The Destruction of the Muslim Economic System: A Prime reason for the Decline of Muslim Science
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Attacks on Islamic centres of wealth on land and on sea by Western Christian pirates greatly reduced the economic power of Muslim lands. Braudel notes, indeed,how the fortune of Islam were the city ports of Alexandria, Palermo, Tunis, Bejaia, Almeira, etc. in securing wealth and prosperity for as long as the Muslims were powerful, yet came to suffer from the tenth century raids by Christian European pirates. `It is the destiny of the rich, Braudel explains `to become prey and temptations for the poor. In the tenth century, contrary to a subsequent epoch, the rich was the Muslim power, and the poor was the Christian. The Mediterranean, once an Islamic lake, now sank any venture, Braudel quotes an Muslim merchant, saying:
`Do not wonder to see my hair grow white from sorrow, but you must wonder why the black of my eyes had not become white instead. Now the sea belongs to the Roum. Boats that venture on it only do at great risk. Only the land belongs to the Muslims.
Not that secure either were the coastal towns of Egypt and North Africa, which became constant targets to devastating raids, which prevented the formation of any stable base for exchange, whatever its scale. In the eleventh century, the Christians aware of the weaker Muslims (disunited in Spain, fighting each other both in the East as well as in Sicily and no longer content to defend their territories) look for Muslim fleets, follow them and provoke them; disembark in Africa and set on fire the countryside and warehouses. Never were hostilities more vivid, more murderous, and more incessant.In 1146, Djidelli (North East Algeria) was taken and ransacked by Christian forces. In 1284 and 1285, Roger Doria, Admiral of Aragon, profiting from a moment when the pretenders were fighting for the throne in Tunis, landed suddenly on the island of Gerba, ravaging its countryside, gathering immense booty, and taking more than 2000 captives, who he sold in Europe In 1304, the Christians were delighted when the Pisan fleet, reinforced by Genoese ships, and probably Provencal ships, took the city of Bone, and ravaged the coast to Carthage. In 1365 a combined European fleet totalling 165 vessels departed for a secret target, the direction to Alexandria only cited at the last moment. On October 9, 1365, they landed; and for seven days they slaughtered, pillaged, and set the city on fire.The years after (December 1366, and September 1367), Egyptian and Syrian coastal towns suffered raids led by the crusading monarch Peter I of Portugal. Morocco for its part had to face the combined alliance of Castilians and Genoese until 1344, this combined strength of the Christian powers being necessary to beat the Moroccan fleet.
During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, both Syrian and Egyptian coastal towns also had to face attacks of Christian pirates, making landings and carrying devastating raids such as those of Boucicaut (c.1366 1421, marshal of France) in 1403. Coastal towns such as Beirut, Tripoli, Alexandria, Rosetta and Damietta, suffered constant debilitating raids. The Mamluks were obliged to spend more on their sea defences and sought materials using escorted expeditions to the Anatolian coasts, which bled them financially.
Then came the Portuguese irruption, an irruption well highlighted by the policy of Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal (1394-1460). His mind, according to Russel, was always dominated by a zealous devotion to the twin doctrines of chivalry and Crusade.In his writings are expressed his views:
`War against the Moors will satisfy both purposes (earthly and thereafter) and should, therefore, be undertaken.
Portuguese piracy literally gave the coup de grace to the Islamic economic system in the Indian Ocean. Hitherto, and throughout the medieval period, Abu Lughod explains, Muslim ships and merchants dominated the western circuit between the Persian Gulf-Red Sea and the south Indian coasts; there, they were joined by Indian ships that shared with the Chinese, dominion over the second circuit to the Strait. Chaudhuri observes:
`before the arrival of the Portuguese.... in 1498 there had been no organised attempt by any political power to control the sea lanes and the long distance trade of Asia... The Indian Ocean as a whole and its different seas were not dominated by any particular nation or empires.'
All changed with the Portuguese, who deliberately massacred Muslim merchants.The Portuguese, according to Heyd:
`Pursued simultaneously two objectives aiming for the same end: the extension of their own trade, through the opening of more outlets, and the suppression of that of the Arabs by the destruction of their trading fleet. It is impossible to count the number of Arab boats that their (the Portuguese) fleet attacked whether on the high seas, or close to the coastline; sank; burnt down after everything was looted, and their passengers and crew all slaughtered
Crawfurd has highlighted in detail the massacres committed by the Portuguese. In the fifteenth century, they carried on a piratical crusade against every Muslim ship they could find. Meeting with a vessel containing two hundred and sixty pilgrims bound for Mecca, of whom some fifty were women and children, they saved and baptised twenty of the children; the remainder were locked inside the ship before setting it on fire.<
by: FSTC Limited