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How knowledge was transmitted in medieval Muslim societies

An EU initiative explored how medieval Islamic scholars spread knowledge far and wide.
How knowledge was transmitted in medieval Muslim societies
The EU-funded TRAKIMI (Travelling knowledge in medieval Islam: The Ash’arites of al-Andalus and North Africa) project studied the history of the transmission of knowledge in Islamic societies during the Middle Ages. It investigated how the literature and doctrines of Ash’arism – the most influential school of dialectical theology at the time – were disseminated to western lands of Islam formed by Maghreb and parts of the Iberian Peninsula.

Project partners analysed primary sources such as independent works and commentaries written by scholars from the Islamic west on texts introduced by the east in order to tackle several unanswered questions. These included how scholars in the Islamic west accepted the doctrines and the rationalistic approach of Ash’arism. They also considered if there were any authorised attempts to promote or to limit the influence of Ash’arism whenever rulers and religious-political ideologies changed. TRAKIMI further looked at whether a distinct, specifically western form of Ash’arism emerged.

Much of the literature remains completely understudied. It is often inaccessible in printed editions and has only survived in manuscript form. The TRAKIMI team uncovered such literature in manuscript repositories and by conducting archival research in North African libraries and European collections of Arabic manuscripts. A close study of one of these manuscripts revealed that the manuscript could be identified as a unique copy of one of the earliest surviving texts produced by the western Ash’arite tradition.

Researchers also studied popular work produced by Almohads, a Berber dynasty that ruled for more than 100 years over the entire Maghreb and al-Andalus between the first half of the 12th and the second half of the 13th centuries. Findings show that Ash’arites did not necessarily attempt to ‘Almohadise’ their doctrines to a certain degree, and that they even continued to formulate positions that disagreed with the Almohad creed.

By delving deep into the rich source of neglected literature produced in the Islamic west, TRAKIMI successfully demonstrated that the transmission of books and ideas continued and contributed to a vibrant Muslim intellectual climate.

Related information

Keywords

TRAKIMI, travelling knowledge, medieval Islam, Ash’arites, North Africa
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