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Characterstics of Islamic Civilization

    The Abbasid State depended on natives of the conquered countries affiliated to deep-rooted civilizations like the Sasanids in Iraq and Persia. This civilization contained a special Asian legacy with Chinese and Indian contributions. The Byzantine civilization also contributed in countries surrounding the Mediterranean with Greek origins because the Byzantines and Romans were students of the Greeks in the major cultural centres in Alexandria, Harran, Raha, Antioch, and Nseiben.

    The Arabs had an ancient legacy from Ma'in, Saba' and Himyar in Yemen, and a civilization in the Hejaz that was well-known for its commercial and religious activities. However, they found in the conquered countries developed civilizations with organized governments, advanced economic systems in agriculture, irrigation and industry and in sciences such as mathematics, astronomy and physics.

By incorporating those peoples, the Abbasid state forged them into an Islamic culture. This unification underlies the striking scientific progress extending from the beginning of the Abbasid state to the end of the fourth Hijri century. And if the Arab Islamic state in early Islam take credit for conquest, expansion and contact with ancient civilizations, the Abbasid state also preserved the origins of these civilizations and took advantage of their development and prosperity. Muslims copied, translated and Arabized this ancient legacy. Starting with assimilation, they continued with their own innovation and development to give the world what is known as Arab-Islamic civilization that combines three elements found only in major civilizations: excellence, originality and the development of humanity.

Therefore, scientists are unanimous in their assertion of the high position of Islamic civilization among major human civilizations in history. It is one of the most durable civilizations with the greatest impact on the world. This advance began in Iraq after the Abbasid Caliph Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur built the city of Baghdad (145-149 A.H.) and made it his capital and headquarters for the Abbasid Caliphate with legal authority over all Islamic countries. It was not like Fustat, Damascus or Cordoba, a capital for a certain country, but the capital for the whole Islamic world. It acquired the status of a cosmopolitan city, with individuals from all races, religions and sects, Islamic and non-lslamic, dwelling in it. These Persian, Indian, Byzantine and Chinese elements had access not only to Baghdad as a dwelling place but to its cultures, trade, science and arts. Numerous Greek, Persian and Indian words were Arabized. The works of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were translated into Arabic. Arabic literary works like 'Uyun El Akhbar' by Ibn Qutaiba and 'El Bayan wa Al - Tabyeen' by Al Jahiz were also available.

    During the rule of Al Mansur (136-158 A.H.) some works of the Alexandrian scientist, Claudius Ptolemy, including his well-known book, 'Al Majesty', were translated. The Greek name of this book is "Emegal Mathematike" which means the major book in mathematics. The book in fact is an encyclopaedia of astronomy and mathematics. Muslim scientists made use of it, corrected some of its information and added to it.

