The Golden Age of Islam: A Timeline

by Farida Haji

Why Is It Called The Islamic Golden Age?

751 CE: 
Chinese prisoners revealed the art of papermaking after the Muslim victory in the first and only military clash with the Chinese in the Battle of Talas. Multiple paper mills were built in Baghdad. ​​This technology flourished in Iraq, Syria and Palestine, and eventually spreading to the West.

762 CE:
Al Mansur, the second Caliph of the Abbasid Dynasty moved the Islamic Caliphate from Damascus to Baghdad, also known as the round city. Thus beginning the Islamic Golden Era spanning over five centuries that flourished in science, arts and culture.

786 – 809 CE:
Harun Al Rashid, the 5th ruler was a great patron of the art and sciences. Baghdad flourished under his rule. He created the Library of Wisdom (Khizanah al-Hikmah) to house rare books and collections of poetry by his father, Al Mansur. It later grew into a public academy, House of Wisdom (Bayt Al-Hikmah) during the reign of Al-Ma’mun.

805 CE:
Harun Al Rashid and his vizier, Yahya ibn Khalid, established the first documented hospital (Bimaristan) in Baghdad. This gave rise to multiple Bimaristans across the empire. The facilities were luxurious and open to Muslims and non-Muslims. Christians, Jews, Muslims, all were allowed to learn, teach and practice. By the 10th century, Bimaristans had developed into large, organized and sophisticated facilities with multiple departments with male and female staff and physicians.

786 – 809CE:
From the 6th to 9th century, folktales traveled through storytellers from Syria, Persia and India and reached Baghdad. Baghdad at that time was ruled by Harun Al Rashid, who became the central character for many stories of the 1,001 nights, known as Alf Laylah Wa Laylah in Arabic. Famous French translator, Antoine Galland published the pathbreaking compilation of the collection of stories from 1704 to 1717 in Europe.

813 – 833 CE:
Al-Ma’mun, the 7th caliph of the Abbasid rule came to power. He was a patron of history, greek philosophy and the sciences. His openness towards other cultures and religions attracted scholars from all over the world. He began the translation movement in the House of Wisdom.

859 CE:
The oldest madrasa (university), Al-Qarawiyyin, was established in Fez Morocco, by Fatima al-Fihri.

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972 CE:
The Fatimid Dynasty found the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, adding a madrasa where students began learning Islamic law, astronomy, philosophy and logic. It remains a leading university till today.

What Caused The End of The Islamic Golden Age?

1258 CE:
Genghis Khan began establishing a powerful dynasty in 1206. In 1258, his son, Hulagu Khan, and the Mongol warriors seized Baghdad and destroyed the House of Wisdom. The 37th Caliph, al-Mustaʿṣim bi-‘llāh was executed and thousands were massacred, leading to the downfall of the Abbasid Caliphate.

1492 CE:
The last Muslim ruler of the Nasrid Dynasty surrendered the Emirate of Granada, Spain to the Christian monarchs, Isabella of Castile I and Ferdinand II of Aragon. They either expelled or converted Jews and Muslims in Spain. Majority of the Arab manuscripts and literature were seized and translated to Latin.

Multiple invading forces and internal political and power mismanagement among the rulers led to the decline of the Golden Islamic Era. The Crusades also widened the hostility and hatred between the west and the Muslim world.

What Were The Main Achievements of The Abbassid Caliphate?

The world soon knew and gravitated towards the magnificent capital of the Islamic Empire, the circular walled city, the city of the Arabian nights — Baghdad. The massive intellectual movement and contributions from the Islamic world lasted for approximately 200 years and stayed unmatched until the Renaissance of Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries. 

This encouraged a massive amount of original documentation in astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, medicine and other sciences. Defeated rulers in battles were often required to hand over their books and literature. 

Trade and travel flourished as well. Islamic merchants traveled as far as South Africa, China and Russia for trade. Silk, spices, precious metals, carpets, glassware and pottery were among the items traded. Archeologists have found Arab coins in places as far as Sweden.

How Did Science and Art Flourish During The Islamic Golden Age?

‘Read’ was the first word that Allah asked of the Prophet ﷺ. Arabic became the lingua franca of the Islamic world. Elementary knowledge of Arabic was essential to reading the Quran. With the translation movement, the Muslim communities were flourishing, the thirst for knowledge at its peak. 

The empire gained a lot of wealth through taxes and handsomely paid researchers, translators, and bilingual scholars. 

Scholars of The Golden Era

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1. Al-Khwarizmi (780 – 850):
Known as ‘father of algebra’, was an immensely respected scholar in the House of Wisdom. He published Al-Kitāb al-Mukhtaṣar fī Hisāb al-Jabr w’ al-Muqābala (The Compendium Book on Calculating by Rejoining and Balancing), from which the term ‘algebra’ (al-jabr) was derived. He was responsible for the introduction of the Hindu-Arabic numbers in the Islamic world as well. He was involved in compiling a set of astronomical tables based on the movements of the Sun, Moon and the known five planets of his time.

2. Fatima al-Fihri & Mariyam al-Fihri (800 – ?):
The Fihri sisters were students of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and Hadith. They grew up in a wealthy and educated family. After their father and husbands died, respectively they amassed a huge fortune. Fatima established the Qarawiyin madrasa and mosque, while Mariyam built the Al-Andalus mosque in Morocco. 

They played a great role in the civilization, culture, and uplift of their community. Established in the year 859, the Qarawiyin madrasa is the oldest operating university in the world.

