(part 1 of 3): Books in Baghdad

Baghdad was hit by a series of explosions. The city was steeped in violence. Baghdad is like chaos, death and destruction. Baghdad is a city that screams in pain and death under the curtain of smoke. When we look at the confusion on our television screens, it’s hard to imagine that Baghdad was once a great seat of learning. Baghdad and books have been inseparable for hundreds of years. Bookshelves adorn the homes of families and book sellers line the streets of Baghdad. Even now amidst the rubble and turmoil, the citizens of Baghdad buy books. „It’s an old illness in Iraq – people spend their money on books instead of groceries.“ jokes an Iraqi translator for NBC News [1].

In the period that Western history calls the Middle Ages, the love story between Baghdad and the books began. At a time when churches in Europe were lucky to have a library and some books, there was a street in Baghdad lined with over 100 shops, each selling books, items, or both. In the western world it was a privilege of the rich or religious authorities, but in Baghdad people had access to over 30 libraries.
Within 200 years of the death of Prophet Muhammad, the small Islamic nation grew into a great empire that stretched from North Africa to Arabia, from Persia to Uzbekistan and pushed its borders to India and beyond. Around 750 AD, Baghdad, the city built on the banks of the Tigris, was made the capital of the Islamic Empire. Their location linked them to distant countries such as China and Baghdad soon became not only a political and administrative center. but also the center of culture and scholarship.

Men and women from all parts of the empire flocked to Baghdad and brought knowledge from far away corners of the known world.

Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Zoroastrians and even people of unknown faith lived in Baghdad. Books began to symbolize life in Baghdad. The streets were swarming with writers, translators, writers, illuminators, librarians, bookbinders, collectors and sellers. However, these people had to be connected with different backgrounds. Arabic developed as the language of the scholars and the connection was established.

The works of Plato, Ptolemy and Plutarch among others have been translated into Arabic. Jewish philosophers used Arabic translations of Greek philosophical works to write their own treatises and essays. When Europe began to evolve from the Middle Ages to a period of enlightenment, they relied on books written in Arabic to redeem and reclaim the foundations of the Western Empire.

Many of these original books translated in Baghdad have been lost or destroyed in their homeland and only their Arabic translations have survived. The Baghdad scholars are responsible for the preservation of classical works by the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians and have even worked on classics from Persia, India and China. These great works have been translated from Arabic back to languages ​​such as Turkish, Persian, Hebrew and Latin. The Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas made his famous integration of belief and reason after reading Aristotle’s philosophies in translation by Baghdad scholars.

The Baghdad scholars not only collected and synchronized great works, they put them together in a body of knowledge. They opened up new areas of knowledge such as celestial mechanics, and introduced the world to algebra and geometry. A Baghdad scholar produced an ophthalmic textbook believed to be the first medical book to contain anatomical drawings. It was definitely the work of the East and the West and has been used for over eight centuries.

When Baghdad became a center of learning, the Kaliph, Harun Al Rashid, and his son, al-Mamoon, one of the most famous think tanks in history, opened Bayt al Hikmah or the House of Wisdom. Unlike their modern counterparts, the scholars in the House of Wisdom have not „specialized“. Al-Razi was a philosopher and mathematician, and al-Kindi wrote about logic, philosophy, geometry, calculation, arithmetic, music and astronomy. Among his works were titles such as The reason why the rain rarely falls in certain places, The reason for vertigo, and the crossing of pigeons.

The historian al-Maqrizi described the opening of the House of Wisdom in 1004 AD. “The students have taken their apartments. The books were brought from [many other] libraries … and the public was allowed. Whoever wanted was free to copy any book, or whoever needed it could read any book they found in the library. The scholars studied the Quran, astronomy, grammar, lexicography and medicine. The rest of the building was carpeted, and all doors and corridors had curtains, and leaders, servants, porters, and other servants were designated to maintain the facility. ”[2]

Books have always played an important role in Baghdad’s life. In the eleventh century AD, a manuscript was „… about the same size as a modern book, containing good quality paper that was labeled on both sides and wrapped in leather.“ An average bookstore contained several hundred titles including the Quran and comments from the Quran ´an, languages ​​and calligraphy, Christian and Jewish writings, stories, government work, reports from the court, pre-Islamic and Islamic poetry, works from various law schools, biographies, astronomy, Greek and Islamic medicine, literature, entertainment literature and travel guides (to India, China , Indochina). [3]

Today, with the bombs exploding around them and plunging the world into an abyss, the Baghdad people are holding onto their literary legacy. Between the rubble the booksellers do their business and the people of Baghdad choose between reading and eating. However, this is not surprising since Islam has a long tradition of literature. The first word of the Quran that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad was iqra – read, learn and understand. In the second part we will go on a journey of discovery and see what the Quran and the authentic traditions of the Prophet Muhammad say about literature and the search for knowledge.

[1] (http://worldblog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2007/11/30/487951.aspx)
[2] (http://www.sfusd.edu/schwww/sch618/ScienceMath/Science_and_Math.html)
[3] Ibid.


(part 2 of 3): Seeking knowledge

Islam is a religion that cares about literacy. When the Quran was revealed, the first word was iqra – read, learn, understand. In a cave outside of Mecca, the angel Gabriel squeezed the Prophet Muhammad’s chest and ordered him to read. Not knowledgeable about reading and writing, the Prophet replied, God’s blessing be upon him: „I cannot read!“

„Read in the name of your Lord Who created. He created man from a clot of blood. Read; for your Lord is All Kind. He who teaches with the writing pen teaches people what they didn’t know. ” (Quran 96: 1-5)
The Prophet Muhammad had never learned to read and write, but he understood the importance of reading. Although the majority of the Arabs were illiterate at the time, they had a strong and eloquent love for words. The Arabs were masters of the spoken word – poetry, storytelling, and memorizing genealogies. The encouragement to learn to read was a natural process.

Muslims believe that the words of the Quran are the words of God, and preserving them has always been paramount. From the very first days of Islam, the Prophet’s companions had begun to write down the words of the Quran. They were written on bark, animal skins and even on stones. This ushered in a new era of literacy.

Many of the first Muslims were poor, of no rank or standing in Meccan society, or they were slaves. Islam offered them an opportunity for equality and respect. The Prophet Muhammad wisely understood that if his followers could read and be taught, his new nation would have a greater chance of surviving and thriving.

After the Battle of Badr, the first battle against the Meccan oppressors, the Muslim army had taken seventy prisoners. Prophet Muhammad knew that most of the prisoners could read and write, and offered freedom to those who had been taught by ten Muslims.

The new Muslims began to understand the importance of implementing Quranic guidance in their lives. Then as now, the reading enabled believers to look at the world around them and to think about the miracles of creation and the magnificence of the Creator. Believers read the Quran to get closer to God. They were looking for knowledge to consolidate their beliefs. They use knowledge to worship God with true devotion and certainty.

“And (He allows this) so that those who have been given the knowledge will recognize that it is the truth from your Lord, that they may believe in it and that their hearts may submit peacefully to Him. And behold, Allah guides those who believe in the straight path. ” (Quran 22:54)

In his traditions, which were carefully reported by the Muslim scholars, the Prophet Muhammad, that God’s blessings were upon him, asked his followers to seek knowledge. [1] He said that if someone follows a path to gain knowledge, God will make his way to paradise easy. [2] He also said that knowledge is one of the three good deeds that persisted even after death. [3]

Human beings have reason and intellect. We also have the power, logical reasoning and free will to accept or reject knowledge. God created people with the tools to acquire knowledge. He taught the father of humanity, Adam, the names of all things. Adam was taught the skills of the language and how knowledge is applied, how to make plans, make decisions and achieve his goals. We, the children of Adam, have inherited these skills so that we can exist in this world and worship God in the best way.

„And He taught Adam all the names“ (Quran 2:31)

„He gave you ears and eyes and hearts so that you may thank (God).“ (Quran 16:78)

The search for knowledge is important in Islam. The Prophet Muhammad asked his followers to attend his knowledge sessions, and he appointed Quran teachers for the more distant tribes and cities. He sat with his followers and taught them the principles of Islam and he often listened to their recitation of the Quran, often with tears running down his face. The Prophet Muhammad said that the best of his followers are those who learn the Quran and teach it to others. [4]

The first Muslims established schools for learning and teaching the Quran and Islamic Sciences. Islam was practiced in secret for fear of persecution, but a safe house where Islamic knowledge was spread was built in the home of a man named Arqam. Even today in the 21st century, there are schools throughout the Islamic world called Darul Arqam (the house of Arqam) in memory and in recognition of the first Islamic school.
Knowledge, education, literacy and intellectual pursuits are of great importance in Islam. Throughout Islamic history there have been countless examples of schools, universities and libraries. Muslims have set up theories on education, written curricula, pursued literature and art, and have raised the concept of knowledge to new heights. In the third part we will consider the theories about education and the establishment of schools and learning centers.


[1] Throughout the article, knowledge means useful knowledge. Knowledge that allows you to recognize and understand God and the wonders of creation.
[2] Sahieh Al-Bukhari.
[3] Sahieh Muslim.
[4] Sahieh Muslim.


(part 3 of 3): Education for All

”Read in the name of your Lord, Who created. He created man from a blood clot. Read; for your Lord is All Kind. He who teaches with the writing pen teaches people what they didn’t know. ” (Quran 96: 1-5)

The first word of the Quran that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad, God’s blessing upon him, was read. Read in the name of your Lord. God urges believers to read, gain knowledge, reflect on the universe and its wonders, and be thankful. As a result, Islam has required literacy and education from day one. Throughout the Quran, God repeatedly emphasizes the importance of education.

