7.3 Interactions in Baghdad and the Abbasid Caliphate
As the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, Baghdad was a site of encounter that attracted people, products, and ideas from all over Afroeurasia. People from many ethnic groups and religions coexisted in the caliphate. The caliphs not only supported merchants and trade but also the collection, translation, and production of knowledge in science, mathematics, and medicine. The vibrant exchange of people, products, and ideas created new products and ideas.
- HSS 7.2.4 Discuss the expansion of Muslim rule through military conquests and treaties, emphasizing the cultural blending within Muslim civilization and the spread and acceptance of Islam and the Arabic language.
- HSS 7.2.5 Describe the growth of cities and the establishment of trade routes among Asia, Africa, and Europe, the products and inventions that traveled along these routes (e.g., spices, textiles, paper, steel, new crops), and the role of merchants in Arab society.
- HSS 7.2.6 Understand the intellectual exchanges among Muslim scholars of Eurasia and Africa and the contributions Muslim scholars made to later civilizations in the areas of science, geography, mathematics, philosophy, medicine, art, and literature.
What were the multiple ways people of different cultures interacted at the sites of encounter, such as Baghdad?
The teacher introduces the new capital of Baghdad as the next site of encounter, with the question: What were the multiple ways people of different cultures interacted at sites of encounter, such as Baghdad? The teacher asks students to think about what they have just studied about the spread of the Muslim Empire as one way people of different cultures interact. That is, Arabs, who were nomadic tribesmen from Arabia, converted to a new religion, and inspired by that religion, fought wars against other cultures. One type of cultural interaction is war. After the conquest, people of other cultures had to live under Umayyad Muslim rule and pay special taxes if they belonged to another religion.
This type of cultural interaction is called coexistence in communities. Another type is adoption and adaptation. Some of these conquered people adopted the new religion for various reasons, such as religious conversion, access to political power, and socio-economic advantages. As they converted, they changed their names, their social identity, and associated with Muslims in their area, rather than with their home group of Jews, Christians, or others. Over time, they adopted more of Arab culture as well. However, as they adopted the Muslim religion and Arab culture, they also adapted religious and cultural practices to accommodate local customs. For example, the custom of secluding elite women inside a special part of the house and only allowing them to go out when their hair and most of their bodies were covered predates the religion of Islam. It was actually a Persian and Mediterranean (and ancient Athenian) custom. Before Islam, Arabian women were not confined to the household. The Persians and Mediterranean people who converted to Islam adapted social practices to include their custom. This is just one example of the cultural adaptation process.
Under the Abbasids, Baghdad grew from an insignificant village to one of the leading cities of the world. The city’s culture was a mix of Arab, Persian, Indian, Turkish, and other South Asian and Central Asian cultures. The Abbasids encouraged the growth of learning and borrowing from Greek, Hellenistic, and Indian science and medicine. They built schools and libraries, translated and preserved Greek philosophic, scientific, and medical texts, and supported scientists who expanded that knowledge.
In Baghdad and other Muslim-ruled cities, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scholars collaborated to study ancient Greek, Persian, and Indian writings, forging and widely disseminating a more advanced synthesis of philosophical, scientific, mathematical, geographic, artistic, medical, and literary knowledge. To investigate the question What did the interaction of Arab, Persian, Greek, Hellenistic, and Indian ideas and technologies at Baghdad (and the Abbasid Caliphate) produce? , students analyze visuals of libraries, schools, and scientific drawings from Muslim manuscripts, the circulation of “Arabic” numerals, and words of Arabic origin (such as algebra, candy, mattress, rice). The teacher sets up a gallery walk and provides student groups with a source analysis template. The template asks students to record source information, describe the contents of the visual, and cite evidence from the visual that answers the lesson question. Students share some of their observations and answers to the whole class, as the teacher lists the products on the board. Then the teacher guides students through developing a one-sentence interpretation that answers the question. The students then return to their groups to discuss the evidence they have gathered. The teacher stresses that they should choose the best two pieces of evidence from their gallery walk. The group chooses two pieces of evidence and each group member completes an evidence analysis chart (with columns for evidence, meaning, significance, and source). The teacher displays several group charts on the document projector, clears up any misconceptions, and showcases examples of good evidence choices, analyses, and citations.
- Explain to students the historical context of this text. Tell them that the Quran is the most sacred religious text of the religion of Islam. Muslims believe that God spoke the exact words of the Quran into the mind of his prophet, Mohammed, a man who lived in Mecca, Arabia, in the early seventh century. The words came out of Mohammed’s mouth while he was in a trance, and people wrote them down. Therefore, the “we” in the Quran means God. The Quran is divided into chapters, called surahs, and the surahs are divided into verses. The round symbols with the brown loops and the green dot in the center mark the end of each verse. The Arabic page begins in the middle of one verse and ends in the middle of another verse. For that reason, the rest of those two verses is provided in brackets in the translation.
- Divide students into pairs and distribute Student Handout 7.3. Read aloud the summary of the Noah’s Ark story. Ask students where they have seen or heard this story before. Remind them that the story appears also in the Hebrew Torah and the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. Muslims believe in the same God as Jews and Christians and respect Jewish and Christian figures such as Noah, Moses, Abraham, and Elijah as prophets sent by God. Those prophets often appear in the Quran.
- In the first verse of the primary source text, have students circle the three pronouns — them, our, and he — and find the noun that each pronoun refers to. Have them draw lines connecting the pronouns and their noun antecedents. Do this first sentence with them as a model. Then have each pair circle the pronouns through the rest of the primary source text and draw lines connecting them to the corresponding noun antecedents.
- Have each pair complete the first four columns of the sentence deconstruction chart under the primary source text. Then have them use that information to discuss the questions in the final fifth column.
- As a whole class, go over each completed chart to make sure students understand how the parts of the text function and give meaning.
- Have the pairs decide which sentences in the summary of the Noah’s Ark story match each of the verses from the Quran excerpt. They should write the number of the verse in the margin next to the matching sentence in the summary.
- Have the pairs discuss the questions below the sentence deconstruction chart. Guide them to think through how common stories, religious figures, and beliefs among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam would affect the ways that Muslims, Jews, and Christians interacted at Baghdad. Direct them to the historical context about this copy of the Quran, which was actually made in Isfahan, Persia, two centuries after the first Qurans were copied and read. What does this source tell us about how the religion of Islam spread?
- The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool supports an inquiry model of instruction by asking students to first observe, then reflect, then question. Their customizable tool includes specific prompts for student interrogation of books and other printed materials, maps, oral recordings, photographs and paintings, and many other types of primary sources.
- The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA has developed a vast collection of document analysis worksheets, ready for classroom use. Their website offers teachers a wide collection of customizable tools – appropriate for working with photographs, maps, written documents, and more. NARA has also customized their tools to meet the needs of young learners, and intermediate or secondary students.