House of Wisdom

The House of Wisdom (Bayt al Hikma University and translation centre) was established 830 CE by the Abbasids in an era when the Muslim lands were benefiting immensely from the new knowledge, technologies, learnings and sciences. In this the lands of the Caliphate would also benefit from new public hospitals, whilst Muslim sailors would begin to trade with China over sea routes.

Caliph al-Mamun oversaw the establishment of this great University. It would be a great research centre and educational establishment where all the sciences and learning of the civilizations would be brought together, translated into Arabic, digested and improved upon for the well being of the citizens of the Caliphate and the world as a whole.

Indeed the Abbasid age in general saw the Islamic consumption and improvement of the existent sum of science and human civilization in the age. All human knowledge became the property of the Muslim thinkers and they proceeded to make great leaps in all areas of science.

The Islamic wisdom taught by the Holy Prophet (may God bless him and give him peace) created a river of moral and intellectual rebirth in the world which sprang forth and would continue to flow for centuries. A tidal wave of good will spread throughout the truly believing followers of the Prophet (may God bless him and give him peace) and as the Islamic knowledge was codified and recorded, both in books and in the oral teachings of the great Muslims, it was augmented by the best of the knowledge of the great civilizations of Persia, India, Greece and even China.

Islam had spread throughout the world with great speed in the early years of the Islamic society. The Caliphate inherited and greatly developed the artistic genius of the Persians. From wonderful mystical poetry to beautiful art objects the Persian skills, which had taken two thousand years to develop, were revitalized and used in better ways than ever before and become popular beyond the old Persian borders.

From India the Caliphate inherited the advanced mathematics and astronomy of the four thousand year old Hindu civilization. Rather than just talking on these ideas without review or analysis the great Muslim thinkers immediately began improving upon them.

From the Hellenic world the Caliphate inherited the great works of Greek philosophy, sciences and medicine. Muslim philosophers translated the works of Plato, Aristotle and Euclid, along with Neo-Platonic writings, whilst Muslim physicians began studying and improving upon the works of Hypocrates and Galen.

The Islamic thinkers took the knowledge and capabilities from many other lands.

Roman and Persian architects were called to assist with the construction of great Islamic buildings such as Masjid al-Aqsa and their skills passed into the pool of Muslim knowledge. The knowledge and capabilities of many lands such as Greece, Rome, Persia and India were suddenly synthesized and utilized by the idealistic Muslims to produce a society and a civilization unlike any ever seen before since the times of Prophet Idris (Enoch) and later Prophet Soloman (peace and blessings be upon them both).

The knowledge of these ancient cultures was not usually that of those who were strangers to the Muslims, but rather, quite often that of those who were ancestors to particular Muslim communities, reflecting the multi-racial and multi-cultural nature of the Caliphate. It could be said that the Islamic Caliphate has generally been a beautiful and truly multicultural society based upon the rule of benevolent Divine Law and thoughtful civilization. Islam teaches tolerance and charity between Muslims. It teaches that the Muslim Ummah is a whole and that all the Muslims are its parts.

The Abbasid Caliphs were strong on sponsoring research into the sciences and the Islamification of the knowledge of the peoples of the world since the early days of their dynasty.

Even as early as the second Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur the medical works of Galen and Hippocrates had been translated into Arabic by the official translator Abu Yahya ibn al Batriq. At the Bayt al Hikma scholars and scientists from Arabia, Persia, India, Greece, Africa, Transoxiana, and China (amongst other places) were able to teach and cross fertilize their ideas.

The Bayt al Hikma itself had a great library, an academy, observatories and astronomical observatories. It was a place where particular importance was placed upon the translation of ancient Greek philosophical and scientific works.

Missions were sent out into the world to collect rare and important books and the Byzantine s were paid great sums to hand over ancient Greek manuscripts, which were immediately transported back to the Bayt al Hikmah and translated by the Muslims and Christians who worked there and in the century from 750-850 CE a golden age of translation occurred that gave the Abbasid Caliphate access to all the learning of the old world.

The works that were translated were often translated into Hebrew or catalogued contained information on the authors, the contents and other relevancies to each book and it covered countless books on subjects from linguistics to chemistry. The number of great Muslim scientists during this period was legion and their works were beyond anything that had gone on before. Latin as well as Arabic and thus the people of Europe would gradually come to benefit from the Bayt al Hikmah as books gradually reached the intellectual backwater that was their home.

Yet at the end of the day the House of Wisdom was not a house of true wisdom as that is what comes primarily from God through the Prophets (as) not through sciences (even though sciences may help one understand many things). The true houses of wisdom were those of the great scholars and savants and the good hearted people of Islam, where divinely inspired knowledge was present and God was at the heart of minds, life and hearts.

Musk is known by its perfume

and not by what the pharmacist says.

A scholar is silent

like the perfumer’s casket

but displays accomplishments,

whilst an ignoramus is loud-voiced

and intrinsically empty like a war-drum.

A learned man among blockheads

(So says the parable of our friends)

Is like a sweetheart among the blind

Or a Qur’an among unbelievers.

(Saadi)

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