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What Islam
Did For Us
Understanding Islam’s Contribution to
Western Civilization

By Tim Wallace-Murphy
Published by Watkins
217 pages, paperback

In today’s tense climate of the ongoing Iraq war, suicide bombers and “Jihad” or Holy War, the chasm between Islam and the West seems insurmountable.

Yet the current fearful media reporting of what is often characterised as an alien or at best medieval thought system is a huge distortion and often deliberate misunderstanding of the common thread and religious kinship Islam shares with both Christianity and Judaism. So says author Tim Wallace-Murphy in this informative and fact-filled book, What Islam Did for Us.

Tim Wallace-Murphy is an author, lecturer and historian who has also written Cracking the Symbol Code, The Mark of the Beast (with Trevor Ravenscroft), Rex Deus: The True Mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau, and Rosslyn: Guardian of the Secrets of the Holy Grail, and so therefore has the scholarship and the background to do this subject matter justice.

In this climate of fear and distrust, says the author, it is vital that we remember how much our own culture owes to Islam’s rich tradition. Wallace-Murphy offers scriptural evidence, accounts of commercial and intellectual exchange, revelations of the mystery schools of the early Christian church and the holy wars, to reveal a forgotten legacy.

The origins of Islam, just as with Christianity and Judaism, came from a journey out of Egypt, the birthplace of monotheism. Islam shares a common forefather with Christianity and Judaism in the Prophet Abraham, who is revered as both the founder of the people of Israel, via Sarah his wife, and the patriarch of the Arab peoples, via Hagar, Sarah’s handmaiden.

According to the Old Testament, Abraham was born in the city of Ur, yet Wallace-Murphy provides ample evidence to support the contention that Abraham was an Egyptian. His original name, Abram, in Egyptian, means “father of many nations” and his wife Sarah is the Egyptian term for “princess.”

Wallace-Murphy traces the blossoming of monotheism, first with the formation of Judaism, then Christianity, and finally with Islam. As with Jesus, the Prophet Mohammed did not advocate the formation of a new religion, but rather a correction or a recapitulation of true monotheism, which he believed had been distorted by the Jewish people and utterly corrupted by the Christian belief in the trinity and the divinity of Jesus.

However, despite the disagreement, the Prophet himself decreed that all people of “The Book,” that is, the Gospels or the Torah, were to be respected and allowed to maintain their practices and beliefs. The founding of Islam brought about a great resurgence in scholarship and scientific investigation, and our words alchemy, chemistry, and many others spring from the Arabic terms.

Islam arose early in the seventh century in a little known part of Arabia. This religion spawned a highly sophisticated civilisation that was to have a profound influence on the development of European culture, and ultimately, the whole world. In dramatic contrast to the Christian church’s intolerant world view, Islam was, from its very inception, a bastion of tolerance, social justice and piety.

While Europe was being crushed and brutalised by the Dark Ages, Islam bloomed. Because the Prophet Mohammed enjoined followers to study and to revere wisdom, many Greek sciences were protected and investigated by Muslim scholars. But perhaps more tellingly, under Islamic rule and at the height of the Moorish Empire, the three great monotheistic faiths coexisted in relative harmony, enjoying a high degree of religious tolerance in a flourishing intellectual and artistic milieu.

Wallace-Murphy points out that the many legacies we have received from this happy coexistence includes the fact that the Muslim colleges formed in Andalusia became the model for Oxford and Cambridge colleges in the United Kingdom. Europe’s first effective medical school was founded by Jewish doctors who had been trained in the Muslim world. Islamic culture also gave the West navigation, mathematics, and Gothic architecture.

Perhaps most of us know that alchemy traces its name and origins to Islam but you might not realise the magnificent stained glass “rose” window that dominates Chartres Cathedral is a legacy of Islam and the alchemists who devised this art. This influence later birthed the beauty of the Renaissance and the magnificent blossoming of Western art and culture.

Perhaps most damning of the West is the barbarous history of the crusades and the so-called “holy war” which was instigated and encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church.
The influence of Islam on the founders of the Knights Templar, an order of warrior-monks formed to protect pilgrims en route from the port of Jaffa to Jerusalem, is irrefutable. It is interesting to note that the Knights spent a lot of time excavating the Temple Mount under the influence of Sufi, or Islamic mystics.

Wallace-Murphy then moves through Christian history, including the destruction of the Cathar religion, believed to have been founded by Mary Magdalene, and the invasions of Jerusalem by King Richard the Lionheart and his many battles with the Islamic warrior Salah-al-Din Ysuf ibn Ayyub, or Saladin. Saladin united the armies of Islam and led them to victory over the crusaders.

Finally we arrive at the 20th century and the system Wallace-Murphy calls “divide and rule.”
The author believes that Western powers have repeatedly abused, humiliated and betrayed the community of Islam with dozens of broken promises, a policy of undermining lawfully elected governments, and re-drawing borders, splitting tribes and communities.

The discovery of the vast oil fields changed the political face of Arabia and made the Near East a Western battle ground that many now call a politically-based “crusade” every bit as brutal, unfair, and cruel as the medieval crusades fought for religious purposes.

What Islam Did For Us is a well written, fascinating book replete with facts and figures and a comprehensive Source Directory. This book is a must for any serious student of current affairs, but also offers an informative and enlightening journey from the foundations of monotheism in ancient Egypt to modern history.

We have all collectively inherited this religious lineage and with Tim Wallace-Murphy’s wisdom and insight, we may be able to face the many challenges that lie ahead for all the sons and daughters of Abraham.

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