For more information go to



The Arabian Peninsula, or Arabia, is mostly a hot and dry desert land. Scorching temperatures and a lack of water make life difficult. But in spite of the difficulty, people have lived in Arabia for thousands of years. During this time, Arabia's location, physical features, and climate have shaped life in the region.

The Arabian Peninsula is located in the southwest corner of Asia. As you can see on the map, it lies near the intersection of three continents - Africa, Asia, and Europe. Trade routes linking the three continents have passed through the region for thousands of years. Geographers call Arabia a "crossroads" location.


Merchants carried goods such as spices, silk, and gold along the trade routes. Some of these trade routes were on land. Others were water routes along the coast or across the seas. Trade brought many different groups of people through Arabia. These people introduced products and ideas from around the world to Arabia.

Arabia's location has also shaped its physical features. It lies in a region with hot and dry air.Islam_-_Dunes.jpg This climate has created a band deserts across Arabia and northern Africa.

Huge, sandy deserts cover large parts of Arabia. Sand dunes, or hills of sand shaped by the
wind, can rise to 800 feet high and stretch for hundreds of miles. The world's largest sand
desert, the Rub' al-Khali, covers much of southern Arabia. Rub' al-Khali means "Empty
Quarter," a name given to the desert because there is so little life there.

Arabia's deserts have a very limited amount of water. There are no permanent lakes or rivers.
Water exists mainly in oases scattered across the desert. An oasis is a wet, fertile area in a desert. These wet areas form where underground water bubbles to the surface. Oases have long been key stops along Arabia's overland trade routes.

Although deserts cover much of the interior of Arabia, other landforms appear along the edges of the peninsula. Mountains border the southern and western coasts, and marshy land lies near the Persian Gult. Most of the settlement in Arabia has been in these milder coastal regions.

Arabia is one of the hottest, driest places in the world. With a blazing sun and clear skies, summer temperatures in the interior reach 100°F daily. This climate makes it hard for plants and animals to survive. Desert plants do live in areas that get little rain. Many of them have roots that stretch deep or spread out far to collect as much water as possible. Just as plants have adapted to life in Arabia, so too have people found ways to live there.


To live in Arabia’s difficult desert environment, people developed two main ways of life. Some people lived a nomadic life, moving from place to place. Others lived a
sedentary, or settled, life in towns.

Nomads lived in tents and raised herds of sheep, goats, and camels. The animals provided milk, meat, and skins for the nomads’ tents. Nomads traveled with their herds across the desert, moving along regular routes as seasons changed, to get food and water for their animals. They depended on camels for transportation and milk.
Among the nomads, camels and tents belonged to individuals. Water and grazing land belonged to tribes. Membership in a tribe, a group of related people, was important to nomads. The tribe offered protection from desert dangers, such as violence that often took place when people competed for water and grazing land.

While nomads moved around the desert, other people settled in oases where they could farm. These settlements, particularly the ones in oases along trade routes, became towns. Most people in Arabia lived in towns. Merchants and craftspeople lived there and worked with people in the caravan trade. A is a group of traders that travel together. Towns became centers of trade for both nomads and townspeople. Many towns had a Souk, a market or bazaar. In the market, nomads traded animal products and desert herbs for goods such as cooking supplies and clothing. Merchants sold spices, gold, leather, and other goods brought by the caravans

Arabian towns were important stations on the trade routes linking India with Northeast Africa and the Mediterranean. Trade brought Arabs into contact with people and ideas from around the world.



Muhammad was born into an important family in Mecca around 570. Muhammad’s early life was not easy. His father, a merchant, died before he was born; and his mother died later, when he was six. With his parents gone, Muhammad was first raised by his grandfather and later by his uncle. When he was a child, he traveled with his uncle’s caravans, visiting places such as Syria and Jerusalem. Once he was grown, he managed a caravan business owned by a wealthy woman named Khadijah (ka-DEE-jah). Eventually, at age 25, Muhammad married Khadijah.

