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Thus Arab Muslim societies and other Muslims have cultural affinities, though every society has preserved its distinguishing characteristics. Islamic culture inherited an Arab culture born in the desert, simple but by no means simplistic. It has an oral tradition based on the transmission of culture through poetry and narrative. However, it has been the written record that has had the greatest impact on civilization.

Islam civilization is based on the value of education, which both the Qur'an and the Prophet stressed.

Muslim Contributions to Civilization

This dark green jade pot, 14 cm. Before that, the dragon-headed handle suggests it may have belonged to a Timurid ruler. Knowledge and Education. In the Pre-Islamic period, one of the traditions was that of the mu'allaquat literally "the hangings". In the city of Mecca, poets and writers would hang their writings on a certain wall in the city so that others could read about the virtues of their respective tribes. Their travels from city to city and tribe to tribe were the means by which news, legends, and exploits would become known.

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The tradition continued as the Qur'an was first memorized and transmitted by word of mouth and then recorded for following generations. This popular expression of the Arab Muslim peoples became an indelible part of Islamic culture.

Even today Muslims quote the Qur'an as a way of expressing their views and refer to certain maxims and popular tales to make a point. Great centers of religious learning were also centers of knowledge and scientific development. Such formal centers began during the Abbasid period A. In the tenth century Baghdad had some schools. Alexandria in the fourteenth century had 12, students. It was in the tenth century that the formal concept of the Madrassah school was developed in Baghdad.

The Madrassah had a curriculum and full-time and part-time teachers, many of whom were women. Rich and poor alike received free education. From there Maktabat libraries were developed and foreign books acquired. The two most famous are Bait al-Hikmah in Baghdad ca. Universities such as Al-Azhar A. Then exalted be Allah the True King!

Overcoming Historical Amnesia: Muslim Contributions to Civilization

And hasten not O Muhammad with the Qur'an ere its revelation hath been perfected unto thee, and say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge. Qur'an Islamic history and culture can be traced through the written records: Pre-Islamic, early Islamic, Umayyad, the first and second Abbasid, the Hispano-Arabic, the Persian and the modern periods. The various influences of these different periods can be readily perceived, as can traces of the Greek, the Indian, and the Pre-Islamic Persian cultures.

Throughout the first four centuries of Islam, one does not witness the synthesis or homogenization of different cultures but rather their transmittal through, and at times their absorption into, the Islamic framework of values. Islam has been a conduit for Western civilization of cultural forms which might otherwise have died out.

Pre-Islamic poetry and prose, which was transmitted orally, was recorded mostly during the Umayyad period A.


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Contacts with Greece and Persia gave a greater impulse to music, which frequently accompanied the recitation of prose and poetry. By the mid's in the Baghdad capital of Abbassids under Harun al-Rashid and al-Ma'mun, Islamic culture as well as commerce and contacts with many other parts of the world flourished. In the fourth century B. During the Ptolemaic period, Alexandria, Egypt, was the radiant center for the development and spread of Greek culture throughout the Mediterranean.

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That great center of learning continued after , when Egypt became part of the Muslim state. Thereafter Syria, Baghdad, and Persia became similar channels for the communication of essentially Greek, Syriac, pre-Islamic Persian and Indian cultural values. As a result, Islamic philosophy was influenced by the writings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The great Muslim philosophers such as Ibn Khaldun d. It was essentially through such works, intellectually faithful to the originals, that Western civilization was able to benefit from these earlier legacies.

In fact, St. These great philosophers produced a wealth of new ideas that enriched civilization, particularly Western civilization which has depended so much on their works. The influence of Islam ultimately made possible the European Renaissance, which was generated by the ideas of the Greeks filtered through the Muslim philosophers. The same is true of early legal writings of Muslim scholars such as al-Shaybani, who in the seventh century started the case method of teaching Islamic international law that was subsequently put into writing in the twelfth century by a disciple in India.

