Islam began in the Arabian Peninsula in the early 7th
century ACE. It quickly spread throughout the
Middle East before moving across North Africa, and into
Spain and Sicily. By the 13th century, Islam had
spread across India and Southeast Asia. The
reasons for the success of Islam, and the expansion of
its empire, can be attributed to the strength of the
Arab armies, the use of a common language, and fair
treatment of conquered peoples.
Arab armies were able to quickly conquer territory
through the use of advanced tactics and the employment
of horse and camel cavalry. Islamic rulers were
very tolerant of conquered peoples, and welcomed
conversion to the Islamic faith. All Muslims must
learn Arabic, so they can read the Quran, the
Islamic holy book. This common language helped to
unite many different ethnic groups within the Islamic
empire. It also made possible the easy exchange of
knowledge and ideas.
Islamic civilization experienced a golden age under
the Abbassid Dynasty, which ruled from the mid 8th
century until the mid 13th century. Under the
Abbassids, Islamic culture became a blending of Arab,
Persian, Egyptian, and European traditions. The
result was an era of stunning intellectual and cultural
Arts & Literature
According to the teachings of the Quran, Islamic artists
were forbidden from using human figures in religious
art. Therefore, they developed a style of geometric
shapes and patterns that were used to decorate religious
buildings called Mosques. These geometric patterns
usually contained verses from the Quran written in a
stylized form of decorative handwriting called calligraphy.
Non-religious artists were allowed to use human
figures. This type of work most often appears in
scholarly works of science or literature, which were lavishly illustrated.
Islamic architects borrowed heavily from the
Byzantium Empire which used domes and
throughout their cities. An example of this use can
be seen in the Dome of the Rock, a
famous mosque in Jerusalem.
There were many different styles of Islamic
literature. Most works were based on the Quran,
but some Islamic artists wrote poetry about the joys and
sorrows of love. Also, stories from other cultures were
adapted and rewritten for Islamic civilization.
The most famous collection is called The Thousand and
One Nights, which is a collection of tales that
includes such well known stories as Aladdin and His
Islamic scholars translated philosophic texts from a
variety of cultures. These include works from
China, India, and Ancient Greece. Scholarly
commentary written about these texts influenced a
variety of cultures, including European civilizations.
Math & Science
Islamic scholars studied both Greek and Indian
mathematics before making important contributions of
their own. The most well known Islamic mathematician was
al-Khwarizimi, who pioneered the study of algebra.
His textbook on the subject became a standard in
European universities for centuries.
Islamic scholars were also skilled in
astronomy. They studied eclipses, the rotation of
the planets, and calculated the circumference of the
earth to within a few thousand feet.
Many advances were also made in the field of
medicine. Physicians and pharmacists were
required to pass exams before treating patients.
They setup hospitals that had separate areas for
trauma cases, this is the basis for today's
emergency rooms. Physicians developed treatments for
cataracts, used a variety of herbal remedies, and were
adept at treating a variety of injuries. Islamic pharmacists were the first to mix
syrups with medicine, ensuring that they would be
Ibn Sina, a famous Islamic physician, wrote a book
called Canon on Medicine, which was an encyclopedia
of Greek, Arabic, and his own knowledge of medicine.
This book became the standard medical text in Europe for
over five hundred years.
Under the Abbassids, a vast trading network was
created which helped to spread religion, culture, and
technology. New business practices such as, partnerships, the
use of credit, and banks to exchange
currency, were developed to handle the increase in
trade. The establishment of such vast trading
networks made the Islamic Empire very wealthy, and
helped to stimulate many of their cultural and
Islam developed a system of law based on the Quran. This system was created to help people
apply the Quran to everyday life and situations. The
book of laws, called the Sharia, regulates all aspects
of life including, moral behavior, family life, business
dealings, and government.