Introduction to Arab and Islamic Civilization Abir Chaaban LIU The Golden Age of Islam Muslims in History
The University of Calgary the Islamic World Until 1600 http:// www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/islam/index.html
Cleveland, William L. The Development of Islamic Civilization in A History of the Modern Middle East (Third Edition) Part I pp. 5-57 (Westview, 2004)
Philip Hitti The Arabs: A Short History, ( Princeton University Press: 1949).
Tarabay, Ali and Wakim, Jamal Arabs and Muslims in History (
What were the characteristics of Arab and Islamic civilization? In your opinion how did these characteristics support in the development of the Arts and Sciences. In your answer you should attend to the factors instituted by each state leading to the Golden Age and the achievements of Muslims in the Arts and the Sciences.
The Golden Age
In the ninth century two imperial powers stood opposite to each other Charlemagne in the West and Harun al-Rashid in the East.
Harun al-Rashid and Charlemagne were allies they exchanged letters of friendly relations.
During the reign of Harun al-Rashid Baghdad was the world center of wealth and international significance, standing against its rival of Byzantium.
Rashid’s era witnessed a the core of the development of Byzantine and Sasanide civilizations into a new awakening. This awakening was due in large measure to foreign influences.
The Golden Age
The Abbasid could rival their pre-Islamic predecessors in carrying and developing a civilization that was the most superior of its time.
Arab Muslims, who brought with him from the desert a keen curiosity to gathering knowledge adopted Aramaic civilization influenced by the Greeks in Syria and Persian civilization in Iraq.
The Arabic reading world was in position of the chief philosophical works of Aristotle, of chief Neo-Platonic Commentators and of most of the medical writings of Galen, as well as Persian and Indian sciences works.
This development was enhanced by The Caliphs generous patronage of artists and artisans of all kinds.
Economic prosperity and intellectual exchange was enhanced by the trade rout established by the great 7,000-mile Silk Road from Xi’an [Sian], China to Baghdad—then the two largest cities in the world—helped provide the wealth.
The ensuing literary florescence was promoted by the capture of a group of Chinese papermakers at the Battle of Talas in 751.
The Abbasid encouraged translation from pre-Islamic languages, particularly Middle Persian, Greek, and Syriac.
This activity provided a channel through which older thought could enter and be reoriented by Islamic societies.
In the field of mathematics, al-Khwārizmī, from whose name the word algorithm is derived, creatively combined Hellenistic and Sanskritic concepts.
The word algebra derives from the title of his major work, Kitāb al-jabr wa al-muqābalah (“The Book of Integration and Equation”).
Encyclopedia Britanica “The Abbasides”
Tolerance and Pluralism
The Abbasids ability to expand and develop the Arab Islamic Civilization was mainly due to the principle of tolerance leading to the development of a pluralistic society.
The State was secular administering Jews, Christians, non believers, Zoroastrians and Muslims.
In Medina the Prophet started this process by making a defense alliance with the Jewish tribes that supported him. ( Mithaq al-Madina). The Abbasid followed this example.
Jewish scholars as masters of Arabic, Hebrew and Latin languages were seminal in the translation process.
Characteristics of Islamic Civilization
Arabic Language (Umayyad and Arabization)
Islam ( Umar Conquest and spread of Koranic Education)
Tolerance ( Abbasid and equality with non-Muslims)
Translation ( Umar, Abbasid, Umayyads)
Paper and Education ( Islam and Abbasid)
When studying Islamic art we should keep in mind that the presence of Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and other artists in such regions was instrumental in developing the civilizations of the Sasanide and the Greek Byzantine Empires that were conquered by the Arabs .
Not all Islamic art had a specifically religious purpose, unique to the Islamic faith. However, there are certain trends in the art of the Islamic world that distinguish it from the art of other regions, and which signify the influence of the Islamic faith and world outlook on artistic work.
One of the most important distinguishing features of Islamic art is the absence of iconography in religious contexts
The most important building in the Islamic world was the mosque, followed by the royal palace.
Many early mosques were in fact converted Christian churches or Zoroastrian fire temples in the newly acquired Islamic lands.
