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Medieval Islamic sociology refers to the study of sociology and the social sciences in the medieval Islamic world. Early Islamic sociology responded to the challenges of social organization of diverse peoples all under common religious organization in the Islamic Caliphate, including the RashidunUmayyadAbbasid andFatimid periods, as well as the Mamluk period in Egypt. It was rooted in methods from early Islamic philosophy and science in medieval Islam, and it reflected the strong concern of Islam with social cohesion.


Early Islamic period

Further information: Early reforms under Islam

Sociologist Robert Bellah (Beyond belief) argues that Islam in its seventh-century origins was, for its time and place, "remarkably the high degree of commitment, involvement, and participation expected from the rank-and-file members of the community." This because, he argues, that Islam emphasized on the equality of all Muslims. Leadership positions were open to all men. However, there were restraints on the early Muslim community that kept it from exemplifying these principles, primarily from the "stagnant localisms" of tribe and kinship. Dale Eickelman writes that Bellah suggests "the early Islamic community placed a particular value on individuals, as opposed to collective or group responsibiliy."[1]

The Islamic idea of community (that of umma), established by Muhammad, is flexible in social, religious, and political terms and includes a diversity of Muslims who share a general sense of common cause and consensus concerning beliefs and individual and communal actions.[2]

Corporate social responsibility in commerce

Social responsibility and corporate social responsibility in commerce was stressed in early Islamic sociology during Muhammad's time. The development of Islamic banks and Islamic economics was a side effect of this sociologyusury was rather severely restrained, no interest rate was allowed, and investors were not permitted to escape the consequences of any failed venture - all financing was equity financing (Musharaka). In not letting borrowers bear all the risk/cost of a failure, an extreme disparity of outcomes between "partners" is thus avoided. Ultimately this serves a social harmony purpose. Muslims also could not and cannot (in shariah) finance any dealings in forbidden goods or activities, such as wineporkgambling, etc. Thus ethical investing is the only acceptable investing, and moral purchasing is encouraged.[3]

Ecological responsibility and environmentalism

Further information: Muslim Agricultural Revolution - Agricultural sciences

Perhaps due to resource scarcity in most Islamic nations, there was an emphasis on limited (and some claim also sustainable) use of natural capital, i.e. producing land. Traditions of haram and hima and earlyurban planning were expressions of strong social obligations to stay within carrying capacity and to preserve the natural environment as an obligation of khalifa or "stewardship".[4][5]

Muhammad is considered a pioneer of environmentalism for his teachings on environmental preservation. His hadiths on agriculture and environmental philosophy were compiled in the "Book of Agriculture" of the Sahih Bukhari, which included the following saying:[4][6]

"There is none amongst the believers who plants a tree, or sows a seed, and then a bird, or a person, or an animal eats thereof, but it is regarded as having given a charitable gift [for which there is great recompense]."


Several such statements concerning the environment are also found in the Qur'an, such as the following:[8]

"And there is no animal in the earth nor bird that flies with its two wings, but that they are communities like yourselves."[9]

Comparative sociology

Abū al-Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (973–1048), in the introduction to his study of India, declares that "to execute our project, it has not been possible to follow the geometric method" and develops comparative sociology as a scientific method in the field.[10] Al-Biruni is considered the "father of Indology".[11]

In the 12th century, Muhammad al-Idrisi wrote the Nozhat al-mushtaq fi ikhtiraq al-afaq, a compendium of the geographic and sociological knowledge of his time as well as descriptions of his own travels illustrated with over seventy maps.

Ibn Khaldun

Further information: Ibn Khaldun and Muqaddimah

Without doubt the most important figure in early Muslim sociology was Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406), who is regarded as the father of demography,[12] cultural history,[13][14] historiography,[15][16] thephilosophy of history,[17] sociology,[12][16][17] and the social sciences,[18] and is viewed as a father of modern economics.[19][20] He is best known for his Muqaddimah "Prolegomenon".

Sati' al-Husri suggested that Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah is essentially a sociological work, sketching over its six books a general sociology; a sociology of politics; a sociology of urban life; a sociology ofeconomics; and a sociology of knowledge.

Scientific method

Ibn Khaldun often criticized "idle superstition and uncritical acceptance of historical data." As a result, he introduced the scientific method to the social sciences, which was considered something "new to his age", and he often referred to it as his "new science" and developed his own new terminology for it.[21]

His historical method also laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of statecommunicationpropaganda and systematic bias in history,[12] leading to his development of historiography.

Conflict theory

Ibn Khaldun conceived both a central social conflict ("town" versus "desert") as well as a theory (using the concept of a "generation") of the necessary loss of power of city conquerors coming from the desert.


