Islamic Golden Age

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Expansion of the Islamic Caliphate, 622–750.
  Expansion under the Prophet Muhammad, 622-632
  Expansion during the Rashidun Caliphate, 632-661
  Expansion during the Umayyad Caliphate, 661-750
Abbasid coins during Al-Mu'tamid's reign.
Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.

The Islamic Golden Age starts with the Abbasid historical period beginning in the mid 8th century lasting until the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258.[1] 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.[2] 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" (also see ijtihad) that stressed the value of knowledge.[2] The rise of Islam was instrumental in uniting the warring Arab tribes into the most powerful empire of the time. The Abbasids claimed to belong to the same tribe to which the Prophet Muhammad belonged, and were for that reason considered holy. 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 (Bait-ul-Hikmat) at Baghdad,[3] where both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars sought to translate and gather all the world's knowledge into Arabic.[2]

The Arabs showed a strong interest in assimilating the scientific knowledge of the civilizations they had overrun. Many classic works of antiquity that might otherwise have been lost were translated into Arabic and Persian and later in turn translated into Turkish, Hebrew and Latin.[2] During this period, the Arab world was a collection of cultures; put together, synthesized and significantly, they advanced the knowledge gained from the ancient Roman, Persian, Greek, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, Byzantine and Phoenician civilizations.[2] The decimal system travelled from India to Arabia during this time and in 9th century it was popularized in the region by the Persian mathematician al-Khwarizmi. In the 10th and 11th centuries, Fatimid made many contributions, as described below, making their presence felt. Later, in the 12th century, a monk Abelard introduced it in Europe. They also began the use of a first form of algebra (without numerical exponents) in order to solve complex mathematical problems.


With a new, easier writing system and the introduction of paper, information was democratized to the extent that for probably for the first time in history, it became possible to make a living from simply writing and selling books.[4] The use of paper spread from China into Muslim regions in the eighth century, arriving in Spain (and then the rest of Europe) in the 10th century. It was easier to manufacture than parchment, less likely to crack than papyrus, and could absorb ink, making it difficult to erase and ideal for keeping records. Islamic paper makers devised assembly-line methods of hand-copying manuscripts to turn out editions far larger than any available in Europe for centuries.[5] It was from these countries that the rest of the world learned to make paper from linen.[6]

The government heavily patronized scholars. The money spent on the Translation Movement for some translations is estimated to be equivalent to about twice the annual research budget of the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council.[7] The best scholars and notable translators, such as Hunayn ibn Ishaq, had salaries that are estimated to be the equivalent of professional athletes today.[7]

Eastern Christian scholars (including ibn Ishaq) were important in preserving ancient Greek texts.[8] During the 4th through the 7th centuries, scholarly work in the Syriac and Greek languages was either newly initiated, or carried on from the Hellenistic period. Centers of learning and of transmission of classical wisdom included colleges such as the School of Nisibis and later the School of Edessa, and the renowned hospital and medical academy of Jundishapur; libraries included the Library of Alexandria and the Imperial Library of Constantinople; and other centers of translation and learning functioned at Merv, Salonika, Nishapur and Ctesiphon situated just south of what was later to become Baghdad.[9][10] The House of Wisdom was a library, translation institute and academy established in Abbasid-era Baghdad, Iraq.[11][12]


Islamic architecture in Alhambra, Al-Andalus in modern-day Spain

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.[citation needed] Ibn Sina and other speculative thinkers such as al-Kindi and al-Farabi combined Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism with other ideas introduced through Islam.[citation needed] Avicenna argued his famous "Floating Man" thought experiment, concerning self-awareness, where a man prevented of sense experience by being blindfolded and free falling would still be aware of his existence.[13]

Arabic philosophic literature was translated into Latin, and Ladino, contributing to the development of modern European philosophy. 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.[citation needed]


Many notable Islamic and non-Islamic scientists lived and practiced during the Golden Age.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Christians (particularly Nestorian Christians) contributed to the Arab Islamic Civilization during the Ummayads and the Abbasids by translating works of Greek philosophers to Syriac and afterwards to Arabic.[14][15] Nestorians played a prominent role in the formation of Arab culture,[16] with the Jundishapur school being prominent in the late Sassanid, Umayyad and early Abbasid periods.[17] Notably, eight generations of the Nestorian Bukhtishu family served as private doctors to caliphs and sultans between the eighth and eleventh centuries.[18][19]

Scientific method[edit]

Ibn Al-Haytham (Alhazen) was significant in the History of scientific method, particularly in his approach to experimentation,[20] and has been referred to by his modern biographer Bradley Steffens and others [21] as the "world’s first true scientist".


Girih tiles arranged in quasicrystal order is an example of the advancements that had taken place in the Islamic Golden Age.

