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How to lead even in Defeat
By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

In 1827 A.D., the Mediterranean island of Sicily became part of the growing Islamic empire. For nearly three hundred years it remained under Islamic rule. Then, in 1090, it was reconquered by the Normans. 

The founder of the Norman kingdom of Sicily was Roger II (1095-1154). In 1110 he succeeded his brother as count of Sicily and in 1130 was crowned king. Although he belonged to a nation of conquerors, and it was the Muslims whom he had defeated, he still retained a high respect for Arabs and Islam. His coronation mantle was designed by a Muslim artist, and had Arabic inscriptions woven into it. After his coronation, he decided that he would like to have a chart showing the full extent of the Norman empire. He chose a Muslim cartographer, Al-Idrisi, to design this chart, for he was the greatest expert in the field. Al-Idrisi then went on to prepare an atlas for the king, consisting of seventy maps and extensive geographical data. Originally written in Arabic, the first European edition of this atlas was published in 1619.

The selection of Al-Idrisi for the mammoth task of preparing maps of the whole of the known world shows, as the historian J.H. Kramers has pointed out, that at that time the intellectual and academic superiority of Muslims was accepted by one and all. Roger II certainly appreciated the worth of Muslim scholars: he encouraged and sponsored them in their work and—in the words of one historian —"made Sicily a major meeting place for Christian and Arab scholars."

Though defeated on the field of battle, Muslims continued their intellectual and academic dominance, even in the court of their conqueror. This was because at that time Muslims were far and wide the most advanced race in almost every field of knowledge. The legacy of Islam lives in European languages, which retain many words of Arabic origin. 

Muslims today complain of their political, economic and military subjection to non-Muslim nations. They think that they can take back, by protest and militancy, what has been seized from them. But the case of Roger II of Sicily—his respect for Muslim scholars and their continued intellectual domination even after military defeat—shows that the solution to the problems of the Muslims in the modern age lies in their cultivating technological capability, and establishing dominance in the field of modern scientific knowledge. This can be achieved—not by protests and militant "fundamentalism", but by earnest academic endeavour alone; it can be acquired by seeking to give to the world, rather than just take from it. 

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