Africa and the Civilizing of Europe: The Empire of the Moors

977 words | 4 page(s)

It is widely believed that no such thing as black culture has ever existed. White scholars, advancing the views of supremacy of whites over blacks and other races, have managed to instill the myth of the progressive white (i.e. Western) civilization in the public mind (Spielvogel, 2013; Stearns, 2008). John Jackson develops a counter-argument asserting that during lengthy periods in the history of humanity black cultures were far more civilized than white cultures, and often enlightened the white with the achievements of their progress in various fields.

Chapter Four “Africa and the Civilizing of Europe: The Empire of the Moors” investigates the problem based on numerous primary sources and a few more recent secondary sources. Jackson’s argument is that the civilization built and successfully maintained by the Moors (people of the black race) greatly outperformed any other world civilization in the period known as Dark Ages. Existing Christian civilization progressed as they borrowed significant discoveries done by black scholars of Muslim faith. Yet, they were never able to achieve the same or even similar level of prosperity the Moors did, in particular in Spain. This paper discusses the strengths of John Jackson’s argument and identifies possible weaknesses of his text. It provides additional information to help test the validity of John Jackson’s historical hypothesis.

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Historically, the Moors were the people who came from Africa, invaded Spain, and occupied its southern part for a period over four hundred years. The presence of the civilization was widely felt in Europe. Yet, historians who discuss the theories of the ethnic and racial identity of the Moors often fail to provide comprehensive evidence to support their claims. John Jackson takes a different approach in his book. Specifically, in “Africa and the Civilizing of Europe: The Empire of the Moors,” he provides abundant evidence as to the origins of the Moors and formation of their state. In particular, he largely cites both primary and highly credible secondary sources that shed light on the things he investigates. To illustrate, he uses material from the History of Herodotus, quotes Procopius, and bases his account on the investigations of eminent medieval scholars Sir Charles Oman and Professor de Graft-Johnson. The same approach grounded on the use of both primary and secondary sources persists in the rest of the chapter and book, where Johnson makes use of the best secondary and primary printed sources.

Further, the text should be noted for its dialogue with the traditional scholarly view based on the belief of the white civilization supremacy. The author goes on describing the supremacy of the Moors and their state while also debunking the myth of the progressive Europe. He constantly compares the level of scientific, social, and commercial development in the countries of Europe and in Muslim Spain. This helps re-build the reader’s historical consciousness which has long been fed with the myth of barbaric Saracens and advanced European nations. Specifically, one reads, “all over the Arab Moorish world a brisk intellectual life flourished; for the caliphs of both the East and the West were, for the most part, enlightened patrons of learning” (p.180) and in another place Jackson mentions that 99% of population in Europe was illiterate including kings; “the Moorish leaders lived in sumptuous palaces, while the monarchs of Germany, France, and England dwelt in big barns, with no windows and no chimneys, and with only a hole in the roof for the exit of smoke” (p.176); “up to the twelfth century the maritime commerce of the Saracens on the Mediterranean was greater than that of the Christians (…)” (p.175); “while in the tenth and eleventh centuries all Europe could show scarcely a single public library (…) there were in Spain at the same time more than seventy public libraries (…).”

At the same time, one may have a few reservations about the chapter. First of all, Jackson in his appraisal of the Moorish civilization seems to lose objectivity. Apart from its achievements, the state certainly had its drawbacks and failures. It seems a calmer approach to assessing the greatness of the Moorish civilization would make the chapter more scholarly. In this vein, the author often makes literary generalizations which are not justified for a scholarly work: all over the Arab world, 99% of Europeans, etc. In other places, the author displays his support to the Moorish civilization at the expense of the Christian one: “Unfortunately, Moslems (…), began to split into fractions.”

Next, the discussion on the color of the skin of the Moorish tribes is too weak. The strong part is acknowledging that there is a debate in the scholarly world as for whether the Moors had dark-white (as in Arabs) or black skin. Also, the evidence used to support the argument is well-matching (an account of one Moor who spoke of his tribes as black and opposing to whites), etc., yet it seems barely enough. If the chapter meant to achieve the aim of showing the advances of the black people’s civilization a stronger evidence base should have been used and bigger discussion provided.

Finally, the use of primary sources should have been better. Specifically, the author used several texts of the period to adorn his narrative; yet the whole thing was rather based on quality secondary sources. More primary sources, including various artifacts, drawings, etc preserved in numerous museums, should have been analyzed and utilized to provide a more comprehensive text.

Overall, John Jackson has achieved his aim: to persuade the modern reader that the Moorish civilization of the black Muslim people was greater than what used to be Europe at the time of Middle Ages. Despite several shortcomings, the text has many strengths and provides details about the civilization of the Moors.

  • Stearns, P. (2008). Western civilization in world history. Routledge.
  • Spielvogel, J. (2013). Western civilization: A brief history. Cengage Learning.
  • Jackson, J. (2001). Africa and the civilizing of Europe. In Introduction to African civilization.
    Citadel Press.

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