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The Arabic translation movement was a widely supported movement under Islamic ruling that resulted in the translation of materials from various different languages, especially middle Persian texts to Arabic.

According to Ibn an-Nadīm in his Fihrist the translation movement seems rather to have been instigated by Barmakids.[1]

Dmitri Gutas, in his Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco-Arabic translation Movement in Baghdad mentions that available evidence shows that the translation movement privileged Persian texts. He emphasizes that Ibn an-Nadīm writing about a translation of the Almagest in the library of Harun al-Rashid was the only explicit reference to a contribution of the library of Harun al-Rashid to translation of Greek texts.[1]

It successfully formed an overlap of civilizations and established new cultural and political maps.[2] Islamic rulers contributed to the movement in several ways, including the creation of translation classes to organize its flow of throughout the different periods of the Islamic Empire.[3]

The translation movement played a significant role in the development of Arab scientific knowledge, as many scientific theories had emerged from different origins.

Later, Western culture was introduced to the preserved Arabic translated collections because majority of their original scripts were lost.[4]

Pre-Islamic periodEdit

The Sasanian Empire was the last Persian Empire before the rise of Islam. During the Pre-Islamic period, there was not an Arabic writing system. Arabs learned a variety of languages including Syriac and Aramaic in order to be able to communicate when they traveled for trading.[3] They traveled in what was called the "journey (caravan) of summer and winter", and were led by one of the famous Arab tribes, Quraysh. Translation has been traced back to the beginning of the second century CE when Syriacs translated their customs and beliefs into Arabic.[5]

Academy of GondishapurEdit

The ninth Sassanid king, Shapur II, built the Academy of Gondishapur, a medical center, library, and university in which anatomy, medicine, philosophy, and theology were taught.[6]

Khosrow I later added an observatory that taught dentistry, astronomy, mathematics, military command, architecture, workmanship, and agriculture and irrigation. The Academy of Gondishapur became the most important medical center in the sixth and seventh centuries CE.[6]

Later in the seventh century CE, the Sasanian Empire fell to Muslim armies, but the Muslims preserved the Academy of Gondishapur.[6]

Islamic Golden AgeEdit

The Islamic Golden Age was considered to be the landmark for the translation of the Arabic language.[3]

The Lifetime of Muhammad (610-632 CE)Edit

Muhammad, the founder and prophet of Islam, sent messages to many political leaders and communities of Persia, Syria, and Rome that did not speak Arabic, urging them to consider adopting his new religion of Islam. This led Muhammad on the search for a personal scribe that would be responsible for translating the Arabic messages into the languages possessed by the recipients, as well as encouraging Muslims to learn foreign languages. Zayd ibn Thabit, Muhammad's most accomplished scribe, was ordered to learn Syriac, Hebrew, and Persian so that he could communicate with Jews in their own language.[3]

The central principle adopted by Islam was to urge others to search for knowledge because they believed that understanding the relationship between the creation and Allah (the creator of the universe) to be the best way to understand the world. This principle was the key concept behind their endeavors to spread their religion around the world.[citation needed]

Rashidun Caliphate Period (632-661 CE)Edit

Upon the death of Muhammad in 632 CE, four caliphs collectively known as the "Rightly Guided Caliphs" were appointed to lead the Islamic Empire. Together, they formed the Rashidun Caliphate.[citation needed]

During the second Rashidun caliph, Omar ibn al-Khattab's, time leading the Islamic Empire, the message of the Quran had become increasingly popular among surrounding civilizations. The Islamic Empire expanded, contributing to the search for multilingual teachers and translators to teach the word of the Quran and the Arabic language.[citation needed]

The expansion of the multilingual empire led the third Rashidun caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, to order that the Quran be compiled into a unified language.[citation needed]

Umayyad Period (661-750 CE)Edit

Translation gained propulsion during the Umayyad period and Arabic became the official and common language of the Islamic Empire.[citation needed]

