The Arab Islamic culture’s genius was its ability to transform and build on these cultures that went before it. The progress of Arabization and Islamization through conquest conversation, commerce and acculturation brought it into contract with many other cultures.

They influenced and were influenced by the people they encountered in conquest and trade. They did not obliterate the cultures and languages present in the regions they controlled.

The Arab world includes 22 countries including Palestine. Arabic, formerly tribal language of the Arabian Peninsula became a language of power and a lingua franca for a large section of the world due to the spread of Islam.


When Islam made its appearance in the world in the middle of the seventh century, Greco Latin civilization was declining. Byzantine failed in her mission to preserve the cultural treasures of Athens and Rome, and was responsible for the destruction of a large number of scientific works and artistic monuments handed down from antiquity.

The Nestorian monks of Edessa and Nisibia, and the Athenian and Alexandrian philosophers tortured by the Byzantine authorities, took refuge in Persia where they continued to translate the Holy Scriptures of the fathers of the church, and the philosophical and scientific works of early Greece.

Thanks to the works of these refugee scholars that the Arabs, when they conquered Syria and Persia, found important part of the inheritance of Greece.

The Arabs were deeply impressed by the world of new ideas and knew knowledge presented to them. They began to study eagerly the arts and science of their conquered subjects. They made Arabic translation of oriental and Greek authors, then of those original works which had not yet been translated into Syriac or Chaldean.

The Umayyad Caliphs who ruled form Damascus, Syria (7th to 8th century) deserve the honour of being first to promote the development of Arab civilization. They did not hesitate to exploit the talents of their subjects, no matter what their race religion was.

Thanks to the collaboration of the diverse racial and religious elements (Jews, Christians and Muslims) in the Umayyad Empire , architecture, literature and arts enjoyed a magnificent period of growth. The surge began under the rule of Caliph Abdul Malik and continued with his son Al-Walid, who extended the Islamic empire as far as India to the East and Morocco to the west.

Extent of the Umayyad Empire

The reign of the Umayyads was the first stage in growth and development of the Arab civilization. The most brilliant era was that of the Abbassid Caliphs of Baghdad (750-1258) and Spanish Umayyads (755-1492). Gustave Le Bon states “At an epoch when the rest of Europe was plunged in darkest barbarism…..Baghdad and Cordova, the two great cities where Islam held sway, were centres of civilization which illumined the whole world with the light of their brilliance”.

Extent of the Abbassid Empire


Jacques writes “For five hundred years Islam dominated the world by its power, its learning, and its superior civilization. Heir to the scientific and philosophical treasure of the Greeks, Islam passed on this treasure, after enriching it, to Western Europe. Thus it was able to widen the intellectual horizon of the Middle Ages and make a profound impression on European life and thought.”

Caliph Al-Ma’mun established Bayt al-Hikmat (Arabic for House of Wisdom) in 830. Later this became the Baghdad School. This school must be credited with ensuring the continuity of civilization by repairing the chain of human knowledge broken in the 6th century by the decline and fall of Rome.



In this school, Arab scholars – Jews, Christians and Muslims, studied Greek science and philosophy, the works of Galen, Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle. In addition to saving ancient learning they enlarged and enriched it by new and original additions in all branches of science, applied arts, and in new methods of research and investigation.

The Arabs of the 9th century were in possession of the scientific method and were responsible for its introduction to Medieval Europe. During a similar period the Toledo School in Spain carried on similar activities. By the middle of the 9th century Muslim civilization prevailed in Spain. The Spaniards at that time regarded Arabic as the only medium for science and literature.

The writings of the historians H.A.R. Gibbs, Simond de Sismondi, Gustave Le Bon and Sedillot paid tributes to the contributions Arab civilization made to human progress.

Although certain orientalists hesitate to admit to the creative genius of the Arabs, it is impossible in the light of recent studies to deny that the whole of Greek learning was completely re-thought by the Arabs, and that without this renovation work on their part, the Renaissance itself could not have come about.



No significant architectural art existed during the early Muslim era in the beginning of Hijra. The beautiful Islamic architectural art was born after their conquests of the Eastern Mediterranean countries. Once it was established it quickly spread throughout the vast empire of the Caliphs.

The Abbassid capital Baghdad was a miracle of beauty in its monuments. Unfortunately no trace was left of these monuments which were destroyed by the Mongol's invasion. Only descriptions of these palaces can evoke the splendors that belonged to the Thousand and One Nights. Also the remaining palaces in Alhambra and Alcazar in Spain reflect the luxurious refinements of the other palaces that disappeared forever.

