Baghdads House Of Wisdom Definition Essay

This article is about the medieval Abbasid Library, Baghdad. For the ancient Fatimid university, see Dar al-Hikmah.

The House of Wisdom (Arabic: بيت الحكمة‎; Bayt al-Hikma) was a major intellectual center during the Islamic Golden Age. The House of Wisdom was founded as a library for private use by the AbbasidCaliphHarun al-Rashid (reigned 786–809)[1][2] and culminated in prominence under his son al-Ma'mun (reigned 813–833) who is credited with its formal institution. Al-Ma'mun is also credited with bringing many well-known scholars to share information, ideas, and culture in the House of Wisdom. The library was based in Baghdad, and from the 9th to 13th centuries Muslim scholars, as well as people of Jewish or Christian background[3] were allowed to study there. Besides translating books into Arabic and preserving them, scholars associated with the House of Wisdom also made many remarkable original contributions to diverse fields.[4][5]

During the reign of al-Ma'mun, astronomical observatories were set up, and the House was an unrivalled center for the study of humanities and for science in medieval Islam, including mathematics, astronomy, medicine, alchemy and chemistry, zoology, and geography and cartography. Drawing primarily on Greek, but also Syriac, Indian and Persian texts, the scholars accumulated a great collection of world knowledge, and built on it through their own discoveries. By the middle of the ninth century, the House of Wisdom had the largest selection of books in the world.[5]

It was destroyed in the sack of the city following the Mongol Siege of Baghdad, in 1258.

History[edit]

Foundation and origins[edit]

Throughout the 4th to 7th centuries, scholarly work in the Greek and Syriac languages was either newly initiated, or carried on from the Hellenistic period. Centers of learning and of transmission of classical wisdom included colleges such as the School of Nisibis and later the School of Edessa, and the renowned hospital and medical academy of Jundishapur; libraries included the Library of Alexandria and the Imperial Library of Constantinople; and other centers of translation and learning functioned at Merv, Salonika, Nishapur and Ctesiphon situated just south of what was later to become Baghdad.[6][7]

Through the Umayyad era, founded by Caliph Muawiyah I, he starts to gather a collection of books in Damascus. He then formed a library that were referred by the name of "Bayt al-Hikma".[5] Books written in Greek, Latin, and Persian in the fields of medicine, alchemy, physics, mathematics, astrology and other disciplines were also collected and translated by Muslim scholars at that time.[8] Remarkably, the Umayyads also appropriated paper-making techniques from the Chinese and joined many ancient intellectual centers under their rule, and employed Christian and Persian scholars to both translate works into Arabic, and to develop new knowledge.[9] These were fundamental elements that contributed directly to the flourishing of scholarship in the Arab world.[8]

In 750, the Abbasid dynasty replaced the Umayyad as the ruling dynasty of the Islamic Empire, and, in 762, the caliph al-Mansur (r. 754 – 775) built Baghdad and made it his capital, instead of Damascus. Baghdad's location and cosmopolitan population made the perfect location for a stable commercial and intellectual center.[8] The Abbasid dynasty had a strong Persian bent,[10] and adopted many practices from the Sassanian Empire – among those, that of translating foreign works, except that now texts were translated into Arabic. For this purpose, al-Mansur founded a palace library, modeled after the Sassanian Imperial Library, and provided economic and political support to the intellectuals working there. He also invited delegations of scholars from India and other places to share their knowledge of mathematics and astronomy with the young Abbasid court.[8]

In the Abbasid Empire, many foreign works were translated into Arabic from Greek, Chinese, Sanskrit, Persian and Syriac. The Translation Movement gained great momentum during the reign of caliph al-Rashid, who, like his predecessor, was personally interested in scholarship and poetry.[5] Originally the texts concerned mainly medicine, mathematics and astronomy; but, other disciplines, especially philosophy, soon followed. Al-Rashid's library, direct predecessor to the House of Wisdom, was also known as Bayt al-Hikma or, as the historian Al-Qifti called it, Khizanat Kutub al-Hikma (Arabic for "Storehouse of the Books of Wisdom").[5]

