By Frithjof Schuon
Translated from French.
Reprint. initially released: London : Allen & Unwin, 1969.
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The foundations of this achievement are strikingly similar to those that are credited with the emergence of the modern West. But instead of a printing revolution, the Islamic world in this period experienced a paper revolution, whereby more expensive and elitist methods of writing (on papyrus and parchment, for example) were replaced by this more affordable medium. Literacy is thought to have increased dramatically, creating new readerships that consumed (and, in a circular way, generated) new genres of literature.
That it looks the way it does now is largely due to events in the 800–1100 one. And just as camels represented the ﬁrst period, caravans can be said to represent the second one. A caravan consists of many camels (or other pack animals) led together by a group of travellers, which reﬂects one of the major differences between the Umayyads and the early Abbasids: the former created a somewhat exclusive, ‘Arab’ empire whereas the latter were consciously cosmopolitan and inclusive, empowering nonArabs (mainly those who were culturally Persian – appropriately, ‘caravan’ is a Persian word) and absorbing them into Islam.
813–33) attempted to assert his ofﬁce’s religious authority by subjecting the ‘ulama’ to an ‘inquisition’ (mihna), in which the caliph’s position Islamic History on a question of theology was forced on all scholars, with regular investigations into the views of individual ‘ulama’. This mihna remained caliphal policy until al-Mutawakkil abandoned it in 848, at which point it was clear that the caliphs had lost both the battle and the war; surprisingly soon thereafter they supported the ‘ulama’, usually through generous patronage.