The 'golden age' of Arabic science
What went in between is often dismissed as the Dark Ages - a period in which Europe, and scientific progress, slumbered.
But this, admittedly western, model overlooks the importance of a huge blossoming of science and scholarship in the Islamic world of the middle ages. A period in which the Ummayyad and Abbasid Caliphs created one of the greatest centres of learning the world had ever known - the Bayt al-Hikma, or House of Wisdom.
"Just because Europe was stuck in the Dark Ages," argues Jim Al-Khalili the professor of physics at the University of Surrey and author of Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science, "we shouldn't assume that the rest of the world had stagnated. There was this great flourishing of scholarship and discovery in the Islamic world of the middle ages".
Great advances were made across a range of fields between the 9th and 13th centuries, from mathematics and astronomy to medicine and chemistry. The proof lies in the words we still use today: words like algebra, alchemy and alkaline; and in the names of stars like Dubhe, Megrez, Alioth, Mizar and Alkaid - five of the seven stars that make up one of the most familiar constellations in the night sky, the plough, or Ursa Major.
Among the many great thinkers of the period al-Hassan Ibn al-Haytham stands out as the father of the modern scientific method. Long before Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes al-Haytham was scrupulously gathering data and testing his ideas through meticulous observation and experiment.
According to Jim Al-Khalili, al-Haytham's work on the defraction of light puts him on a par with Galileo and Newton.
"We learn at school that Isaac Newton was the father of optics, using prisms to split light into its constituent colours. But al-Haytham also wrote extensively on light and optics and the Latin translations of his work were hugely influential in the European Renaissance."
Not all Al'Khalili's heroes were Arabs: Persians, Christians and Jews all played their part in this golden age.
Ultimately civilisations ebb and flow and the 'baton of enlightenment', as Al-Khalili describes it, ultimately passed to Europe. So much so that today, he says, science is widely regarded with suspicion in the Islamic world: a western, secular, even atheist construct.
But all that may be about to change: In Saudi Arabia a £20 billion pound endowment aims to turn the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology into a powerhouse to rival anything the West has to offer. Qatar is committed to invest 2.8 percent of its GDP on research, and Abu Dhabi is planning to raise the world's first fully sustainable city and innovation hub from the desert sands.
It's a modern, Arabic renaissance, that Jim Al-Khalili hopes will benefit us all.
"Look where the Muslim world was a thousand years ago. It was the centre of the civilised world. There's a long way to go, but the signs are that things are moving impressively rapidly in the right direction".