The caravan trade made Mecca a rich city. But most of the wealth belonged to just a few people. Poor people had hard lives. Traditionally, wealthy people in Mecca had helped the poor. But as Muhammad was growing up, many rich merchants began to ignore the poor and keep their wealth for themselves. Concerned about the changing values in Mecca, Muhammad often went by himself to the hills outside the city to pray and meditate. One day, when he was about 40 years old, Muhammad went to meditate in a cave. Then, according to Islamic teachings, something happened that changed his life forever. An angel appeared and spoke to Muhammad, telling him to “Recite! Recite!” Confused at first, Muhammad asked what he should recite. The angel answered:

"Recite in the name of your Lord who created, created man from clots of blood! Recite! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One, Who by the pen taught man what he did not know."

Muslims believe that God had spoken to Muhammad through the angel and had made him a prophet, a person who tells of messages from God. At first Muhammad was afraid and didn’t tell anyone except his wife about the voice in the cave. A few years later, in 613, Muhammad began to tell other people about the messages. The messages Muhammad received form the basis of the religion called Islam . The word Islam means “to submit to God.” A follower of Islam is called a . Muslims believe that Muhammad continued receiving messages from God for the rest of his life. These messages were collected in the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam.


Not all of Muhammad’s early teachings were new. In fact, some were much like the teachings of Judaism and Christianity. But Muhammad’s teachings challenged and upset the people of Arabia. These teachings brought changes to many aspects of life in Arabia.

Muhammad taught that there was only one God, Allah, which means “the God” in Arabic. In that way, Islam is like Judaism and Christianity. It is a monotheistic religion, a religion based on a belief in one God. Although people of all three religions believe in one God, their beliefs about God are not all the same.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims also recognize many of the same prophets. Muhammad taught that prophets such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus had lived in earlier times. Unlike Christians, Muslims do not believe Jesus was the son of God, but they do believe many stories about his life. Muhammad told stories about these prophets similar to the stories in the Torah and the Christian Bible. Muhammad respected Jews and Christians as “people of the Book” because their holy books taught many of the same ideas that Muhammad taught.

Some of Muhammad’s teachings would have seemed familiar to Jews and Christians, but they were new to most Arabs. For example, most people in Arabia believed in many different gods, a belief system called polytheism. Before Muhammad told them to believe in one God, Arabs worshiped many gods and goddesses at shrines. A is a place at which people worship a saint or a god. A very important shrine, the Kaaba, was in Mecca. People traveled there every year on a pilgrimage , a journey to a sacred place.

Several of Muhammad’s teachings upset many Arabs. First, they didn’t like being told to stop worshiping their gods and goddesses. Second, Muhammad’s new religion seemed like a threat to people who made money from the yearly pilgrimages to the Kaaba. Mecca’s powerful merchant leaders thought they would lose business if people didn’t worship their gods at the Kaaba. Another of Muhammad’s teachings also worried Mecca’s wealthy merchants. Muhammad said that everyone who believed in Allah would become part of a community in which rich and poor would be equal. But the merchants wanted to be richer and more powerful than the poor people, not equal to them.

Muhammad also taught that people should give money to help the poor. However, many wealthy merchants didn’t want to help the poor. Instead, they wanted to keep all of their money. Because many of the people in Mecca didn’t want to hear what Muhammad had to say, they rejected his teachings.


At first Muhammad did not have many followers. Mecca’s merchants refused to believe in a single God and rejected the idea of equality. They even made Muhammad leave Mecca for a while. Eventually, however, Muhammad’s teachings began to take root.

Slowly, more people began to listen to Muhammad’s ideas. But as Islam began to people, the rulers of Mecca became more and more worried. They began to threaten Muhammad and his small group of followers with violence. They even planned to kill Muhammad. As a result, Muhammad had to look for support outside of Mecca.

