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Muhammad and the Spread of Islam • Islamic Science and Medicine
Classroom Activities

Objective: Review resources to learn about the work of Islamic scholars and then write a memorial plaque that might be posted at the site of the House of Wisdom.

Key Questions:

  • Why was scholarship in science and medicine able to thrive in the Islamic world? Why did that eventually change?

Notes on Implementation:

  • Introduce the topic by asking students whether they have heard of any of the people on the list. Point out that the names of these mathematicians and scientists are less well-known in the Western world than European scholars such as Nicholas Copernicus or Johannes Kepler. Yet, as the resources in the lesson demonstrate, their achievements paved the way for these scholars.
  • Connect to graphic art and publishing skills by having students choose a layout and font that would be appropriate for a memorial plaque for the House of Wisdom. Print and post the plaques around the room for students to read.
  • Extend learning by having students create cards for each of these scholars: al-Khwarizmi, al-Battani, al-Mamun, Ibn al-Haytham, al-Razi, Avicenna. They should include on the card as much information as they can find about the person. Then have students use the cards to play "Who Am I?" in small groups. One person in each small group chooses one of the scholars. Each of the other students in the small group is allowed to ask one yes/no question. When everyone has had a chance to ask a question, all students must guess to whom the information refers.
  • If students need support, print out Islamic Science and Medicine: Overview and Islamic Science and Medicine: Transcript for students to follow along as they listen. Then, work with students to highlight key ideas. Alternatively, you may want to stop at particular points of the videos to discuss key ideas and to allow students time to take notes.

Student Activity: Students can access the below activity in the Muhammad and the Spread of Islam Topic Center within the World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras database.

Student Activity:

During about the eighth through 13th centuries, the Islamic world was home to some of the most advanced scientific research and philosophical study in the world. Islamic scholars preserved much of the knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome while also making important new developments, especially in mathematics, astronomy, and medicine.

In this activity, you will read and watch videos to learn about some of the advances made by Islamic scholars following the rise of Islam. Then, you will create a visual to demonstrate the impact of these scholars and their findings.

Resources:

Apply:

  • Review the Resources to learn about Islamic scholars and the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, which was founded in the ninth century and flourished for about 100 years. Baghdad was an international center of culture, learning, and religious tolerance.
  • After the middle of the 10th century, the Abbasid caliphate went into decline. Its capital, Baghdad, was besieged and captured by invading Mongols in 1258. Use what you have learned to write a memorial plaque for the House of Wisdom. Your plaque should be at least 100 words and should include:
    • Who created the House of Wisdom
    • Why the House of Wisdom was important
    • How it was destroyed
    • What was lost with its destruction
  • Discuss what you have learned about Islamic advances made during this time. Were you surprised to learn about the achievements of Islamic mathematicians and scientists? What factors contributed to their advances? How did Islamic scholars build on the knowledge of others? How did they influence world events?

ANSWER KEY:

Key Understandings:

  • The relationship between religion and science changes over time
  • Preservation of Greek, Roman, and Indian academic achievements is significant to the continuation and advancement of knowledge

Possible Answers for Activity:

The House of Wisdom, or Bayt al-Hikma, was a learning center in Baghdad that was founded by the great Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid and further encouraged by his son and successor al-Mamun in the 9th and 10th centuries. Here, Islamic scholars collected and translated books from Greek philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists, as well as works from Persia and India. The center also supported the work of Islamic scholars and attracted scholars from far and wide, which led to new advances and discoveries. Similar centers of learning emerged in other cities that came under Islamic control. The House of Wisdom was destroyed in the siege of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258. Thousands of books and manuscripts were destroyed. Some argue that the golden age of Islam ended with the fall of Baghdad. But the knowledge that had been gained by Islam's focus on learning contributed to a growing understanding of the natural world. The House of Wisdom remains a symbol of the quest for knowledge and the benefits gained from merging intellectual traditions from varied cultures.

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MLA Citation

"Islamic Science and Medicine." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com. Accessed 17 Feb. 2019.

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