W.P. Norton

Saving Islam’s wisdom of peace

In W.P. Norton on January 21, 2016 at 11:00 am

mali msAmbassadors of Peace in a Circle of Knowledge sitting around a Palaver Tree will not leave until they have resolved their differences.
(c) The Malian Manuscript Foundation

Who knew that Islamic thought includes hundreds of thousands of tracts covering such subjects as astronomy, animal rights, Islamic law and practice, philosophy and women’s rights.

According to Sarah Kershaw’s Washington Post report, the works cover such subjects as “astronomy, animal rights, Islamic law and practice, philosophy and women’s rights.”

I say again: Who knew?

Hardline Islamist fighters have already burned more than 4,000 of the nearly 1 million manuscripts written over the centuries and preserved in Timbuktu, Mali.

Filmmaker and entrepreneur Michael Covett is working hard to get out the message that these manuscripts must be saved.

An effort is underway to digitize the Mali manuscripts. Covett’s  Malian Manuscript Foundation is spearheading the cause.

What fascinates me is the parallel: during the so-called Dark Ages of Europe, literacy virtually disappeared and the classics of Hellenic philosophy and drama were ignored for centuries. But Islamic civilization preserved it all. It is my understanding that there would have been no Renaissance, no Age of Enlightenment, without the rediscovery of the preserved wisdom of the classics–works that had been carefully preserved by scholars during the high water-mark of Islamic civilization.

The Mali manuscripts may not turn the tide against the militant movement to turn the world into a caliphate. But their preservation is a critical imperative to save for history’s sake the pacifist, humanist wisdom of a civilization at its peak.


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