The Qur'an calls
upon Muslims to look around them and study the physical world, so that they
might appreciate the majesty of Allah's creation. "Behold!
in the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night
and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the benefit of
mankind; in the rain which Allah Sends down from the skies, and the life
which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds
that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds, and the
clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth --
(Here) indeed are Signs for a people that are wise." (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:164)
And the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon
him) told Muslims to "seek
knowledge, even if it be in China." (Meaning 'seek knowledge
wherever it may be found.')
Throughout Islamic history, that is
exactly what Muslims have done. Particularly in the 7th-13th centuries
C.E., the Islamic world was in the midst of its "Golden Age,"
paving the way for the growth of modern sciences. Rather than stifling
science, the religion of Islam encouraged its study. Scientific inquiry
was widespread, and some of the greatest scholars and scientists of the world
made wondrous discoveries and inventions. Muslims led the world in the
study of medicine, astronomy, mathematics, geography, chemistry, botany, and
physics. They transmitted their studies to the West, where their work
was built upon and further disseminated.
Islam Influenced Science
Editor of The Islamic Herald
During the Middle
Ages the Islamic World had a very significant impact upon Europe, which in turn
cleared the way for the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. In the
Medieval age, Islam and Muslims influenced Europe in a number of different
ways. One of the most important of these subjects was Science.
Ever since Islam was born, Muslims had
made immense leaps forward in the area of Science. Cities like Baghdad,
Damascus, Cairo and Cordoba were the centers of civilization. These cities were
flourishing and Muslim scientists made tremendous progress in applied as well
as theoretical Science and Technology. In Europe, however, the situation was
much different. Europe was in the Dark Ages. It had no infrastructure or
central government. To the Muslims, Europe was backward, unorganized, carried
no strategic importance and was essentially irrelevant. This considering the
time period was in fact true. Nevertheless the Catholic Church (which at the
time was the strongest institution in Europe) successfully convinced Christian
Europe that the Muslims were infidels. This caused Europeans to think that
Muslims were culturally inferior to Europe and thus Europe was unable to
benefit from the new scientific discoveries being made in the Islamic lands
before the 1100’s. By doing this Europe kept itself in the Dark Ages while from
China to Spain Islamic Civilization prospered. During the Crusades there was
limited contact between Muslims and Christians and not much was transferred. As
A. Lewis explains, "The Crusaders were men of action, not men of
learning". The real exchange of ideas which led to the Scientific
revolution and to the renaissance occurred in Muslim Spain.
Cordoba was the capital of Muslim Spain.
It soon became the center for all light and learning for the entire Europe.
Scholars and students from various parts of the world and Europe came to
Cordoba to study. The contrast in intellectual activity is demonstrated best by
one example: ‘In the ninth century, the library of the monastery of St. Gall
was the largest in Europe. It boasted 36 volumes. At the same time, that of
Cordoba contained over 500,000!’.
The idea of the college was a concept
which was borrowed from Muslims. The first colleges appeared in the Muslim
world in the late 600's and early 700's. In Europe, some of the earliest
colleges are those under the University of Paris and Oxford they were founded
around the thirteenth century. These early European colleges were also funded
by trusts similar to the Islamic ones and legal historians have traced them
back to the Islamic system. The internal organization of these European
colleges was strikingly similar to the Islamic ones, for example the idea of
Graduate (Sahib) and undergraduate (mutafaqqih) is derived directly from
In the field of Mathematics the number
Zero (0) and the decimal system was introduced to Europe, which became the
basis for the Scientific revolution. The Arabic numerals were also transferred
to Europe, this made mathematical tasks much easier, problems that took days to
solve could now be solved in minutes. The works of Al-Khwarizmi (Alghorismus)
were translated into Latin. Alghorismus, from whom the mathematical term
algorism was derived, wrote Sindhind, a compilation of astronomical tables. He,
more importantly, laid the ground work for algebra and found methods to deal
with complex mathematical problems, such as square roots and complex fractions.
He conducted numerous experiments, measured the height of the earth's
atmosphere and discovered the principle of the magnifying lens. Many of his
books were translated into European languages. Trigonometric work by Alkirmani
of Toledo was translated into Latin (from which we get the sine and cosine
functions) along with the Greek knowledge of Geometry by Euclid. Along with mathematics,
masses of other knowledge in the field of physical science was transferred.
Islamic contributions to Science were
now rapidly being translated and transferred from Spain to the rest of Europe.
Ibnul Hairham’s works on Optics, (in which he deals with 50 Optical questions
put to Muslim Scholars by the Franks), was translated widely. The Muslims
discovered the Principle of Pendulum, which was used to measure time. Many of
the principles of Isaac Newton were derived from former Islamic scientific contributions.
In the field of Chemistry numerous Islamic works were translated into Latin.
One of the fields of study in this area was alchemy. The Muslims by exploring
various elements, developed a good understanding of the constitution of matter.
Jabir ibn-Hayyan (Geber) was the leading chemist in the Muslim world, some
scholars link the introduction of the ‘scientific method’ back to him. A great
number of terms used in Chemistry such as alchohol, alembic, alkali and elixir
are of Islamic origin.
Medicine was a key science explored by
Muslims. Al-Rhazes is one of the most famous Doctors and writers of Islamic
History. Every major city had an hospital, the hospital at Cairo had over 8000
beds, with separate wards for fevers, ophthalmic, dysentery and surgical cases.
He discovered the origin of smallpox and showed that one could only acquire it
once in one's life, thus showing the existence of the immune system and how it
worked. Muslim doctors were also aware of the contagious qualities of diseases.
Hundreds of medical works were translated into Latin.
All of this knowledge transferred from
the Muslims to the Europeans was the vital raw material for the Scientific
Revolution. Muslims not only passed on Greek classical works but also
introduced new scientific theories, without which the European Renaissance
could not have occurred. Thus even though many of the Islamic contributions go
unacknowledged, they played an integral role in the European transformation.
For Further Study:
Contributions of Islam to Medicine - excellent article by Ezzat
Abouleish , M. D.
How Islam Influenced Science - overview from the Islamic Herald
in Medieval History -
links from About.com's Medieval History Guide
Islamic Medicine - overview of Muslim contributions
to the field of medicine
Science - another
resource from About.com's Guide to Medieval History
Muslim Scientists and Scholars - biographies of the well-known and
Science and Islam - overview of the many fields
Scientific Contributions of Muslims - in English and Arabic.
Setting the Record Straight - Westerners take credit for many
discoveries that were actually made by Muslim scientists.
Timeline of Muslim Scientists - includes names and dates, but no