By Neenah Payne
How Arabs Revolutionized Western Culture explains that The House of Wisdom in Baghdad provided the information that allowed Europe to come out of the Dark Ages and laid the foundation for the European Renaissance.
“The Islamic Golden Age was a historic time of fascinating scientific, cultural, and economic thriving within the history of Islam, which dated from the 8th to 13th century (“Islamic Golden Age”). This period initially began during the reign of Caliph Harun al-Rashid (786 to 809 A.D.),and Muslims were able to establish one of the largest empires in history (“Islamic Golden Age | Islamic History”).
During the time, caliphs (Islamic successors and leaders) established the hub of the Abbasid caliphate (the third Islamic caliphate which succeeded Prophet Muhammed (phuh)) in Baghdad, Iraq (“The Golden Age Of Islam”). Within Baghdad, al-Rashid established the House of Wisdom; an intellectual center and public academy which increased in use during the reign of al-Rashid’s son, Al-Ma’mun.
This is due to Al-Ma’mun’s persistent effort in recruiting scholars of all faiths and backgrounds, greatly encouraging intellectual pursuit (“The Golden Age Of Islam”).
Specifically, Al-Ma’mun initiated the Translation Movement; where scholars would translate the works and findings of the world into the Arabic language. These findings originated from Ancient Mesopotamia, Rome, China, India, Persia, Egypt, Greece and Byzantine civilizations, making it to Baghdad through the sponsorship of Al-Ma’mun. Simultaneously, other Muslim dynasties, such as the Umayyads of Al-Andalusand the Fatimidsof Egypt, were rivalling Baghdad with their own major intellectual centers, such as Cairo and Cordoba. Those translations were kept in the House of Wisdom, including thousands of scholarly books of discoveries, inventions, philosophies, etc.
That being said, the Islamic empire was named the first civilization, bringing people as diverse as the Chinese, the Indians, Europeans, Africans, and people of the Middle East and North Africa together for the main purpose of academic evolvement (“Islamic Golden Age | Islamic History”).
What was discovered and invented during the Islamic Golden Age?
For a glimpse into the many innovations which were discovered at the time, I have provided the names of some of the most significant Islamic scholars of the time (also mentioned in the video), as well as their contributions to which allowed us to reach the level of scientific, economic, cultural, and religious knowledge we currently hold.
- Al-Razi: considered the greatest physician of the Islamic world or the ‘doctor’s doctor’, al-Razi was a celebrated alchemist, being the first to classify minerals into 6 categories and discovered chemicals such kerosene and alcohol. Al-Razi wrote over 200 books; half of them being medial books. His book, Kitab al-Mansouri, is amongst the most influential medical books of the medieval ages (“Top 20 Greatest Muslim Scientists And Their Inventions”).
Ibn al-Haytham: also called Alhazen in Latin and the ‘father of optics’, Ibn al-Haythm was a mathematician, physicist, and astronomer best known for his work in the field of optics, particularly visual perception. His book, Kitāb al-Manāẓir, proved that vision first bounces of an object before being directed to the eyes through various experiments. While conducting these experiments, he invented the world’s first camera, the pinhole camera. Al-Haytham’s work led to the development of eyeglasses, microscopes, and telescopes (“Top 20 Greatest Muslim Scientists And Their Inventions”).
Al-Khwarizmi: named the ‘father of algebra’, being the mathematician who introduced the world to the concept of algebra. As he worked in the House of Wisdom, he published his renowned book, Al-Kitāb al-mukhtaṣar fī ḥisāb al-jabrwal-muqābala, from which the term ‘algebra’ was derived (al-jabr). Furthermore, he introduced the Hindu-Arabic numbers (whole numbers) (“Top 20 Greatest Muslim Scientists And Their Inventions”).
Al-Zahrawi: born in modern-day Spain, Al-Zahrawi was as a surgeon, physician, and a chemist, considered to be the best surgeon of the middle ages or the ‘father of modern surgery’. His celebrated work, Kitab al-Tasrif, is a thirty-volume medical encyclopedia based on the operations he performed. This book became a standard textbook in Europe for over 500 years, after being translated into Latin. Al-Zahrawi was the first to describe abnormal pregnancy and hemophilia (a genetic disorder impairing the body’s ability to form blood clots). In addition, he introduced over 200 surgical instruments which have shaped the tools used in surgery today and emphasized the importance of a positive doctor-patient bond (“Al-Zahrawi”).
Al-Battani: nicknamed the ‘Ptolemy of Arabs’, Al-Battani was a mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer who introduced several trigonometric relations (sine, cosine, and tangent), and his book, Kitāb az-Zīj, greatly included the astronomy known today (“Al-Battani”). Al-Battani cataloged 489 starts and calculated a year to be 365 days, 5 hours, 46 minutes and 24 seconds; being only two minutes and 22 seconds off (99% accuracy)(“Top 20 Greatest Muslim Scientists And Their Inventions”).