A group of people from a city north of Mecca invited Muhammad to live in their city. As the threats from Mecca’s leaders got worse, Muhammad accepted the invitation. In 622 he and many of his followers, including his daughter Fatimah, left Mecca and went to Medina (muh-DEE-nuh). Named after Muhammad, Medina means “the Prophet’s city” in Arabic, the language of the Arabs. Muhammad’s departure from Mecca became known in Muslim history as the hegira (hi-JY-ruh), or journey.

Muhammad’s arrival in Medina holds an important place in Islamic history. There he became both a spiritual and a political leader. His house became the first , or building for Muslim prayer. The year of the hegira, 622, became so important to the development of Islam that Muslims made it the first year in the Islamic calendar.
According to Islamic belief, in Medina Muhammad reported new revelations about rules for Muslim government, society and worship. For example, God told Muhammad that Muslims should face Mecca when they pray. Before, Muslims faced Jerusalem like Christians and Jews did. Muslims recognized the importance of Mecca as the home of the Kaaba. They believe the Kaaba is a house of worship that Abraham built and dedicated to the worship of one God

As the Muslim community in Medina grew stronger, other Arab tribes in the region began to accept Islam. However, conflict with the Meccans increased. In 630, after several years of fighting, the people of Mecca gave in. They welcomed Muhammad back to the city and accepted Islam as their religion. In Mecca Muhammad and his followers destroyed the statues of the gods and goddesses in the Kaaba. Soon most of the Arabian tribes accepted Muhammad as their spiritual leader and became Muslims.

Muhammad died in 632 at his home in Medina. Although he didn’t live long after Mecca became Muslim, the religion he taught would soon spread to lands far beyond Arabia.



The central teaching in the Qur’an is that there is only one God—Allah—and that Muhammad is his prophet. The Qur’an says people must obey Allah’s commands. Muslims learned of these commands from Muhammad.

Islam teaches that the world had a definite beginning and will end one day. Muhammad said that on the final day God will judge all people. Those who have obeyed his orders will be granted life in paradise. According to the Qur’an, paradise is a beautiful garden full of fine food and drink. People who have not obeyed God, however, will suffer.
Like holy books of other religions, the Qur’an describes acts of worship, guidelines for moral behavior, and rules for social life. Muslims look to the Qur’an for guidance in their daily lives. For example, the Qur’an describes how to prepare for worship. Muslims must wash themselves before praying so they will be pure before Allah. The Qur’an also says what Muslims shouldn’t eat or drink. Muslims aren’t allowed to eat pork or drink alcohol.

In addition to guidelines for individual behavior, the Qur’an describes relations among people. Many of these ideas changed Arabian society. For example, before Muhammad’s time many Arabs owned slaves. Although slavery didn’t disappear among Muslims, the Qur’an encourages Muslims to free slaves. Also, women in Arabia had few rights. The Qur’an describes rights of women, including rights to own property, earn money, and get an education. However, most Muslim women still have fewer rights than men.

Another important subject in the Qur’an has to do with , which means “to make an effort, or to struggle.” Jihad refers to the inner struggle people go through in their effort to obey God and behave according to Islamic ways. Jihad can also mean the struggle to defend the Muslim community, or, historically, to convert people to Islam. The word has also been translated as “holy war.”

The Qur’an is not the only source of Islamic teachings. Muslims also study the hadith (huh-DEETH), the written record of Muhammad’s words and actions. This record is the basis for the Sunnah. The refers to the way Muhammad lived, which provides a model for the duties and the way of life expected of Muslims. The Sunnah guides Muslims’ behavior.


The first duties of a Muslim are known as the , which are five acts of worship required of all Muslims. The first pillar is a statement of faith. At least once in their lives, Muslims must state their faith by saying, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet.” Muslims say this when they accept Islam. They also say it in their daily prayers.

