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Tag: Persia

2
June 15, 2010 Posted by tahir in Travel

Riches in Afghanistan

Four years ago I travelled back and forth to Afghanistan on my quest to search for the hidden treasure of Ahmed Shah Durani. The great golden hoard, that originated in Mughal India, is valued today at about $500 billion. The thought of the treasure kept me going through days and nights of considerable hardship, and during the sixteen days I spent along with my film crew in a Pakistani torture jail. I would find myself thinking how a treasure such as this, an absolutely immense sum, could help rebuild Afghanistan. Never could I imagine that the shattered country of my ancestors might be given another opportunity to realise extraordinary wealth. But, it seems that it is… The New York Times reported June 13th, of colossal mineral reserves in Afghanistan, worth as much as $1 trillion. That makes the treasure of Ahmed Shah pale in comparison. The question, of course, is where any of it will ever be mined and if any other funds will reach those who need help.

The NYT article can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/world/asia/14minerals.html?emc=eta1


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Medical Breakthroughs

Medical breakthroughs and developments during this golden age are too extensive to list here. But they included:

1.    The first inoculations against smallpox.

2.    The existence of micro-organisms, especially bacteria, centuries before the invention of the microscope.

3.    Dentistry, and pioneering work on dental fillings (although god help some of the patients, for example, Ibn Sina suggested that arsenic be boiled in oil and used to fill teeth!).

4.    Caesarean sections and pain control.

5.    Antiseptics – from tenth century purified alcohol (an Arab discovery itself) was being applied with lint dressings to wounds.

6.    Cataract surgery, which used the first hollow metallic hypodermic needles and glass suction tubes in about 1000 AD.

7.    Hundreds of steel medical tools, such as scalpels, were pioneered (a result of sword-making breakthroughs, Damascene steel).

8.    The first psychiatric hospital, built in Baghdad in 705 AD.

9.    Music Therapy, including 10th century Persian music theorist al-Farabi, whose book Meanings of the Intellect, discussed the effect of music on the soul.

10.And for the first time specific diseases were isolated and studied, including diabetes, meningitis, and cancer, as well as rabies, smallpox, and forms of plague.



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The Starting Point

The point where I want to begin the story is the moment at which paper — that most magical aids to the spread of learning — was acquired by the Arabs. The second of the two great Islamic Caliphates, the Abbasids, ruled from 750 AD (after overthrowing the Umayyads), with their capital at Baghdad — having moved from the Umayyad capital of Damascus. Baghdad in the ninth century, a city of 800,000 souls, second city in the world to only Constantinople. It was ruled by the Abbasid Caliph Harun ar-Rachid.

The mixture of people in the city, from so many cultures – Europe, North Africa, Asia Minor and Central Asia – created a blend of cultures as it had never really been known before. And they could all communicate through Arabic, the lingua franca of Islam, all equal under this new faith.

Harun, who’s known more for his Alf Layla wa Layla, ‘1001 Nights’, set about accumulating books in huge a private library. He loved poetry, music, learning. Whenever he heard of learned people, he invited them to his court. The idea of wisdom being rewarded spread, and scholars made their way from the corners of the growing Islamic world to Baghdad.

In March 809 Harun ar-Rachid was succeeded by his son Al-Amin, (but he was killed four years later, in 813, after going against the order of succession left by his father). His half-brother, al-Ma’mun, became Caliph, and it’s with him that our story really begins…

Like his father, Ma’mun was fascinated by learning, and was eager to know how the world and the universe worked. He built up the library founded by his father, and brought together scholars from every corner of the world, from known every religion, speaking every language. He dispatched messengers to bring to Baghdad every book, document, and sensible man in existence… and bring it back to his centre of learning, which became known as Bayt al Hikma… The House of Wisdom.



