Science Institutionalization in Early Islam:
“Bayt al-Hikma of Baghdad as a Model of an Academy of Sciences”
Moneef Rafe’ Zou’bi and Mohd Hazim Shah
Science institutions have evolved historically, eventually emerging in many forms. Nowadays, they include schools and universities, research centres, learned societies and academies of sciences.
However, even with the existence today of over 120 formally recognised academies of sciences around the world (IAP, 2015), the understanding of the term ‘academy of sciences’ is, at present, lacking. Many people are ignorant of the fact that an academy of sciences’ primary role is to act as the science advisory or sovereign (supreme authority) which actively promotes science in the catchment area where it operates, and a forum where scientific issues are debated, studied and communicated.
This study aims to introduce academy-type institutions of the pre-Islamic era. To illustrate the ascendance of the Islamic tradition of science institutionalisation, founding and patronage of academies, the example of Baghdad’s Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) which flourished in the ninth century AD is examined closely in the light of primary Arabic sources on the subject as well as recent contemporary international literature. The study will then go beyond the existing narrative on Bayt al-Hikma to argue that it was an ‘academy of sciences’ that preceded by centuries the Academia dei Lincei of Rome, considered by many scholars as the world’s first academy of sciences established in 1603.
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