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Islamic Golden Age

Islamic Golden Age

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Cogito, ergo sum: I think, therefore I am. This seemingly simple phrase, written by the 17th-century French philosopher Descartes, was one of the most defining philosophical statements in the Early Modern Period (1450-1750). But few remember the “floating man” thought experiment designed by the Persian Ibn Sina over 500 years before Descartes's birth, a thought experiment that proposed a very similar link between knowledge of presence and existence. In fact, many inventions and ideas that we take for granted come from the Islamic Golden Age, a wonderful period of academic advancement within the Middle East; where the rest of the world had little time to think about tomorrow.

Islamic Golden Age Definition

Golden ages may have slightly different meanings; they could mean a period of successful conquest, or perhaps a period of peace.

  • The Islamic Golden Age of the Medieval Era (5th to 15th centuries) was especially significant in that it represented a period of growth in science, math, philosophy, astronomy, physics, engineering, etc. It was not just a golden age for the lands of Persia and the Arabian Peninsula, it was a golden age for all mankind.

The Islamic Golden Age refers to a period of intellectual prosperity within Dar Al-Islam from the 8th to 13th centuries.

Islamic Golden Age Map Study SmarterMap representing the territorial boundaries of the Abbasid Caliphate during the Islamic Golden Age. (figure 1)

The World of the Islamic Golden Age

The Islamic Golden Age closely coincided with the rise and fall of the Islamic Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258). In 762, reigning caliph Al-Mansur relocated the Abbasid capital from Damascus to Baghdad, effectively relocating the center of the Islamic world. Around that same time, the famous House of Wisdom, or Grand Library of Baghdad, was erected within the city. Hosting thousands of tomes, scrolls, ancient texts, and enterprising scholars from around the world, Baghdad's House of Wisdom was the beating heart of the Islamic Golden Age.

Do you like numbers? Do you think the number 2091 is more visually appealing than its Roman numeral counterpart, MMXCI? Maybe not, but 2091 is certainly easier for mathematicians to manipulate. Our lovely number system of 0, 1, 2, 3… is known as Arabic Numerals. Why? Because the number system was adopted by Europeans from the Middle East during the height of the Islamic Golden Age! The Islamic Golden Age's contribution to mathematics doesn't end there.

Islamic Golden Age Timeline

The following timeline provides a brief progression of events related to the Islamic Golden Age:

  • 751 CE: The Battle of Talas brings paper-making technology to the Middle East and solidifies the rule of the Abbasid Caliphate.

  • 762 CE: Abbasid ruler Al-Mansur moves the state's capital to Baghdad, where the House of Wisdom would be located.

  • 9th century: Al-Khwarizmi publishes his mathematical work that would form the fundamental of algebra.

  • 9th century: The Banu Musa brothers create many fantastical inventions, publishing their work in various books.

  • 10th - 11th centuries: The famous academic Ibn-Sina (Avicenna) makes incredible contributions to metaphysics, philosophy, medicine, math, and poetry.

  • 12th century: Islamic judge Al-Rushd of An-Andalus writes extensive literature that circulates throughout Europe.

  • 1258: The Siege of Baghdad ends the Islamic Golden Age.

Islamic Golden Age Inventions

Representing the wealth of knowledge preserved and accumulated during the Islamic Golden Age, many inventions of the Medieval Middle East are still in use today. These inventions range from the practical to the extreme; in either case, it is evident that innovation and scientific discovery were greatly promoted in both Islamic culture and politics. Beyond consistent funding by the Islamic states, the Quran called for practitioners of the Islamic faith to embark on a quest for learning and discovery.

Men who celebrate the praises of Allah, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth, (With the thought): 'Our Lord! not for naught Hast Thou created (all) this!'”

–The Quran (3:191)2

Islamic Inventions Changed the World

Dar Al-Islam was strengthened by trade and conquest; the wealth of the Islamic Empire would further fuel the imagination and scientific curiosity of its people. Some scholars developed upon old or foreign ideas and designs, inheriting the wisdom of the ancient Greeks or analyzing a development from the African world. Others, such as the 9th century Banu Musa brothers, invented wonderful creations such as an automatic flute-playing machine, completely programmable to your favorite tunes.

Islamic Golden Age Invention Study SmarterA page from the "Book of Ingenious Devices", written by the Banu Musa brothers during the Islamic Golden Age. This page depicts the Elephant Clock.

The Banu Musa brothers came incredibly close to inventing the crankshaft, centuries before Europeans would invent the device for themselves. Other inventions included the first official observatories and mental hospitals in world history. Scimitars, windmills, astrolabes for navigation, fountain pens, water clocks, algebra (yes, algebra!), chess manuals, and conical valves were all invented during the Islamic Golden Age. There were a lot more inventions and developments, but two facts remain constant:

  • Islamic preservation of Greek and Roman and other ancient texts not only allowed for these written documents to survive, but also informed and guided Islamic inventors through their golden age of discovery.
  • Inventions from across the world trickled into Dar Al-Islam (such as gunpowder from China); Islamic inventors and scholars made further developments upon these inventions, too.

