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In this essay we shall discuss the culture and the translation activities in the Umayyad period. Orientalists adopted the thesis that Arabic science more items by rifat636 only with the translation movement that took place with the reign of the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun in the ninth century CE. Therefore some historians in the West considered the work of Khalid ibn Yazid as legendary or fabricated. This essay sheds new light on the civilization and culture of the Umayyads and on the historic personality of Prince Khalid ibn Yazid.

Islamic science arose in South-West Asia and Egypt. Oikoumene, for about four thousand years before Islam. With the rise of Islam, and under the Umayyad and the Abbasid caliphates, the area consolidated its position and remained the heart of the civilized world. With the conquest of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Egypt, the Islamic empire inherited the Sassanian and the Byzantine Empires and with them all the ancient civilizations.


The Prophet started the message of Islam in Mecca and Medina, and the call for Islam triumphed during his lifetime in Arabia. Within a few years during Abu Bakr’s and `Umar’s caliphates, the Muslim Arabs conquered Syria, Iraq, Iran and Egypt. In Iraq the Arab conquest was progressing in a parallel path. Persian army outside the frontiers of Iraq.

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642 after which all Persian lands surrendered. As soon as Syria came under Arab rule, the Arab armies were directed to Egypt. The conquest of Egypt was achieved without much difficulty. The conquest of Syria, Egypt, Iraq and the Persian territories was achieved during ‘Umar’s caliphate and he can thus be considered the real founder of the Arab-Islamic Empire. With the rise of the Umayyad caliphate the Arab-Islamic conquests entered their second phase.

712 the Umayyads added North Africa, Spain, Sind and Transoxania to the Arab-Islamic Empire. They, in effect, doubled the size of the Empire, and before the end of their period a major portion of the world, as known then, became part of the Arab-Islamic caliphate. Historians tried to give various reasons for this spectacular victory which was achieved by the Arab armies. Among these are the exhausting and weakening effects of the wars between the Sassanian and the Byzantine empires. But whatever military or economic factors are cited, the main factor indeed was Islam itself and the deep faith and zeal of its followers to spread its message to the world at large.

This desire to carry the message of Islam created an international empire and resulted in confirming Islam as an international religion, and in ultimately creating an international culture which had a deep influence on the course of human civilization. The first phase of the conquests united the lands of the ancient civilizations, the valleys of the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates along with the other countries in the area. Here the first civilizations in history arose and developed, and in this same area Islamic civilization arose, flourished and reached its Golden Age. It is not accidental that Islamic science arose and flourished in Iraq, Persia, Syria and Egypt. The first beginnings of science and technology in history took place in this area and from thence were diffused east and west. The Sumero-Akkadian civilization is estimated to have started about the fifth millennium BCE, and the Egyptian in the fourth.

Here the trades and crafts were developed and were handed over from one generation to the other, and so the inherent skills were deeply rooted in the urban societies. The same can be said about science and culture in general. Science started to develop with the onset of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Arab conquests, Iraq had been the power-house of the Sassanian empire, and Syria and Egypt of the Roman empire and then of Byzantium.

Because Islamic civilization had Islam as its motive force and Arabic as its language, some historians considered this civilization to be based on the pre-Islamic civilization of Arabia only. This led them to consider the Syriac, Hellenistic and Persian cultural elements as `foreign’ elements in Islamic civilization. Islamic civilization is however the civilization of all the peoples who became part of the new society. It had its roots in all the pre-Islamic civilizations of the same area. Besides Islam and Arabic, Syriac, Persian and Greek cultural elements, formed the ancestral traditions of most of the Muslim population. Thus the history of pre-Islam includes that of Arabia and of the lands extending from the western Mediterranean to the Oxus or wherever Islam was established.

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The Arab rulers did not disrupt daily life in the conquered areas. The civil administration was maintained, the crafts, trades, industries and agriculture continued as before. Even the original cultural and religious institutions maintained their activities without interruption. The conversion to Islam and to Arabic developed with the passage of time and took a natural course. The lands which were incorporated into the Umayyad Caliphate during the first century of Islam possessed ancient centers of learning. By the time the Arabs established their rule, these centers of learning had already moved from Athens to Alexandria and, from thence to Antioch, Edessa and Nisibis.

By the time the Arabs arrived in Syria, the Syriac-speaking Christian community had developed characteristic features of its own. In contrast to the Hellenized Christianity of the coastal areas, which used Greek Scriptures, the indigenous Semitic population used Syriac for divine worship. Moreover, Syriac Christianity was more monastic in its general practices than the Hellenized church. In addition to Alexandrian Hellenism, the intellectual heritage of Persians and Indians became simultaneously available to the Arabs. During the Sassanid period, the Persian king Shapur I had established a school at Jundishapur where Persian and Indian scholars were active.

