The institutional aspects of Islamic science are only beginning to be studied

The institutional aspects of islamic science are only

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European science. The institutional aspects of Islamic science are only beginning to be studied with scholarly rigor, and nothing like a full his- torical survey exists for the Islamic case. Furthermore, the field divides into two divergent interpretative schools. One school argues for a “marginality” thesis, holding that the secular, rational sciences inherited from Greek civilization—known in Islam as the “foreign” ( aw’il ) sciences—never became integrated into Islamic culture, remaining only on the cultural margins, tolerated at best, but never a fundamental part of Islamic society. The “assimila- tionist” school, on the other hand, contends that the foreign sciences became woven into the fabric of Islamic life. Neither interpretation quite fits the facts, but the presentation favored here leans toward the THE ENDURING EAST 105 Map 6.2. Islam. Follow- ing the birth of Moham- medanism in the seventh century the Islamic con- quest stretched from the Atlantic Ocean almost to the borders of China. In capturing Egypt and the resources of the Nile, the forces of Islam dealt a severe blow to Byzantine civilization. (opposite)
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assimilationists, especially in tracing the institutional basis of Islamic science and in recognizing a similarity between the social function of science in Islam and in other Eastern civilizations. Islamic scientific culture originated through the effort to master the learning of more established civilizations, and that first required the translation of documents into Arabic. Given the early conquest of Jun- dishapur, Persian and Indian influences, rather than Greek, were more influential in the early stages of Islamic civilization. Already in the 760 s, for example, an Indian mission reached Baghdad to teach Indian sci- ence and philosophy and to aid in translations of Indian astronomical and mathematical texts from Sanskrit into Arabic. Later, Muslim men of science traveled to India to study with Indian masters. In the following century, however, the translation movement came to focus on Greek scientific works. The governing caliph in Baghdad, Al-Ma’mun, founded the House of Wisdom (the Bayt al-Hikma ) in 832 ce specifically as a center of translation and mastery of the secular for- eign sciences. Al-Ma’mun sent emissaries to collect Greek scientific manuscripts from Byzantine sources for the House of Wisdom where families of scholar-translators, notably Ish¯aq ibn Hunayn and his relatives, undertook the Herculean task of rendering into Arabic the Greek philosophical and scientific tradition. As a result, virtually the entire corpus of Greek natural science, mathematics, and medicine was brought over into Arabic, and Arabic became the international lan- guage of civilization and science. Ptolemy’s Almagest, for example— the very title, al-Mageste, is Arabic for “the greatest”—appeared in sev- eral translations in Baghdad early in the ninth century, as well as Euclid’s Elements, several works of Archimedes, and many of Aristo- tle, beginning with his logical treatises. Aristotle became the intellec-
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