Intricate tile designs on the Masjid-i Shah in Isfahan Courtesy of IslamiCity
Intricate tile designs on the Masjid-i Shah in Isfahan Courtesy of IslamiCity
From the Greek word for "beautiful writing," calligraphy was considered the highest art form in Islam, for several reasons.
Muslims believe that God used the Arabic language to recite the Qur'an to Muhammad, and for that reason, it has a spiritual meaning for Muslims.
Using words as artistry avoided the problem of using pictorial images. Whereas decorative writing all but disappeared in Europe with the advent of the printing press, the Islamic world retained it as an art form long after the necessity of writing longhand was removed by modern technology.
Although the Arabic language and script existed before Islam, the spread of the religion also facilitated the spread of the language throughout the new Muslim lands.
Arabic became a basic component of Islamic culture, mostly because it was the language of the Qur'an.
Caliph Abd al-Malik (r. 685-705) decreed that Arabic should be the administrative language of the empire.
There were many Muslim regions, of course, in which Arabic was not the native language. Persian was the major non-Arabic language spoken in the Islamic world, and in the 7th century it had its own script.
The Persian language, also known as Farsi, added four letters to the Arabic script to represent sounds that existed in Persian, but not in Arabic.
The Turks later also added another letter to render a distinctly Turkish sound, although modern Turkish no longer uses the Arabic script. The Arabic script is still used to write the Kazakh, Uzbek, and Tajik languages in Central Asia, as well as Urdu in present-day Pakistan.
Islamic art discouraged the use of pictorial imagery, opting instead to use such decorative arts as calligraphy or geometric shapes, painting in the Muslim world was not completely devoid of human and animal images.
The distinguishing feature of Islamic pictorial art was that it was secular.
The earliest pictures occurred in illustrated manuscripts, particularly those relating to science. Medical books featured drawings of the human body, for example, which was acceptable because it did not have any religious connotations.
Although some theologians still disapproved, pictorial art grew in popularity as Islamic rulers commissioned artists to develop new ways to portray their world. Some of this art featured battle scenes or the enemy, the monarchs themselves, musicians, dancers, or animals. In places such as Egypt, Iran, and Central Asia, much of the early Islamic pictorial art was adopted from pre-Islamic artistic traditions.
The Fatimid and Seljuk dynasties began painting ordinary people in the 12th and 13th centuries, and Persian miniature painting began under the patronage of the Il-Khanate in the 14th century.
The Il-Khans paid particular attention to patronizing the arts, in an attempt to repair some of the damage their invasion in the early 13th century had caused.
With its Mongol roots, the Il-Khanate opened the door for Chinese artistic influences to travel to Iran, which can be seen in the Persian art of that period.
The height of Persian miniature painting occurred in Timurid Iran, when influences from China and India came together to produce a distinct style.
The tradition of high-quality Persian painting continued under the Safavids, but, as in other regions of the Islamic world, depended on the patronage of the monarch.
When Shah Tahmasp I withdrew his support in the 1540s, the artists at his court spread to surrounding centers, such as Bukhara and northern India.
Mughal painting developed from these migrant artists; Akbar even encouraged mixing Persian and Indian art, as a means of promoting goodwill between Muslims and Hindus.
Mughal art was more humanistic than decorative, and figures were portrayed in a realistic, rather than fantasy, form. In the Ottoman Empire, the court commissioned painting of distinctly Ottoman events, such as battles and festivals, and placed almost all works in the Imperial Library in Istanbul.
In the West, Persian carpets are perhaps the best known Islamic art form.
Highly valued in the West since they were first introduced by Italian merchants in the 14th century, they were sometimes used to wrap relics in church treasuries.
Carpet-weaving is not a specifically Persian enterprise, nor was it even the Islamic world that first began the practice. The exact origin of carpet-weaving is unknown, carpet fragments dating back to the 5th century BCE have been found in Central Asia.
It was practiced in that region long before the Islamic conquests of the 7th century, probably by nomadic peoples who used the carpets to line their tents and cover their horses. The fact that they were nomadic likely helped spread the practice.
Persian manuscripts from the time of the Sassanid ruler Khusrau I also describe carpet-weaving. As the Islamic world expanded, the art became common not only in Central Asia and Iran, but also in Asia Minor, the Caucasus, northern India, and Islamic Spain.
