Muslims showed an endless curiosity about the world God had made. In fact, the Qur’an instructed them to learn more: Have they not looked at the camel—how it was created?
And at the sky—how it was raised up? As a result of their interest in the natural world, Muslims made many advances in science and technology. Let’s look at a few of their accomplishments.
Zoology A number ofpl Muslim scholars became interested in zoology, the scientific study of animals. Some wrote books describing the structure of animals’ bodies. Others explained how to make medicines from animals. In the 800s, a scholar named al-Jahiz even presented theories about the evolution of animals. Muslims also established zoological gardens, or zoos, where exotic animals were displayed.
Astronomy Muslim scholars made great advances in astronomy, the study of objects in the universe. Astronomy had many practical uses for Muslims. For example, compasses and astrolabes could be used to locate the direction of Makkah. These instruments allowed worshipers far from the holy city to pray facing the right direction. Astronomers also figured out exact times for prayer and the length of the month of Ramadan.
Beyond such practical matters, Muslim astronomers simply wanted to learn about the universe. Some of them realized that Earth rotated, or turned, like a spinning top. Many questioned the accepted idea that Earth was the center of the universe, with the sun and stars traveling around it. As later work showed, in reality Earth travels around the sun.
Irrigation and Underground Wells Muslims made technological advances that helped them make the most of scarce water resources. Much of the land under Muslim rule was hot and dry. Muslims restored old irrigation systems and designed new ones. They built dams and aqueducts to provide water for households, mills, and fields. They improved existing systems of canals and underground wells. Some wells reached down 50 feet into the ground. Muslims also used water wheels to bring water up from canals and reservoirs. (Caption)
The town of Hama, Syria, has 17 wooden waterwheels from medieval Muslim times. These waterwheels scooped water from the Orontes River into aqueducts, bringing it to homes and farms. (Vocabulary)
zoology the scientific study of animals
evolution the process by which different kinds of animals and other living things develop
astronomy the science of the stars, planets, and other objects in the universe
astrolabe an instrument used to observe and measure the position of the sun and other heavenly bodies Page 110
10.6 Geography and Navigation
Another subject of study for Muslim scholars was geography. Muslim geographers examined plants and animals in different regions. They also divided the world into climate zones.
Most educated people in medieval times believed that the Earth was round, but they disagreed about the Earth’s size. Muslim scientists calculated the Earth’s circumference within nine miles of its correct value.
Some Muslims studied geography simply out of curiosity. But geography had practical uses, too. For example, Muslims created extremely accurate maps. A scholar in Muslim Spain produced a world atlas with dozens of maps of lands in Europe, Africa, and Asia. A work called The Book of Roads and Provinces provided maps and descriptions of the main Muslim trade routes. The Book of Countries listed useful facts about the lands under Muslim rule. From this book, travelers could get information such as a region’s physical features and water resources.
Travelers were another source of knowledge. Some travelers wrote guidebooks to help pilgrims make the journey to Makkah. Others explored and described foreign lands, like China and Scandinavia. One traveler wrote a 30-volume encyclopedia about all the places he had seen.
To aid in their travels, Muslims used navigational instruments. Muslim scientists adapted and perfected the compass and the astrolabe. Muslims probably learned about the compass from the Chinese. Compasses allowed people to identify the direction in which they were traveling. The astrolabe was probably invented by the Greeks. With this instrument, sailors at sea could use the position of objects in the sky to pinpoint their location. 10.7 Mathematics
Muslims greatly advanced the study of mathematics. They based their work in part on ideas from India and classical Greece. For example, scholars in Baghdad’s House of Wisdom translated the works of (Caption)
This copper astrolabe is from the ninth century. (Vocabulary)
circumference the distance around a circle or sphere Page 111
the Greek mathematician Euclid. They also translated important texts from India. Then they adapted what they learned and added their own contributions.
One of these scholars was the astronomer and mathematician al-Khwarizmi, who worked in the House of Wisdom in the 9th century. Al-Khwarizmi is best known as “the father of algebra.” In fact, the word algebra comes from the title of one of his books.
