The term Muslim world (also known as the Ummah or Islamosphere) has several meanings. In a religious sense, it refers to those who adhere to the teachings of Islam, referred to as Muslims. In a cultural sense, it refers to Islamic civilization, inclusive of non-Muslims living in that civilization. In a modern geopolitical sense, the term usually refers collectively to Muslim-majority countries, states, districts, or towns.

Islam emphasizes unity and defense of fellow Muslims, although many schools and branches (see Shi’a–Sunni relations, for example) exist. In the past both Pan-Islamism and nationalist currents have influenced the status of the Muslim world.

As of 2009, over 1.6 billion or about 23% of the world population are Muslims. Of these, around 62% live inAsia-Pacific, 20% in the Middle East-North Africa, 15% in Sub-Saharan Africa, around 3% in Europe and 0.3% in the Americas.

The Islamic Golden Age, also sometimes known as the Islamic Renaissance,[10] is traditionally dated from the 7th to 13th centuries C.E.,[11] but has been extended to the 15th and 16th[12][unreliable source?] centuries by more recent scholarship.


The term “Islamic art and architecture” denotes the works of art and architecture produced from the 7th century onwards by people who lived within the territory that was inhabited by culturally Islamic populations.

Aniconism and Arabesque

No Islamic visual images or depictions of God are meant to exist because it is believed that such artistic depictions may lead to idolatry. Moreover, Muslims believe that God is incorporeal, making any two- or three- dimensional depictions impossible. Instead, Muslims describe God by the names and attributes that, according to Islam, he revealed to his creation. All but one sura of the Quran begins with the phrase “In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful”. Images of Mohammed are likewise prohibited. Such aniconism and iconoclasm[15] can also be found in Jewish and some Christiantheology.

Islamic art frequently adopts the use of geometrical floral or vegetal designs in a repetition known as arabesque. Such designs are highly nonrepresentational, as Islam forbids representational depictions as found in pre-Islamic pagan religions. Despite this, there is a presence of depictional art in some Muslim societies, notably the miniature style made famous in Persia and under the Ottoman Empire which featured not only paintings of people and animals but also depictions of Quranic stories and Islamic traditional narratives. Another reason why Islamic art is usually abstract is to symbolize the transcendence, indivisible and infinite nature of God, an objective achieved by arabesque.[16] Islamic calligraphy is an omnipresent decoration in Islamic art, and is usually expressed in the form of Quranic verses. Two of the main scripts involved are the symbolic kufic and naskh scripts, which can be found adorning the walls and domes of mosques, the sides of minbars, and so on.[16]

Distinguishing motifs of Islamic architecture have always been ordered repetition, radiating structures, and rhythmic, metric patterns. In this respect, fractal geometry has been a key utility, especially for mosques and palaces. Other significant features employed as motifs include columns, piers and arches, organized and interwoven with alternating sequences of niches and colonnettes.[17] The role of domes in Islamic architecture has been considerable. Its usage spans centuries, first appearing in 691 with the construction of the Dome of the Rock mosque, and recurring even up until the 17th century with the Taj Mahal. And as late as the 19th century, Islamic domes had been incorporated into Western architecture.[18]


Between the 8th and 18th centuries, the use of glazed ceramics was prevalent in Islamic art, usually assuming the form of elaborate pottery.[19] Tin-opacified glazing was one of the earliest new technologies developed by the Islamic potters. The first Islamic opaque glazes can be found as blue-painted ware in Basra, dating to around the 8th century. Another significant contribution was the development of stone-paste ceramics, originating from 9th century Iraq.[20] Other centers for innovative ceramic pottery in the Old world included Fustat (from 975 to 1075), Damascus (from 1100 to around 1600) and Tabriz (from 1470 to 1550).[21]


Perhaps the most important expression of Islamic art is architecture, particularly that of the mosque.[22] Through it the effect of varying cultures within Islamic civilization can be illustrated. The North African and Iberian Islamic architecture, for example, has Roman-Byzantine elements, as seen in the Great Mosque of Kairouan which contains marble columns from Roman and Byzantine buildings,[23] in the Alhambra palace at Granada, or in the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Persian-style mosques are characterized by their tapered brick pillars, large arcades, and arches supported each by several pillars. In South Asia, elements of Hindu architecture were employed, but were later superseded by Persian designs. The most numerous and largest of mosques exist in Turkey, which obtained influence from Byzantine, Persian and Syrian designs, although Turkish architects managed to implement their own style of cupola domes.[22]


The best known work of fiction from the Islamic world is One Thousand and One Nights or (Arabian Nights), which is a compilation of folk tales. The original concept is derived from a pre-Islamic Persian prototype that probably relied partly on Indian elements.[24] It reached its final form by the 14th century; the number and type of tales have varied from one manuscript to another.[25] All Arabian fantasy tales tend to be calledArabian Nights stories when translated into English, regardless of whether they appear in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights or not.[25] This work has been very influential in the West since it was translated in the 18th century, first by Antoine Galland.[26] Many imitations were written, especially in France.[27]Various characters from this epic have themselves become cultural icons in Western culture, such as Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba.

