New pan-Arab satellite named after Al Mamun’s reign


Recently, a first pan-Arab space group was formed in Abu Dhabi.

 Its first project, a satellite that will monitor climate change, was announced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. The Vice President and Ruler of Dubai said it would be named 813, a reference to the year that marked the beginning of prosperity for the House of Wisdom in Baghdad during Al Mamun’s reign.

 He said the year was a symbol of Arab and Islamic excellence in science and astronomy – but what exactly happened that year?

 Abu Al Abbas Al MamunibnHarun Al Rashid was simply known as Al Mamun. He was the seventh caliph of the Abbasid Empire, succeeding to the title aged 27.

 It was the year 813 and Baghdad was the at the heart of the Abbasid empire, a dynasty descended from Prophet Mohammed’s uncle, not just politically and militarily but also intellectually.

 The caliph ruled over a vast area of territory than extended from Persia to present-day Tunisia. It included the Arabian Peninsula, all of the Levant, along with Egypt, and the island of Crete.

 This was the dawn of the golden age of Islam, an explosion of science, culture and learning that would last 600 centuries and draw knowledge from all over the world.

 There were no challengers. Europe, in those years, was struggling out of the dark ages, its most powerful ruler, the Frankish king Charles, also known as Charlemagne, on his deathbed.

 Baghdad was at the heart of the empire and there, Al Mamun’s father, Harun, the fifth caliph, had created a large private library that became known as Khizanat Al Hikma, or the Library of Wisdom.

 Harun died in 809. His son, Al Amin, whose reign as caliph lasted less than four years, succeeded him. His early death was the result of war fought with his half-brother Al Mamun. The two siblings had never liked each other, resulting in a civil war and Al Amin’s execution on the battlefield.

 Conflict gave way to peace. Almost his first act as caliph was an order from Al Mamun to expand the Library of Wisdom that was close to overflowing.

 The new institution drew scholars from across the Islamic world, meeting under one roof to debate and discuss. Many produced their own notable works. Among them was the brilliant Persian mathematician, Muhammad Al Khwarizmi, whose great work Kitab Al Jaber gives us the word algebra.

 Al Khwarizmi was also responsible for importing the Hindu system of numbers, first to the Arab world and then into Europe.

 Al Mamun also reached out to the Christian world to expand the House of Wisdom. He acquired the entire book collection of the king of Sicily and asked permission from the Byzantine emperor to translate notable scientific works in his library.

 Another collection of hand-written manuscripts was said to require 100 camels to transport it to Baghdad.

 Now its memory will live again, as the 813 satellite project, whose members include many modern countries that once formed the Abbasid empire, monitors those lands and provides valuable scientific information on the environment and climate. In spirit, as well as name, it reflects the House of Wisdom.