The _Green Revolution_ in the Middle East
In fact, the Middle East has not always been a barren desert. During the period from the 8th to the 11th century, the region underwent a _green revolution_ which the Canadian economic historian Dr. Andrew Watson calls the Arab Agriculture Revolution (_The Arab Agriculture Revolution and Its Diffusion,_ Journal of Economic History, Vol. 34., 1974).
When the territory ruled by Islam was at its greatest extent before the Europeans started to make inroads, it stretched from Spain in the west to today_s Indonesia in the east. As the Arabs advanced into new regions, they encountered foreigners and discovered all kinds of things they had never seen before. They marveled at and sampled perfumes, spices, medicines, rice, coriander, sugar cane, watermelons, eggplants, spinach, lemons, limes, bananas, coconuts, indigo, cotton and garden flowers, to name but a few. As a result of these discoveries, the Arab world underwent a major life-style revolution.
These rare plants and other goods were mostly products of the tropical regions around the Indian Ocean, which the Arabs had crossed in their dhows. At first they went back and forth carrying these goods to the Middle East, but by the 11th century they had succeeded in transplanting and cultivating most of them locally. The cultivation of crops and plants native to the wet regions of India in the arid environment of the Middle East may seem an impossible task. During this period, however, the Arabs constructed the Kanaat?? underground canal and exploited every single river, oasis and spring in the region. They repaired and rehabilitated the old irrigation system and steadily improved the efficiency of the supply of water. At the same time, the Arabs learned how to cultivate the various crops they had brought back from India.
Before the rise of Islam, the traditional method of cultivation in the Middle East and Mediterranean region had been to sow seeds in the fall and harvest in the spring. Plants withered and died in the summer heat and, due the infertility of the soil, crops could not be grown on the same land in successive years. But summer sunlight was essential for the cultivation of products of tropical regions such as rice, sugar cane, eggplants and watermelons. In order to grow them, the Arabs strove mightily to make the land usable in the summer months. They studied the quality and structure of the soil and the relationships between soil and crops, learning, for example, that sugar cane grows best in soil containing a small quantity of salt. For manure, they learned how make use not only of animal excrement but of all kinds of materials. In these ways, the Arabs succeeded in utilizing the same land continuously through multiple cropping and crop rotation. This led to an increase in incomes as labor-intensive farming methods drove up demand for labor, bring out about population growth. At the same time, agricultural advances stimulated commercial activities, the development of transportation networks, and establishment of an administrative structure. There can be no doubt that the cornerstone of Islamic civilization was the Arab agriculture revolution.
The Diffusion of Islamic Civilization
The Muslim caliphs showed great interest in the new objects they discovered as they extended their empires _rare birds and animals, jewels, coins, pottery, textiles, carpets, foliage plants, and books_and collected these products of foreign cultures. They were particularly interested in botany and built gardens where they cultivated rare plants, such as the botanical gardens at the Alhambra Palace, the last stronghold of the caliphs of Granada. The scholars who provided knowledge about plants were given patrons and privileged treatment, enabling them to travel around in their avaricious quest for new knowledge. As these rare objects, new cooking methods and other techniques were introduced into the Islamic world, the information was rapidly disseminated through the Arabic language and unified religion based on Dar al-Islam (_home of Islam_). In the course of one century, all of the books written in Persian, Greek and Sanskrit were translated into Arabic.