In calculus, Alhazen discovered the sum formula for the fourth power, using a method readily generalizable to determine the sum for any integral power. He used this to find the volume of a paraboloid. He could find the integral formula for any polynomial without having developed a general formula.[22]

In geometry, Medieval Islamic art from the 15th century intuitively echoed principles of quasicrytalline geometry, which were discovered 500 years later.[23][24] The art uses symmetric polygonal shapes to create patterns that, without leaving gaps, can continue indefinitely without repeating its pattern, in a way that can be directly compared to what are now considered quasi-crystals.[25] It was previously thought Islamic design was done with straightedge rulers and compasses, but Lu and Steinhart now argue that the patterns were created by tessellating a small number of different tiles with complex shapes, evolving into what would now be described as quasi-periodic shapes by the fifteenth century.[24] The Swedish Academy, which granted Dan Shechtman the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of quasicrystals in molecular structures, stated, "Aperiodic mosaics, such as those found in the medieval Islamic mosaics of the Alhambra Palace in Spain and the Darb-i Imam Shrine in Iran, have helped scientists understand what quasicrystals look like at the atomic level".[25]

In trigonometry, Ibn Muʿādh al-Jayyānī introduced the general Law of sines in his The book of unknown arcs of a sphere in 11th century. This formula relates the lengths of the sides of an arbitrary triangle (not just limited to right triangles) to the sines of its angles.[26]


A manuscript written during the Abbasid Era.


In a discussion broadcast by ABC the paleontologist and practicing Muslim Gary Dargan said that al-Jāḥiẓ had made observations that described evolution: "Animals engage in a struggle for existence; for resources, to avoid being eaten and to breed. Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming into new species. Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to offspring."[27]


The eye according to Hunain ibn Ishaq. From a manuscript dated circa 1200.

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 India, Greece, Persia, and Rome. For Islamic scholars, Galen, Mankah, Sustura, and Hippocrates were pre-eminent authorities.[28] Islamic scholars translated their voluminous writings from Syriac, Greek and Sanskrit 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)



Hospitals in this era were the first to require medical diplomas to license doctors.[29] In the medieval Islamic world, hospitals were built in most major cities; in Cairo for example, the Qalawun hospital had a staff that included physicians, pharmacists, and nurses.

Medical facilities traditionally closed each night, but by the 10th century laws were passed to keep hospitals open 24 hours a day and hospitals were forbidden to turn away patients who were unable to pay.[30] Eventually, charitable foundations called waqfs were formed to support hospitals, as well as schools.[30] This money supported free medical care for all citizens.[30]

The first institutions for the care of mentally ill people were also established.[31]


The Guinness World Records recognizes the University of Al Karaouine, founded in 859, as the world's oldest degree-granting university.[32]

Commerce and travel[edit]

Introductory summary overview map from al-Idrisi's 1154 world atlas (note that South is at the top of the map).

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.[33]



Marquetry and tile-top table from the year 1560.

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]


The Great Mosque of Kairouan (also known as the Mosque of Uqba), founded in 670, dates in its present state from the 9th century; it is one of the masterpieces of Islamic architecture.[34] The Great Mosque of Kairouan is located in the city of Kairouan, in Tunisia.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul
Isometric laser scan data image of the Bab al-Barqiyya Gate in the 12th century Ayyubid Wall. This fortified gate was constructed with interlocking volumes that surrounded the entrant in such a way as to provide greater security and control than typical city wall gates.

The Great Mosque of Kairouan (in Tunisia), the ancestor of all the mosques in the western Islamic world,[35] 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.[36] 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.[35]

The Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq was completed in 847. It combined the hypostyle architecture of rows of columns supporting a flat base, above which a huge spiralling minaret was constructed.

The beginning of construction of the Great Mosque at Cordoba in 785 marking the beginning of Islamic architecture in Spain and Northern Africa. 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.

Many traces of Fatimid architecture exist in Cairo today, the most defining examples include the Al Azhar University and the Al Hakim mosque.

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.



Trade Routes inherited by the Muslim civilization were ruined by invading Crusaders, Mongols and the Portuguese. According to Ibn Khaldun such invasions ruined economies and caused a rise in banditry and piracy.

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.[37]

Mongolian invasions[edit]

A Seljuq, Shatranj (Chess) set, glazed fritware, 12th century.

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.[38] 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.

Opposing view[edit]

