GROUP 10: THE RISE AND SPREAD OF ISLAM AND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE HOUSE OF WISDOM
Islam is believed to have originated in the early 7th century CE in Mecca. The word “Islam” is a verbal noun mostly relating to submission, safeness and peace. In a religious context, Islam means submission to God. It is a religion that teaches that there is only one God whose messenger was called Muhammad. At the present time, Islam is the world’s second largest religion. Islam is currently the fastest growing religion in the world with over 1.8 billion followers which make up about 24.1% of the global population. Followers of Islam are referred to as Muslims. Majority of the Muslims are of one of two denominations; Sunni or Shai. The holy book of Islam, the Quran, reveals that God is merciful and all powerful. The Quran is believed to be the exact words of God as well as teachings and examples of Muhammad. Islam teaches a final judgment with the righteous rewarded paradise and unrighteous punished in hell. There are five pillars of Islam: Muslim life, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification and pilgrimage. The three holiest sites in Islam are Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem CITATION AlH18 l 1033 (AlHazen, 2018). Islam as a religion and civilization has gone through transformations that have shaped it into what it is today among which are the caliphate and civil strife, the period of the classical era and the pre-modern era. This essay focuses on the effects of the transformations during the Islamic Golden Ages which traditionally dated from the 8th to 14th century. During this period, the Islamic world was ruled by various caliphates. A caliphate is a state under the leadership of a caliph who is considered to be a religious successor of Prophet Muhammad. Economic development, science and cultural works also flourished during the Islamic Golden Ages CITATION isl18 l 1033 (islamic Golden Age, 2018). A major contributor during this time was the House of Wisdom. The House of Wisdom is a large library that belonged to the Abbasid Caliphs. The house of wisdom was a key element of the major Translation Movement translating works from Greek and Syriac to Arabic CITATION Hou18 l 1033 (House Of Wisdom, 2018).
The Rise of Islam
Muhammad (ca. 570-632) was born into the Hashemite family and was raised an orphan by Bedouin Arabs. He got married to a rich widow called Khadijah, who took him in at the age of twenty-five. He enjoyed a successful business career due to his marriage. However, after his death, his lifestyle changed drastically.
The Arabs at that time were polytheistic and Muhammad strongly disagreed with their beliefs. When he was about forty, Muhammad claimed to have seen a vision in which the angel Gabriel came to him that he was given a mission by the one true God to enlighten the Arabs about their indifference to morality and worship of the Creator. His wife believed in his vision, but he did not want to go public with it for fear of being labelled as a mad man. When Muhammad eventually went public with his vision, his teachings fell on deaf ears in the first years after his calling. However, some of his listeners agreed with his wife, Khadijah, in recognizing him as a divinely chosen prophet. Some Meccans joined him, but the merchants resisted to his preaching. The authorities feared that he would start a rebellion and gave him a hard time.
When Muhammad’s followers were still small, he and his group were forced to flee from Mecca to save their lives. This occurred in 622 C.E. His trip from Mecca to Medina (formerly called Yathrib) is known as the hijra which means “migration” in Arabic. After about twelve years, this migration became an important milestone in the Islamic calendar forming the first “ummah” or Muslim community.
Medina was a city with a very large Jewish population. He tried to make the religion more attractive to the Jews. For instance, he instituted the rite of praying towards Jerusalem, similar to the manner of prayers used by the Jews. He also instituted the prohibition of pork and slaughtering animals similar to shechitah. However the Jews did not convert; he only managed to create more enemies.
After destroying all his enemies in Medina he turned towards Mecca. His conquered all his opposition there as well as in neighbouring villages. This led to the introduction of jihad (holy war). Muhammad built for himself a strong army, with the solid mission to conquer the rest of the Middle Eat and convert it to Islam.
Before his death, Muhammad unified Arabia into a single religious polity under Islam. The Muslims believed he was a messenger and a prophet of God. (Miller, 2010)
After his death, there were various quarrels regarding who was going to lead Islam as the next leader since Muhammad supposedly didn’t leave a successor to take charge in the event that he died. These conflicts regarding the choice of Muhammad’s successor led to the key split in Islam which we refer to as the Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. This division still lasts till today as well.
The Islam Caliphate was the era of Islam’s ascendancy from the death of Muhammad until the 13th century. Later on, after the death of Muhammad in 632 CE, Abu Bakr, his friend was confirmed Caliph and ruler of the Islamic community. When this happened, the Sunni Muslims believed Abu Bakr was the justified successor but the Shi’a Muslims were certain that Ali ibn Abi Talib should have been the caliph. The Sunni Muslims presumed that a caliph should be picked out by Muslims or their representatives while the Shi’a Muslims believed that instead of appointing a caliph based on family lineage like his cousin Ali, Muhammad made the mistake of selecting his friend, Abu Bakr. (Team, 2017)
The death of Muhammad led to various allegiances lost especially that of the Arabian tribes. The Arabian tribes as well as other tribes started to scorn and disregard Islam because they claimed that Muhammad had died so their allegiance with him had died with him. To regain solidity of the Islam state Abu Bakr commanded his Muslim army to compel the Arabians tribes and other rebels to submission by force. During this war of submission, Abu Bakr’s general, Khalid Ibn defeated the opposing prophet of the rebelling Arabians thereby conquering them to surrender and acquiescence. After the quarrel was over, Abu Bakr started a war of takeover and domination. Rather sooner than later, he ruled one of the largest empires of that time.
