History of Translation in the Arab World

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Arabs did not stay away from their neighbors, but they communicated with Persians, Romans, and others. There was mutual influence between these nations. Commercial activities of Arabs have contributed to the expansion of their contacts with their neighbors, and no doubt this impact would not have reached this level without translation.

There are some foreign languages used by Arabs. In addition, languages spoken by Persians and Romans included Arabic words, structures and terms found in scientific and literary texts translated from Arabic, and this contributed to the development of their civilization. Arabs have been interested in translation since the dawn of Islam; then during the Umayyad Caliphate,  Khalid bin Yazid was interested in translating and Arabizing registers and records in an attempt to Arabize the whole regime. This interest grew in the Abbasid period because of conquests that spread east and west.

Below are stages of development of translation in the Arab World:

First: Translation in the Early Period of Islam

During such period, Arab Muslims increasingly got in touch with other nations. Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) began to send letters to kings of non-Arab peoples, including Caesar of Rome, Khosrow, king of Persia, Negashi of Abyssinia and Al-Muqawqis of Alexandria. In addition, Rightly Guided Caliphs sent letters to rulers of many peoples and places for various purposes, including advocacy purposes.

Second: Translation in the Umayyad Period

During the Umayyad Caliphate, registers and records were translated as Khalid bin Yazid was interested in translation. Al-Jahiz described him as the first one to give gifts to translators, philosophers and to appreciate those who achieved excellence in every aspect of life.

Third: Translation in the Abbasid Age

During such period, translation movement was not limited to translating into Arabic, but it included explaining and commenting on translated texts. We can say that translation during such period from Arabic into European languages by Arabists and Orientalists, who conveyed Arab sciences to their languages, exceeded translation from foreign languages into Arabic.

Therefore, translation spread across ages and developed. Translation movement during the Abbasid period was the first organized movement in history which included many sources. Arabs translated from Greek, Persian, Indian, Syriac and Coptic. It was also characterized by diversity  as it covered philosophy, logic, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, physics and literature.

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