Sanam Tiffany: The Muslim Influence on the European Renaissance

During integration between Muslim cultures and Western Europe, Islamic people brought many facets of knowledge and sources of inspiration for western people, as Islam and Muslim culture inspired early Europe in many ways. During Europe’s Dark Ages, Islamic lands were experiencing a golden age filled with the progression and rich innovations in the realms of science, math, writing, and art. These many advanced fields of study were converted from Arabic and into Latin, being one of the most vital ways that Islamic culture helped advance Europe’s academic knowledge and further their interest and activity in academic pursuit, scientific inquiry, artistic aesthetics, and accessibility to both sciences and arts.

The translation of Islamic books, essays, and solutions to Latin helped spread knowledge pertinent to the intellectual and emotional growth of the European empires. Early Islamic scholars’ work became the pillars of information that were built into kingdoms of knowledge, and because of early Islamic work, Europe was able to evolve rapidly. Because of these translations, old and ancient works from times unseen since before the dark ages emerged, causing European people to learn about history, both their own and that of the world, from a vast wealth of different texts. This newly remembered interest in history allowed for the people of Europe to further explore the importance of these historical accounts, leading to a newfound attraction to philosophy and other studies of this nature. The work in philosophy that resulted from the European renaissance is regarded as some of the world’s richest fundamental texts in philosophy, and that was only possible due to Muslims introducing the European people to this field of thought.

In early Europe, the switch from Latin numerals to Arabic numbers (which are still modernly used internationally, proving their lasting importance) was made, and this switch greatly increased the proficiency and speed at which math could be done. The addition of the number “0” to number systems made more complex math much more manageable in both writing and practice. Because of this, investigations and theories in math and mathematical sciences, like physics, were done at a much greater exponential speed, allowing early European societies to expand upon Islamic mathematical theories quickly. These advancements and expansions upon Arabic mathematics are well-respected as one of the most culturally significant points of the European renaissance.

The concept of think tanks and libraries were adapted from and expanded upon. The concept of degree-granting universities were taken from Islamic culture, marking the first European institutions devoted to making learning accessible and sharing knowledge with the entire community. Europeans also noted that astronomy was widely appreciated and revelled in Muslim cultures and so astronomical observatories and early planetariums became installations in European societies and people began to see the importance in the study of stars, which led further to innovations in navigation and, ultimately, travel.

Medical sciences were also incredibly advanced in Muslim cultures and Europeans gained vital information regarding these sciences, as well as fields of study such as anatomy and herbal medicines. Islamic cultures had done far more research on the human body as well as in creating medicines and mixtures to cure diseases and relieve pains. Noting Arabic tendencies to respect sanitation in medical fields, interest in sanitation became a more pressing concern in Europe, leading to more successful and safe forms of medical practices. These improvements to European medical care inspired Western people to continue improving upon these notions, relieving Europe of their once archaic and risky medical care.

The concept of public hospitals were also taken from the middle east and applied to early Europe, providing the first public health center that was unrelated to “healing temples” and other more exclusive, religiously-affiliated places of healing. Islamic scholars’ work and writings in alchemy (which would become the foundation and beginning point for modern chemistry) became the most standardized alchemy texts in Europe, revered and referenced by all.

Though the primary influence on Europe and its renaissance came in the form of advancing the maths, sciences and academia in general, European art also drew inspiration from the aesthetics and intricacies of Islamic art. Mosaics, brighter colors, and detailed inlays became more apparent in art throughout Europe. Once dark and invested in realism, European art obviously became inspired by the vivid, sacred geometric designs of their middle eastern counterparts. Aesthetically speaking, early European coinage also took after early Islamic coinage, and the earliest European coins had Arabic on them as well as Latin.

Though artistically speaking, many of the influences are overt, Islam also had subtle influences on the music of the European renaissance as well. Musically speaking, Arabic styles (specifically rhythm and aesthetic of melodies) and even instruments were integrated into early Europe. Though it is often said that the lute originates in Western Europe, it was actually the middle east which created and inspired different insurrections of this instrument that is so vital to early European musics.

Ultimately, Europe owes its impressive and renowned renaissance to Islam and the Muslim cultures inspired by it. Because of the Islamic influence on the Western world, Europe was able to relieve itself of its dark ages by pushing into what is historically considered one of the most explosive periods of artistry and knowledge in modern history.