C. Institutions of Higher Learning
“As the newly formed Islamic society became more firmly established, and its energies turned from outward growth to inward development, educational institutions came into being which played a vital role in the cultivation of the arts and sciences. The first important center to be particularly concerned with philosophy and the natural and mathematical sciences was the Bait al-hikmah (House of wisdom), constructed in Baghdad by the caliph al-Ma’mun around 200/815, to which a library and an observatory were joined. Supported by the state treasury, this famous school became the gathering place for many scientists and scholars, and particularly for competent translators, who translated almost the whole of Greek scientific and philosophical literature into Arabic, thus preparing the ground for the absorption of that literature by Islam. The amount of translation from the Greek and the Syriac, and also from Pahlavi and Sanskrit, during the third/ninth and fourth/tenth centuries, by such men as Hunain ibn Ishaq, Thabit ibn Qurrah and Ibn Muqaffa—all of them competent scholars and scientists—was in fact so great that even today more of the writings of the Greek Aristotelians—i.e., of Aristotle and his commentators—are extant in Arabic than in any of the modern European languages. Moreover, there are many fragments of the writings of Aristotle, of the Alexandrian philosophers, the Neopythagoreans and Neo-platonists, the Hermetic corpus, and the works of such scientists as Galen, which exist today only in the Arabic translation done at al-Ma’mun's academy or by translators who were stimulated by the activities of that institution”.
This post is part of our series of lecture reading excerpts from Sanad Foundation's 2018 course 'Islamic Scholarly Tradition' taught by Sidi Mohamed Acharki in Melbourne.