By the seventh century, this school had integrated the Greek, Persian and Indian sciences and was perhaps unsurpassed in medicine and astronomy. Arabic and Islamic sciences started to form with the appearance of Islam and the completion of the Qur’an. Medina was the seat of government during most of the period of the first four caliphs. Another school arose in Mecca, second in importance to that of Medina. After the conquests, a number of the Companions of the Prophet left Medina for the new Islamic lands and they formed the nucleus of the new schools which were established in these lands.

Basra was the oldest school to be established outside Arabia, and Kufa followed shortly after. Both Basra and Kufa were newly built Arab cities which gained prominence in the history of early Islamic culture. Basra can be considered the crucible where all the elements of Islamic culture were fused. It was established during ‘Umar b. 638 in a strategic location where sea and land communications meet. It was on the edges of Arabia, Persia and Iraq. It started as a camp for Arab armies for the eastern conquests and developed later into an administrative capital for Khurasan and some eastern provinces.

Kufa was established one or two years after Basra on `Umar’s orders. Ali chose it as his capital. It was also of great importance because of its geographical position in Iraq, the richness of which was noted above. Kufa became an important centre for a cultural movement and was the rival of Basra in this respect.

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During this first period, the philosophical and rational sciences were still active, to a certain extent, in their original sites in Alexandria, Jundishâpûr, and in the schools of northern Syria. In this first period the new society in the above cultural centres was in the formative stage, and the foundations of Arabic, religious, philosophical and rational sciences were being laid. 633, Abu Bakr asked Zayd b. 650-651, on the orders of `Uthman, Zayd completed the final edition which has remained in use ever since. The recording of the Qur’an was an event of great historical significance because it heralded into human culture a new language which was destined to remain the international language of science for several centuries. The importance which the new language assumed due to the spread of Islamization and Arabization among non-Arabs led to the appearance of Arabic grammar.

Basra and he is said to have introduced into Arabic the consonantal points and vowel marks. Ayn, which was the first dictionary in the Arabic language. Sibawayh was a typical scholar from the new Arabic-Islamic generation which replaced the pre-Islamic communities. Muslim scholars started at an early date the study of the Qur’an and thus the sciences of readings and interpretation developed. He is the founder of the Hanifite School of jurisprudence, which is the oldest and the most widespread of the four Islamic Orthodox fiqh schools. It is of interest to know that Abu Hanifa’s grandfather was a Persian, which is an indication that the new Islamic society had already started to bear fruit. It was natural to see the appearance of some sects and cultural movements within Islam.

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These sects and movements were often caused by political factions, and in some cases they were purely intellectual. Shi’a was the next Islamic party in importance and in numbers. The Khawarij were among the oldest religious groups and from this movement there remained the Ibàdis, who are followers of `Abdallâh b. Among the religious and philosophical movements of intellectual origin was the Qadariyya, which adopted the concept of freedom of will.

The Qadariyya was opposed ro the Jabriyya or al-murji’a, the Determinist movement. An important intellectual movement, the Mu’tazila, appeared in Basra. It is said sometimes that it was influenced by the Qadariyya, and some maintain that the Mu’tazila was a continuation of it. The Mu`tazila played a prominent role in Islamic thought, and the movement reached its zenith during the reign of al-Ma’mun, in Baghdad. Among the religious-political movements was al-Murji’a. It is generally maintained that this movement accepted the rule of the Umayyads, contrary to the Shi’a and al-Khawarij. The attitude of al-Al-Murji’a was that of tolerance: and in this atmosphere of tolerance lived Abu Hanifa, and this had some influence on his teachings.

It seems that the appearance of al-Qadariyya, al-Jabriyya and al-Murji’a in Damascus took place at a time when Christian religious schools were flourishing. The Umayyad caliphs were tolerant towards Christians and the followers of other religions, which encouraged the dialogues between Christianity and Islam in Damascus. He adopted the profession of his father and grandfather. Damascus between the scholars of both religions. Within the Christian Church itself there was a debate about fate and free will, and about hell and the eternity of punishment. The Arabization of the diwans, as we shall see later and the translation of elementary scientific texts that are required for the kuttab of the diwan is closely related to some aspects of Umayyad technology. Unlike the theoretical sciences, architecture and technology do not need a long period before they can flourish.

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Hence the achievements of the Umayyad caliphs in architecture and technology were prominent. We have pointed out that the new Islamic regions were the most advanced in their civilization. In these regions arose the first and the most important civilizations in history. Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Persia were rich in their industries and agriculture. There were skilled craftsmen, farmers and engineers.

