The Islamic Empire’s Golden Age

The roads wound all over the empire. Foreign goods were abundant in markets. The minds of the people were alive, buzzing with innovations and ideas. While the rest of the world was vanquished by intellectual darkness, the Islamic Empire was alive and teeming with knowledge and discovery, creating one of the greatest eras in history.

Mathematicians improved upon works of the early Greeks, scientists experimented with new discoveries, astrologists perfected the science of the lunar calendar, and map-makers made the most accurate maps to be found. Even ordinary merchants and sailors helped give rise to this “Golden Age”: through their travels, other countries came into contact with the manners and practices of Islam, many adopting these customs.

As the Islamic Empire grew, it touched borders far past the Middle East. To the west, North Africa was conquered, giving a foothold with which to gain parts of Europe, particularly Spain. To the east, South Asia was won, and through India, the Muslims reached China and Southeast Asia as well.

Traders, merchants, sailors, and other middle-class tradesmen made their way east on trade routes (such as the Silk Road) through Asia, interacting with others and exposing them to the Muslim culture they carried with them. They were known for their incredible manners and honesty when dealing in business, and led an example for the merchants of their time. Their demonstration of Islamic values attracted many to their religion. In this way, many Chinese people became Muslim, and the areas of Malaysia and Indonesia adopted Islam. Today, because of this, both Malaysia and Indonesia are predominantly Muslim with an abundance of Islamic culture, and Indonesia has the highest Muslim population in the world.

To the west, Muslim culture spread to Europe, leaving traces in architecture, language, philosophy, and government, especially in Spain. The Islamic Empire ruled over Spain for about 800 years, with people of all religions living together peacefully. The great Muslim thinkers in Spain influenced their philosophy; Islam affected their values, and Arabic words gradually came into use in the Spanish language. Much of the architecture also has an Arab/Muslim touch, and there are still countless mosques throughout the country.

The Islamic Empire also took on the culture of those areas they conquered, making the art, literature, philosophy, and perceptions vary from region to region of the Empire. This is why there is no uniform kind of Islamic art, literature, or architecture.
During the 9th century, books on astrology and math were imported to Baghdad; the Muslims would then translate these and other works at the House of Wisdom, which, on top of being the knowledge capital of the world, also served as a library where books would be gathered to translate into Arabic. Some of the first works to be translated were Euclid’s Elements and Ptolemy’s Great Work. Later, the Muslims would be the ones to translate these books into Latin for use by the Europeans.

With the aid of these translations, the Muslims expanded on old ideas, conducted experiments, and made new discoveries. The fields of mathematics and science flourished at this time, especially from the 9th century to the 14th century. Early in this time, math was done for practical uses, like trading and banking. Muslim mathematicians developed the standard numerals we use today (0, 1, 2, 3…) and the decimal/placeholder system (like how the zero in “10” stands for a place and it isn’t read as “one”). Al Khwarizmi, a famous mathematician, combined these digits and system with the Greek concepts. The book he wrote on this was so important and popular that it was translated into many languages and distributed all over the world. Another book Al Khwarizmi wrote was “Al Jabr Wal Muqabala” , or Algebra (which comes from the first part of the title – “Al Jabr”). It covered things like quadratic equations, simple geometry and linear equations, along with a long section of how to apply these concepts to solve inheritance problems.

Scientists translated works of Greek philosophy and science. They experimented with light and vision, setting the base for modern optics and establishing the need for experiments. Al Biruni wrote about sociology and geography. Ibn Sina wrote The Canons of Medicine, which is a million-word encyclopedia, and was the first to recognize that tuberculosis is contagious, identify meningitis, and describe the every part of the eye.

Mapmakers and geographists perfected their trade. Muslims made many innovations in this field, because this was needed to find the Qibla (direction to Mecca). Astrologists also continued to make better guides and better lunar calendars, which helped to accurately find out, for example, when Ramadan would start and end.

The Islamic Empire was at the height of its time. Just as most institutes today use the English language, institutes of learning all over the world used Arabic. It was the symbol of intellect, intelligence, and art. These great advancements and knowledge would continue to flourish within the Islamic Empire for over five centuries and eventually lead the rest of the world towards enlightenment.