For any scientific knowledge to be developed there needs to be certain institutional arrangements, economic conditions, and cultural values that stimulate scientific inquiry. For the early Muslim empire, these institutions of learning arose among a diverse territorial and population expanse. Some of the reasons why scientific activity began emerging in the early Muslim world were:
1. Islam encouraged learning of sciences
The unique characteristic of the rise of Islamic sciences is that religion and science were not considered to be in opposition with each other. Muslim scholars have continuously proven that the Qur’an itself promotes scientific inquiry and encourages the Ummah to seek knowledge. Some of the verses of the Qur’an and Hadith which have been used by Muslim scientists to justify their scientific inquiry include: Continue reading
Islamic science was built upon the foundations laid by earlier scientists from China, India, Persia, the Byzantinians, and by the Greeks. During the 7th and 8th centuries, both Muslims and non-Muslims were encouraged to develop the sciences and translate the major scientific texts into Arabic. Translating these major works of human civilization is one of the main reasons why the Muslim empire became the dominant scientific authority of the period. Fuat Sezgin (b. 1924) the world’s most notable Islamic science historian says that Muslim scientists were able to make such advances because they were ready to build on the work of earlier scholars – Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This ‘receptiveness’ enabled Muslim science to become the world dominant scientific tradition within 200 years of the beginnings of the Arab conquests. Continue reading
Mathematics or “the queen of the sciences” as Carl Friedrich Gauss called it, plays an important role in our lives. A world without mathematics is unimaginable. Throughout history, many scholars have made important contributions to this science, among them a great number of Muslims. The word “algebra” comes from “Al-Jabr,” which is taken from the title of the book Hisab Al-Jabr wal Muqabala (The Calculation of Integration and Equation) by Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (780 – 850), who is known as the “father of algebra.’’ Europe was first introduced to algebra as a result of the translation of Khwarizmi’s book into Latin by Robert Chester in 1143. Until the 16th century, the book was used as the principal textbook of European universities. Continue reading
Muslims had always had a special interest in astronomy. The moon and the sun are of vital importance in the daily life of every Muslim. By the moon, Muslims determine the beginning and the end of the lunar month. By the sun, Muslims calculate the times for prayer and fasting. It is also by means of astronomy that Muslims can determine the precise direction of the Qiblah.
Muslim astronomers were the first to establish observatories (buildings used for scientific observation of natural phenomena such as astronomical objects, the weather or earthquakes), like the one built at Mugharah by Hulagu, the son of Genghis Khan, in Persia, present day Iran. Continue reading
Muslim scholars paid great attention to geography because they used to travel to conduct trade as well as to perform Hajj and spread their religion. The far-flung Islamic empire enabled scholar-explorers to compile large amounts of geographical and climatic information from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Among the most famous names in the field of geography, even in the West, are Ibn Khaldun (1332 – 1406) and Ibn Batuta (1304 – 1368), renowned for their written accounts of their extensive explorations.
In 1166, Al-Idrisi, the well-known Muslim scholar who served the Sicilian court, produced very accurate maps, including a world map with all the continents and their mountains, rivers and famous cities. Continue reading
In chemistry, the works of Jaber ibn Haiyan and Al-Razi formed the basis of modern science. Jaber, known as Geber in Latin, described in his works the preparation of many chemical substances: the sulphide of mercury, oxides and arsenic compounds. Al-Razi in his book “Secret of Secrets” described the chemical processes and experiments he conducted. Continue reading
Ibn Sina (980 – 1037) better known to the West as Avicenna, was perhaps the greatest physician until the modern era; devoted his life to the study of medicine, philosophy and other branches of science. He established free hospitals and developed treatments for diseases using herbs, hot baths, and even major surgery. His famous book “The Canon of Medicine” was translated into Latin in the 12th century and it was used in medical schools throughout Europe until the advent of modern science. He was the first to put forward the theory of brain localization of external senses, i.e. sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Continue reading
Muslim scientists studied acoustics, its origin and its transfer. They were the first to understand that sounds are affected by the bodies that cause them and that these sounds transfer in the air in the form of circular waves. Muslim scientists were also the first to categorize sounds into different types; they expounded that the sounds of animals differ according to the length of their necks, the width of their throats and the structure of their larynx. Continue reading
Muslim scholars, as part of their investigations into biology, resurrected the idea of evolutionary theory first hinted at by Anaximander. The most important contributor to Islamic evolutionary theory, and a leading scholar of zoology, was Al-Jaḥiẓ, (781– 869). He wrote a detailed treatise, Kitab al-Hayawan (Book of Animals), which became one of the most important works in the history of biology. Continue reading
Since the very beginning, writers on history of economic thought had tended to ignore the contribution of Muslim scholars to the subject. They start with the Greek philosophers and Roman jurists and administrators. They also mention opinions of some Christian fathers who lived in the early centuries of the Christian era. Then they jump to middle ages when Europe came out from darkness to light; and thinking on different natural and social sciences began, leaving a wide gap of about five centuries. This was exactly the period when Muslims ruled the greater part of the known world, established powerful empires, developed economies and contributed to the promotion of culture and science including economics. Continue reading
The spread of scientific knowledge was conducted in three significant ways. One was through the universal language of Arabic that was adopted as the medium for exchange of ideas, the second was through invitations extended by political leaders to attract the finest scientists to their domains, and third and most importantly, through the network of trade. Trade was the main way through which knowledge and entrepreneurship was transmitted from the East to the West, along the Silk Road. Along with goods and products, merchants carried knowledge to many parts of East Africa, India, China, and later to Indonesia. Continue reading
Like any other civilization in human history, the Islamic civilization was prone to both internal and external threats. The factors responsible for the decline of Muslim power and prosperity include:
In 968, the low level of the Nile caused a terrible famine which resulted in the death of about 600,000 people. (The northern section of the river flows almost entirely through desert, from Sudan into Egypt, a country whose civilization has depended on the river since ancient times. Most of the population and cities of Egypt lie along those parts of the Nile valley, and nearly all the cultural and historical sites of Ancient Egypt are found along riverbanks). Similar famines followed. One terrible famine, which was caused also by a low level of the Nile, lasted seven years between 1066 and 1072. Continue reading
Muslim scholars not only preserved the ancient knowledge of China, India, and Greece, but transformed them as well into major new contributions to basic science and technology. The contributions were in fields such as astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, philosophy, geography, and physics, which constitute the basis of modern science and technologies. However, today few realize that in that era, Islam played an important role in all aspects of life. Europe faced losing the works of major scholars, but as a result of their translations into Arabic most of this scholarship not only survived, but was further developed. Inspired by the Qur’an and hadiths, Muslims sought knowledge for the benefit of humankind. As the Qur’an says,
Are those who know equal to those who know not? (Qur’an 39:9)
Science and technology can prosper among Muslims again, and other peoples, if the conditions for free inquiry, proper incentives, institutional support, and the benefits of science are encouraged.