Muslims discovered Greek thought hundreds of years before the Western Christians, yet it was the latter who ultimately assimilated it. Why did the reverse not happen? By tracing the major currents of medieval Islamic and Christian thought, this article, in part, proposes that the outcome had little to do with the virtues or vices of the tenets of either Islam or Christianity (they were both obstacles), but with older and deeper dispositions of mass belief. The Roman Christians (unlike the Byzantine Christians) lacked a significant spiritual-mystical dimension in the faith of their masses, unlike in the Islamic heartland, where such presence was strong. In particular, the latter led to Sufism, the dominant face of Islam until the 19th century (when orthodoxy began rising, partly in reaction to colonialism and modernism). Widespread mysticism thus indirectly denied critical mass to the early Islamic rationalism.
In the medieval West, on the other hand, there was hardly a mystical tradition; it had precious little of the non-denominational spirituality that seeks worldly detachment. As Protestant reinterpretation and Greek rationalism challenged their dogma-centric metaphysics, the temporal naturally gained wider emphasis, with its external engagement and human agency. It fostered popular attitudes and values similar to those of Classical Greece, which too had no spirituality. Notably, this took root in regions with relatively recent barbarian pasts and poorer records of spiritual life ï¿½ northwestern Europe. At the expense of Catholicism, these attitudes snowballed into the abstraction of individualism, ultimately leading to the scientific method and political institutions built via negotiation. Much of what followed sprang from an interplay of its internal logic and contingency.
In the Epilogue, I propose a different classification, from the clichï¿½d east-west, of mankind’s significant and seminal metaphysical responses down the ages. It would be no fun writing this just for the sake of polemics ï¿½ like Protagoras, I am ever mindful of the shortness of human life, if not the obscurity of the theme ï¿½ this article also discusses some of the key events and the lives & times of many remarkable personalities of early Islam: al-Beruni, Omar Khayyam, Firdausi, al-Farabi, Ibn al-Arabi, and Avicenna, besides others.