Main article: Asabiyyah

Khaldun's central concept of asabiyah, or "social cohesion", seems to anticipate modern conceptions of social capital arising in social networks:

This cohesion arises spontaneously in tribes and other small kinship groups; and it can be intensified and enlarged by a religious ideology. Khaldun's analysis looks at how this cohesion carries groups to power but contains within itself the seeds - psychological, sociological, economic, political - of the group's downfall, to be replaced by a new group, dynasty or empire bound by a stronger (or at least younger and more vigorous) cohesion.

Interestingly, Khaldun's concept is instinctive and does not involve any social contract or explicit forms of constitution or other instructional capital that would provide a basis for appeals, in law or otherwise.

[edit] Economic thought

See Economics section below

[edit] Historiography

Main articles: Muqaddimah and Historiography of early Islam

The Muqaddimah emphasized the role of systemic bias in affecting the standard of evidence. Khaldun was quite concerned with the effect of raising standard of evidence when confronted with uncomfortable claims, and relaxing it when given claims that seemed reasonable or comfortable. He was a jurist, and sometimes participated reluctantly in rulings that he felt were coerced, based on arguments he didn't respect.

His Muqaddimah also laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of statecommunicationpropaganda and systematic bias in history,[12] and he discussed the rise and fall of civilizations in his theory of Asabiyyah. Ibn Khaldun had few successors in his thinking about history until Arnold J. Toynbee, a 20th century British historian.

In the Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun warned of seven mistakes that he thought that historians regularly committed. In this criticism, he approached the past as strange and in need of interpretation. The originality of Ibn Khaldun was to claim that the cultural difference of another age must govern the evaluation of relevant historical material, to distinguish the principles according to which it might be possible to attempt the evaluation, and lastly, to feel the need for experience, in addition to rational principles, in order to assess a culture of the past. Ibn Khaldun often criticized "idle superstition and uncritical acceptance of historical data." As a result, he introduced a scientific method to the study of history, which was considered something "new to his age", and he often referred to it as his "new science", now associated withhistoriography.[21] His historical method also laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of state, communicationpropaganda and systematic bias in history,[12] and he is thus considered to be the "father of historiography"[15][22] or the "father of the philosophy of history".[17]

Similarities to modern sociology

Early Muslim sociology is more similar to the theories developed by Hegel or Marx in emphasizing dialectic or feedback loops, or systems theory as applied to fields such as corporate social responsibility, than to the theories of Durkheim and others who emphasized structures. There is a remarkable similarity between modern economic ideas and some ideas developed by the thinkers evoked here, especially Ibn Khaldun.


See also Indology section below

Abū al-Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (973-1048) has been described as "the first anthropologist". Like modern anthropologists, he engaged in extensive participant observation with a given group of people, learnt their language and studied their primary texts, and presented his findings with objectivity and neutrality using cross-cultural comparisons.[23] He wrote detailed comparative studies on the anthropology of religions, peoples and cultures in the Middle EastMediterranean and South Asia, especially in India's case, for which he is considered the "father of Indology".[11] Biruni's anthropology of religion was only possible for a scholar deeply immersed in the lore of other nations.[24] Biruni and Ibn Khaldun have also been praised by several scholars for his Islamic anthropology.[25]

Biruni developed a sophisticated methodology for his anthropological studies. For example, he wrote the following in the opening passages of his Indica:

"No one will deny that in questions of historic authenticity hearsay does not equal eyewitness; for in the latter the eye of the observer apprehends the substance of that which is observed, both in the time when and in the place where it exists, whilst hearsay has its peculiar drawbacks."


He was also aware that there are limitations to eye-witness accounts:

"The object of eye-witness can only be actual momentary existence, whilst hearsay comprehends alike the present, the past and the future"[26]

Comparative religion

Biruni was a pioneer in comparative religion and the anthropology of religion. According to Arthur Jeffery, "It is rare until modern times to find so fair and unprejudiced a statement of the views of otherreligions, so earnest an attempt to study them in the best sources, and such care to find a method which for this branch of study would be both rigorous and just."[27] In the introduction to his Indica, Biruni himself writes that his intent behind the work was to engage dialogue between Islam and the Indian religions, particularly Hinduism as well as Buddhism. He writes:[27]

"Abu-Sahl at-Tiflisi incited me to write down what I know about the 

Hindus as a help to those who want to discuss religious questions with them, and as a repertory of information to those who want to associate with them. We think now that what we have related in this book will be sufficient for anyone who wants to converse with the Hindus, and to discuss with them questions of religion, science or literature, on the very basis of their own civilisation."

