The religious vision of pan-Islamic civilization that appears to drive (Turkish President) Erdogan’s attempts to dismantle the secular constitution of Turkey, a document of which many Turks are still very proud, does not stand up to any kind of scrutiny. In historical terms, there is vanishingly little evidence of Islamic civilization to begin with. Most of the great achievements attributed to Islamic cultures have been those of conquered peoples, or dhimmis, to use the theological term, whose work has been co-opted by their conquerors. Hagia Sophia is a case in point. The dome that was so ingeniously designed by Anthemius and Isidore has been used as the model for mosque architecture ever since. Indeed, when Caliph Abd el-Malik commissioned the Dome of the Rock, now considered one of the great masterpieces of Islamic art, to be built in Jerusalem, he employed Byzantine architects and craftsmen, which is probably why the structure looks so much like the same city’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. “To the extent that Arab elites acquired a sophisticated culture, they learned it from their subject peoples,” the sociologist Rodney Stark has noted. The much-vaunted “Arabic” numeral system is in fact Hindu in origin, based on the concept of zero, which had theretofore eluded the Muslim overlords of Hindu populations. The earliest scientific text that appeared in Arabic, the holy language of Islam, was translated by a Jewish physician from the work of a Syrian Christian priest in Alexandria, which would have surprised no Arabian Muslim of that time. As Stark notes, “‘Muslim’ or ‘Arab’ medicine was in fact Nestorian Christian medicine; even the leading Muslim and Arab physicians were trained at the enormous Nestorian medical center at Nisibus in Syria.” It was the Nestorian Christian Johannitius who collected and supervised the translation of Hippocrates, Galen, Plato, and Aristotle into Arabic. Furthermore, a Muslim writer of the eleventh century, Nasir-i Khrusau, reported that “the scribes here in Syria, as is the case of Egypt, are all Christians. . . . It is [also] most usual for the physicians . . . to be Christians.”

There are countless examples of this dynamic, and they have been chronicled exhaustively by Stark and historians such as Donald R. Hill. The idea of Islamic civilization, which regularly threatens the security of Israel, the West, and anyone unfortunate enough to live under the rule of men such as Erdogan, resembles nothing so much as a great act of intellectual-property theft. Read more»

CAMERON HILDITCH, “The Second Islamic Conquest of Hagia Sophia,” National Review July 15, 2020.