The history of human culture represents a vast field with many aspects, some of which cannot be discovered in the near future. Notwithstanding, we must progressively develop our knowledge and introduce it to eager audiences, especially the young generation. Despite its difficulties, researchers in various societies have worked in this field since ancient times. Nevertheless, maintaining these efforts is sensed as more necessary in our time, particularly in Islamic societies.
Among the ancient civilizations, the cultural achievements of the nations of Egypt, China, Greece, the Roman Empire, Iran, and India have gained particular fame. Although the Islamic culture emerged later and benefited from those cultures, it overshadowed them. It became the leader for centuries, to the extent that if the West does not misjudge, it should admit that it owes the Islamic culture. This unique culture resulted from the taste and thought of the nations’ artists, scholars, and thinkers based on the new intellectual foundation of Islam. The nations of Iran, Egypt, India, and Mesopotamia had strong civil foundations and rich ancient cultures. These cultural heritages in the free and appropriate atmosphere provided by Islamic teachings were exposed to considerable progress. The history of science and civilization in the Islamic world shows that the cultural elements of other societies, except in the case of conflict or apparent lack of compatibility with the cultural foundations of Islam, have been often welcomed. This spirit of flourishing cultural activities in the Muslim community, especially in the days of the anti-culture actions of the Christian rulers in the Middle Ages, powerfully attracted knowledge enthusiasts from various religions. Christian and Jewish scholars, such as Ibn Bukhtishu, Ibn Masawaih, Hunayn ibn Ishaq, Ishaq ibn Hunayn, and Sahl ibn Bishr grew in the Islamic atmosphere. Greek philosophy, which entered the Islamic world widely, passed through the filter of the philosophical thought of the sages intellectually raised within the Islamic culture. The interpretation of some Europeans, who have called that cultural transmission and refinement “the victory of Greek culture”, is far from historical reality; in fact, it was the Islamic conquest of Greek culture.
Thanks to this situation, a century after the advent of Islam, the Islamic nations’ culture and civilization flourished exceptionally: Greek medicine and Indian medicine merged, and some Indian medical books and many treatises of Aristotle, Euclid, Galen, and Ptolemy were translated into Arabic. Indeed, the western world owes its familiarity with many of these sources to their Arabic translations. The works authored by Islamic scientists from the 13th century onward became a credible source of education for the Europeans. The Islamic society was far ahead intellectually; the names of the scholars of the Islamic world, such as Jaber ibn Hayyan, Khwarizmi, Ibn Haytham, Farabi, Ibn Sina, Khayyam, and Ibn Rushd, continue to shine brilliantly in the history of world culture and science. During the flourishing of knowledge in Islamic societies, the perspicuity and a sense of necessity inspired some of the most elite scientists to compile general books comprising summaries of the achievements in various fields of knowledge and science. Iḥṣāʾ al-ʿulūm by Farabi, Mafātīḥ al-ʿUlūm by Khwarizmi, Jāmiʻ al-ʻulūm (Settini) by Fakhr Razi, Durrat al-Tāj (Unmūḏaj ʿulūm) by Qutb al-din Shirazi, Nafāʼis al-Funūn by Shams al-din Amoli are among them. Although scientific development in the Islamic world slowed down after the 12th century, the compilation and publication of such works continued for several centuries. The stagnation merely caused such works to be prevented from achieving the desired perfection.
After the effective transfer of the sciences from the Islamic world to Europe, the flourishing era of knowledge began in the West. Europeans accomplished what Muslims had commenced, and comprehensive collections of human knowledge were compiled under the title “Encyclopaedia”. Although these works gained general acceptance with a delay, their great usefulness, on the one hand, and the need for detailed information in specific fields, on the other hand, led to the compilation of specialized encyclopaedias. In this regard, from the beginning of the 20th century, Orientalists, with the cooperation of several Islamic scholars, began to compile the Encyclopaedia of Islam (EI1). It was published in four volumes and an appendix in English, French and German languages during a quarter of a century (1913-1938). Nevertheless, the awareness of the shortcomings of this compilation and the acquisition of further information and research sources revealed the necessity of rewriting many of its articles and seriously revising some others. Hence, EI2 was compiled in twelve volumes (1960-2005), i.e., more than three times the size of the previous edition. EI2, like its first edition, despite some biases and errors, was broadly welcomed in many Islamic societies, and scholars commenced translating it in Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. There is an evident reason for this fascination with the works of Western researchers: for several hundred years, Europeans have been paving the way for scientific research and presenting their acquisitions, and based on the experiences of this continuous effort, they have developed innovative methods in scientific work. As might be expected, the result of the methodological research, regardless of its content and theme, has a dazzling shine. However, despite the masterful research procedures, some results are incorrect and lack scientific value. Considerable differences between the two editions of the Encyclopaedia of Islam can partially show the truth of this claim. But in some articles of the second edition, errors from the first edition have been repeated differently. Therefore, although it is necessary to examine the works of non-Muslim scholars in Islamic studies to gain knowledge of their interpretations of our culture, it is a grave mistake to follow them blindly.
With continuous scientific experience, some European researchers have shown admirable accuracy and skill in examining the cultural heritage of Islam, especially in the critical edition of ancient manuscripts and the discovery of some errors by historians. However, some of them, with a tendentious reading of history, interpret some historical events with an anti-Islamic approach. Fortunately, in recent years, cultural awareness in many Islamic societies has led their scholars not to consider all the works of Orientalists reliable, and evidently, this awareness is increasing.
The effort to compile a comprehensive work that replaces the Encyclopaedia of Islam started later in Islamic societies and still has not reached the desired result. But now, such an encyclopaedia is more necessary because students and researchers need the published results of other researchers’ works. Resources, extensive work, and cooperation are required to achieve this goal. Fortunately, after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Centre for the Great Islamic Encyclopaedia has compiled an encyclopaedia based on scientific methods and citing the most reliable sources and the most recent information. Although this encyclopaedia is specialized because of its exclusiveness to the culture of the Islamic world, it has a vast scope, including Qur’anic sciences, the tenets, theology, jurisprudence and its principles, hadith studies including hadith terminology and biographical evaluation, ethics, religions, sects and creeds, logic, philosophy, mysticism, literature, art, anthropology, architecture, history, geography, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine.
Obviously, the Islamic culture should be known, defined, and presented as it is.
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