BAYT al-HIKMA, 'House of Wisdom', a scientific institution founded in Baghdad by the
caliph al-Ma'mun, undoubtedly in imitation of the ancient academy of Dhundaysabur. Its
principal activity was the translation of philosophical and scientific works from the Greek
originals which, according to tradition, a delegation sent by the caliph had brought from the
country of Rum. Its directors were Sahl b. Harun [q.v.] and Salm, assisted by Sa'id b. Harun. It
included an important staff of translators, of whom the most famous were the Banu
'l-Munadhdhim, as well as copyists and binders. It appears in fact that the library so constituted,
and often called khizanat al-hikma, had already existed in the time of al-Rashid and the Barmakids
who had begun to have Greek works translated. Al-Ma'mun may only have given a new impetus
to this movement, which was to exert a considerable infuence of the development of Islamic
thought and culture (see 'arabiyya, B. III, 1).
To the same institution were attached astronomical observatories (marsad), one installed at
Baghdad, the other at Damascus, where Muslim scholars devised in particular new tables (zidh
[q.v.]), correcting the ancient ones furnished by Ptolemy.
The Bayt al-hikma properly so called, does not appear to have survived the orthodox reaction of
al-Mutawakkil, although there is subsequent mention in 'Iraq, during the 3rd/9th century, of
several scientific libraries, owing their existence to private initiative and the fact that the caliph
al-Mu'tadid had sought to favour the work of various scholars whom he had installed in his
place. Only the Fatimids were later to found similar official academies, of which the most
important was the dar al-hikma [q.v.] established by al-Hakim in 395/1005.
Fihrist, 5, 10, t1, 1t0, 143, t43, t74
Yaqut, Irshad, iv, t58-t59, v, 66-68
qifti, ed. Lippert, t9-30, 97-98
A. F. Rifa'i, 'Asr al-Ma'mun, Cairo 19t8, i, 375-76
O. Pinto, Le biblioteche degli Arabi nell'eta degli Abbassidi, Florence 19t8, 1t-14
K. 'Awwad, khaza'in kutub al-'iraq al-'amma, in Sumer, ii, t, 1946, t14-t18.
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Source: from the Encyclopedia of Islam --© 1999 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands