Updated on the 1st and 15th of every month
An Upside-Down History of the World [Japanese]
[Chapter 3] The Origins of Monotheism

Part 1: A Human Hypothesis
40 The Christian World’s Modernization Success

Istanbul. Until Christian society wielded its modern success in science and capitalism to dismantle the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth century, the global center of culture and learning was Islamic society.

Unraveling the mystery behind the Islamic Empire’s decline is complicated at best, which is why it calls for an “upside-down” approach.

And part of that approach includes comparison. Sometimes it takes a comparison of two wholly distinctive things to bring to light the very characteristics that make each one unique.

Here, Christianity works. Of course, Christianity, like Islam, is a monotheistic tradition. The two religions do, in this sense, share some common ground. But from the eighteenth century onward, the Christian West modernized with great success. Through scientific advancement and capitalism, the West built a robust society. The Islamic world, however, failed to modernize. Grasping this kind of phenomena is just one of the advantages of this kind of comparison.

But there’s something else to keep in mind—we have the responsibility to remember just how robust and how dominant the political system, economy, and culture of the Islamic Empire really once was.

From the eighteenth century to the first half of the twentieth century, the countries of the West (including the US) wielded their modernized national strength and dismantled the largest ever Islamic Empire (the Ottoman Empire) before dividing and colonizing traditionally Islamic settlements.

Westerners became the new victors. But as is often the case, the victors fell victim to the illusion of a perfect, unbroken historical path of success. Many began to believe the major misconception that the empire and culture of the Islamic people were the insignificant by-products of a similarly insignificant moment in history.

Needless to say, this runs completely counter to historical fact.

As I mention in Volume 1, the Chinese civilization may very well have become the standard for human civilization, had it not stagnated. The Islamic Empire had even greater potential.

This is key to understanding how extraordinary a phenomenon the decline of both the modern Islamic Empire and present-day Islamic civilization really is.

It’s widely known that Europe went through a period known as the Dark Ages. The Western culture of ancient Greece and Rome did not make its way directly to the countries of Europe that came later. During the Dark Ages of medieval Europe, ancient Greek and Roman culture was virtually erased.

Scientific Terminology’s Arabic Origins

Of course, one people did inherit, preserve, and developed these cultures.

And it was, as you could have probably guessed, the people of the Islamic Empire. The origin of familiar terms like alcohol, algebra, and algorithm—words completely indispensable in scientific study—are the same Arabic words used in the Quran. Even the numerals now used by almost every civilization around the world as the standard mathematical unit are Arabic in origin.

Don’t forget also that the New Testament was first written in Greek.

It was the Greek bible that was translated into Latin, the language of the Roman Empire. And during the Middle Ages, it was this Latin bible that became the standard. During the Middle Ages, study of the “classical” bible required a Greek bible and, not surprisingly, knowledge of the Greek language. Which nation’s scholars, then, supplied the necessary Greek bibles and Greek knowledge to the students from Europe?

Once again—it was the Muslim scholars of the Islamic Empire to the rescue.

Such a high level of scholarship and such a high level of public literacy were unheard of in Europe at the time.

“Unheard of” is no exaggeration. In medieval Europe, very few people could read. Particularly low was the literacy rate among peasants, and the reason was simple: peasants had no opportunity to learn reading or writing. There was also no reason for them to do so. Feudal lords read aloud their orders to their peasants in the public square, so committing their commands to paper would have been useless. No one would have been able to read them.

On the other hand, in the Islamic world, it didn’t matter whether a person was a member of the aristocracy or the bourgeois. Learning the Quran was compulsory, and reciting the Quran began at childhood. Reciting the Quran developed true reading competency, which, not surprisingly, led to improved literacy.

Bible studies may be a compulsory part of many elementary Christian curriculums today, but in medieval Europe, ordinary citizens did not read the bible. And even if someone did read aloud the bible to ordinary middle-class people, comprehension wouldn’t have taken place. The bible was written in Latin, and the general public, who at the time were speakers of languages like English, French, and German, would have been stumped.

This is why the Roman Catholic Church was able to fool people into believing that the faithful could simply pay off their sins by purchasing so-called indulgences. Until, of course, Martin Luther unveiled the Roman Catholic Church’s religious hogwash by translating for the first time the bible into German.