These days, our culture is currently predominated by news of the U.S.A.'s foreign policy, celebrities like The Kardashian's, and Islam — although to be fair, two out of the three are rightly warranted (I'll let you take a shot at which is irrelevant, Kojack). When we think of Islam, the first thing that creeps into our minds are 9/11, the clusterfuck in the Middle East that will make even the people of Detroit sit there and say "Damn, I feel bad for them," and pretty much the downward spiral that has commenced with Islam in the form of radicalism due to groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS (I'm appalled that they are named after Egypt's polytheistic deity, Isis, though it probably was unintentional). However, let's explore Islam during its heyday; to go back and explore when Islam, for much of its history, was the progressive religion (though it came off the backs of various warring, violent desert nomads).
Let me just make this clear: Islam is by no means a pacifist religion. The same can be attributed to every religion through the history of man since we first figured out what it means to become a society and when we figured out how to be able to speak and read and write. However, Islam does see war as a last resort and Muslims were chivalrous during those times of conquest (of course, there were the exceptions to the rule like there is to everything else in life). It's why I decided and felt the need to create a three-part series about Islam, or more specifically, a certain period in Islam's history when it was at the height of its power. I wanted to make this piece about Islam's Golden Age, a time where they preached that it was their duty to explore and gain knowledge; where they inspired their fellow Muslims to research in sciences and medicines and practice art, poetry, literature, and all that jazz.
Where did it all begin?
Islamic civilization experienced a golden age under the Abbassid Dynasty, which ruled from the mid 8th century until the mid 13th century. Under the Abbassids, Islamic culture became a blending of Arab, Persian, Egyptian, and European traditions. To those who are familiar with the Arabian peninsula's era of enlightenment and scientific achievements, the difference between the intellectual achievements then compared to now is quite shocking and dramatic. In his 2002 book, What Went Wrong?, historian Bernard Lewis notes:
“for many centuries the world of Islam was in the forefront of human civilization and achievement.”
Jamil Ragep, a professor of the history of science at the University of Oklahoma, also notes:
“Nothing in Europe could hold a candle to what was going on in the Islamic world until about 1600.” Algebra, algorithm, alchemy, alcohol, alkali, nadir, zenith, coffee, and lemon: these words all derive from Arabic, reflecting Islam’s contribution to the West."
By reading the Qur'an (Koran), Muslims were encouraged to seek knowledge and believed that nature had signs sent from the Creator, all this inspiring Muslims to create a society that in the Middle Ages, was the scientific center of the world and to developing the Arabic language which was synonymous with becoming enlightened for 500 years. The reasons for the success of Islam, and the expansion of its empire, can be attributed to the strength of the Arab armies, the use of a common language, and fair treatment of conquered peoples.
Islam's Golden Age
During this time, both Muslims and non-Muslims came together in order to work on translating the world's knowledge into Arabic in the translation movement. The Abbassids were influenced by the Qur'anic injunctions and hadith such as:
However, it is believed by some that this hadith is said to be fabricated, but that doesn't necessarily take away from what was accomplished during those centuries because of Islam's teachings. It was also during this time where because of the Muslims championed ideologies of science, philosophy, medicine and education that they established the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. Many classical works that probably would have been lost if not for the Muslims strong interest in assimilating knowledge of civilizations they had conquered were originally translated into Arabic, which then, later on, was translated into Hebrew, Persian, and Latin.
Muslim government officials intensely favored researchers. The cash spent on the Translation Movement for a few interpretations is assessed to be equal to about double the yearly research spending plan of the United Kingdom's Medical Research Council. Because of their open-minded beliefs, they were also tolerant to scholars of different religious beliefs and thus allowed Nestorian Christians to help contribute during this golden age during the Abbasid civilizations. They contributed by translating numerous works of Greek philosophers to Syriac and Arabic. In fact, not only they help contribute to Scholarly works, but they also served as private doctors to caliphs and sultans between the 8th and 11th centuries (how's that for tolerance, huh?).