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Muslim Scholars (750-1258 CE)

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  • 0:03 Scholarship in Islam
  • 1:13 Science & Math
  • 2:35 History & Geography
  • 3:22 Art & Architecture
  • 4:19 Philosophy & Language
  • 5:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

While Europe was in the midst of the Dark Ages, learning actually accelerated throughout the Islamic world. This lesson details how advances from Morocco to India to ancient Greece were adopted and improved upon by Islamic scholars.

Scholarship in Islam

Islam's holy text, the Qur'an, is much more than a set of guidelines for how to live one's life according to Islam. In fact, only around ten percent of the book focuses on such rules. Instead, the vast majority of the Qur'an explains other aspects of life, including history, math and even science. As such, during the Golden Age of Islam, furthering knowledge was not only considered worthwhile from a practical standpoint, but also as a way of furthering one's knowledge of God.

Some of the greatest advances in knowledge of any time happened during the Islamic Golden Age. During this period, Islamic scholars were able to not only combine the works of cultures as far apart as the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Europeans, Indians and Chinese, but also build from these previous discoveries to further advance science, history and philosophy. In fact, the word Islamic is used to describe these achievements more out of convenience than the fact that the people making these discoveries were actually Muslim—in fact, one of the top scholars of Islamic Spain would go on to be Pope Sylvester II!

Science and Math

Some of the best examples of this mixing of knowledge to create something new came as a result of Islamic work in math and science. After all, the most enduring innovation attributed to Islamic civilization in this field, Arabic numerals, were actually Indian in origin. However, it was Arab traders who had introduced them to Europe, and as a result, the name stuck. Additionally, the Arabs also brought the idea of zero from India. The idea that nothing could in fact be a number completely changed the way that math was done. However, the most impressive mathematical innovation from the Middle Ages was the invention of algebra. Originally used to calculate portions of inheritance after someone died, the idea for algebra changed mathematics forever, especially when combined with another carryover from an early period, Greek geometry.

Some of the most important innovations of science were in the field of medicine. Again, here Islamic scholars preserved the works of earlier civilizations, combining the works of Greeks, like Hippocrates, with Indian ideas on whole-body wellness. As a result, Islamic medicine was some of the most advanced in the world. One writer, Ibn Sina, saw his work used as the standard medical encyclopedia for more than 600 years after his death.

History and Geography

Of course, knowledge of all those places that contributed more scientific knowledge was itself useful, and it was Islamic civilization that created some of the most serious studies of geography since the ancient Greeks. This work was also important for non-scientific reasons: with so many Muslims coming to Arabia and surrounding areas on pilgrimage, it was useful to know something about where they came from.

Yet it was the geographer Ibn Khaldun (Ib-in Khal-doon) whose work in geography actually informed much historical thought of the period. He recognized the importance that geography had on historical development and, taking his work further, also recognized that empires tended to all be strong in the beginning before ultimately falling due to, according to Ibn Khaldun, the fact that rulers got lazy.

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