Biruni was aware that statements about a religion would be open to criticism by its adherents, and insisted that a scholar should follow the requirements of a strictly scientific method. According to William Montgomery Watt, Biruni "is admirably objective and unprejudiced in his presentation of facts" but "selects facts in such a way that he makes a strong case for holding that there is a certain unity in the religious experience of the peoples he considers, even though he does not appear to formulate this view explicitly."[27] Biruni's tradition of comparative cross-cultural study continued in the Muslim world through to Ibn Khaldun's work in the 14th century.[23]


Main article: Islamic economics

To some degree, the early Muslims based their economic analyses on the Qur'an (such as opposition to riba, meaning usury or interest), and from sunnah, the sayings and doings of Muhammad.

Perhaps the most well known Islamic scholar who wrote about economics was Ibn Khaldun of Tunisia (1332–1406),[28] who is considered a father of modern economics.[19][20] Ibn Khaldun wrote on economic and political theory in the introduction, or Muqaddimah (Prolegomena), of his History of the World (Kitab al-Ibar). In the book, he discussed what he called asabiyya (social cohesion), which he sourced as the cause of some civilizations becoming great and others not. Ibn Khaldun felt that many social forces are cyclic, although there can be sudden sharp turns that break the pattern.[29] His idea about the benefits of the division of labor also relate to asabiyya, the greater the social cohesion, the more complex the successful division may be, the greater the economic growth. He noted that growth and development positively stimulates both supply and demand, and that the forces of supply and demand are what determines the prices of goods.[30] He also noted macroeconomic forces of population growth,human capital development, and technological developments effects on development.[31] In fact, Ibn Khaldun thought that population growth was directly a function of wealth.[32]

Other important early Muslim scholars who wrote about economics include Abu Hanifa an-Nu‘man (699-767), Abu Yusuf (731-798), Ishaq bin Ali al-Rahwi (854–931), al-Farabi (873–950), Qabus (d. 1012), Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980–1037), Ibn Miskawayh (b. 1030), al-Ghazali (1058–1111), al-Mawardi (1075–1158), Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī (1201–1274), Ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1328) and al-Maqrizi(1364–1442).


See also: Historiography of early Islam

Science of hadith

Main articles: 

Science of hadithHadith terminology, and Biographical evaluation

The "science of hadith" is the process that Muslim scholars use to evaluate hadith. The classification of Hadith into Sahih (sound), Hasan (good) and Da'if (weak) was firmly established by Ali ibn al-Madini(161-234 AH). Later, al-Madini's student Muhammad al-Bukhari (810-870) authored a collection that he believed contained only Sahih hadith, which is now known as the Sahih Bukhari. Al-Bukhari'shistorical methods of testing hadiths and isnads is seen as the beginning of the method of citation and a precursor to the scientific method which was developed by later Muslim scientists. I. A. Ahmad writes:[33]

"The vagueness of ancient historians about their sources stands in stark contrast to the insistence that scholars such as Bukhari and Muslim manifested in knowing every member in a chain of transmission and examining their reliability. They published their findings, which were then subjected to additional scrutiny by future scholars for consistency with each other and the Qur'an."


See also: 

Biographical evaluation and Prophetic biography

In the medieval Islamic civilization, biographies began being produced on a large scale with the advent of paper, beginning with the Prophetic biography tradition. This led to the introduction of a new literary genre: the biographical dictionary. The first biographical dictionaries were written in the Muslim world from the 9th century onwards. They contain more social data for a large segment of the population than that found in any other pre-industrial society. The earliest biographical dictionaries initially focused on the lives of the prophets of Islam and their companions, with one of the earliest examples being The Book of The Major Classes by Ibn Sa'd al-Baghdadi, and then began documenting the lives of many other historical figures (from rulers to scholars) who lived in the medieval Islamic world.[34]

The oldest extant diaries also come from medieval Islamic cultures. In the medieval Islamic Near East, Arabic diaries were written from before the 10th century. The earliest surviving diary of this era which most resembles the modern diary was that of Ibn Banna in the 11th century. His diary is the earliest known to be arranged in order of date (ta'rikh in Arabic), very much like modern diaries.[35]

World history

The study of world history in the Islamic world was inspired by the concept of the oneness of humanity emphasized in the Qur'an and hadiths. A sense of common origin motivated early Muslim historians such as Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. 732) and Al-Asma'i (c. 740-828) to collect historical materials on pre-Islamic Arabian kings. The Qur'an also treats historical narrative as "eternally present, thereby forming the foundation which distinguishes Arabic historiography - its universality, a genre which is to be understood within the concept of the oneness of humanity as well as within the valued diversity of its ways."[36] The Qur'an (Sura 49:13) states:[37]

"O human beings, We (God) created you of a male and a female (from a single pair) and made you into (different) nations and tribes that you may (seek to) know each other."