Algebra is used to solve problems involving unknown numbers. An example is the equation “7x + 4 = 25.” Using algebra, we can figure out that in this equation, x represents 3.
Al-Khwarizmi’s famous book on algebra was translated into Latin in the 12th century. It became the most important mathematics text in European universities.
The translation of another of Al-Khwarizmi’s books helped to popularize Arabic numerals in Europe. Actually, Muslims learned this way of writing numbers, along with fractions and decimals, from Indian scholars. Arabic numerals were a big help to business and trade. Compared to earlier systems, they made it easier for people to do calculations and check their work. We still use Arabic numerals today.
Muslims also spread the Indian concept of zero. In fact, the word zero comes from an Arabic word meaning “something empty.” Ancient peoples used written symbols for numbers long before anyone thought of using a symbol for zero. Yet zero is very important in calculations. (Try subtracting 2 from 2. Without using zero, how would you express the answer?) Zero also made it easier to write large numbers. For example, zero allows people to distinguish between 123 and 1,230. (Caption)
The geometric designs in Muslim art and architecture are based on knowledge about advanced mathematical principles. (Vocabulary)
Muslims made some of their most important contributions in the field of medicine. They learned a great deal from the work of ancient Greeks, Mesopotamians, and Egyptians. Then, as in other fields of study, they improved upon this earlier knowledge.
Muslim doctors established the world’s first hospitals. By the 10th century, Baghdad had at least five hospitals. Most cities and towns also had one or two. Many hospitals served as teaching centers for doctors in training. Anyone who needed treatment could get it, because the government paid all medical expenses. There were even hospital caravans that brought medical care to people in remote villages.
Muslim hospitals had separate wards for men and women, surgical patients, and people with diseases that others could catch. Doctors treated ailments through drugs, diet, and exercise. They gave patients remedies made from herbs, plants, animals, and minerals. Pharmacists made hundreds of medications. Some drugs dulled patients’ pain. Antiseptics (medications that fight infection) were used to clean wounds. Ointments helped the wounds to heal.
For some problems, surgeons performed delicate operations as a last resort. Drugs such as opium and hemlock put patients to sleep before operations. Muslim surgeons amputated (cut off) limbs, took out tumors, and removed cataracts (cloudy spots) from the eye. After surgery, doctors used animal gut to stitch up wounds.
Muslim doctors made many discoveries and helped spread medical knowledge. For example, al-Razi, a Persian doctor, realized that infections were caused by bacteria. He also studied smallpox and measles. His work helped other doctors diagnose and treat these deadly diseases.
The Persian philosopher Ibn Sina (Avicenna), whom you met earlier in this chapter, was also a great doctor. In fact, he has been called “the prince of physicians.” His most important medical work, The Canon of Medicine, explored the treatment of diseases. It is one of the classics in the history of medicine.
Europeans later translated Ibn Sina’s book and many other Muslim works into Latin. Medical schools then used these texts to teach their students. In this way, Muslim doctors had a major impact on European medicine. (Caption)
Muslim doctors treated patients with herbal remedies as well as drugs, diet, and exercise. This illustration of a lily plant is from an Arabic herbal encyclopedia of the 10th century. (Vocabulary)
pharmacist a person who prepares medications for use in healing Page 113
10.9 Bookmaking and Literature
In the 8th century, Muslims learned the art of making paper from the Chinese. Soon they were creating bound books. Bookmaking, in turn, encouraged the growth of Muslim literature.
Craftspeople turned bookmaking into an art form. Bookmakers gathered sheets of paper into leather bindings. They illuminated the bindings and pages with designs in gold as well as with miniature paintings.
Books become a big business in the Muslim world. In Baghdad, more than 100 bookshops lined Papersellers’ Street. In addition to copies of the Qur’an, many volumes of poetry and prose were sold.
Arabs had a rich heritage of storytelling and poetry. Arab poetry often honored love, praised rulers, or celebrated wit. Persians introduced epic poems, or long poems that tell a story. Prose eventually replaced poetry for recording history, events, and traditions. Writers also composed stories in prose.
One famous collection of stories was called A Thousand and One Nights. Also known as Arabian Nights, this book gathered stories that originally came from many places, including India and Persia as well as the Middle East. In the book, a wife tells her husband a new tale each night. The stories take place in Muslim cities and in places like China, Egypt, and India. A European translator later added tales that were not part of the medieval Arabic collection. Among these added tales are those about Aladdin’s magic lamp, Ali Baba, and Sinbad the Sailor, which remain well known today.
Muslim literature was enriched by Sufism, or Islamic mysticism. This type of religious practice involves intense personal experiences of God rather than routine performance of rituals. Sufis longed to draw close to God in their everyday lives. One way to express their love and devotion was through poetry filled with vivid images and beautiful language. Rabi’a, a poet of the 8th century, shared her feelings in this verse: But your door is open to those who call upon you.
My Lord, each lover is now alone with his beloved.
And I am alone with Thee. A 13th-century Sufi poet, Rumi, had an enormous influence on Islamic mysticism. Rumi wrote a long religious poem in Persian that filled six volumes. Pilgrims still travel to his tomb in Konya, Turkey. (Caption)
Bookmaking was an art in the Muslim world. Copies of the Qur’an were written with elaborate letters and decorated in gold. (Vocabulary)
Muslims created many forms of art and music. In this section, you’ll look at four types of artistic expression in the medieval Islamic world.
Geometric and Floral Design Muslims earned fame for their decorative art. Early in the history of Islam, Muslims rejected the use of images of humans or animals in their visual art, especially religious art. Only God, they said, can create something that is alive. Instead, artists turned to shapes and patterns found in nature and geometry to create marvelous designs and decorations.
Art sometimes was religious, as in the beautiful illuminated manuscripts of the Qur’an. But artists and craftspeople also applied their talents to everyday items like plates, candlesticks, glassware, and clothing. They decorated the walls of mosques and palaces with intricate designs.
A type of design called arabesque took its beauty from the natural world. Artists crafted stems, leaves, flowers, and tendrils (long, threadlike parts of plants) into elegant patterns that were repeated over and over. They carved, painted, and wove arabesque designs into objects both large and small. Metal boxes, ceramic bowls, tiles, carpets, and even entire walls displayed intricate arabesque designs.
Artists also used geometric shapes in their designs. Circles, triangles, squares, and hexagons had special meaning to Muslims. Artists used simple tools—rulers and compasses—to create abstract designs from these shapes. This basic design was then repeated and combined to create a complex pattern.
Calligraphy For Muslims, the highest form of decorative art was calligraphy, the art of beautiful handwriting. When Muslims began copying the Qur’an, they felt that only calligraphy was worthy to record the words of God. For this reason, they honored calligraphers above other artists.
Calligraphers used sharpened reeds or bamboo dipped in ink to write on parchment and paper. Some forms of calligraphy had letters with angles. Most featured round letters and cursive writing, in which the script flows and letters within words are connected.
In addition to copying the Qur’an, artists used calligraphy to decorate everyday items. They put elegantly (Caption)
Arabic calligraphy is featured in the decoration on the inside of this architectural dome. (Vocabulary)
calligraphy the art of beautiful handwriting Page 115
written lines of poetry on pottery, tiles, and swords. Bands of calligraphy trimmed the bottoms of pieces of cloth. Calligraphy even adorned coins, which often featured verses from the Qur’an.
Verses of the Qur’an were also used to decorate mosques. Sometimes the holy verses were engraved along the tops of the outside walls or circled the inside dome of the mosque.
Textiles Manufactured cloths, or textiles, had long been important to the Arab people as practical items and as trade goods. Muslims in medieval times brought great artistry to the making of textiles. Weavers wove wool, linen, silk, and cotton into cloth, which then might be dyed with vivid colors. Valuable cloths sometimes featured long bands of inscriptions or designs showing important events. Fabrics were also embroidered, sometimes with gold thread.
