The Golden Age of Islam
Updated: Oct 19, 2019
Norah Nowarah | Toronto, Canada
As a Muslim in North America, I have never faced trouble finding harmful news reporting on Islam, and how Muslims have brought nothing but trouble to the West. Growing up, especially during my early teenage years, I wanted to distance myself from my religion in order to ‘fit in’ and make friends.
However, the more my family and I travel to our homeland of Palestine, the more I understand how fortunate I am to relate to another culture and religion across the globe. That is when I began to educate myself on the history of Islam and the Middle East. With this, I grew extremely proud of my identity, allowing me to express and share it with the world comfortably. But most importantly, I can point out the inaccuracy of the previously mentioned reports, as this article will highlight simply a fraction of what Islam has offered the world we know today.
So, what is the Islamic Golden Age?
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 ("House Of Wisdom") 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 mainpurpose 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, culturaland 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, heinvented the world’s firstcamera, 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 celebratedwork, 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 ‘Ptolemyof 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").
How did the Islamic Golden Age end?
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").
Interested in learning more about the Islamic Golden Age?
As previously mentioned, my interest in learning about my religion, culture, and their history led me to explore and utilizes resources to gain knowledge about this period of history. For instance, I purchased numerous books and watched various videos online. One book which I really enjoyed and strongly recommend reading was National Geographic’s, 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization,which essentially “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” ("1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy Of Muslim Civilization"). I have added a link to the book on Amazon below. Furthermore, I have also linked a group of videos available on YouTube which touch on this remarkable era and the scientists mentioned in my article as well.
Link to Book (Amazon): https://www.amazon.com/1001-Inventions-Civilization-Companion-Exhibition/dp/1426209347
Links to Additional Videos:
The Medieval Islamicate World: Crash Course History of Science #7: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkVsus8Ehxs
Science in a Golden Age - Al-Razi, Ibn Sina and the Canon of Medicine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8HlFFDTBWQ
Untold History - Al-Andalus - Islamic Golden Age: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eiCxzXY8XQ
Science in a Golden Age - Al-Khwarizmi: The Father of Algebra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAxWF_W6Q9w
Science in a Golden Age - Optics: The True Nature of Light: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faQmHzY29Zc
Science in a Golden Age - Chemistry: The Search for the Philosopher's Stone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFAFZbrrCjA
Science in a Golden Age - Astronomy: The Science of the Stars: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cVfyurIFvM
"1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy Of Muslim Civilization". Amazon.Com, 2019,
https://www.amazon.com/1001-Inventions-Civilization-Companion-Exhibition/dp/1426209347. Accessed 24 Mar 2019.
"Al-Battani". En.Wikipedia.Org, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Battani. Accessed 24
"Al-Zahrawi". En.Wikipedia.Org, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Zahrawi. Accessed 24 Mar 2019.
"House Of Wisdom". En.Wikipedia.Org, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Wisdom. Accessed 22 Mar 2019.
"Islamic Golden Age". En.Wikipedia.Org, 2019,
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Golden_Age. Accessed 24 Mar 2019.
"Islamic Golden Age | Islamic History". Islamichistory.Org, http://islamichistory.org/islamic-
golden-age/. Accessed 24 Mar 2019.
"The Golden Age Of Islam". Khan Academy, https://www.khanacademy.org/.../a/the-golden-
age-of-islam. Accessed 24 Mar 2019.
"Top 20 Greatest Muslim Scientists and Their Inventions". Listographic, 2017,
http://medayarc.com/top-muslim-scientists-and-their-inventions. Accessed 24 Mar 2019.