The second pillar of Islam is daily prayer. Muslims must pray five times a day: before sunrise, at midday, in late afternoon, right after sunset, and before going to bed. At each of these times, a call goes out from a mosque, inviting Muslims to come pray. Muslims try to pray together at a mosque. They believe prayer is proof that someone has accepted Allah.

The third pillar of Islam is a yearly donation to charity. Muslims must pay part of their wealth to a religious official. This money is used to help the poor, build mosques, or pay debts. Helping and caring for others is important in Islam.

The fourth pillar is fasting—going without food and drink. Muslims fast daily during the holy month of Ramadan. The Qur’an says Allah began his revelations to Muhammad in the month of Ramadan. During Ramadan, most Muslims will not eat or drink anything between dawn and sunset. Muslims believe fasting is a way to show that God is more important than one’s own body. Fasting also reminds Muslims of people in the world who struggle to get enough food.

The fifth pillar of Islam is the hajj (HAJ), a pilgrimage to Mecca. All Muslims must travel to Mecca at least once in their lives if they can. The Kaaba, in Mecca, is Islam’s most sacred place.



After Muhammad’s death, many of the Muslim leaders chose, one of Muhammad’s first converts, to be the next leader of Islam. He was the first , a title that Muslims use for the highest leader of Islam. In Arabic, the word caliph means “successor.” As Muhammad’s successors, the caliphs had to follow the prophet’s example. This meant ruling according to the Qur’an. Unlike Muhammad, however, early caliphs were not religious leaders. Though not a religious leader, Abu Bakr was a political and military leader. Under his rule, the Muslims began a series of wars in which they conquered many lands outside of Arabia Abu Bakr directed a series of battles against Arab tribes who did not follow Muhammad’s teachings. By his death in 634, he had made Arabia a unified Muslim state.

With Arabia united, Muslim leaders turned their attention elsewhere. Their armies, strong after their battles in Arabia, won many stunning victories. They defeated the Persian and Byzantine empires, which were weak from years of fighting.

When the Muslims conquered lands, they made treaties with any non-Muslims there. These treaties listed rules that conquered people—often Jews and Christians—had to follow. For example, some non-Muslims could not build places of worship in Muslim cities or dress like Muslims. In return, the Muslims would not attack them. One such treaty was the Pact of Umar, named after the second caliph. It was written about 637 after Muslims conquered Syria.

Many early caliphs came from the Umayyad family. The Umayyads moved their capital from Medina to Damascus and continued to expand the empire. They took over lands in Central Asia and in northern India. The Umayyads also gained control of trade in the eastern Mediterranean and conquered part of North Africa.

In the late 600s, battles with the Berbers slowed the growth of Muslim rule in North Africa. The Berbers are the native people of North Africa. After years of fighting, many Berbers converted to Islam. Following their conversion, they joined the Arabs in their efforts to spread Islam. Next the Muslims tried to expand their empire into Europe. A combined Arab and Berber army invaded Spain in 711 and quickly conquered it. The army moved on into what is now France, but it was stopped by a Christian army near the city of Tours. Despite this defeat, Muslims called Moors continued to rule parts of Spain for the next 700 years.

In continuing the expansion, a new dynasty, the Abbasids (uh-BAS-idz), came to power in 750. The Abbasids reorganized the government to make it easier to rule such a large region.


Islam gradually spread through areas the Muslims conquered. At the same time trade helped spread Islam into other areas as well. Arabia’s crossroads location gave Muslim merchants easy access to South Asia, Europe, and Africa.

Along with their trade goods, Arab merchants took Islamic beliefs to new lands. For example, merchants introduced Islam into India. Although many Indian kingdoms remained Hindu, coastal trading cities soon had large Muslim communities. In Africa, societies often had both African and Muslim customs. For example, Arabic in fluenced local African languages. Also, many African leaders converted to Islam. Between 1200 and 1600, Muslim traders carried Islam as far east as what are now Malaysia and Indonesia. Even today, Islam is a major in fluence on life there.

