What have they done for us lately?
You might have seen the storm of controversy over the recent Tweet by Richard Dawkins, stating: "All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though." Though I haven't followed the uproar in great detail it seems to me that most of the anger has been directed at the first sentence. So I wanted to say something about the second sentence, because it connects to a point I want to make in the podcast in future episodes. Dawkins is here following a widespread tendency to say that anything of intellectual value created by Muslims, or in the Muslim world, dates to the "classical" period which would probably end in about the 12th century, hence "Middle Ages." It's basically a way of being politically correct: "when I criticize Islam as a religion, I do admit that they long long ago managed to do impressive things, but what have they done for us lately?"
This attitude is intimately connected to the myth that philosophy in the Islamic world ends in the 12th century, perhaps killed off by Ghazali, with a last burst of effort from Averroes who died in 1198. The reason for this myth is that philosophy in the Islamic world has always been seen from the point of view of European Christendom: Averroes was the last Muslim philosopher who exerted real influence on Christians writing in Latin, so it seems that the tradition ends there. But this is just wrong. As we'll see in the third mini-series I am devoting to the topic, philosophy and science continue and in fact flourish in the post-medieval period, with thinkers like Tusi, the School of Shiraz, Mir Damad, Mulla Sadra, etc. The philosophical tradition goes on continuously into the 19th century, after which things get complicated because you need to take into account influence from European ideas through colonialism. So I am going to stop with philosophical developments in the three empires, Ottoman, Mughal, and Safavid, though I hope to have an interview on the 20th century.
To a large extent these extensive post-medieval developments are unknown, not only to the wider public but also to experts in the field (here I include myself) because so much of the material is still in manuscript and unstudied in European languages. Still, I will do my best to kill off the myth of philosophy's death in the 12th century.