Other verses in the Qur'an urge Muslims to visit and study other lands, cultures and languages, and specifically to study ancient civilizations, such as:[38]

"Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus leam to hear? For it is not the eyes which are blind, but the heart in the breast." (

Sura 22:46)"Say: Travel through the earth and see how creation started." (Sura 29:20)"Do they not travel through the earth and see what was the end of those before them (who) were more numerous and superior in strength and monuments in the land?" (Sura 40:82)

Some early Muslim scholars regarded the study of history as a human necessity, as noted by he Afro-Arab scholar Al-Jahiz in the 9th century:[36]

"God made inherent in us the need for knowledge of the history of our predecessors, just as was the need of our predecessors for history of their predecessors, and just as will be the need of those who shall come after us for our history."

Said Al-Andalusi (1029–1168) stated that people in all corners of the world have a common origin but differ in certain aspects: "ethics, appearance, landscape and language". He treated the history of Egypt as part of the universal history of all humanity, and he linked Egypt and Sudan to the history of the Arabs through a common ancestry.[37]

Early writers on world history include Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838-923), who is known for writing a detailed and comprehensive chronicle of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern history in his History of the Prophets and Kings in 915. Abu al-Hasan 'Alī al-Mas'ūdī (896-956), known as the "Herodotus of the Arabs", was the first to combine history and scientific geography in a large-scale work, Muruj adh-dhahab wa ma'adin al-jawahir (The Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems), a book on world history. Along with his Researches on IndiaBiruni (973-1048) discussed more on his idea of history in his chronological work The Chronology of the Ancient Nations.[11]

[edit] Archeology

While it is sometimes assumed that Muslims were intent on destroying pagan monuments, such destruction was in fact very rare in Muslim history. In reality, Muslim rulers most often preserved and protected pre-Islamic artifacts and monuments, for which the 12th-century Muslim historian Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi (1162–1231), who was well aware of the value of ancient monuments, praised them for. He noted that the preservation of antiquities presented a number of benefits for Muslims:[39]

  • "monuments are useful historical evidence for chronologies;"
  • "they furnish evidence for Holy Scriptures, since the Qur'an mentions them and their people;"
  • "they are reminders of human endurance and fate;"
  • "they show, to a degree, the politics and history of ancestors, the richness of their sciences, and the genius of their thought."

The following verse in the Qur'an also urges Muslims to study the remains of ancient civilizations:[38]

"Do they not travel through the earth and see what was the end of those before them (who) were more numerous and superior in strength and monuments in the land?" (

Sura 40:82)

Medieval Islamic historians had attempted to decipher a number of ancient writing systems. These included ancient scripts as far apart as the Egyptian hieroglyphsDemotic EgyptianOld Persian cuneiform,South Arabian alphabetOld Chinese and Anglo-Saxon.[40]

Antiquarianism and treasure hunting
See also Egyptology section below

The Egyptian historian Al-Maqrizi (1364–1442) wrote a chapter on archeology entitled "Hidden Treasures", in which he gave a religious justification for archeological excavations of pre-Islamic ancient Near Eastern sites. He cites a hadith narration which reports that Muhammad passed by a tomb of Abu Righal, a chief of the Banu Thaqif tribe, and stated that there was a gold sceptre with him; his companionsthen excavated the tomb and found the object. Al-Maqrizi cited this incident as proof that the excavations of pre-Islamic sites was sanctioned.[41]

The archeological professions of antiquarianism and treasure hunting were established as careers in the 9th century by Ahmad ibn Tulun, founder of the Tulunid dynasty. Since then, treasure hunting was studied as a serious topic by Islamic scholars, beginning with Al-Kindi (Alkindus). In the 11th century, the Egyptian caliphMa'ad al-Mustansir Billah, established the profession of Emir al-Matalabin ("Overseer of Treasure Hunters"), whose role was described in 1050 by the Persian traveller Nasir Khusraw while he was in Egypt as follows:[42]


Sultan had a servant called 'Omdat al-Dawla' who was the Emir of the Matalibeen and enormously rich and propertied. Matalibi is what they call the people who dig for buried treasure in the graves of Egypt. From the Maghreb (Morocco) and the lands of Egypt and Syria come people who endure many hardships and spend a lot of (their own) money in those graves and rock piles. Many a time buried treasure is discovered, although often much outlay is made without anything being found. They say that in those places the wealth of the pharaohs is buried. Whenever anyone does find something, one fifth is given to the Sultan and the rest belongs to the finder. At any rate the Sultan dispatched this 'Omdat al-Dawla' to that province with great pomp and circumstance, outfitting him with all the trappings of kings, such as canopies, pavilions, and so on. When he reached Aleppo he waged war and was killed. He had so much wealth that it took two months for it to be transferred from his treasury to the Sultan's."

