One of the brightest periods in human history is undeniably the Islamic Golden Age. Knowledge was amassed and writing was valued above gold during this time. The contributions to science, mathematics, economics, and culture made by the many figures of this age are still felt around the world today.
From the 8th century to the 13th century, the Abbasid Dynasty flourished. The caliphate took much from the Persians, and reshaped their government and political interests. Under the rule of the seventh caliph, al-Ma’mun, a rationalist Muslim creed was established and art, learning, and, broadly, culture prospered.
The House of Wisdom
A major intellectual center was cultivated under the reign of al-Ma’mun in the 9th century. Founded by his father, Harun ar-Rashid, the House of Wisdom became a large institution where scholars shared information, ideas, and culture. Great thinkers of Muslim, Jewish, and even Christian faiths were known to study there, and they contributed much to many different fields.
A major focus of the work done at the House of Wisdom was translation. The labors of the translators and copiers played a role in why anything at all is known about ancient Greek and Indian philosophers and mathematicians. They worked tirelessly to copy texts from ancient cultures such as Greece, Mesopotamia, Rome, China, India, Persia, Egypt, and Africa into Arabic.
Another role that the House of Wisdom played in the development and influence of culture was the making of paper. Improvements upon the Chinese methods of papermaking led to hundreds of merchants making paper and employing thousands of bookmakers and scribes. The techniques spread from Baghdad to the rest of the world by the 13th century.
Al-Mamun once wrote to the King of Sicily after hearing about the great library there. He requested all content within the Sicily Library to be moved into the House of Wisdom. The King of Sicily complied, thinking that the texts had no value to his people, and Baghdad acquired many of the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts.
Contributions to Science, Math, Culture
The preservation of ancient knowledge was not the only great work done at the House of Wisdom during the Islamic Golden Age. Perhaps the highest concentration of polymaths that ever lived had worked and studied there, and they made much progress in mathematics, science, and the arts.
Al-Hasan, known also as Alhazen, has been called the the first scientist. This great polymath lived in Cairo for most of his lifetime during the Islamic Golden Age, and was the first to apply the scientific method. He was the first to rightly suggest that light travelled from a source and into the eye, rather than the other way around as suggested by Euclid and Ptolemy. Even greater is his influence in the field of Optics — he described properties of light such as refraction and dispersion, as well as the component colors of light, both of which are mistakenly credited to Isaac Newton.
One of the greatest of the accomplishments of the scholars of the Islamic Golden Age can be attributed to Muhammad al-Khwarizmi. He was one of the first directors of the House of Wisdom, and was the overseer of the translation of major Greek and Indian texts. Al-Khwarizmi compiled the works of other mathematicians from ancient times and added his own research into a great book of fundamental algebraic techniques, the title of which gives us the Latinized word, Algebra.
The first use of the law of sines, which is a fundamental concept in trigonometry, is attributed to al-Jayyani who studied at the House of Wisdom. While much trigonometric writing and discovery was done by Menelaus of Alexandria, the general law of sines, handling of spherical triangles, and methods for right triangles are all attributed to al-Jayyani.
Impact on UAE, RAK
During the Abbasid Era, the people of the region were unified under Islam. Because of this unification, trade routes with Asia were established. One of the crucial trade routes was through modern day Ra al-Khaimah, which was known then as Julfar.
Julfar was separated into two areas, al-Koush and the Island of Hulaylah. Both areas have been the focus of archaeological expeditions which have shown that the people of Julfar took part in the trading. The impact on the culture of the area is seen today in the art and architecture throughout the United Arab Emirates.
The influence of the scholars of the Islamic Golden Age is hard to imagine in its truly grand scope. Shelves of books have been written on these accomplishments, from the preservation of ancient knowledge during the reign of al-Mamun, to the contributions to mathematics and science made by the great polymaths of the House of Wisdom.
Today, Ras al-Khaimah still plays a major role in the region’s economy and culture, and the history of the Islamic Golden Age shows through.