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Classics

A Discreet Invitation to enter the ‘Secret Garden’

André Miquel, one of the greatest experts on the classical period of Islamic civilization, pores with extraordinary passion over the masterpieces of Arabic literature and helps us understand its relationship with its historical context, with religion and with those radical questions that trouble men of every era. Including our own.

A Conversation with André Miquel, By Martino Diez

 

 

You have dedicated numerous works to the classical period of Islamic civilisation and its literature. In your opinion, what are its fundamental features and which aspects are most interesting for us?

 

 

That is a very big question and a complex one. The civilisation with which I have concerned myself is the Arab civilisation or, rather, its literature between the seventh century and the end of the tenth century. Why? Because I gradually became convinced that there existed the possibility of a dialogue – the simplest possible – between men of today and men from the ninth/tenth century. And, in fact, this literature was asking exactly the same questions that I ask myself: “Why do we exist?” “Why are we alive?” “Why do we love?” “Is the Afterlife only a dream?” etc. And how did it answer those questions? In its own way. In the light of qur’anic revelation, but also in the light of a gradual absorption into history, because all the authors I’ve known were not producing religious literature; they were writing profane works. For me, the most beautiful moment of this civilisation is the Caliphate of Baghdad during its peak between 750 and 1000 AD, because during that period one can encounter a fully-developed civilization: being, science, philosophy…. a great opening up to the world that is able to harvest the foreign legacies, that adds its own and creates a dialogue between them. The foreign legacy – forgive the commonplace – comes from India, Persia and Greece, which were already well established before the Baghdad Caliphate but whose knowledge was considerably increased by the Abbasid Caliphs and particularly by Ma’mûn.

 

 

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