    Numerous works were translated from Indian languages including the famous book on astronomy and mathematics entitled: Siddhanta i.e. knowledge, science and religion. The Arabic translation of the book appeared during Al Mansur's reign under the title Al Sind Hind which is a modification of the original title. This book introduced Indian mathematics with the number symbols still used in Arabic; The Arab science of numbers developed as a result. The Muslims added the Cipher -Zero -system, without which the Arabic numerals would have been similar to other systems. Nor would we have been able to solve various kinds of equations. The Zero facilitated all arithmetic . operations and freed the numbering system from complexity. The employment of the Zero in mathematics led to the I discovery of decimal fractions which are found in the book of "Miftah al Hisab" written by the Muslim Mathematician Jamshid Ibn Mahmoud Ghayyash Al Din Al Kashi (d. 840 A.H./1436 A.D.). This discovery was the real prelude to the : detailed mathematical studies. The Arabic numberals with zero and decimal fractions were truly the gift of Islam to Europe. The scientist Ibrahim Al Fazari who supervised the translation of this book included an astronomical mathematical table that shows the locations of the stars and their motion, known as Alzij almanac. Ibrahim Al Fazari was the first Muslim to make the astrolabe. 'Kalila wa Dimna', originally written in Indian, was translated into Persian; Abdulla bin Al Muqaffa' translated it into Arabic during Al Mansur's reign in addition to several other works of Persian, history and literature. It is known that the Abbasid Caliph Al Ma'moun entrusted Sahl lbn Haroun with the translation of Persian books. 'Hazar-Afsana' which means the thousand legends or the Thousand and One Nights as it is commonly known, is another example. This book tells the story of the king, the minister, his daughter and her two maids Sheherazad and Denazad. These tales reached the Arabs via the Persians; they reflect Indian ideas such as re-incarnation. They were modified during the Abbasid and Fatimid era leaving no Persian influence except certain Persian names. And the Shahnameh by Al Firdousi was translated by Al Fath Ibn Ali Al Bandari in 697 A.H./1297 A.D. The game of chess reached the Arabs through Persian. During the reign of Al Mahdi Ibn Al Mansur (158-169 A.H.) an Arab chemist called Jaber bin Hayyan Al Azdi was active. His books dealt with the latest developments in chemistry such as chemical compounds like crystalline silver nitrate and azoutic acid and sulphuric acid, potassium, ammonia and the carbonates and noticed the residual silver chlorate when adding sodium chloride and described chemical processes such as distillation, filtration, crystallization and condensation, evaporation and calcination.

    Haroun Al Rashid: (198-218 A.H./813-833 A.D.) founded the Beit Al Hikma i.e. House of Wisdom, for translation which prospered during the rule of his son Abdullah Al -Ma'mun (198-218 A.H.). Major Greek works were translated; I observatories were built; geographical maps were drawn. Famous scientists like Mohammed bin Musa Al Khawarizmi (d. 232 A.H./846 A.D.), who was entrusted by Al Ma'mun with writing a book on Algebra, studied there. He composed "An outline of Algebra and Equations" which was the foundation of modern Algebra. Ibn Khaldun described this new science in the following words: " Algebra and equations are offshoots of the science of numerals. It enables you to find the unknown figure from the known If they are somehow related till they match each other; the fraction is then approximated into a round figure". Algebra then originated in Al-Khawarizmi’s book which was translated into Latin in 1135 A.D. by Robert of Chester, an Arabist, who studied and lived in Spain and was Archbishop of Pamplona. His translation of the book remained in use in European universities until the 16th Century. In addition, Arabic numerals were adopted in Europe through the works of al Khawarizmi.

    The genius of al Khawarizmi is reflected in the "almanacs" or the "astronomical table" which he composed; he called it the "Minor Sind Hind" in which he combined the Indian, the Persian and Ptolemaic systems.

    It had a great impact. In addition, he drew a large map of the known world of that time and composed a book on geography which he called: "Image of the Earth" based mainly on Ptolemy's book Al Majesty with some additions and illustrations. Later on this book was published and translated into German (1926 A.D.).

    The Abbasids built a large number of hospitals and pharmacies mainly in Baghdad, including the hospital built by Al -Rashid on the western. side .of Baghdad by physician Gibrael bin Bakhtiihu, Al Sa'edi hOspital built in the eastern I1 side during Al Mu'tad Caliph reign, the Muktadir hospital built by Al Muktadir In 306 A.H. 918 A.D., the Hospital of the , Lady built by his mother at Al Zamiya; Hospital of Ibn al Furat built by his minister Abu al Hassan Ibn Al Furat, .etc:  This was an attempt to find places where patients may be treated and are placed under observation for record which IS the II basis of modern hospitals. Muslim doctors had new medical views and theories for the treatment of numerous diseases. Among other innovations they used caustics in surgery; they prescribed cold water to stop bleeding; they treated nasal tumours, and removed cancerous breasts; extracted bladder stones; performed eye and hernia surgery; removed embryos with a machine; used traction for broken bones and anaesthetics. They also distinguished between measles and smallpox.