During the Fatimid Caliphate, the supervision of treasure hunters developed into a guild with its head known as Naqeeb al-Mutalibeen ("Chairman of the Guild"). The Egyptian historian Al-Maqrizi regarded the death of one such chairman, Abu al-Hassan Ali ibn Ibrahim al-Nursi, in 1010 as an important event in his annals. Treasure hunters from Egypt, North Africa and Greater Syria were encouraged to search for hidden treasures at their own expense under the government's supervision. Treasure hunting was also a hobby for some, such as Sheikh Muhammad ibn Mubarak al-Athari ("The Antiquarian"), also known as "Keeper of the Relics of the Prophet", whose death in 1403 was noted by Ibn Qadi Shuhba.[42]

With the establishment of treasure hunting as a new industry, many treasure hunting manuals and guide books were written by experienced treasure hunters and alchemists which became best sellers in the medieval Arab world. They were used by treasure hunters as sources to utilize in their search for treasure. Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi in the 12th century notes that poorer treasure hunters were often sponsored by rich businessmen to go on archeological expeditions. In some cases, an expedition could turn out to be fraud, with the treasure hunter disappearing with large amounts of money extracted from sponsors. This fraudulent practice continues to the present day, with rich businessmen in Egypt still being deceived by local treasure hunters.[43]

A number of stories within the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights) deal with lost ancient technologies, advanced ancient civilizations that went astray, and catastrophes which overwhelmed them.[44] "The City of Brass" features a group of travelers on an archaeological expedition[45] across the Sahara to find an ancient lost city and attempt to recover a brass vessel that Solomon once used to trap a jinn,[46] and, along the way, encounter a mummified queen, petrified inhabitants,[47] life-like humanoid robots and automata, seductive marionettes dancing without strings,[48] and a brass horseman robotwho directs the party towards the ancient city.[49] "The City of Brass" can be considered an early example of proto-science fiction.[50]

Archeological methodology
See also Paleography section below

Abu al-Hassan al-Hamadani of Yemen (d. 945) developed an early archeological methodology in his encyclopedic work Al-Iklil, which covers the archeology and history of South Arabia, including the pre-Islamic period, though only the eighth volume of his work has survived.[51] The archeological method he employed can be summarized as follows:[52]

  • "observing and describing the site;"
  • "excavating and recording of finds with exact provenance, descriptions and measurements;"
  • "using knowledge of ancient writings to read Himyarite inscriptions;"
  • "analysing the finds in light of religious and historical texts and oral history."

Al-Idrisi (d. 1251), an Egyptian historian, described a more elaborate archeological methodology in his book Anwar, a book on Egyptology which mainly focused on the Egyptian pyramids. The archeological methods described in his book include:[53]

  • "reasons for the study of the importance of the pyramids;"
  • "description of the route to the site;"
  • "description of the pyramids and their inscriptions;"
  • "measuring, and checking previous measurements;"
  • "analysis of the form of the pyramid and reasons for building, with a critical review of literature (more than 22 authorities quoted) on the subject;"
  • "study of sediments as an indication of the flood level;"
  • "chemical analysis of clay in building material, by studying its mineral content in order to check place of origin;"
  • "regular visits to the site to see it in different conditions, and to recheck measurements;"
  • "noting stones reused at Jeremias Monastery, Saqqara as evidence of earlier dates, an observation confirmed by modern research."

It was also a widespread practice among medieval Muslim archeologists to give the exact pronunciations of the names of places, people and things according to local tradition, which has led to many ancient place names being preserved in the Arabic language.[53] For example, the name for the land of Punt was preserved in Arabic as Punta, as recorded in the book of geography by Ibn Sa'id al-Maghribi (d. 1286).[54]

Medieval Arabic treasure hunter manuals often gave remarkable advice on locating and identifying ancient tombs. One such manual advised its readers to "look out for areas where the earth is covered by broken pottery as an indication of ancient tombs." Another manual entitled Ghayat al-Ma'rib indicated that "the presence of bones of saluki dogs was a certain sign of royal tombs", which has been attested inEgyptian royal burials. The Egyptologist Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi established another important aspect of archeological methodology, which was to "search unopened tombs to answer specific questions", which he did during his quest to investigate the absence of camel, donkey and horse burials, after having questioned the local people who could not give him a convincing answer.[55] This question has partly been resolved in modern times with the hypothesis that domestication of the horse was not introduced to the Near East until the Indo-Iranians invaded from Central Asia.