Islamic Golden Age Learning

The Islamic Golden Age was an era of fantastic academic discovery. But, as we all know, every great philosopher and invention begins in the classroom!

Islamic Golden Age Educational Centers

Islamic universities were called madrasas, while elementary schools were known as maktabs. In a madrasa, you could study anything from law to philosophy, medicine and literature, engineering, and alchemy. Established during the Islamic Golden Age, these educational institutions lasted well into the Ottoman Empire.


Islamic educational center; a college.

Enrolling in the prestigious University of al-Qarawiyyin in Morocco, one could master Arabic grammar, logic, math, and related subjects. Originally, a mosque from the 9th century, the university dually acted as an important religious center during the Islamic Golden Age. Or perhaps one might enroll in the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. Built as a mosque in 972 CE, Al-Azhar University acted as a global learning center in philosophy, but its scope of learning expanded with time.

Fascinated by these universities? Think you might be 1000 years too late to enroll? Well, you still can! Both the University of Al-Qarawiyyin and Al-Azhar University still exist, and are among the oldest active universities in the world.

The House of Wisdom in Baghdad was the foremost learning center during the Islamic Golden Age. What started out as a private library commissioned by Al-Mansur during the 8th century grew to be an international academy, stimulating academic progress all the way into the 13th century.

Islamic Golden Age Philosophers

Islamic philosophers enjoyed near-exclusive access to staple philosophical texts, such as the works of Aristotle (which survive today only because of these scholars). It all began with the Greco-Arabic Translation Movement, a mass effort by Middle Eastern scholars to translate ancient Greek and Persian texts into Arabic. The Translation Movement was a great success, mainly due to the Abbasid Dynasty's victory against the Chinese Tang Dynasty at the Battle of Talas (751).

Islamic Golden Age Philosopher Study Smarter20th century Iranian stamp of philosopher Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna.

Why is that battle important, you might be wondering? Because the Abbasids were able to take Chinese prisoners who knew the secrets to papermaking. No longer limited by the supply of vellum and parchment, Islamic scribes could make thousands of copies of ancient texts, inviting a new generation of prospecting philosophers. This new generation included the likes of Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Al-Nafis, and Al-Farabi.

Ibn Sina (Avicenna)

Ibn Sina, born in the 10th century and known to Europeans as Avicenna, published many works, including the Book of Healing, and he made great contributions to the philosophical field of metaphysics. As mentioned in the introduction, Ibn Sina sought to reconcile the differing ideas of Plato and Aristotle on existence into a simple thought experiment, that of the Floating Man. The experiment that a man is born in a vacuum with contact with the physical world through his body, but the awareness of himself in such a state reveals both consciousness and the existence of a soul.

Ibn Rushd (Averroes)

Ibn Rushd, Latinized as Averroes, was a 12th century Islamic judge in An-Andalus in Europe. As such, his writings and commentaries on Aristotle were widely translated and circulated throughout the scholarly corners of Europe, garnering both support and criticism from his European readers.

Ibn Al-Nafis

The 13th century philosopher Ibn Al-Nafis wrote Theologus Autodidactus, a philosophical novel dissecting the concepts of religion and the self. He was also a medical scholar. One of his most noteworthy achievements in physiology was a revision of the circulatory theory of the 2nd-century Greek physician Galen.

Differing Islamic Golden Age Philosophies

Islamic philosophy was split into two separate branches: kalam and falsafa.

Term Definition
Kalam Meaning “speech”; arising from the debate over fatalism and free will, Kalam is a theology based on strict rationalism and adherence to Islamic doctrine.
Falsafa Inherited from the Greek word philosophy, pertaining to philosophy, logic, and math, especially in conjunction with the ideas of Aristotle and Plato. This was the more popular of the two branches.

Islamic Golden Age Art

Islamic Golden Age art was characterized by the extensive use of Arabic calligraphy, especially as wall decorations. Calligraphy would adorn the inside of homes, the interior of domes (impressive architectural buildings in their own right), and pulpits within mosques. The art of writing became exceedingly popular due to the increasing literacy rates of Islamic peoples and the newfound availability of paper during the golden age.


The visual art of writing; the artistic lettering of words using pens and brushes.

Islamic Golden Age Art Study SmarterIslamic art and calligraphy depicting Aristotle and a student.