Arabs began to encounter the knowledge of Greeks, most of which came from remaining scholars of the Byzantine period.[3] Syriacs were a key factor in the translation of Arabic materials because while Arabs were unable to understand the Greek language, Syriacs had been communicating with Greeks for over ten centuries. The first translation from Greek to Arabic was produced by Khalid ibn Yazid, the son of the second Umayyad caliph, Yazid ibn Muawiya.[4]

During the fourth Umayyad caliph, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan's, time as king, the translation of official documents and medicine and astrology treaties began to take place. The translation of Byzantine and Persian songs began to take place by Ibn Misjah. Greek gnomologia ("wisdom literature"), including that associated with Aristotle, was translated during this period and significantly influenced Arabic poetry in later centuries.[3]

A polyglot fluent in Arabic, Syriac, Persian, and Greek, Hunayn ibn Ishaq, was known as one of the best translators of his time. He focused on the field of medicine, including work by Aristotle, Plato, Galen, and Hippocrates. With the help of his son, Ishaq ibn Hunayn, and his nephew, Habash al-Hasib al-Marwazi, at least ninety-five works by Galen, fifteen works by Hippocrates, Plato's Timaeus, Aristotle's Metaphysics, On the Soul, and On Generation and Corruption were translated.[7]

The Arabic language reached communities in Transoxiana, Morocco, and Andalusia, and was soon adopted as their official language.[4]

The Umayyad caliphs significantly contributed to the translation of science and arts, which laid out a long-term foundation for the Islamic Empire.[3]

As Islam expanded, Muslims preserved other cultures and utilized their technology and knowledge in science to stimulate the development of their own knowledge.[citation needed]

Harun al-Rashid receiving a delegation from Charlemagne. Painting from 1864.

Abbasid Period (750-1258 CE)Edit

The Arabic translation movement continued to develop throughout the Abbasid period. The Abbasid period included one of the most important markers in the history of the movement: the translation of Islam's central religious text, the Quran.[8]

Scholars working at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. Illustrator Yahyá al-Wasiti, 1237

The second Abbasid caliph, Abu Ja'far Abdallah ibn Muhammad al-Mansur, moved the capital from Damascus to Baghdad, the location of the Persian Library.[3] Here, Abu Ja'far Abdallah ibn Muhammad al-Mansur ordered the translation of many science and philosophy books as well as other literature written in Greek, Syriac, and Persian into Arabic.[9]

House of WisdomEdit

Under the fifth Abbasid caliph, Harun al-Rashid, the House of Wisdom was founded as a library for the collections of translated books and works. It imitated the Academy of Gondishapur by employing its past graduates.[4] Later, under the seventh Abbasid caliph, Abu al-Abbas al-Ma'mun ibn Harun al-Rashid, the House of Wisdom was turned into an institute of translation.[9]

When the Mongols invaded Baghdad in 1258 CE, the House of Wisdom was burned down and its collections were thrown into the Tigris river, concluding the Islamic Golden Age.[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Hockey, Thomas (2014). Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. p. 915.
  2. ^ Dajani, Basma Ahmad Sedki (May 2009). "Role of Translation in the Dialogue of Civilizations: Pioneering Experiences that had an Impact on Society". Fikr Wa Ibdaa': 201–228.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Mehawesh, Mohammad (2014). "History of Translation in the Arab World: An Overview". US-China Foreign Language. 12 (8): 684–691.
  4. ^ a b c d Khalidi, Hala; Dajani, Basma Ahmad Sedki (2015). "Facets from the Translation Movement in Classic Arab Culture". Procedia - Social and Behavior Sciences. 205: 569–576.
  5. ^ Prince, Chris (2002). "The Historical Context of Arabic Translation, Learning, and the Libraries of Medieval Andalusia". Library History. 18 (2): 73–87.
  6. ^ a b c Mirrazavi, Firouzeh (November 9, 2009). "Academy of Gundishapur". Iran Review.
  7. ^ Lindberg, David C. (2007). The Beginning of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450 (2 ed.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
  8. ^ Mustapha, H. (1998). Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. New York, NY: Routledge.
  9. ^ a b c Jaber, Fadi (December 2015). "The Landscape of Translation Movement in the Arab World: From the 7th Century until the Beginning of the 21st Century". Arab World English Journal. 6 (4): 128–140.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit