The Muslims made innumerable discoveries and wrote countless Books about Medicine, Surgery, Physics, Chemistry, Philosophy, Astrology, Geometry and various other fields.
MUHAMMAD IBN MUSA AL-KHWARIZMI (780 – 850)
Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, astrologer geographer and a scholar in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. He was born in Persia of that time around 780. Al-Khwarizmi was one of the learned men who worked in the House of Wisdom. Al-Khwarizmi flourished while working as a member of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad under the leadership of Kalif al-Mamun, the son of the Khalif Harun al-Rashid, who was made famous in the Arabian Nights. The House of Wisdom was a scientific research and teaching center.
Al-Khwarizmi developed the concept of the algorithm in mathematics (which is a reason for his being called the grandfather of computer science by some people).
Al-Khwarizmi’s algebra is regarded as the foundation and cornerstone of the sciences. To al-Khwarizmi we owe the world “algebra,” from the title of his greatest mathematical work, Hisab al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabala. The book, which was twice translated into Latin, by both Gerard of Cremona and Robert of Chester in the 12th century, works out several hundred simple quadratic equations by analysis as well as by geometrical example. It also has substantial sections on methods of dividing up inheritances and surveying plots of land. It is largely concerned with methods for solving practical computational problems rather than algebra as the term is now understood.
Al-Khwarizmi confined his discussion to equations of the first and second degrees. He also wrote an important work on astronomy, covering calendars, calculating true positions of the sun, moon and planets, tables of sines and tangents, spherical astronomy, astrological tables, parallax and eclipse calculations, and visibility of the moon. His astronomical work, Zij al-sindhind, is also based on the work of other scientists. As with the Algebra, its chief interest is as the earliest Arab work still in existence in Arabic.
His most recognized work as mentioned above and one that is so named after him is the mathematical concept Algorithm. The modern meaning of the word relates to a specific practice for solving a particular problem. Today, people use algorithms to do addition and long division, principles that are found in Al-Khwarizmi’s text written over 2000 years ago. Al-Khwarizmi was also responsible for introducing the Arabic numbers to the West, setting in motion a process that led to the use of the nine Arabic numerals, together with the zero sign.
Of great importance also was al-Khwarizmi’s contribution to medieval geography. He systematized and corrected Ptolemy’s research in geography, using his own original findings that are entitled as Surat al-Ard (The Shape of the Earth). The text exists in a manuscript; the maps have unfortunately not been preserved, although modern scholars have been able to reconstruct them from al-Khwarizmi’s descriptions. He supervised the work of 70 geographers to create a map of the then “known world”. When his work became known in Europe through Latin translations, his influence made a permanent mark on the development of science in the West.
Al-Khwarizmi made several important improvements to the theory and construction of sundials, which he inherited from his Indian and Hellenistic predecessors. He made tables for these instruments which considerably shortened the time needed to make specific calculations. His sundial was universal and could be observed from anywhere on the Earth. From then on, sundials were frequently placed on mosques to determine the time of prayer. The shadow square, an instrument used to determine the linear height of an object, in conjunction with the alidade for angular observations, was also invented by al-Khwarizmi in ninth-century Baghdad.
While his major contributions were the result of original research, he also did much to synthesize the existing knowledge in these fields from Greek, Indian, and other sources. A number of minor works were written by al-Khwarizmi on topics such as the astrolabe, on which he wrote on the Jewish calendar. He also wrote a political history containing horoscopes of prominent persons.
IBN BATTUTA (1304 – 1369)
Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta, was a Moroccan Muslim scholar and traveler. He is known for his traveling and going on excursions called the Rihla. His journeys lasted for a period of almost thirty years. This covered nearly the whole of the known Islamic world and beyond, extending from North Africa, West Africa, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe in the West, to the Middle East, Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China in the East, a distance readily surpassing that of his predecessors. After his travel he returned to Morocco and gave his account of the experience to Ibn Juzay.
Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta, was born in Tangier, Morocco, on the 24th of February 1304 C.E. (703 Hijra) during the time of the Marinid dynasty. He was commonly known as Shams ad-Din. His family was of Berber origin and had a tradition of service as judges. After receiving an education in Islamic law, he chose to travel. He left is house in June 1325, when he was twenty one years of age and set off from his hometown on a hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, a journey that took him 16 months. He did not come back to Morocco for at least 24 years after that. His journey was mostly by land. To reduce the risk of being attacked, he usually chose to join a caravan. In the town of Sfax, he got married. He survived wars, shipwrecks, and rebellions.
He first began his voyage by exploring the lands of the Middle East. Thereafter he sailed down the Red Sea to Mecca. He crossed the huge Arabian Desert and traveled to Iraq and Iran. In 1330, he set of again, down the Red Sea to Aden and then to Tanzania. Then in 1332, Ibn Battuta decided to go to India. He was greeted open heartedly by the Sultan of Delhi. There he was given the job of a judge. He stayed in India for a period of 8 years and then left for China. Ibn Battuta left for another adventure in 1352. He then went south, crossed the Sahara desert, and visited the African kingdom of Mali.
Finally, he returned home at Tangier in 1355. Those who were lodging Ibn Battuta’s grave Western Orient lists could not believe that Ibn Battuta visited all the places that he described. They argued that in order to provide a comprehensive description of places in the Muslim world in such a short time, Ibn Battuta had to rely on hearsay evidence and make use of accounts by earlier travelers.
Ibn Battuta often experienced culture shock in regions he visited. The local customs of recently converted people did not fit his orthodox Muslim background. Among Turks and Mongols, he was astonished at the way women behaved. They were given freedom of speech. He also felt that the dress customs in the Maldives and some sub-Saharan regions in Africa were too revealing.
IBN RUSHD (1126 – 1198)
Abu Walid Mohammad Ibn Rushd born in 1128 C.E. in Cordova has been held as one of the greatest thinkers and scientists of the history. A product of twelfth-century Islamic Spain, he set out to integrate Aristotelian philosophy with Islamic thought. A common theme throughout his writings is that there is no inappropriateness between religion and philosophy when both are properly understood.
His contributions to philosophy took many forms, ranging from his detailed commentaries on Aristotle, his defence of philosophy against the attacks of those who condemned it as different to Islam and his construction of a form of Aristotelianism which cleansed it, as far as was possible at the time, of, Neoplatonic influences.
Ibn Rushd’s education followed a traditional path, beginning with studies in Hadith, linguistics, jurisprudence and scholastic theology. Throughout his life he wrote extensively on Philosophy and Religion, attributes of God, origin of the universe, Metaphysics and Psychology but he excelled in philosophy and jurisprudence and was nicknamed “the jurisprudent philosopher.” The role of the philosopher in the state was a topic of continual interest for Ibn Rushd.
His thought is genuinely creative and highly controversial, producing powerful arguments that were to puzzle his philosophical successors in the Jewish and Christian worlds. He seems to argue that there are two forms of truth, a religious form and a philosophical form, and that it does not matter if they point in different directions. He also appears to be doubtful about the possibility of personal immortality or of God’s being able to know that particular events have taken place. There is much in his work also which suggests that religion is inferior to philosophy as a means of attaining knowledge, and that the understanding of religion which ordinary believers can have is very different and impoverished when compared with that available to the philosopher.
In philosophy, his most important work Tuhafut al-Tuhafut was written in response to Al-Ghazali’s work. Ibn Rushd was criticized by many Muslim scholars for this book, which, nevertheless, had a deep influence on European thought, at least until the beginning of modern philosophy and experimental science. His views on fate were that man is neither in full control of his destiny nor is it fully predetermined for him. Al Rushd’s longest commentary was, in fact, an original contribution as it was largely based on his analysis including interpretation of Quranic concepts. Ibn Rushd’s summary the opinions (fatwa) of previous Islamic jurists on a variety of issues has continued to influence Islamic scholars to the present day, notably Javed Ahmad Ghamidi.
At the age of 25, Ibn Rushd conducted astronomical observations in Morocco, during which he discovered a previously unobserved star. He was also of the view that the Moon is opaque and obscure, and has some parts which are thicker than others, with the thicker parts receiving more light from the Sun than the thinner parts of the Moon. He also gave one of the first descriptions on sunspots.
