Exploring the Rich Legacy of Islamic Achievements: From Science to Architecture


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Muhammed founded Islam in the early seventh century. Islam quickly spread, resulting in a Muslim Empire from Spain to India. Islam welcomed a degree of religious freedom. Muslims founded great universities and kept alive classical knowledge. They gave us algebra, Arabic numerals, and many more English words. They wrote great works of literature and scholarship. Their architecture includes arabesque patterns. We should not allow a close-minded and violent fraction to forget their many achievements. 

The Religion of Islam 

Muhammed, a merchant in Saudi Arabia, founded Islam in the early seventh century. “Islam” arises from an Arabic word meaning “submission” to Allah (Arabic for God). 

Muslims are followers of Islam. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are three monotheistic (belief in one god) religions. There are over a billion followers of Islam in the world today.  

Sumbul Ali-Karamali has written multiple books for teens and adults to help explain Islam and challenge some misconceptions. Such accounts provide helpful information on the religion.  

Spread of Islam 

Islam helped to unite an Arab population divided into many warring groups. A united population motivated by religious faith was a powerful force. Islam quickly expanded from its origins in Saudi Arabia. A Muslim Empire spread from Spain to India.

Muslims benefited from weaknesses in Byzantine and Western European lands to spread an empire. Muslim leaders in Spain (Moors) remained until the 15th Century.  

The religion was flexible. Other religions, including Judaism and Christianity, were welcome if they supported Muslim leadership. Jews and Christians became significant members of Muslim governments. Muslims also were allowed to debate different aspects of their faith. 

Some Muslim nations became more conservative and less open-minded. Iran, for instance, provides only limited freedom to Christianity. Nonetheless, Islam retains the flexibility to support open-minded societies.  

Education 

Muslims greatly respect the importance of education. 

They founded universities throughout their lands. Ancient knowledge, including works of Greek philosophers, was rediscovered via Arabic translations. Arabic is a Middle Eastern language. The Quran (Koran), the holy book of Islam, is written in Arabic.  

Scholars enjoyed a range of academic freedom. Islamic education helped the rebirth of knowledge in Western Europe, including the growth of universities and the Renaissance.  

Math and Science 

Muslims introduced Arabic numerals to replace the Roman numbering system (“V” became “5”).  They also gave us algebra. “Algebra” is one of many English words with Arabic origins, including alcohol, coffee, and sugar. Students might not like algebra. Who does not like sweets?

Islamic scientific developments are also impressive, especially when Western Europe was still in the Dark Ages. They include improvements in cloth dyeing and metal refining, anesthetics to ease pain, surgical techniques, and expanding our knowledge of astronomy and the stars.  

Muslims used the mariner’s compass while sailing. They understood the world was round.  

Food and Agriculture 

Islamic water management systems made agriculture possible in previously arid environments. 

New delicacies like almonds, artichokes, asparagus, chickpeas, eggplants, lemons, pomegranates, spinach, quince, walnuts, and watermelon could be grown and enjoyed.

A taste for foods from the East promoted trade and the Age of Exploration.  

Literature and Scholarship 

The Quran is an impressive work of literature. Muslims carefully studied their faith. They promote education and writing (fiction and nonfiction) to help understand their existence. 

Philosophers Avicenna (980-1037) and Averroes (1126-1198) wrote learned works on medicine, Greek philosophy, and the sciences. Maimonides (1135-1204) was a Jewish philosopher and court physician to the ruler of Egypt.  He shows the scholarship of non-Muslims in Islamic lands. 

Famous literary works include The Thousand and One Nights (The Arabic Nights) and the long poem The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, glorifies in poetic expressions of the faith and observations on our existence in the world.   

Architecture 

Muslims designed graceful mosques (religious temples) and palaces. They used rounded domes, tall and slender minarets (towers), and delicately carved lacelike patterns (arabesques). 

Many Muslims oppose a visual depiction of religious figures because they believe this is idolatry.  Nonetheless, they can decorate interiors with wondrous abstract designs and calligraphy (fancy writing). The pointed arch and gardens are also common additions.

An example of Muslim architecture is the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain.

Culture 

Muslim culture was strange but fascinating to Christian Europe. Christian Europe adopted many Muslim traditions.  We continue to benefit from the mixture of cultures. 

Flamenco music, involving playing the guitar and dancing, was heavily influenced by Moorish traditions. The word appears to arise from the Arabic term “rural wanderer.” 

Muslims often wore beards and turbans. Christians did not. They stood up while eating while Christians sat down. Muslims used bathhouses. Nonetheless, it is not true that they taught Europeans how to bathe. Europeans had bathhouses from ancient times.  

Final Thoughts 

The achievements of Islam are impressive. They continue to influence us today. 

Muslims and non-Muslims clashed over the centuries. They have different religious beliefs and repeatedly fought over the same lands. There is ignorance and hard feelings in both directions. 

The existence of a violent and authoritarian faction should not lead us to believe that all Muslims are like that. A study of the history hopefully will help further understanding.

QUESTIONS

  1. How did the founding of Islam by Muhammad contribute to the unification of the Arab population?
  2. In what ways did Islam’s policy of religious flexibility contribute to the integration and involvement of Jews and Christians in Muslim societies?
  3. Discuss the impact of Islamic education on the Renaissance and the growth of universities in Western Europe.
  4. How did the introduction of Arabic numerals and the development of algebra by Muslims influence modern mathematics and science?
  5. What were some of the key scientific advancements made by Muslims during a time when Western Europe was in the Dark Ages?
  6. How did Islamic agricultural innovations and water management systems transform previously arid environments?
  7. Analyze the influence of Islamic culture on European practices and traditions, as seen in areas like music, architecture, and daily life.
  8. Reflect on the importance of understanding the historical achievements of Islam in fostering a more nuanced perception of the religion today.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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