„God will elevate those of you who believe and those who have been given knowledge by ranks.“ (Quran 58:11)

“Do not hurry (O Muhammad) with the Quran until you have received all of its revelation, but say:“ O my Lord, increase my knowledge. “ (Quran 20: 114)

From the very beginning, Islam has demanded learning, promoting scientific research, open circles of learning, sharing resources, peer review, solutions, storytelling and free education the Prophet Muhammad highlighted education as an integral part of Islam.

The Prophet Muhammad held the first sessions in Dar’ul Arqam. [1] He sat in the mosque after prayers, gathered his companions around him, he taught them the basics of Islam, the importance of decency and most importantly, the unity of God. The Prophet Muhammad taught verses of the Qur’an to his students in his sessions and he sent Quran teachers to communities outside of Mecca and Medina.

Memorizing and understanding the Quran was and still is the most important object of Islamic education, followed by learning and memorizing the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. These traditions have been transmitted through chains of traditions that guarantee their authenticity, in the same way that literature lists and bibliographies are used today to guarantee authenticity in the sciences.

The teachers closely followed the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, God’s blessings and peace be upon him. They sat on the floor with their students sitting in a semicircle in front of them. At the teacher’s side was the most trustworthy and knowledgeable student who wrote down everything that was said. Education in Islam grew rapidly from small circles of learning to schools connected to mosques. Within a short time, larger schools and universities began to sprout all over the Islamic Kaliphat.

As the Kaliphat spread, the teaching method of the Prophet also spread. Gathering and communicating the Quran and Islamic knowledge was considered a commendable deed. Kuttabs (learned men) and mu’allams (teachers) were found in every Islamic city and village. Ibn Hawqal claimed to have counted about 300 elementary school teachers during his visit to Sicily. Jubayr b. Hayya, who was later to become an official and governor in early Islamic Kaliphat, was a teacher at a school in Taif. Islamic figures such as al-Hadjadd and the poets al-Kumayt and al-Tirimmah are also said to have been schoolmasters. [2]

The most famous and respected scholars saw it as an honor to teach. Ibn Muzahim (d. 723nChr), exegist, narrator and grammarian is said to have had a school in Kufa where over 3000 children have studied. In order to supervise all of his students, he rode up and down the rows of children on a mule.

Other subjects have been added to Islamic education. There were lessons in Islamic behavior, Islamic law and law, mathematics, grammar and medicine, agriculture, ethics, political studies, economics and history. The teachers, their assistants and their students took the training very seriously. The teaching method of a teacher is described in the following passage:

“He went through the passage of the code several times; repeated it to the students after they had memorized it, drawing their attention to the various regulations of the Imams Malik and Abu Hanifah in particular and sometimes others, as well as the reservations of the text. Then he quoted the evidence, then analogous cases in very clear language, repeated it in other words until it was anchored in the minds of the students. ”[3]
The mosques and schools were generally non-profit foundations. Literacy and training were promoted so strongly that no student turned away. Lack of money did not mean poor education. There are remarkable similarities between the procedures established in the early Islamic institutions and in the educational institutions of today. There were proficiency tests, competitions in poetry and eloquence; Investigations were carried out and degrees were granted.

A famous teacher was Ibn Sina (known as Avicenna in the West) who had been a thinker, doctor and teacher. In the tenth century, he wrote medical textbooks that have served as primary medical references for over 800 years. Ibn Sina developed curricula and training theories that were able to survive the trials of the times.

He emphasized the children’s need to learn the Quran, poetry, piety and ethics. But he did not ignore the child’s need for play, exercise, and variety. [4] He thought that the primary goal of education was the physical, spiritual, and moral growth of each individual. He believed that education is a way to prepare children to make a lasting contribution to their society.

Even though he could neither read nor write, the Prophet Muhammad understood that God’s blessings and peace were upon him, understood the importance of literacy and education. He encouraged his followers to acquire knowledge and pass it on to others. He taught the importance of memorizing the Quran and acting according to the knowledge he imparted. He encouraged his followers to look at the signs of God’s glory in the world around them. To love God, you have to know Him, you get to know Him by understanding the magnificence of the world that He created. Knowledge is the key to our Creator’s love and to worship Him in the best way.

[1] See Part 2 of Literature in Islam.
[2] http://www.muslimheritage.com/topics/
[3] A. S. Tritton: Muslim Education in the Middle Ages. London: Luzac and Co. Ltd., 1957, p. 90.
[4] (http://www.muslimheritage.com/topics/default.cfm?TaxonomyTypeID=101&TaxonomySubTypeID=129&TaxonomyThirdLevelID=-1&ArticleID=1063)


Source: https://www.islamland.com/deu/articles/literatur-im-islam