A brief history of the house of wisdom | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 15, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 15, 2012

Light Of Baghdad

A brief history of the house of wisdom


In the medieval Arabic world "House of Wisdom" of Baghdad was the epicenter of learning.

The legendary Bayt al-Hikma meaning “House of Wisdom” was a library and a translation institute established somewhere later in the 8th century by Caliph Harun al-Rashid which later flourished under the rule of his son Caliph Al-Mamun and his immediate successors. This ancient grand institution was modeled after the Sassanid Imperial Library (the pre-Islamic Persian Empire, 224-651 AD), given the strong bond that Abbasid Caliphate had with the Persians, a great association which many experts believe spawned the very birth of Islamic Golden Period in the first place. It is in this House of Wisdom, for the next 4 to 5 hundred years alchemists, scientists, scholars, writers, men of letters, copyists painstakingly learned, read, wrote and translated manuscripts that were originally Farsi, Aramaic, Syriac, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Sankrit, Devnagari and other languages and linguistically converted them into Arabic and circulated the Arabic translated texts throughout the then Arabic speaking world. In this process many works by ancient Persian, Greek and Indian scholars like Aryabhata and Brahmagupta were translated and further researched which was also one of the tasks of the historic library. There were a couple of technical reasons why House of Wisdom was in Baghdad. For starter, it was the then capital of Islamic empire and secondly it was in Baghdad where, during this era, world's very first recorded paper mill was established which made it possible for widespread literacy in that region and by 10th century paper replaced the usage of parchment and papyrus in the Arab world. And that era was glory times for Baghdad, which was known as the world's richest city housing over a million people, not by the might of oil by the way, and a true centre for the intellectual development of that time, a great accomplishment that many modern day Arab states failed to achieve even at this day and age regardless of their immense monetary wealth and easy access to global scholarship.
It was in this House of Wisdom, that the Islamic empire witnessed some of its most brilliant minds whose work later gave birth to the European renaissance. Some of the Islamic scholars associated with House of Wisdom were Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, the Banu Musa brothers of Persia who were known for their works on automatic machines and machinery devices, the Sindhi scientist Sind ibn Ali who was born in modern day Pakistan, the great Iraqi scientist Al-Kindi, who is unanimously considered as the “Father of Islamic or Arabic philosophy”, the Iraqi-Christian physician, scholar Hunayn ibn Ishaq, known for his translation of Syriac texts into Arabic and the mathematician Thabit ibn Qurra, who was born in modern day Turkey and belonged to the Sabian religion of the Mesopotamia and many other scholars and gifted minds.
Sadly in 1258, the prestigious House of Wisdom was utterly destroyed during the Mongol invasion of Baghdad. Historically there is a saying that during and aftermath of the invasion the waters of Tigris river ran black with the ink from the enormous quantities of books that were thrown into the ancient river and red from the blood of all the scientists, scholars and philosophers who were killed by the armies of Hulagu Khan, the Mongol ruler who committed histories one of the most atrocious massacres.

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