Islam and Knowledge
Throughout the Qur'an one can find a strong emphasis on the value of knowledge in the Islamic faith.
The Qur'an encourages Muslims to learn and acquire knowledge, stemming from, but not limited to, the Muslim emphasis on knowing the unity of God.
Because Muslims believe that God is all-knowing, they also believe that the human world's quest for knowledge leads to further knowing of God.
Muslims must thus pursue knowledge not only of God's laws, but of the natural world as well, extending the frontiers of human knowledge.
Islam and Knowledge
Unlike the revealed knowledge of the Qur'an, Muslims believe that human knowledge is not perfect, and requires constant exploration and advancement through research and experimentation.
According to the Qur'an, learning and gaining knowledge is the highest form of religious activity for Muslims, and the one which is most pleasing to God.
Islam and Knowledge
In the medieval period of Islam, from about the 9th to the 14th centuries, the Muslims led the world in their pursuit of knowledge.
The Islamic world at this time was the most scientifically advanced region of the globe, while also making important contributions in philosophy and literature.
Part of the Muslim advantage came from the synthesis of ideas from diverse cultures such as the Greek, Persian, Egyptian, Indian, and Chinese, when the Islamic empire expanded in the 7th and 8th centuries.
The Muslims made a priority of translating scholarly books from other cultures into Arabic and using them in developing Muslim ideas.
The Muslims took Aristotle's philosophy, Ptolemy's geography, Hippocrates' medicine, as well as Persian and Indian works on astronomy and mathematics, and either added to or contradicted them with new discoveries. Every major Islamic city in medieval times had an extensive library; in Cordoba and Baghdad the libraries claim to have had over 400,000 books.
Muslim physicians were responsible for many notable developments in the field of medicine. While European "hospitals" at this time were usually simply monasteries where the sick were told they would live or die according to God's will, not human intervention, Muslim hospitals pioneered the practices of diagnosis, cure, and future prevention.
The first hospital in the Islamic world was built in Damascus in 707, and soon most major Islamic cities had hospitals, in which hygiene was emphasized and healing was a priority. Hospitals were open 24 hours a day, and many doctors did not charge for their services.
The medical school at the University of Jundishapur, once the capital of Sassanid Persia, became the largest in the Islamic world by the 9th century. Its location in Central Asia allowed it to incorporate medical practices from Greece, China, and India, as well as developing new techniques and theories.
Al-Razi, a 9th century Persian physician, made the first major Muslim contribution to medicine when he developed treatments for smallpox and measles. He also made significant observations about hay fever, kidney stones, and scabies, and first used opium as an anesthetic.
A generation later, Ibn Sina earned his place as one of the greatest physicians in the world, with his most famous book used in European medical schools for centuries.
He is credited with discovering the contagious nature of diseases like tuberculosis, which he correctly concluded could be transmitted through the air, and led to the introduction of quarantine as a means of limiting the spread of such infectious diseases.
Other Muslim physicians accurately diagnosed the plague, diphtheria, leprosy, rabies, diabetes, gout, epilepsy, and hemophilia long before the rest of the world.
In the 10th century, Al-Zahravi first conducted surgery for the eye, ear, and throat, as well as performing amputations and cauterizations. He also invented several surgical instruments, including those for the inner ear, the throat, and the urethra.
Muslims also advanced the field of pharmacology.
They experimented with the medical effects of various herbs and other drugs, and familiarized themselves with anesthetics used in India.
There is evidence that some Muslim physicians also adopted the practice of acupuncture from China. Despite many advancements in medicine, however, Muslim physicians still based their work on the idea of the ancient Greek, Galen, that the body was made up of the same four elements as the world in general - earth, air, fire, and water.
Contrary to Christian beliefs, Muslim physicians concluded that illness was not due to supernatural forces, but rather to an imbalance in the body's elements, which physicians were able, in many cases, to correct.
The medieval Islamic world made significant advancements in the field of astronomy. Part of the reason for the Muslim interest in astronomy is unique to the Islamic faith, and grew from the Muslim attempt to solve practical problems.
The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar, for example, the ability to see, and even predict, the arrival of the new moon was fundamental to marking the beginning and ending of each month.
