The Islamic Golden Age is a historical time that lasted before the 1258. It is an Abbasid period in existence before the Mongolian invasion and conquest of Baghdad. Islamic Historians trace the beginning of the period to the 8th century. It lasted between Muhammad’s eras in 700 AD to 1200 AD. It is one of the most important periods in the Islamic history in which developments during the period brought about an Islamic Renaissance and contributions to the uncivilized period. The Abbasid Caliphate (Muslim religious leaders and a succession of the prophet) ruled over the Muslim subjects in Baghdad, a new capital shift from the original one in Damascus.
The caliphates guided and ruled over the Muslim brotherhood through teachings and inspirations from the Quran. During this period, intellectual activity flourished in all fields including medicine, science, philosophy, mathematics, and History. The Abbasids encouraged the search for knowledge through the study of traditional Islamic literature and linguistic. Among the literatures was the Hadith, which constituted the actions and sayings from the early Prophets. The sayings had different values and teachings to the Muslims. An example is the saying that states, “A scholars Ink is more valuable than a martyr’s blood,” which gave eminence to the priceless value of knowledge.
Due to such values, the Abbasid Caliphate was Keen enough to establish a central universal knowledge hub known as “the house of wisdom” in Bagdad. This became a great contribution to the intellectual ability and increased knowledge in the Arab world. Historians attribute significant inventions in science, philosophy, medicine, and education to this great period.
They also attribute the success of the Arab world intellectual capacity to the fact that the Abbasid caliphate included both the Muslim and non-Muslim scholars in the effort to accumulate and translate the world’s Knowledge into Arabic. These efforts saved many significant works and important knowledge from extinction through translation from the original languages into Arabic and later into other different languages such as Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, and Latin. From the above stated facts, one would argue that the Arab world during the Golden age consisted of a rich mixture of cultures that collected, recorded, analyzed, and improved on knowledge gained from different civilizations including the Chinese, byzantine, Roman, Persian, Egyptian, Greek, and Indian.
Brief Islamic History
Islam is one of the most recent and youngest religions to emerge in the world. Many scholars believe that it begun in 622 CE when the Holy Prophet Muhammad and a few of his disciples migrated from Mecca to Medina found in the North West Arabia. From that point, Mohammad managed to recruit more followers through the spread of Quran Message throughout the Arab nation, which later formed the Muslim faith in the region.
Through the influence of Prophet Mohammad’s teachings, Muslim governments with Allah as the supreme authority emerged after one hundred and fifty years since the migration of the prophet. This form of government expanded its influence and size thus forming a vast empire that cuts across a huge region on the globe today.
After the death of the prophet Mohammad, his friend Abu Bakar took over as the caliph in leading the Islamic empire. His reign lasted only for two years before Umar took over from him and ruled for the next ten years. It is during his reign that the Islamic empire experienced an expansive growth and development. The Islamic rule was able to conquer many nations and civilizations thus spreading its reach and influence across the globe. Umar added to his legacy by conquering the Persian Empire, Egypt, and Syria in North Africa.
During his reign, Umar saw development of the first public treasury and public financial accountability and administration. He also laid down the first and basic foundation of the Islamic government practices. Athman succeeded Umar and extended his rule for the next twelve years. Under his governance, the Islamic rule continued with its conquest and expansion of its empire. It is during this period that the Arab world extended its Islamic rule to include southern china, west India, Saudi Arabia, Mediterranean Sea including as Tigris and Euphrates to the Northern Spain all the way to Pyrenees.
The Caliphates were Muslim religious leaders who succeeded the prophets in teaching and ruling over the Muslim world guided by the Holy Quran. The capital city of the Islamic world begun in Damascus at around 661 and lasted for a hundred years before shifting to Baghdad. During this period, the caliphate in reign was the Umayyad caliphate. This period in history saw the expansion of the Islamic world to include Western France, east Transoxiana and Central Asia. New social and legal structures such as public schools, healthcare centers, and sharia courts came into existence during this time.
The Abbasid caliphates ruled over the Muslim empire to its decline and end in 1258 after succeeding the Umayyad. Shifting of the Islamic world capital from Damascus to Baghdad was one of the major activities that the Abbasid contributed to the Islamic civilization. Baghdad became the focal point of governance and the central place where Islamic learning and teachings took place. The Abbasid rule lasted for 500 years with a gradual decline in power and authority as the years advanced.