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April 9, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

The Book of the Book IX

Yasavi of  the Masters Transmits it

Ahmed Yasavi had a history of the content of the Book of the Book bound in a volume of over two hundred pages, on whose cover was written: “If the thickness of books determines the value of their content, this one should issue really be even thicker.”
Since Ahmed Yasavi, of the masters of Central Asia, this story has been transmitted for more than seven hundred years.
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April 8, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

The Book of the Book VIII

Yasavi Buys it for Twelve Gold Pieces


When Ahmed Yasavi was a student, he bought a copy of the Book from Mali, paying two gold pieces.
 The following day he returned, and gave only another ten pieces of gold, saying: “What I have learned from the Book is worth more than this. But since I have no more money I will give it all to you, in token of my valuing this lesson is equal to my entire possessions.”…



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April 7, 2009 Posted by tahir in Books

The Book of the Book VII

Mali Saves the Book


The Barbarian had the book had destroyed, but his interpreter, whose name was Mali, remembered its contents. It is through his work with its teaching was passed down.
Mali opened a shop.
He kept copies of the Book of the Book on view, for sale. Nobody was allowed to look inside until he had paid two gold pieces for a copy. Some learned the lesson of the book, and came back to study with Mali.  others wanted their money returned, but Mali always said:
“I cannot give back your money until you return me what you have learned from the transaction, as well as the book itself.”
Some who preferred mere appearance to inner content, called Mali a deceiver.
But Mali told them: “You were, all along, seeking deceivers so you will assume that you have found one in anyone.”…



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April 6, 2009 Posted by tahir in Books

The Book of the Book VI

The Guarding and Theft of the Book


The king was so impressed by the stranger’s story that he ordered the story to be inscribed and bound in a large book. This was placed in a niche in his Treasury and guarded by armed men, day and night. The aged king died and a barbarian conqueror devastated his realm.
Breaking into the Treasury, this man saw the book in its place of honour and said to himself: “This must be the source of the country’s happiness, wisdom and prosperity.” He said aloud: “Let the book be taken down and read out to me in our own language.”
But this conqueror, for all his physical power, was an ignoramus; he could make no sense of the words in the book…


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April 5, 2009 Posted by tahir in Books

The Book of the Book V

 The Interpretation of the Dervish


The dispirited students, going to rest in a caravanserai, came upon a dervish, and told him of their perplexity.
He said: “What did you learn from the scholars?”
The travellers said: “Nothing. They could tell us nothing.”
The dervish said:  “On the contrary, they told you everything. They showed that the book was not to be understood in the manner I assumed by you, or by them. You may think that they lacked depth. But you,  in your turn, lack sense. The book was teaching something through the incident itself, while you remained asleep.”
But the students found this explanation too subtle to their minds, and the only person who maintained the knowledge of the block was a casual visitor to the caravanserai, who overheard the interchange which I have just repeat to you, O King and Dervish!”
The stranger dressed in green then stood up and walked away…


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April 4, 2009 Posted by tahir in Books

The Book of the Book IV

The Opinion of the Scholars


The successors to the sage took the book to the most famous scholars of their time, saying:
 “We have this book, and seek your interpretation. It belongs to such and such a sage, the wonder of  the age, now dead.
This is all he left behind, and we are unable to fathom its mystery.”
At first the scholars were delighted to see a work of such size, bearing the name of its former owner, whom they knew to have been revered by multitudes of people.
They said:
“We will of course give you the real interpretation.”
But when they found that the book was all but empty, and what words there were made no sense to them, they first sneered and then shouted at the students, driving them away in fury.
They believed that they had been victims of a hoax. That was a time when scholars were limited and literal-minded.
 They could not imagine a book which could do something, only a book which said something…


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April 3, 2009 Posted by tahir in Books

The Book of the Book III

Contrary to Expectation


A wise man, the wonder of his age, taught his disciples from a seemingly inexhaustible store of wisdom.
He attributed all his knowledge to a thick tome which was kept in a place of honour in his room.
This sage would allow nobody to open the volume.
When he died, those who had surrounded him, regarding themselves as his heirs, ran to open the book, anxious to possess what it contained.
They were surprised, confused and disappointed when they found that there was writing on only one page.
They became even more bewildered and then annoyed when they tried to penetrate the meaning of the phrase which met their eyes.
It was: “when you realise the difference between the container and the content, you will have knowledge.”…



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