A famous example of Arabic poetry and Persian poetry on romance (love) is Layla and Majnun, dating back to the Umayyad era in the 7th century. It is a tragic story of undying love much like the later Romeo and Juliet, which was itself said to have been inspired by a Latin version of Layla and Majnun to an extent.[28] Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, the national epic of Iran, is a mythical and heroic retelling of Persian history. Amir Arsalan was also a popular mythical Persian story, which has influenced some modern works of fantasy fiction, such as The Heroic Legend of Arslan.

Ibn Tufail (Abubacer) and Ibn al-Nafis were pioneers of the philosophical novel. Ibn Tufail wrote the first Arabic novelHayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus) as a response to Al-Ghazali’s The Incoherence of the Philosophers, and then Ibn al-Nafis also wrote a novel Theologus Autodidactus as a response to Ibn Tufail’s Philosophus Autodidactus. Both of these narratives had protagonists (Hayy in Philosophus Autodidactus and Kamil inTheologus Autodidactus) who were autodidactic feral children living in seclusion on a desert island, both being the earliest examples of a desert island story. However, while Hayy lives alone with animals on the desert island for the rest of the story in Philosophus Autodidactus, the story of Kamil extends beyond the desert island setting in Theologus Autodidactus, developing into the earliest known coming of age plot and eventually becoming the first example of a science fiction novel.[29][30][unreliable source?]

Theologus Autodidactus, written by the Arabian polymath Ibn al-Nafis (1213–1288), is the first example of a science fiction novel. It deals with various science fiction elements such as spontaneous generation, futurology, the end of the world and doomsday, resurrection, and the afterlife. Rather than giving supernatural or mythological explanations for these events, Ibn al-Nafis attempted to explain these plot elements using the scientific knowledge of biology, astronomy, cosmology and geology known in his time. His main purpose behind this science fiction work was to explain Islamic religious teachings in terms of science and philosophy through the use of fiction.[31][unreliable source?]

A Latin translation of Ibn Tufail’s work, Philosophus Autodidactus, first appeared in 1671, prepared by Edward Pococke the Younger, followed by an English translation by Simon Ockley in 1708, as well as German and Dutch translations. These translations later inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, regarded as the first novel in English.[32][33][34][35] Philosophus Autodidactus also inspired Robert Boyle to write his own philosophical novel set on an island,The Aspiring Naturalist.[36] The story also anticipated Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile: or, On Education in some ways, and is also similar to Mowgli’s story in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book as well as Tarzan’s story, in that a baby is abandoned but taken care of and fed by a mother wolf.[37][unreliable source?]

Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, considered the greatest epic of Italian literature, derived many features of and episodes about the hereafter directly or indirectly from Arabic works on Islamic eschatology: the Hadith and the Kitab al-Miraj (translated into Latin in 1264 or shortly before[38] as Liber Scale MachometiThe Book of Muhammad’s Ladder) concerning Muhammad’s ascension to Heaven, and the spiritual writings of Ibn Arabi. The Moors also had a noticeable influence on the works of George Peele and William Shakespeare. Some of their works featured Moorish characters, such as Peele’s The Battle of Alcazar and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of VeniceTitus Andronicus and Othello, which featured a Moorish Othello as its title character. These works are said to have been inspired by several Moorish delegations from Morocco to Elizabethan England at the beginning of the 17th century.[39]


One of the common definitions for “Islamic philosophy” is “the style of philosophy produced within the framework of Islamic culture.”[40] Islamic philosophy, in this definition is neither necessarily concerned with religious issues, nor is exclusively produced by Muslims.[40] The Persian scholar Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980-1037) had more than 450 books attributed to him. His writings were concerned with many subjects, most notably philosophy and medicine. His medical textbook The Canon of Medicine was used as the standard text in European universities for centuries. His works on Aristotle was a key step in the transmission of learning from Ancient Greece to the Islamic world and the West. He often corrected the philosopher, encouraging a lively debate in the spirit ofijtihad. He also wrote The Book of Healing, an influential scientific and philosophical encyclopedia. His thinking and that of his follower Ibn Rushd (Averroes) was incorporated into Christian philosophy during the Middle Ages, notably by Thomas Aquinas.[citation needed]

One of the most influential Muslim philosophers in the West was Averroes (Ibn Rushd), founder of the Averroism school of philosophy, whose works and commentaries had an impact on the rise of secular thought in Western Europe.[41] He also developed the concept of “existence precedes essence”.[42]Avicenna also founded his own Avicennism school of philosophy, which was influential in both Islamic and Christian lands. He was also a critic of Aristotelian logic and founder of Avicennian logic, and he developed the concepts of empiricism and tabula rasa, and distinguished between essence andexistence.[citation needed]

