Cultural and Construction History of the Islamic Golden Age Essay

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Islamic Technology

Cultural and Construction History of the Islamic Golden Age

Cultural Environment

The Islamic Golden Age is also known as the Caliphate of Islam or the Islamic Renaissance. The term refers to a system of political, cultural, and religious authority derived from the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed in the early sixth century AD. At its high point under the Abbassid Dynasty (eighth to thirteenth centuries AD), Islamic civilisation experienced a flourish of art and culture that blended Arab, Persian, Egyptian, and European elements (Kraemer). The result was an era of incredible intellectual and cultural advancements (Wiet). At the height of its power, the Caliphate controlled all of the present-day Middle East, all of northern Africa and into Spain, and as far east as the Indus Valley, making it among the largest empires of all time and one of the few states ever to extend direct rule over three continents (Kennedy).

Relationship to Previous Periods

Following the disintegration of the great Middle Eastern empires (Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian), the Arab world was not unified and remained a series of nomadic tribes under the nominal control of various warlords. Mohammed and his followers understood that real incentives were needed to increase agricultural production (Chaudry). As a result, Islam became a force for social transformation that made economic stability a reality. This allowed various tribes to coalesce into a community, or umma, united under religious teaching. After unifying, the leaders began a sweeping conquest of all surrounding lands. During the Islamic Golden Age, the Roman Empire transferred most of its political power to Constantinople. The population of Europe was loosely organized under feudalism.

Contribution(s) to Western Civilisation

The Islamic Golden Age extended its rule to Spain and Sicily around AD 700, moving as far north as southern France by AD 730. Through this channel, Islamic arts and sciences entered European consciousness. Al-Hakam II, a ruler of Muslim Spain, gathered as many books as possible from Arab countries and put them in a library. This library became a translation centre for the texts to be rewritten in Latin (Lindberg 57 -- 8). In this way, older knowledge was reintroduced into Europe. Influence was also exerted by the relocation of Arab scholars to Europe. Many had studied Greek texts in their home countries, so they brought those ideas with them (Laughlin 120). In other words, Islamic civilisation contributed to Western civilisation by preserving its own intellectual heritage and reintroducing it at a later date.

Furthermore, the European invasions of the Middle East during the Crusades created instability in the Islamic Empire beginning in the eleventh century, but also allowed a sharing of culture. The crusaders often returned with culture and technology brought from Islamic civilisation. In addition, the Islamic Golden Age kept alive the advances and texts of ancient Greece and Rome. What is most clear is that Islamic civilisation was rife with artists, scholars, philosophers, poets, physicians, and engineers who made significant contributions to the arts and sciences. So valued was the idea of learning during this period that Turner wrote, "Muslim artists and scientists, princes and labourers together made a unique culture that has directly and indirectly influenced societies on every continent" (Saliba 270).

The Islamic Golden Age had a significant influence not only on the future world affairs of the Islamic world, but they also on the Christian-Latin in Jewish societies of the time (Sahar 4-5). The Islamic Golden Age brought Muslim Society from the fringes to center stage. It allowed Islamic Society to define their identity and their place in the rest of the world. It became a force that would serve as a catalyst to change every other society that it touched through the knowledge that was gained in all areas to which it contributed.

Mediaeval Islam became known as a place where diverse peoples found tolerance. Non-Islamic groups such as the Jews were undoubtedly second class citizens, but they did not find violent oppression while living in these lands (Kessler, p. 32). Fringe groups found tolerance in the Muslim world, while and the rest of the world intolerance reigned, even for Islam. The Crusades are a key example of this intolerance. The question is why Islamic leaders showed tolerance to others, well at the same time they were not shown reciprocal intolerance.

To answer this question one has to examine the influence of religion on Islamic politics. In the world of Islam, religion is not separate from secular law. The answer to religious tolerance words that Jews can be found in the Qur'an. The Qu'ran states that anyone who pays tax shall be protected and shall not be taxed into poverty (Kessler, p. 24). As long as the dues paid tax, there are considered a second class citizen, but were still offered the protection of the government.

