House of Wisdom

Heidi Mahmoud Kheyamy

30 Jan 2018

The House of Wisdom was one of the key elements of the Islamic civilization; it saved the great treasures of knowledge by bringing them from all over the world, to Iraq to be translated, then preserved and finally shared. It started in Bagdad, and then other centers of knowledge were introduced mimicking the model of the House of Wisdom. Azahara library in Cordoba and the House of Knowledge in Cairo are good examples of this.

The Abbasid Caliph Abu Jafar Al-Mansur was interested in science and general knowledge. Consequently medicine, astronomy, engineering and arts books were translated. Afterwards, he collected those books in cases and kept them in his palace. Eventually, his palace became packed with books. When the Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rashid came to power, he installed a library to preserve the translated books inside its walls, so it would be available for everyone including students, scientists and scholars. He called it the House of Wisdom.

The House of Wisdom was located in Bagdad, Iraq. Harun Al-Rashid donated a collection of translated and written books that he owned, and a as a result the library expanded and became divided into different sections. Each section has its own supervisor. Adding to this, translators translated different kinds of books from different languages such as: Greek, Chinese, Sanskrit, Persian and Syriac into Arabic. As a consequence, the library was no longer a store of ancient books; it turned into a house of learning and a center of scientific research, translation, transcription, and writing. Scientists, translators and scholars were employed to create a scientific revolution.

The House of Wisdom peaked during the era of Caliph Al Ma'moun, the son of Harun Al-Rashid, as he established a translation department and chose Hunayn ibn Ishaq to be the supervisor of it. The Abbasid Caliph commissioned a map of the world to be drawn. It was the first map of the world during the history of Abbasid era. The House of Wisdom included renowned philosophers like Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi; a celebrated physician and translator, Hunayn ibn Ishaq; the famous mathematicians Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī and The Banu Musa brothers; the well-known astronomer Sind ibn Ali; and the biologist Abu Uthman, also known as Al-Jahiz.

Unfortunately, during the age of al-Muʿtaṣim bi’llāh, the House of Wisdom started to be neglected and the scientific research was stopped till the fall of Bagdad in 656 After Hijra (1258 A.D). Hulagu Khan invaded Iraq; he destroyed the House of Wisdom and threw some of the books in the Dijla River. It was reported that Nasir al-Din Tusi was able to save 400 thousand manuscripts before the Mongols siege and he sent them to the Maragheh observatory.

Translation was highly regarded by Muslims in the past, that’s why they created history and participated in the scientific revolution. It also helped them to understand other cultures and add to them. They also improved some scientific theories. On the other hand, people, whose first language was English, had the opportunity to know the real meaning of Islam. It goes without saying that, the accurate translations of the Quran introduced by Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall were a main reason for some people to convert to Islam. Finally, As Zaid bin Thabit narrated:

"The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) ordered me to learn some statements from writings of the Jews for him, and he said: "For indeed by Allah! I do not trust the Jews with my letters.'" He said: "Half a month did not pass before I learned it, when he (PBUH) wanted to write to the Jews I would write it to them, and when they wrote to him I would read their letters to him" [Hasan (Darussalam), Jami` at-Tirmidhi 2715, Book 42, Hadith 28]


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The Well of Zamzam II

During the period of ignorance which preceded Islam, providing the pilgrims, who came from all over the Arab Peninsula to Makkah, with water, was the job of Quraish until Abdul Mutalib – the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) grandfather – took the charge of providing pilgrims with water. At that time Makkah suffered little rain and the water supply there was rare.


The Well of Zamzam I

Ibn 'Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: Ibrahim (PBUH) brought his wife and her son Isma'il (PBUH), while she was suckling him, to a place near the Ka'bah under a tree on the spot of Zamzam, at the highest place in the mosque. In those days, there was no human being in Makkah, nor was there any water. So he made them sit over there and placed near them a leather bag containing some dates, and a small water-skin containing some water, and set out homeward.