There are many factors which led to the decline of innovation at the time. After Genghis Khan established a powerful dynasty amongst Mongols in 1206, the Mongol Empire (13th- 4th century) conquered most Eurasian lands, including most of the Islamic caliphate. In 1258, Khan’s son, Hulagu Khan, seized and destroyed Baghdad, burning down the House of Wisdom alongside it. This is considered to have marked the end of the Islamic Golden Age by numerous historians (“Islamic Golden Age”).
In addition, other invading forces and colonial powers played a role in the decline, such as the 11th century Crusades and the 15thcentury Reconquista. Other factors include political mismanagement (10th century onwards). Essentially, all stated political and economic factors to have caused the decline (“Islamic Golden Age | Islamic History”).
Are you curious what was going on in the rest of world while Europe was deep in the Dark Ages? While it’s considered the Middle Ages or Medieval Times in Europe, other parts of the world had been civilized and had been flourishing for centuries, even millennia. Let’s explore other parts of the world together.
“When you go out in the middle of the night and look at the seemingly billions of stars, you start to realize your position and scale in a massive and indifferent universe but how many of those stars can you name? I can name around five, Vega, Betelgeuse, Algol, Altair (yes, like Altair from Assassin’s Creed) and Fomalhaut. All of these names are actually Arabic. In fact, around two thirds of the stars that HAVE names, have Arabic names and we have one period of history to thank for that, the Islamic Golden Age.
When Petrarch decided to call the centuries between the fifth and the fifteen centuries the “Dark Age”, maybe he didn’t have any right to do so, maybe he did but during that time, as the Western civilization went away from scientific studies and into trying to decide how many angels would fit on the head of a pin, the Islamic World illuminated itself with research. They carried the baton from the Greeks and the Romans for the next thousand years till they handed it to the Renaissance-era scholars.
Without them, maybe you wouldn’t be watching this video. So, here’s to celebrating them!”
Along with Christianity, the Dark Ages saw the emergence of another religion — Islam. After emerging in the Near East, it spread across North Africa and into Europe in such a short time that there was originally no art. In more settled times, highly decorated mosques began to be built based on the prophet Mohammad’s own home.
Their architectural and scientific achievements, including the mapping of the stars, dwarfed anything existing in the western world. Januszczak visits the Dome of the Rock, desert palaces forgotten by modern Islam with their more sensual artwork, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun where it was believed Noah’s Ark landed, and the Mosque of Cordoba. He identifies the Nilometer used to measure the flood of the Nile and uses an astrolabe that Muslims used to find the direction of Mecca.
1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization takes readers on a journey through years of forgotten Islamic history to discover one thousand fascinating scientific and technological inventions still being used throughout the world today. Take a look at all of the discoveries that led to the great technological advances of our time; engineering, early medicinal practices, and the origins of cartography are just a few of the areas explored in this book.
1001 Inventions provides unique insight into a significant time period in Muslim history that has been looked over by much of the world. A time where discoveries were made and inventions were created that have impacted how Western civilization and the rest of the world lives today. The book will cover seven aspects of life relatable to everyone, including home, school, hospital, market, town, world and universe.
The Islamic Golden Age
The video below explains that when the Arabs learned from the Chinese how to make paper, it created an intellectual revolution because it replaced expensive parchment that was difficult to deal with. Scholars in Baghdad improved on the Hindu numbering system and spread it from the Middle East to Europe. Baghdad was a crossroads of knowledge filled with schools and libraries.
The House of Wisdom was a library, academy, and research institute that welcomed scholars from around the world to translate, preserve, and debate their works. It became the world’s largest library and the most important storage of knowledge since the Library of Alexandria with books in Arabic, Greek, Latin, Persian, Cyriac, Chinese, and Sanskrit. Many Greek texts survived only because of Arabic translations of them which made their way into Europe during the Renaissance.
The House of Wisdom brought together different scientific traditions from around the world. It was a multi-cultural empire obsessed with learning. The scholars didn’t just copy and translate books. They tested them, commented on them, and developed new ideas — like algebra and algorithms developed by Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi. Baghdad had the world’s first scientific observatory. That’s why so many stars in the Big Dipper have Arabic names. The thirst for knowledge sparked The Islamic Golden Age. We have gasoline, asphalt, and plastic because of the Arabs. Muslims paved their streets with asphalt in the early 13th century which wouldn’t be done in the West until 1838 in Paris.
Baghdad is home to 7 million people. This sprawling urban jungle is the second largest city in the Arab world after Cairo. But between the skyscrapers and honking cars, you can see remains of this city’s magnificent mediaeval past. This once Round City’s walls crumbled long ago. But a thousand years ago brilliant scientists, architects, writers, and merchants of different races and religions made massive contributions to the knowledge of humanity. Back when Paris and London were home to 20,000 people, over 1 Million Baghdadi’s lived here among canals, libraries, and palm trees. So, what is the history of Baghdad, what’s a House of Wisdom, and what does it all have to do with Mediaeval Robots trying to get people drunk?