Islam rose and spread through most of Arabia, North Africa, Mesopotamia and Persia, thus our Islamic religion of today.
After this, when Abu Bakr was on his death bed he chose Umar as his successor. Unfortunately, Umar was killed by a Persian and Uthman was then elected as the next caliph. Consequently, several rulers rose and fell their empires along with them, all of them contributing to the rise of Islam.
Spread of Islam
The spread of Islam throughout the African continent was neither synchronous nor uniform, but followed a gradual and adaptive path. The best and the most seasoned records accessible to us about the spread of Islam in Africa are the accounts of the geographer al-Bakri, and the great traveller Ibn Battuta.
Egypt was the first African country to come under the influence of Islam.
Individuals of antiquated Egypt were polytheists. The Persian attack of Egypt in 539 BC doesn’t appear to have made any difference to Egyptian religion. The Egyptians simply kept appropriate on loving their divine beings.
At the point when the Romans conquered Egypt in 30 BC, again the Egyptians kept continued revering their gods, including some Roman gods as well.
After the Roman Emperors became converted to Christianity in the 4th century, most of the Egyptians converted to Christianity. The famous conflict between Arius and Athanasius, took place mostly in Alexandria, in Egypt.
With the spread of Islam to Egypt, most Egyptians soon converted from Christianity to Islam. A few Jews living in Egypt remained Jewish, while a portion of the Christians remained Christians.
The Muslim conquers of Egypt occurred in 20 A.H (641AH). Around then, Egyptians were unhappy with the Byzantine Empire’s rule, which made it less demanding for the Islamic army to invade Egypt.
An Arabian general named Amr Ibn El-Aas7, with a 4,000 mounted force, rode across the Sinai Desert, and assaulted the post of Babylon. Ibn El-Aas made his central station at Fustat, another town situated in present-day Old Cairo, which turned out to be later on the capital of Egypt instead of Alexandria. Under Muslim rule, most Egyptians in time converted to Islam. Islam in Egypt survived even the merciless attack of the crusaders which went on for about 200 years.
Today about 94% of inhabitants of Egypt are Muslims with around 1% Shia. Roughly 6 % of the population is composed of Christians, a greater part of who have a place with the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Spread of Islam to other parts of Africa
“Africans are famously religious.” This is a quote from John Mbiti a professor from Kenya who is recognized as one of the main experts in the world regarding religion in Africa.
North and East Africa are isolated from the Arabian Peninsula where Islam began by the narrow Red Sea. Therefore, it does not astonish that soon after its establishment, Islam began to spread into close-by regions of Africa. The vast Sahara Desert and the Red Sea and Indian Ocean were not wide obstuctions to the spread of Islam. Arabs had lived, traveled and traded in desert conditions for many years before the beginning of Islam. In addition, since the Arabian Peninsula is bordered on three sides by water, Arabs were experienced sea traders.
Between the 8th and the 9th centuries, Muslim dealers, began to spread Islam along the eastern shore of Africa and to western and central Sudan. (Literally, ‘the Land of Black people’)
Egypt turned into a critical passage through which Islam spread to other parts of Africa. From Egypt, Arab traders acquainted Islam to the West into an area called the Maghrib which incorporates the present day countries of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Islam was not consequently acknowledged by the local Berber speaking populations. Indeed, Islam did not become the predominant religion across North Africa until the Twelfth century A.D.
Spread of Islam in Asia
After Muhammad died, the Umayyad and Abbasid successors who occupied the caliphate spread Islam from India to Spain.
Towards the 11th and 12th centuries, the Abbasids became like slaves to their Central Asian Seljuk soldiers. The Seljuks, who had converted to Islam in the 10th century, became at war with the Christian Byzantine leading to the establishment of Crusades in Western Asia to defend their religion.
Muslim merchants introduced Indians to Islam in the 18th century, which was a period of chaos in the Indian subcontinent. During the 11th and 12th centuries Muslim Turks and Afghans continuously invaded India, eliminating Hindu and Buddhist centres, which lasted until the start of the Delhi sultanate in the early 13th century. When the Mongols captured Baghdad from the Abbasids in1258, Islam had already made its mark in India. Despite being slowed by Mongol invasions, the sultanate continued the spread of Islam in India.
While the Muslims were almost getting rid of Indian Buddhism, Indian merchants and missionaries carried both Buddhism and Hinduism throughout Southeast Asia. In the islands of Southeast Asia, the Buddhist kingdom of Sri Vijaya on Sumatra rivaled the Sailendra dynasty of Java, whose people also constructed Hindu and Buddhist temples. These kingdoms were preceded by the Indianized Singosari and the kingdom of Majaphit, whose economy by the 15th century was controlled by Indiam Muslim traders. Although majority of Malaysia and the islands of Indonesia became Muslim, Buddhism remained in the Southeast Asian mainland.
