Islamic Golden Age
The Islamic Golden Age started with the rise of Islam and establishment of the first Islamic state in 622. The end of the age is variously given as 1258 with the Mongolian Sack of Baghdad, or 1492 with the completion of the Christian Reconquista of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus, Iberian Peninsula. During the reign of the Abbasid caliph Harun ar-Rashid (786 to 809), the House of Wisdom was inaugurated in Baghdad where scholars from various parts of the world sought to translate and gather all the known world's knowledge into Arabic. The Abbasids were influenced by the Quranic injunctions and hadiths, such as "the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr," that stressed the value of knowledge. During the age, the major Islamic capital cities of Baghdad, Cairo, and Córdoba became the main intellectual centers for science, philosophy, medicine, and education.
The Arabs showed a strong interest in assimilating the scientific knowledge of the civilizations they had conquered. 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. They assimilated, synthesized, and advanced the knowledge gained from the ancient Greek, Roman, Persian, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, and Phoenician civilizations.
- 1 Causes
- 2 Philosophy
- 3 Science
- 4 Institutions
- 5 Commerce and travel
- 6 Culture
- 7 Decline
- 8 Criticism of the "Golden Age"
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
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. The best scholars and notable translators, such as Hunayn ibn Ishaq, had salaries that are estimated to be the equivalent of professional athletes today.
With a new, easier writing system and the introduction of paper, information was democratized to the extent that for probably the first time in history, it became possible to make a living from simply writing and selling books. 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. It was from these countries that the rest of the world learned to make paper from linen.
Earlier cultural influence
Christians (particularly Nestorian Christians) contributed to the Arab Islamic Civilization during the Ummayad and the Abbasid periods by translating works of Greek philosophers to Syriac and afterwards to Arabic. 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. The House of Wisdom was a library, translation institute and academy established in Abbasid-era Baghdad, Iraq. Nestorians played a prominent role in the formation of Arab culture, with the Jundishapur school being prominent in the late Sassanid, Umayyad and early Abbasid periods. Notably, eight generations of the Nestorian Bukhtishu family served as private doctors to caliphs and sultans between the 8th and 11th centuries.
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. Islamic scholars would also absorb ideas from China and India, adding to the 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. During this period non-Muslims were allowed to flourish relative to their treatment in the Christian Byzantine Empire. The Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, who lived in Andalusia, is an example.
Avicenna argued his "Floating Man" thought experiment concerning self-awareness, in which a man prevented of sense experience by being blindfolded and free falling would still be aware of his existence.
Ibn Tufail wrote the novel Hayy ibn Yaqdhan and in response Ibn al-Nafis wrote the novel Theologus Autodidactus. Both were concerning autodidacticism as illuminated through the life of a feral child spontaneously generated in a cave on a desert island.
Ibn Al-Haytham (Alhazen) was significant in the history of scientific method, particularly in his approach to experimentation, and has been referred to by his modern biographer Bradley Steffens and others  as the "world’s first true scientist".
Jim Al-Khalili gives the example of the classification of materials as a sign of new ways of thinking. While the classification of the material world by the ancient Greeks into Air, Earth, Fire and Water was more philosophical, medieval Islamic scientists used practical, experimental observation to classify materials. Rhazes, for example, classified minerals into six groups based on their observed chemical properties; Spirits, which were flammable, Material Bodies, which were shiny and malleable, Vitriols, Stones, Salts, which could dissolve in water, and Boraxes.
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.
In geometry, Medieval Islamic art from the 15th century intuitively echoed principles of quasicrytalline geometry, which were discovered 500 years later. 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. It was previously thought that 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 15th century. 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".
In trigonometry, Ibn Muʿādh al-Jayyānī introduced the general Law of sines in his The book of unknown arcs of a sphere in the 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.
In about 964, Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi writing in his Book of Fixed Stars, described a "nebulous spot" in the Andromeda constellation, the first definitive reference to what we now know is the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest spiral galaxy to our galaxy.
In his survey of the history of the ideas which led to the theory of natural selection, Conway Zirkle noted that al-Jahiz was one of those who discussed a "struggle for existence", in his Kitab al-Hayawan (Book of Animals), written in the 9th century.
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. 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.
Ibn al-Nafis in his Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna's Canon was the first to contradict the contention of the Galen School that blood could pass between the ventricles in the heart through the cardiac interventricular septum that separates them, saying that there is no passage between the ventricles at this point. Instead, he correctly argued that all the blood that reached the left ventricle did so after passing through the lung. Finally, he also stated that there must be small communications or pores between the pulmonary artery and pulmonary vein, a prediction that preceded by 400 years the discovery of the pulmonary capillaries by Marcello Malpighi. The Commentary was "rediscovered" in the 20th century in the Prussian State Library in Berlin; whether its view of the pulmonary circulation influenced scientists such as Michael Servetus is unclear, as it was not published and only five copies were made.
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, translated into Latin and then disseminated in manuscript and printed form throughout Europe. During the 15th and 16th centuries alone, The Canon of Medicine was published more than thirty-five times.
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. Eventually, charitable foundations called waqfs were formed to support hospitals, as well as schools. This money supported free medical care for all citizens. In a notable example, a 13th-century governor of Egypt Al Mansur Qalawun ordained a foundation for the Qalawun hospital that would contain a mosque and a chapel, separate wards for different diseases, a library for doctors and a pharmacy. The Qalawun hospital was based in a former Fatimid palace which had accommodation for 8,000 people. "It served 4,000 patients daily." The waqf stated,
"...The hospital shall keep all patients, men and women, until they are completely recovered. All costs are to be borne by the hospital whether the people come from afar or near, whether they are residents or foreigners, strong or weak, low or high, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, blind or sighted, physically or mentally ill, learned or illiterate. There are no conditions of consideration and payment, none is objected to or even indirectly hinted at for non-payment."
Commerce and travel
Apart from the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates, navigable rivers were uncommon in the Middle East, 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.
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.
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 beginning of construction of the Great Mosque at Cordoba in 785 marked 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.
The Crusades put the Islamic world under pressure with invasions in the 11th and 12th centuries, but a far greater threat emerged 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 China in the east and much of the old Islamic caliphate (as well as Kievan Rus) in the west. The destruction of Baghdad and the House of Wisdom by Hulagu Khan in 1258 has been seen by some as the end of the Islamic 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.
In the Iberian Peninsula, the Catholic Monarchs completed the Christian Reconquista with a war against the Emirate of Granada that started in 1482 and ended with Granada's complete annexation in early 1492, which also marks, for some historians, the end of the Islamic Golden Age.
Stifling free thought
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. al-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.
Criticism of the "Golden Age"
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 throughout the course of history had an official religion, their achievements are not typically 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.
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