How Islam Created The Modern World
In the Middle Ages, while Europe was mired in superstition and feudal chaos, Baghdad was the intellectual center of the world. It was there that an army of translators and scholars took the wisdom of the Greeks and combined it with their own cultural traditions to create a scientific, mathematical, and philosophical golden age.
Their accomplishments were staggering, including the development of modern medicine, chemistry, and algebra. Muslim scientists correctly calculated the circumference of the globe in the tenth century. Muslim musicians introduced the guitar and musical notation to the Europe. And Muslim philosophers invented the scientific method and paved the way for the Enlightenment.
At the dawn of the Renaissance, Christian Europe was wearing Persian clothes, singing Arab songs, reading Spanish Muslim philosophy and eating off Mamluk Turkish brassware. This is the story of how Muslims taught Europe to live well and think clearly. It is the story of how Islam created the Modern World.
Baghdad: The House of Wisdom
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq and the second-largest city in the Arab world after Cairo. It is located on the Tigris near the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon. In 762 CE, Baghdad was chosen as the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, and became its most notable major development project. Within a short time, the city evolved into a significant cultural, commercial, and intellectual center of the Muslim world. This, in addition to housing several key academic institutions, including the House of Wisdom, as well as a multiethnic and multi-religious environment, garnered it a worldwide reputation as the “Center of Learning”. The fields to which scholars associated with the House of Wisdom contributed include, but are not limited to, philosophy, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, and optics.
Baghdad was the largest city in the world for much of the Abbasid era during the Islamic Golden Age, peaking at a population of more than a million. The city was largely destroyed at the hands of the Mongol Empire in 1258, resulting in a decline that would linger through many centuries due to frequent plagues and multiple successive empires.
With the recognition of Iraq as an independent state (formerly the British Mandate of Mesopotamia) in 1932, Baghdad gradually regained some of its former prominence as a significant center of Arab culture, with a population variously estimated at 6 or over 7 million. Compared to its large population, it has a small area at just 673 square kilometers (260 sq mi).
The city has faced severe infrastructural damage due to the Iraq War, which began with the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and lasted until 2011, and the subsequent insurgency and renewed war that lasted until 2017, resulting in a substantial loss of cultural heritage and historical artifacts. During this period, Baghdad had one of the highest rates of terrorist attacks in the world. However, terrorist attacks are rare and have been declining since the territorial defeat of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq in 2017.
This is an aerial view of the former Republican Palace (foreground), which served as both the prime ceremonial palace used by Saddam Hussein and the Headquarters for the now defunct Iraqi Republican Guard. The Tigris River and the city of Baghdad, Baghdad Province, Iraq (IRQ), are seen in the background.
The fascinating video below discusses the founding of Islam and goes through its rapid spread across three continents in about 100 years. It explains the Arabs’ enormous influence on Europe through the House of Wisdom in Baghdad in Iraq. It ends with the destruction of the House of Wisdom by the Mongols.
The Arabs have been bringing knowledge of the ancient world to Europe since the 8th century. In the fields of medicine, mathematics, and philosophy, their scholars were far beyond their time and still affect our world today. For a long time, the Arabs were estranged, not united by one nation or leader. They had little in common but a shared language. This didn’t change until Mohammed ended polytheism, founded a new religion, and united all of the Arabic tribes in their faith in one God: Allah.
The History Of Baghdad: The Medieval World’s Greatest City
Baghdad is home to 7 million people. This sprawling urban jungle is the second largest city in the Arab world after Cairo. But between the skyscrapers and honking cars, you can see remains of this city’s magnificent mediaeval past. This once Round City’s walls crumbled long ago. But a thousand years ago, brilliant scientists, architects, writers, and merchants of different races and religions made massive contributions to the knowledge of humanity. Back when Paris and London were home to 20,000 people, over 1 million Baghdadi’s lived here among canals, libraries, and palm trees. So, what is the history of Baghdad, what’s a House of Wisdom, and what does it all have to do with Mediaeval Robots trying to get people drunk?
Along with Christianity, the Dark Ages saw the emergence of another religion — Islam. After emerging in the Near East, it spread across North Africa and into Europe in such a short time that there was originally no art. In more settled times, highly decorated mosques began to be built based on the prophet Mohammad’s own home. Their architectural and scientific achievements, including the mapping of the stars, dwarfed anything existing in the western world.
Januszczak visits the Dome of the Rock, desert palaces forgotten by modern Islam with their more sensual artwork, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun where it was believed Noah’s Ark landed, and the Mosque of Cordoba. He identifies the Nilometer used to measure the flood of the Nile and uses an astrolabe that Muslims used to find the direction of Mecca.
Neenah Payne writes for Activist Post
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