Muslims and Science: The Role of Muslims in Modern Science

By Sarah Nauman

Edited by Ella Fasciano

The medieval Islamic Empire was at the forefront of science for hundreds of years. While Europe was stalled in the Dark Ages, the Muslim Empire was entering a Golden Age. Scholars invented many items still used today, i.e., the toothbrush, while scientists and physicians created groundbreaking research on the topics of math, medicine, physics and chemistry.

Much of the basis of today’s principles in various STEM topics is derived from the research and works Muslims did all those years ago. Along with that, topics like philosophy and theology were explored by scholars as well.

In this article, I will discuss two famous scholars who play a very crucial role in how we learn about math and medicine today.

Al-Khwarizmi (780 – 850 A.D)

Muhammad Ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi was a Persian scholar, mathematician, astronomer and geographer. He worked in the House of Wisdom, a scientific and research center under the caliphate of Caliph Mamun. His books and observations on the scientific world made modern science what is today.

Al-Khwarizmi’s greatest work is the invention of algebra. He is known as the father of Algebra. Algebra is a compilation of rules that finds solutions of linear and quadratic equations. His book, Al-Kitāb al-mukhtaṣar fī ḥisāb al-jabr waʾl-muqābala (The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing), was translated into Latin during the 12th century. This book included work on calculating areas and volumes of geometric figures, tables of sines, cosines, tangents and more.

He also developed the concept of the ‘algorithm’ in mathematics. The term algorithm means a finite set of rules and/or procedure to the solution of a problem. The Latinized version of Al-Khwarizmi’s name is ‘Algorithmi’. This research is also the basis for computer science, which is why he is also called the Grandfather of Computer Science.

Al-Khwarizmi introduced the use of Arabic numerals (1 -9) and they were quickly adopted in the West as these numerals were easy to comprehend compared to Roman numerals (I, V, X, L).

His book, Kitāb Sūrat al-arḍ (The Image of the Earth) was a comprehensive study on geography. The word ‘geography’ has its roots from Al-Khwarizmi’s book. He systemized and analyzed Ptolemy’s research in geography and also created maps of the ‘Known World’.

Ibn Sina (980 – 1037 A.D)

Known as the Father of Modern Medicine, Ibn Sina was a Persian physician, philosopher, astronomer and poet. The Latin version of his name is ‘Avicenna’ and many European used his works and texts to study medicine.

His biggest contribution to medical science was his book Qānūn fī al-ṭibb (The Canon of Medicine). It is comprised of over 5 volumes and has over a million words in it. It contains all of the medical knowledge known during the 11th Century, and it is one of the most famous books to date. The principles of medicine described by the Canon of Medicine are still taught at Yale University and more.

One of Sina’s famous discoveries was the ‘feeling of the pulse!’ If you use your index and middle fingers and place them on the inside of your wrist, you will feel your pulse.

His other major work was a philosophical and scientific encyclopedia called Kitāb al-shifāʾ (The Book of Healing). It had four parts: mathematics, natural sciences logic and metaphysics.

In his works of astronomy, he proposed that the planet Venus was closer to the Sun than the Earth. He made several astronomical observations and said that stars were self-luminous.

These are just two of the noted scholars and researchers of the Islamic Empire. Many others had profound findings and research that shaped the knowledge of subjects we have today.

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