The Islamic Golden Age, also known as the Islamic Renaissance, is a period of cultural and intellectual growth and activity that persisted throughout the Islamic world (from Morocco and Spain in the west to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east) between the 8th and 13th centuries, though a few scholars assert it continued until the 16th century. This age began when the Abbasid Caliphate, followers in the tradition of Muhammad, transferred its capital from Damascus in Turkey to Baghdad in Iraq.
The leaders of the Abbasid Caliphate were lovers of knowledge and they encouraged the establishment of numerous academic and public institutions to further that knowledge. In a “House of Wisdom,” Arabic scholars translated ancient Iraqi, Roman, Chinese, Indian, Persian, Greek, Byzantine, and North African works into their native language and preserved them for posterity. Around this time, the secret art of papermaking, obtained from Chinese prisoners in 751, became known to the followers of Islam, who subsequently built large paper mills in their capital cities. Unlike the Chinese, who preferred to use brushes for writing, the Arabs used pens.
Some institutions founded during the Islamic Golden Age include the public hospital, psychiatric hospital, public libraries, academic degree-granting universities, and the astronomical observatory as a research institute. Today, the University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco is regarded as the world’s oldest degree-granting university, founded in 859. The first full-fledged university, Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, was founded in 975. These universities were populated by polymaths, scholars who excelled in a variety of secular and religious subjects. The Islamic Golden Age had a high standard of literacy and education.
By the 10th century, key Islamic cities such as Baghdad, Tripoli, Cairo, and Cordoba had huge libraries with between 600,000 and 3 million books, many of which were destroyed in subsequent centuries. The corpus of knowledge generated during this time exceeds the combined works of ancient Greece and Rome, and represents the first scientific works in history. Fundamental findings in optics, mechanics, physics, agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, and thousands of other fields were achieved during this time. Improvements in agriculture and industrial growth increased the size of the population that could be supported by a fixed amount of farmers.
The wide range of achievements reached during the Islamic Golden Age are difficult to summarize in a short article, during which hundreds or thousands of modern disciplines and industries were initially founded. The backdrop of the Islamic Golden Age is represented today in fictional works like Arabian Nights, which consists of over a thousand stories circulating at the time brought together in a unified work. The image of a huge golden-domed mosque or palace is representative of the era.