This issue was particularly significant for the month of Ramadan, when fasting is required during the day, and for determining the date of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Secondly, the study of astronomy grew out of a need to map the coordinates of the stars, in order to determine the direction of Mecca from any city, because Muslims are required to face that direction when praying
Observatories were first established in the Islamic world, in major cities such as Baghdad, Hamadan, Toledo, Maragha, Samarkand, and Istanbul, and new instruments were developed.
The Muslim invention of the astrolabe was one of the most important in astronomy until the invention of the telescope in the 17th century.
Muslims were also the first astronomers to challenge the long-accepted theories of Ptolemy and Aristotle regarding eclipses, planetary orbits, and the position of the stars.
In the early 11th century, the Muslim physicist, Ibn al-Haytham, measured the height of the earth's atmosphere to be the equivalent of about 52 kilometers; today we know it is about 50 kilometers.
In the early 14th century, Ibn al-Shatir designed models for the movement of the moon and the planet Mercury, which are very similar to those later done by Copernicus in the 16th century.
Al-Khwarizmi was the first major Muslim mathematician, and he is most famous for introducing the field of algebra into the discipline.
He introduced Arabic numerals to Europe, which replaced Roman numerals in many places by the 11th century and became known as algorithms, derived from his name.
Muslims also developed trigonometry as a distinct branch of mathematics.
In the 9th century, Al-Batani was the first mathematician to use the concept of signes and cotangents.
Thabit Ibn Qurra studied conics, especially the parabola and ellipse, and helped develop an early form of calculus.
Al-Buzjani furthered their work a century later in developing theories of triangles and conics.
The Islamic world produced many great philosophers in the medieval period, and as in other religions, a rift between philosophy and theology soon developed.
The debate largely revolved around the nature and existence of God, and the legitimacy of the prophecy.
Many Muslim philosophers were influenced by the works of Aristotle and Plato, and struggled to apply the principles of these ancient Greeks to the Islamic world.
That is not to say, however, that Islamic philosophy would not have developed without the impetus of Greek thought. Muslim philosophers also took ideas from the Qur'an as a starting point for pondering philosophical issues.
At the heart of the debate between philosophy and theology were arguments for faith versus reason. In the event of a conflict between human knowledge and revealed knowledge, the philosophers asked, which should prevail?
Muslim philosophers were Muslims first, and philosophers second. Their faith in Islam led them to recognize that even reason could not be used to fully understand God or his knowledge.
Al-Farabi and other early Muslim philosophers tried to find rational arguments for the existence of God.
Theologians, led by Al-Ghazali, defended religion by pointing out contradictions and limitations to human reason.
Ibn Rushd, one of Islam's greatest philosophers, responded to Al-Ghazali's argument by urging philosophers to use reason to reach genuine knowledge of the truth, independent of revelation.
He attempted to show how Al-Ghazali's objections to philosophy were based on his misunderstanding of Aristotle's ideas and their effect on Islamic philosophy.
Abu Ja'far Muhammad Ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was born in Khwarizm, in present-day Uzbekistan. He thrived in Baghdad under the patronage of the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Mamun, between 813 and 833, during a so-called "Golden Age" of Islamic science.
A celebrated mathematician in his own time, as well as many centuries later, Al-Khwarizmi is best known for introducing the concept of algebra into mathematics.
The title of his most famous book, Kitab Al-Jabr wa al-Muqabilah ("The Book of Integration and Equation") in fact provides the origin of the word, algebra.
Over the course of his work in mathematics, Al-Khwarizmi introduced the use of Indo-Arabic numerals, which became known as algorithms, a Latin derivative of his name. He also began using the zero as a place-holder, paving the way for the development of the decimal system.
Abu'l-Nasr Al-Farabi, a Muslim of Persian descent who studied in Baghdad, was considered in his time to be the greatest philosopher since Aristotle. Indeed, in the Islamic world he was known as the "Second Teacher," with Aristotle being the first.
He was fluent in several languages, and through his translations of ancient Greek works, he was one of the earliest Islamic philosophers to introduce Greek philosophy to the Islamic world.
Al Farabi wrote on numerous subjects, including logic, sociology, political science, medicine, and music, but his legacy lies in his work in philosophy.