3. Al-Kindi (800 – 873):
A multilingual scholar, he supervised the translation of Greek texts and produced over 200 works of his own. His works ranged from music to ethics, sword-making, and the workings of the human eye. His translations played a pivotal role in introducing Indian numerals to the Islamic world and Arabic numerals to the western world. He believed in embracing and appreciating the contributions and achievements of past scholars from different cultures and races.

4. Ibn Muqla (886 – 940):
A prolific calligrapher, he is credited to be the creator of the Aqlam al-Sitta (Six Pens). He established the principles of calligraphy, the theory of proportion based on three sets of measurements: the dot, alif, and circle. The relationship of all letters of a script was and is even today, determined by the width of the rhomboid dot produced by the pen nib. 

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5. Al-Razi (865 – 925):
The greatest physician of the Islamic world and a celebrated alchemist. He was the first to classify minerals into six categories and discover chemicals like kerosene and alcohol. He wrote over 200 books. His book, Kitab al-Mansouri, is deemed to be amongst the most influential medical books of the medieval ages.

6. Al-Uqlidiisi (920 – 980):
The decimal point. This small symbol first occurred in the Kitab al-Fusul fi al-Hisab al-Hindi (The Book of Chapters on Hindu Arithmetic). Abu’l Hasan Ahmad ibn Ibrahim Al-Uqlidisi was an Arab mathematician; he used a slanted dash over the number that later evolved into the decimal point we know today. 

7. Sutayta al-Mahamali (d. 987):
She was a mathematical wizard taught and guided by several scholars including her father.  She excelled in multiple fields such as Arabic literature, hadith, jurisprudence and arithmetics.

8. Al -Zahrawi (936 – 1013):
A renowned surgeon of the middle ages. Named ‘father of modern surgery’ his work, Kitab al-Tasrif, is a thirty-volume medical encyclopedia based on the operations he performed. He was the first to describe abnormal pregnancy and hemophilia (a genetic disorder impairing the body’s ability to form blood clots) and introduced over 200 surgical instruments that helped shape the tools used in surgery today.

9. Ibn Al Haytham (965 – 1040):
Known as Alhazen in Latin, he is called the ‘father of optics’. He was also a well-known mathematician, physicist and astronomer. His most influential book, Kitāb al-Manāẓir, proved that vision first bounces of an object before being directed to the eyes through various experiments. He wrote over 200 valuable manuscripts on various subjects, including astronomy, theology, music, politics and engineering. 

10. Al- Biruni (973 – 1050):
An exceptional scholar, he studied and wrote about treatises related to almost all sciences. Termed as a universal genius of his time,  he was a scientist, polymath,  historian, astronomer, botanist, pharmacologist, geologist, poet, philosopher, mathematician, geographer and humanist. He traveled to India and analyzed the relationships between various civilizations like Hinduism and Islam. He revolutionized several fields and made important contributions, writing up to 146 books.

11. Ibn Sina (980 – 1037):
Famously known as Avicenna in the West, he was a hafidh of the Quran, an eminent physician and philosopher. He was named “Al Shaikh Al Ra’ees” or the master wise man by his students and followers. He is said to have written over 450 works. His acclaimed work is Kitab Al-Qanun Fil-Tibb, also known as The Canon of Medicine. The Qanun (Canon) was translated in Latin in the 12th century and used as a predominant medical text for around 6 centuries.

12. Ibn Muadh Al-Jayyani (989 – 1079):
The Arab physicist from Cordoba wrote the Book of Unknown Arcs of a Sphere which approached the subject of spherical trigonometry. His writings would later have a profound impact on European mathematics in general and impact on the work of Regiomontanus. With a keen interest in the celestial phenomenon, he deduced the approximate height of the Earth’s atmosphere using geometry and the size of the Earth with values provided by astronomers in Baghdad, namely Al-Khwarizmi.

13. Lubna of Cordoba (10th CE):
She worked in the royal court in Andalusia during the Ummayad dynasty. She was a poet, scribe, library master, mathematician and palace secretary among other things. Her origins were not royal; she was a slave who rose with her talents. She was among the first female solo travellers and presided over the royal library. She traveled to gather books and knowledge.

14. Mariam Astrulabi (10th CE):
Known to be the only female astronomer in ancient Islam. She is known for developing Astrolabes, an ancient astronomical computer for solving problems relating to the time and position of the sun and stars. She was required to work with complex mathematical calculations and precision and gradually mastered the designs. She also helped develop navigation and timekeeping techniques. Muslims would use the device to find the Qibla, determine prayer times and the initial days of Ramadan and Eid.

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15. Al-Idrisi (1100 – 1165):
Tabula Rogeriana, (The Map of Roger in Latin) is a description of the world and one of the first world maps created by the Arab scholar and geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi in 1154 for Roger II of Sicily.  He compiled an Atlas called the Nuzhat al-Mushtaq fi Ikhtiraq al-Afaq (For the Delight of One Who Wishes to Traverse the Regions of the World) which contained 70 sectional maps, of which some still survived and are preserved in the Bibliotheque nationale de France.

16. Al-Jazari (1136 – 1206):
A scholar, inventor and mechanical engineer. He documented about 50 mechanical inventions and is considered to be the ‘father of modern-day engineering.’ He invented one of the first mechanical clocks driven by water and weights.

17. Zaynab Al Shahda (12th CE):
A brilliant female calligrapher, she was so well-established that people hoped for an opportunity to study with her and to receive their ijaza (a license authorized by the professional). She was named Siqat al-Dawla because of her association with al-Muktafibillah, the Abbasid Caliph. She spent most of her time studying science and literature.