Introduction to LOST HISTORY
Loss is a defining human experience. Nothing in the
physical world lasts forever. Memory of what has been
lost can be both ennobling and painful.
History teaches us that civilizations rise, flourish and
decline. Sometimes they evolve and rise to new heights.
Sometimes they are absorbed into other cultures. Some-
times they die and disappear. And sometimes, as with
Rome and others, echoes of that civilization find new life
in later cultures.
To lose the conscious memory of an entire civilization is
especially tragic and dangerous. Because each civilization, no matter how grand or flawed,
is a laboratory of human ideas and ideals, of dreams and nightmares. We can learn from
all of them.
A few days after the 9/11 attack, I was asked to write a speech for a leading American
business executive. While the original subject was to have focused mostly on her business
and industry, the continuing national grief meant it would have been insulting to ignore
the major issue of the day. And so this speaker agreed to try and bridge the gulf between
Muslims and non-Muslims by remembering the greatness the Muslim world had
spawned, and how much it meant to everyone.
Rather than focus on the awful reality of the present, I decided to have the speaker
address the fascinating Muslim history that I’d uncovered in my reading and research ... a
Muslim history that was about invention, creativity, big ideas, tolerance, and coexistence.
A Muslim history that had been more intellectually accomplished than Christian Europe of
the day, and a Muslim past where Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists had
sometimes flourished and worked together. A Muslim culture that had seeded the
European Renaissance, and helped enable many aspects of the modern West and global
It is a history that by the beginning of the 21st century had been forgotten, ignored,
misunderstood, suppressed or even rewritten.
I thought that the speech might get some attention and might draw some criticism here at
home. What I hadn’t expected was that Muslims overseas would also write, wanting to
know who were these historical figures referred to, and how could they find out more?
It was then I knew that there was a huge gulf of misunderstanding on both sides that
needed to be filled. And so I came to think, if a fuller and deeper appreciation of Muslim
history could be recovered, then maybe the very premises of the emerging “clash of
civilizations” could be re-framed.
The result is this book. I know there may be those on the non-Muslim side of the divide
who will say that I’m distorting history, by choosing to emphasize the bright side of a very
complex civilization. I will respond that I am simply balancing the incomplete and
negative slant of most of what we non-Muslims have been given.
To apply the argument of these critics fully and fairly, we would need to include in the
history of Western “Christian” civilization not only the thoughts of Voltaire and St.
Thomas Aquinas, but also the thoughts and deeds of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
There may also be those who will say that I have sought to rehabilitate and glorify heretics
and impure Muslims, who deserve to be suppressed and forgotten.
By no coincidence, all of the great thinkers, inventors and artists of Muslim civilization
were creative minds. Much like today’s scientific researchers, they were trained in their
various disciplines to constantly question assumptions, in a search for higher truth. Their
number included some who followed other religions. While they were all versed in the
tenets and philosophy of their faiths, few were rigid, doctrinaire thinkers. And they
operated in a very different political context than we see today. The Muslim quest for
knowledge often drove even the most devout rulers and religious scholars to support
freethinking and empirical scientific inquiry.
But fascination with the intellect came under increasing attack, beginning in the 9th
century. One debate among many was between Muslim “rationalists” who believed in
finding divine truth through reason, and “literalists” who stuck to the narrowly-
interpreted literal statements and acts of the Prophet. It was not unlike the current and
longstanding American debate between supporters of Darwinism and advocates of
creationism or intelligent design.
By writing Lost History, I hope to show not only the contributions of an old and rich
civilization. I hope to show, as Caliph Al Mamun concluded, that reason and faith can
coexist: that by fully opening the mind and unleashing human creativity, many wonders,
including peace, are possible.
Michael Hamilton Morgan
Website copyright 2007@ Michael Hamilton Morgan Inc