Under Al-Ma'mun[edit]

Under the sponsorship of caliph al-Ma'mun (r. 813 – 833), economic support of the House of Wisdom and scholarship in general was greatly increased. Moreover, Abbasid society itself came to understand and appreciate the value of knowledge, and support also came from merchants and the military.[8] It was easy for scholars and translators to make a living and an academic life was a symbol of status.[5] Wisdom was so valuable that books and ancient texts were sometimes preferred as war booty instead of other riches.[5] Indeed, Ptolemy's Almagest was claimed as a condition for peace after a war between the Abbasids and the Byzantine Empire.[11]

The House of Wisdom was much more than an academic center removed from the broader society. Its experts served several functions in Baghdad. Scholars from the Bayt al-Hikma usually doubled as engineers and architects in major construction projects. They kept accurate official calendars and were public servants. They were also frequently medics and consultants.[5][8]

Al-Ma'mun was personally involved in the daily life of the House of Wisdom, regularly visiting its scholars and inquiring about their activities. He would also participate in and arbitrate academic debates.[8] Furthermore, he would often organize groups of sages from the Bayt al-Hikma into major research projects to satisfy his own intellectual needs. For example, he commissioned the mapping of the world, the confirmation of data from the Almagest and the deduction of the real size of the Earth (see section on the main activities of the House). He also promoted Egyptology and participated himself in excavations of the pyramids of Giza.[5]

Following his predecessors, al-Ma'mun would send expeditions of scholars from the House of Wisdom to collect texts from foreign lands. In fact, one of the directors of the House was sent to Constantinople with this purpose. During this time, Sahl ibn Harun, a Persian poet and astrologer, was the chief librarian of the Bayt al-Hikma. Hunayn ibn Ishaq (809–873) an ArabNestorianChristian physician and scientist, was the most productive translator producing 116 works for the Arabs. As "Sheikh of the translators" he was placed in charge of the translation work by the caliph. The SabianThābit ibn Qurra (826–901) also translated great works by Apollonius, Archimedes, Euclid and Ptolemy. Translations of this era were superior to earlier ones, since the new Abbasid scientific tradition required better and better translations, and the emphasis was many times put in incorporating new ideas to the ancient works being translated.[8]

By the second half of the ninth century al-Ma'mun's Bayt al-Hikma was the greatest repository of books in the world and had become one of the greatest hubs of intellectual activity in the Middle Ages, attracting the most brilliant Arab and Persian minds.[5] The House of Wisdom eventually acquired a reputation as a center of learning, although universities as we know them did not yet exist at this time — knowledge was transmitted directly from teacher to student, without any institutional surrounding. Maktabs soon began to develop in the city from the 9th century on, and in the 11th century, Nizam al-Mulk founded the Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad, one of the first institutions of higher education in Iraq.

Decline under Al-Mutawakkil[edit]

The House of Wisdom flourished under al-Ma'mun's successors al-Mu'tasim (r. 833–842) and his son al-Wathiq (r. 842 – 847), but considerably declined under the reign of al-Mutawakkil (r. 847–861).[12] Although al-Ma'mun, al-Mu'tasim, and al-Wathiq followed the sect of Mu'tazili, which supported mind-broadness and scientific inquiry, al-Mutawakkil endorsed a more literal interpretation of the Qur'an and Hadith.[12] The caliph was not interested in science and moved away from rationalism, seeing the spread of Greek philosophy as anti-Islamic.[12]

Destruction by the Mongols[edit]

The Mongol siege of 1258 AD began in mid-January and lasted just two weeks. On February 13, the Mongols entered the city of the caliphs, starting a full week of pillage and destruction.

