There is a widespread belief, especially among right-wing politicians in Europe, that Islam is incompatible with Western civilization and has contributed nothing to it. The Dutch politician Geert Wilders captured this perception when he described Islam as a ‘culture of backwardness, of retardedness, of barbarism.’ It is worth our while therefore to investigate whether this assertion is, in fact, correct. If it is not, the basis of the Islamophobia of Islam’s critics like Wilders collapses like a house of cards. They will then have to use some other arguments against Islam or their racial prejudices will stand exposed; they will be naked without benefit of a niqab to cover their modesty.
The impact of Muslims on European culture is deep and extensive. I will use material from my book Journey into Europe to illustrate the assertion over the next few weeks. Perhaps Islam’s greatest contribution was to introduce the idea of a unified understanding of our spiritual universe, which was reflected in the art, architecture, literature, and society in Andalusia based in religious pluralism and acceptance, one that valued learning and the ilm ethos. It is this society that produced an Ibn Firnas, who attempted flight, and religious philosophers like Maimonides and Averroes, who sought to balance reason and faith. Andalusian society, in turn, sowed the seeds for what would become the European Renaissance, which would lead to the Enlightenment and go on to shape our modern world.