In addition to helping spread Islam, trade brought new products to Muslim lands and made many people rich. First, new products and inventions created by other peoples made their way to the Muslim world. For example, Arabs learned from the Chinese how to make paper and use gunpowder. New crops such as cotton, rice, and oranges arrived from India, China, and Southeast Asia. Second, traders made money on trade between regions.

In addition to trade with Asia, African trade was important to Muslim merchants. Many merchants set up businesses next to African market towns. They wanted African products such as ivory, cloves, and slaves. In return they offered fine white pottery called porcelain from China, cloth goods from India, and iron from Southwest Asia and Europe. Arab traders even traveled south across the Sahara, the world’s largest desert, to get gold. In exchange, they brought the Africans salt, which was scarce south of the desert.


As Islam spread through trade, warfare, and treaties, Arabs came in contact with people who had different beliefs and lifestyles than they did. Muslims generally practiced religious , or acceptance, with regard to people they conquered. In other words, the Muslims did not ban all religions other than Islam in their lands. Jews and Christians in particular kept many of their rights, since they shared some beliefs with Muslims.

Although Jews and Christians were allowed to practice their own religions, they had to pay a special tax. They also had to follow the rules of the treaties governing conquered peoples. Many people conquered by the Arabs converted to Islam. Along with Islamic beliefs, these people often adopted other parts of Arabic culture. For example, many people started speaking Arabic. The Arabs also adopted some of the customs of the people they conquered. For example, they copied a Persian form of bureaucracy in their government.

As Islam spread, language and religion helped unify the many groups that became part of the Islamic world. Cultural blending changed Islam from a mostly Arab religion into a religion of many different cultures.


The growing cities of the Muslim world reflected this blending of cultures. Trade had brought people, products, and ideas together. It had also created wealth, which supported great cultural in cities such as Baghdad in what is now Iraq and Córdoba in Spain.


Baghdad became the capital of the Islamic Empire in 762. Located near both land and water routes, it was a major trading center. In addition to trade, farming contributed to a strong economy. Dates and grains grew well in the fertile soil. Trade and farming made Baghdad one of the world’s richest cities in the late 700s and early 800s. The center of Baghdad was known as the round city, because three round walls surrounded it. Within the walls was the caliph’s palace, which took up one-third of the city. Outside the walls were houses and souks for the city’s huge population.
Caliphs at Baghdad supported science and the arts. For example, they built a hospital and an observatory. They
also built a library that was used as a university and housed Arabic translations of many ancient Greek works.
Because Baghdad was a center of culture and learning, many artists and writers went there. Artists decorated the
city’s public buildings, while writers wrote literature that remains popular today.


Córdoba, too, became a great Muslim city. In 756 Muslims chose it to be the capital of what is now Spain. Like Baghdad, Córdoba had a strong economy based on agriculture and trade. Córdoba exported textiles and jewelry, which were valued throughout Europe. By the early 900s Córdoba was the largest and most advanced city in Europe. It had mansions and mosques, busy markets and shops, and aqueducts. It also had public water and lighting systems.

Córdoba was a great center of learning. Men and women from across the Muslim world and Europe came to study at the university there. They studied Greek and Roman scientific writings and translated them into Arabic. In addition, they studied writings produced in the Muslim world and translated them from Arabic to Latin. As a result, Arabic writings on such subjects as mathematics, medicine, astronomy, geography, and history could be studied throughout Europe.



In the mid-1200s Muslim Turkish warriors known as Ottomans began to take land from the Christian Byzantine Empire. As the map below shows, they eventually ruled lands from eastern Europe to North Africa and Arabia. The key to the empire’s expansion was the Ottoman army. The Ottomans trained Christian boys from conquered towns to be soldiers. These slave soldiers, called , converted to Islam and became fierce fighters. Besides these slave troops, the Ottomans were aided by new gunpowder weapons—especially cannons.