As a physician, al-Baghdadi examined hundreds of ancient Egyptian mummies in order to resolve medical and anatomical questions. He also demonstrated another important archeological methodology, which is the ethno-historical approach where contemporary practices are observed and traced back to the past. He often obtained information both from the educated urban population and from local peasants in the countryside. Geography in medieval Islam also played an important role in Arabic archeological methodology, with historians and geographers such as EstakhriIbn Hawqal and Al-Muqaddasi accompanying their accounts of Egypt with national maps displaying details of its landscape. This high regard for regional maps was uncommon in Europe until the late Middle Ages.[55]


See also Archeology section above

The study of Egyptology began in Arab Egypt from the 9th century. Ja'far ibn Muhammad Abu Ma'shar al-Balkhi (787-886) divided the history of pre-Islamic ancient Egypt into the pre-flood and post-flood periods, in reference to Noah's flood. He dated the flood to 3,671 years before Hijra (approximately 3100 BC), coinciding with the founding of the First dynasty of Egypt.[39] Said Al-Andalusi (1029–1168) treated the history of Egypt as part of the universal history of all humanity. He and other Muslim historians linked Egypt and Sudan to the history of the Arabs through a common ancestry. They linked ancient Egypt to Muslim history through Hajar (Hagar), the wife of Ibrahim (Abraham) and mother of Ismail (Ishmael), the patriarch of the Arabs,[37] thus making Hajar the mother of the Arabs;[38] and through Maria al-Qibtiyya, one of Muhammad's wivesMuhammad himself often praised Egypt, its produce, and its people, and according to this tradition, the Copts had kinship with the Arabs and enjoyed a close relationship with the new Islamic government after the Muslim conquest of Egypt from the Byzantines.[37] According to a hadith narrated by Ibn Zahira, Muhammad stated:[38]

"You are going to enter Egypt a land where 

qirat (money unit) is used. Be extremely good to them as they have with us close ties and marriage relationships."

The Qur'an (Sura 2:127) credits Abrahim and Ishmael as the builders of the Kaaba, the most holy place of Islam, while the 9th century writer Al-Kindi (Alkindus) refers to Egyptian craftsmen rebuilding it. According to other hadiths attributed to Muhammad, he stated the following regarding Egypt:[38]

"When you enter Egypt after my death, recruit many soldiers from among the 

Egyptians because they are the best soldiers on earth, as they and their wives are permanently on duty until the Day of Resurrection.""Be good to the Copts of Egypt; you shall take them over, but they shall be your instrument and help.""Egypt has the best soil on earth and its people are the most generous of all people.""Blessing (al-baraka) was divided into ten parts, nine for Egypt and one part for the other lands. This will be always manifest (baraka) in Egypt more than in all other lands.""Be Righteous to Allah about the Copts."

Muslim geographers and historians such as Ibn Abd-el-Hakem (d. 871) and Muhammad al-Idrisi (1100–1166) explained that it was Muhammad's praise for Egypt that inspired them to write about Egypt's monuments, history, knowledge and practice.[38] In order to study Egyptian history, early Muslim historians drew on the study of native Egyptian culture; the critical examination of Egyptian oral traditions; discourses with Coptic monks; ancient DemoticGreek and Latin literatureethnographic and geographical studies; and the remains of Egyptian antiquities.[56]

The first known attempts at deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs were made by made by Muslim historians in medieval Egypt during the 9th and 10th centuries. By then, hieroglyphs had long been forgotten inEgypt, and were replaced by the Coptic and Arabic alphabetsDhul-Nun al-Misri and Ibn Wahshiyya (who was attempting to uncover the secrets of alchemy) were the first historians to be able to at least partly decipher what was written in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs,[57] by relating them to the contemporary Coptic language used by Coptic priests in their time.[58]

Abd-al Latif al-Baghdadi, a teacher at Cairo's Al-Azhar University in the 13th century, wrote detailed descriptions on ancient Egyptian monuments.[57] The Arabic manuscript of his Account of Egypt was discovered in 1665 by Edward Pococke the orientalist, and preserved in the Bodleian Library. He then published the Arabic manuscript in the 1680s. His son, Edward Pococke the Younger, translated the work into Latin, though he was only able to publish less than half of his work. Thomas Hunt attempted to publish Pococke's complete translation in 1746, though his attempt was unsuccessful.[59] Pococke's complete Latin translation was eventually published by Joseph White of Oxford in 1800. The work was then translated into French, with valuable notes, by Silvestre de Sacy in 1810.[60] The 15th-century Egyptian historian Al-Maqrizi also wrote detailed accounts of Egyptian antiquities, and described Egyptian history from the pre-dynastic period up until the Islamic period of his time.[39]

