“This book, without a doubt, is a guide for the fearful who believe in the Unknowable, recite the prayer and bestow what We have dispensed to them, and believe in what has been revealed to you and in what was revealed before you, and they firmly believe in the ultimate life“ — Surah al-Baqarah Verses 1–5
Islam Golden Age: Between the 7th and 14th centuries, under the aegis of Islam and its portentous book, the Qur’an, Muslims managed to conquer a vast empire and usher in a new era of enlightenment and progress.
Content in a flash:
1. Islam Golden Age: Introduction to Islam — Between the 7th and 14th centuries, Islam, guided by the profound teachings of the Qur’an, propelled Muslims into an era of enlightenment and progress;
2. Islam Golden Age: From nomads to emperors — It is bizarre how a nomadic population rose to stardom almost overnight;
3. Golden Age of Islam: Geopolitics and the Quranic Epicenter — The Quran’s role in the Arabic Golden Age: Religious identity, trade and governance shape the empire;
4. Pioneers of science and guardians of knowledge — Several major scientific discoveries and breakthroughs happened by the hands of Islam Golden Age;
1. Islam Golden Age: Introduction to Islam
“Force of nature”, “Source of mysteries” or “Guide to the universe”? Most people would not pick either of the previous three statements when asked to answer the question: “What is Islam”?
They would rather stick with the more traditional “Second largest religion globally”. Such an answer is correct, but a vastly limiting answer, in our view.
How much does the majority of people truly know about this religion, its origin, its holy book and its beliefs?
We guess most people would say: “Muhammad is their most revered prophet, Allah is their universal God, the Qur’an is full of prayers and bizarre stories and their beliefs are specular and yet incompatible with Christianity”.
Closed case; easy, right? Well, not quite: there is so much more.
To get started, some fast facts about Islam can be found here: Islam Fast Facts.
Muhammad is truly the central character in what became a religious tsunami. Thanks to revelations allegedly shared with him from Gabriel in the desert, Muhammad established a new belief system heavily linked to the biblical beliefs of both Jews and Christians. In fact, according to Professor D. Shepardson, the Qur’an is filled with biblical elements by approximately two-thirds of its total content.
Of course, names and stories have been modified but in the Qur’an, beyond the angel Gabriel, we find Abraham and his family (Isaac, Lot, Ishmael), the Flood, Moses and even Jesus.
Well, at this point, can we confidently state that … is this all there is? Is Islam just a re-mix of Jewish narratives and some vague celestial recall and it is pointless to delve in it any further?
Far from it. In this series we will show that Muhammad left us an inheritance of astonishing ideas, innovations, visions, “impossible knowledge” and stories that not only match with the narrations of the biblical Elohim but incredibly add to them.
2. Islam Golden Age: From nomads to emperors
Armed with his Qur’an, Muhammad created a massively popular religion that sparked an unprecedented era of enlightenment that lasted centuries. Caliphates were propelled to an imperial destiny.
Dr. David King, historian of science at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, pointed out that “[Muslim science] flourished for a thousand years — no civilization on Earth has flourished that long in that way.”
We think it’s crucial to pause for a moment to provide some geopolitical context in order to appreciate the magnitude of this movement.
Little is known about the centuries before the rise of Islam; What is known is that for a thousand years before Muhammad, the populations occupying Arabia were mostly nomadic tribes and Bedouins. They were living in the desert or crossing the desert as merchants; the point is that they were typically on the move with a minimalistic lifestyle.
Even Muhammad lived this way for a good chunk of his life.
Series – Islam Golden Age
Historians explain the almost primitive way of life of Arabs before Islam by pointing out at their relationship with stones which were used for their art, religion and as a journal as well:
“In a landscape with no other traces of human civilization, the rocks preserved the nomads’ names and genealogies, along with descriptions of their animals, their wars, their journeys, and their rituals. There were prayers to deities, worries about the lack of rain, and complaints about the cruelty of Romans”
In short, a population still clinging to the Stone Age.
Nomads who travel with camels through the desert for centuries …. then suddenly, they become a prominent empire in the wider region. How could that have happened?
3. Islam Golden Age: Geopolitics and the Quranic Epicenter
The ultra famous science fiction novelist H.G. Wells wrote a non-fiction book once: “A short history of the world”. In it, he describes the global geopolitical situation of the 7th century AD, just before the rise of the Islamic empire.
While he concedes that the two largest empires, Romans and Persians, were exhausted from centuries of wars, he finds it utterly surprising that out of all people, it is exactly the nomadic Arabs who take regional leadership.