In 1453 Ottomans led by Mehmed II used huge cannons to
conquer Constantinople. With the city’s capture, Mehmed
defeated the Byzantine Empire. He became known as “the
Conqueror.” Mehmed made Constantinople, which the
Ottomans called Istanbul, his new capital. He also turned
the Byzantines’ great church, Hagia Sophia, into a mosque.

A later , or Ottoman ruler, continued Mehmed’s conquests.
He expanded the empire to the east through the rest of Anatolia,
another name for Asia Minor. His armies also conquered Syria
and Egypt. Soon afterward the holy cities of Mecca and Medina
accepted Ottoman rule as well. These triumphs made the Ottoman Empire a major world power.

The Ottoman Empire reached its height under Suleyman, “the Magnificent.” During Suleyman’s rule, from 1520 to 1566, the Ottomans took control of the eastern Mediterranean and pushed farther into Europe, areas they would control until the early 1900s. Also during Suleyman’s rule, the Ottoman Empire reached its cultural peak. Muslim poets wrote beautiful works, and architects worked to turn Istanbul from a Byzantine city into a Muslim one.

The sultan issued laws and made all major decisions in the empire. Most Ottoman law was based on Shariah, or Islamic law, but sultans also made laws of their own.
Ottoman society was divided into two classes. Judges and other people who advised the sultan on legal and military matters were part of the ruling class. Members of the ruling class had to be loyal to the sultan, practice Islam, and understand Ottoman customs. People who didn’t fit these requirements made up the other class. Many of them were Christians or Jews from lands the Ottomans had conquered. Christians and Jews formed religious communities, or millets, within the empire. Each millet had its own leaders and religious laws.

Ottoman society limited the freedom that women enjoyed, especially women in the ruling class. These women usually had to live apart from men in an area of a household called a . By separating women from men, harems kept women out of public life. However, wealthy women could still own property or businesses. Some women used their money to build schools, mosques, and hospitals.



As the Ottoman Empire reached its height, a group of Persian Muslims known as the Safavids (sah-FAH-vuhds) was gaining power to the east. Before long the Safavids came into con flict with the Ottomans and other Muslims.

The conflict came from an old disagreement among Muslims about who should be caliph. In the mid-600s, Islam split into two groups. The two groups were the Shia (SHEE-ah) and the Sunni (SOO-nee). The were Muslims who thought that only members of Muhammad’s family could become caliphs. On the other hand, the didn’t think caliphs had to be related to Muhammad as long as they were good Muslims and strong leaders. Over time religious differences developed between the two groups as well.

The Safavid Empire began in 1501 when the Safavid leader Esma’il (is-mah-EEL) conquered Persia. He took the ancient Persian title of shah, or king. Esma’il dreamed of conquering other Muslim territories and converting all Muslims to Shiism. He battled the Uzbeks to the north, but he suffered a crushing defeat by the Ottomans, who were Sunni. Esma’il died in 1524, and the next leaders struggled to keep the empire together.

In 1588 the greatest Safavid leader, 'Abbas, became shah. He strengthened the military and gave his soldiers modern gunpowder weapons. Copying the Ottomans, Abbas trained foreign slave boys to be soldiers. Under 'Abbas’s rule the Safavids defeated the Uzbeks and took back land that had been lost to the Ottomans. 'Abbas also made great contributions to the Safavid culture and economy.

The Safavids blended Persian and Muslim traditions. They built beautiful mosques in their capital, Esfahan (es-fah-HAHN). People admired the colorful tiles and large dome of the Shah’s mosque, built for 'Abbas. Esfahan was considered one of the world’s most magnificent cities in the 1600s.

Safavid culture played a role in the empire’s economy because 'Abbas encouraged the manufacturing of traditional products. Handwoven carpets became a major export. Other textiles, such as silk and velvet, were made in large workshops and also sold to other peoples. In addition, the Safavids were admired for their skills in making ceramics and metal goods, especially goods made from steel. Merchants came from as far away as Europe to trade for these goods. Such trade brought wealth to the Safavid Empire and helped establish it as a major Islamic civilization. It lasted until the mid-1700s.


