Islamic Science and Math (continued)
For centuries, the dry and harsh environment of much of the
Muslim lands made the collection, transportation, and storage of water
important. It is hardly surprising that the most important progress in medieval
Muslim technology and engineering was achieved in relation to water.
In the tenth century al-Kindi proposed a plan to dam the Nile.
Many of the dams, reservoirs,
and aqueducts constructed at
this time throughout the Islamic world still survive.
Photo: At Hama in Syria, antique wooden wheels still lift the
waters of the Orontes to gardens, baths, and fountains.
Syrian waterwheel still
Muslim engineers also perfected
the waterwheel and built underground
water channels some fifty feet
underground. The underground channels had manholes
(openings from the street) so that
they could be cleaned and repaired.
What were some other Muslim inventions and technological
- Water raising equipment
for irrigation are shown and described, including techniques included the
- A type of windmill, a horizontal mill with sails that revolve in a horizontal
plane around a vertical axis. Such mills are known from the 7th century
AD in the region around modern Iran and Afganistan.
- The heavy
plow helped many farmers.
- Steel made from iron after
heating and pounding was improved upon by skilled steelworkers in
Damascus and Toledo (Spain); they were famous for making fine steel
- Paper making (first
invented by the Chinese) was adapted by Middle Eastern workers and later
introduced into Europe. See the process of early
- The astrolabe (an
instrument used for measuring the positions on the earth). For two
student projects, see "Building
an Astrolabe" and "Building
an Astrolabe" from Singapore's Virtual Science
Center. Photo: Muslim scientists developed the astrolabe, an instrument
used long before the invention of the sextant
to observe the position of celestial (heavenly) bodies.
- See "Islamic History in Arabia and the Middle East",
especially section on "The Golden
Age" for inventions.
- Medieval Inventions are listed on a timeline at
Technology Pages". See which ones had their
origins in the Middle East and were brought to Europe.
Agricultural advances are also part of the Muslim legacy. Important books were written on
soil, water, and what kinds of crops were suited to
(fit best with) what soil. Many
new plants were introduced into all parts of the Muslim empire from Africa,
Europe, and from as far away as India and China. Farmers made advances in these
areas of agriculture:
1. grafting (cutting of a branch from one plant and putting it onto
2. fertilizers (used to make the fields
more fertile and grow more)
3. new plant varieties
III. Arabic words are still used as English scientific
Examples of Arabic words that are now part of scientific
English include algebra, algorithm, chemistry, alchemy, zircon, atlas, almanac,
earth, monsoon, alcohol, elixir, aorta, pancreas, colon, cornea, diaphragm, and
IV. Why did this "Golden Age" of science and learning
end? [This is an adaption and simplification of
The Golden Age of Islam
The Abbassid Empire became weaker in the 12th century. But from
its golden beginnings in the mid-8th century until the destruction of Baghdad by
the Mongols in 1256, Arabic culture was unequalled
in its splendor and learning. It was a period of almost
A. Why did Islam's Golden Age come
to an end? What forces shifted both political power and learning from the
Islamic Empire to Christian Europe?
Like all historical trends, the explanations are complex. Yet some broad outlines may be
identified, both within and without Muslim lands.
1. Internal Pressures (From Inside the Empire): the End to
With the end of the Abbasid Caliphate and the beginning of
the Turkish Seljuk Caliphate in 1057 CE, the
centralized power of the empire began to shatter.
Religious differences resulted in splinter groups, charges of heresy, and
assassinations. Aristotelian logic, adopted early on
as a framework upon which to build science and philosophy, appeared to be
undermining the beliefs of educated Muslims. Orthodox faith was in decline and
skepticism on the rise.
The appeal made by theologian
(a person who studies religion and about the nature
of God) al-Ghazali turned the religious tide back to
orthodox (traditional) belief. In a
masterful philosophical argument, most clearly stated in his book,
The Destruction of Philosophy, al-Ghazali declared reason and all its works
to be bankrupt. Experience and the reason that grew out of it were not to be
trusted; they could say nothing meaningful about the reality of Allah. Only
direct intuition of God led to worthwhile knowledge. Philosophy was a snare,
leading the unwary to the pits of Hell. By the time of his death in 1111, free
scientific investigation and philosophical and religious toleration were
phenomena of the past. Schools limited their teaching to theology (religion
and the nature of God). Scientific progress came to a
2. External Pressures (From Without)
During this same period, the European Crusades (1097-1291)
weakened the Islamic Empires' powers from without. Cordoba fell to Spanish
Christians in 1236. When the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1256 the Islamic Empire
never recovered. Trade routes became unsafe. Urban life broke down.
Individual communities drew in upon themselves in feudal
isolation. Science and philosophy survived for a while
in scattered pockets, but the golden age of Islamic culture was at an
B. Destruction of Books and Libraries
1. The fall of Baghdad (1258) meant the end of the Abbasid
Caliphate. Two million Muslims were massacred
(killed, wiped out) in Baghdad.
The major scientific institutions, laboratories, schools, and even roads and
waterways in leading Muslim centers of civilization were destroyed. The books
from the House of Wisdom were either burned or dumped into the Euphrates
River. There were so many books dumped into the river that the waters turned
black with their ink.
2. Another wave of destruction came when the Christians took
over Spain in 1492. More than one million volumes of Muslim works on science,
arts, philosophy and culture were burnt in the public square in