and the influence of alien cultural and ethical values and norms, to the extent that they are negative, be diminished. To remedy this problem a number of international Islamic educational conferences have been held, the first one in Makkah in 1977, and the foremost thinkers of the Islamic world have been brought together to study and ponder over the question of the relation between Islam and modern science. This is an ongoing process which is at the center of attention in many parts of the Islamic world and which indicates the significance of educational questions in the Islamic world today.

Influence of Islamic Science and Learning Upon the West

The oldest university in the world which is still functioning is the eleven hundred-year-old Islamic university of Fez, Morocco, known as the Qarawiyyin. This old tradition of Islamic learning influenced the West greatly through Spain. In this land where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived for the most part peacefully for many centuries, translations began to be made in the 11th century mostly in Toledo of Islamic works into Latin often through the intermediary of Jewish scholars most of whom knew Arabic and often wrote in Arabic. As a result of these translations, Islamic thought and through it much of Greek thought became known to the West and Western schools of learning began to flourish. Even the Islamic educational system was emulated in Europe and to this day the term chair in a university reflects the Arabic kursi (literally seat) upon which a teacher would sit to teach his students in the madrasah (school of higher learning). As European civillization grew and reached the high Middle Ages, there was hardly a field of learning or form of art, whether it was literature or architecture, where there was not some influence of Islam present. Islamic learning became in this way part and parcel of Western civilization even if with the advent of the Renaissance, the West not only turned against its own medieval past but also sought to forget the long relation it had had with the Islamic world, one which was based on intellectual respect despite religious opposition.


The Islamic world remains today a vast land stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with an important presence in Europe and America, animated by the teachings of Islam and seeking to assert its own identity. Despite the presence of nationalism and various secular ideologies in their midst, Muslims wish to live in the modern world but without simply imitating blindly the ways followed by the West. The Islamic world wishes to live at peace with the West as well as the East but at the same time not to be dominated by them. It wishes to devote its resources and energies to building a better life for its people on the basis of the teachings of Islam and not to squander its resources in either internal or external conflicts. It seeks finally to create better understanding with the West and to be better understood by the West. The destinies of the Islamic world and the West cannot be totally separated and therefore it is only in understanding each other better that they can serve their own people more successfully and also contribute to a better life for the whole of humanity.

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