In writing commentaries on the works of the ancient Greeks, Al-Farabi sought to reconcile Aristotelian and Platonian thought with Islamic theology. ( المدينةالفاضلة
Al-Farabi became the first Islamic philosopher to separate philosophy and theology, influencing scholars of many different religions who followed him.
He concluded that human reason, the tool of the philosopher, was superior to revelation, the tool of religion, resulting in the advantage of philosophy over religion.
He claimed that philosophy was based on intellectual perception, while religion was based on imagination. He thus attributed impressive characteristics to the philosopher, and advocated the philosopher as the ideal head of state. He blamed political upheavals in the Islamic world to the fact that the state was not run by philosophers, whose superior powers of reason and intellect would result in ideal leadership
Abu Ali al-Husayn Ibn Abdullah Ibn Sina was born in Bukhara in 980. Sometimes known in the West by the Latin name, Avicenna, this Persian physician became the most famous and influential of all the Islamic philosopher-scientists.
He earned royal favor for treating the Kings of Bukhara and Hamadan for ailments other physicians could neither diagnose nor cure. His grave is still maintained in Hamadan, where he died in 1037. Though trained as a physician, Ibn Sina made important contributions to philosophy, mathematics, chemistry, and astronomy.
His philosophical encyclopedia, Kitab al-Shifa ("Book of Healing") brought Aristotelian and Platonian philosophy together with Islamic theology in dividing the field of knowledge into theoretical knowledge (physics, mathematics, and metaphysics) and practical knowledge (ethics, economics, and politics).
Abu Raihan Muhammad al-Biruni, a Persian scholar and scientist, was a contemporary of the great physician Ibn Sina, with whom he is known to have corresponded. With a gift for languages, including Turkish, Persian, Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Arabic, Al-Biruni caught the attention of the Ghaznavid ruler, Mahmud, whose territory included northern India.
Mahmud often brought Al-Biruni with him on campaigns to India, where Al-Biruni spent his time studying the language, history, and science of that region.
One of his most famous books, Kitab al-Hind ("Book of India") resulted from these travels. It was such a complete study of India that further works on Indian history written under Akbar 600 years later used it as a base.
In addition to his work on culture and history, Al-Biruni was also an accomplished scientist.
In the field of astronomy, he pioneered the notion that the speed of light was much greater than the speed of sound, observed solar and lunar eclipses, and accepted the theory that the earth rotated on an axis long before anyone else.
In geography, he calculated the correct latitude and longitude of many places, and disputed the European Ptolemaic view that Africa stretched infinitely to the south; Al-Biruni insisted it was surrounded by water.
In his work on India, Al-Biruni also advanced the controversial view - later proved correct - that the Indus valley was once a sea basin.
He developed a theory for calculating the qibla - the direction of Mecca from any place - which was necessary for Muslims to know in order to face Mecca when praying.
In physics, he accurately determined the densities of 18 precious stones and metals; in botany, he observed that flowers have 3, 4, 5, 6, or 8 petals, but never 7 or 9; and he was the first to establish trigonometry as a distinct branch of mathematics. Because of his work in such diverse fields, Al-Biruni is considered to be one of the greatest scientists of all time.
Umar Ibn A Khaiyam
Born Ghiyath al-Din Abul Fatah Umar Ibn Ibrahim al-Khayyam in 1044 in Nishapur, a Persian city, Omar Khayyam was a well-known mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and poet.
He spent most of his life in Persian intellectual centers such as Samarkand and Bukhara, and enjoyed the favour of the Seljuk sultans who ruled the region.
Umar Ibn Al-Khayyam
Khayyam's best-known scientific contributions were in algebra and astronomy. His classification of algebraic equations was fundamental to the advancement of algebra as a science, for example, just as his work on the theory of parallel lines was important in geometry.
In astronomy, Khayyam's greatest legacy is a remarkably accurate solar calendar, which he developed when the Seljuk sultan, Malik-Shah Jalal al-Din, required a new schedule for revenue collection. Khayyam's calendar, called Al-Tarikh-al-Jalali after the sultan, was even more accurate than the Gregorian calendar presently used in most of the world: the Jalali calendar had an error of one day in 3770 years, while the Gregorian had an error of one day in 3330 years.