The Egyptian Muslim historian Mourtadi wrote an Arabic book on ancient Egyptian monuments, which was later published in France and Britain in the 17th century. An Arabic manuscript of Ibn Wahshiyya's book on Egyptology, in which he deciphered a number of Egyptian hieroglyphs, was later read by Athanasius Kircher in the 17th century, and then translated and published in English by Joseph Hammer in 1806 as Ancient Alphabets and Hieroglyphic Characters Explained; with an Account of the Egyptian Priests, their Classes, Initiation, and Sacrifices in the Arabic Language by Ahmad Bin Abubekr Bin Wahishih, 16 years before Jean-François Champollion's complete decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs.[58]


See also Anthropology section above

Until the 10th century, history most often meant political and military history, but this was not so with Persian historian Biruni (973-1048). In his Kitab fi Tahqiq ma l'il-Hind (Researches on India), he did not record political and military history in any detail, but wrote more on India's culturalscientific, social and religious history.[11] Biruni is considered the father of Indology for his detailed studies on Indian history and anthropology.[61]

[edit] Paleography

See also Archeology and Egyptology sections above

Abu al-Hassan al-Hamadani of Yemen (d. 945), who wrote the encyclopedic work, Al-Iklil, on the archeology and history of South Arabia, also wrote the earliest known manual on the subject ofpaleography. This subject not introduced in Europe until Bernard de Montfaucon wrote Palaeographia graeca in 1708. Al-Hamadani wrote the following reason for writing his paleography manual:[53]

"Most of the disagreement among people with regard to Himyarite inscriptions centres on the variations in form of the character [of its alphabet]. A character or letter may have four or five forms, while the person who reads it is familiar with only one form. Since, as a result, mistakes have crept in, we have decided to record underneath each letter in the alphabet various forms of its Himyarite equivalent."

History of science

Al-Saghani (d. 990) wrote some of the earliest comments on the history of science. These included the following comparison between the "ancients" (including the ancient BabyloniansEgyptiansGreeks andIndians) and the "modern scholars" (the Muslim scientists of his time):

"The ancients distinguished themselves through their chance discovery of basic principles and the invention of ideas. The modern scholars, on the other hand, distinguish themselves through the invention of a multitude of scientific details, the simplification of difficult (problems), the combination of scattered (information), and the explanation of (material which already exists in) coherent (form). The ancients came to their particular achievements by virtue of their priority in time, and not on account of any natural qualification and intelligence. Yet, how many things escaped them which then became the original inventions of modern scholars, and how much did the former leave for the latter to do."


Ibn Khaldun also discussed the history of science in the Muqaddimah (1377), and wrote the following on the history of Islamic science:

The Muslims desired to learn the sciences of foreign nations. They made them their own through translations. They pressed them into the mould of their own views. They took them over into their own language from the non-Arab languages and surpassed the achievements of the non-Arabs in them.[63]

Military history

Main article: 


The Muqaddimah is the earliest known work to critically examine military history. It criticizes certain accounts of historical battles that appear to be exaggerated, and takes military logistics into account when questioning the sizes of historical armies reported in earlier sources. In the Introduction to the Muqaddimah, for example, Ibn Khaldun points to Al-Masudi (regarded as the "Herodotus of the Arabs"[64]) reporting that, during the time of Moses, an Israelite army turned out 600,000 or more soldiers. Ibn Khaldun criticizes Al-Masudi for failing to take into account certain logistics, questioning whether Egypt and Syria could have possibly held such a large number of soldiers, whether the available territory would have been too small for such a large army, whether an army of that size would be able to march or fight as a unit, and whether the army's battle formation would have been several times beyond their field of vision.[65]


See Historiography above

[edit] Psychology

Main article: Islamic psychology

In psychologyIslamic medicine stressed the need for individual understanding of their mental health. The first psychiatric hospitals and insane asylums were built in the Islamic world as early as the 8th century. The first psychiatric hospitals were built by Arab Muslims in Baghdad in 705, Fes in the early 8th century, and Cairo in 800. Other famous psychiatric hospitals were built in Damascus and Aleppo in 1270.[66]Unlike medieval Christian physicians who relied on demonological explanations for mental illness, medieval Muslim physicians relied mostly on clinical psychiatry and clinical observations on mentally ill patients. They made significant advances to psychiatry and were the first to provide psychotherapy and moral treatment for mentally ill patients, in addition to other new forms of treatment such as baths, drugmedicationmusic therapy and occupational therapy.[67]