Manuscript of "Thousand and One Nights."


The art is characterized with distinct mosaics and arabesque designs.

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The first of sciences to attract the curiosity of Arab and Muslim scholars were astronomy and mathematics. Astronomy interested not merely men of science but also the Caliphs of the Orient, Spain and the Seljuk Sultans observatories.

Schools around the Islamic empire are credited for many discoveries and works in astronomy, such as The Baghdad School of Astronomy where several of Ptolemy's errors were rectified and Greek tables corrected. Schools were established in Baghdad, Cairo, Toledo and Samarkand.

Copernicus, Kepler and Bacon depended on the earlier Arab and Muslim works in their astronomical revolution.

Some of the works of Arab and Muslim astronomers:
- Discovery of the sun's apogee and perigee.
- Discovery of the irregularity of the moon's highest latitude
- Discovery of the third lunar inequality (variation)
- Forecasted sunspots
- Studied eclipses and other celestial phenomena
- Perfected numerous instruments used in observation

Famous Arab astronomers:
- Al Battani who is the most famous among Arab astronomers, Copernicus mentioned his indebtedness to Al-Battani and quoted him in his works later
- Abul Wefa who was ten centuries ahead of Danish scholar Tycho-Braho to whom the discovery of the third lunar inequality was attributed
- Ibn Yunis, inventor of the pendulum and the sun-dial. He edited the Hakemite Table (replacing Ptolemy's Almagest), with accuracy that surpassed that of all its predecessors.
- Ibn al-Haytham wrote treatise on optics which were the basis for Roger Bacon and Kepler's works
- Al Biruni, linked The Baghdad School with Indian Scholars

Illustration of a the phases of the moon according to al-Biruni.

- Omar Al-Khayyam reformed the calendar ten centuries ahead of the Gregorian reform with more accuracy (he is also well known for the famous verses he wrote that carry his name)

Omar al-Khayyam

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Did you know that the Arab chemists were the first to discover the following substances?

- Sulphuric acid
- Aqua regia
- Nitric
- Potassium
- Sal ammoniac
- Silver nitrate
- Corrosive sublimate

Did you know that the Arab chemists were the first to discover the following chemical processes?

- Distillation
- Sublimation
- Crystallization
- Coagulation
- Cupellation

Did you know that the Arab chemists were the first to invent the following processes?

- Manufacturing paper from cotton, linen and rags. This opened a new era for civilization replacing the silk paper of the Chinese

Terms in Chemistry from Arabic origin:

- Alchemy
- Alcohol
- Alembic
- Alkali
- Elixir

Great Arab chemists:

- Jabir Ibn Hayyan (Latinized as Geber), 8th century, several of his works were translated to Latin such as the Sum of Perfection.
- Al-Razi (Latinized as Rasis or Rhazes), discovered the process of making alcohol and sulphuric acid from starches or sugars.






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One striking trait of the Arab character is the passion for travel. As early as the 9th century, Arab merchants were the first to explore distant regions such as China, Africa and the far North (U.S.S.R).

Map of the world by Al Masudi

Al Masudi traveled in middle of the 10th century to numerous countries and wrote his famous work (Golden Pastures), describing the countries he visited. He described their mountains, seas, realms dynasties, and their beliefs and customs. Al Masudi was also a famous historian.

Al Biruni, Al Idrissi, Ibn Battuta, and Nasir al din al Tusi are other travelers and scholars and authors.

Map of the world by Al-Idrisi from 1154. Note that the south is at the top of the map

It may well be that the works of Averroes (who was also a physician) in geography, predicting the existence of a new world beyond the Atlantic Ocean, led Christopher Columbus to guess at the existence of the New World.

Al Tabari, Ibn Miskawayh, Al Makkari and Al Hamadani were distinguished Arab historians.

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Astronomy and mathematics were the most favored by the Arab scientists.

The Arabs discovered and invented many of the basic principles of:
- Arithmetic
- Geometry
- Algebra
- Trigonometry

Did you know:
- The word (Algebra) is taken from the Arabic word (Al Gabr or Al Jabr). The word (Algorithm) is a variant taken from the name of the author Al Khwarizimi. Al Khwarizmi is the father of Algebra and he wrote his treatise titled " Hisab al-Jabr wa'l-muqabala" from which the word Al Jabr is taken.