With all other libraries in Baghdad, the House of Wisdom was destroyed by the army of Hulagu during the Siege of Baghdad.[13] The books from Baghdad’s libraries were thrown into the Tigris River in such quantities that the river ran black with the ink from the books.[14]Nasir al-Din al-Tusi rescued about 400,000 manuscripts which he took to Maragheh before the siege.[15]

Main activities[edit]

The House of Wisdom included a society of scientists and academics, a translation department and a library that preserved the knowledge acquired by the Abbasids over the centuries.[8] Furthermore, linked to it were also astronomical observatories and other major experimental endeavors.[5] Indeed, the House of Wisdom was much more than a library, and a considerable amount of original scientific and philosophical work was produced by scholars and intellectuals related to it.[5]

Translation[edit]

Over a century and a half, primarily Middle Eastern Oriental Syriac Christian scholars translated all scientific and philosophic Greek texts available to them.[16][17] The translation movement at the House of Wisdom was inaugurated with the translation of Aristotle's Topics. By the time of al-Ma'mun, translators had moved beyond Greek astrological texts, and Greek works were already in their third translations.[5] Authors translated include: Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Euclid, Plotinus, Galen, Sushruta, Charaka, Aryabhata and Brahmagupta.

Furthermore, new discoveries motivated revised translations and commentary correcting or adding to the work of ancient authors.[8] In many cases names and terminology were changed; a prime example of this is the title of Ptolemy's Almagest, which is an Arabic modification of the original name of the work: Megale Syntaxis.[8]

Original contributions[edit]

Besides translation and commentary of earlier works, scholars at the Bayt al-Hikma produced important original research. For example, famous mathematician al-Khwarizmi worked in al-Ma'mun's House of Wisdom and is famous for his contributions to the development of algebra.[5] He is also known for his book Kitab al-Jabr in which he develops a number of algorithms.[5] The application of the word "algebra" to mathematics and the etymology of the word "algorithm" can be traced back to al-Khwarizmi — the actual concept of an algorithm dates back before the time of Euclid. Besides that, this mathematician is responsible for the introduction of the Hindu decimal system to the Arab world, and through them to Europe. There were also important breakthroughs in cryptanalysis by Al-Kindi.[5]

There were also many original contributions to astronomy and physics. Mohammad Musa might have been the first person in history to point to the universality of the laws of physics.[5] In the 10th century, Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) performed several physical experiments, mainly in optics, achievements still celebrated today.[18]

Mohammad Musa and his brothers Ahmad and Hasan (collectively known as the "Banu Musa brothers") were also remarkable engineers. They are authors of the renowned Book of Ingenious Devices, which describes about one hundred devices and how to use them. Among these was "The Instrument that Plays by Itself", the earliest example of a programmable machine.[19]

In medicine, Hunayn wrote an important treatise on ophthalmology. Other scholars also wrote on smallpox, infections and surgery. Note that these works, would later become standard textbooks of medicine in the Renaissance.[20]

Under al-Mamun lead science saw for the first time bigger research projects involving large groups of scholars.[21] In order to check Ptolemy's observations, the caliph ordered the construction of the first astronomical observatory in Baghdad (see Observatories section below). The data provided by Ptolemy was meticulously checked and revised by a highly capable group of geographers, mathematicians and astronomers.[8] Al-Mamun also organized research on the circumference of the Earth and commissioned a geographic project that would result in one of the most detailed world-maps of the time.[21] Some consider these efforts the first examples of large state-funded research projects.[21]

Observatories[edit]

The creation of the first observatory in the Islamic world was ordered by caliph al-Mamun in 828. The construction was directed by scholars from the House of Wisdom: senior astronomer Yahya ibn abi Mansur and the younger Sanad ibn Ali al-AlYahudi.[22] It was located in al-Shammasiyya and was called Maumtahan Observatory. After the first round of observations of Sun, Moon and the planets, a second observatory on Mount Qasioun, near Damascus, was constructed. The results of this endeavor were compiled in a work known as al-Zij al-Mumtahan, which translates as "The Verified Tables".[21][23]

Notable people[edit]

This is a list of notable people related to the House of Wisdom, most of them are mentioned in the text above. Besides the listed occupation, most of them were also translators:

  • Sahl ibn Harun (d. 830), chief librarian;
  • Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (801–873), philosopher and polymath;
  • Yusuf ibn Maṭar (786–833), mathematician
  • Hunayn ibn Ishaq (809–873), physician (Assyrian-Nestorian);[24]
  • Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (780–850), mathematician;
  • The Banu Musa brothers, engineers and mathematicians;
  • Thabit Ibn Qurra (826-901), mathematician and astronomer
  • Yusuf Al-Khuri (d. 912), mathematician and physician (Assyrian Priest-Nestorian)
  • Qusta Ibn Luqa (820–912), physician and scientist (Assyrian-Nestorian)
  • Abu Bishr Matta ibn Yunus al-Qanna (c. 870-940), philosopher (Assyrian-Nestorian)
  • Abu Yahya Ibn al-Batriq (working 796 - 806), astronomer (Assyrian-Nestorian)
  • Yahya ibn Adi (893–974), philosopher (Assyrian-Nestorian)
  • Sind ibn Ali (d. 864), astronomer;
  • Abu Uthman, usually known as Al-Jahiz (781–861), writer and biologist;
  • Al-Jazari (1136–1206), physicist and engineer.

Other houses of wisdom[edit]

Some other places have also been called House of Wisdom, and should not be confused with Baghdad's Bayt al-Hikma:

  • In Cairo, Dar al-Hikmah, the "House of Wisdom", was another name of the House of Knowledge, founded by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah in 1004.[5]
  • There is a research institute in Baghdad called Bayt al-Hikma after the Abbasid-era research center. While the complex includes a 13th-century madrasa, it is not the same building as the medieval Bayt al-Hikma. It was damaged during the 2003 invasion of Iraq33°20′32″N44°23′01″E / 33.3423°N 44.3836°E / 33.3423; 44.3836
  • The main library at Hamdard University in Karachi, Pakistan is called 'Bait al Hikmah'.
  • International NGO based in France, La Maison de Sagesse.[25][26]
  • On November 2, launch of the activities of the House of Wisdom (Fez-Granada) in Fez, by cardinal Barbarin and its founder, Khal Torabully, with the Executive Committee, with a view of reactualizing its spirit and mission in the 21st century, Lancement des activités de la Maison de la Sagesse Fès-Grenade à son siège social, le Palais Shéréhézade à Fès, le 2 novembre,par le Cardinal Barbarin, en présence de son fondateur Khal Torabully et le bureau http://www.courrierdesafriques.net/2016/11/le-cardinal-barbarin-a-fes-lancement-des-activites-de-la-maison-de-la-sagesse
  • The House of Wisdom and the Silk Roads, activities in Fez, Morocco, https://lematin.ma/express/2018/rencontre-nouvelles-routes-soie/287409.html
  • Programme of THE NEW SILK AND CONVIVENCIA ROUTES, FEZ, MOROCCO : http://www.courrierdesafriques.net/2018/02/maison-de-la-sagesse-fes-grenade-fes-a-lheure-chinoise-sur-les-nouvelles-routes-de-la-soie-et-de-la-convivencia

