Muslim Science from the Middle Ages

The monument to Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi in Khiva, Uzbekistan. © Evgeniy Fesenko | Dreamstime.com

Also referred to as the Islamic Golden Age, the era that spanned from the 8th to 14th centuries was one of immense scientific, economic, spiritual, and cultural excellence in the history of Islam. Historical records show that this period is believed to have commenced when Caliph Harun al-Rashid started his reign.

Muslim scholars of the medieval Islamic world dominated and influenced the scientific world to such an extent that their discoveries and findings are still very relevant today. One of the most impressive things about what they did was that they contributed to and transformed every niche of science. These include medicine, astronomy, mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, alchemy, and botany. Others include ophthalmology, optics, mechanics, geography, agronomy, cartography, pharmacology, zoology, agriculture, and many more.

An amazing thing with the Muslim scholars of that era is that they did not just focus on science for the sake of it, they also did it to promote Islam and for the benefit of all of humanity. For instance, the scholars who focused on astronomy did so to also determine the most accurate directions for the Qibla. Muslim scholars focusing on medicine did such elaborate and comprehensive descriptions of diseases like measles and smallpox that newer forms of therapy were developed.

Talking the Muslim scholars of the medieval times, some truly stood out and they have to be mentioned. There is the legendary and brilliant mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi who is known for his groundbreaking works in not just mathematics but also geography and astronomy. An intimidating intellectual, he was a pioneer in several ways. Al-Khwarizmi is the first person to come up with a systematic way of solving quadratic and linear equations. His massive work on algebra named The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing was so good that he has been described as the father of algebra.

Then there is also Hasan Ibn al-Haytham (better known as Alhazen) who did so well in physics, mathematics, and astronomy that he is described as the father of modern optics. Alhazen earned that title as he revolutionized the niche of optics with his work titled Kitab al-Manazir (meaning Book of Optics). He wrote this voluminous book in the period from 1011 to 1021. Just so you know, he was also the very first person to show that vision as we know it, does not happen in the eyes, but inside the brain, Allah (SWT) be praised.

Another Muslim scholar of the era, Abu Hanifah Ahmad ibn Dawud Dinawari (better known as Al-Dinawari) transformed botany. He wrote a book of six volumes, called Kitab al-Nabat (Book of Plants) which remains one of the most detailed books ever written on plants. These scholars of Islam and science are so numerous that they cannot be listed out here. However, if there is any lesson that we can learn from their lives and achievements, it will be that Islam is truly a religion that places knowledge as its foundation. May Allah ease all our affairs, aameen.