With the reduction in political power and influence, the Abbasid later remained as symbolic leaders having surrendered the political power and authority to the existing Sultans. The sultans and the various princes in existence during this era had an organized military power and backing to rule over their various kingdoms in the Islamic world. The Mongolian invasion in 1258 dealt a final blow to the Abbasid rule through abolishment of the caliphate system of governance. The Mongolians managed to destroy the Islamic rule by demolishing the hub of the Islamic empire (Baghdad).
While the Umayyad ruled in Baghdad, various local powers and dynasties governed the other provinces under the Islamic rule. In North African countries such as Egypt and Syria, the Fatimid’s and Ayyubid dynasties held power in the regions. The Palestine region was under the firm grip of the Mamluk’s dynasty. In the same North African countries, the local dynasties held power over an extensive period until the 12th and 13th century. The Berber dynasties ended these local powers through unification of many of the North African Islamic nations and Spain. In North Africa, the powers reverted to the local dynasties after a period with Shari fids of Morocco still holding power currently. On the other hand, the 800-year Islamic ruled in Spain ended in 1492 after defeat in Granada.
Factors That Influenced the Success of the Golden Era
The success of the Islamic Golden era was not without some fortunate factors and reasons for its success. The nature of its vast empire that covered an extensive region in the whole world is perhaps one of its major strengths. The empire existed minus internal boundaries a factor, which provided unity and an ultimate protection against invasion from other Civilizations. This state of unity and strength prevailed peace and stability in the region that provided the necessary conducive environment for the advancements in the Islamic golden era. Developments and inventions occurred during the period without fear of attack and influence form other civilizations. The Muslim faith bound the region as a single empire.
Cultural exchanges of wisdom among different cultures and civilizations such as the Egyptian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Indian, and china civilizations is another reason for the success attributed to the golden age. The free trade and exchange of goods that existed in the Asian continent and other continents encouraged the exchange of cultural values and knowledge. Such an exchange brought about a rich and diverse boom of wisdom/knowledge experienced during the golden era. Philosophical thinking from Greece, administrative abilities from Rome and architectural prowess from Egypt are but examples of the good knowledge that the Islamic empire benefited from the cultural exchanges with other civilizations and its subjects.
Non-interference with the administrative and intellectual structures of the Islamic colonies is the third reason for the success of the empire. Sayings such as “a scholars Ink is more valuable than a martyr’s blood” motivated the Islamic rulers to seek knowledge and wisdom from other cultures in their colonies. The fact that they did not interfere with the intellectual and administrative structures, enabled them to derive maximum benefit from the cultural wisdom of their subject provinces. This is unlike other civilizations that interfered with the administrative structures and knowledge of their subjects through forcing of their own cultures on them.
The use of the Arabic language throughout the Islamic empire provided a standard language for all the subjects. This standard language proved beneficial to the study and developments in philosophy, science, medicine and other branches. Without a common language of communication in the empire, it would have been difficult to achieve the immense studies and exchange of knowledge achieved during the period. Diversity in language can be strength in any civilization but has also proved disadvantageous through the extinction of many cultural values and disunity among the people speaking different languages. The Islamic empire sought to translate all world knowledge into Arabic in order to provide a common tool of understanding and communication in addition to prevention of extinctions of some knowledge.
Finally, technological inventions such as paper in China boosted the development and advancement of studies in the Islamic empire. This technology among other inventions in the periods enabled the Islamic religion and knowledge to spread further due to the easier way of handling matters that came with the inventions. In addition, public education that existed during the period played a key role in the success of the Islamic empire. The prophets allowed and encouraged public education to increase the level of knowledge among their subjects. The result of these efforts was the increase in the level of literacy and insights on religious matters and academic knowledge for the public and its subjects.
Achievements during Islamic Golden Age
Even the Islamic Law restricted scholars from publicizing unorthodox thoughts and ideas. Some Muslim scholars were able to preserve some of Aristotle’s works and ideas, which later became a basis of philosophical and critical thinking for both Christians and Muslims alike. Through the study and translation of many ideas from other cultures such as Indian and Chinese cultures, the Muslim scholars were able to come up with rich philosophical knowledge that they included in Islam. Muslim translations of Arabic philosophical materials and literature into various languages such as Latin contributed to the development of the current European Philosophy.
The Islamic scholar during the golden age achieved significant advancements in medicine through Arabic translation of Hellenic literature and other sources from the Persians and Indians. The early Christians viewed the studies of some Greek scholars with suspicion. This led to non-discovery of the importance of such studies until the Muslim scholars translated such materials and advanced the knowledge therein. Studies by Galen and Hippocrates in addition to the Hellenic studies are but examples of works from which the Muslim scholars were able to advance the study in medicine.
