My main thesis in this essay is that Christianity was a Greco-Roman religion in a way which Islam never was or could be. Islam was founded outside of the Greco-Roman world. Christianity was founded within this world, and gradually grew accustomed to Greco-Roman culture. This had a major long-term impact on how the adherents of these two religions treated the Greco-Roman legacy.- - - - - - - - -
As a young Jew, Jesus’ main language was probably Aramaic, but he may well have been familiar with Hebrew, the language of the Hebrew Bible and a Semitic tongue closely related to Aramaic. It is also possible that he was competent in Koine Greek, although the details of his linguistic skills are disputed among critical scholars. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that the founder of Christianity spoke Greek. We can be virtually certain that Muhammad, if he did indeed exist, did not speak Greek, nor did any of his prominent followers, immediate successors or those who first formulated Islamic legal doctrines. In contrast, we know with absolute certainty that Paul, who shaped Christianity more than any other person other than Jesus himself, was proficient in Greek, as were many of the early Christian leaders.
It is true that there were some decent scholars in the medieval Islamic world, for instance Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn Sina (Avicenna), al-Razi (Rhazes), al-Kindi and Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), but they made their contributions more in spite of Islam than because of Islam.
The Saudi reformist thinker Ibrahim al-Buleihi expressed his admiration for Western civilization in an interview 2009, stating that “Western civilization is the only civilization that liberated man from his illusions and shackles; it recognized his individuality and provided him with capabilities and opportunities to cultivate himself and realize his aspirations.” Self-criticism is a precondition to any change for the better, and Mr. Buleihi thinks Muslim culture lacks this. Here he is, as quoted by the Middle East Media Research Institute ( MEMRI ):
“When we review the names of Muslim philosophers and scholars whose contribution to the West is pointed out by Western writers, such as Ibn Rushd, Ibn Al-Haitham, Ibn Sina, Al-Farbi, Al-Razi, Al-Khwarizmi, and their likes, we find that all of them were disciples of the Greek culture and they were individuals who were outside the [Islamic] mainstream. They were and continue to be unrecognized in our culture. We even burned their books, harassed them, [and] warned against them, and we continue to look at them with suspicion and aversion. How can we then take pride in people from whom we kept our distance and whose thought we rejected?….these [achievements] are not of our own making, and those exceptional individuals were not the product of Arab culture, but rather Greek culture. They are outside our cultural mainstream and we treated them as though they were foreign elements. Therefore we don’t deserve to take pride in them, since we rejected them and fought their ideas. Conversely, when Europe learned from them it benefited from a body of knowledge which was originally its own because they were an extension of Greek culture, which is the source of the whole of Western civilization.”In medicine, there is the phenomenon of “transplant rejection,” which happens when an organ is transplanted into another body and that body’s immune system rejects it as an alien intrusion. This is a useful analogy to keep in mind when assessing how Muslims and Christians treated Greek natural philosophy during the Middle Ages. Muslims did engage the Greek heritage, but only parts of it, and eventually even this limited acceptance was rejected by conservative theologians such as al-Ghazali. The immune system of Islamic culture considered Greek philosophical ideas to constitute an alien intrusion into its body, fought them and ultimately rejected them. In contrast, for Christian culture, the Greek philosophical heritage did not constitute something alien. Christians did not accept all parts of the Greek heritage as valid for them, but most of them didn’t consider Greek logic, modes of thinking and philosophical vocabulary per se to be something alien and hostile. We could say that Christianity was a Jewish child, baptized in water steeped in Greek philosophical vocabulary and raised in a Greco-Roman environment. This new synthesis was personified by Saint Paul, a Greek-speaking Jew, a follower of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and a Roman citizen.
Read the rest at the Brussels Journal.