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Muslim Learning: Scientific, Artistic, Medical & Literary Accomplishments

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  • 0:05 The Golden Age of Islam
  • 1:48 Arts & Literature
  • 4:05 Science & Medicine
  • 6:01 Mathematics
  • 6:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

The Abbasid caliphate (750-1258 CE) oversaw the Golden Age of Islam. Learn about the accomplishments of Muslim scholars in art, literature, science, medicine and mathematics during this time.

The Golden Age of Islam

Islamic manuscripts were written in calligraphy and illuminated
Islamic Calligraphy

The next time you dab on some perfume, drink a cup of coffee, or write down a digit between 0-9, thank a Muslim. While Europe was groping along through the Dark Ages, diverse scholars gathered or were summoned to Baghdad's House of Wisdom to preserve knowledge of classical civilizations and to make advances in many academic disciplines that are still relevant today. And, that was just one of many centers of learning established during Islam's Golden Age.

Islam began in the Arabian Peninsula in 610 CE and spread quickly through conquest and conversion, whether willing or forced. Within a century, Muslims controlled an empire stretching from Spain to China. The Abbasid caliphate gained control in 750 and moved the empire's capitol from Damascus to Baghdad. During this dynasty, trade and ideas flowed freely across the empire, which spanned three continents.

The Abbasids appropriated many of the best ideas from lands they conquered, as well as those of Late Antiquity, to form an advanced Islamic culture, with participation and contributions from people of many ethnicities and religions. Despite some ethnic conflict, such as the 1066 massacre of Spanish Jews, the Arab world promoted both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars who made significant achievements in art and literature, science and medicine and mathematics. Islam's Golden Age began with the Abbasid caliphate in 750 CE and lasted until the Mongol invasion in 1258.

Arts & Literature

The Dome of the Rock was built in 691 CE
Dome of the Rock

Islamic religious tradition discourages the depiction of human figures in religious art, so Muslim artists developed or adopted many unique decorative elements. The art of glass blowing was perfected. Miniature paintings adorn glass, silver, brass and ivory objects. Manuscripts were often written in calligraphy and painstakingly illuminated. Royal robes and other textiles feature lavish embroidery. But The Golden Age of Islam is especially well-known for architecture, which combines many of these other art forms.

Islamic buildings of this era borrow domes and arches from the Byzantine Empire and are adorned with calligraphy, geometric designs and arabesques. A good example is the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Built in 691 CE on top of Judaism's holiest site, this shrine is at once a political statement, a religious monument and a display of grandeur. Its outer walls were originally tiled, as seen in a modern restoration. The exterior of the dome was once lead and was replaced by varying metals throughout time. Today the dome is covered in gold leaf. The interior of the dome is decorated with mosaics and calligraphy.

The Golden Age also produced many literary achievements, beginning with the fifth Abbasid ruler when the House of Wisdom opened. After learning the Chinese art of papermaking, Islamic scholars tried to gather and translate all of the world's knowledge into Arabic, resulting in the preservation of many classical works of antiquity from China, India and Greece, including Aristotle and Plato. Muslim writers also made commentaries, adapted folk tales from around the empire and composed original literature. The most famous literary achievement from this era may be One Thousand and One Nights, known to many westerners as The Arabian Nights, which is a collection of both original and adapted stories, including Aladdin and the magic lamp, Sinbad and Ali-Baba. Libraries and bookstores were common in Baghdad, suggesting an uncommonly high literacy rate among the public.

Science & Medicine

The Canon of Medicine was used as a medical text in Europe for centuries
The Canon of Medicine

Scholars at the Islamic learning centers also contributed to the scientific world. They dabbled in chemistry and alchemy, and excelled in astronomy and medicine. They studied ideas from Greece, Iran and Persia to improve scientific instruments, such as an astrolabe for telling time. They refined earlier methods for recording scientific observations, leading to accurate calculations for the movements of the sun, moon and the five known planets. Islamic scholars analyzed Ptolemy's model of the universe. They studied eclipses and calculated the circumference of the earth. These achievements were applied to other disciplines, including agriculture, physics and even astrology.

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