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Here are some more Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) which encouraged learning:
B. Geographic Unity:
During this period the territory of the Muslim Empire included present-day Iran, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, North Africa, Spain, parts of Turkey and Turkey, and more! People came from all those lands to Baghdad. This brought about a sharing of ideas from different parts of the world.
The Abbasid Caliphate about 950 A.D.
C. Development of Paper
A third important reason for the Golden Age was the establishment of a paper mill (factory) in Baghdad. Paper was first invented in China and then the Muslims learned how it was made. (Actually Chinese papermakers were taken prisoner and forced to teach their captors how to make paper!) Soon paper replaced parchment (the skin of animals) and papyrus (a plant made into a kind of "paper" in ancient Egypt). The development of paper made it possible for a great many people to get books and learn from them. This was an important advance which affected education and scholarship.
D. A Unified Language
Another important reason for the "Golden Age" was the development of Arabic into the language of international scholarship. This was one of the most significant events in the history of ideas. Scholars could communicate with one another, and ideas were translated from Greek, Latin, ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and languages from other parts of the world. In the ninth century the Caliph al-Mamun encouraged the translation of Greek and Byzantine knowledge. With the approval of the Byzantine emperor, the caliph sent scholars to select and bring back Greek scientific manuscripts (handwritten works) for translation into Arabic. This knowledge could be read and discussed by scholars from all over the Islamic Empire.
Arabic painting of Socrates, a Greek philosopher
E. "The House of Wisdom - Bayt al-Hikmah"
The House of Wisdom was a place where scholar-translators tried to translate into Arabic the important philosophical and scientific works of the ancient world, especially from Greece and Egypt. They also tried to show how Islam could include exloring new ideas and experiments (rationalism). The House of Wisdom was set up by Caliph al-Mamun in 1004 A.D. in Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Empire. It was the greatest "think tank" the medieval world had ever seen! Without the translations and research that went on here, much of the Greek, Latin, and Egyptian knowledge would have been lost to the world.
The historian al-Maqrizi described the opening of the House of Wisdom in 1004:
" In 1004 A.D. 'The House of Wisdom' was opened. The students took up their residence. The books were brought from [many other] libraries ... and the public was admitted. Whosoever wanted was at liberty to copy any book he wished to copy, or whoever required to read a certain book found in the library could do so. Scholars studied the Qur'an, astronomy, grammar, lexicography and medicine. The building was, moreover, adorned by carpets, and all doors and corridors had curtains, and managers, servants, porters and other menials were appointed to maintain the establishment. Out of the library of Caliph al-Hakim those books were brought which he had gathered-- books in all sciences and literatures and of exquisite calligraphy such as no king had ever been able to bring together. Al-Hakim permitted admittance to everyone, without distinction of rank, who wished to read or consult any of the books.
(Cited by Stone in Sardar & Davies: The Legacy of Islam: A Glimpse from a Glorious Past )
F. The Importance of Books to the Muslims
Adapted from: Sardar & Davies: The Legacy of Islam: A Glimpse from a Glorious Past
"Within two hundred years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the book industry was to be found in almost every corner of the Muslim world. Indeed, the whole of Muslim civilization revolved around the book. Libraries (royal, public, specialized, and private) had become common. Bookshops were found almost everywhere and book authors, translators, copiers, illuminators, librarians, sellers, and collectors from all classes and sections of society, of all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, competed with each other in the making and selling of books.
"There were many libraries from which to borrow books in the Muslim civilization. Historians list thirty-six libraries in Baghdad alone around the middle of the thirteenth century, and that does not include the House of Wisdom!
"There were similar libraries in Cairo (Egypt), Aleppo (Syria) and the major or cities of Iran, Central Asia and Mesopotamia. In addition to the central government libraries, there was a huge network of public libraries in most big cities, and prestigious private collections which attracted scholars from all parts of the Muslim world.
"Of course, one could always buy books. A manuscript ... was about the size of the modern book, containing good quality paper with writing on both sides, and bound in leather covers. An average bookshop contained several hundred titles, but larger bookshops had many more ... The list of books sold in one bookstore was more than sixty thousand titles in many subjects: language and calligraphy, Christian and Jewish scriptures, the Qur'an and commentaries on the Qur'an, language books, histories, government works, court accounts, pre-Islamic and Islamic poetry, works by various schools of Muslim thought, biographies of numerous men of learning, Greek and Islamic philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, Greek and Islamic medicine, literature, popular fiction, travel (to India, China, Indochina), magic, other subjects and fables!"
From another historian/traveler Al-Wazan (also known as Leo Africanus) we learn that in the city of Timbuktu, Mali in West Africa, books were very precious. At the height of the city's golden age in the mid-16th century, Timbuktu boasted not only the impressive public libraries, but also private ones which included many of the rarest books ever written in Arabic. The libraries of Timbuktu grew through a regular process of hand-copying manuscripts. Al-Wazan commented that "hither are brought divers manuscripts or written books, which are sold for more money than any other merchandise." [See The Islamic Legacy of Timbuktu, Erols site.]
Above: The Public Library of Hulwan, Baghdad from a scene in Maqamat al-Hariri. The leather-bound books were stacked into niches cut into the wall. The last line in the Arabic text above is a common proverb still in use: "During an exam, a person is either honored or disgraced."
You are at Islamic Science and Mathematics, Part One