Arab Achievements & the Convergence of Cultures (Part II)

Part 1 HERE

One of the most significant areas of Arab achievement was in the realm of language and education.  This is not surprising due to the fact that Arabs had a long and meaningful love affair with language, stories and poetry.   In the Islamic era, the chief text for reading and studying naturally was the Koran, and the school itself was directly connected to the mosque if not literally in the mosque (Hitti 408).  The Arabic language went through significant changes under the scholarly hands of al-Hijjaj, the viceroy of Iraq in the early eighth century.  He developed the Arabic diacritical marks to distinguish visually between the different sounds and symbols of the language (Hitti 219).  Baghdad also became the site of the “House of Wisdom” which was a hybrid academy and library established in 830 A.D.  It became the most important educational institution in over a thousand years (Hitti 310).

Wherever the Arab Muslim influence spread, education and learning spread as well.  In Muslim Spain, al-Hakam established twenty-seven free schools in the Spanish Muslim capital; he also founded the University of Cordova whose prominence uniquely attracted both Muslim and Christian students not only from Spain but also from Europe, Africa and Asia (Hitti 530).  Even the capital of Spain housed a library of more than 400,000 volumes (Hitti 531).  Muslim Spain boasted a literacy rate completely unheard of in Christian Europe which had an extremely meager and modest education system during this same time period (Hitti 531).

What is important to remember is that Arabic achievements in these fields continued to derive itself from many different setting and from many different types of people. Many of the distinguished scholars in disciplines related to language and linguistics were not even from Arab descent.  Al-Jawhari, the lexicographer, was a Turk; ibn-Jinni who wrote philosophical treatises was the son of a Greek slave (Hitti 402). The greatest scholar of Muslim Spain, who was also one of Islam’s most prolific writers, was the grandson of a Spanish Muslim who converted from Christianity (Hitti 558).  Even Arabic literary works which greatly influenced European fables and tales of the thirteenth century were themselves influenced by their Persian-Indo predecessors (Hitti 559).  But regardless of origin, it is impossible to deny the Arabic influence on the written language and literary thought of both Spain and Europe.  In the Spanish town of Toledo, Arabic was used as the lingua franca for law and business for two centuries after Toledo had been conquered by Christians during the crusades (Hitti 543).  This is certainly a far cry from the early days of the Islamic era when Greek-writing officials on the Arabic peninsula were retained in their duties as book keepers simply because they were the only ones who were familiar with the practice (Hitti 217).

These many Arab achievements would never have spread and influenced so many other places without the movement of ideas and people of the Muslim world.  Muslim traders greatly expanded the reach of the Muslim world making the movement of Arab knowledge, culture, and language into one of its greatest achievements.  From the Bay of Biscay to the Indus River, the great Muslim expansion influenced many regions.  The centennial anniversary of Muhammad’s death shows a vast empire of Arabic Islamic rule impressive in breadth (Hitti 215).  Muslim traders reached China and Zanzibar between the seventh and ninth centuries (Hitti 383).   Arab coinage excavated in Finland and Germany testifies to the widespread nature of Arab commerce (Hitti 305).  In fact, the first reliable written account of Russia was written in 921 A.D. by an Arab (Hitti 384). This widespread trading network truly brought innovation and influence to faraway places.  It also complicates the analysis of Arab achievement.  For instance, the manufacturing of paper in Europe did not begin until the twelfth and thirteenth centuries after being introduced through Muslim Spain; however, this manufacturing knowledge which the Arabs have had for several centuries was derived from the convergence of Arab and Chinese cultures a few centuries before that (Hitti 347).

The first few centuries of the Islamic era saw many achievements original to the Arabs themselves and many more achievements which were derived from knowledge gleamed from others. The Arab himself was as diverse in ethnicity and culture as the achievements that he accomplished.  This diversity that was spread over a large portion of the globe impacted the world in such a dramatic fashion that the west and east continues to see its influence to this very day.

Works Cited

Hitti, Philip K.  History of the Arabs. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002. Print.



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