How would you describe the Middle East? Your responses might mention oil, sand, and desert. However, the land spreading from northwest Africa to the Persian Gulf states, the Levant, and Central Asia, is as varied and spectacular as what we find across the United States. Forests, mountains, rich coastal areas, marshes, fertile agricultural sectors, rain forests, wetlands, and yes, deserts, can be found across the region. What you would also be surprised to learn is that much of modern day medicine, technology, writing, and mathematics stem from Islam and the Middle East.

When it comes to the foundation of modern science, most think of the work of Westerners, like the English Sir Isaac Newton. However, the Middle East has a tremendously rich history of science, math, and medicine. While Europe was in the Dark Ages, the Islamic world was experiencing a golden age of innovation. Some of the most important scientific words have Arabic roots: algebra, algorithms, and alkalis. European scientists built off of their work, like the preeminent Italian mathematician Fibonacci. It is little wonder, considering that Baghdad was at the center of the known world that stretched from Asia to Europe. From simple things, like how we conceptualize numbers, to complex concepts such as astronomy and ocular surgery, Islamic civilization has left an indelible mark on science.

It was no accident that science and math flourished under Arab rulers, particularly the Abbasid Caliphate. There was a tremendous amount of patronage from the Islamic rulers, who recognized that academic advancement was a mark of a great civilization. Yes, science could help win wars and math could account for financial systems, but knowledge was an end in itself. It was even viewed as an Islamic duty, for the Prophet Muhammad treasured the search for knowledge, saying that it must be sought even if you had to travel as far as China. One of the most significant government programs was the Translation Movement. Great works from around the world, be they in Greek or Syriac, were to be translated into Arabic. It is only because of the Translation Movement that today we have some of the works of Plato and Socrates. Arab scholars even deciphered ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs before British and French scholars claimed to have done so with the Rosetta Stone in the 19th century. The intellectual center of this movement was bayt al-Hikma, the House of Wisdom, in Baghdad. Learn more about the historical contributions stemming from the Muslim world in the BBC documentary below.

And, in this section, discover more about about the science and inventions, geography and environment, and flora and fauna of this diverse and complex region of the world.