What The Ancients Did For Us - The Islamic World

Updated Tuesday 11th January 2005

Find out more about The Moslem World programme, part of the BBC/OU's 'What the Ancients Did for Us' TV series

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The rise of Islam is one of the most important events in world history. In the 7th century, Mohammed's intention was to unite the divided Arabs through a new religion. A century after his death, he'd succeeded in producing a medieval superpower. The Arabs and Moors had spread through Spain towards the Pyrenees. Cordoba became renowned as one of the greatest and wealthiest cities in Europe. Moorish cities such as Toledo and Seville were famed for their new culture and universities.

The first What The Ancients Did For Us programme explores the Muslim contribution to the western world - in art, architecture, astronomy, medicine, science, and learning.

The early Muslims are credited with inventing distillation and could distil just about anything - from alcohol to perfume. Hygiene is very important in the Muslim world so they invented and manufactured soap - centuries before the West - and hundreds of bathhouses were built throughout Muslim cities. They understood the fundamentals of light and how we see, and gave us the camera obscura. They invented algebra and worked out the angle of the tilt of the earth. They built the first windmill, pioneered the concept of the crank rod, and designed the first ever torpedo. Muslim creativity also led to the invention of a unique instrument called the astrolabe – it could find the direction of Mecca, tell the time and, with the help of the stars, navigate you across deserts and oceans. But perhaps most important of all they pursued the cause of knowledge, translating and preserving the works of the ancients and building the world's largest libraries – their 'houses of wisdom'.

First broadcast: Wednesday 16 Feb 2005 on BBC TWO

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