Islam, Philosophy and Science in Baghdad


19 Apr 2010

History of Science

George Saliba

Jonathan Bloom

This clip presents Baghdad and the House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikma).  Founded under Caliph Harun al-Rashid (786-809), it was active from the 9th through 13th centuries, when it was destroyed by the Mongols in their sack of Baghdad in 1258.

This video is a clip from the documentary Islam, Empire of Faith (2000), originally shown on PBS.  This segment is from Part 2, The Awakening.  This selection focuses on Baghdad (in modern-day Iraq) and the House of Wisdom.

Speakers:  George Saliba (Columbia University), Jonathan Bloom (Boston University), Ahmet Karamustafa (Washington University of St. Louis)

The approximately 2.5-hour documentary may be found in its entirety here.

Topics discussed:  Muslim scholarship, medicine, hospitals, anatomy, education, interfaith studies, Arabic language, Greek scholarship, libraries, mathematics, translation, intellectual history, scientific process, optics.


This clip from the documentary provides a historical overview for the development of science in the Islamic empire. The presentations of Islam (and shared learning among Christians, Jews and Muslims) and sciences are accurate representations of what scholars know today.

The portrayal of Indian/Hindu numerals in the House of Wisdom is not considered accurate by a majority of historians.

About George Saliba

George Saliba received a Bachelors of Science in mathematics in 1963 and a Masters of Arts in 1965 from the American University of Beirut. He went on to pursue a Masters of Science degree and a doctorate in Islamic Sciences from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1978, Saliba started his teaching career at Columbia University in New York as a professor of Arabic and Islamic Sciences. He has received many awards, most notably the History of Science Prize in 1993 and the History of Astronomy Prize in 1996. Saliba was a Distinguished Senior Scholar at the Kluge Center of the Library of Congress (2005-2006) and at the Carnegie Scholars Program (2009-2010).

Saliba’s studies are described on his website as “the development of scientific ideas from late antiquity till early modern times, with a special focus on the various planetary theories that were developed within the Islamic civilization and the impact of such theories on early European astronomy.” His website provides a link to his most recent research in addition to a listing of his publications. A portion of his public lectures may also be found online at the 1001 Inventions website.

George Saliba does not appear to operate any social media pages as of 2015.  He served as an advisor for the Science and Islam Video Portal project.

Selected Bibliography:

George Saliba.” MESAAS. Columbia, n.d. Accessed 21 May 2015.

George Saliba.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Accessed 21 May 2015.

Professor George Saliba Lectures | 1001 Inventions.” Professor George Saliba Lectures | 1001 Inventions. 1001 Inventions, n.d. Accessed 21 May 2015.

Saliba, George. “Saliba’s Page.” Saliba’s Page. Columbia, n.d. Accessed 21 May 2015.

About Jonathan Bloom

Boston College