Khayyam measured the length of one year as 365.24219858156 days, which is remarkably accurate. It has since been discovered that the number changes in the 6th decimal place over a person's lifetime.
For comparison of Khayyam's accuracy, the length of one year at the end of the 19th century was 365.242196 days, and today it is 365.242190. Although the calendar project was cancelled upon Malik-Shah's death in 1092, the Jalali calendar has survived and is still used in parts of Iran and Afghanistan toda
Abu Hamid al-Ghazali was born in 1058 in the Persian province of Khurasan. He was educated in Islamic theology at renowned institutions in Nishapur and Baghdad, and became a professor in religion and philosophy at Nizamiyah University in Baghdad - one of the Islamic world's most prominent institutions at that time.
In 1095, however, after a period of inner turmoil about his faith, Al-Ghazali left the university, gave up his material possessions, and became a wandering ascetic.
He devoted himself to Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam concerned with direct knowledge of God, and travelled to Mecca, Syria, and Jerusalem before returning to Nishapur to write.
Al-Ghazali's works on the relationship between philosophy and religion contributed to an ongoing discussion in the Islamic world on how to reconcile the two fields. In adopting the Aristotelian principals of the humanist ancient Greeks, Islamic philosophers since the 9th century, such as Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, had come into conflict with theologians who claimed that Aristotelian philosophy contradicted Islamic doctrine.
Al-Ghazali staunchly defended religion against attack by philosophers, and in doing so helped bridge the gap between the two streams of thought. Al-Ghazali also sought to reign in what he believed were excessive views within Sufism, to bring it more in line with orthodox Islam. He continued to stress the importance of Sufism as the genuine path to absolute truth, but he sought to redefine its extreme image as disobedient to the basic teachings of Islam
Al-Ghazali wrote several famous books on these subjects, one of which inspired the philosopher Ibn Rushd to respond with a book of his own, after Al-Ghazali's death. In Tuhafat al-Falasifa ("The Incoherence of the Philosophers"), Al-Ghazali laid out several arguments as to why philosophy was sometimes heretical to Islam.
He particularly objected to arguments made by Greek-influenced philosophers questioning the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, reward and punishment after death, God's knowledge of all things, and the eternity of the world.
Abu'l Waleed Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Rushd, born in 1126 in Cordoba, then part of Muslim Spain, was one of the greatest thinkers and scientists of the 12th century.
Known by the Latin name Averroes in the West, Ibn Rushd influenced scholarship in both the Islamic world and Europe for centuries, and is best known in the West for his commentaries on Aristotle's philosophy.
Rushd spent his time among the ruling class of Marrakesh, Morocco, as well as in the Spanish cities of Seville and Cordoba. Ibn Rushd studied religion and philosophy.
He was influenced by Greek philosophy, and he wrote several commentaries on Aristotle's works. He used Greek arguments for rationalism to question several tenets of Islamic theology, earning the criticism of many Muslim religious scholars, such as Al-Ghazali.
Despite his vehement defense of philosophy, Ibn Rushd was a devoted Muslim who also tried to integrate Plato's political views with the modern Islamic state, to bring Greek thought and Islamic traditions into harmony.
Abd al-Rahman Ibn Muhammad is considered to be the founder of modern sociology and philosophy of history. Born in Tunis, where his parents later died of the Black Death in 1349, Ibn Khaldun spent most of his life in North Africa and Spain.
He led a very political life, working for a number of royal courts in North Africa, where he was also able to observe the political and social dynamics of court life. These observations would later influence his writings on the history of civilizations.
Ibn Khaldun's most famous book is the Muqaddimah ("Introduction"), which he wrote as the first volume of an intended multi-volume world history.
In the Muqaddimah , Ibn Khaldun set out his philosophy of history, and his views on how historical material should be analysed and presented. He concluded that civilisations rise and fall, in a cycle, as a result of psychological, economic, environmental, social, as well as political factors.
His attention to more than just the political conditions of a civilisation was revolutionary, as he sought to also examine social, religious, and economic factors in explaining world history. He also pioneered the emphasis on relating events to each other through cause and effect, and drawing parallels between past and present, when writing history. He subjected his study of history to objective, scientific analysis, and lamented the clearly biased histories written before him.