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The Golden time of scientific bloom during the Time of Imam Reza (A.S) (Part 1)

imam reza (a.s)

The time of Imam Reza, peace be on him, was called the Golden Time. It was the most brilliant and wonderful of all the times in Islamic history. That is because building prospered; agriculture developed; the Islamic state dominated most regions of the world as well as Baghdad became the capital of Islamic world; rather the capital of the world, for it was the greatest city to which scholars and diplomats from everywhere in the world came in order to obtain an office in the state or to present the needs of their countries in the fields of administration, economy, and science.

We must mention the affairs of that time, for there is a close relationship between them and the research on the life of Imam Reza, peace be on him.

The Scientific Life

The scientific life in the time of Imam Reza bloomed, and its activities in all kinds of science grew. That was the most developed kind of civilization progress which the ‘Abbasid state reached in all periods of its reign. We will briefly present some aspects of this scientific progress as follows:

The Institutes and Libraries

The ‘Abbasid government established institutes and libraries in Baghdad, that Islamic and non-Islamic sciences might be studied therein. The Government founded wherein thirty marvelous schools; the most famous of them was al-Nizamiya. (1)Moreover it established therein public libraries the most important of which is:

The Depository of Wisdom

Harun al-Rashid brought to it his personal library and added to it the books which were collected by his father al-Mahdi and his grandfather al-Mansur.Then al-Mamoon asked the Emir of Siqliya for some philosophical and scientific books. He added these books to the Depository of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikma) after he had received them as well as he brought to it may books form Khorassan. Wherever he heard of a book, he brought the book to it(2)

Sahl bin Harun bin Rahbun was a scribe in the Depository of Wisdom, and then he was appointed by al-Mamoon as a keeper of the philosophical books which were brought from the Island of Cyprus. When al-Mamoon made peace with the leader of the Island, he asked him to send him the books which were collected by the Greeks in a house and which none came to know except them. So the leader of the Island gathered his retinues and men of opinion and counseled with them about carrying the books to al-Mamoon, and they advised him not to carry them to him except one archbishop who said to him: ”I think that you should be quick in sending the books to him, for if these sciences enter a state, they will corrupt it and sow division among its scholars; therefore, send them to al-Mamoon.”‌ Al-Mamoon became delighted at them and appointed Sahl as a keeper over them.(3) It is worth mentioning that Ghaylan al-Farisi was the general keeper of the library and was scribe of al-Rashid and al-Mamoon.

This library continued supplying researchers and scholars with various kinds of science. When Hulagu, the Mongol shedder of blood, occupied Baghdad, he destroyed the library, and hence Islam world lost its most important heritage.

imam reza (a.s)

The Translation of Books

Among the aspects of the development of the cultural and scientific life in that time was translating books from foreign languages into Arabic including medical, mathematical, astronomical books as well as philosophical and political sciences. In his book al-Fihrast, Ibn al-Nadim has mentioned many names of these books.

 Hanin bin Ishaq was the head of the Translation Department. Ibn al-Nadim narrated: ”Al-Mamoon exchanged letters with the Romanian King. He turned to him for help, wrote to him, and asked permission to send him what he chose of the old books stored in Rome. He (the Romanian King) responded to him after a refusal. Accordingly, al-Mamoon delegated for that a group of persons including al-Hajjajj bin Matar, Ibn al-Batriq, Salam (the keeper of the House of Wisdom), and others. They chose books from what they found. When they brought them to al-Mamoon, he ordered them to carry the books to the Depository of Wisdom. (4)

Of course, the books translated into Arabic developed Arab and Islamic thought and, in addition, they contributed in improving sciences in Islamic world, for may students worked in studying and understanding them.

The Maps and Observatories

Among the aspects of the scientific progress of that time is that al-Mamoon ordered a world map to be drawn and it was called al-Mammon’s Map (al-Sura al-Ma’mooniya), and it was the first world map to be drawn during the ‘Abbasid time, as well as he ordered an observatory to be established, and it was established at al-Shammasiya, a district in Baghdad. (5)

The Dominating Sciences

As for the sciences which dominated that time, they were the sciences of the Qur’an, which are as follows:

1. The Interpretation of the Qur’an

This science means interpreting the verses of the Holy Qur’an, clarifying their meanings, distinguishing the abrogating verses from the abrogated, the unlimited verses from the limited, the general from the specific, and so on. The interpreters followed two ways in their interpretations:

A. Interpreting the Qur’an according to transmitted traditions, by this we mean interpreting the Holy Qur’an according to the traditions transmitted from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and his family, and the good Imams; this method was followed by most Shi‘ite interpreters such as the Interpretation of al-Qummi, al-Burhan, al-‘Askari, and others. The argument of Shi‘ites concerning this method of interpreting is that it is the Imams who were singled out for the knowledge of the Qur’an, and that it is they who were knowledgeable in interpreting it.

Imam Abu Jafar al-Baqir, peace be on him, said: ”None can claim that he has knowledge of the surface and deep meaning of the Qur’an except the testamentary trustees (i.e. the Imams). (6)

Shaykh al-Tusi, Shaykh of the Shi‘ite Sect, said: ”It is not permissible to interpret the Qur’an except with the authentic traditions transmitted from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and his family, and the Imams whose statement is an argument like that of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and his family. (7)

B. Interpreting the Qur’an according to opinion, by this we mean interpreting the Qur’an according to the approved, rational considerations. This method was followed by the interpreters from among the Mu‘tazilities and the Batiniya who did not take care of the traditions reported from the Imams of guidance, peace be on him, concerning the interpretation of the Holy Qur’an, who interpreted the Qur’an according to their approved, rational considerations only. (8)  As for interpreting the Qur’an according to the surface meanings, it is not regarded as a method of interpretation, but it is not objected.

imam reza (a.s)
It is worth mentioning that the first school to be established in Islam for interpreting the Qur’an according to the transmitted traditions was at the time of Imam ‘Ali, the Commander of the faithful, peace be on him, for he was the first interpreter of the Qur’an, and under him studied ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Abbas, the scholar of the community, and other prominent companions (of the Prophet). Then, after him, the pure Imams began, through their lectures, interpreting the Qur’an, the causes of the revelation of the Qur’an, and the excellence of reciting its verses.

2. The Hadith (Tradition)

Among the sciences which dominated that time is the science of the hadith, by this we mean the traditions transmitted from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and his family, or from one of his testamentary trustees, the pure Imams, namely their words, their actions, their justifications, for they are part of the Sunnah, and in the Sunnah - just as in the Holy Qur’an - there is the general, the specific, the unlimited, the limited, and the like.

The Shi‘ites were the first to write down the traditions, for the Imams of guidance urged their companions to do that. In this connection, Abu Basir narrated, saying: ”I went in to Imam Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Sadiq, peace be on him, and he said: ‘What has prevented you from writing down (our traditions)? You will not memorize (our traditions) unless you write (them). A group of the Basrans asked me about something, wrote them down, and departed. (9)  A group of the companions of Imam Reza, peace be on him, collected the authentic traditions in big, comprehensive books which are the first comprehensive books of the Imami Shi‘ites and regarded as the foundation of writing down the four comprehensive books by the three Muslim Shaykhs. (10)


(1)Rihlat Ibn Jubayr, p. 208.

(2) Hayat al-Imam Mohammed al-Jawad, p. 197.

(3)Tamhïd Li Tarïkh al-Falsafa, p. 47.

(4) Ibn al-Nadïm, al-Fihrast, p. 339.

(5) ‘Asr al-Ma’mun, vol. 1, p. 375.

(6) Al-Tibyan, vol. 1, p. 4.

(7) Hayat al-Imam al-Baqir, vol. 1, p. 181.

(8) Ibid.

(9) Hayat al-Imam al-Mohammed al-Jawad, p. 194.

(10) Muqaddamat al-Muqni‘ wa al-Hidaya, p. 10.

Other links:

Imam Reza (PBUH) Debates with a Catholic Priest and a Rabbi

The Zamin (The Guarantor) of Deer

Divine Leadership-Imam Reza (A.S)

EId Prayer by Imam Reza (A.S)

Imam Rezas donation

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