In the present era when Muslims are no more in the picture of science and technology, some people are of the notion that Muslims have always been backward as far as inventions and discoveries are concerned. They have coined term “Madrasa Men” for Muslims which in their terminology means “Ignorant and backward”.
Recently one of my friend using micro blogging site, Twitter asked: Who prepares medicine “Mullah or Scientist”? They have demarcated Muslims and science to such an extent that these terms seem to be antonyms.This comes as a challenge to the Muslim science student who doesn’t have access to his golden past. When we revisit our history, we find story contradictory to present scenario. One can hardly believe that we have been pioneers in the scientific field and have great contribution in the scientific world. Muslims have contributed in wide range subject areas especially astronomy, mathematics, medicine, chemistry, zoology, geography and cartography, optics and photography etc. Let me shed light on the role played by Muslims in these fields of science briefly.
According to Howard Turner, Muslims began the organized and detailed observations of the skies soon after the early expansion of Islam. This effort was naturally accelerated by the importance of moon and Sun in everyday life of Muslim. Because with the help of Moon, Muslims determine beginning and end of the month in their lunar calendar and with the help of Sun they calculate the times for prayers and fasting. Consequently, numbers of observatories were established at centres such as Rayy, Isfahan, and Shiraz in Persia, Egypt and the like. In the early part of the ninth century, Habash al-Hasib directed the composition of astronomical tables. In the second half of ninth century Al-Nairizi composed a great treatise on the spherical astrolabe. Muslim astronomer namely al-Battani made some of the most important contributions which led to the discovery of solar apsis.He also discovered a new method for determining the time of the vision of the new moon and made a detailed study of the solar and lunar eclipses, used as late as the eighteenth century by English astronomer Richard Dunthorn in his determination of the gradual change in lunar motion. Al-Biruni contributed by determining latitudes and longitudes, his contemporary Ibn Yunus was later applauded for his work by George Sarton, noted scientist. American Astronomer E.S Kennedy named planetary model as “Tusi-Couple” after Nisar–al-din al-Tusi’s contribution in explaining apparent motion of planets. Ibn al-Shatir completed the lunar model in his work entitled “A Text of the Final Inquiry in Amending the Elements”. It has been found that the lunar theory proposed two centuries later by Copernicus is almost the similar as that introduced by Ibn al-Shatir. There is a great probability that ibn al-Shatir’s views would have served as the base of the theory of Copernicus. Al-Zarqali, Al-Shirazi, Abu Sahl al-Kuhi, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi, Abu Said al-Sijzi, Abul Wafa al-Buzjani, and al-Kirmani are some among other shining Muslim astronomers who have shown special interests in Astronomy.
One can hardly underestimate the role of Islamic mathematicians such as Al-Khwarizmi who developed methods in algebra, geometry and trigonometry. Muhammad Ibn Musa-Al Khwarizmi in his book “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing” presented a first systematic solution to linear and quadratic equations in Arabic and explained how to use Algebraic equations with unknown variables and also established the basis of trigonometry. Algebra is considered one of the important contributions of Muslims to Modern Age. Ibn-Sina, died as polymath having a hold on medicine, mathematics, Chemistry in addition to philosophy. Ibn-Sina authored a five-volume medical encyclopedia: The Canon of Medicine (Book of healing). It was used as the standard medical textbook in the Islamic world and Europe up to the 18th century.The Canon still plays an important role in Unani Medicine. Ibn-Sina was at the forefront of Muslim discoveries in medicine. His discovery that tuberculosis was contagious and could be transmitted through the air earned him a position as one of the greatest physicians of all time. Even to this day, the quarantine methods he introduced have helped to limit the spread of infectious diseases. Al-Nafis and Abdul Lateef Al Baghdadi proved many opinions of Galen- who was regarded as a medical researcher in Roman Empire, about human physiology wrong and cleared several misconceptions.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the focus of alchemical development moved to the Caliphate and the Islamic Civilization. Much more is known about Islamic alchemy as it was better documented. According to Ibn-al-Nadim, bibliographer, the first Muslim alchemist was Khalid Ibn Yazid. Besides him, Jabir Bin Hayaan, Abu Bakr Al-Razi, Ibn Umayi, Al-Tughrai, Jaldaki Khorasani made significant contributions in chemistry. Among them, Jabir bin Hayaan is without any doubt one of the greatest Muslim scientists. Holmyard legitimately names him ‘The Father of Chemistry’. According to Holmyard, one of the fundamental aspects Jabir brought forward was the development of the practical side of chemistry: performing experiments’.
Jabir bin Hayaan is credited with the use of over twenty types of now-basic chemical laboratory equipment such as the alembic and retort, and with the description of many now-commonplace chemical processes – such as crystallization, various forms of alchemical “distillation”, and substances like citric acid (the sour component of lemons and other unripe fruits), acetic acid (from vinegar) and tartaric acid (from wine-making residues), arsenic, antimony and bismuth, sulfur, and mercury that has become the foundation of today’s chemistry. According to Ismail al-Faruqi and Lois Lamya al-Faruqi; he invented a kind of paper that resisted fire and an ink that could be read at night. He invented an additive which, when applied to an iron surface, inhibited rust and when applied to a textile, would make it water repellent.
According to the Ancient Greeks, the vision was thought to be a visual spirit emanating from the eyes that allowed an object to be perceived. It was Ibn Haythem, the 11th-century Iraqi scientist who developed a new concept of human vision. He took a straightforward approach towards vision by explaining that the eye was an optical instrument and realized light enters the eye rather than leaving it. He was the first person to invent the pin-hole camera and then Camera Obscura. Ibn al-Haytham developed this new theory on vision from experimental investigations. In the 12th century, his Book of Optics was translated into Latin and continued to be studied both in the Islamic world and in Europe until the 17th century. Interestingly the first person to give a detailed account of Human Eye was also a Muslim namely Abu Al-Hassan. The contribution of Muslims are endless but I have listed only a few due to space constraint.
Muslim scientists, however, don’t find much mention in present science books, even if there is mention, they have ironically been Latinized like – Algorithm (Al-Khawarizmi), Anaritius (Al-Nairizi), Albategnius (Al-Battani), Avicenna (Ibn-i-Sinna) Alhazen (Abu Al-Hasan) probably aimed at keeping the present Muslim generation incognizant about them. But the truth can never be concealed that Science is not new to Islam but it is Islam and Muslims that have played vital role in its evolution as well.
The author is serving in the Department of Education. He can be reached at email@example.com
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