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^Jürgen Renn & Sonja Brentjes, The Arabic Transmission of Knowledge on the Balance, p. 25
  2. ^M.-G. Balty-Guesdon, Le Bayt al-ḥikma de Baghdad, Arabica T. 39, Fasc. 2 (Jul., 1992), p. 133, "à l'usage du calife et ses proches"
  3. ^Hyman and Walsh Philosophy in the Middle Ages Indianapolis, 1973, p. 204' Meri, Josef W. and Jere L. Bacharach, Editors, Medieval Islamic Civilization Vol.1, A-K, Index, 2006, p. 304.
  4. ^Meri, p. 451.
  5. ^ abcdefghijklmnopqrAl-Khalili, pp. 67-78
  6. ^Kaser, Karl The Balkans and the Near East: Introduction to a Shared History p. 135.
  7. ^Yazberdiyev, Dr. Almaz Libraries of Ancient Merv Dr. Yazberdiyev is Director of the Library of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat.
  8. ^ abcdefghijklLyons, pp. 55-77
  9. ^Meri, Josef W. and Jere L. Bacharach. “Medieval Islamic Civilization”. Vol. 1 Index A – K. 2006, p. 304.
  10. ^Wiet. Baghdad
  11. ^Angelo, Joseph (2009). Encyclopedia of Space and Astronomy. p. 78. ISBN 9781438110189. 
  12. ^ abcAl-Khalili, p. 135
  13. ^Al-Khalili, p. 233
  14. ^"The Mongol Invasion and the Destruction of Baghdad". Lost Islamic History. 
  15. ^Saliba, p.243
  16. ^Rosenthal, Franz The Classical Heritage in Islam The University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1975, p. 6
  17. ^Adamson, London Peter The Great Medieval Thinkers: Al-Kindi Oxford University Press, New York, 2007, p. 6. London Peter Adamson is a Lecturer in Late Ancient Philosophy at King's College.
  18. ^Al-Khalili, pp. 152–171
  19. ^Koetsier
  20. ^Moore
  21. ^ abcdAl-Khalili, pp. 79-92
  22. ^Hockey 1249
  23. ^Zaimeche, p. 2
  24. ^John L. Esposito (6 April 2000). The Oxford History of Islam. Oxford University Press. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-19-988041-6. 
  25. ^La Maison de Sagesse
  26. ^"PRIX INTERNATIONAL MÉMOIRE POUR LA DÉMOCRATIE ET LA PAIX 2016 : La Maison de la Sagesse présélectionnée | Le Mauricien". www.lemauricien.com (in French). Retrieved 2017-09-13. 

References[edit]

  • Lyons, Jonathan (2009), The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization, New York: Bloomsbury Press, ISBN 9781596914599 
  • Meri, Joseph; Bacharach, Jere (2006), Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia, Routledge, ISBN 0415966906 
  • Koetsier, Teun (2001), "On the prehistory of programmable machines: musical automata, looms, calculators", Mechanism and Machine Theory, Elsevier, 36 (5): 589–603, doi:10.1016/S0094-114X(01)00005-2. 
  • Micheau, Francoise, The Scientific Institutions in the Medieval Near East  in (Morelon & Rashed 1996, pp. 985–1007)
  • Moore, Wendy (February 28, 2011), "All the world's knowledge", BMJ, 342: d1272, doi:10.1136/bmj.d1272, PMID 21357350 
Scholars at an Abbasid library in Baghdad. Maqamat of al-Hariri Illustration by Yahyá al-Wasiti, 1237.
The earliest scientific manuscripts originated in the Abbasid era.
Al Ma'mun sends an envoy to the Byzantine Emperor Theophilos.
A page from al-Khwarizmi's Kitab al-Jabr.
Al-Idrisi's map of the world (12th). Note South is on top.


©1001 inventionsHouse of Wisdom Sketch

Note: Composed by Cem Nizamoglu and first published in 1001 Inventions website

***

The heyday of Baghdad was 1,200 years ago when it was the thriving capital of the Muslim world. For about 500 years the city boasted the cream of intellectuals and culture, a reputation gained during the reigns of some of its most famous Caliphs (Al-Rashid, Al-Ma'mun, Al-Mu'tadhid and Al-Muktafi).

As one of the world's biggest and richest cities at the time, Baghdad had wealth that went far beyond money. For more than two centuries, it was home to the House of Wisdom, an academy of knowledge that attracted brains from far and wide. From mathematics and astronomy to zoology, the academy was a major centre of research, thought and debate in Muslim Civilisation.

Let us re-discover some of the history related to this centre of knowledge and intellect - the House of Wisdom:

Development


A view of one of the two "Iwans" overlooking the courtyard of the so-called "Abbasid Palace" ("al-Qasral-'Abbasi") in Baghdad.

Some of Baghdad’s most famous Caliphs including Al-Rashid and Al-Ma’mun had taken a personal interest in collecting global, ground-breaking scientific works. As well as collecting books from East and West, they brought together scholars from the corners of the Muslim land to create one of the greatest intellectual academies in history.

The House of Wisdom was initially built by Caliph Haround Al-Rasheed (ruled 786 – 809 CE) as a magnificent library named Khizanat al-Hikma (Library of Wisdom) that included manuscripts and books collected by his father and grandfather about various subjects in the arts and the sciences and in different languages.