Ibn Rushd also made remarkable contributions in medicine. In medicine his well-known book Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb was written before 1162 A.D Its Latin translation was known as ‘Colliget’. In it Ibn Rushd has thrown light on various aspects of medicine, including the diagnoses, cure and prevention of diseases and several original observations of him.
He wrote at least 67 original works, which included 28 works on philosophy, 20 on medicine, 8 on law, 5 on theology, and 4 on grammar, in addition to his commentaries on most of Aristotle’s works and his commentary on Plato’s The Republic. A careful examination of his works reveals that Ibn Rushd (Averroes) was a deeply Islamic man. As an example, we find in his writing, “Anyone who studies anatomy will increase his faith in the omnipotence and oneness of God the Almighty”. He believed that true happiness for man can surely be achieved through mental and psychological health, and people cannot enjoy psychological health unless they follow ways that lead to happiness in the hereafter, and unless they believe in God and His oneness.
OMAR KHAYYAM (1048 – 1131)
Omar Khayyam was one of the major mathematicians and astronomers of the medieval period. He was acknowledged as the author of the most important treatise on algebra before modern times. This is reflected in his Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra giving a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle. His significance as a philosopher and teacher, and his few remaining philosophical works, has not received the same attention as his scientific and poetic writings.
Omar Khayyam was born on the 18th of May, 1048 AD in Iran. Omar Khayyam’s full name was Ghiyath al-Din Abu’l-Fath Umar Ibn Ibrahim Al-Nisaburi al-Khayyami. He was born into a family of tent makers. He spent part of his childhood in the town of Balkh, northern Afghanistan, studying under Sheik Muhammad Mansuri. Later on, he studied under Imam Mowaffaq Nishapuri, who was considered one of the greatest teachers of the Khorassan region. Khayyam had notable works in geometry, particularly on the theory of proportions.
He was a Persian polymath, mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, physician, and poet. He wrote treatises on mechanics, geography, and music. The treatise of Khayyam can be considered as the first treatment of parallels axiom which is not based on petition principle but on more intuitive postulate. Khayyam refutes the previous attempts by other Greek and Persian mathematicians to prove the proposition. And he refused the use of motion in geometry.
Khayyam was the mathematician who noticed the importance of a general binomial theorem. The argument supporting the claim that Khayyam had a general binomial theorem is based on his ability to extract roots. Khayyam was part of a panel that introduced several reforms to the Persian calendar. On March 15, 1079, Sultan Malik Shah, accepted this corrected calendar as the official Persian calendar.
Khayyam’s poetic work has eclipsed his fame as a mathematician. He has written about a thousand four-line verses or quatrains. In the English-speaking world, he was introduced through the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam which are rather free-wheeling English translations by Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883). Khayyam’s personal beliefs are discernible from his poetic oeuvre. In his own writings, Khayyam rejects strict religious structure and a literalist conception of the afterlife.
Khayyam taught for decades the philosophy of Avicenna, especially in his home town Nishapur, till his death. Khayyam, the philosopher can be understood from two rather distinct sources. One is through his Rubaiyat and the other through his own works in light of the intellectual and social conditions of his time. The latter could be informed by the evaluations of Khayyam’s works by scholars and philosophers such as Bayhaqi, Nezami Aruzi, and Zamakhshari and Sufi poets and writers Attar Nishapuri and Najmeddin Razi. As a mathematician, Khayyam has made fundamental contributions to the Philosophy of mathematics especially in the context of Persian Mathematics and Persian philosophy with which, most of the other Persian scientists and philosophers such as Avicenna, Biruni, and Tusi are associated.
THABIT IBN QURRA (826 – 901)
Al-Sabi Thabit ibn Qurra al-Harrani (836 –901) was a an astronomer and mathematician born in present day Turkey, best known for translating classic Greek works on astronomy, and discovered an equation for determining the amicable numbers. He was a Mandean physician, who was known as Thebit in Latin.