The Mughals were Turkish Muslims from Central Asia. The founder of the Mughal Empire was called Babur (BAH-boohr), or “tiger.” He tried for years to make an empire in Central Asia. When he didn’t succeed there, he decided to build an empire in northern India instead. There Babur established the Mughal Empire in 1526.

The empire grew in the mid-1500s under an emperor named Akbar. He conquered many new lands and worked to make the Mughal government stronger. He also began a tolerant religious policy. Akbar believed that no single religion, including Islam, had all the answers. He got rid of the tax on non-Muslims and invited Hindus to be part of the Mughal government. Akbar’s tolerant policies helped unify the empire.

In the 1600s Mughal emperors expanded the empire to control almost all of India. Look at the map below to see how it grew. This period of expansion was not a peaceful time. In the
late 1600s a new emperor changed the tolerant religious policies Akbar had established. The new emperor ordered people to obey strict religious laws and destroyed Hindu temples throughout India. He also persecuted non-Muslims and made them pay a special tax. One persecuted group was the Sikhs, a religious group that had formed from Hinduism after its leaders rejected some Hindu beliefs. When people gathered to protest, he sent war elephants to crush them. As a result of the harsh policies, violent revolts occurred in much of the empire in the late 1600s. The Mughal Empire soon fell apart.

A conflict of cultures led to the end of the Mughal Empire. For much of the empire’s history, however, Muslims and Hindus lived together peacefully. Persians and Indians lived and worked in the same communities. As a result, elements of their cultures blended together. The result was a culture unique to the Mughal Empire. For example, during Akbar’s rule, the Persian language and Persian clothing styles were popular. At the same time, however, Akbar encouraged people to write in Indian languages such as Hindi and Urdu. Also, many of the buildings constructed blended Persian, Islamic, and Hindu styles.

The Mughal Empire is known for its monumental architecture—particularly the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is a dazzling tomb built between 1631 and 1647 by Akbar’s grandson Shah Jahan for his wife. He brought workers and materials from all over India and Central Asia to build the Taj Mahal. The buildings of the palace include a main gateway and a mosque. Gardens with pathways and fountains add beauty to the palace grounds. Many of the monuments the Mughals built have become symbols of India today




Many cities in the Muslim world had observatories where people could study astronomy—the sun, moon, and stars.
Scientists studied astronomy to better understand time and clockmaking. Muslim scientists also improved the
astrolabe, which the Greeks had invented to chart the position of the stars. Arab scholars used the astrolabe to
figure out their location on earth. This helped Muslims know what direction to turn so they could face Mecca for their
prayers. The astrolabe would later become an important contribution to the exploration of the seas.


Studying astronomy also helped Muslims explore the world. As people learned to use the stars to calculate time and location, merchants and explorers began to travel widely. For example, Ibn Battutah traveled to Africa, India, China, and Spain in the 1320s. To help travelers on their way, Islam_-_Map.jpg
Muslim geographers made more accurate maps than were available before. They also developed better ways of
calculating distances.

During the mid-1100s, a Muslim geographer named al-Idrisi (uhl-i-DREE-see) collected information from Arab travelers.
He was writing a geography book and wanted it to be very accurate. When al-Idrisi had a question about where a
mountain, river, or coastline was, he sent trained geographers to figure out its exact location. Using the information the
geographers brought back, al-Idrisi made some important discoveries. For example, he proved that land did not go all the
way around the Indian Ocean as many people thought.


Muslim scholars also made advances in mathematics. In the 800s they combined the Indian number system, including the
use of zero, with the Greek science of mathematics. The Muslim mathematician al-Khwarizmi (al-KWAHR-iz-mee) then
used these new ideas to write a math textbook on what he called al-jabr, or “algebra.” It laid the foundation for the modern
algebra that students around the world learn today. When the book was brought to Europe in the 1500s, Europeans called
the new numbers “Arabic” numerals.