After the conquests, industrial and agricultural production continued uninterrupted. There was a large public sector under the direct control of the state and large projects were undertaken. A unique feature of Islamic civilization was its creation of new cities right from the early period. 638 as city camps for the Islamic armies. These developed and grew until they became great cities which influenced profoundly the political and cultural history of Islam. The building of new cities and the development of the old ones was accompanied by the construction of an appreciable number of mosques and palaces.

The most famous of these buildings were the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the Great Mosque in Damascus and a series of palaces on the edges of the desert which were built for the Umayyad caliphs or their sons. Abd al-Malik also constructed the Aqsa Mosque which was rebuilt several times after that. These three great mosques are still in existence and they retain till now their original splendour. Among the Umayyad palaces whose remains are in existence is aI-Mashatta Palace south of Amman. Another important palace is Qusayr ‘Amra east of Amman. In studying these early Islamic masterpieces of architecture one must remember that the new Islamic lands were rich in craftsmen of all trades. These craftsmen inherited the skills of the civilizations of the Near East generation after generation, and they became an important part of the new Islamic society.

They however adapted their skills to conform with the spirit of Islam and thus there developed an Arabic or Islamic art and architecture. The same thing happened in all the other Islamic lands. And so different schools of Islamic art arose in the various Islamic lands, which were influenced by the inherited arts of the different regions. About this early period we can say that Islamic architecture started during the Umayyad period. Irrigation works and water distribution were very prominent among the state’s achievements. The Islamic religion considered these among the chief duties of the state.

When Basra was established during ‘Umar’s period, he started simultaneously building some canals for conveying drinking water and for irrigation. Al-Tabari reports that ‘Utba ibn Ghazwan built the first canal from the Tigris River to the site of Basra when it was in the planning stage. The various governors who were appointed by the Umayyads constructed several works to prevent the formation of new swamps and to dry old swamps, through the building of dams which regulated the flow of water. We find in the original Arabic sources much detail about the irrigation works which were constructed in Iraq in the regions of Basra, Kufa, Wasit, al-Raqqa and several other areas. Al-Hajjaj was particularly active in constructing irrigation works and the later governors followed his policy. One of the Umayyad caliphs, Yazid ibn Mu’awiya, was so interested in irrigation projects that he was called al-Muhandis, `the Engineer’. In addition to his interest in the irrigation works in Iraq he improved the water distribution canals of the Barada River in Damascus.

One of these canals, Nahr Yazid or the Yazid River, still carries the name of that Umayyad caliph in commemoration of his great service. The caliphs and the governors utilized in these irrigation works the hereditary skills of the people of Iraq. Khabur River which is a tributary of the Euphrates River. The saqiya, or the animal-driven pot wheel, was also used extensively.

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For power purposes the water mill was also well established. The first mention of the windmill in the Islamic period occurs during ‘Umar’s caliphate, when Abu Lu’lu’a told ‘Umar that he could build an air-driven mill. Numerous trades and crafts of the Umayyads are of the industrial chemistry type. We shall mention some of them only. Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan decided to mint the Arabic dinar and to liberate the economy from dependence on the Byzantine dinar and on the Persian one.

695 following the Arabization of government records. This financial reform had far-reaching consequences and it is considered one of the major achievements of the Umayyads. The Islamic gold dinar abolished the Byzantines’ monopoly of golden currency. God on them, as well as the mention of the Prophet, may prayers and peace be upon him, and do not absolve them of what they hate in the official documents. Damascenes swords were renowned throughout the Roman Empire.

The composition of steel was first described by Jabir ibn Hayyan, and at later dates by al-Kindi and al-Biruni. Al-Biruni gave a quotation from a book written by a Damascene ironsmith called Mazyad ibn ‘Ali. Mazyad gave a description for making crucible steel. Al-Biruni says that Mazyad’s book gives details of swords that were described in al-Kindi’s treatise on swords. We understand from al-Biruni’s statement that Mazyad ibn ‘Ali lived in Damascus before the time of al-Kindi.

Lustre-painting, which is characteristic of Islamic glass and pottery, is a metallic sheen applied on the surfaces of glass or pottery objects. Its origin has been the subject of discussion amongst historians, the suggested centres being, Syria, Iraq, Egypt or Iran. According to the latest reported archaeological finds, the earliest existing examples of lustre glass were of Syrian origin during the Umayyad period. Abd al-Malik, who ruled between 723 and 742.

Jordan included Umayyad lustre-painted and gilded fragments. Since lustre glass was used in Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi, it is reasonable to assume that the technique of lustre painting was developed in Syria at an earlier date in the same century or even before. This assumption seems reasonable because Jabir, who was writing in the second half of that century, gave a large number of recipes for this art, some of which may have been formulated by him and some may have been compiled from previous practice. Damascus during the caliphate of Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. The book deals with the qualities of gemstones and their values. Al-Biruni says that according to this book the red ruby and the good quality pearls were of equal value at that time.