      The state regulated medical practices and physicians; pharmacists were tested during the times of Al Mamun and al Mu'atasim. Caliph Al Muktadir banned medical professionals from practice except after examination. Each medical practitioner takes the Muslim doctor's oath which underlines the confidentiality of the patient and his treatment to , preserve the honour of the profession.

    "I free myself from the Holder of the souls of the wise, the lifter of the Zenith of the sky, the creator of upper , movements if I withold an advice or inflict a harm; if I offer an inferior thing when I know what is superior. You should be : decent and should listen to people to the end as much as you can. If you miss that, you are the loser. Allah will be the witness on both you and me and hears what you say. Whoever breaks his covenant (with Allah) will be the target for His judgement, unless he quits His earth and sky."

    Gibrael Ibn Bakhtishu was one of the prominent physicians in the first Abbasid Age. Caliph Mansur summoned him from a town east of Basra to treat his stomach ache. Having succeeded, he was then appointed as his private physician, establishing the first connection between the Abbasid court and the Bakhtishu family which later on played an important role both at the Abbasid court and in Islamic civilization.

    During the days of Al -Mu'tasim and his two sons Wathik and Mutawakkil, the physician Yuhanna Masawah best known in the west as Mesue Major (243 A.H.) emerged. He wrote Daghal Al Ayn i.e. disorders of the eye, which is the first treatise in Arabic on opthalmia. It is reported that he taught anatomy by dissecting monkeys. His student Hunayn Ibn Ishaq (d. 260 A.H.) known also as Yohanitus or Joannitus continued his studies in Rome, Alexandria and Persia. His major contribution was entitled: al-'Ashr maqalat fi al-'Ayn' (the ten treatises on the eye); he also wrote 'Sumum wa Tiriaq' (Poisons and Antidotes) and other books on stomach pains. contagious diseases, the mouth and teeth which were admired by Caliph Wathik. In 'Muruj Al Zahab', (vol. 4, pp. 80-81 ), Al Masoudi quoted some excerpts from this book on the details of the teeth.

    The Abbasid strategy of encouraging translation led to the flourishing of Islamic intellectual and experimental sciences. Thus Arabic became a vehicle for science and not only for poetry and literature.

    In addition to this upsurge of scientific, experimental and intellectual scholarship, Baghdad also became famous for Islamic sciences related to the glorious Ouran and the Prophet's Tradition (Sunna) such as interpretation. recitation, Hadith, Fiqh, language, literature and geography. The Abbasid caliphs were concerned at an early stage with these Islamic sciences and with encouraging Ulama especially those from the Hijaz who were specialized in work on the Quran, Hadith and Sunna. Caliph Abu Ja'afar Al Mansur, for instance, urged the Ulama of al Medina to come to Baghdad and receive proper status. His son Al Mahdi followed suit and was especially generous to the Ulama from al Medina and gave them the title of Ansar (Supporters), with their own mosques and graveyards. Some of the early judges of Baghdad were from Hijaz like Yahia Ibn Sa'ed al Ansari and Sa'ed Ibn Abdul Rahman al Jumhi. Al Mansur was also delighted with the arrival of the writer Mohammad Ibn Ishaq (d. 102 A.H.) who was entrusted by the Caliph with the task of writing a book for his son Al Mahdi on history since the time of Adam, be blessed, until their time. Ibn Ishaq compiled a work known as Al Maghazi wa Al Siyar wa Akhbar al-Mubtada' which reached us in the form of a short story written by Abd-al-Malik Ibn Hisham better known as Seerit Ibn Hisham. The book commissioned by the Caliph was not limited to a biography of the Prophet but covered history from Adam up to Ibn Ishaq's day. This shows that Ibn Ishaq's book Al Maghazi was much more comprehensive than Serit Ibn Hisham. Scientists who followed Ibn Ishaq commended him and said that not only did he write the biography of the Prophet but also the history of the Prophethood. Imam al Shafi' (d. 204 A.H.) said: "Whoever wants a comprehensive knowledge of the Prophet's battles should rely on Ibn Ishaq.

