The History of the Middle East

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What were the intellectual achievements of the Umayyad dynasty?

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The Umayyad Caliphate or Dynasty (661–750 C E) was the first great Islamic empire. Although its leaders were followers of Islam, it was a period marked by religious tolerance, with followers of many other religions given protection as "dhimmis," which, although a form of second-class citizenship, still allowed free practice of religion. This religious tolerance meant that many ancient works of pagan philosophy and science circulated freely in the Arab world in a way they could not in the increasingly intolerant Christian empires of the period.

The Umayyad caliphate was a period in which the sciences flourished. The Arabs preserved and extended the work of Hippocrates and Galen, as well as assimilating other traditions of medicine and practicing both surgery and pharmacology. Mathematicians practiced algebra, geometry, and arithmetic at a more advanced level than in the west, and astronomers continued the Mesopotamian traditions of calculating the movements of the sun and planets for religious purposes (ascertaining the correct direction for prayer) and astrological ones. Although the great philosophical and literary works were slightly later under Abbasid rule, the many traditions of Islamic art and architecture (including the stunning mosaics and elaborate decorative traditions) began under the Umayyads.

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The Umayyad Dynasty began in 661 when Muawiya, an Umayyad leader, took control of the Islamic Empire that had been growing since the time of Mohammad.  The Umayyad Dynasty lasted until 750 when the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads.  During this time, the capital of the Islamic Empire was moved to Damascus. The Empire expanded across North Africa and then across the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Iberian Peninsula. They also expanded the empire east into central Asia. The Umayyads are known for establishing Arabic as the official language of the empire. They also established a common coinage.  These coins were engraved with Arabic quotations from the Koran.  The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem are two of the most important architectural achievements of the Umayyads.  These two great structures are some of the most revered places next to mosques in Medina and Mecca. Most of the greatest Islamic achievements in bookmaking, literature, mathematics, astronomy and medicine took place after the overthrow of the Umayyads by the Abbasids. One of the Umayyads, Abd al Rahman escaped to the Iberian Peninsula after the overthrow of the Umayyads.  There, in 756, he established a new Umayyad Dynasty. During the Umayyad Dynasty in Spain, Cordoba became its leading city.  Cordoba, under the Umayyad became a center of learning, containing 70 libraries, the largest with over 500,000 volumes. Thousands attended the university and law school there. The Great Mosque in Cordoba is another of the Umayyad achievements. The Muslim Empire in Spain lasted until 1492 when Isabella and Ferdinand drove the last Muslims out of Spain.

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