In the Medieval Islamic empire, the first free public hospital emerged in Damascus 75 years after the Death of Prophet Mohamed. The Islam physicians developed Asylums to cater for the healthcare and wellbeing of the mentally ill patients. At a period around 10th century, a Muslim scholar Abu Bakr al-Razi was able to make and connect the relationship between bacteria and disease infections. He was also able to introduce the antiseptic use in medicine for disinfection and cleaning of wounded patients. The brilliant discovery of the functioning and accurate description of the human circulatory system came into existence in medicine in the 13 century. This was a contribution from a Muslim scholar and physician Ibn al-Nafis. His contribution led to the better understanding of the human body and its psychological functions that enabled better treatment and further studies in medicine. In addition, the Islamic Veterinary medicine was the best in the field during the Golden age. Muslim scholars made significant achievements in the treatment and care of animals especially horses that were widely used as a means of transport.
Muslim alchemists who were much concerned with reactions of chemicals to produce portions that could enhance life and turning of base metals into gold laid the foundations for the modern day chemists. The alchemists emerged between the 10th to 14th centuries of the Golden era. As much as they did not achieve positive results from some of their experiments such as turning base metals into gold, they in fact achieved some significant inventions and processes from the experiments. The art of forging steel and other metals, in addition to the process of petroleum oil are attributed as one of their success stories.
A Muslim scholar Al Hassan made significant studies and published some literature in the scientific field of optics. In his book, Al Hassan crippled Aristotle’s theory that vision occurred due to rays emanating from the eyes, covering an object and pulling it back to the soul. He was the first scientist to correctly state and prove that sight was a product of visual images that enter the eye and are made visible due to presence of light.
In the Mathematical field, the precise trigonometrical calculations by Muslim scholars, and the introduction of zero to the number system are great contributions to the modern day mathematics. They developed the trigonometrical filed in pursuit of accurate ways to measure distance and objects. With such advancements, they were able to measure moon phases. They could also accurately calculate and determine its distance in the sky.
The modern day astronomy traces its origin to the Islamic Golden age. The Muslim scholars developed the first scientific observational data in astronomy. They introduced the collection, recording, and analysis of the first astronomical data and prediction of the future events from the results of the analysis. They also developed the storable instrument during this period. Accurate whether forecasting to avoid adverse weather conditions is an example of some of the practical applications of the astronomical data. An Islamic Astronomer al-Khujandi developed the Almanac in addition to the belief that he was able to determine and calculate the angle of the earth as 23 ½ degrees
Other contributions include illuminated manuscripts and calligraphy in the Islamic art. Other artistic inventions occurred from glass, woodwork, and textiles. Various earthenware such as pots with Islamic art used for religious purposes are still in existence. The Islamic world borrowed architectural knowledge and designs from other civilizations such as the Byzantine (used arcs and domes) to build many magnificent mosques over the Islamic empire. The Great Mosques of Kairouan (Tunisia), Samarra (Iraq), and Cordoba (Spain) are good examples of fine Arabic architectural designs. Lastly, Muslim geographers contributed greatly to the survey and mapping of the earth.
Decline and Causes of Decline of the Islamic Golden Age
The Mongolian invasion in 1258 during the 13th century marked the end and decline of the Islamic Golden age. The Mongolians destroyed the Baghdad city that was the central point and heart of the Islamic rule. They demolished the libraries that formed the major learning and epicenter of the Islamic knowledge. The abolition of the Abbasid caliphate rule further crippled the influence of the Islamic rule. In addition to capturing the capital city, the Mongolians conquered the former Islamic colonies up to China. The Invasion and Conquering of the Muslim colonies weakened its powers and influence.
In addition to the Mongolian invasion, some Muslims believe that attack from European crusaders was a major factor that aided the fall of the Islamic world. The Spanish colony was lost to the crusaders who attacked the Muslim Military from the European Christian Nation. These campaigns from the crusaders to capture some of the Islamic regions and sites for Christian purposes led to the attack of the Arab world. This influence from the west led to the ultimate shift of power from the Muslim to the current Christian domination. The above-mentioned reasons add to many other beliefs from the Muslim community such as economic and political changes given as the main cause for the decline and end of the Muslim Golden age.
In conclusion, it is clear that the Muslim world experience great advancements in knowledge and progressiveness during the Golden era. The Islamic administrative system and adherence to the Quran teachings contributed to the Unity of the Islamic empire. The Islamic golden age has greatly contributed to the current developments in medicine, science, philosophy, mathematics, and other fields of study, which would not have otherwise existed without the Islamic efforts to study and translate the world’s major literature and resources.
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