Forgotten Contributions by Muslim Scientists

When talking about science only thing which comes to our mind is western scientists. I cant really say it is forgotten by us or it is erased from our minds by planning that almost every discovery and invention belongs to Muslim scientists in golden Islamic era of science and technology.

By Syed Mohammad Baqir

Almost from 7th century to 15th century muslim scientists dominated world of science and technology. From very first notable scientist “Khalid bin Yazeed” to last ones like “Jamshed Al Kashi” and “Ulug Begh” there were hundreds of people responsible for development of mathematics, physics, astronomy, medical science and chemistry.

Many scientists only copied discoveries of muslims and others did amendment in them to take credit. Few true people just continued their work where muslims left. As the list is long, I will only mention famous discoveries of some of notable scientists and true source. Also I will mention those discoveries which are included in our routine school and college science studies without mentioning the name of their discoverers.

Dentistry and surgery

Abū al-Qāsim Khalaf ibn al-‘Abbās al-Zahrāwī al-Ansari  or simply “Al Zahrawai” or “Zhrawez” or “Abulcasis”, (936-1013) was successful in making artificial teeth. He also invented 200 plus tools for surgery of different parts of body including teeth. His tools of surgery are mentioned in his famous book “Al Tasreef”. Most of his tools of surgery resemble modern tools of surgery. He was first famous surgeon in the world and most famous surgeon in middle ages (golden ages). He was the first person to describe true cause of paralysis.  He also developed surgical devices for Caesarean sections and cataract surgeries. It is remarkable how this amazing person was able to achieve all that at that time.

I guess if not included in our present day medical syllabus then at least we must mention his name personally when following his path. It will be an honor for us to mention him rather providing him some benefit.

Greatest physician of golden age

Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn bin ʿAbdullāh ibn al-Ḥasan bin ʿAlī bin Sīnā al-Balkhi al-Bukhari or simply “Ibn Seena” or “Avicenna” (980-1037) was the greatest physician of golden era. It is worth mentioning that his most amazing book known as “Cannon” or “Al Qanoon fil Tib” contained medicine for more than 700 diseases. These formulae remain same to this date. I personally was studying his book al qanoon and found that same formula for cough syrup and fever is still used which Avicenna has mentioned. This extraordinary medical encyclopedia remained course book in Europe for more than 500 years (alongside with “Al Mansoori fil Tib” and “Hawi fil tib” of Al Razi).

His explanation of human body is really amazing. In this book “Al Qanoon fil Tib” he described spin’s structure and its working. He says in his book “I believe that at the beginning, the pupils should learn the general principles of medicine, both in theory and in practice. Analysis of diseases which affect different organs will precede the methods of keeping these organs in sound health. To satisfy this, we must first study the anatomy of these organs”.

Optics from Jail

Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham  or simply “Ibn al Haytham” or “Alhazen” (965-1040) was the father of optics.  He was the first person to mention that light rays reflect from objects and enter our eyes to make image. He also invented pinhole camera which later became basic principle behind modern day cameras. He was the pioneer of scientific method. He also successfully explained why Moon appears bigger near horizon and smaller when high above in sky.

Al Hazen was the first person to state that “If an object is in motion, it will remain in motion until disturbed by some external force”. I hope this statement appeared familiar to many of us who studied laws of motion by Newton. He also did many contributions to astronomy, mathematics and other branches of physics.

He wrote his book “Kitab al manazir” from Jail where he was kept after he refused to work for Khalif in making dam on river Nile. In this book he explained all light related problems. He also introduced idea of gravity. Are you thinking of Universal law of gravity by Newton now? Ok fine.

Science during travel

And of course if we are talking about Muslim scientists how can we forget Abu Rayhan. Abu Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni or simply “Al Beruni” (973-1050). A polymath, Abu Rayhan was one of the greatest scientist and philosopher of all times. He spent most of his life in travel and hence the word Al Beruni. 95 of His 146 books were on astronomy. He explained how Moon changes his phases. He was the first person to distinguish astronomy from astrology. He was the first person to divide hours into 60 minutes and then minutes into seconds.

In 1037 Al Beruni theorized a large landmass between Asia and Europe now known as America. He also measured radius of the Earth very accurately. He did his observations near Jehlum, Pakistan on a mountain which was 1795 feet high to calculate radius of Earth. His visit to India made him very famous there and he earned title of “Vidya saghar” by Indian pundits. Al-Beruni also demonstrated that velocity of light is finite and much greater than velocity of sound. He also calculated direction of Makkah (hence direction for prayer) from anywhere on Earth using mathematical equations. He was the first person who made map of Earth. He knew 2500 words of “sansikrat”. He also found how to calculate distance of Moon from Earth.

If you are thinking about Ole Romer (1644-1710) and Italian astronomer who determined that light is having finite speed than think again.


Law of sines

If you are a mathematician or a physicist you must have used the following relation several times.  also . These trigonometric functions were discovered separately by Abū al-Wafāʾ, Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad ibn Yaḥyā ibn Ismāʿīl ibn al-ʿAbbās al-Būzjānī  Or simply Abul Wafa (10 June 940 – 15 July 998), Abu Mahmud Hamid ibn al-Khidr al-Khojandi (940-180) or simply Al Khujandi and Abu Nasri Mansur ibn Ali ibn Iraq (960-1036).

These mathematicians also worked a lot in field of astronomy and discovered many phenomena which later were rediscovered by other astronomers and are credited with their names. For example Abul Wafa discovered that Sun is having gravity and it affects Lunar orbit (evection). Do remember him next time you learn about perturbation theory.

Medicine field in incomplete without him

 You will be not be a good medical student if you will not study Abū Bakr al-Rāzī or simply Razi also known as Rhazes (865-925). He was a Persian chemist and physician. Medical science was incomplete without his infamous book “Al-Hawi fil Tib”. It was so thick that book writers at that time were afraid to rewrite it for publication. It was course book in European medical colleges for over 500 years!

He was first person to differentiate between measles and small pox. Also he discussed hundreds of diseases and their remedies in Kitab al Hawi. His Hawi was unsurpassed until Avicinna wrote his “Al Qanoon Fil Tib”. Another of his marvel was “Kitab al Mansuri” which was also course book for medical colleges all over the world. He also wrote the “Diseases of children” which was first book in field of paediatrics.

Lets fly

Abu al-Qasim Abbas ibn Firnas ibn Wirdas al-Takurini or simply Abbas ibn Firnas (810-887), Not only tried to fly but also invented methods to make convex lenses for magnification purposes specially for reading books. He might not have flown for long but started the efforts to fly. When Galileo used lenses to make his telescope to see stars he might not have credited Abbas ibn Firnas for lenses. Also keep in mind his name whenever you fly in modern aero planes.

Lets not only forget them but should take their legacy to higher levels

Its not the matter to only keep their names in our minds but to transfer habit and legacy of inventions and discoveries back from west to Islamic world. There is no reason why we cannot make advances in physics, astronomy, chemistry, medical science and other fields if we take our work seriously and away from the need of earning money. Our parents should play their role and guiding their children to these fields. All great people got their first inspiration from their parents.

Science need a re-boost in Islamic world.  

Author: Syed Mohammad Baqir