Thabit was a member of the Sabian religious sect. His heritage was sharp in traditions of Hellenistic culture and pagan veneration of the stars. This background, and in particular his knowledge of Greek and Arabic, made him an attractive prospect for enclosure in one particular community of scholars, the Banu Musa and their circle in Baghdad. Thabit seems to have been asked to join this circle by a family member, the mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa ibn Shakir, who recognized his talents and potential.
Thabit subsequently came to fame after traveling to Baghdad when he was invited by Muhammad bin Musa bin Shakir, one of the Banu Musa brothers. He worked in Baghdad and he occupied himself with mathematics, astronomy, mechanics, medicine and philosophy.
Thabit is credited with dozens of treatises, covering a wide range of fields and topics. While some were written in his native Syriac, most were composed in Arabic. Thabit was trilingual, a skill that enabled him to play a key role in the translation movement of 9th century Baghdad. He translated works from both Syriac and Greek into Arabic, creating Arabic versions of important Hellenistic and Greek writings. Several of Thabit’s Arabic translations are the only extant versions of important ancient works.
The medieval astronomical theory of the trepidation of the equinoxes is often attributed to Thabit. He developed a theory about the trepidation and oscillation of the equinoctial points, of which many scholars debated in the Middle Ages.
According to Copernicus Thabit determined the length of the sidereal year as 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes and 12 seconds (an error of 2 seconds). Copernicus based his claim on the Latin text attributed to Thabit. Thabit published his observations of the Sun. In the fields of mechanics and physics he may be recognized as the founder of statics. He observed conditions of equilibrium of bodies, beams and levers. Thabit also wrote on philosophical and cosmological topics, questioning some of the fundamentals of the Aristotelian cosmos.
He rejected Aristotle’s concept of the essence as immobile, a position Rosenfeld and Gregorian suggest is in keeping with his anti Aristotelian stance of allowing the use of motion in mathematics. Thabit also wrote important treatises related to Archimedean problems in statics and mechanics. Besides all these contributions he also founded a school of translation and supervised the translation of a further large number of books from Greek to Arabic.
Among Thabit’s writings a large number have survived, while several are not present. Most of the books are on mathematics, followed by astronomy and medicine. The books have been written in Arabic but some are in Syriac. In the Middle Ages, some of his books were translated into Latin by Gherard of Cremona. In recent centuries, a number of his books have been translated into European languages and published. Thabit’s efforts provided a foundation for continuing work in the investigation and reformation of Ptolemaic astronomy. His life is illustrative of the fact that individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and religions contributed to the flourishing of sciences like astronomy in Islamic culture.
ABU BAKR AL-RAZI (865 – 925)
Also known as Rhazes. Persian alchemist and philosopher, who was one of the greatest physicians in history.
JABIR IBN HAIYAN (722 – 804)
Also known as Geber. The father of Arab chemistry known for his highly influential works on alchemy and metallurgy.
IBN ISHAQ AL-KINDI (801 – 873)
Also known as Alkindus. Arab philosopher and scientist, who is known as the first of the Muslim peripatetic philosophers.
IBN AL-HAYTHAM (965 – 1040)
Also known as Alhazen. Arab astronomer and mathematician known for his important contributions to the principles of optics and the use of scientific experiments.
IBN ZUHR (1091 – 1161)
Also known as Avenzoar. Arab physician and surgeon, known for his influential book Al-Taisir Fil-Mudawat Wal-Tadbeer (Book of Simplification Concerning Therapeutics and Diet).
IBN KHALDUN (1332 – 1406)
Arab historiographer and historian who developed one of the earliest nonreligious philosophies of history. Often considered as one of the forerunners of modern historiography, sociology and economics.
IBN AL-BAITAR (1197 – 1248)
Arab scientist, botanist and physician who systematically recorded the discoveries made by Islamic physicians in the Middle Ages.
ABU NASR AL-FARABI (872 – 950)
Abu Nasr Muhammad al- Farabi, one the earliest Islamic intellectuals who were instrumental in transmitting the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle to the Muslim world, had a considerable influence on the later Islamic philosophers such as Avicenna.
He was an outstanding linguist who translated the Greek works on Aristotle and Plato and made a considerable additions to them of his own.
