There was an actual war on reading that poisoned our ancestors’ love for books. After the spread of Islam, it became well-known that the Muslim nation was a nation of reading. Europeans, during the Dark Age, were fascinated by how much time and effort the Muslim people and governments poured into anything book-related – from libraries and educational centers to paper factories; and polyglot scholars translating every readable material – even the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt. Sadly, all this became history. Both Eastern and Western historians found that the Muslim world was victimized by losing its romance with the art of reading and writing. This tragedy wasn’t the making of a devilish, cerebral outsider – actually, the bane spawned within.

Prof Yasir Qadhi said during a lecture that the last few Turkish sultans of the Ottoman Empire that ruled the modern-day Arabian Gulf, Egypt, Syria and all its neighbors, had a special understanding of Islam that was unfortunate. The empire initiated a law calling to execute any Muslim citizen who read, obtained, bought or sold or even asked for any sheet of printed paper. Being the juggernaut it was, the Ottoman Empire crushed the Arab’s quest for knowledge due to its extremism.
This might answer why our Muslim versions of Edison and Einstein were mostly figures who had their sparks during the various caliphates or Islamic dynasties. Some historical resources mention chemists and physicians in the first 100 years of the 500 years-plus era of the Ottoman Empire. But why did a Muslim government fight knowledge so viciously, even though Islam as a faith teaches that Allah is worshiped via the seeking of knowledge?

Every Muslim sultan had his team of muftis – scholars of Islamic rulings – who had the sole purpose of making the Islamic states move in accordance to Islamic rules and regulations as much as possible. When Gutenberg perfected a new method of printing that was a logistical and educational dream, everyone in Europe became a reader or an inspired writer. Fearing that the masses will be led astray, and out of exaggerated respect to the Arabic language that is considered holy, the “fatwa” team of the Turkish Sultan Bayazeed pressed his highness to take a firm stand against this kind of novelty and not fall under the saying: “Whoever has his book as his sheikh will make plenty of mistakes.” In their logic, the spread of any ideologically cancerous book might cause massive blasphemy among the Muslims.

In the pre-Gutenberg era, the European world and the Islamic world were like China and the US in their technological and educational race – however, after the crippling of our mind’s growth by the misdemeanor of our own Muslim brothers for years, the West sprung ahead in unprecedented leaps. Needless to say, even before the first month of the Ottoman Empire’s demise, the entire Middle East was invaded by advanced European nations who were light years ahead. But all these elements have faded away and the trauma is evaporating, to leave us in this perfect timing for an Arabian renaissance!

By Jeri Al-Jeri