Development of Sciences under Muslims
Mathematics, Medical sciences, Surgery, Medicine, Geography, and Astronomy
Islam strongly urges mankind to study and explore the universe. In the Holy Qu’ran, it is written that:
“We (Allah) will show you (mankind) our signs/patterns in the horizons/universe and in yourselves until you are convinced that the revelation is the truth.” [Qur'an, 14:53]
This invitation to explore the universe made Muslims interested in several sciences, including astronomy, mathematics, chemistry etc. It is then, that the real valuable contribution to several sciences began.
In the field of mathematics, bold experiments were carried out by Muslim mathematicians, under which mathematics flourished greatly and very undoubtly.Algebra was said to be invented by the Greeks, but only because;
“It was confined to furnishing amusement for the plays of the goblet”.
This is according to Oelsner. It is actually the Muslims who developed and applied the algebra as we know it in this present age, and we consider Al-Khawarizmi to be the father of algebra, because of his extensive and vital contribution to the subject.
After Al-Khawarizmi the first great mathematician and inventor of algebra, mathematics notably developed under others after him, especially Umar Khayyam.
Muslims were the first people to introduce the sine of arc in trigonometrical calculations, and it was the Muslims who invented spherical trigonometry.Muslims also discovered tangent functions and the discovery of zero was a big and invaluable contribution to the field of mathematics. Muslims also made great progress in mathematical geography.Muslims organized numbers into the decimal system, to base ten, and also invented symbols to represent unknown numbers or quantities i.e. x.
The system of Arabic numerals only came to Europe through Al-Khawarizmi’s Latin translations of his work, which came to Europe through Spain.
The word “algorithm” is derived from Al-Khawarizmi’s name. Muslim mathematicians excelled in geometry, and it can be seen in their graphical art.
Al-Biruni (who excelled also in the fields of natural history, geology and mineralogy) was the one who established trigonometry as a distinct branch in mathematics, while other Muslim mathematicians excelled in mathematical theory.
In one way or another, mathematics is involved in nearly all subjects, from art to astrology, from medicine to geology. If it wasn’t for these Muslims, mathematics may never have flourished as it did under the Muslims, and we may never have become as advanced as we are today.
Medical sciences, surgery and medicine
Muslims gave a lasting contribution to the subjects of medical sciences, surgery and medicine. In Islam, the body is a source of appreciation for it was created by God Almighty. How the body functions, how to keep your body clean and how to prevent or cure diseases became an important issue to Muslims. The prophet Muhammad himself urged people to
“Take medicines for your diseases”.
People were reluctant to do this at that time. The prophet also said;
“God created no illness, but he established for it a cure, except for old age. When the antidote is applied, the patient will recover with the permission of God
This was good motivation for Muslims to develop and explore and also apply empirical laws. Razi (Rhazes), Ibn Sina (Avioenna), and Abu Ibn al-Haitham (Alhazen) were great scholars of the medieval period, excelling in the subject of medical sciences.Avioenna wrote the most widely studied medical work of the medieval ages, the Al-Qanun Jil Tib, the book known as “Canon of Medicine”. It was reprinted more than twenty times in the last thirty years of the 15th century. It remained a standard textbook in the west for more than seven hundred years.Alhazen was the world’s greatest authority on optics, as we’ve read before.Ibn Katina was a Moorish Physician who died in 1369AD. He wrote an excellent treatises revealing the contagious characters of the plague, which ravaged Almaria, Spain in 1348-1349AD. Ibn Katina’s works were superior to any other of the age, and his book was edited and translated in Europe in the 15th century AD. Ibn Katina’s book also contained remedies to the plague, which were not known to Greek physicians, before and at the time.
In the field of surgery, Muslims were well ahead of their time. Modern surgical instruments, which you see nowadays, were actually devised by the Muslim surgeon, Al-Zahrawi, in the 10th century. He devised scalpels, bone saws, forceps, fine scissors for eye surgery and many of the two hundred medical instruments that a modern surgeon would recognize today.Al-Zahrawi also made the discovery that catgut-used for internal stitching-dissolves away naturally (a discovery made when his monkey ate his lute strings). He also discovered that catgut can be used to make medicine capsules.
In the 13th century, Muslim medic Ibn Nafis described the circulation of blood around the human body, three hundred years before William Harvey discovered it.
It was Muslim doctors who invented anesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes, and who also developed hollow needles to suck the cataracts out of eyes, a technique still used today.
Al-Razi was the inventor of “Seton” and the author of Judari wal Hasbak, an authentic book dealing with measles and small pox.
Muslims gave much attention to medicine and public health care. The first hospital was built in Baghdad in 706AD. Muslims used camel caravans as mobile hospitals, which moved from place to place. As Islam did not forbid it, Muslims used human cadavers to study the anatomy and physiology of the human body. This was to help students understand how the body functions. This empirical study helped surgery develop very quickly.
Al-Razi (Rhazes) was one of the most famous physicians of the middle ages. He stressed empirical observation, and was unrivaled as a diagnostician. He also wrote treatises on hygiene in hospitals.
Khalaf Abul-Qasim Al-Zahrawi was the famous surgeon of the 11th century, known in Europe for his book Kitab al-Tasrif (Concessio).I
bn Sina was probably the greatest physician until the modern era, and his work is still studied in the east.
Ibn Sina also contributed to pharmacology, with his book Kitab al-Shifa (Book of Healing). He also contributed to public health.
Every major city of the Islamic world had a number of excellent hospitals, some teaching hospitals, some specializing in a particular disease. Some also specialized in mental and emotional diseases. The ottomans were particularly noted for their building of hospitals and the hygiene practiced in them.