He earned the nickname Mallim-e-Sani, which is translated as “second master” or “second teacher”.
Al-Farabi completed his earlier education at Farab and Bukhara but, later on, he went to Baghdad for higher studies, where he studied and worked for a long time. During this period he acquired mastery over several languages as well as various branches of knowledge and technology. Farabi contributed considerably to science, philosophy, logic, sociology, medicine, mathematics and music, but the major ones are in philosophy, logic and sociology and for which he stands out as an Encyclopedist.
As a philosopher, Farabi was the first to separate philosophy from theology. It is difficult to find a philosopher both in Muslim and Christian world from Middle Ages onwards who has not been influenced by his views. He believed in a Supreme Being who had created the world through the exercise of balanced intelligence. He also asserted this same rational faculty to be the sole part of the human being that is immortal, and thus he set as the paramount human goal the development of that rational faculty. He considerably gave more attention to political theory as compared to any Islamic philosopher.
Later in his work, Al-Farabi laid down in Platonic fashion the qualities necessary for the ruler, he should be inclined to rule by good quality of a native character and exhibit the right attitude for such rule. At the heart of Al-Farabi’s political philosophy is the concept of happiness in which people cooperate to gain contentment. He followed the Greek example and the highest rank of happiness was allocated to his ideal sovereign whose soul was ‘united as it were with the Active Intellect’. Therefore Farabi served as a tremendous source of aspiration for intellectuals of the middle ages and made enormous contributions to the knowledge of his day, paving the way for the later philosopher and thinkers of the Muslim world.
Farabian epistemology has both a Neoplatonic and an Aristotelian dimension. The best source for al-Farabi’s classification of knowledge is his Kitab ihsa al-ulum. This work neatly illustrates Al-Farabi’s beliefs, both esoteric and exoteric. Through all of them runs a primary Aristotelian stress on the importance of knowledge. Thus al-Farabi’s epistemology, from what has been described may be said to be encyclopedic in range and complex in articulation, using both a Neoplatonic and an Aristotelian voice.
Farabi also participated in writing books on early Muslim sociology and a notable book on music titled Kitab al-Musiqa (The Book of Music) which is in reality a study of the theory of Persian music of his day, although in the West it has been introduced as a book on Arab music. He invented several musical instruments, besides contributing to the knowledge of musical notes. It has been reported that he could play his instrument so well as to make people laugh or weep at will. Al-Farabi’s treatise Meanings of the Intellect dealt with music therapy, where he discussed the therapeutic effects of music on the soul.
Farabi traveled to many distant lands throughout his life and gained many experiences a lot, due to which he made so many contributions for which he is still remembered and acknowledged. Inspite of facing many hardships, he worked with full dedication and made his name among the popular scientists of history. He died a bachelor in Damascus in 339 A.H. /950 A.D. at the age of 80 years.
AL-BATTANI (858 – 929)
Al-Battani is sometimes known by a Latinized version of his name, being Albategnius, Albategni or Albatenius. His full name was Abu Abdallah Mohammad ibn Jabir ibn Sinan al-Raqqi al-Harrani al-Sabi al-Battani.
Al-Battani’s father was Jabir ibn Sinan al-Harrani who had a high reputation as an instrument maker in Harran. The name makes the identification certain that al-Battani himself was skilled in making astronomical instruments and there is a good indication that he learnt these skills from his father.
Abdallah Muhammad Ibn Jabir Ibn Sinan al-Battani al-Harrani was born around 858 C.E. in Harran. Battani was first educated by his father Jabir Ibn San’an al-Battani, who also was a well-known scientist. He then moved to Raqqa, situated on the bank of the Euphrates, where he received advanced education and later on flourished as a scholar. At the beginning of the 9th century, he migrated to Samarra, where he worked till the end of his life. His family had been members of the Sabian sect, a religious sect of star worshippers from Harran. Being worshipers of the stars meant that the Sabians had a strong motivation for the study of astronomy. Al-Battani, unlike Thabit, another mathematician from his home town, was not a believer in the Sabian religion. His name “Abu Abdallah Mohammad” indicates that he was certainly a Muslim.
