Imagining the House of Wisdom

1,200 years ago, Baghdad was the thriving capital of the Muslim world. Ruling caliphs had taken a personal interest in collecting scientific works. They also brought together scholars to create one of the great intellectual centres in history, called the House of Wisdom.

The Golden Ages' Music TrackOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions, Andante Records

Video clip about Caliph Al-Ma'mun (786 - 833) and Baghdad's House of Wisdom from the film 1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn al-Haytham. A film from Producer and Director Ahmed Salim, with voice of actor Omar Sharif, music score by Sami Yusuf and artwork by Ali Amro.

Manuscript showing Hulwan public library in BaghdadOriginal Source: Maqamat Al-Hariri

The House of Wisdom was Baghdad's intellectual power house. It developed from a single hall named Khizanat al-Hikmah (Library of Wisdom) during the time of Harun al-Rashid (763 - 809) and grew into Bayt al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom) during the time of Al-Rashid's son, Al-Ma'mun.

Over a thousand years ago, the city of Baghdad was a melting pot that attracted minds from far and wide, who drew on a vast collection of scientific, medical and philosophical books.

The city became a hub for translating and scientific research. Many libraries and intellectual centres gathered fame including the House of Wisdom, the library of Al-Nizamiyya school and that of Al-Mustansiriya school.

This 13th-century manuscript of Maqamat al-Hariri shows the public library of Hulwan in Baghdad.

"An Inspiring Golden Age", artistic impressionOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

It was a time of great learning in the Muslim world, which stretched from Spain to China. Men and women of different faiths and cultures studied science and wisdom of ancient cultures adding to it and making breakthroughs that had a lasting impact on the European Renaissance.

"Highly Prized Knowledge", artistic impressionOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Knowledge was highly prized. In Basra for example, the library held more than 15,000 books which included ancient works that were translated into Arabic.

Knowledge from East and West', artistic impressionOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al-Haytham 'short film

An artistic impression depicting the transfer of knowledge from East and West to the House of Wisdom in Baghdad.

Books and knowledge were a crucial aspect of early Muslim civilisation.

The Caliphs and high-ranking court officials sponsored scholarship and collected books. Caliph Mohammad al-Mahdi (8th century) first began collecting manuscripts when he came across them during his war expeditions.

His son, Caliph Al-Hadi, and his grandson, Harun al-Rashid (R. 786 - 809), carried on this work. Then Al-Ma'mun (786 - 833), Al-Rashid's son, continued this tradition.

The House of Wisdom ScholarsOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Famous scholars from that period, such as the Banu Musa Brothers, Al-Khwarizmi and Al-Battani were attracted to the House of Wisdom where a variety of languages were spoken and written enabling the transfer of knowledge from foreign manuscripts in Persian, Syriac, Greek and other into Arabic.

Banu Musa Brothers studying and translating ancient knowledgeOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Some scholars, like the Banu Musa brothers, were famous for sponsoring translation works too and seeking to obtain precious ancient manuscripts.

Translation movement of ancient knoweldge into ArabicOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Caliph Al-Ma'mun is said to have paid one renowned translator, Hunain ibn Ishaq (809 - 873), the weight in gold of each book he translated because of the famous high-quality work he did.

Actors in the 1001 Inventions Exhibition, New YorkOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Actors in the 1001 Inventions Exhibition, New York, playing scholars from the House of Wisdom and Muslim civilisation.

Scene depicting the House of WisdomOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

The legacy left by the scholars of the House of Wisdom and those who came after them in the golden age Muslim civilisation is huge.

Unfortunately, thousands of the books that were collected and made in Baghdad were lost or destroyed in later centuries.

Credits: Story

Created by 1001 Inventions
Producers: Ahmed Salim, Shaza Shannan

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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