Maya Howard Watts: The Muslim Contribution to the European Renaissance

When the Abbasids revolted against the Ummayyad dynasty they made way for a new age of learning.  Under the Abbasids there was an inclusion of all religions and social classes.  Jews and Christians were welcome to practice their beliefs and interactions with other societies such as the Syrians, Byzantines, Persians for example were greatly encouraged and established.  This allowed for advancements in literature, sciences and mathematics.  In the 9th century the Abbasids were known for producing the Bayt al-Hikmah, or the House of Wisdom.  This was centered in modern day Baghdad (the Abbasids’s capital) and doubled as the first university and the largest library in the world.  (They also created some of the first think tanks.) With Bayt al-Hikmah, translations of major texts from various other cultures and societies became available to scholars.  The remarkable tolerance that the Abbasids had for other beliefs and the emphasis that they placed on learning paved the way for major developments in academia and eventually, the same school of thought(s) that we now find when we look at the Renaissance.

During 750-1258 CE (the reign of the Abbasids) some of the greatest thinkers were produced. Musa al Khuwarazmi for example founded of Islamic Algebra, and it is from him that we have the word algorithm.  Jabir Ibn Hayyan, who lived during this time, is also known as the “father of chemical research,” and the scientific method as we know it today was founded by Alhazan: Ibn Haytham, who also lived under the Abbassids’.

It is amazing to me, yet no surprise, that some of the most incredible progress that we have had in history was a product of cultural immersion and inclusion.  It makes me think about what could happen if we were all more tolerant of each other’s beliefs today.  I wish that we had learned a little bit more about the process of integration that developed during this time so that we could see where the same framework could be applied in modern day societies.  It is often said, but remains true, that we can learn how to go forward, as well as not repeat old mistakes, by learning from the past.  It is amazing to me that with all the knowledge and interconnectedness that exists today, and allows the world to feel smaller, that we still do not have peace.

I am also surprised by how much I learned in this unit.  I have obviously heard about the renaissance in school before, however it is only until now that I have been taught about the inseparable relationship that the renaissance has to preceding Islamic societies.  This makes me think about and question the ways in which we teach history, which, I believe, directly ties into what we have to learn from it and the societal change we have the potential to create.