Golden Age of Islam Science and Medicine

From within the House of Wisdom and madrasas of Baghdad, students and scholars made remarkable, if not underappreciated, changes in the fields of science and medicine. Now the principles of modern-day science, it was the physicians of the Islamic Golden Age who stressed the importance of repeatable experiments with measurable results, a process that we now call the scientific method.

If you want to study the effect of bloodletting on a condition, divide the patients into two groups, perform bloodletting only on one group, watch both, and compare the results.

–Persian physician Al-Razi of the Islamic Golden Age3

Ibn Al-Haythan developed upon the idea of inductive reasoning; Al-Biruni enforced that experimental results must be consistently replicated if any claim of discovery is to be made. Mathematicians introduced negative numbers, irrational numbers, the basic concepts of physics, the proto-laws of motion, and Al-Khwarizmi invented algebra.


Direction facing Kaaba, the holy Islamic shrine at Mecca.

The scholars of the Middle East honored their Greek and Persian predecessors not by blindly accepting the knowledge of yesterday, but by challenging it. In the field of astronomy, Islamic scholars became reservedly suspicious that their mathematical models did not match Ptolemy's heliocentric model of the universe. Old maps were updated by adventurous Muslim explorers, equipped with advanced equipment such as the astrolabe. The Islamic religion's support of scientific progress paid back; now, Muslims across the world, regardless of where they were, could face qibla in prayer.

Islamic Golden Age Achievements

For all its glory, not even the Islamic Golden Age would last. Come 1258, Baghdad was laid to ruin at the hands of invading an invading Mongol horde. The House of Wisdom was destroyed, and its knowledge threatened to be lost. But the fundamental innovations of the Islamic Golden Age had already spread abroad, infusing the world with the wonders of a Middle East where physicians, mathematicians, scholars, astronomers, and philosophers were mightier than warriors, priests, and warlords.

Islamic Golden Age Achievements Study SmarterPhotograph of Islamic Golden Age globes and compasses in a modern-day Museum.

Islamic Golden Age - Key takeaways

  • The Islamic Golden Age lasted from the 8th to the 13th century and was characterized by progress in science, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and philosophy.
  • The Islamic Golden Age was largely based in and around the House of Wisdom within Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate. The construction and destruction of the House of Wisdom tell the beginning and end of the Islamic Golden Age.
  • Islamic Golden Age inventions ranged from the lasting and the practical, such as Algebra, to the expedient and the wondrous, such as the automated flute.
  • The inventions and advancements of the Islamic Golden Age spread throughout the world. Many ideas and inventions we take for granted originated in the Medieval Middle East.


  1. Figure 1, A map of the Abbasid Caliphate around 850 AD featuring provinces and settlements, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a7/Abbasid_Caliphate_850AD.png, by Cattette, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Cattette, Licensed by CC-BY-4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abbasid_Caliphate_850AD.png
  2. https://corpus.quran.com/translation.jsp?chapter=3&verse=191
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3752886/

Frequently Asked Questions about Islamic Golden Age

In 1258 with the destruction of the House of Wisdom during the Mongol Siege of Baghdad. 

The Golden Age of Islam ended in 1258 with the Siege of Baghdad. 

The scholars of the Islamic Golden Age devised the earliest forms of automation, such as a programmable flute. 

The Islamic Golden Age lasted from the 8th to the 13th century and was characterized by progress in science, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and philosophy. 

When the Mongol hordes invaded Baghdad in 1258, the famous House of Wisdom and other madrasas of Baghdad were not spared from the destruction. Centuries of scholarly work were destroyed. 

Final Islamic Golden Age Quiz

Islamic Golden Age Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


Define Calligraphy.

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The visual art of writing; the artistic lettering of words using pens and brushes. 

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Define Madrasa.

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Islamic educational center; a college 

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Define Qibla

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Direction facing Kaaba, the holy Islamic shrine at Mecca. 

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Why was Baghdad so important to the Islamic Golden Age? 

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It was home to the House of Wisdom, the center of learning. 

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True or False: The Quran discouraged scientific exploration.  

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Two truths, one lie: pick the option that is incorrect!

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The Islamic invention of papermaking was extremely important to the progress of the Islamic Golden Age; later, papermaking technology spread from the Middle East and China, changing the world forever.

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Which of the following was not invented in the Islamic Golden Age: 

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The crankshaft. 

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Which better describes Kalam? 

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Meaning "speech"; arising from the debate over fatalism and free will, Kalam is a theology based on strict rationalism and adherence to Islamic doctrine.

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Which better describes Falsafa? 

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    Inherited from the Greek word philosophy, pertaining to philosophy, logic, and math, especially in conjunction with the ideas of Aristotle and Plato. This was the more popular of the two branches. 

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The _____ was trailblazed by Islamic scholars who stressed the importance of repeatable procedures with measurable results in experimentation.

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Scientific method

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