A page from al-Khwarizmi's Algebra book “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing”






Page from a Latin translation, beginning with "Dixit algorizmi"



- The expressions of (sine) and (cosine) and (tangent) were first used by Al Battani (who is also one of the most famous astronomers in the world)
- The numerals we use are the Arabic numerals
- The "zero" was invented by bin Ahmad in 976. The West did not use it until the beginning of the 13th century

Tusi couple from Vat. Arabic ms 319



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Arab and Muslim doctors played an important role in the Western medical science.

Famous Arab Doctors
Al Razi, who wrote Al Hawi. This book was one of nine volumes constituting the whole library of the Paris Faculty of Medicine in 1935. It contained the first description of certain eruptive fevers such as smallpox and measles.

Al Razi introduced the use of mild purgatives, cupping for apoplexy, and cold water for fevers. He also invented the use of seton.

He wrote many other books, one was titled Mansuri after the Caliph Al Mansur. It remained for several hundreds of years as the most highly esteemed and widely used medical manual.

Ibn Sina (or Abu Sina, Latinized Avicenna), was the greatest of all Muslim doctors. His book Qanun fi-l-Tibb translated into (Canon of Medicine)or Precepts of Medicine appeared in five volumes and dealt with physiology, hygiene, pathology, and therapeutics. This mastery work served as the basis of medical studies in French and Italian universities for six centuries. Ibn Sina also wrote poems about medicine.

A Latin copy of the Canon of Medicine, dated 1484, located at the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Ibn al-Abbas Al-Zahrawi (Abulcasis) whose works were an inspiration for surgeons until the 14th century.

Page from a 1531 Latin translation by Peter Argellata of El Zahrawi's treatise on surgical and medical instruments.

Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) who was the first to discover the cause of scabies. The first to mention bronchotomy and detailed instructions for treating dislocations and fractures.

Ibn Rushd (Latinized Averroes) was famous for his Aristotelian approach and for his treatise on Theriac, a book on poisons and fevers.

Medicine fields the Arabs were advanced in
As early as the 11th century the Arab doctors knew how to treat; cataracts, lithotrity, hemorrhages. They used caustics, setons and cauterization.

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Islam in particular and in principle is very reserved in its attitude towards music. The founders of the four schools of Muslim law were hostile to music. They feared the emotive power of music in unleashing passions in a man's heart and leading him to moral disturbances.

However, supporters of this Muslim theology could not stop music from developing in the Arabic society.

During the rule of the Caliphs in Baghdad and Damascus, music had the same patronage as science and other arts.

Arabic music entered Spain by way of the Maghreb (countries that are in the Western side of the Arab World, i.e. Morocco and Tunisia), there it was cultivated with passion.

Ziryab was a musical genius who created a conservatoire. Al-Farabi the illustrious philosopher, mathematician and physicist who wrote the Kitab al-Musikia (Manual of Music).

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Al-Jazari Elephant Clock

Did you know that:

- Ibn al-Haytham is regarded as the father of optics for his influential Book of Optics, which correctly explained and proved the theory of vision, and for his experiments on optics. He was the first to give an exact description of the eye, lenses and binocular vision.

- The Arabs were the first to invent mechanical clocks driven by water and weights entirely different from the clepsydra - see pictures of the first mechanical clock invented by Al Jazari.

- Arab engineers were the first to invent the reciprocating engine - see pictures of the first reciprocating engine invented by Al-Jazari.

- The Arabs perfected the compass and made it practical in its use by adding the magnetic needle (The compass was invented by the Chinese though).

Al-Jazari reciprocating pump

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Al Farabi, the greatest Arab Muslim philosopher wrote about the Model City assigning high moral aims to the state and its governors and assuring its citizens a perfect government.

Al Mawardi, a renowned lawyer ad the author of the famous book Kitab al Ahkam Es Sultanianh (The book of the rules of power). This work is devoted to the principal political, social and legal institutions of the state of Islam.

Ibn Khaldun, was the greatest Islamic historian that ever lived. He wrote a history of the world composed of three books, talking about diverse forms of civilization that result from different climates and life styles. He speaks about religion, math, singing, music and agriculture. He uses the analogy of any living creature to speak about the life of any state where the cycle of birth, growth, and then death.

His views in economy have a modern ring to them. He sees moderate taxes are the best incentive to work. State intervention as Ibn Khaldun saw it, decreases the state's wealth and hinders the normal development of economy.

Ibn Khaldun in Tunis

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