Bookmark and Share

Open the online Arabic language course

Islam /
Golden Age

Sevilla, Spain
ZOOM - Open a large version of this image

From Seville, Spain, one of the success stories of Islam in the so-called Golden Age.

A historical theory stating that in the first centuries of Islam's history, Muslim societies were the most successful and developed in the world.
The Golden Age is defined to begin in the middle of the 7th century, the time when the Middle East and North Africa were conquered, lasting until the 12th and 13th century, depending on region, seeing its final end in 1258 when the Mongols destroyed the Caliphate of Baghdad.
This theory is both true and wrong at the same time. What makes it true are the following:
  1. Muslim conquests resulted generally in a societies of stability and peace. The extremely rapid conquest by Muslim warlords happened very much because of the lack of stable structures in the Middle East and North Africa.
  2. Several of the new states with Muslim rulers managed to find a balance between secular society and religious life. By not interfering in the many groups unique life styles, room was created for sciences, art and trade.
  3. What makes a society successful in its time, is often a matter of comparison. If compared to Christian Europe at the same period time, the Muslim-ruled world comes out well. Still, this point is also the point that argues against the truth of the legend of the Golden Age of Islam.

What makes the theory not true are mainly the following:

  1. Societies around the Muslim-ruled world in this period of time were in the lowest point in their histories. Europe was passing through centuries of the Mediaeval Age, following the fall of Rome. In the case of Persia and the Byzantine Empire the two had destroyed each other to the point that economies, state structures and culture in general had fallen into a low point incomparable to eras before
  2. The Muslim world at this time was not Muslim, most inhabitants in the Muslim-ruled countries were non-Muslims. In many societies Christians were in the majority, together with large communities of Jews. These two groups were highly central in the development of the goldenness of this Age.

The unquestionable achievements, in arts and culture, performed by the people of the Muslim-ruled lands during this period cover both a vast area cover a large part of the cultures civilized long before the arrival of Islam; and not to forget, a long period of time, stretching over several centuries. Taking this into consideration, the output is not impressive. Also, the actual achievements may not survive well into a comparison with Europe, if all facts are dealt with without the aim of creating a specific result.
If comparing Scandinavian societies with Muslim-ruled societies, during the latter half of the Golden Age, the Muslim-ruled performs badly. While Scandinavian societies developed real democracy, tyranny remained in the Muslim world. Scandinavian societies developed social structures granting more freedoms for a larger part of the society, like for women. Scandinavian architecture surpassed the Muslim one, and the finest of Scandinavian literature reaches the levels of the finest of that created in the Muslim world. While Scandinavians explored new territories, discovering Iceland, Greenland and America, Muslims did little but travel down the well-known coasts of Africa.
Among what survives of Muslim culture from the era are mainly mosques. Most of these were built according to layouts of pre-Islamic structures, mainly churches. Among the rare instances of advancements in this field was the Great Mosque of Cordoba.

By Tore Kjeilen