5 The Christian and Islamic Civilizations
A Lecture by Prince Charles
The world_s oldest university is Bologna University in Italy. The oldest university in Britain, Oxford University, dates back to the 12th century. Oxford is made up of 36 colleges. Since this college system is unique to Oxford and Cambridge, there is no Japanese word that expresses the meaning of _college_ in the sense that it is used at these universities. In addition to their distinctive college system, Oxford and Cambridge are also organized into academic departments or faculties in the same way as other universities throughout the world. Students of history at Oxford University belong to the Faculty of Modern History, which treats all history since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 as _modern history._ Oxford has traditionally made the distinction between _modern_ and _ancient._ According to this interpretation of history, the classical ancient period ending with the collapse of the Roman Empire marked the beginning of the modern age. Just as the Renaissance in European history signaled the revival of classical art and learning, the period in which the British assimilated ancient learning was viewed as the modern age in British history. Oxford University has produced twenty-three of Britain s prime ministers, most of whom studied classics (ancient Greek and Latin literature and history). This is no coincidence: the modern British Empire can in many ways be compared to the ancient Roman Empire.
Medieval Britain is generally defined as the period from the fall of the Roman Empire to the beginning of the reign of the Tudors (1485), but at Oxford medieval history all comes under the heading of _modern history_ In this field, the interpretation of medieval history is undergoing a revision and the _dark_ image of medieval Europe is coming to be seen as old-fashioned. Nevertheless, Islamic civilization of the same period undoubtedly shone more brightly than medieval Europe. After the fall of the Roman Empire the Mediterranean was dominated by Islam, whose prosperity lasted for 800 years from the 8th century to the end of the 15th century. This was the medieval era in European history-a period during which the Christian world languished in the shadow of the bright beacon of Islamic civilization.
In 1993, to mark the opening of the Islamic Research Institute at Oxford University, Prince Charles (a graduate of Cambridge University) gave a lecture titled _Islam and the West._ In this lecture, he pointed out that _Muslims, Christians and Judaists are all followers of scripture. 1492 was not only a crucial year for the West but also for Islam: it was the tragic year of the fall of Granada. In 10th century Cordoba, for example, there had been as many as 400,000 books, whose contents show how advanced Islamic civilization was. In countless fields now seen as characteristic of modern Western culture, including diplomacy, free trade, scholarship, etiquette, fashion and medicine, the West was indebted to Islam. Today we often mistakenly attribute these advances to the West, but it is actually surprising how much we were in the shadow of Islamic civilization._ One has to admire Prince Charles_s insight founded on a broad historical grasp of the Christian and Islamic worlds as a dynamic whole. As well as diplomacy, free trade, scholarship, etiquette, fashion and medicine, there is another very important product of Islamic civilization that Prince Charles did not mention in his lecture.
(1) The Legacy of the Arab Agricultural Revolution
In his study F_o (_Climate_), Watsuji Tetsuro describes his strong impression of the Middle East as a _desolate and barren region where neither plants nor animals can live _in this desert nature is dead._ A bleak desert devoid of the verdure needed to sustain life. this was the Middle East that Watsuji saw when he traveled there at the beginning of the Showa period (1926_89).