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We live in a World that has been dominated by narrative of the Western media for several decades now. Muslims are evil and barbaric wife-beaters, Chinese are less evil than they used to be and the red Russians are always evil. Although anti-Semitism has vanished from the Western society to a large extent but sadly anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia has taken its place. In fact Islam & Muslim bashing these days is part of mainstream culture in West. Whether it be Donald Trump or Ben Carson’s Islamophobic & racist comments about Muslims during the American presidential election debates or a tirade of Islamophobic insults against the Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain by Daily Mail and Sun journalists, Islamophobia has become acceptable in the Western society.
We thought there couldn’t be a better time to highlight the contributions of hundreds of Muslims in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, geography, medicine, physics and chemistry throughout the recorded human history. This will be a multi-part series where we would discuss briefly the most influential Muslim scientists and researchers and their game changing contributions to humanity. If you enjoy reading this article, please don’t forget to comment below the article!
ALHAZEN – THEORY OF VISION & FOUNDER OF MAGNIFYING GLASSES
Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham (Yes this is just his name!), better known as Alhazen or as Ibn al-Haytham or al-Basri, is considered as one of the most influential scientists of all times! He was born in AD 965 in Basra (now part of Iraq). He is referred to as father of modern optics, experimental physics and scientific methodology. He is also regarded as first theoretical physicist by many historians. His greatness can be judged from the simple fact that he was known as ‘The Physicist’ in medieval Europe. The crater on the moon Alhazen is named in his honour as was an asteroid. It is difficult to define the contributions of a scientist like al-Basri in a few paras, hence we would just list the very few major works of his life.
Al-Basri authored more than 200 books out of which unfortunately only 55 have survived. Alhazen introduced the concept of motion into geometry by exploring what is now known as Euclidean parallel postulate. He was the first man to state that every even perfect number is of the form 2n−1(2n − 1) where 2n−1 is prime. Swiss scientist Leonhard Euler later proved it in the 18th century. He is also known to have studied effects of sounds and music on animals however no copies of work have survived unfortunately. His glass ‘reading stones’ were the first magnifying glasses in the World.
Ian P. Howard, the famous Canadian psychologist and researcher, argued in his books that AlHazen unfortunately has not been credited with many discoveries he did and instead several Western European scholars are attributed to rediscovering in 18th century what Al-Basri had already discovered several centuries ago. 19th century Hering’s law of equal innervation is usually mentioned as the classic case of ‘discovering’ what Al-Basri discovered hundreds of years ago. What is now known as ‘Alhazen problem’ is also from one of his books. He was the first scientist to state the laws of refraction. Ibn al-Haytham also succeeded in finding a rather good estimate for the height of the atmosphere. He is also credited with inventing the first pinhole camera in 1021 AD.
In the words of Professor Jim Al-Khalili, presenter of Science and Islam on BBC Four “It is incredible that we are only now uncovering the debt that today’s physicists owe to an Arab who lived 1,000 years ago.”
AL KHWARIZMI – FOUNDER OF MODERN ALGEBRA
Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, popularly known as just Al-Khwarizmi, was born in Khwarezm, Persia in 780 AD. He was an accomplished astronomer, mathematician and geographer. During the times of powerful Abbasid Caliphate, he was also a member of ‘House of Wisdom’, a major intellectual centre in Baghdad during Islamic Golden age. He is accredited with dozens of inventions. Just like Alhazen’s description above, a few short paragraphs cannot do justice to this man’s hundreds of feats of accomplishments & inventions, however we would try to list the few game changers by Al-Khwarizmi.
It was his work on numbers, translation of which in 12th Century introduced Western World to Decimal positional number system. He is also considered to be the original inventor of modern Algebra. Although there are conflicting opinions about this that he borrowed some of his work from older Greek or Indian sources, however the dominant belief still considers to him the first to come up with Algebra. Algebra comes from the word ‘Al-Jabr’ which is one of two operations Al-Khwarizmi used to solve quadratic equations. Algorism and algorithm both derive from the word ‘Algoritmi’ which is the Latin form of his name. The Portuguese & Spanish word for digit, algarismo & guarismo respectively, both stem from his name!
One of his book ‘Al-Sindhind’ contained trigonometric functions for both sines as well as cosines. Another one of his major work is his book ‘Kitab Surat al Ard’ which is the Arabic for book of the description of the Earth or simply Geography. It consists of a list of 2402 coordinates of cities and other geographical features after a general introduction of each.
AL-ZAHRAWI – FATHER OF SURGERY
Abū al-Qāsim Khalaf ibn al-‘Abbās az-Zahrāwī (936–1013), commonly known as just Al-Zahrawi or Abulcasis (Latinised version of his name), was a Sunni Muslim Arab physician and surgeon who was born in Al-Andalus (modern day near Cordoba, Spain). He is considered to be the greatest surgeon of the medieval times and is also referred to as father of Modern Surgery in literature today.
His most outstanding contribution to science could be considered his book ‘Kitab al-Tasrif’. It is a whopping 30 volume medical encyclopaedia in which he describes more than 300 diseases and their treatments. In this book, Al-Zahrawi details numerous surgical procedures and the use of more than 200 surgical instruments. Most of these 200 instruments were actually developed by him and had never been used by any surgeon before. This book by Abulcasis was a standard reference in both Islamic and European medicine for more than 500 years and was still being reprinted in 1770s in Europe! This alone is enough to testify the greatness of his works as hardly any other scientific book has remained valid as a textbook reference even after 50 years!
Abulcasis is also the first man to describe ectopic pregnancy in 1963, which was fatal issue back in those days. Modern surgery still uses his method of using catgut for internal stitching. He is also credited for inventing forceps for extracting dead fetus. This method is in fact detailed in Kitab al-Tasrif.
Al-Zahrawi was the most frequently cited surgical authority of the middle ages. Guy de Chauliac, the most prominent French surgeon of 14th century quoted Kitab al-Tasrif over 200 times. Pietro Argallata, a famous 15th century Italian surgeon, described Al-Zahrawi as “without doubt the chief of all surgeons”. ‘Calle Albucasis’ is the street in Cordoba where he lived and has been named after him in his honour.
We will soon be writing a sequel of this. If there are any Muslim inventors you have in mind and would like us to write about in the part II of this series, please let us know in the comments below.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Zahrawi http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/people/albucasis.aspx