    This shift undertaken by Ibn Ishaq from narrating Hadith to narrating history is considered the beginning of the separation of history from Hadith because history was a kind of Hadith.

    History then became an independent science developing gradually until it occupied an eminent position in the service of other Islamic sciences. Historians were accorded a distinct status, both political and scientific.

    Topics were not restricted to local matters but covered the whole Islamic world and Islamic life. Examples include: Tarikh Al -Russul wal-Omam wal-Muluk by al Tabari (d. 310 A.H.); Muruj al-Zahab and Al - Tanbih wal-Ishraf by Al Masoudi (d. 346 A.H.); Al -Masalek wal-Mamalek and Al Aghani by Abul Faraj al Asfahani (d. 355 A.H.) and Alf Laila wa Laila. All these works reflect various historical and cultural aspects of Islamic life.

    The same applies to Al -Fiqh (jurisprudence) which deals with research on religious matters of concern to Muslims in their religion (worships) or daily transactions. With the advent of the Abbasid caliphate, Muslims began to record their Fiqh and to lay down rules and laws in the early stages of the Hijri era; this was not the case with the preceding states. Roman law, for instance, was not codified until the rule of Emperor Justinian i.e. ten centuries after the Roman state was established.

    As a consequence, new methods of Fiqh emerged in Baghdad which became the centre of these studies. Imam Abu Hanifa Al -Nu'aman (d. 150 A.H.) appeared during the rule of Al Mansur.

    Many problems unknown to early Muslims emerged, and were dealt with through deductive reasoning based on logic i.e. analogy or opinion.

    Contemporary to Imam Abu Hanifa were Imam Malik Ibn Anas in Al Medina (d. 179 A.H.), Al Laith Ibn Sa'ad (d. 175 A.h.) in Fustat, and Abdul Rahman Ibn Amr Al Awzal (d. 157 A.H. in Syria): all of whom were Hadith scholars and advocates, who accepted only the provisions of the Quran and Hadith, and rejected Abu Hanifa's arguments.

    Imam Mohammed Ibn Idris Al Shafi'i was born in Gaza in the same year as Abu Hanifa's death i.e., 150 A.H. Al Shafi'i lived in Al Medina where he learned by heart Imam Malik Ibn Anas' Al Muwatta at the age of 10. He then left for Iraq where he learned the fiqh of Abu Hanifa before settling in Egypt. His teaching thus became a compromise between Abu Hanifa's deductive reasoning and Malik's dependence on Hadith. He died in Fustat in 204 A.H. 'Kitab al Um' in Fiqh and 'Risalah Fi Usul El Din' are his most famous works. The latter was the first book of its kind to lay down the rules of deduction in religious rules known as origins of Fiqh.

    He was succeeded by his student Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal Al Shaybani who lived and died in Baghdad (164-241 A.H.). He however was closer to Imam Malik as he believed that Fiqh should be based on direct quotation from the Quran or the Hadith. He objected to his teacher, Imam al Shafi'is acceptance of deductive reasoning. His book 'Al Musnad' is viewed as an encyclopedia of the Prophet's Hadith.

    Finally, the Shiites consider 'Imamah' as necessary and among the foundations of religion. To them; the Imam leads the nation to the sublime target and urges it to walk along the straight path. Fiqh is the jurisdiction of the Imam alone and he is the absolute mujtahed. Among their several books are' Al Kafi by Al Kulaibi' (d. 328 A.H./939 A.D.) and 'Al Nihaya Fi Al Fiqh' by Mohamad Ibn Al Hasan Al Tousi (d. 460 A.H./1067 A.D.).

    In brief, Baghdad became the meeting place for various fiqh schools and advocates such as Abu Hanifa who accepted analogy, Ibn Hanbal who accepted the Quranic text, and Al Shafi'i who combined both. All Islamic fiqh schools agree in the primacy of the Quran', the Sunnah and the sayings of the companions and followers. They differ, however, in interpretation and drawing conclusions for implementing of religious rules.