Another influential philosopher who had a significant influence on modern philosophy was Ibn Tufail. His philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdha, translated into Latin as Philosophus Autodidactus in 1671, developed the themes of empiricism, tabula rasa, nature versus nurture,[43] condition of possibility,materialism,[44] and Molyneux’s problem.[45] European scholars and writers influenced by this novel include John Locke,[46] Gottfried Leibniz,[35]Melchisédech Thévenot, John Wallis, Christiaan Huygens,[47] George Keith, Robert Barclay, the Quakers,[48] and Samuel Hartlib.[36]

Islamic philosophers continued making advances in philosophy through to the 17th century, when Mulla Sadra founded his school of Transcendent theosophyand developed the concept of existentialism.[49]

Other influential Muslim philosophers include al-Jahiz, a pioneer in evolutionary thought; Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), a pioneer of phenomenology and thephilosophy of science and a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy and Aristotle’s concept of place (topos); Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī, a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy; Ibn Tufail and Ibn al-Nafis, pioneers of the philosophical novel; Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi, founder of Illuminationist philosophy; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, a critic of Aristotelian logic and a pioneer of inductive logic; and Ibn Khaldun, a pioneer in the philosophy of history[50] and social philosophy.[citation needed]


Muslim scientists made significant advances in the sciences. They placed far greater emphasis on experiment than had the Greeks. This led to an earlyscientific method being developed in the Muslim world, where significant progress in methodology was made, beginning with the experiments of Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) on optics from circa 1000, in his Book of Optics. The most important development of the scientific method was the use of experiments to distinguish between competing scientific theories set within a generally empirical orientation, which began among Muslim scientists. Ibn al-Haytham is also regarded as the father of optics, especially for his empirical proof of the intromission theory of light. Some have also described Ibn al-Haytham as the “first scientist” for his development of the modern scientific method.[51][52][53] However, later, it was found that al-Khwarzimi’s works were nothing more than restatements of pre-existing Indian and Greek math.[54] Recent studies show that it is very likely that the Medieval Muslim artists were aware of advanceddecagonal quasicrystal geometry (discovered half a millennium later in 1970s and 1980s in West) and used it in intricate decorative tilework in the architecture.[55]

Muslim physicians contributed significantly to the field of medicine, including the subjects of anatomy and physiology: such as in the 15th century Persian work by Mansur ibn Muhammad ibn al-Faqih Ilyas entitled Tashrih al-badan (Anatomy of the body) which contained comprehensive diagrams of the body’s structural, nervous and circulatory systems; or in the work of the Egyptian physician Ibn al-Nafis, who proposed the theory of pulmonary circulation. Avicenna’s The Canon of Medicine remained an authoritative medical textbook in Europe until the 18th century. Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (also known asAbulcasis) contributed to the discipline of medical surgery with his Kitab al-Tasrif (“Book of Concessions”), a medical encyclopedia which was later translated to Latin and used in European and Muslim medical schools for centuries. Other medical advancements came in the fields of pharmacology and pharmacy.

In astronomy, Muḥammad ibn Jābir al-Ḥarrānī al-Battānī improved the precision of the measurement of the precession of the Earth’s axis. The corrections made to the geocentric model by al-Battani, Averroes, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, Mu’ayyad al-Din al-’Urdi and Ibn al-Shatir were later incorporated into theCopernican heliocentric model. Heliocentric theories were also discussed by several other Muslim astronomers such as Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī, Sijzi, Qotb al-Din Shirazi, and Najm al-Dīn al-Qazwīnī al-Kātibī. The astrolabe, though originally developed by the Greeks, was perfected by Islamic astronomers and engineers, and was subsequently brought to Europe.

Muslim chemists and alchemists played an important role in the foundation of modern chemistry. Scholars such as Will Durant and Alexander von Humboldt regard Muslim chemists to be the founders of chemistry. In particular, Jābir ibn Hayyān is regarded as the “father of chemistry”. The works of Arab chemists influenced Roger Bacon (who introduced the empirical method to Europe, strongly influenced by his reading of Arabic writers), and later Isaac Newton. A number of chemical processes (particularly in alchemy) and distillation techniques (such as the production of alcohol) were developed in the Muslim world and then spread to Europe.

Some of the most famous scientists from the Islamic world include Jābir ibn Hayyān (polymath, father of chemistry), al-Farabi (polymath), Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (father of modern surgery), Ibn al-Haytham (universal genius, father of optics, founder of psychophysics and experimental psychology, pioneer of scientific method, “first scientist”), Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī (universal genius, father of Indology and geodesy, “first anthropologist”), Avicenna (universal genius, father of momentum and modern medicine), Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (polymath), and Ibn Khaldun (father of demography, cultural history, historiography, the philosophy of history, sociology, and the social sciences), among many others.

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