Hygiene and medical care still remains a major issue in everyday life, and if it wasn’t for these Muslim medics, doctors and physicians, we may never have reached the standard of health care that is practiced today. GeographyMuslim scholars paid great attention to geography. Muslims concern to geography originated from their religion, Islam. The Qu’ran encourages people to travel the world, and see God’s signs and patterns.Islam requires at least every Muslim to know the position and direction of the Qiblah, the direction to the Ka’bah in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. It is a holy place for Muslims, and is where Muslims face to pray.Muslims also took long journeys for trading purposes, and to preach Islam, not to mention to do pilgrimage to God in Makkah.The extent of the Muslim empire enabled Muslims to compile geographical data, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Among renowned geographers, Ibn Batuta and Ibn Khaldun stand out, because of their extensive travels and their accounts on their explorations and lengthy expeditions.Al-Idrisi produced a number of accurate maps of the world, including within them continents, trade routes and famous cities.
Al-Muqdishi was the first geographer to compile accurate maps in colour.
The Invention of the mariners compass was a great success, and revolutionized sea borne commerce. Undoubtedly, traces of the needle go back to Ancient China, but credit for putting it to work in the form of a mariners compass goes to the Muslims. It was probably made also for finding the direction of the Qiblah. The mariners compass enabled the Arabs to roam over the stormy seas in search of new lands, and additional markets for their goods.
The unique shipping instrument, used to raise sunken ships from the sea bed, was invented by Abu Solet Umayya in 1134AD. It was a great help for salvage expeditions of the medieval times.
Muhammad Musa, a great geographer, and the inventor of photography, invented an instrument, with which the earth could be measured.
Because of Muslim navigators and their inventions, it was that Magellan was able to traverse the Cape of Good Hope.
Vasco Da Gama and Christopher Columbus had Muslim navigators aboard their ships, and without their help, they probably wouldn’t have accomplished what they are famous for.
Muslims always had a special interest in astronomy. This was also linked to religion.The moon and sun has vital importance in a Muslims life, and this was the motivation that aroused great Muslim astronomers. By the moon a Muslim determines the beginning and end of the lunar calendar. By the sun a Muslim determines the times for prayer and fasting. Also, by astronomy, a Muslim can determine the correct direction of the Qiblah. The most precise and accurate solar calendar, even superior to the Julian calendar, was devised under the supervision of Umar Khayyam.
The Qu’ran also contains references to astronomy.
“The heavens and the earth were ordered rightly, and were made subservient to man, including the sun, the moon, the stars, and day and night. Every heavenly body moves in an orbit assigned to it by God and never digresses, making the universe an orderly cosmos whose life and existence, diminution and expansion, are totally determined by the Creator.” [Qur'an 30:22]
It was these references to learn that inspired Muslims to study the heavens.Muslims integrated earlier works of the Indians, Persians and Greeks. They put these together into another synthesis.
Ptolemy’s Almagest was translated and studied, then criticized. Many new stars were discovered. In their Arabic names, they are: Algol, Deneb, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Aldebaran and probably many more.
Ibn Firnas devised a chain of rings depicting the motions of stars and planets.
Astronomical tables were compiled, among them the Toledan tables, which were use byCopernicus, Tycho, Brahe and Kepler. Also compiled was Almanacs, another Arabic term. Other terms from Arabic are zenith, nadir, Albedo, Azimuth.
Muslims invented astronomical instruments, like the quadrant and the astrolabe. This not only led to developments in astronomy, but also in sea navigation, contributing to the European age of exploration.
Muslim astronomers were the first to establish observatories, and were also the first to use them. They were built in major cities of Islam, like Baghdad, Hamadan, Toledo, Maragha, Samarkand, and Istanbul. One was built by Hulagu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan in Mugharah, in Persia. Giralda or “The tower of Seville” was the first observatory built in Europe. It was built for the observation of heavenly bodies, and was built under the supervision of the mathematician Jabit Ibn Afiah. It was later turned unto a belfry, by Christian conquers, who after expelling the Moors, didn’t know how to use it.Muslims invention of the astrolabe-which was an improvement of the Greek invention-was the most important invention until the invention of the telescope, in the 17th century.
The astrolabe was used to determine one’s latitude on the earth, using the position of the stars and the sun. This was especially important to travelers.
Abul Hasan is said to have discovered and invented the telescope. He described it as a
“Tube, to the extremities of which were attached diopters”.
Muslims were the first astronomers to challenge the long accepted ideas of Ptolemy and Aristotle, regarding eclipses, planetary orbits and the position of stars.Al-Farghani was one of the most distinguished astronomers of the House of Wisdom. He wrote the book “Elements of Astronomy”. This book heavily discussed the motion and science of stars. It was translated into Latin in the12th century. The book exerted great influence on European astronomy. Al-Farghani’s big mistake was to support the widely held view that the earth is at the center of the universe, which he discussed in his book. Ptolemy was the first person to describe this wrongly held view, and it was later proved wrong.
Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi was a Persian astronomer who lived in the 10th century. He described-in 964- the Andromeda galaxy, our closest neighbour. He called it “The Little Cloud”. This was the first record of a star system, outside our galaxy. His book on stars was translated into many languages, and had a great influence also, on European astronomy.
In Muslim Spain, there were many astronomers, one of which one was Al-Zarqali (from 1029 to 1080). He is known as Arzachel in Europe. He was the most famous astronomer of his age, and made a kind of astrolabe that measured the motion of stars. His work was translated into European languages, and was studied in Europe.In the 9th century, Muslims already knew that the earth was a sphere. The evidence, said Ibn Hazm, was that,
“Is that the Sun is always vertical to a particular spot on Earth”. This was five hundred years before Galileo discovered it.
Also, by the 9th century, Islamic astronomers reckoned that the circumference of the earth was 40,253.4 km, and this measurement was less than two hundred km out!