Three decades later, the collection had grown so large that his son, Caliph Al-Ma’mun, built extensions to the original building turning it into a large academy named Bayt al-Hikma (the House of Wisdom) that housed different branches of knowledge. Later, he added numerous other study centres to allow more scholars to pursue their research, and an observatory in 829.

Muslim Heritage: The Abbasids’ House of Wisdom in Baghdad by Subhi Al-Azzawi

Soundtrack clip from the new film ‘1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al-Haytham’ with voice of legendary actor Omar Sharif narrating the story of the House of Wisdom

The Scholars


13-th century manuscript, drawn by Al-Wasiti of the celebrated book “The Assemblies”. Written by Hariri, shows a library in Baghdad

In the House of Wisdom, translators, scientists, scribes, authors, men of letters, writers, authors, copyists and others used to meet every day for translation, reading, writing, scribing, discourse, dialogue and discussion. Many manuscripts and books in various scientific subjects and philosophical concepts and ideas, and in different languages were translated there.

People from all over the Muslim world flocked to the House of Wisdom – both male and female of many faiths and ethnicities. Among the academy’s leading lights were Al-Kindi, who commissioned the transition of Aristotle, and Hunyan ibn Ishaq, who translated Hippocrates.

Other names associated with the House of Wisdom include: Banu Musa bin Shakir Al-Munajjim (the Astronomer); Yahya bin Abi Mansour Al-Munajjim Al-Ma'mouni (the Ma'moun Astronomer); Muhammad bin Musa Al-Khawarizmi; Sa'eed bin Haroun Al-Katib (the Scribe); Hunayn bin Ishaq (Isaacs) Al-'Ibadi, and his son Ishaq; Thabit bin Qurra; and ‘Umar bin Farrukhan Al-Tibar.

Muslim Heritage: Review of 'Pathfinders...' book by Jim Al-Khalili 

The Languages


The round city of Baghdad in the 10th century at the time of House of Wisdom. Illustration: Jean Soutif/Science Photo Library (Source)

A wide range of languages including Arabic, Farsi, Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Greek and Latin were spoken and read at the House of Wisdom.

Experts constantly worked to translate the old writings into Arabic to allow the scholars to understand, debate and build on them. Among the famous translators was Youhanna bin Al-Batriq Al-Turjuman (the Translator Jonah son of the Patriarch), who translated the Book of Animals (Kitab Al-Haywan) by Aristotle. Also, Hunayn bin Ishaq.

Caliph Al-Ma’mun is said to have encouraged translators and scholars to add to the library in the House of Wisdom by paying them the weight of each completed book in gold.

Muslim Heritage: Review of 'The House of Wisdom' book by Jonathan Lyons

Tradition of Learning


From educational MineCraft 3D game, This build is inspired by the House of Wisdom (Source)

The successful knowledge transfer and the creation of a centre of learning in Baghdad was echoed in many other cities across Muslim Civilisation. In Cairo a Dar al-Hikma was built in 1005 by Caliph Al-Hakim and lasted for 165 years. Other cities in the eastern provinces of the Muslim world also established House of Science (Dar al-'Ilm), or more accurately Houses of Knowledge, in the 9th and 10th centuries to emulate that of Baghdad.

Then in the the 12th century, Toledo in Andalucia (Muslim Spain) became the focus of another huge translation effort – this time from Arabic to latin. Arabic works and translations of important ancient Greek texts came to light, and Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars flocked to the city to translate ancient Greek and Arabic treaties to Latin and then into European languages.