The concepts of mental health and "mental hygiene" were introduced by the Muslim physician Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi (850-934). In his Masalih al-Abdan wa al-Anfus (Sustenance for Body and Soul), he was the first to successfully discuss diseases related to both the body and the mind, and argued that "if the nafs [psyche] gets sick, the body may also find no joy in life and may eventually develop a physical illness."[68]

Najab ud-din Muhammad (10th century) described a number of mental diseases in detail. He made many careful observations of mentally ill patients and compiled them in a book which "made up the most complete classification of mental diseases theretofore known." The mental illnesses described by Najab include agitated depressionneurosispriapism and sexual impotence (Nafkhae Malikholia), psychosis(Kutrib), and mania (Dual-Kulb).[67] Symptoms resembling schizophrenia were also reported in later Arabic medical literature.[69]

Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi was a pioneer of psychotherapy, psychophysiology and psychosomatic medicine. He recognized that the body and the soul can be healthy or sick, or "balanced or imbalanced", and that mental illness can have both psychological and/or physiological causes. He wrote that imbalance of the body can result in feverheadaches and other physical illnesses, while imbalance of the soul can result in angeranxietysadness and other mental symptoms. He recognized two types of depression: one caused by known reasons such as loss or failure, which can be treated psychologically; and the other caused by unknown reasons possibly caused by physiological reasons, which can be treated through physical medicine.[68]

Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi (Rhazes) and al-Balkhi were the first known physicians to study psychotherapy. Razi was a Persian and Zoroasterian who adopted Islam only in name. He had a disdain for Islam. Razi in particular made significant advances in psychiatry in his landmark texts El-Mansuri and Al-Hawi in the 10th century, which presented definitionssymptoms and treatments for problems related to mental health and mental illness. He also ran the psychiatric ward of a Baghdad hospital. Such institutions could not exist in Europe at the time because of fear of demonic possessions.[67]

In al-AndalusAbu al-Qasim (Abulcasis), the father of modern surgery, developed material and technical designs which are still used in neurosurgeryIbn Zuhr (Avenzoar) gave the first accurate descriptions on neurological disorders, including meningitis, intracranial thrombophlebitis, and mediastinal germ cell tumors, and made contributions to modern neuropharmacologyAverroes suggested the existence ofParkinson's disease and attributed photoreceptor properties to the retinaMaimonides wrote about neuropsychiatric disorders and described rabies and belladonna intoxication.[70]

Ibn al-Haytham is considered by some to be the founder of experimental psychology and psychophysics,[71] for his pioneering work on the psychology of visual perception in the Book of Optics.[72] In Book III of the Book of OpticsIbn al-Haytham was the first scientist to argue that vision occurs in the brain, rather than the eyes. He pointed out that personal experience has an effect on what people see and how they see, and that vision and perception are subjective.[72]

Along with al-Kindi and Ibn al-Haytham, al-Biruni was also a pioneer of experimental psychology, as he was the first to empirically describe the concept of reaction time:[73]

"Not only is every sensation attended by a corresponding change localized in the sense-organ, which demands a certain time, but also, between the stimulation of the organ and consciousness of the perception an interval of time must elapse, corresponding to the transmission of stimulus for some distance along the nerves."

Avicenna was a pioneer of psychophysiology and psychosomatic medicine. He recognized 'physiological psychology' in the treatment of illnesses involving emotions, and developed a system for associating changes in the pulse rate with inner feelings, which is seen as an anticipation of the word association test attributed to Carl Jung.[67] Avicenna was also a pioneer of neuropsychiatry. He first described numerous neuropsychiatric conditions, including hallucinationinsomniamanianightmaremelancholiadementiaepilepsyparalysisstrokevertigo and tremor.[74]

Social psychology

The earliest works on social psychology and animal psychology were written by al-Jahiz (766–868), an Afro-Arab scholar who wrote a number of works dealing with the social organization of ants and with animal communication and psychology.[75]

Al-Farabi's Social Psychology and Model City were also some of the first treatises to deal with social psychology. Al Farabi's parents were both Persian/Iranian.[citation needed] His family was forced to adopt Islam.[citation needed] His thinking and writings were intrinsically derived from his Persian heritage.[citation needed] His name is based on the name of the Farab river in Iran.[citation needed] He stated that "an isolated individual could not achieve all the perfections by himself, without the aid of other individuals." He wrote that it is the "innate disposition of every man to join another human being or other men in the labor he ought to perform." He concluded that in order to "achieve what he can of that perfection, every man needs to stay in the neighborhood of others and associate with them." Al-Farabi's treatiseMeanings of the Intellect dealt with music therapy, where he discussed the therapeutic effects of music on the soul.[76]

See also


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