The Islamic community not only influenced other cultures by promoting tolerance, it also preserved the ancient knowledge that contributed to the European renaissance (Al-Khalili). The translation of the ancient texts contributed to their own learning and also served as a repository of the knowledge for other civilizations. While Europe was in the dark ages, knowledge and wisdom in the world of Islam were at their peak. The preservation of knowledge and wisdom in Islam's Golden Age set the stage for the European Renaissance by serving as a repository for knowledge that had been lost, and in some cases never existed at all in European societies. Without Islam's commitment to the preservation of ancient knowledge, the European Renaissance might never have happened.

2. Scientific Environment

Background

The Islamic world played a robust role in preserving and developing science during its Golden Age. Its discoveries and theories were passed back to medieval and Byzantine Europe through translations. This included the retranslation of many Western texts previously lost to Europe back into Latin or Greek from the Arabic (Lebedel 109). In this fruitful exchange, Islamic scholars reawakened the ancient Greek philosophical texts, especially Aristotle. Islamic mathematicians developed algebra and algorithms. They added trigonometry to Euclidian geometry. The decimal point was instituted and led to a redevelopment of the Arabic numeric system. In medicine Islamic physicians evolved the germ theory and made pharmacological advances (O'Leary).

Muslim scientists developed quantitative, empirical, and experimental approaches to scientific inquiry. A number of scholars believe that they provided the platform for modern science (Durant 162 -- 86). For example, Al-Haytham (965 -- 1039 AD) introduced and vigorously pursued the scientific method (Steffens). He was considered one of the great pioneers of experimental physics (Gorini, Durant 53 -- 5). He authored the Book of Optics, which proved, using empirical evidence, that light rays entering the eye are responsible for sight. He demonstrated this using an invention known as the camera obscura, which showed the physical nature of light rays (Lindberg 154 -- 76). He also conducted groundbreaking psychological work in visual perception that is regarded as the basis for psychophysics (Khaleefa).

Some of the greatest advances in science and technology that arose during the Islamic golden age were in the field of medicine. Islam did not simply rehash ancient knowledge, they made important advances in all areas of science. They based their new ideas on older texts, and they became known for the ability to cure diseases and conditions that baffled European physiciabs. European medicine was still in the Dark Ages, relying on superstition and magic in many cases. At the same time, Islamic medicine took a more scientific and empirical approach that resembles medical discovery in modern times.

Medical Sciences were so highly developed that the Crusaders relied on them many times. For instance, Joinville reports that he was saved by a "Saracen" doctor in the year 1250 AD (Lebedel 112). This is not an isolated case and there are numerous reports throughout the journals and documents during the time of the crusades. This knowledge was transferred to Europe through the Crusaders who had witnessed Islamic cures, but the transmission of this knowledge throughout Europe was slow or nonexistent. The crusaders brought back the knowledge, while most of the European population was a literate at the time and word of mouth spread slowly or became inaccurately transcribed. Therefore, only a select few had access to the wealth of knowledge flowing from the Islamic doctors.

Technology

From the Islamic world came a number of new technologies that were later adopted in Europe. Some of these inventions were astronomical instruments, including the quadrant, sextant, and observation tube. The latter was influential in creating the telescope (Morelon 9 -- 10). Aside from astronomical technologies, the Islamic world created street lamps, waste disposal facilities (Artz 148 -- 50), ethanol (Hassan), and more than 200 surgical instruments.

Just as medical knowledge spread to Europe via the Crusaders, so did many technologies. For instance, various type of cultural crops and other advances in agricultural science were developed during this time (Watson 8-35). These advances included advanced gearing in waterclocks (Hassan), the revival of distillation processes that were once known to the ancient Greeks and Romans…[continue]

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