Heroes of Islam Contributions of Islamic Scholars in Science and Technology -By Tahira Islam


Mankind witnessed rapid development of science and technology over the last century. People barely die of diseases anymore. They can communicate easily with telephones, computers and travel much faster with airplanes and high speed trains. But the foundation on which todays modern science and technology is built took a long time to develop.
Western media often try to ignore the contributions of Muslim scholars in the advancement of science and technology. While Europe was in darkness, it was the Muslims who picked up the torch of knowledge, expanded upon it and finally, passed it on to Europe.  It is important for the contemporary Muslims to know about their prominent past by learning about the contributions of the Muslim scholars in various fields of science.
Islam strongly urges mankind to study and explore the universe. Allah says in the Quran: “We (Allah) will show you (mankind) our signs in the universe until you are convinced that the revelation is the truth” [41:53]. This invitation to explore the universe has greatly influenced Muslims to study the universe, which in turn lead to the development of many branches of science. The contribution of Muslim scholars to the advancement of science is remarkable.

Muslim scientists have laid the foundation on which modern medical system is built. Abu Ali Ibn Sina (981–1037 C.E) was a scientist of medicine, philosophy, mathematics & astronomy. He was particularly noted for his contributions in the field of medicine. He composed the Kitab Ash-shifa (Book of Healing), and Al-Qanun fit Tibb (the Canon of Medicine), which is among the most famous books in the history of medicine. The Qanun was the principal guide for the medical science in the west from 12th to 17th century.
Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya Al-Razi (865-925 A.D) was one of the most prominent Muslim doctors. He wrote over 200 books, including Kitab Al-Mansuri (ten volumes in Greek medicine) and Al- Hawi, which included every medical subject offered from Greek and Arab sources. Al-Razi originated a treatment for Kidney and bladder stones, did successful research on smallpox and measles. He was first to suggest the use of alcohol for medicinal purpose.

Muslims have always had a special interest in astronomy. By the moon, Muslims determine the beginning and end of each month in their lunar calendar. Muslim astronomers invented instruments such as the quadrant and astrolabe, which led to advances in astronomy, contributing to the European age of exploration.
Muhammad Al-Battaani was one of the great Muslim astronomers. His astronomical work Kitab al-zij had a great influence on the European astronomy during the middle ages and the Renaissance. He determined the most accurate length of the year – 365 days, 5 hours, 46 minutes and 24 seconds. His described the movement of sun, five planets and moon by compiling detailed tables for them. Al-Battaani corrected some of Ptolemy’s mistakes. His tables and descriptions were more accurate than those of Ptolemy’s.

Abu al-Raihan Al-Biruni was a renowned physicist. He determined the specific density of eighteen types of precious stones. He established the rule which stated that the specific density of a body suits the volume of the water that makes it move.
Al-Khazini was another renowned physicist who studied dynamics and hydrostatics.  He developed a device that determine the specific gravity of liquids. His work in the field of kinetics is still being used in the European universities. The historians in the field of science regard Al-Khazini as the physicist of all physicist.
Jabir Bin Haiyan is considered one of the greatest chemists of the medieval period. He introduced experimental investigation into chemistry. He produced sound views on the methods of chemical research. His books Kitab-al-Kimya and Kitab al-Sab’een were translated into Latin and influenced the development of modern chemistry. Several technical terms that he devised such as “alkali” have become a part of the scientific vocabulary.

Muhammad bin Musa Al-Khwarizmi was the forefather of modern algebra. He designed sine, cosine and trigonometry tables. His book Hisab al-Jabr waal-Mukabalah (The calculation of Integration and Equation) was used as the principal textbook in the European universities up until the 16th century.
The great Al-Biruni established trigonometry as a distinct branch in Mathematics. He defined the irrational number pi as the result of division of two other numbers (the circumference of a circle and the diameter).

Greeks believed the world to be circular, surrounded by water from all directions. Romans stated that, “The world is like a wheel surrounded by ocean water from all directions”.  Muslims attempted to revive and adopt the theory of Earth’s roundness. This is because Allah speaks about the rotation of the Earth around itself causing day and night phenomenon.
Muhammad bin Musa Al-Khwarizmi corrected Ptolemy’s gross overestimate for the length of the Mediterranean Sea (from the Canary Islands to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean). He depicted the Atlantic and Indian Oceans as open bodies of water, not land-locked seas as of Ptolemy. His major work Kitab surat ai-Ard (The image of the Earth).

The contributions of Muslim scholars are rooted in all branches of modern science and technology. Purposeful ignorance of their works by modern western scholars made their contributions unheeded in the modern world. Europe’s present day triumphs in modern science-technology had its foundation from the works of Muslim scholars. But regretfully, contemporary Muslim world is ignorant about their heroes of past, on one hand, and about the knowledge of science and technology, on the other. Less interest in science-technology made the present day Muslim world comparatively weaker and, to some extent, subordinate to the west. It is very natural, a nation with advanced access to science and technology rules the world. Think about the present day United States, it is ruling the rest of the world by the virtue of its advanced science and technology. Or consider about Japan or South Korea, they are marching with the same line of west because of their science-technology. Science-technology is the lost regime of Muslims. Our past was enlightened by heroes who led the world. Our lost regime in another’s hand is an undermining to their contributions. For right now, the responsibility to restore our lost regime in science-technology lies upon the shoulder of present day Muslim youths. Lets we assume this responsibly as our own, to say, “my own responsibility” for each of us.

The writer is undergrad student of CSE at the University of Dhaka.