In fact, for a period stretching over seven hundred years, the international language of science was Arabic. For this was the language of the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, and thus the official language of the vast Islamic Empire that, by the early eighth century CE, stretched from India to Spain.
By the time of the arrival of Islam in the early seventeenth century CE, what we now call the Middle East was divided between the Persian and Byzantine empires. But with the spread of this new religion from Arabia, a powerful empire emerged, and with it a flourishing civilization and a glorious golden age. Given how far back it stretches in time, the history of the region -- and even of Iraq itself -- is too big a canvas for me to paint. Instead, what I hope to do in this book is take on the nonetheless ambitious task of sharing with you a remarkable story; one of an age in which great geniuses pushed the frontiers of knowledge to such an extent that their work shaped civilizations to this day.
Many historians regard him [Offa] as the most powerful Anglo-Saxon king before Alfred the Great. In the 780s he extended his power over most of Southern England. One of the most remarkable extantfrom King Offa's reign is a gold coin that is kept in the British Museum. On one side, it carries the inscription Offa Rex (Offa the King). But, turn it over and you are in for a surprise, for in badly copied Arabic are the words La Illaha Illa Allah ('There is no god but Allah alone'). This coin is a copy of an Abbasid dinarfrom the reign of Al-Mansur, dating to 773, and was most probably used by Anglo-Saxon traders. It would have been known even in Anglo-Saxon England that Islamic gold dinars were the most important coinage in the world at that time and Offa's coin looked enough like the original that it would have been readily accepted abroad.