The truth is that the rise of the caliphates was determined by multiple factors, with the Qur’an holding a central role.
First and foremost, as always, geopolitics was crucial.
Being at the crossroads of major trade routes, especially due to the meaning of Mecca and its transformation to a trading hub, arabs opened to the world and developed strong interactions with several other cultures. This exposure enhanced their commercial acumen, triggered economic growth and expanded their cultural influence.
However, aside from the geopolitical advantage, it was the Quran and the religious sentiment that played the aggregating role needed to unite all Arabs into one invincible force.
The advent of Islam In fact, brought about a unification of the arab tribes under a common religious identity. This shared identity strengthened their bonds and created a stronger sense of community, anchored to a shared purpose that transcended tribal divisions.
Also, the adoption of Islam brought about a set of ethical, legal, and collective frameworks that provided stability and governance, which were previously lacking and finally, the principles outlined in the Qur’an helped establish a sense of justice, fairness, and order, essential for the functioning of a growing empire.
4. Golden Age of Islam – Pioneers of science and guardians of knowledge
Muhammad’s successors established and grew the Islamic empire and maintained political and religious powers over increasingly expanding lands including South West Asia, North Africa, South of Spain and even Sicily, for a period that spanned between the 7th and the 14th century AD. Over these centuries, Muslim scientists tapped into the knowledge of prior civilizations and further advanced several disciplines including medicine, mathematics, astronomy physics and technology.
Series: Golden Age of Islam
For example, Abu Ma’shar, a significant figure in the field of astronomy refined the planetary models, and proposed heliocentrism already in 837 AD placing the sun at the center instead of the Earth. In the West, we would have only become aware of this with Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543 AD.
All this astounding progress really flied in the face of Christianity because in this period, while Muslims became the lighthouse for humanity, Europe had plunged into a depressing era of repression, unease and stagnancy.
We believe that by simply stating that Muslims had made scientific discoveries does not pay sufficient homage to their achievements. Let’s give some examples:
In 822 AD: Abū Uthmān al-Jāhith argued that animals adapt to their environments, a break from Aristotle, who believed species were fixed and could not evolve.
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was credited in 1802 with being the first to argue for the inheritability of acquired characteristics (Lamarckism) which was supplanted by Darwinian evolutionary theory.
Heliocentric model of the universe:
Already in 837 AD Abū Ma’shar Ja’far ibn Muhammad Refined planetary models of the time, placing the sun at the centre of the solar system (heliocentricity) rather than the earth (geocentricity).
Nicolaus Copernicus published his “radical” heliocentric model of the universe only in 1543, describing the sun as a motionless body that earth & other planets orbit.
In 1090 AD Abū al-Fatah Umar ibn Ibrahīm al-Khayyāmi measured the solar year to within 6 decimal places of our modern value and created the Jalali calendar with an error-rate of less than 1 second per year.
The Gregorian calendar, the calendar used in most of the world, was invented by Pope Gregory VIII in 1543 and was wrong by 11 minutes.
These and many more discoveries can be found at this link. It is an incredibly sweet interactive chart that tracks Muslim discoveries and binds them to Europeans’ discoveries showing how Muslim regularly beat European scientists on time.
To this, we must also highlight the crucial role that Arab culture played in translating and preserving fundamental ancient texts that otherwise would never have reached us.
“We know very well that particularly at the time of the Abbasid Dynasty, translation flourished in Arabic of the Greek texts. Many Greek texts were saved, they were preserved thanks to Arabic translations. Let’s take, for example, one of the most known: Ptolemy’s Almagest…
..The Almagest would have been lost had it not been translated into Arabic. The Islamic civilization during the rule of the early caliphs was at the forefront of the known world, both scientifically and philosophically…
Just think that the “Bayt al-Ḥikma” of Baghdad, the “house of wisdom” wanted by the Abassids it included over 2 million books!
Do you know how many the Vatican library contained at that time? 850.”
In summary, the raising of Islam transcended mere religious significance, extending into the realms of geopolitics, culture, and knowledge.
Islam’s legacy not only shaped a significant chapter in history but also exemplified the power of cultural exchange, intellectual curiosity, and the profound impact of a unified vision fueled by knowledge and faith.
“A rugged, strife-torn and mountaineering people…were suddenly turned into an indomitable Arab force, which achieved a series of splendid victories unparalleled in the history of nations, for in the short space of ninety years that mighty range of Saracenic conquest embraced a wider extent of territory than Rome had mastered in the course of eight hundred.” — Simon Ockley
In the upcoming article, we’ll explore the intriguing connection between the Quran and the stars. Stay tuned! — Series Islam Golden Age