The Abbasid Era

The Abbasid Caliphate (750 C.E. – 1528 C.E.) is not only known as the third of the Caliphates in the Islamic Empire, but as one of the most influential and educative periods in history. It was a golden time marked by incredible advancements in the sciences and arts, advancements that were probably never deemed possible. It was once stated that, “Arab Muslims now studied astronomy, alchemy, medicine and mathematics with such success that, during the ninth and tenth centuries, more scientific discoveries had been achieved in the Abbasid empire than in any previous period of history.1 In fact, it was because of these developments that European existence flourished centuries later, sowing the seeds for the European Renaissance.

The Abbasid Caliphate was first created in Harran in 750 C.E., after the Umayyad Caliphate power was overthrown. This new Caliphate would be built by Abdullah Ibn Al-Abbas, the son of Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) uncle Abbas Ibn Abdul-Muttalib, while the Umayyad Caliphate had descended from Umayya, which at this point in time had set up their own rule in Spain.

Abu Al-Abbas Abdullah As-Saffah was the first caliph to hold power, hence the name of the empire.  Reigning from 749 C.E. to 754 C.E.,  As-Saffah sought to rebuild the caliphate after the Umayyads, building a new government that contained a various assortment of Jews, Nestorian Christians, and Persians, who were well represented during his rule, and later successive rulers of the Abbasid administration. As-Saffah also encouraged education; under his lead, the world’s first paper mills were set up in Samarkland. His military army was revolutionary, as he focused on recruiting Muslims, as well as non-Muslims. As-Saffah was a strong and fierce Abbasid leader, but unfortunately his period of rule was short. When he died in 754 C.E., his brother Abu Jafar al-Mansur took his place, and then later, Isa ibn Musa. The Abbasid Caliphate continued to live on as a line of successors ruled the dynasty, until the last Abbasid caliph was overthrown in 1258.

Unlike the Umayyad Caliphate, whom focused their attention on the west, the Abbasids turned their rule of power eastward. Interaction with surrounding regions was dominant, as events in places like Persia and Transoxania were closely watched. In fact, a majority of support for the caliphate came from Persian converts, so it wasn’t a surprise to see their government heavily based on Persian tradition. The Abbasids also based their rulings on Islamic Law and Islam, and encouraged the unity of the Muslim community as a whole, rather than just toward Arab nationalities. While Islamic culture and tradition strengthened with the Umayyads, it permanently established itself in the first century of Abbasid rule, and continued to prosper even further as the reign of the caliphs Al-Mansur, Harun Ar-Rashid, and Al-Ma’mun brought along perhaps the most heightening point of Abbasid rule at the time – the Islamic Golden Age.

The Islamic Golden Age (also sometimes known as the Islamic Renaissance) was a magnificent period of education and intellect that swept the 8th century and brought great progress to the dynasty. The Abbasids were incredibly fond of knowledge and were inspired by many Qur’an and Hadith injunctions that encouraged its acquirement, so they sought to implement it into their rule as much as possible. When the Abbasids moved their capital to Baghdad, the caliphate leader Al-Ma’mun encouraged the construction of the “House of Wisdom” (Dar-ul-Hikma), which became the center of learning for the world where both Muslims and non-Muslim scholars from every land came to share knowledge. The Abbasids’ passion for learning opened up the doors to new discoveries, especially in the fields of science, literature, and technology. For science, discoveries were made and pioneered by many remarkable thinkers: the concept of Algebra was developed by the scientist al-Khawarizmi, who is now considered to be the “father of Algebra”; the study of optics by Ibn al-Haytham, who is considered to be the “father of Optics”; and Astronomy, which was advanced considerably by Al-Battani. The study of medicine, too, advanced during the Abbasid era; in fact, Baghdad contained over 800 doctors who developed the majority of knowledge about disease and illness. The famous scientist, Ibn Sina, is known as the “father of medicine” for his encyclopedias The Canon of Medicine and The Book of Healing, which he produced for the purpose of gathering the vast amount of knowledge discovered by the scientists of the time.

Literature also advanced significantly during the Abbasid era as well, as a wide variety of works – from poetry to informative texts – were produced.  The most famous piece of fiction that was developed during the time was “The Book of One Thousand and One Nights”, which was said to have been inspired by pre-Islamic Persian and Indian elements. It also includes elements from other Middle Eastern and African nations as well. “The Book of One Thousand and One Nights” was created in the 10th century and reached its final form in the 14th century. To this day, the book’s classic characters such as Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor, and Ali Baba continue to inspire many people in the West, who have grown fascinated with their adventures. It’s amazing to see that a book of tales written centuries ago could still capture the attention of many readers today!

Technology undeniably developed in remarkable ways under the Abbasid Caliphate. Many inventions such as gunpowder and papermills were developed and established abundantly. An “agricultural revolution” rapidly flourished during this time as well, while early industries for clocks, glass, ceramics, matting, mosaics, and astromical instruments took form. These breakthrough accomplishments paved the way for the later technological advances that would soon arrive in European countries and other eastern regions in years to come.

The Abbasid era had an immense and everlasting impact on humanity. Without their leadership and advancements, today’s world would be far from what it is today.

1 Karen Armstrong(1993). A History of God. Ballantine Books. p. 171
1. Abbasid Dynasty – Britannica
2. Abbasids – MSN Encarta
3. Abbasids – General Information
4. As-Saffah – Wikipedia
5. The Abbasid Caliphate – Wikipedia