Al-Razi Galen

Islamic Institutions of Higher Learning

The growth of Islamic society was paralleled by the development of institutions dedicated to the study of the arts and sciences. The first major center dedicated to the study of philosophy, the natural sciences and mathematics was the Bait al-hikmah or the House of Wisdom in Baghdad between 200-815 C.E. This center also had a library, and both the instructional unit as well as the library were funded by the state. It became the gathering place for scientists and scholars, and particularly for a group of translators who would be responsible for the translation of the entire canon of Greek scientific and philosophical works into Arabic. Through their efforts, the foundations for Islamic scholarship for the following centuries were established.

The enormous quantity of works t translated from the Greek, the Syriac, Pahlavi and Sanskrit in the third through ninth, and again from the fourth through tenth centuries resulted in the fact that there are more translations of the works of Aristotle and other Greek commentators into Arabic today than in any other European language. Islamic scholars such as Hunain ibn Ishaq, Thabit ibn Qurrah and Ibn Muqaffa were not only merely translators, but each was a scholar and scientist in his own right.

Among some of the other works translated by these early Islamic scholars are the writings of Aristotle, the Neoplatonists, the Alexandrian philosophers, the Neopythagoreans, the Hermetic corpus, and the works of such scientists as Galen.

The impetus for the interest of the Islamic world in the development of the sciences arose during the third through ninth centuries. At this time, Muslims were caught up in the frequent debates and challenges with Christian and Jewish philosophers in cities such as Baghdad and Damascus. As a relatively new religion, islam, according to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "Islam found itself on the losing side, for they were unable to defend the principles of faith through logical arguments, as could other religious groups, nor could they appeal to logical proofs to demonstrate the truth of the tenets of Islam."1 In order to protect the interests of Islam, the caliphate made Greek sciences and philosophies available in Arabic, and in many cities, supported centers of higher education as a way of preparing individuals who were able to meet the intellectual and religious challenges which confronted the Islamic world.

__________________________ 1Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Science and Civilization in Islam (Barnes Noble Press, 1992) p. 70.

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