Muslim Heritage: Interview with Jim Al-Khalili by Kaleem Hussain

Related Books


Imaginary drawing of the "House of Wisdom" library (Source)

  • "The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance" by Jim Al Khalili
  • "The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization" by Jonathan Lyons
  • "The House of Wisdom" by Florence P. Heide and Judith H. Gilliland
  • "House of Wisdom" by Carmel Reilly
  • "Bayt Al-Hikma and the Intellectual Movement During the Time of Caliph Al-Ma'mūn" by David Edward Atkinson
  • New Scientist: Islam's House of Wisdom will Rise Again by Jim Al-Khalili
  • 1001 Inventions: Uncovering The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization" National Geographic, edited by Professor Salim Al-Hassani

What did they say about "House of Wisdom":


1001 inventions "House of Wisdom" Canvas: Scholars from all over the Muslim world worked at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. The illustration depicts scholars, both male and female and of many faiths, who came to study and research at this Baghdad powerhouse.

Dr Subhi Al-Azzawi, Senior architect:

The House of Wisdom was also referred to as Al-Hikma Bookstore (Khizanat Al-Hikma), and The House of Wisdom Bookstore of Al-Ma'moun (Khizanat Dar Al-Kutub Al-Ma'mouniya). It should be pointed out that the Arabic term Khizanat Kutub, meaning literally a bookstore, is an old name meaning a present day library...

Prof Jim al-Khalili, Professor of Physics:

The Arab empire was hugely powerful by late 8th and early 9th century; its rulers were getting taxes from across the empire and had money to spend on translations and patronage of scholarship. About this time the House of Wisdom was set up in Baghdad by one of the Abbasid caliphs, al-Ma'mun. It began as a translation house, translating Greek texts into Arabic and rapidly started to attract the greatest minds in the Islamic world, while Arabic became the international language of science. There was also a strong influence from Persia; an Arab scholar once said, "We Arabs have all the words but you Persians have all the ideas."

In this context, a widely held misconception claims that the Islamic world did no more than act as steward of Greek science. However, "an incredible number of important and original advances were made by Arab scientists, who were the first to undertake real science - theory and experimentation - several hundred years before the scientific revolution in Europe."

Prof Faroque Ahmad Khan, Professor of Medicine:

Subsequent chapters [in Michael Hamilton Morgan’s book called “Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists”, highlight the great accomplishments in Baghdad during the rule of the Abassid Caliph al-Ma’mūn from 813-833 AD, under whose leadership Baghdad rose to become the center of learning and the heart of the Arab golden age. Caliph al-Ma’mūn’s House of Wisdom, where Christian and foreign translators rendered the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Persian, and Hindu classics into Arabic, helped lay the foundation of modern mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, medicine and literature. As a result of al-Ma’mūn’s patronage and vision, Baghdad gave birth to algebra and advanced trigonometry, the names of the stars, the mixtures of tinctures and remedies, and the heart of philosophy and literature. It was in Baghdad that Scheherazade told the tales of the One Thousand and One Nights [1001 Arabian Nights]”

FSTC Editorial Team:

Jonathan Lyons, tells the story of the House of Wisdom, the caliphs who supported it and the people who worked there, at a riveting, breakneck pace. In quick succession we meet scholars such as al-Khwarizimi, the illustrious Muslim mathematician and founder of algebra, the geographer al-Mas'udi, who described major sea routes to Persia, Cambodia and as far as the Malay peninsula inThe Book of Roads and Kingdoms, and al-Kindi, the first Arab philosopher. But Lyons is more concerned with how what was happening in Baghdad and other Muslim cities was transferred to Europe. So he focuses on a string of colourful translators and scholars who travelled to the Muslim world and took its knowledge and discoveries back with them...

Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid founded the House of Wisdom in Baghdad during his reign (786-809). It was a research and educational center where leading scholars from various fields came to share their knowledge. The House of Wisdom was the largest repository of books in the whole world already by the middle of the ninth century. It was the leading center for the study of mathematics, astronomy, medicine, alchemy, chemistry, zoology, geography and cartography. Unluckily the mongols destroyed the House of Wisdom when they attacked Baghdad in 1258. (Source)

There are many gates to the house of wisdom."
Edward Counsel 


Over 800 years ago, scholars gathered here to work on Latin versions for ancient texts, this building in Toledo is still a translation centre.


13-th century manuscript, drawn by Al-Wasiti of the celebrated book “The Assemblies”. Written by Hariri, shows a library in Baghdad

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