Al-Battani made remarkably accurate astronomical observations at Antioch and ar-Raqqah in Syria. The town of ar-Raqqah, where most of al-Battani’s observations were made, became prosperous when Caliph Harun al-Rashid built several palaces there.
The Fihrist describes al-Battani as one of the most famous observers and a leader in geometry, theoretical and practical astronomy, and astrology. He composed work on astronomy, with tables, containing his own observations of the sun and moon and a more accurate description of their motions than that given in Ptolemy’s “Almagest”.
The main achievements of al-Battani’s are:
• He cataloged 489 stars.
• He refined the existing values for the length of the year, which he gave as 365 days 5 hours 46 minutes 24 seconds, and of the seasons.
• He calculated 54.5″ per year for the precession of the equinoxes and obtained the value of 23° 35′ for the inclination of the ecliptic.
Rather than using geometrical methods, as other scientists had done, al-Battani used trigonometric methods which were an important advancement. Al-Battani showed that the farthest distance of the Sun from the Earth varies and, as a result, annular eclipses of the Sun are possible as well as total eclipses. Al-Battani is important in the development of science for a number of reasons, but one of these must be the large influence his work had on scientists such as Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galileo and Copernicus.
IBN SINA (980 – 1037)
Also popularly known as ‘Avicenna’, Ibn Sina was indeed a true polymath with his contributions ranging from medicine, psychology and pharmacology to geology, physics, astronomy, chemistry and philosophy. He was also a poet and an Islamic scholar and theologian. His most important contribution to medical science was his famous book al-Qanun, known as the “Canon” in the West. This book is an immense encyclopedia of medicine including over a million words and like most Arabic books is richly divided and subdivided. It comprises of the entire medical knowledge available from ancient and Muslim sources.
This great scientist was born in around 980 A.D in the village of Afshana, near Bukhara which is also his mother’s hometown. His father, Abdullah an advocate of the Ismaili sect, was from Balkh which is now a part of Afghanistan. Ibn Sina received his early eduction in his home town and by the age of ten he became a Quran Hafiz. He had exceptional intellectual skills which enabled him to overtake his teachers at the age of fourteen. During the next few years he devoted himself to Muslim Jurisprudence, Philosophy and Natural Science and studied Logic, Euclid, and the Almeagest.
Ibn Sina was an extremely religious man. When he was still young, Ibn Sina was highly baffled by the work of Aristotle on Metaphysics so much so that he used to leave all the work and pray to God to guide him. Finally after reading a manual by a famous philosopher al-Farabi, he found the solutions to his difficulties.
At the age of sixteen he dedicated all his efforts to learn medicine and by the time he was eighteen gained the status of a reputed physician. During this time he was also lucky in curing Nooh Ibn Mansoor, the King of Bukhhara, of an illness in which all the renowned physicians had given up hope. On this great effort, the King wished to reward him, but the young physician only acquired consent to use his exclusively stocked library of the Samanids.
On his father’s death, when Ibn Sina was twenty-two years old, he left Bukhara and moved to Jurjan near Caspian Sea where he lectured on logic and astronomy. Here he also met his famous contemporary Abu Raihan al-Biruni. Later he travelled to Rai and then to Hamadan, where he wrote his famous book Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb. Here he also cured Shams al-Daulah, the King of Hamadan, for severe colic.
From Hamadan, he moved to Isfahn, where he finished many of his epic writings. Nevertheless, he continued to travel and the too much mental exertion as well as political chaos spoilt his health. The last ten or twelve years of his life, he spent in the service of Abu Ja’far ‘Ala Addaula, whom he accompanied as physician and general literary and scientific consultant. He died during June 1037 A.D and was buried in Hamedan, Iran.
Besides his monumental writings, Ibn Sina also contributed to mathematics, physics, music and other fields. He explained the concept and application of the “casting out of nines”. He made several astronomical observations, and devised a means similar to the venire, to enhance the accuracy of instrumental readings. In physics, his contribution comprised the study of different forms of energy, heat, light and mechanical, and such concepts as force, vacuum and infinity.
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