The issue of Islamic civilization being a misnomer has been raised by a number of recent scholars, including the secular Iranian historian, 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 history had an official religion, normally, their achievements are not ascribed 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Islamic Radicalism and Multicultural Politics. Taylor & Francis. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-136-95960-8. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Vartan Gregorian, "Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith", Brookings Institution Press, 2003, pg 26–38 ISBN 0-8157-3283-X
  3. ^ Medieval India, NCERT, ISBN 81-7450-395-1
  4. ^ "In Our Time - Al-Kindi,Hugh Kennedy". 28 June 2012. Retrieved May 18, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Islam's Gift of Paper to the West". 2001-12-29. Retrieved 2014-04-11. 
  6. ^ "Kevin M. Dunn, ''Caveman chemistry : 28 projects, from the creation of fire to the production of plastics'', Universal-Publishers, 2003, page 166". Retrieved 2014-04-11. 
  7. ^ a b "In Our Time - Al-Kindi,James Montgomery". 28 June 2012. Retrieved May 18, 2013. 
  8. ^ Ferguson, Kitty Pythagoras: His Lives and the Legacy of a Rational Universe Walker Publishing Company, New York, 2008, (page number not available – occurs toward end of Chapter 13, "The Wrap-up of Antiquity"). "It was in the Near and Middle East and North Africa that the old traditions of teaching and learning continued, and where Christian scholars were carefully preserving ancient texts and knowledge of the ancient Greek language."
  9. ^ Kaser, Karl The Balkans and the Near East: Introduction to a Shared History p. 135.
  10. ^ Yazberdiyev, Dr. Almaz Libraries of Ancient Merv Dr. Yazberdiyev is Director of the Library of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat.
  11. ^ Hyman and Walsh Philosophy in the Middle Ages Indianapolis, 3rd edition, p. 216
  12. ^ Meri, Josef W. and Jere L. Bacharach, Editors, Medieval Islamic Civilization Vol.1, A - K, Index, 2006, p. 451
  13. ^ "In Our Time: Existence". 8 November 2007. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  14. ^ Hill, Donald. Islamic Science and Engineering. 1993. Edinburgh Univ. Press. ISBN 0-7486-0455-3, p.4
  15. ^ Brague, Rémi. The Legend of the Middle Ages. p. 164. ISBN 9780226070803. Retrieved 11 Feb 2014. 
  16. ^ Britannica, Nestorian
  17. ^ The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 22:2 Mehmet Mahfuz Söylemez, The Jundishapur School: Its History, Structure, and Functions, p.3.
  18. ^ Bonner, Bonner; Ener, Mine; Singer, Amy (2003). Poverty and charity in Middle Eastern contexts. SUNY Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-7914-5737-5. 
  19. ^ Ruano, Eloy Benito; Burgos, Manuel Espadas (1992). 17e Congrès international des sciences historiques: Madrid, du 26 août au 2 septembre 1990. Comité international des sciences historiques. p. 527. ISBN 978-84-600-8154-8. 
  20. ^ Toomer, G. J. (December 1964), "Review: Ibn al-Haythams Weg zur Physik by Matthias Schramm", Isis 55 (4): 463–465, doi:10.1086/349914
  21. ^ Jim, Professor (2009-01-04). "BBC News". BBC News. Retrieved 2014-04-11. 
  22. ^ Katz, Victor J. (1995). "Ideas of Calculus in Islam and India". Mathematics Magazine 68 (3): 163–174. doi:10.2307/2691411. JSTOR 2691411.  [165–9, 173–4]
  23. ^ "Advanced geometry of Islamic art". 23 February 2007. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 
  24. ^ a b "Islamic tiles reveal sophisticated maths". 22 February 2007. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 

    Although they were probably unaware of the mathematical properties and consequences of the construction rule they devised, they did end up with something that would lead to what we understand today to be a quasi-crystal.

  25. ^ a b "Nobel goes to scientist who knocked down 'Berlin Wall' of chemistry". 16 October 2011. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 
  26. ^ "Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Muadh Al-Jayyani". University of St.Andrews. Retrieved 27 July 2013. 
  27. ^ Gary Dargan, Intelligent Design, Encounter, ABC.
  28. ^ Cyril Elgood, A Medical History of Persia and the Eastern Caliphate, (Cambridge University Press, 1951), p.3.
  29. ^ Alatas, Syed Farid (2006). "From Jami'ah to University: Multiculturalism and Christian–Muslim Dialogue". Current Sociology 54 (1): 112–32. doi:10.1177/0011392106058837. 
  30. ^ a b c Rise and spread of Islam. Gale. 2002. p. 419. ISBN 9780787645038. 
  31. ^ "The beginnings of modern medicine: the Caliphate". Retrieved June 17, 2013. 
  32. ^ The Guinness Book Of Records, Published 1998, ISBN 0-553-57895-2, P.242
  33. ^ "History of the caravel". Retrieved 2011-04-13. 
  34. ^ "Seyyed Hossein Nasr, ''Islamic art and spirituality'', SUNY Press, 1987, page 53". Retrieved 2014-04-11. 
  35. ^ a b "John Stothoff Badeau and John Richard Hayes, ''The Genius of Arab civilization: source of Renaissance''. Taylor & Francis. 1983. p. 104". Retrieved 2014-04-11. 
  36. ^ "Great Mosque of Kairouan (Qantara mediterranean heritage)". Retrieved 2014-04-11. 
  37. ^ Ahmad Y Hassan, Factors Behind the Decline of Islamic Science After the Sixteenth Century
  38. ^ "William Wager Cooper and Piyu Yue (2008), ''Challenges of the Muslim world: present, future and past'', Emerald Group Publishing, page 215". Retrieved 2014-04-11. 


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