The First Information Society

Islamic CivilizationLooking back a thousand years, to a time when glorious civilizations in the Mesopotamia and Southern Spain spread their knowledge and scientific discoveries around the world. These powerful and well advanced societies were not only exporting culture, science and literature to the world but were one of the most scientifically advanced and civilized nations in the world. And with it they had also given the world a glimpse of the future. The future of Information Society, an age that has just reached us in 21st century.

At the turn of the first millennium, while the European societies feuded among themselves over petty matters and their cities were still nothing more than ghettos, the Islamic cities like Baghdad, and Damascus in Middle East and Cordoba, and Grenada in Southern Spain boasted a million in habitants who had access to clean water, integrated sewerage system, public baths paved roads and lighted streets at night. They were also amassing a huge wealth of knowledge. Their historians and scientists were translating and preserving scrolls, tablets and ancient languages into the lingua franca of the time, Arabic. These were not only studied but debated at their huge universities by thousands of students enrolled in them. There were no floggings or imprisonments if your scientific discoveries shook the norms of the society. Nor were you put to death for presenting a radical new idea. Instead, the knowledge was free to share with anyone who wanted it regardless of their religion, caste, creed or racial background. A copy of the amassed knowledge was also preserved in large public libraries which were accessible to everyone. It was even complied into an easy to read and carry form. A novel concept of that time called, the “Book”. Yes, it were these societies that gave us the current form of the book, where scrolls and mud tablets were replaced by neatly packed books as know them today. The streets of Cordoba and Baghdad were lined with 100 of book sellers that would be selling thousands of books from all corners of the world. This was a time, when Britain, is said to have no more than a dozen books locked up in a monastery and only accessible to the chosen few.

Had it not been for the Arabic Scholars and historians, today the world would remember little of Homer, Aristotle and other great ancient writers. The Muslims, when they conquered any society, made it a point to preserve their local culture, document their sciences and knowledge and share it with the rest of the world. With this knowledge sharing we see Arabic Numerals (the current number system) to be adopted by the world, the birth of new mathematics including Algebra, and sciences like Chemistry and health sciences including the concept of hospitals.

Sadly, today, not much survives of those libraries and book stores and that vast knowledge of information that they amassed is all gone. The Mongol invasion of Baghdad in thirteenth century not only destroyed every sign of civilization but burned every book that they could find along with the inhabitants of the city. While the conquest of Isabella and Ferdinand of Muslim Spain brought an abrupt end to free thinking, learning and knowledge sharing which sadly was replaced by crippling culture of Spanish Inquisition and supreme power of the Church over all mattes including science.

The Muslims who fled Spain made their way to Africa. And when they left many chose to take with them their precious libraries. Recent search of ancient books have been found in the Sahara desert where they have remained buried for centuries. Some people had brought with them as many as 700 books to Africa from their personal collections.

Arabian Nights (from where we get the tales of Sinbad, Aladdin and Ali Baba) , Hatim Tai, Umro Ayyar, Amir Hamza and many other original fiction from the Middle Eastern survives to this day and translated into many languages including Urdu. These enduring tales that go on forever are compiled into multiple volumes is just the tip of the ice berg of knowledge that was being created a thousand years ago. It was an age which gave birth to the first mass fiction novels. Sadly, not much survives today. And what we have is not yet translated into multiple languages.

It would be wonderful if somehow we can start a search for the ancient books (the first of its kind in the world) and scan them digitally to be shared with the modern societies. Only then will we appreciate the true power of the ancients who were extremely advanced and civil of their time. True they did not have computers, but they were discovering and inventing the mathematics which we use today to make our computers and machines churn our wonderful 21st century technology. We owe it to them to where we are today.

So lets discover the past and search out that knowledge and share it with the world. You never know what we may find. And that is the beauty of discovery.