Muslims made many advances in other sciences, but their greatest scientific achievements may have come in medicine. They studied Greek and Indian medicine, adding to this knowledge with discoveries of their own. As early as the 800s, Muslim doctors in Baghdad began to improve medicine. As they studied, Muslim doctors

Islam_-_Medicine.jpg- created tests for doctors to pass before they could treat people
- made encyclopedias of drugs with descriptions of each drug's effects
- wrote descriptions of diseases
- started the first pharmacy school to teach people how to make medicines

The first Muslim public hospital was built in Baghdad. In that hospital, a doctor named Ar-Razi
discovered how to diagnose and treat the deadly disease smallpox. Another doctor, Ibn-Sina,
who was known in the West as Avicenna (av-uh-SEN-uh), wrote a medical encyclopedia. This
encyclopedia, which was translated into Latin and used throughout Europe until the 1600s, is
one of the most famous books in the history of medicine.



Many Muslim doctors and scientists also studied the ancient Greek philosophy of reason and rational thought. Other Muslims
developed a new philosophy. Worried about the growing interest in worldly things, they focused on spiritual issues. Many of
them lived a simple life of devotion to God. The focus on spiritual issues led to a movement called Sufism. People who practice
Sufism are called Sufis. teaches that people can find God’s love by having a personal relationship with God. They focus
on loving God and call him their Beloved. Sufism had a strong impact on Islam.


Two forms of literature were popular in the Muslim world—poetry and short stories. Poetry was in fluenced by Sufism. Some Sufis Islam_-_Literature.jpg
wrote poems about their loyalty to God. Through their poetry, the mystical ideas of Sufism spread among other Muslims. One of
the most famous Sufi poets was Omar Khayyam. In a book of poems known as The Rubáiyát, Khayyám wrote about faith, hope,
and other emotions. Some of his poems express deep sadness or despair.

One famous collection of short stories is The Thousand and One Nights. It includes stories about legendary heroes and characters
A European compiler later added short stories that were not part of the medieval Arabic collection. Among these were some of the
most famous, such as Sinbad the Sailor, Aladdin, and Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. Many of these tales came from India, Egypt,
and other lands that had become part of the Muslim world.


Architecture was one of the most important Muslim art forms. Most people would say that the greatest architectural achievements of the Muslim empires were mosques. Like the great medieval cathedrals in Europe, mosques honored God and inspired religious followers. The first mosques were simple. They were built to look like the courtyard of Muhammad’s house in Medina where he had led the community in prayer. As the Muslim world grew richer, rulers became great patrons, or sponsors, of architecture. They used their wealth to pay for elaborately decorated mosques.

The main part of a mosque is a huge hall where people gather to pray. Many mosques have a dome and a minaret, or narrow tower from which Muslims are called to prayer. Some mosques, such as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, have many domes and minarets. Great mosques were built in major cities such as Mecca, Cairo, Baghdad, and Córdoba. In addition to the mosques, Muslim architects built palaces, marketplaces, and libraries. These buildings have complicated domes and arches, colored bricks, and decorated tiles. Muslim architecture is known for these features.



Although Muslim buildings are often elaborately decorated with art, most of this art does not show any animals or humans. Muslims think only Allah can create humans and animals or their images. As a result, most Muslim artists didn’t include people or animals in their works.

Because they couldn’t represent people or animals in paintings, Muslim artists turned , or decorative writing, into an art form. They used calligraphy to make sayings from the Qur’an into great works of art that they could use to decorate mosques and other buildings. They also painted decorative writing on tiles, wove it into carpets, and hammered it into finely decorated steel sword blades.

Muslim art and literature show the in fluence of Islamic beliefs and practices. They also reflect the regional traditions of the places Muslims conquered. This mix of Islam with cultures from Asia, Africa, and Europe gave literature and the arts a unique style and character.