Discussion always runs around the interest of Arabs in other languages and learning them as well as translating the knowledges of other cultures as some researchers mostly see that translation started in Umayyad era and prospered in Abbasid era.
But those who study The Noble Prophet’s Biography find that the first steps of translation started in the beginning of Islam at the time of Prophet Mohamed peace be upon him and this is documented in Sahih Bukhari as the Poet of the Prophet, peace be upon him, Zeid BenThabet learned Hebrew and helped the Prophet in speaking to the Jews and translating their words because he was afraid that they might twist the religion of Islam, his translations were also in Persian, Coptic and Ethiopian languages.
Here it appears that translation in its primitive concept existed at this time and it was important to communicate and collaborate even if it took the “diplomatic” turn in communicating Islam to the leaders of the empires and kingdoms at this time.
And the oldest document in Islam returns to the year 22 AH and it contains the name of Amr BenAlas and a three lines in Greek and below them a translation for them in Arabic, thus translation appeared at the beginning of Islam and prospered in later eras.
After the death of Prophet Mohamed Peace be upon him the need of Arabs for sciences and knowledges appeared as Islam created a new society with a unique mentality and special way of thinking and this transformed the Arab world from the naive Bedouin life to a new and wide civil level and this move required them to acquire new horizons and developed cultural resources.
As Arabs before Islam were suffering from shortage in different areas of science, medicine and other areas of philosophy and mathematics and then after the time of conquests which started in expansion in Umayyad era, the need of Arabs triggered by the clarity of Islam and Muslims to achieve vast steps towards different knowledges and they found their guidance and the key for that in translating various sciences into Arabic especially the sciences of Greece.
Also for the conquests Arabic language spread in all Islamic countries as the language of the official political system of the country. In addition to that the need of Arabs to learn the languages of other people that the Islamic Conquest reached emerged in order to teach them the basics of Islam and Holy Koran as well as different ideological sides and Fiqh.
Added to that the role of the traders that reached India and China and other districts as there was a need to (a translator) to enhance communication between different people and also the spread of Arabic language in Persia (Iran) for official managerial reasons after the Islamic Conquest.
All that we mentioned is classified under the class of the need for translation whether to spread the Islamic religion or for managerial reasons related to the political system of the country or a necessity of communication between other people that recently joined th Islamic World.
But with the beginning of the Umayyad era translation started to take a scientific methodological taste and the excellence of Arabs appeared in the field of translation.
As Arab and foreign historians agreed that Prince Khaled Ben Yazed is the first that ordered to translate Greek and Syriac content into Arabic specifically in the fields of medicine, astronomy and chemistry. Also the Umayyad Caliph Omar BenAbdelaziz is considered the first Umayyad Caliph that showed interest in translation as he assigned many medical translations from Syriac into Arabic to the Jewish doctor Masorgia.
While in Abbasid era, Translation gained the greatest interest especially for Almaamon Caliph who established a famous scientific school that got known as Wisdom House and it was located in Baghdad, it cared mostly about distinctive scientific researches as well as translation and writing in different fields and areas.
The factor of “specialization in translation” can be considered one of the effective factors in the development of translation field at this stage as the translator was required to have command over source and target languages as mentioned by Al-Jahiz in his book “ The animal” in part one.
Out of the most famous translators in Abbasid era we mention Theophilos BenThomus Alrahawi, George Ben Gebrael, John Ben Masoa, Hajaj Ben Josiph Alkofi, Thabet Ben Kora and Haneen Ben Isaac that is considered the best and the oldest among them.
Translation reached a great position and it wasn’t limited to the works of Arab Scientists only like Alrazy, Ben Kasem and Ben Sinai and others into Latin, but also the works of the Greek scientists were translated into Arabic like books of Galen, Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid and others as the numbers of books that got translated into Greek during the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries exceeded 300 books. And we find Clare in his book “History of medicine” says that the middle ages didn’t know the books of old Greek world except through Arabic language and thanks to these translations Europe was able to know the content of the Greek books that got lost like book of Apollonian in Cones and lessons of Galen in communicable diseases as well as Aristotle’s message in Stones and others.
And it’s important to assure the big role of Arabs in translation which can’t be mentioned completely in these short lines. I might have been short in mentioning the role of Arabs but the best expression for the priority of Arabs in translations is what the orientalist Missua Libry said: “If we erase Arabs from history, the renaissance of Europe would have been delayed for centuries”.
Moftah Moanes, Translation of Arabs: From the era of Almaamon Caliph to Toledo school, a research essay, Alkods Alarby, issue 7945, England 2013.
Ashor, Said, Translation movement and its role in Islamc Civilization, a research essay, Islam Story Website 2014.
Arab Scientific Society, Scientific translation in the golden age of Islamic civilization and its effect in developing Arabic language, a research paper 2016.
Mazhar, Galal, the favors of Arabs over European civilization, Arab Journalism Agency, page 36.
Journalist: Mohamed Allakod