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The Islamic Golden Age is an Abbasid historical period lasting until the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258. The Islamic Golden Age was inaugurated by the middle of the 8th century by the ascension of the Abbasid Caliphate and the transfer of the capital from Damascus to Baghdad. The Abbasids were influenced by the Qur'anic injunctions and hadith such as "the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr" that stressed the value of knowledge. During this period the Arab world became an intellectual center for science, philosophy, medicine and education; the Abbasids championed the cause of knowledge and established the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, where both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars sought to translate and gather all the world's knowledge into Arabic. Many classic works of antiquity that would otherwise have been lost were translated into Arabic and Persian and later in turn translated into Turkish, Hebrew and Latin. During this period the Arab world was a cauldron of cultures which collected, synthesized and significantly advanced the knowledge gained from the ancient Roman, Chinese, Indian, Persian, Egyptian, Greek, and Byzantine civilizations.
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Bernard Lewis wrote that Islamic governments inherited:
the knowledge and skills of the ancient Middle East, of Greece and of Persia. They added new and important innovations from outside, such as the manufacture of paper from China and decimal positional numbering from India.
The golden age of Islamic (and/or Muslim) art lasted from 750 to the 16th century, when ceramics (especially lusterware), glass, metalwork, textiles, illuminated manuscripts, and woodwork flourished. Manuscript illumination became an important and greatly respected art, and portrait miniature painting flourished in Persia. Calligraphy, an essential aspect of written Arabic, developed in manuscripts and architectural decoration. Calligraphy was developed because the Islamic religion did not allow paintings of human-beings.
Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sina played a major role in saving the works of Aristotle, whose ideas came to dominate the non-religious thought of the Christian and Muslim worlds. They would also absorb ideas from China, and India, adding to them tremendous knowledge from their own studies. Ibn Sina and other speculative thinkers such as al-Kindi and al-Farabi combined Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism with other ideas introduced through Islam.
Arabic philosophic literature was translated into Latin, and Ladino, contributing to the development of modern European philosophy. Sociologist-historian Ibn Khaldun, Carthage citizen Constantine the African who translated Greek medical texts and Al-Khwarzimi's collation of mathematical techniques were important figures of the Golden Age. The Islamic golden age also allowed for the flourishing of non-Muslim philosophers. The Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides who lived in Andalusia is an example.
Many notable Islamic and non-Islamic scientists lived and practiced during the Arab Golden Age. Among the achievements of Muslim scholars during this period were the development of trigonometry into its modern form (simplifying its practical application to calculate the phases of the moon), advances in optics, and advances in astronomy.
Medicine was a central part of medieval Islamic culture. Responding to circumstances of time and place, Islamic physicians and scholars developed a large and complex medical literature exploring and synthesizing the theory and practice of medicine. (from the National Library of Medicine digital archives)
Islamic medicine was built on tradition, chiefly the theoretical and practical knowledge developed in Greece, Rome, and Persia. For Islamic scholars, Galen and Hippocrates were pre-eminent authorities, followed by Hellenic scholars in Alexandria. Islamic scholars translated their voluminous writings from Greek into Arabic and then produced new medical knowledge based on those texts. In order to make the Greek tradition more accessible, understandable, and teachable, Islamic scholars ordered and made more systematic the vast and sometimes inconsistent Greco-Roman medical knowledge by writing encyclopaedias and summaries. (from the National Library of Medicine digital archives)
Pagan Latin and Greek learning was viewed suspiciously in Christian early medieval Europe, and it was through 12th century Arabic translations that medieval Europe rediscovered Hellenic medicine, including the works of Galen and Hippocrates. Of equal if not of greater influence in Western Europe were systematic and comprehensive works such as Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine, which were translated into Latin and then disseminated in manuscript and printed form throughout Europe. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries alone, The Canon of Medicine was published more than thirty-five times. (from the National Library of Medicine digital archives)
Apart from the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, navigable rivers were uncommon, so transport by sea was very important. Navigational sciences were highly developed, making use of a rudimentary sextant (known as a kamal). When combined with detailed maps of the period, sailors were able to sail across oceans rather than skirt along the coast. Muslim sailors were also responsible for reintroducing large three masted merchant vessels to the Mediterranean. The name caravel may derive from an earlier Arab boat known as the qārib.
During the Islamic Golden Age, travel to distant lands took place. The use of paper spread from China into the Muslim world in the eighth century CE, arriving in Spain (and then the rest of Europe) in the 10th century CE. It was easier to manufacture than parchment, less likely to crack than papyrus, and could absorb ink, making it ideal for making records and making copies of the Koran. "Islamic paper makers devised assembly-line methods of hand-copying manuscripts to turn out editions far larger than any available in Europe for centuries." It was from Islam that the rest of the world learned to make paper from linen. (from the digital archives of The National Library of Medicine)
The Great Mosque of Kairouan (in Tunisia), the ancestor of all the mosques in the western Islamic world, is one of the best preserved and most significant examples of early great mosques. Founded in 670, it dates in its present form largely from the 9th century. The Great Mosque of Kairouan is constituted of a three-tiered square minaret, a large courtyard surrounded by colonnaded porticos and a huge hypostyle prayer hall covered on its axis by two cupolas.
The Moors began construction of the Great Mosque at Cordoba in 785 marking the beginning of Islamic architecture in Spain and Northern Africa (see Moors). The mosque is noted for its striking interior arches. Moorish architecture reached its peak with the construction of the Alhambra, the magnificent palace/fortress of Granada, with its open and breezy interior spaces adorned in red, blue, and gold. The walls are decorated with stylized foliage motifs, Arabic inscriptions, and arabesque design work, with walls covered in glazed tiles.
Another distinctive sub-style is the architecture of the Mughal Empire in India in the 16th century. Blending Islamic and Hindu elements, the emperor Akbar constructed the royal city of Fatehpur Sikri, located 26 miles west of Agra, in the late 1500s.
The Crusades put the Islamic world under pressure by invasion in the 11th and 12th centuries, but a new and far greater threat came from the East during the 13th century: in 1206, Genghis Khan established a powerful dynasty among the Mongols of central Asia. During the 13th century, this Mongol Empire conquered most of the Eurasian land mass, including both China in the east and much of the old Islamic caliphate (as well as Kievan Rus) in the west. Hulagu Khan's destruction of Baghdad in 1258 is traditionally seen as the approximate end of the Golden Age. Later Mongol leaders, such as Timur, destroyed many cities, slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people, and did irrevocable damage to the ancient irrigation systems of Mesopotamia. Muslims in lands subject to the Mongols now faced northeast, toward the land routes to China, rather than toward Mecca.
Eventually, most of the Mongol peoples that settled in western Asia converted to Islam and in many instances became assimilated into various Muslim Turkic peoples. The Ottoman Empire rose from the ashes, but (according to the traditional view) the Golden Age was over.
There is little agreement on the precise causes of the decline, but in addition to invasion by the Mongols and crusaders and the destruction of libraries and madrasahs, it has also been suggested that political mismanagement and the stifling of ijtihad (independent reasoning) in the 12th century in favor of institutionalised taqleed (imitation) thinking played a part. Ahmad Y Hassan has rejected the thesis that lack of creative thinking was a cause, arguing that science was always kept separate from religious argument; he instead analyses the decline in terms of economic and political factors, drawing on the work of the 14th Century writer Ibn Khaldun.
The issue of Islamic Civilization being a misnomer has been raised by a number of recent scholars, including the secular Iranian historian, Dr. Shoja-e-din Shafa in his recent controversial books titled Rebirth (Persian: تولدى ديگر) and After 1400 Years (Persian: پس از 1400 سال), in which he questions whether it makes sense to talk of a category such as “Islamic science”. Shafa states that while religion has been a cardinal foundation for nearly all empires of antiquity to derive their authority from, it does not possess adequate defining factors to justify attribution in the development of science, technology, and arts to the existence and practice of a certain faith within a particular realm. While various empires in the course of mankind's history had an official religion, we do not normally ascribe their achievements to the faith they practiced. For example, the achievements of the Christian Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire and all subsequent European empires that advocated Christianity are not normally considered one civilization.
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