Clothes showed rank and served as status symbols in the Muslim world. The caliph and his court wore robes made of the most valuable materials. Fine textiles served as awnings and carpets in the royal palace during festivals or when distinguished guests visited.
Music in Muslim Spain There were several centers of music in the Islamic world, including Baghdad and Damascus. Persian musical styles were very influential in the cities of the east. But in Cordoba, Spain, a unique style developed that blended elements of Arab and native Spanish cultures.
A key figure in this cultural innovation was Ziryab, a talented musician and singer from Baghdad. Ziryab settled in Cordoba in 822. There he established Europe’s first conservatory, or music school. Musicians from Asia and Africa came to Cordoba to learn from the great Ziryab. Many were then hired as entertainers at royal courts in other parts of the world.
Singing was an essential part of Muslim Spain’s musical culture. Musicians and poets worked together to create songs about love, nature, and the glory of the empire. Vocalists performed the songs accompanied by such instruments as drums, flutes, and lutes. Although this music is lost today, it undoubtedly influenced later musical forms in Europe and North Africa. (Caption)
The lute, or oud, is a popular instrument in Muslim music. (Vocabulary)
conservatory an advanced school of music Page 116
Fun was also part of Islamic culture. Two favorite pastimes that Muslims helped popularize were polo and chess.
Polo Muslims first learned about the game of polo from the Persians. Polo is a sport in which teams on horseback use mallets (wooden sticks) to strike a ball through a goal. Muslims looked at horses as status symbols, and polo quickly became popular among the wealthy. Even Abbasid rulers began to raise champion Arabian horses to play polo. (Polo is often called the “sport of kings.”)
Muslims adapted and refined the game of polo. Today the game is enjoyed all over the world.
Chess The game of chess was probably invented in India. Persians introduced the game to the Muslim world in the mid 600s. It quickly became popular at all levels of society. Caliphs invited chess champions, including women and slaves, to their palaces to play in matches. Players enjoyed the intellectual challenge that chess presented.
Chess is a battle of wits in which players move pieces on a board according to complex rules. Each player commands a small army of pieces, one of which is the king. The goal is to checkmate the opponent’s king. Checkmate means that the king cannot move without being captured.
As with polo, Muslims adapted and improved the game of chess. They spread it across Muslim lands and introduced it to Europe. Chess remains one of the world’s most popular games. (Caption)
This illustration of two men playing chess is from a 13th-century book of games. The exaggerated size and position of the chessboard indicates the popularity of the game at the time. Page 117
10.12 Chapter Summary
In this chapter, you learned about many of the contributions Muslims have made to world civilization. In a dazzling variety of fields, Islamic culture has left a lasting mark on the world.
In the 7th and 8th centuries, Arab conquests created a vast Muslim empire. Although the empire did not last as a political unit, Islamic civilization thrived.
Muslim rulers built great cities and centers of learning and scholarship. Muslim scholars learned from other cultures and helped to spread knowledge to other parts of the world.
Muslims made a number of advances in city building, architecture, technology, and the sciences. Muslim mathematicians built on the work of Indians and Greeks. Doctors, too, improved on ancient knowledge. Many of these advances had a major influence on Europe.
Having learned paper making from the Chinese, Muslims created beautiful books. Writers composed works of both poetry and prose. The religious poetry of Sufis celebrated the love of God.
Muslim artists and craftspeople created distinctive forms of decorative art. In Spain, a unique style of music developed that combined Arabic and Spanish influences. Two of medieval Muslims’ favorite pastimes, polo and chess, are still enjoyed around the world.
As you have seen, Europeans owed a great debt to Islamic civilization. But by the 11th century, much of Christian Europe saw Islam as an enemy. In the next chapter, you will learn about the series of wars between Christians and Muslims, the Crusades. (Caption)
Muslims greatly influenced the course of history as they traveled from place to place, trading cultural influences as well as goods. Page 119
From the Crusades to New Muslim Empires (Caption)
Christians, Muslims, and Jews fought for control over the sacred city of Jerusalem. 11.1 Introduction
In Chapter 10, you learned about Muslim contributions to world civilization. In this chapter, you will learn about the