It was the basis for the writings of the legal canonists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries on certain aspects of international law, in particular the laws of war and peace. The study of history held a particular fascination for Arab Muslims imbued with a sense of mission.

Indeed, because Islam is a religion for all peoples and all times, and because the Qur'an states that God created the universe and caused it to be inhabited by men and women and peoples and tribes so that they may know each other, there was a quest for discovery and knowledge. As a result Muslims recorded their own history and that of others. But they added insight to facts and gave to events, people, and places a philosophical dimension expressed in the universal history written by al-Tabari of Baghdad In the introduction to his multi-volume work he devoted an entire volume to the science of history and its implications.

Al-Tabari also wrote an authoritative text on the history of prophets and kings which continues to be a most comprehensive record of the period from Abraham to the tenth century. The West's fascination with Arabo-Islamic culture can be seen in many ways. Dante's "Divine Comedy" contains reference to the Prophet's ascension to Heaven.

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Shakespeare in "Othello" and the "Merchant of Venice" describes Moorish subjects. Victor Hugo writes of Persians as do Boccaccio and Chaucer. From the second half of the eighth century to the end of the eleventh century, Islamic scientific developments were the basis of knowledge in the world. At a period of history when the scientific and philosophical heritage of the ancient world was about to be lost, Islamic scholars stepped in to preserve that heritage from destruction. Indeed, without the cultivation of science in these early centuries by Islamic scholars, it is probable that texts which later exercised a formative influence over Western culture would never have survived intact.

It is certain, moreover, that the modern world would look much different than it does today. For the culture and civilization that were founded on Islam not only preserved the heritage of the ancient world but codified, systematized, explained, criticized, modified, and, finally, built on past contributions in the process of making distinctive contributions of their own. The story of Islam's role in the preservation and transmission of ancient science, to say nothing of its own lasting contributions, is truly fascinating—and a bit of a puzzle.

Why is it that so many ancient Greek texts survive only in Arabic translations? How did the Arabs, who had no direct contact with the science and learning of the Greeks, come to be the inheritors of the classical tradition? The answers to these questions are to be found in a unique conjunction of historical forces.

From the first, it appears, the Umayyad dynasty located in Damascus evinced an interest in things Greek, for they employed educated Greek-speaking civil servants extensively.


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Early friezes on mosques from the period show a familiarity with the astrological lore of late antiquity. The theory of numbers, developed and expanded from the original Indian contribution, resulted in the "Arabic numbers" 1 through 9. Islamic scholars also used the concept of zero, which was a Hindu concept. Without the zero, neither mathematics, algebra, nor cybernetics would have developed. Algebra was essentially developed by the Arab Muslims; the very word derives from the Arabic al-jabr.

Among the most prominent scholars is the Basra born Ibn al-Haytham , who developed the "Alhazen problem," one of the basic algebraic problems, and who made great contributions to optics and physics. He had advanced long before Newton the thesis that extraterrestrial scientific phenomena governed the motion of the earth and stars.

He also developed experiments on light which were nothing short of extraordinary at that time. He demonstrated the theory of parallels, based on the finding that light travels in straight lines, and the passing of light through glass. Astronomy, developed by the Babylonians, continued to flourish under Islam. It soon expanded beyond the science of observation into the design of measuring instruments. In addition, it gave rise to the development of planetary theory.

The Arabic alphabet developed from the ancient script used for Nabataean, a dialect of Aramaic, in a region now part of Jordan. The Arabic alphabet has 28 letters. However, additional letters have been added to serve the need of other languages using the Arabic script; such as Farsi, Dari, and Urdu, and Turkish until the early part of the 20th century. The Qur'an was revealed in Arabic. Traditionally the Semites and the Greeks assigned numerical values to their letters and used them as numerals.

But the Arabs developed the numbers now used in languages. The invention of the "zero" is credited to the Arabs though it has its origins in Hindu scholarship.

The Arab scholars recognized the need for a sign representing "nothing," because the place of a sign gave as much information as its unitary value did.