Al-Biruni’s reports are of utmost importance. They confirm that there were books from the Umayyad period about iron and steel and about gemstones. Nadim the titles of several books whose authors are not known. Jabir’s recipes were either inherited or developed.

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For recipes that were not developed by him, he alluded sometimes to their sources, and that he collected some of them. He says for example that he took a waterproofing recipe from Al-Fadl ibn Yahya ibn Barmak who also took it from a manuscript of unknown author, since the first pages and the last ones were missing. And since Jabir flourished in the eighth century, his sources must belong to the Umayyad period. During the early Arab conquests the weapons of war consisted of light weapons which comprised mainly the sword, the lance and the bow and arrow.

These weapons were made in Arabia, and the different kinds of swords, lances and bows carried the names of the places where they were made. From `Umar’s time, the state undertook to provide the regular soldiers, who were unable to secure their own weapons, with the necessary equipment. Such weapons which were supplied by the government were specially marked. It is reported that the Prophet used the manjaniq in his siege of al-Ta’if. It is reported also that some Companions of the Prophet received in Jerash some training in the construction of manjaniqs and other siege engines.

The use of these machines by the Islamic armies increased during the conquests of Iraq, Syria and other countries. The construction, operation and maintenance of siege engines was the government’s responsibility from early Islamic times. It is reported that ‘Amr b. As constructed manjaniqs upon his arrival in Egypt and he used them in Egypt’s conquest.

The use of these siege engines increased during the Umayyad period. The use of military fires was known to the Umayyads. 683 al-Ka’ba was bombarded by stones, naft and other combustible burning fires. Military fires were used also by the Islamic fleets in the Mediterranean during the Umayyad campaigns. The use of naft by the Umayyads was a natural development. It should be remembered that chemical technology had reached an advanced stage in the area in pre-Islamic times. One of the major achievements of ‘Uthman b.


Affan was the creation of the first Islamic naval power. But a great deal of credit should go to Mu’awiya, who pursued this objective when he was governor of Syria during ‘Uthman’s caliphate and after he became caliph himself. During ‘Umar’s caliphate, Mu`awiya established the ribat system. The ribats were fortresses built near the coastal cities in which military forces were kept to defend these cities against the Byzantine attacks.

They served also as shelters for people during such raids. These fortresses contained rooms and lodgings for the soldiers, armouries, storage for food and observation towers. Later on, the ribat developed into bases for undertaking naval campaigns. During ‘Uthman’s caliphate the governor of Egypt, ‘Abdallah b. Abi Sarh, started the building of naval ships in Egypt, utilizing the skills of Egyptian craftsmen. This battle was a fatal blow to Byzantine naval power and it heralded the beginning of Islamic supremacy in the Eastern .

He recruited for this purpose craftsmen and carpenters from various places in Syria. 716 during the caliphate of Sulayman ibn ‘Abd al-Malik. The Islamic fleets from Syria, Egypt and North Africa participated in this siege and the Arabs used military fires and some types of artillery. The Umayyads adopted the same policy in North Africa.

695 as governor by ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan and he established a naval base in Tunis with a shipyard. Nusayr, who continued the policy of his predecessor in the building of naval ships. High-quality textiles were manufactured in state factories known as tiraz. Such textiles were woven for caliphs and high officials and were presented to important persons. Textiles included the linen fabrics of Egypt and the silk and brocade cloths of Damascus. The caliphs established the tiraz factories in their palaces which were managed by the sahib al-tiraz who was in charge of spinners and weavers, paying their wages and controlling the quality of their work. Al-tiraz factories acquired great importance under the Umayyads and they continued in importance during the Abbasid period.

Abd al-Malik changed the inscriptions on the borders of the tiraz textiles into Arabic-Islamic writings. Before that the tiraz inscriptions followed Byzantine, Sassanian or Coptic traditions. They were manufactured in Egypt out of papyrus. This industry was also under state control. Abd al-Malik replaced the Coptic signs on the qaratis by Islamic writings. Abd al-Malik also established a mail service, al-barid, connecting the far regions of the vast empire with each other.

This system was utilized by al-Walid and the other succeeding caliphs in undertaking and organizing several important projects. Al-barid continued to increase in importance during the Abbasid caliphate. Without the arabization of the administration by Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan the translation movements that followed, including that of Bayt al-Hikma in Baghdat in the ninth century, could not have taken place. This Arabization of the administration by the Umayyads was a crucial step towards making Arabic the language of culture throughout the whole empire.