Eighth – Fifteenth Century: 1988 – 1991
Muslim cartographers were well aware of British Isles. Muhammad bin Musa al-Khwarizmi in his ‘Surat al-Ard’, written around 817 mentions a number of places in Britain.
Offa of Mercia (died 796) was a powerful Anglo-Saxon King who had coins minted with the inscription of the declaration of Islamic faith (There is no god but Allah) in Arabic.
The Ballycottin cross, found on the Southern coast of Ireland and dated around the 9th century also bears an Arabic inscription. At the centre of the cross set in a glass bead in Kufic Arabic script is the phrase ‘Bismillah’ (in the name of Allah).
It is generally believed that the first Englishman known for certain to have been a scholar of Arabic was Henry II’s tutor, Adelard of Bath (c, 1125) who travelled in Syria and Muslim Spain and translated a number of Arabic texts into Latin.
In the Twelfth Century, King John was excommunicated by Pope Innocent III and was excommunicated. Matthew Paris, a contemporary monk, gives details of an emissary sent by King John in 1213 to the North African Amir, Mohammed An-Nasir. King John offered to help Muslims in their campaigns in Spain against the Catholic king of Aragon.
Muslim scholarship was well known among the learned in Britain by 1386, when Chaucer was writing. In the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, there is among the pilgrims wending their way to Canterbury, a ‘Doctour of Phisyk’ whose learning included Razi, Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd). Ibn Sina’s canon of medicine was a standard text for medical students well into the Seventeenth Century.
Following Adelard’s footsteps, others too sailed from Britain in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in quest of Arabic learning and returned to enlighten their fellow countrymen. This included Danel of Morley and Michael Scotus, whose translations of Aristotle from Arabic were of great value during the Renaissance.
The first book ever to have been printed in England by Caxton in 1477 is considered to be ‘The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers’, which was a translation of a popular Arabic compilation entitled ‘Mukhtar al-Hikam Wa mahasin al-Kalim’, by Abul Wafa Mubashir Ibn Fatik.
`Acknowledgements- ‘The Quest for Sanity’, published by The Muslim Council of Britain, 2002)