House of Wisdom
The house of wisdom despite it no longer being in existence was once a center of learning in the medieval times. It was located in Baghdad, Iraq. The house of wisdom was primarily built as a library and then later turned into a public academy. It was identified as the house of ancient and modern wisdom during the Islamic Golden Age having consisted of many works from across Europe and the Middle East. (Bengoechea, 2016)
The house of wisdom which is known as Bayt al-Hikma in Arabic was built around the 8th century under the Abbasid dynasty which was under the power of Caliph Harun al-Rashid. The Abbasids came into power after a victorious revolution in AD 750 against the Umayyad Caliphs. Caliph Harun al-Rashid initially had this building built to be a private library known as the library of wisdom, this library included manuscripts and books about various disciplines and in different languages.
Three decades later the library was later converted into a large academy that housed different branches of knowledge. This conversion was done under the rule of Caliph Al –Ma’mun who built extensions to the then library which was later renamed as the house of wisdom. It not only became a center of wisdom and knowledge but it also became a research center for many scholars. In the house of wisdom, scholars collected books of Greek language and gathered every day for translation, reading, writing, discourse, dialogue and so on; works of various Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Hippocrates and so on.
A wide variety of languages were spoken, read and translated in the house of wisdom .they include; Arabic, Hebrew. Greek, Farsi, Latin and Aramaic. Translating old writing into Arabic to allow scholars to understand, debate and build on them. Caliph Al Ma’mun encouraged translators and scholars to add to the library in the house of wisdom by paying them the weight of each completed book in gold.
The house of wisdom was seen as a library, translation institute and academy of scholars from across the empire. The Islamic Golden age was known for its great intellectual growth and discovery in the Islamic world. The pursuit of knowledge became an ever dominant feature during this period attracted scholars and scientists from Europe, the Middle East; including the Persian and Christians. Scholarly work became a lucrative career in the library.
The house of wisdom was brought down to their knees and completely destroyed after the invasion of the Mongols, its ruins were discarded into the Tigris. The many books and manuscripts and writing were completely destroyed and till date there is no physical evidence of the house of wisdom.it was said that the river was black with ink for days and red with blood from the scholars.
Significance of the House of Wisdom
The House of Wisdom included a society of scientists and academics, a translation department and a library that preserved the knowledge acquired by the Abbasids over the centuries. They also researched and studied alchemy, which was later used to create the structure of modern chemistry. Furthermore, linked to it were also astronomical observatories and other major experimental endeavors. In general, notable influences of the house of wisdom in Islamic civilization includes: the translating house, Muslim science, influence on learning and influence on trade.
Muslim researchers from everywhere throughout the world came and translated numerous books from Greek and Roman writers, Persian, Indian and Chinese authors into Arabic. Institutionalized by Al-Ma’mun, the academy encouraged the transcription of Greek philosophical and scientific efforts. Also, he imported manuscripts of important texts that were not accessible to the Islamic countries from Byzantium to the library. The House of Wisdom was much more than a library, and a considerable amount of original scientific and philosophical work was produced by scholars and intellectuals related to it. This allowed Muslim scholars to verify astronomical information that was handed down from past scholars. Later on, in the eleventh century, in Toledo in Spain, these Arabic interpretations were put into Latin and spread throughout Christian Europe.
All the data they acquired was used either as part of a drug, for science or for regular day to day existence.
Besides their translations of earlier works and their commentaries on them, scholars at the Bayt al-Hikma produced important original research. Al-Khwarazmi (a Persian scholar), founded the number zero. Without Zero we would not be able to program computers or even have the internet. For example, the noted mathematician Khwarizmi worked in al-Ma’mun’s House of Wisdom and is famous for his contributions to the development of algebra. Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was born around 780 and died around 850. He was known as a mathematician and an astronomer in the House of Wisdom, and is also known for his book Kitab al-Jabr in which he develops a number of algorithms. The application of the word “algebra” to mathematics and the etymology of the word “algorithm” can be traced back to al-Khwarizmi — the actual concept of an algorithm dates back before the time of Euclid. The term ‘algebra’ is derived from a Latin version of al-Khwarizmi’s name which is ‘Algorithmus’. He was instrumental in introducing the Arabs to Hindu numerals and algebra so he is known as “The Father of Algebra”. Additionally, al-Khwarizmi wrote about the astrolabe, sundial, and elaborated on Ptolemy’s geometric model. Al-Khwarizmi is also known as the first geographer of Islam with his famous Picture of the Earth treatise. In Picture of the Earth, he arranged the coordinates of hundreds of cities in the world at that time and gave instructions for drawing a new map of the world. George Sarton, one the most famous historians of science known for his book, Introduction to the History of Science, called the period between 800 and 850 AD “The Time of al-Khwarizmi”.
The house of wisdom also had its influence on architecture. The pointed arch from Muslim mosques was copied in western Gothic architecture. Western mansion or castle architects embraced the possibility of concentric castles from Muslim castles they had seen in crusades.
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